Handmade Bike & Beer Fest October 3-4

PSU researcher delving into “multimodal road rage”

Posted by on April 18th, 2013 at 11:30 am

Traffic observations- NE Alberta St-8
Could road rage tell us something
about the gender gap in bicycling?
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Tara Goddard, a PhD candidate in Urban Studies at Portland State University (PSU), is devoting her thesis to a subject that gets a lot of traction in the media but so far has received scant attention in academia: road rage between people who drive and people who bike.

According to Goddard, her research will focus on the “interactions between drivers and bicyclists,” an aspect of “transportation psychology” research that is largely untapped (most major studies have focused on driver-to-driver rage). Goddard plans to delve into the mechanisms and predictors of driver-rider road rage. “For example, as drivers, we experience (and sometimes perpetrate) law-bending/breaking all the time,” she shared via email. “It is socially acceptable, in many ways. But any scofflaw behavior on the part of a bicyclist suddenly condemns the entire bicycling world.”

Why does that happen? Goddard has a few hunches:

“One likely reason is the view of a bicyclist as a very visible “other,” which stereotype theory tells us makes us want to justify our “in-group” (in this case, cars and drivers,) and vilify the “out-group” (like bicyclists). Another explanation is social dominance theory – a bicyclist represents not just a person in that instance, but a threat to the norm of driving (or driving as a “right,”), and thus the desire to vilify it. The whole “bicyclists don’t pay taxes” argument helps bolster the social dominance idea.”

Another phenomenon Goddard plans to analyze is the psychological concept of “deindividuation” — the loss of feeling like an individual when in a group (Tom Vanderbilt, an author and major inspiration for Goddard’s research, wrote about this concept in his groundbreaking book, Traffic (2008)). Deindividuation, says Goddard, results in a lack of inhibition. “At the extreme, think mob mentality. The relative anonymity and perceived protection (social, not physical) of our cars can can lead to behaviors we would never think acceptable in almost any other situation.”

“Can you imagine tail-gating someone at the grocery store with your cart? Or yelling at someone that vegetarians should stick to the produce aisle? I believe this deindividuation also plays into the reporting of crashes — the whole “a van hit a pedestrian” problem,” says Goddard.

“Before we can fairly tell people to “share the road,” we need to understand why it is that we currently don’t.”
— Tara Goddard

Adding another interesting layer to Goddard’s research will be taking what’s known about why road rage happens and applying it across different types of bike riders. “In the eyes of drivers, not all bicyclists are the same,” says Goddard, “and this leads to different, potentially dangerous behaviors like reduced passing distance (Goddard will look to build on research by Ian Walker). Going further, Goddard will even consider how the appearance, gender and race of a person riding a bike plays into how people behave behind the wheel.

Tara Goddard
(Photo: James Newman)

Why does this type of research matter? Goddard sees road rage — whether just the fear of being a victim, or actually experiencing it — as a deterrent to bicycling. “We experience many micro-aggressions from other drivers when in our cars, but we keep on driving. But one or two bad experiences as a bicyclist or pedestrian, when the mass/speed/power differential is so big, and we may not walk or bicycle again, if we can avoid it.” She feels some of the gender gap in bicycling is a direct result of women being more likely to be “conflict-averse and more cognizant of being endangered.” Goddard says women aren’t necessarily afraid of riding in traffic in general, but that it’s the aggression from people inside the cars that scares them.

If cities and engineers understood what spurs certain people to lash out against other road users, only then, Goddard feels, can we figure out which type of interventions might mitigate those behaviors and improve road safety for everyone:

“We know that interactions between drivers and bicyclists are sometimes, even frequently, negative. The anecdotal evidence is extensive. Yet we do not have a good understanding of the social and psychological processes that explain the relations between drivers and bicyclists, and what that might suggest about infrastructure or programmatic solutions to improve those relations. But before we can fairly tell people to “share the road,” we need to understand why it is that we currently don’t.”

We’re looking forward to Goddard’s work because she isn’t your typical graduate student. Before moving to Portland in 2011, Goddard was the bicycle/pedestrian coordinator for the City of Davis (California) for four years. She also holds a Masters in Civil Engineering from the University of California, Davis and a Bachelors in Mechanical and Environmental Engineering from UC Santa Barbara. Goddard’s mix of real-world experience, training as an engineer, and education from PSU’s vaunted urban studies program could produce some very important work.

Follow Goddard on Twitter at @GoddardTara.

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  • Anthony April 18, 2013 at 11:51 am

    This is awesome! You’ll have to keep us updated on her work Jonathan!

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  • zuckerdog April 18, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    Fascinating thesis topic.
    Will be expecting great things from Tara

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    • chucklehead April 19, 2013 at 10:30 am

      Sounds like she is already predisposed to a certain side of the equation.

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  • Sunny April 18, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    Erratic, unpredictable and nonconformity to accepted driving rules pisses me off as a driver. A bike that does the same, can’t keep a straight line and is unaware of other cyclists pisses me off as a cyclist. Slow drivers in the fast lane piss me off. So do people who ride with straight bars because those bars are designed for upright riding and places the body in a less mechanically advantaged position for power on the pedals, which is slow and pisses me off.

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    • BURR April 18, 2013 at 1:00 pm

      These are the kinds of personal opinions that often lead to road rage in the first place.

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    • spare_wheel April 18, 2013 at 2:08 pm

      “So do people who ride with straight bars because those bars are designed for upright riding and places the body in a less mechanically advantaged position for power on the pedals, which is slow and pisses me off.”

      And yet somehow Cancellera can still average 33 mph on a flat barred time trial bike.


