Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Modal Bias

Tom Vanderbilt talks about "Modal Bias," which he describes as the phenomenon in which people who use one mode of travel don't understand those using other modes.

Cycle Dog has been writing a series of "Why do they do that?" articles for the online Examiner in which he tries to bridge the gap by explaining to a motoring audience why cyclists do certain things.

My ancestral Choctaw great grandfather taught me never to judge another unless I've walked the length of a communal maize field in his Keene sandals, so I've decided to examine recent motorist vs cyclist incidents from the viewpoint of the motorist to gain insight and understanding.

Incident 1: Campbell, California

Motorist driving West in a white Ford, CA 5ALZ709; Campbell Avenue, 8 AM this morning, California: I need to turn right into my neighborhood on Victor Avenue. If I gun it to 50 mph in this 35 mph zone I just might be able to get in front of that bike up ahead, who is clearly visible in his bright yellow fluorescent jersey! Oh look, he's right next to me at the intersection, but I still need to turn here. My morning donuts are calling. He won't mind if I run him over!

The cyclist (aka me) slamming my brakes and quick turn: "Hey!" as I think not very nice thoughts about the driver (white or Hispanic female, 30ish, bleached hair, obese, too tight white capris and yellow top).

I still think that driver is an idiot and a menace.

Next case.

Incident 2: Asheville, North Carolina

Motorist Charles Diez driving on Tunnel Road: Look at that family riding their bikes along the side of the road. Don't these idiots know that's dangerous! Unbelievable, that maniac even has his three year old child on the bike with him! I'm going to give him a piece of my mind, pull out my gun and shoot that careless parent!

Cyclist (not me): OMG! I'm glad I'm wearing a helmet! That helmet saved my life!

I'm pretty sure motorist Charles Diez is also an idiot and a menace. Props to Skidmore.

PS: Don't forget the contest.


  1. HE GOT PAID INVESTIGATIVE LEAVE!!!!!! did i read that righ...OMG!

  2. Did you call in the white Ford? Maybe - reckless driving?

  3. The helmet didn't save his life. The bullet went clear through it, it just wasn't on a trajectory to hit his head.

    /just sayin'

  4. How does the Fire Marshall building inspections? With a Flame thrower

  5. Oh, and they are calling it "investigative leave," which I fantasize means that "at the end of the investigation, we'll decide whether you get to keep your pay or not."

  6. I believe from the assorted contexts that the helmet deflected the bullet, though frankly I'd be happier if it were Mr. Dietz' fault that the guy wasn't dead, not the helmet's.
    I figure "modal bias" works both ways when cyclists are sure that all those drivers are out to get 'em ...

  7. Good God. You wonder if there is, ever, any bottom to the well of homicidal foolishness some motorists will give vent to.

    But in the first case, and continuing with the theme of 'what are they thinking,' I think a lot of drivers are very bad at estimating speed, distance and elapsed time--in my my most charitable interpretation, it's not simple impatience but a real belief that they will spend an inordinate amount of time behind what they perceive as an impossibly slow-moving object. It's irrational and stupid, yes. I don't know what the answer is to changing that perception.

  8. ...fully agree, cap'n kickstand...impatience based on faulty logic & poor judgment...

  9. The Asheville story is incredibly scary, but even scarier is how the story has fired up some of the anti-bike people in this area. We had two cyclist hit in Greenville in the same week, so it seems like cyclist/motorist tension is very high right now. I still can't believe some of the things I have heard about cyclists in recent days. Hard to believe that there are so many people out there who truly HATE us that much.

  10. As for the first example, I think a lot of drivers will do those sort of "ops, sorry" kind of things cause they drive that way, and in car-to-car situations, the worst they get is another aggravated driver sealed up in their steel box. They fail to realize that "oops, sorry" in a car-to-bike situation could mean "your kid grows up without a father."

  11. NRA members say, "Guns don't kill people -- People kill peopls," and that's the truest thing you'll hear coming out of an NRA mouth. Fine, I say. In that case (about which we agree), let's not regulate guns, let's regulate people. We should have a gun license that gives you the right to own a class of guns (just like the classes in drivers' licenses). If you can demonstrate you are mentally stable and have a need, you can own a semi-auto. If you are a hunter, you can own hunting firearms. If you are a drug dealer, you can own an automatic pistol (hey, just kidding on that last one!)

    We live in a crazy, crazy country.

    Visit practicalcyclist.blogspot.com

  12. I just realized that the article referenced in the post was not the one from the Asheville newspaper. Take a look at some of the comments people left here. Scary stuff!

  13. It is amazing to me that anyone could equate shooting someone in the head as equal to having a child on a bicycle safety seat.

    At what point in life do people stop thinking and just start talking out of their backsides?