Clear Lenses for City Riding

When I was in high school, a teacher commented that he thought there’d be fewer car crashes if there were no windshields on cars. At least that’s how I remember it. I believe the reasoning was that drivers would be able to see each other, and the recognition of the other person’s humanity would make drivers less likely to drive dangerously, as they’d feel like they knew the other drivers around them.

Whether I’m walking or riding, when I see an approaching car, particularly at an intersection, I often find myself trying to stare through the windshield to ascertain where the driver is looking. If he’s looking at his phone or reaching for something or holding his phone to her ear, I’m worried that the person doesn’t see me. Maybe they’ll blow through the red, maybe they won’t be able to respond to me turning left. If I can see some kind of acknowledgement of my presence, I’m more comfortable crossing the street—even when the light is on my side. I do the same with other road and trail users. If a ped is looking down at her phone, I’m worried she hasn’t sensed my presence and is thus a threat to cause me harm.

I don’t know if this is universal, but other experienced cyclists I’ve talked to seem to do the same. Whether or not we can explain this to our children or newbies is another story. Telling someone to “try to stare through the windshield” might be one bit of advice too many when it’s taking all their attention to hold the bike in a straight line, avoid potholes, people, and the cars coming from behind.

Because of this effort of trying to see the eyes of drivers, I’ve been interested in the idea that if people, pedestrians, drivers, and even cyclists, can see my eyes while I’m riding, they’ll both have a greater sense of what I’m intending to do and a greater sense of my humanity. Sure, Shylock and all, but not all understand this.

The humanity of cyclists is something that drivers don’t always believe. There’s a study out of Australia published earlier this year that found non-cyclists rated cyclists as 45% human, though cyclists rated cyclists 70% human. The latter not exactly a good sign.

Beyond that, between helmets and glasses and the relatively fixed position of upper bodies and repetitive motion of lower bodies, I fear that some people might perceive cyclists as automatons, Terminators in spandex. And, as with the uncanny valley problem, automatons are scary.

To this end, I often ride without eye protection when riding in urban environments. If I’m riding slow, glasses aren’t always needed. But when I’m riding fast, they are. So, when I’m riding in Central Park, where ever-greater numbers of pedestrians are crossing the drives in front of me (despite the near universal presence of archways that could reduce conflicts), I’ve been trying to ride in Central Park with clear-lens glasses. The 100% S2’s I tried out were appealing because of the clear lens that came packaged with the dark lens. I regularly swapped lenses—clear for city riding, dark for going over the bridge.

I can’t tell if the clear lens gambit is making a difference. However, there was a study published in 2015 that found eye contact can make a difference in terms of reducing the risk for pedestrians crossing streets with cars around. Here’s the big takeaway: “Without eye contact, about 55% of the drivers did not stop at the pedestrian crossing. However, when pedestrians stared directly at the driver’s eyes, about 68% of drivers stopped.”

It might seem to hang too much on a single study. However, the cost of riding with clear lenses is relatively small, and even a small reduction in risk is probably worth the effort.

Humans have been around for 50,000 years or so. One thing they probably intuit more often than anything else is their risk level at any moment. It might not be accurate, it might not be rational, but it is ingrained like few things. While, as cyclists, we want the risk perception of non-cyclists to be adjusted, or right-sized, to reality, we probably need to work on all fronts at once.

So, with the clear lenses. Others can see your eyes. They can intuit you’re human, dropping some of their perceived risk. They can figure out where you’re looking and thus possibly where you’re intending to go, giving them an opportunity to more accurately evaluate their own actions.

The one frustration is that the lenses reflect some light, so that my eyes could be obscured behind the reflection. But I haven’t found any matte-coated clear lenses yet.

Clear lenses for city riding. Worth a try.



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