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    • longgone April 18, 2013 at 2:16 pm

      … and your point is?

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    • Kris April 18, 2013 at 2:47 pm

      You’re a very angry sort of person, aren’t you?

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  • Anne Hawley April 18, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    This thesis, when complete, will make a really interesting addition to the literature of conscious choice over evolved instinctive reaction. Her analogy about shouting at vegetarians to stay in the produce section is hilarious and eye opening.

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    • Tara Goddard April 18, 2013 at 5:35 pm

      Thanks, Anne. I am particularly proud of that analogy. :) I’m sure anyone who has been shouted at to “get on the sidewalk” (or, who has shouted that remark!) can relate.

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  • GlowBoy April 18, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Good stuff. I think she’s right that the (perceived or real) risk of conflict is a BIG deterrent to cycling for a lot of people, and that delving deeper into cyclist-driver conflicts may give us some valuable insights. It will help even to make more drivers aware of the absurdity of lashing out at cyclists for the small infractions that pose little danger to others, while tolerating objectively outrageous behavior from other drivers.

    I think part of it, too, is that cyclists are perceived as righteous by many drivers (we often hear drivers complain that cyclists are too self-righteous, even when we’re not putting drivers down but simply fighting for space and survival). So against that image, even the slightest violation can generate outrage, as if cyclists are the greatest of hypocrites for failing to live up to a standard of righteous perfection that isn’t expected of drivers.

    Similar to the whole “Prius envy”/”Smug alert” phenomenon we saw for a few years (and hasn’t completely gone away yet). For a long time Prius drivers were derided as smug, holier-than-though goody-two-shoes. And a few of them are. But I think the phenomenon was mostly a mass delusion on the part of people who resented others doing something that was perceived as more virtuous.

    Cycling often creates the same resentments among drivers, often to a greater degree. Anything you can do to take the cyclists down a few notches in your mind helps resolve the cognitive dissonance. I think that’s why yelling at a biker over something trivial can be so satisfying to a lot of people.

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    • Alain April 18, 2013 at 2:53 pm

      These are all good points.

      Not to simplify, but I would add that it’s a class issue that yields interesting reactions from affluent and lower income drivers. Were one might assuming “poor” and the other “privileged” when viewing cyclists.

      In general, and I’ve probably said this here before, I see it as an equity issue, and a human rights issue. The current road infrastructure climate is unsafe and inconvenient for many people, and until it becomes more safe and convenient, we will not see more bicyclists on the road. That, or until our oil subsidies stop.

      In the last 20 years of bicycle commuting in Portland, I’ve seen things getting better, however the “interested but concerned” group (which I think is huge) is not going to take to the road by bike until it’s far safer than bicycling in Portland currently is.

      It’s not safe to ride now, and in many cases it’s dangerous. I’ve been involved in several hit and run incidents on my bicycle and was a victim of road rage which let the driver off scot-free. I’m lucky I am still alive, and unfortunately, I don’t think what I have experienced is all that unique.

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      • Pete April 20, 2013 at 3:55 pm

        Good point about the class issue. Transportation in general in America is a class issue (and I live in California, where it seems to be a particularly important part of peoples’ culture and identity). If you’re riding the subway or bus it’s presumed that you can’t afford a car. If you’re driving an economy car it’s presumed you can’t afford a luxury car. If you’re flying coach you clearly can’t afford First Class. Etc., etc.

        I rode my bike to a Porsche/Audi dealership once (Stevens Creek…) and could barely get anyone to talk to me. I was in the market for a model that retailed ~$50K. I told them what I was looking for and asked them if I could test-drive the next model down, of which they had plenty in stock, and the salesman flat out said “no, I don’t think so.” A month later, after getting my S4 Avant shipped from a dealership in Iowa, I dropped it off for warranty service. Despite being dressed in raggy work clothes and unshaven while on a few day’s vacation they saw what I pulled up in and treated me like a prince, the same salesman asking me if I wanted to test-drive the new redesign of the model I had. I fibbed and told him I was ready to upgrade soon but it would be through the dealership a few towns over (Carlson in Shallow Alto), where I’d just referred two friends to. When he asked why I’d do that, I explained it’s because these friends also ride bicycles to auto dealerships.

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  • JAT in Seattle April 18, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    Her hunch is very different to my own (that motorists are afraid of hurting cyclists, if only for fear of the inconvenient consequences, and that fear in an otherwise fearless arena engenders anger), but I’m no PhD candidate in Urban Studies,…

    I’d just say: all data are theory laden

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    • are April 18, 2013 at 3:42 pm

      i would be curious to know what her data gathering method will be. it does sound as though she has some rather strong hypotheses going into this.

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    • Help April 19, 2013 at 10:21 am

      We have a winner.

      This is exactly correct. Cyclists “sharing the road” a) make driving more difficult b) slow down cars and c) can often put the driver in harm’s way. Is this really a surprise to cyclists? Particularly on some of the narrow roads of Portland?

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      • sbrock April 19, 2013 at 10:53 am

        “Drivers in harms way”. You’ve got be kidding. How does that work?

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        • Help April 19, 2013 at 12:51 pm

          Really? 2 lane road, moving across a solid yellow line to pass a cyclist. How about doing that on a mountain road that winds or in poor weather?

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          • Bill Walters April 19, 2013 at 1:00 pm

            Er, that would be *the driver* putting the driver in harm’s way. The driver has the option to chill and wait for a good place to pass. The rider can help by being aware and pulling over for a sec to let faster traffic by — which is what I used to do when training on winding mountain roads (uphill, at least). But it’s no one but the driver’s decision to cross that double-solid line.

