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 Responses to “Seeing Things”

  • Anyone who believes drivers even notice the other cars around are giving them too much credit. Last night I’m driving on the highway in the right lane at about the speed limit, merge left to the middle lane to pass somebody. Dude in a BMW going about 80 MPH moves right to get around me (and no, I didn’t cut him off, and he had plenty room in the left lane to pass) and nearly rear-ends the car that I’m just then passing. Ditto for the near sighted magoos who make jack rabbit starts at the traffic light, when it’s obvious the next light a hundred yards up is turning red.

  • Lee Hollenbeck

    Day time blinkie lights, front and rear.

  • Meanwhile, Bikeyface, I would love to see your take on motorists’ perception of the space cyclists take up (only a minuscule amount is required when motorists are overtaking cyclists, while cyclists take up vast tracts of space when they’re in front). I’ve just posted a blog on the subject here:

  • Brian

    Try bicycling in Bangkok sometime (seriously, come visit). There are so many other things on the road besides cars (motorcycles, dogs, buses, peds, tuk-tuks, people pushing carts of smoking pork, etc.) that drivers are used to watching for everything.

    I’d be interested in reading bicycle bloggers like yourself comment on biking here vs. at home.

    Great post as usual!

  • Jon Webb

    Any motorcyclist will tell you, drivers are not looking. There is a campaign here in PA to draw driver’s attention to motorcyclists — road signs and messages on state publications like registration renewal envelopes. Don’t know how effective it has been; I doubt it has made much difference. And if drivers aren’t looking for motorcyclists, they definitely aren’t looking for bicyclists. I always assume I am completely invisible to drivers and instead gauge how much time it would take them to run me down starting, say, from a stand at a stop sign, leaving enough distance so I can avoid them should they decide to do that.

  • flying saucer! :) love it. That, and cupcake shop. That’s what I look for on my bike!!

  • m sweeney

    You probably don’t here this enough, love your blog, puts a smile on my face.

  • The main problem is that for the drivers, cyclists and pedestrians are only hindrances.

  • I agree that you can look at the same intersection and see a lot of other things when you’re not really looking for something. It’s sad that busy drivers can’t really appreciate the beauty around them but I think it’s for their own safety and others’ safety, too.

  • Mabel

    Hey I just started to read your blog… you do a fastantic job, btw! Anyway, just wanted to let you know that I just read a post where you talked about wearing helmets and such and I wanted to share this… my cousin, who was five at the time, was riding her bike (with parents watching) on her not busy street… someone came flying through going too fast for her to move and he hit her, and the helmet was completely smashed, but she was ok. Well, she was in the hospital for a while, but if not for her helmet, she would have died.

  • Phylos

    Drivers would become remarkably more attentive if our laws about crashes were simpler: he (or she) with the heavier vehicle is assumed to be at fault. Period. Ultimately child pedestrians could never be at fault in this scheme, and it’s quite likely that automobile drivers would tend to be extraordinarily cautious since a vast multitude of events outside of their control could land them in jail. Neither are bad outcomes.

  • jzara

    This is a great Tv ad (I think from England) that touches on this very thing. “It’s easy to miss what you are not looking for.”

  • Antony

    This comic is great, it illustrates the philosophic idea of “Umwelt” perfectly:

  • Alan Wright

    BIKE MIRRORS – BIKE MIRRORS – BIKE MIRRORS. That weird looking device hanging off my bike glasses keeps me aware of what is coming up behind me and gives me plenty of time to react. You would not drive a car without mirrors, so why would you ride a bike with one????

  • Mike R

    I tell my 9-year-old son all that time that drivers don’t see us when we’re walking. We don’t own a car and make several trips downtown by foot each week. It’s amazing how often drivers blow right through the crosswalk to make their righthand turns on red without ever looking to the right. As a cyclist and pedestrian, I am always looking at my surroundings, trying to keep safe.

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