What do you think?
Bikers call it the “Mary Poppins Effect.”
Dottie Brackett, 30, commutes by bike from her home in Roscoe Village to a downtown law office. When she wears athletic attire or rides a bike that forces her to hunch over the handlebars, cars often pass uncomfortably close. But dressed in street clothes and riding an upright bicycle, a curious change occurs: She gets as wide a berth as if she were the famous nanny pedaling along. Because, after all, “who could be mean to Mary Poppins?”
“The Mary Poppins Effect is a matter of humanizing the bicycle rider,” says Ms. Brackett, who co-authors the blog LetsGoRideaBike.com. “It helps drivers realize bicyclists are people too.”
In the 1970s, cyclists began donning exercise clothes along with helmets, says a spokeswoman for the League of American Bicyclists in Washington, D.C. But bicycle commuting, a trend that correlates with cyclists wearing street clothes, is on the rise. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1.3% of Chicago's working population rode to work in 2010, a 159% increase in the past decade.
Cyclists disagree on whether there's a corresponding “Dick Van Dyke Effect” for dapper gents. But 33-year-old Ravenswood resident Julie Hochstadter, who runs TheChainLink.org, an online community for Chicago bikers, says two factors can amplify the Mary Poppins Effect: helmets and a trailer designed to carry a child.
“Even if I don't have a kid in it, which I usually don't . . . everybody is so respectful,” she says. “It would be nice if cars did that all the time.”
© 2011 by Crain Communications Inc.
I think the broad hat and wide flowing clothes of Mary Poppins probably give you a wider appearance from behind and drivers give you extra room because of it. Those orange plastic arms with reflectors on them that you put on the left side of your rear rack, or that set of panniers, or I imagine a wide pair of bird wings will all do something similar. I guess.
Do you suppose you'd get even more room if you had something spiky on the left of your bike that looked like it might scratch paint? Like Mary Poppins's umbrella? Call it the Gene Simmons effect.
When they first interviewed me, I didn't even know what the Mary Poppins Effect was. Once she explained, I immediately remembered an incident when I forgot my helmet and was in street clothes (I also bike often in dresses), and felt the cars were more aggressive. It was a very vivid memory, and something I've been thinking of chatting with other women about for awhile now. This was roughly 2 years ago.
I'm a very short woman and do wonder if sometimes that due to my size, sex and attire I am treated by cars with more respect. Maybe I'm just dreaming :))
Interesting. I only own a road bike but my next bike will be one that is more upright, like a hybrid. For the sake of my back, mostly.
I also recently ordered a new helmet and when deciding on the color, I thought I'd stay away from red and went with a lighter combo. I remember hearing that the color red can foster aggression in people (apparently the opposite is true in China) so I thought, as a social experiment at least, I'll go with a different color. I hate hate hate when cars speed by fast and close to me, so any difference in that will be welcome.
Also, I was riding yesterday and the thought occurred to me that maybe the reason for drivers behaving more aggressively around road bikers that are more hunched over, is that it appears the cyclists are in a "racing" position, and the drivers are (subconsciously?) reacting towards this. The cyclists that are more upright appear have the opposite effect on drivers...
There are many theories out there about all this. Some of them are: being hunched over is a submissive position, whereas upright is more dominant (cue the jokes here); skinny people in tight Lycra look light/weak, so the heftier you look, the more respect you get (there's probably an upper limit on the heft, though); people in Lycra on road bikes are obviously just "out for a ride" and therefore should get out of the way of the driver, who has "somewhere to go".
I personally subscribe to the thought that anything flapping in the wind, whether it's a skirt hem or a scarf, catches the eye of motorists and makes the bicyclist's presence register in their minds, which is a step toward safety.
...I hate hate hate when cars speed by fast and close to me, so any difference in that will be welcome...
I actually experimented with swinging my U-Lock in my hand while riding once - it seems to get the same response from motorists as swinging a log. Every car gave me a really, really wide berth and passed me very, very carefully
I've found that it makes an immediate difference if I can pick up a large dead log, and swing it visibly in my right hand as I walk up the road. Cars will literally stop in front of me until it is safe for them to go out into the on-coming lane in order to give me a WIDE berth. It is fun, and it gives me a piece of the pavement to walk on instead of stumbling through the weeds and trash alongside the roadway. Try it!
Another example where I think having this law on the books could help. Whether or not your able to succeed in your litigation is another issue, but the threat of litigation can be a big deterrent.
Ezra Hozinsky said:
@Anne Alt: Just a few days ago a friend of mine was repeatedly hit from behind by an impatient motorist as she waited at a stoplight with a large cargo trailer in tow. Seems even increasing our footprint on the road might do precious little to mitigate the violence motorists feel entitled to perpetrate.
I usually don't walk where there are no sidewalks, but I'll try it out if the need ever arises. :)
A U-lock can do some damage in the right situation, but for me, swinging one around while I'm on my bike is out of the question. I'll stick with a small can of mace.
I walk on suburban high-speed roads with no sidewalks frequently. I've found that it makes an immediate difference if I can pick up a large dead log, and swing it visibly in my right hand as I walk up the road. Cars will literally stop in front of me until it is safe for them to go out into the on-coming lane in order to give me a WIDE berth. It is fun, and it gives me a piece of the pavement to walk on instead of stumbling through the weeds and trash alongside the roadway. Try it!When I'm behind the wheel I too hate, hate, hate to pass pedestrians or cyclists at more than a snail's pace. I think it is impolite and rude...like a bully in a schoolyard.
Brendan said:...I hate hate hate when cars speed by fast and close to me, so any difference in that will be welcome...