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            • Help April 20, 2013 at 7:11 am

              How long do I wait Bill? On a winding mounting road it would technically never be safe. Traffic continually builds behind at a much slower rate than speed. This is putting drivers in harms way.

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              • sbrock April 20, 2013 at 2:20 pm

                You wait till its safe to pass, it’s really simple. Use Germantown rd. for example. Going up bikes are passed routinely at most bends or corners.Down bikes keep up with traffic. As far as traffic slowing , usually that increases safety, not put you “in harm’s way”.

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                • Help April 20, 2013 at 2:49 pm

                  It would technically never be safe to pass on a winding road til you come to a straight-away.

                  If you truly believe traffic backing up increases safety, there is nothing to debate. You either don’t drive or don’t understand driving to comment intelligently about it.

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              • Bill Walters April 21, 2013 at 12:00 am

                If you were behind me when I trained on winding mountain roads (mid-80s to mid-90s, Sierras near Reno and Tahoe plus the foothills toward Sacramento) you would have waited 30 seconds or so; I didn’t like to have motor vehicles on my tail, so I would pull off for a sec. (You don’t need a very wide shoulder to accommodate a bike.)

                That’s uphill. But *downhill* on a narrow, winding mountain road during that era, I hope you would have done me the same courtesy if you were on four wheels — ’cause I guarantee I was on the brakes behind you, hoping for a chance to pass.

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                • Help April 21, 2013 at 9:03 am

                  The stupid . . it burns!!

                  Regarding this comment . . do you truly believe everyone who cycles has your supposed skill level?

                  Regarding your comment below, has it ever occurred to you that a cyclist’s presence on the road makes it more likely that two MOTOR vehicles might hit each other?

                  Also your physics lecture is just one of the dumbest things ever posted on this site . . and that’s saying something.

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                • Bill Walters April 21, 2013 at 11:10 am

                  What makes you think someone needs a high skill level to courteously pull over for a sec?

                  On the assumed behalf of Sir Isaac, an invitation: Please refute the physics lecture.

                  And absolutely, I agree: Drivers making bad decisions endanger other drivers with the destructive force they wield, by slamming into them. You seem to be claiming that the presence of a bike rider *makes* those drivers slam into each other by some seemingly magical power. Please explain further.

                  As you do, you might want to consider other vehicles, motor vehicles, moving at slow speeds on that same winding mountain road: tractor-trailers as previously mentioned; vacationers in motor homes and/or towing trailers; frugal locals in rusty 30-year-old sedans that don’t quite cut the mustard anymore; and so on.

                  Encountering vehicles of widely varying speed is simply the ongoing norm when driving on a winding mountain road. Why scapegoat a bike rider when those other slow vehicles block way more of your vision and make for an even more difficult pass?

                  Or are you saying that *no one at all* should be on a winding mountain road unless they travel within XYZ% of the speed of Help? Because that would suggest a lot about how you perceive your place in the world.

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          • Skid April 20, 2013 at 1:48 am

            That’s why you are not allowed to pass until it is safe to do so. Also, the cyclist does not have to yield right-of-way to the passing car unless it is safe to do so.

            I wish motorists knew as much about Oregon Revised Statutes as cyclists do. Of course we have to, our life depends on it. They have a crumple-zone.

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            • Help April 20, 2013 at 7:14 am

              The point is that building traffic at a slow rate of speed behind the cyclist doesn’t create safe driving conditions. Cyclists can and do put drivers on harms way

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              • sbrock April 20, 2013 at 2:34 pm

                Drivers put drivers in harm’s way. Plan ahead, use good judgment, leave 5 min. early if needed. The cyclists don’t have anything to do with the risks a motorists take.

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                • Help April 20, 2013 at 2:55 pm

                  The risks are the inherent ones that occur when slower moving vehicles share the road with much faster ones–similar to when pedestrians walk in bike lanes.

                  Is this that difficult to comprehend? It doesn’t happen all the time. I’m not questioning the legality or right of the cyclist to ride. I’m stating that the presence of cyclists on certain roads can make it more dangerous for the driver.

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                • Paul in the 'couve April 21, 2013 at 2:03 pm

                  No, Help, the presence of cyclists on the road does not make it more dangerous for drivers. Explain how you think it does? How is the cyclist going to CAUSE the motorist harm?

                  Or explain how a cyclist on the roadway is more hazardous than a motorhome? or a slow car / driver? or a dump truck? Or a road construction zone? And what is hazardous about those situations, – answer – nothing, as long as motorists remain patient.

                  What I will agree with you on is that the presence of cyclists does increase the likelihood that some driver will be act rashly, impatiently and even violently and endanger other people and himself.

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          • Pete April 20, 2013 at 4:05 pm

            It sounds to me like you need to focus your attention on banning tractor-trailer trucks from the road, and/or learn some patience. In all my years of driving I can probably count the number of bicyclists on winding roads I’ve been stuck behind on one hand, yet was frequently stuck behind trucks on highways like 26 heading to Bend or 35 or 141, etc., when I lived in Oregon.

            A driver’s license does not entitle you to either a) put a cyclist’s/pedestrian’s/oncoming driver’s life in danger, or b) any temporal guarantee or priority in getting to your destination over anyone else, regardless of vehicle.

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            • Help April 20, 2013 at 6:04 pm

              It sounds like you need to go back to school and brush up on reading comprehension. It’s not about my desire to get to my destination at a certain time. It’s about the fact putting slow moving vehicles on the same road as much faster ones isn’t always safe for either vehicle. Not once have I questioned the legality or right of cyclists to ride on mountain roads or narrow sheets. Yet somehow you and sbrock have completely missed that point to make a diatribe about my desire to get from Point A to Point B as fast as possible.

