(Helmet tip to Danc for posting the video on Yaybikes.)
Recent articles about the MBL law and the Jacksonville stabbing have brought out the anti-cyclist comment trolls. I typically avoid the comments, but even that isn’t working anymore. Now some of these people feel so emboldened by their righteousness, they’ve even taken to joining cyclist groups on Facebook to spew their rants. According to the trolls, all bicyclists are responsible for the ones who don’t follow the rules. Apparently, no bicyclists are worthy of respect or equal treatment since some bicyclists run red lights and stop signs. Yet, somehow the same standards don’t apply to them.
Scofflaw motorists kill over 40,000 people a year in the U.S. because they are inattentive, careless, aggressive or fail to follow the rules. The finger-pointing and claims of how dangerous we are seem awfully absurd in that context.
I’m not done.
Of course, none of this excuses the blatant disrespect for the rules we see exhibited by our fellow bicyclists. Part of what makes the trolls so infuriating is that while their accusations are disingenuous and motivated by pure selfishness (they perceive bicyclists as an inconvenience and don’t want to share the road with us), they cannot be dismissed as fiction. And we know it.
Let’s not let the finger-pointing obscure the truth, this has nothing to do with what vehicle we drive. Ignoring the rules isn’t exclusive to people who ride bikes. It’s an attitude endemic to our entire traffic culture.
Most cyclists are also motorists. When people drive cars, they are mostly constrained by a system of expectations, and by the physical limitations of the car itself, from doing many of the annoying things people do on bicycles. Nonetheless, motorist stop sign compliance is just as bad (albeit less blatant), and people in cars do other illegal things the power and anonymity of the car affords them (like drive 10-15mph over the speed limit, violate pedestrians’ right-of-way, text while driving and harass other road users). When the same people get on bikes they often don’t feel bound by the traffic laws at all. This is because our culture doesn’t respect or treat cyclists as drivers of vehicles. Yes, the very same disrespect that motivates the comment troll comes full-circle! In addition, the bicycle affords the enhanced visibility and maneuverability to circumvent the system. While a person on a bicycle isn’t as likely to kill a fellow citizen while violating the rules, s/he is still contributing to the degradation of a community system.
It comes back to the culture of me.
If it’s all about you, there’s no impetus to be a responsible member of a bigger system. In a system where most of the players are exhibiting self-centered behavior, there’s very little external reinforcement for community-centered behavior. Those of us who follow the rules of the system have a broader view of, and respect for, the system itself and how it relates to the overall civility and livability of our community. That’s not altruism, though. A livable community benefits the individuals supporting it far more than the instant-gratification behaviors that undermine it.
All through my 20s and into my early 30s, I drove my car and my bike like I was the center of the universe. Get out of my way! Learning to drive a motorcycle in my mid thirties was my first introduction how it felt to be vulnerable among aggressive drivers. But when I started using the bicycle a lot more than the motorcycle or car, I became fully infused with a different point of view on the frustration caused by other road users behaving with the same level of self-centeredness I was. I wasn’t in a position to complain about others without cleaning up my own act.
What surprised me was that when I did change my style of cycling (and driving), my stress level went way down. Most of the things I was doing to get ahead and beat the system were causing me a LOT more stress than it was worth. Oddly, my perception of other people’s behavior actually improved—especially from the saddle.
This slowing down, reduction of stress, reordering of priority created an even broader shift in my life. It created a cascade of reordering a lot of other things unrelated to transportation.
Human-scale engagement with people in the traffic system opens a portal to a sense of belonging so many people are missing. The simple, positive interactions are self-reinforcing: exchanging smiles and waves with other drivers at a 4-way stop (nothing makes a motorist smile like a cyclist stopping 😉 ); greeting people who are walking their dogs or pushing strollers; kids selling lemonade in the neighborhood; the FEDEX driver who delivers a package to my house and recognizes me from seeing me on my bike and the friendly wave I give him when he passes me.
There is no escaping our interdependence. At their core, the rules of the road are simply a structure for a system of civility. When we slow down and respect a system of civility, we discover we are a part of something life-enhancing and worth nurturing.