I complain sometimes (ok I complain a lot) but the background noise is that I am surprised almost every day by how nicely the drivers in my part of California behave. Why are they so nice? I've worked up a few theories. I think the answer is that it is a combination of the following.
1. The weather is nice here almost every single day. The sun shines the sky is a brilliant blue and people feel happy and are inclined to show generosity to that hapless bicyclist creeping along in the bike lane. In Massachusetts and New York, where the weather is shitty almost every single day (freezing rain, snow, or disgustingly humid --- take your choice) people are in a bad mood all the time. Happy people = nice thoughtful drivers. Mad people suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder are angry and medicated = horrible nasty drivers.
2. People here are wicked fucking rich. They drip money. Houses in this neighborhood start at 1.2. Rich people are happy people. Also rich people have really nice cars and they don't want to get them all smeared up with a wet and sticky bicyclist.
3. Wide roads with generously sized bicycle lanes. Cars (outside of NYC, a city that is second only in disgusting mean smug nastiness to Boston, MA) like to have bicyclists in lanes. They like knowing where we are and they like having an area that we don't invade. It makes all of us a little calmer. When I exit the bike lane to make a left hand turn the cars (or at least the local cars) are calm because they know that in mere seconds I will have slid back into my bike area and they can continue unimpeded in their car area. The skinny roads in older cities (suited to people traveling on horseback who are about as wide as ...people on bicycles...) are a tough squeeze for todays SUV. Add in a few roadies and everything gets exponentially worse.
So if you are some unfortunate living in one of those cities where the cops shoot bicyclists in the head you may not have any sense for how things can work, or even how they should work. Here it is in a nutshell.
1. I signal that I am turning right. The car approaching slows and then waves me on. I continue right and the car goes on their way.
2. I am bicycling up the bike lane. A giant SUV has pulled over and parked in the bike lane because they want to talk on their phone and they knew it's illegal to do so while driving in traffic. I signal that I need to enter traffic to get around the SUV. The car approaching slows down and waves at me. I go around the SUV and return to the lane.
3. I am approaching an intersection with a green light. A car in front of me wants to turn right but they don't want to cream me so they are looking to see if I am going to ride up on their side. I wave them on. They wave back and make their turn.
Yes. It really is like this some places. Peace among nations. It begins with you.