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              • Paul in the 'couve April 20, 2013 at 6:11 pm

                It is the drivers in cars that create the risk, not the cyclists. Cars are inherently more dangerous and potentially destructive and is incumbent on motorists to drive safely. Any additional risk that cyclists cause motorists is ENTIRELY dependent on the motorists reaction to the fact that slower vehicles, vulnerable users, and other conditions are present on the road. If motorists simple remain calm and patient and recognize the basic rule – drive at a speed appropriate for conditions, there won’t be any risk to motorists due to other road users. It is only when motorists use their weight and size to try to dominate the road and run other users off the road way that risk increases for all. Again, it isn’t the other users creating the risk.

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                • Bill Walters April 20, 2013 at 11:39 pm

                  Agreed. But to pile on for Help’s benefit: Help keeps mentioning risk arising from faster and slower vehicles on the same road, but Sir Isaac Newton tells us speed is only part of the story.

                  His second law of motion is F=MA, force = mass x acceleration. Dude in a car has about 20 times more mass than dude on a bike, given a mid-size car. (Weight = the pull of gravity on mass.) And as Help has intimated, dude in a car has more acceleration (rate of increase in speed) — maybe up to twice as much in city traffic, but quite a lot more on the open road (even up a winding mountain).

                  So dude in a car often wields 40 times the destructive force of dude on a bike, and sometimes a lot more. Thus, dude on a bike *can’t* endanger dude in a car. Dude in a car can endanger *himself* and others on the road with that 40x force if he makes illegal or otherwise irresponsible choices in how to apply it.

                  Whew. I hope that was of some … Help.

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                • Help April 21, 2013 at 8:56 am

                  I’ve out of words for the ability to miss the point.

                  I’m in a car going less than the speed limit up a mountain road. A cyclist is on that same narrow road trudging upward and has started to slow down traffic in front of me. Am I more or less likely to be in an accident because of this? Just to help you out, I’ll answer the question for you . . more. Again, to reiterate for at least the third time, not here to blame or fault the cyclist.

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                • Bill Walters April 21, 2013 at 11:15 am

                  Help, you seem to be claiming that the presence of a bike rider would make drivers slam into each other by some seemingly magical power. Please explain further.

                  As you do, you might want to consider other vehicles, motor vehicles, moving at slow speeds on that same winding mountain road: tractor-trailers as previously mentioned; vacationers in motor homes and/or towing trailers; frugal locals in rusty 30-year-old sedans that don’t quite cut the mustard anymore; and so on.

                  Encountering vehicles of widely varying speed is simply the ongoing norm when driving on a winding mountain road. Why scapegoat a bike rider when those other slow vehicles block way more of your vision and make for an even more difficult pass?

                  Or are you saying that *no one at all* should be on a winding mountain road unless they travel within XYZ% of the speed of Help? Because that would suggest a lot about how you perceive your place in the world.

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                • Paul in the 'couve April 21, 2013 at 5:46 pm

                  Hey Help? So is this the fault of cyclists too? http://www.katu.com/news/local/Driver-stopped-by-police-in-I-205-bicycle-lane-204010601.html

                  Drivers are a danger to themselves and others, they don’t need help from cyclists to be stupid.

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            • Sunny April 20, 2013 at 6:50 pm

              A slow moving tractor trailer is easy to spot — slow moving bike not so much. Speed differentials between same direction traffic is a major contributor to these type of accidents.

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  • Steve B April 18, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    Very provocative! Looking forward to the completion of this study.

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  • spare_wheel April 18, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    ‘a threat to the norm of driving (or driving as a “right,”)’

    this is definitely one of my motivations for cycling in an assertive manner.

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  • Tim April 18, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    I also think that fear of harassment keeps people off bikes. I find myself the subject of harassment about once a year, and if I wasn’t the defiant type, I could see how I may not want to be on the road without a steel cage.

    One theory goes that vilifying “others” (bigotry), is based on the primal fear and distrust of those who are not from your tribe. In the not too distant past, “others” could be raiders here to steal crops, livestock and valuables, rape, kill, and enslave. Therefore, fear and suspicion of others was an important survival mechanism, but like many of our primal fears, it does not serve us well.

    If you think you are immune to this kind of thinking, review what is said in this forum about “others”, like fixie riders, mountain bikers, drivers, suburbanites, rural Americans, republicans or just about anyone that may not be viewed as part of your group.

    I once identified someone who was harassing me and other than the fact that I was on a bike, I am sure they would have considered me a member of their group. We live in the same neighborhood and in fact, I live in the house they once lived in.

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  • longgone April 18, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    “She feels some of the gender gap in bicycling is a direct result of women being more likely to be “conflict-averse and more cognizant of being endangered.” Goddard says….. Ridiculous, and sexist IMO. No need to read further. I ” She feels..” Women are conflict averse and MORE aware…yup.

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    • longgone April 18, 2013 at 1:52 pm

      Here, I forgot this easy link to the problem… I dont believe it will end anytime soon.

      feud 1 (fyd) noun.
      A bitter, often prolonged quarrel or state of enmity, especially such a state of hostilities between two families or clans.
      intr.v. feud·ed, feud·ing, feuds
      To carry on or perpetuate a bitter quarrel or state of enmity.

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  • Oregon Mamacita April 18, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    Yet another flawed premise from PSU urban studies. Ignores the fact that many Portlanders use both cars and bikes on a regular basis, so the bike vs. car wars is not a great meme. Huge problem getting hard data- road rage is rarely recorded.

