Fear, Intimidation and the Social Structures Beneath Them

Raphael Clemente has written an excellent piece on the social change needed to promote non-motorized transportation and livable communities.

As one who uses a bicycle for the vast majority of my trips around town, I am often struck by the crazy behavior and strange reactions of some automobile drivers. I am not implying that people who drive cars are evil or by virtue of riding a bicycle for transportation that I am better than anyone else. But some drivers are intent on using their vehicles to barge their way through situations using intimidation and fear as a means of influencing others.

Occasions like the two that just happened as I pedaled back downtown from my lunch break at home make me realize that if we are to develop a non-automobile dependent transportation system we will need to change the way many people think about rights, access, and priority of treatment on our roads and in our public spaces.

I might use “equality” rather than “priority,” however, when it comes to land-use we do need to change the priorities away from moving large numbers of private automobiles at high speed. That thinking has turned our suburbs into hell-scapes of hot pavement where the “walk” signals should say “run” because you don’t have a prayer of getting across if you walk.

But back to the social structure: I think the incivility disease extends beyond the treatment of pedestrians and bicyclists. Many motorists are jerks to each other, too. I suspect the underlying selfishness and entitlement extends beyond the road as well, but the anonymity of being encased in steel certainly brings out the worst in some people.

The Winter Park Civility Initiative is going to be concluding its research phase soon. This phase has included focus groups and a survey to document people’s attitudes toward pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. I’ll publish the findings on the above-linked website when they are released. But here are a few sample themes:

  • Roads were viewed as ‘belonging’ to cars; cyclists and pedestrians should stay out of the way as much as possible.
  • Cyclists in traffic made participant motorists nervous.
  • Large groups of riders annoyed and/or worried participants.
  • Pedestrians’ and cyclists’ behavior was viewed as difficult to predict.
  • While unsure of the exact laws, participants were frustrated by cyclists’ failure to stop at traffic signals and take other safety measures.
  • The presence of other motorists made some participants feel pressured during encounters with cyclists and pedestrians.

The next phase will be the design of a social marketing campaign to encourage the behavior we desire.

What behavior do you want to see from pedestrians, cyclists and motorists in a civil and cooperative community? What kind of messages would you respond to? What kind of messages do you think the non-cyclists you know would respond to?

5 replies
  1. rodney
    rodney says:

    Let’s get back to the days of walk/ride to the right and pass on the left.

    With everything happening at the speed of life, we, as a society, have lost touch with the finer things in life. Everything has become rush, rush, rush. Gone are the days of what is best for my fellow citizen, and is now what is in it for ME!

    As a commuting cyclist, I can see and feel the pain the motorists in the research report. The scofflaws on both sides need to wake up and make the change to do things right.

    These scofflaws are our weakest links in equality.

  2. rodney
    rodney says:

    In Clemente’s article, one commenter wrote:

    “….Many of us belong to multiple groups (i.e. someone who is a mass transit commuter, drives a personal auto, drives a delivery truck, cycles, exercises in an urban environment and walks whenever possible). The more diverse a person is in selecting/using different modes of transportation, directly equates to the potential for that person to have a higher level of respect for others…….”

    This approach would essentially open our eyes to other road users. Respect and equality.

    Sorta Kinda looks like a personal growth opportunity to me. Especially if you happen to be one of the “not in the know” or of the limited modal diversity group.

  3. AndrewP
    AndrewP says:

    We’ve touched on this before — getting out of an auto and onto anything else — bicycle, motorcycle, or simply walking — will open your eyes to other road users, and open your eyes to how autos de-humanize/shield people from dealing directly with each other ….

  4. Keri
    Keri says:

    What was interesting in the focus groups is that even the people who rode bikes (for recreation or transportation) shared motorist-centric views.

  5. Mighk
    Mighk says:

    It’s an ugly feedback system. Some motorists are uncivil to pedestrians and cyclists who obey the law and are “in the way.” Walkers and cyclists react by ignoring the laws in an effort to avoid getting in the way. (Due to their size, maneuverability and speed, walkers and cyclists can make movements motorists can’t. These movements are usually safe, but sometimes cause conflicts and crashes.) Motorists then see non-motorized travelers as unpredictable. Traffic engineers and cops often make this situation worse by siding with the motorists, which leads to still more unpredictable behavior.

    On the pedestrian side, I’ve made the point at “safety committee” meetings (to no avail) that focusing on pedestrian adherence to laws is a waste of time. The pedestrian quickly learns (if he doesn’t already know) that obeying the law isn’t going to protect him and will often result in a great deal of delay or extra steps, so he/she may as well do whatever seems reasonable.

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