Seeing Things

I was waiting for an appointment the other day when I struck up a conversation with another woman in the lobby. She noticed my bike helmet and the conversation quickly turned to a discussion of cars versus cyclists.

It was just on of those casual conversations you have with a stranger in passing. After voicing the usual complaint about cyclists never stopping for red lights she added that she just “was not looking for cyclists.”

I started thinking about the word “looking.” Do drivers only see what they are looking for? And are they only looking for other cars? Which would mean, to a driver, a city intersection looks like this:

Seeing Things: Driver's POV

But when I bike through an intersection I am not looking for anything. I am seeing everything. If I were to travel through same intersection at the same moment I might see something like this:

Seeing Things: Cyclist's POV

But I probably see every street like this because I have to compensate for what the drivers are not looking for.

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52 Comments on "Seeing Things"


February 23, 2012

¡Hola!
Existen muchos componentes, que intervienen en la atención de un conductor, entre ellos, los habitos propios de cada conductor, su cultura, su strees…
No esta demás pensar que, como tu bien ilustras con tu ovni, “no estamos solos”.
Gracias por tu post.
– – – – –
Hello!
There are many components involved in the care of a driver, including the habits of each driver, their culture, strees …
Others think not, as you well you illustrate with your UFO, “we are not alone.”
Thanks for your post.

Vocus Dwabe
February 23, 2012

Military camouflage works on the principle that human beings are great generalisers and tend to edit out of their brain-map anything they aren’t actually looking for. So if you paint something anomalous so that it doesn’t positively advertise its presence, the chances are that they won’t see it.

It’s much the same with cyclists: if they’re so rare that drivers don’t expect to see them, then the likelihood is that they won’t until it’s too late. I consider myself to be a pretty cautious and alert driver; not least because I cycle most of the time and that makes you very aware of likely hazards. But I still suspect that if I encountered someone rollerskating along the outside lane on a motorway I might run into them, simply because I wouldn’t expect to meet someone rollerskating there and wouldn’t be able to react in time.

One of the main reasons for the (for a Brit) quite unnerving courtesy that Dutch motorists display towards cyclists is not just the fact that if they hit one they’re assumed to be liable at law, it’s the fact that the Netherlands swarms with cyclists, and anyone driving a motor vehicle there will be looking out for them the whole time.

Safety in numbers: the more people cycle the safer it gets. I took part in a mass cycle ride around central London yesterday evening, preparatory to today’s debate in Parliament, and you’ve no idea how much more secure I felt inside a great Amsterdam-at-rush-hour phalanx of cyclists than on my own trying to thread my way through a mass of motor traffic.

It speaks volumes that the sight of your cycle helmet caused someone to start a conversation with you. In Holland “I see that you ride a bike” would be akin to observing “I see that you breathe oxygen and drink liquids.”

February 23, 2012

Thank you for the wonderful insight. Yes, I also think it’s true that as only a driver you do not look for cyclists or even motorcycles, but rather the cars around you and parking spaces, or traffic lights. But as a cyclist I am a more cautious driver (I recently psoted about this). And isn’t it interesting that as a cyclist we are more aware of our surroundings like birds, trees, what people are wearing, the sky, etc.

zoe morosini
February 24, 2012

Loved your post! I’m still laughing about that last sentence. Wouldn’t it be nice to get to that point in our countries???

Quincyclist
February 24, 2012

I’m with VD (but bike in Boston from next town south where bicyclists aren’t plentiful). We have a right to be seen by motorists but we are idiots when we assume that we are in any given motorist’s consciousness. I guess it has a lot to do with conditioning. The more bicyclists there are, the more it will become part of the normal condition to motorists. Until that day comes to wherever it is that we ride, we have individually to take responsibility for our safety.

I feel a dweeb at times but as I commute in heavy traffic I wear reflective day-glo. There is a reason utility workers and detail/traffic cops wear it. I want to be thought of like them: “Oh, there’s a person in the road whom I must go around safely.” I think any bright color is a big help but believe that the same color as utility workers/cops sinks in more to the motorist’s – or jaywalking pedestrian’s – consciousness because of the association with street workers (in a literal sense of the term). Likewise, there is a reason cat burglars, special ops and ninjas wear black, and I cringe every time I (barely) make out a bicyclist all in black.

When a car honks at me, I judge whether it is meant to be a friendly (albeit unnecessary) warning or aggressive imprecation – but mainly I reflect “that means they’ve seen me.”

runmoar
March 1, 2012

That is a great insight. If we could convince more people to use bikes, then riding a bike would be safer.

problem
1. Want to convince people to bike
2. ?????
3. Safer bike rides.

February 23, 2012

More years ago than I care to remember motorbike safety was highlighted in the UK with a public advertising campaign because, as above, we see what we expect to see. Short, sharp and to the point, it still lingers in my mind.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYJYA0P5ls8

Melissa
February 23, 2012

There’s so much you miss when you’re in a car. Not only do you see all kinds of things on a bike (the river, the fog up around the top of a building), but you smell (exhaust, fresh baked bread), hear (nobody’s coming, clear!), and feel (the cold air against your face). You never get this from a ride in a closed car. Thanks, Bikeyface!

Vocus Dwabe
February 23, 2012

…And the stars; and the phases of the moon if (like me) you bicycle to work at 5:30 every morning. A couple of weeks ago I even saw a meteor flash through the sky. And the song of the birds now more noticeable every day: one particular blackbird starting up in the same roadside thicket at the same time each morning for the past fortnight, but with others now joining in. And coming into the car park one morning just before dawn to meet a tawny owl perched on top of a traffic bollard, regarding me with its baleful yellow eyes.

Riding a bicycle you live: driving a car you merely exist.

February 23, 2012

Having one of those feeling-like-you’ve-read-my-mind moments … I have *so* often thought the same thing. The second drawing is perfect!!! (Altho I’m still looking for a flying saucer). 😉

February 24, 2012

Try looking in the upper right corner. When I ride I have to remember to not watch aircraft flying overhead, because I used to be a pilot and still want to be one.