    A portion of this comment has been deleted – Hello Oregon Mamacita, Please refrain from writing mean things directed at other commenters and/or people in my stories. You are welcome to comment and I appreciate your contributions, but please be sensitive to how your words might impact others as well as the quality of discussion. Thanks — Jonathan Maus

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    • Hugh Johnson April 19, 2013 at 6:46 am

      Hey Maus, you censored Mamacita’s comment yet you allow some of your favorite posters to write the most inflammatory and insulting things…how about better moderation on your part?

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      • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 19, 2013 at 3:54 pm

        Hey Johnson,

        Thanks for the encouragement! I strive to always do better. I am not always perfect, but I try. And since we’re handing out encouragement… It would be great to hear something positive and/or constructive from you someday. Seems like nearly 100% of your comments are either angry at me or another person. Just some feedback. Cheers.

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  • 9watts April 18, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    Social class?

    I like the sound of this a lot. And I wonder to what extent the social class of the person-in-car might matter. Just as all people biking aren’t perceived to be the same I’d suggest that all people in cars don’t have the same attitudes or identify to the same degree with their car. The degree to which someone on a bicycle is perceived as undermining or questioning the ‘choice’ of someone else to buy a car/be in a car/feel entitled to the whole road is going to vary. Some people haven’t a clue about how they got to be in a car (and not on a bike), never thought about it. And depending on their peer group could, I think, be fairly easily nudged toward resentment of the person-on-bike whose carefree/cheap/freeloading transportation choices may rankle him or her.

    Whether they find themselves exclaiming –
    that could be me! I don’t need this car, or
    out of my way, you freeloader!
    may depend in part on how much they are at peace with, have thought about, understand their own path that led them to be in a car in the first place.

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  • Alain April 18, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    That’s quite a harangue.

    I think it’s fair to say that while some may both drive and ride (I am one of those people), you cannot do both at once, and that doing one or the other can exhibit/elicit different types of behavior.

    I ride daily, and experience unsafe conditions/situations on the road, yet sometimes I am shocked at how poorly or unsafe I drive. While Tara’s research might appear to deal with “groups” (bikes, cars), it is also asking questions about how one acts or behaves, and questions of motivation or opinion. I feel a lot of good can come of research such as this, esp when it serves to explore issues that are not often critically discussed.

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    • longgone April 18, 2013 at 4:11 pm

      I was a cyclist first,(age 5) motorcyclist second (age 9) motorist third (age17 reluctantly made to do so by parents). I have done things behind the wheel of an auto that I would NEVER do otherwise. There is a strange and disconcerting possesion that comes with it at times. It is beyond description. Please see Louis C.K.’s new bit “Oh my God”, where he also shares how this demon comes to all of us behind the wheel.

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  • Bill Walters April 18, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    Finally! Godspeed, Tara Goddard, fellow Aggie. My helmet-cam and I are at your service if needed.

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    • Tara Goddard April 18, 2013 at 5:32 pm

      Thanks, Bill! I just treated myself to a GoPro, but I plan on enlisting help in the future for real-world observations. It is a whole new world of crowd-sourced data collection. :)

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  • Kris April 18, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    Goddard will look to build on research by Ian Walker

    I really wish people would stop citing this. It was an unblinded study, with one cyclist (who was also the researcher), in one small region. It’s just about enough to suggest the need of a follow-up study, but the results are not at all generalizable, and certainly not strong enough to use as a basis for any conclusions.

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    • spare_wheel April 18, 2013 at 4:12 pm

      And the stats have been challenged:


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    • mark kenseth April 18, 2013 at 4:16 pm

      She wants to “build” on it not base her research on it. Building on research can lead to generalizations. A case study can be the start of a larger picture/generalization with more case studies that follow up.

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      • Kris April 18, 2013 at 5:12 pm

        I have no qualms with other researchers building on it. That’s exactly what this kind of quick and dirty experiment is good for. But this is not the first time that Jonathan has used that study to back up this idea, and it was clearly referenced in support of the statement that “this leads to different, potentially dangerous behaviors like reduced passing distance”.

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        • Tara Goddard April 18, 2013 at 5:31 pm

          Thanks for the comments, Kris. You’ve said it just right – Dr. Walker’s work was just the seed for wondering whether the characteristics of the bicyclist (and the driver, too) might affect behaviors like passing distance differently. I am going to be using the simulator to test passing distance based on bicyclists with different characteristics. And like Walker’s work, I won’t be claiming it is the most generalizable, end-all, be-all on the question. Just another step on the research path. It is possible that I won’t find ANY difference in what predicts passing distance. That’s the thrill and the terror of research. ;)

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        • mark kenseth April 18, 2013 at 6:31 pm

          I understand your point better now. Can you perhaps suggest another article or two for Jonathan to reference?

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        • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 19, 2013 at 8:52 am

          Point taken Kris. I should be more careful when referring to studies in general.

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  • Tara Goddard April 18, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    Thanks to Jonathan for a really nice representation of some of my research, and thanks especially for everyone’s comments. Lots of great points raised, some of which I’m considering already in research ideas not covered in this article, and some of them new insight and helpful.

    As a researcher, my personal choices shouldn’t matter insofar as I do robust, quality research that doesn’t just confirm my hypotheses. Of course, thanks to human nature, that is can be quite difficult, but it is a basic goal of research. As a researcher, I’ll be checking myself all along the way to avoid bias, and outsiders will help. When I discuss my research ideas (as I did with Jonathan), it can sound like I’m coming at it this from a certain angle. Part of that is how I frame it, and part of that is from people’s own biases (two people might read this article and one thinks that I’m anti-bicycling, the other thinks I’m anti-driving). For what it is worth, I don’t believe that driving/bicycling is an exclusive dichotomy, and driving happens to be my primary mode (was that a collective gasp I heard? The detractors above may need to search for another reason to decry my qualifications/motives). There IS a fundamental safety truth, though, regardless of what “side” you are on in the so-called war on cars – because of the speed, mass, and power differential between cars and other users of the roadway, it is never a fair fight. So if we care about people’s safety, regardless of mode, we need to get past the knee-jerk us versus them mentality.

    It is very true, as mentioned above, that even in cities with high bicycle mode share (Davis has over 20%), most people still drive. And most people who bicycle also drive. In fact, I’m sometimes MORE interested in people who do both – because we tend to “wear the hat” of whatever mode we are using – when I’m driving, bicyclists and pedestrians annoy me. When I’m riding my bike, I think all drivers are horrible (this is hyperbole, but you get the point). Social psychology can teach us a lot about why we are able to shift our social identity to fit the situation (see the “tribe” comment above). This isn’t a novel idea in psychology, but it is only just starting to makes its way into the travel behavior literature in a meaningful way.

    And since several of you were wondering, the current main method of my research is using a driving simulator. It represents real challenges from a research perspective (and if you are interested in discussing that, feel free to email or tweet me), but it also will allow me to gather data I can’t do in the “real world” (as some of you said or alluded to above). I’m very interested in not only drivers and bicyclists as a group, but what individual differences might predict these behaviors, and what interventions (e.g. certain infrastructure) might help.

    Thanks again for the comments. I’m working on getting my website up, but for now, feel free to contact me via twitter or through pdx. I’ll be sure to share research and publication updates with Jonathan, too.

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    • Tara Goddard April 19, 2013 at 10:15 am

      Thanks again for the comments. I wanted to add one last comment, just since this didn’t make it in to the article from the original email correspondence: I am working closely with, and want to acknowledge the help and contribution of, Dr. Jennifer Dill (in Urban Studies) and Dr. Kimberly Kahn (in Psychology). My colleague Arlie Adkins and I are working on an initial study related to some of this research. I say this, in addition to acknowledging them, in case you are you interested in checking out their other work. Thanks!

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    • Help April 19, 2013 at 10:25 am

      “. . . when I’m driving, bicyclists and pedestrians annoy me.”


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      • Tacoma April 19, 2013 at 9:45 pm

        Assuming you are asking the question legitimately (rather than just to be annoying), this is my understanding of what you quoted above. Here is a fuller context of her note:

        “In fact, I’m sometimes MORE interested in people who do both – because we tend to “wear the hat” of whatever mode we are using – when I’m driving, bicyclists and pedestrians annoy me. When I’m riding my bike, I think all drivers are horrible (this is hyperbole, but you get the point).”

        When she states “this is hyperbole”, I take that to refer to both the comment from the driver’s perspective and the comment from the bike rider’s perspective. I just think it could have better punctuation – e.g. “Because we tend to ‘wear the hat’ of whatever mode we are using – i.e. ‘When I’m driving, bicyclists and pedestrians annoy me; when I’m riding my bike, I think all drivers are horrible.'” Then she goes on to state “This is hyperbole….” which I took to apply to both perspectives.

        Anyway, that is my understanding. BTW, in case you need to know: “Hyperbole is the use of exaggeration as a rhetorical device or figure of speech.” You can look up more about it if you wish.

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        • Help April 20, 2013 at 7:23 am

          Thanks ‘Tara’ for adding to the conversation. I was asking what do cyclists and pedestrians do to annoy her. I am legitimately curious as she cycles quite a bit herself. But way to assume negative intent and then follow it up with a lecture on hyperbole. The verb ‘annoy’ hardly implies hyperbole by the way do maybe you should direct that lecture to yourself.

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          • Tacoma April 20, 2013 at 9:29 am

            Sorry, Help. It’s hard to tell the difference between a legitimate “Why?” and a ‘trolling’ “Why?” In an effort NOT to assume “negative intent”, I replied in good faith with what I believed was a legitimate reply.

            IRT what you call “a lecture on hyperbole”, good call! The lecture WAS for myself, as well as anyone else who wanted to know. I find it useful to look up words to make sure I understand them. I pasted it there in case you (or others) needed to know. I was trying NOT to assume that everyone knew the definition and was truly trying to be helpful.

            So back to the question (Sorry, still trying to be helpful), do you understand that the statement “. . . when I’m driving, bicyclists and pedestrians annoy me” is not Tara’s personal view? She is just using it as an example?

            I’m a bit confused by one thing. When you say “Thanks ‘Tara’ for adding to the conversation”, are you replying to me (Tacoma) or are you thinking that Tara is using ‘Tacoma’ to reply to you? I’m wondering why you put quotes around Tara?

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  • Drew April 18, 2013 at 6:17 pm

    The classic Goofy cartoon “Motor Mania” (look it up on YouTube) is good summary of the issue.

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  • Burk April 18, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    Here is one i’ve always pondered. Why do motorists treat me so well when i have bikes on my truck?

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    • 9watts April 18, 2013 at 7:03 pm

      “treat me so well”
      – offer to shine your shoes? bring you tasty snacks? What form does this god behavior take and how would you measure the difference with and without bikes on your truck?

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    • Bill Walters April 20, 2013 at 11:18 pm

      Motorists don’t tailgate because the bikes look like they’re about to spill out the back?

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  • lyle w. April 18, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    Very interesting. One sort of tertiary interest point to me when I think about road rage directed at cyclists would be the correlation between the frequency of incidents directed at bicyclists and a rise or sustained peak in gas prices. Obviously pinning any one incident down to this particular issue would be incredibly hard to do, but if you were looking at data city-wide for an entire year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some sort of statistical correlation.

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    • 9watts April 18, 2013 at 9:11 pm

      Or a Beth Slovic story on the front page?

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  • Skid April 18, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    We do so because it places us with a better mechanical advantage is adverse situations like losing traction while turning. You have much more chance of recovery with flat wide bars. That’s why mountain bikes have them. The slightly more upright position gives you a better ability to see the road in front of you. Your weight should still be triangulated between your arms and your butt. I started with BMX so maybe this is my bias.

    As far as speed goes the universal speed law applies, go as fast as what is safe for conditions, and passing on the Hawthorne bridge at rush hour without so much as an “on your left” isn’t safe. I am so tired of commuter racers, not everyone is training for the next race or looking for a workout, and realistically that should be done on the open road and not MUPs and bike boulevards.

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  • Peter W April 19, 2013 at 12:25 am

    The design of vehicles has to play a role in this.

    Drivers are wrapped up in metal and glass boxes, shut away from the rest of the world. Their only means of communication is varying length bursts of high decibel noise. Imagine if you had to go through life (or just a commute) trying to communicate like that: no matter what you wanted to say, the only way you could convey it was via single pitched shouts.

    I find it is so much easier to relate to other humans on bikes as I can communicate face to face with the full force of the English language, and that human communication has a calming effect that drivers are, sadly, cut off from.

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  • Oregon Mamacita April 19, 2013 at 9:36 am

    I am sorry if I was harsh with Tara, but I continue to find the field of Urban Planning to be intellectually dishonest. Many planners are “jack of all trades, master of none.” There is a lot of dogma at the heart of urban planning. Key concepts (that the city can change residents behavior) are dogmatic and unexamined. Our city just lost Nike thanks to the New Urbanist BS. Tara, if you won’t consider Randal O’Toole’s arguments (I don’t agree with everything he says) you will be just another dogmatic graduate.

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    • 9watts April 19, 2013 at 9:55 am

      “I am sorry if I was harsh with Tara”

      Did you say ‘if’?

      “if you won’t consider Randal O’Toole’s arguments (I don’t agree with everything he says) you will be just another dogmatic graduate.”

      Haha. That explains a lot.

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      • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 19, 2013 at 9:59 am


        Please don’t antagonize Oregon Mamacita. I appreciate that she apologized and seems to be sharing more constructive criticism. Thanks.

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        • 9watts April 19, 2013 at 10:05 am

          O.K. Jonathan, but I’ll offer this in my defense:


          “The “if” implies that the apologiser either doesn’t even know they did wrong (and did not bother to find out) or else does not acknowledge that they did wrong and so are pretending to apologise because they feel obligated to rather than because they are actually sorry. There is no confirmation that the apologiser actually regrets anything or has learnt anything from what they did that was wrong.”

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          • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 19, 2013 at 10:34 am


            I appreciate your defense; but you know how I operate. I don’t want to argue details and semantics… It’s about tone and sensitivity. When I feel the tone is mean, I censor and moderate at my own discretion. No hard feelings! I use my own judgment and I hope you feel it’s fair. Thanks.

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            • 9watts April 19, 2013 at 10:38 am


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            • Mike Cobb April 19, 2013 at 11:00 am

              I totally endorse your style, Jonathan, but in this case an “if…but” apology creates a really strong tone that is more than semantically different from an unqualified apology. If we want to give credit for an apology and back off accordingly, then I’d prefer that the apology be plain and conciliatory in tone.

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          • Mike Cobb April 19, 2013 at 10:36 am

            Not sure where my related comment went, but yeah – I absolutely agree with the conventional understanding that “if” makes an apology almost a non-apology.

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        • Help April 19, 2013 at 10:27 am

          The fact 9watts isn’t monitored for comments and I have been is absolutely stunning to me.

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          • 9watts April 19, 2013 at 10:30 am

            and you know this – how exactly?

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            • Help April 19, 2013 at 12:55 pm

              Well let’s see . . . . hmmm . . . Jonathan just told me.

              Hey if you support the cycling agenda, you get carte blanche here regardless of how off the rails your writings and rants are. If you don’t, you get monitored. This isn’t rocket science.

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          • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 19, 2013 at 10:36 am


            9watts comments a lot on this site and I feel — while he does tend to enjoy debate — he is almost always very sensitive to others’ views. I also know 9watts personally so I can vouch that is a nice human being with good intentions. If you have been “monitored” unfairly, please email me at maus.jonathan@gmail.com and I’ll be happy to share why. In the end, the best policy is to simply be nice and only offer constructive criticism. Thanks.

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            • Help April 19, 2013 at 1:00 pm

              “. . . he is almost always very sensitive to others’ PRO-CYCLING views.”

              Fixed for you.

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    • Chris I April 19, 2013 at 10:09 am

      So Nike chooses to add buildings to an existing campus, rather than add a new site in a more expensive part of the metro area, and that is the fault of urbanists? Have you thought about why they considered the SoWa site in the first place? They want to attract the best talent, and downtown is where the best talent wants to work. In this case, the logistics and costs of maintaining two sites was a bigger issue.

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  • Paul H April 19, 2013 at 9:56 am


    I’ll address my comment directly to you since you seem to be following the discussion thread. :-)

    I have an intuition, and only an intuition, that ride-alongs in real vehicles will provide much better insight than studying driving in a simulator.

    I commute by bike, but I drive for most errands. I suspect I’m alone in my car 60 to 70% of the time. What I notice about myself is that I fall into a semi-meditative state under normal road conditions. (I’m far less relaxed when it’s raining hard, foggy, etc.) The road noise and social isolation put me into a psychological state that’s similar to that I get when walking at a very moderate pace. It’s easy to think about things not at hand.

    It’s not that I’m not alert — my driving record is quite good — but part of me can tune out while in the car. Erratic bicyclists or pedestrians can really harsh that mellow. I have to become more present. I have to focus to avoid injuring someone. My road mantra is interrupted.

    I don’t know if that makes sense, or maybe my experience is too idiosyncratic, but I suspect that I would never experience that sort of discomfort in a simulator.

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    • Help April 19, 2013 at 10:31 am

      No it’s not idiosyncratic.

      If we added rickshaws to downtown Portland I think it’s fair to say drivers would be annoyed. Again it would make it a) harder to drive, b) slow down vehicles, and c) put the driver in harm’s way on occasions.

      Do cyclists like sharing their bike lanes with pedestrians?

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      • Skid April 20, 2013 at 1:54 am

        We do have rickshaws here, they are called pedi-cabs.

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    • longgone April 19, 2013 at 11:01 am

      Not to sound harsh about things ” harshing your mellow”, but IMO for a person to lull oneself into a lucid state behind the wheel where potential distractions lead to duress is absurd and dangerous. I guess I have been a competitive cyclist and motorcyclist for far too long to accept this outlook. I will agree that the use of simulators in this type of study is in direct opposition to very real world scenario’s where thousands of unreplicable realities exist. I also will further state that I take offense to the predjudice of gender keeping women off the road. I see 300% more women motorcyclists in the Pacific N.W. than any other place in the country. I see a florish of activity around cycling much like I saw in the late 60’s to early 70’s. If we are in fact going to get more people to ride their bikes, it will come from sincere, humble sharing of the joy of it and a further deconstruction of the subgenre’s it projects. Let’s face it, riding a bike takes effort. This is in complete opposition to the modern state of human existence in America. We are a fear based culture of loony tune armchair hypocrates wanting little to get in the way of our ability to remain complacent with the status quo. I too appologize to Tara, if my cynical outlook “harshed” her mellow! I wish her good luck in her quest for answers. peace.

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      • Paul H April 19, 2013 at 11:27 am

        Forgive my lack of clarity. I wasn’t trying to justify that state of being. I was merely noting it to underscore my suspicion that my emotional reaction to things would be very different in a simulator than in moving automobile.

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        • longgone April 19, 2013 at 1:00 pm

          I understand. What you said lay’s out perfectly the general effect of driving. For years Ford marketed thier cars on a superior “quite ride”. As technology improves the effeciency and performance of the car, the ability to keep it under control is made easier, thus allowing the driver a pethera of other things they can do while behind the wheel, besides paying attention to what’s in front of them…ie: onboard computers. At least you are aware, although I feel most motorist’s are not. I am not anti-auto either, but my use and enjoyment of them is strictly recreational. There are too many frickin’ useless and unsustainable cars on the road. Hell, when he was campaining in 2006-7, then Sen B. Obama had the guts one day in L.A. to announce he wanted to move ahead with Maglev train technology. It took less than 6 hours for the counter spin to ensue, and it was ruthless. He only recently after being Pres. for 11/3 terms brought it up again. Tar sands are blowin out all over the countryside, and car ads dominate the ad based consumerism. It will only get worse before it gets better.

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  • Aaronf April 19, 2013 at 10:17 am

    I don’t know anything about driving simulators.

    I am a little bit confused regarding what this study is attempting to accomplish. My guess would be that you will produce (numerical?) data with the driving simulator and then propose that several existing psychological concepts could be responsible for why the data appears as it does. I wonder what you could/will do to determine which concepts appear to be causing behavior, and which are less important. I’m thinking, if I cut someone off in traffic I may have trouble honestly reporting why… so how do we find out?

    Unrelated: reading the article again, I would have a hard time coming to the conclusion you have a pro car slant, since all of the examples given (yes, we didn’t read the whole email) are about car drivers being prejudiced and not vice versa. No mention of a cyclist slapping a car because they forget that the car has a person in it, or whatever. I’m not trying to imply that you don’t intend to have a study which is as bias free as possible, I only suggest you might balance your examples in the actual study, for the appearance of balance.

    I’m glad you are open to input, and I look forward to reading your finished product.

    Great article. Thanks J, for keeping your finger on the pulse of PSU Urban Studies.

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  • gumby April 22, 2013 at 9:04 pm

    I read that people who drive expensive cars are more likely to be rude drivers and I started paying attention to see if this were true. I have to say it seems to be at least partially true. People driving mercedes seem to feel a bit more irked with having to share the road. I haven’t noticed any pattern with other expensive cars. Pickups are definately more likely to be rude and aggressive to me on my bike.

    What cyclist wear also seems to be a factor. Even fellow cyclists love to hate the lycra clad warriors. I’ve heard women talk about the skirt affect – drivers tend to be more couteous when a female cyclist is wearing a skirt. (I haven’t heard if it helps men. My assumption is – probably not.)

    Tara, do you have any favorite response to people who comments about cyclists not obeying the law? The most poplular response seems to be “Drivers don’t either”, which I feel is pretty weak. My favorite response is that “we need more law-abiding people like you to ride”

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  • jim April 23, 2013 at 12:17 am

    I notice that cyclists in Spandex experience a lot more road rage than plain clothed riders. Is it because drivers don’t like men in Spandex? or does it have more to do with how they ride?

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  • Mad Mike April 23, 2013 at 6:35 pm

    car exhaust in my lungs = mad mike bicycle rage

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