Some interesting things happened on my way downtown yesterday.
I was headed to the Health & Fitness Fair at First Presbyterian Church on Jackson St to promote Bike/Walk Central Florida and CyclingSavvy. My printer crapped out, so I needed to stop and get some fliers printed at Staples. And I was running out of time.
As I approached Colonial on Maguire, I could see I wasn’t going to make the light. I remembered that the right turn lane gets a mid-cycle green arrow in the mornings, so I opted to turn right on Colonial instead of going to Fairgreen. Good decision. I had the road to myself to Primrose and got the left turn arrow there right away.
Leaving Staples, I decided to head out onto Bumby. In my mind, I was headed for my rat path to go down Robinson. That’s how I normally get downtown. Then I realized it would be a lot quicker to take South to Rosalind. I typically avoid Bumby because the pavement is so awful, but there I was, so I was taking it to South Street.
Fortunately, there wasn’t much traffic. A few cars stopped in the right lane behind me at the red light at Robinson, but they had no trouble changing lanes within the next block. I skillfully navigated the good pavement to keep from giving my laptop too rough a ride.
When I turned right on South Street, an OPD car was turning left from the opposite side. I held my breath for a moment (remembering Mighk’s encounter). But the officer passed without incident. I think it was a CSO, anyway.
A couple blocks ahead, I saw another cyclist on the road. Even though the sun was at my back, he wasn’t easy to see. He was wearing dark clothes and riding on the edge line (which is about an inch from the edge of pavement). He blended into the landscaping. The lanes on South Street are very narrow (~10ft). I watched to see what the other drivers would do.
It appeared as though they didn’t see him, or they didn’t recognize how narrow the lane was, until it was too late to change lanes easily.
Behind me, motorists were avoiding the right lane—changing lanes way back. After they passed me, some would move to the right lane. They would stay in the right lane until just before they got to his position, then brake, wait for a gap in the center lane and move left to pass. Only one gave him less than three feet of clearance, but all of them seemed to have more trouble passing him than they did me. It appeared as though they didn’t see him, or they didn’t recognize how narrow the lane was, until it was too late to change lanes easily.
This is actually consistent with what a number of non-cyclists have told me about their experience with encountering a cyclist controlling a lane — it makes it easier for them because they know exactly what to do and within plenty of time to do it seamlessly.
I was riding a little faster than the rider ahead, so just before Summerlin, I overtook him. I don’t usually do this, but as I went by, I said, “Take the lane, man, it’s yours!” When I stopped at the red light at Summerlin, he pulled up next to me and said, “Thanks. I guess I remember reading something about that in the Sentinel.” He was going to Church Street, so I invited him to ride with me. We had a nice chat and I was glad I had said something.
I arrived at First Pres in good time and it had been a flawless ride — not a single negative encounter (or so I thought). My destination and the stop at Staples put me on roads I don’t normally use. My entire route was on what would probably be considered busy roads, but at 9:45am, there wasn’t much traffic.
It’s helpful to have a picture perfect commute when you plan to be talking up active transportation how great it is to ride a bike in this town. And I had a great day sharing the love of cycling in Orlando!
While I had an absolutely flawless ride to downtown, a member of the cycling community in a car happened to encounter me on Bumby and had a completely different point of view. He was incensed that I not only had the audacity to ride in the middle of the lane, but that I was flaunting my “right to the lane” on my shirt (see photo above). He wrote a 3-paragraph, all-caps rant to Mighk Wilson (because, you see, Mighk is responsible for all bicyclists in the metropolitan area) about how every motorist who had to pass me (all 6 of them in 1/2 mile on a 4-lane road) now HATES cyclists.
Not only did he project his beliefs about the inferiority of bicyclists onto motorists who passed me without incident, he projected negative intentions on me. He asserted that I want to “antagonize” motorists to make my point—not just by controlling the lane and wearing the BMUFL shirt, but by using that road at all, when I could have “easily used a parallel street with much less traffic.” Much like the “advocates” who have been deriding Reed Bates, he basically accused me of undermining the needs of cyclists by making motorists change lanes.
Wow. And here I thought I was just driving to a health fair to promote bicycling.
The Cyclist Inferiority Complex
Inferiority complexes cause people to have overactive imaginations about negative feelings and intentions of others.
This dichotomy between my positive experience and this observer’s extreme negative reaction, attribution error and subsequent raging complaint has certainly given me cause to ponder what Forester coined the Cyclist Inferiority Complex. There is disagreement, even among bicycle driving advocates, as to the appropriateness of this label. But I think it describes a very real pathology.
There is no doubt that the general traffic culture has been skewed to give priority to drivers of motorized vehicles. The dominant organizational culture of both traffic engineering and law enforcement is skewed to enforce this priority. The engineering juggernaut can be seen as recently as the process to ordain the SLM (sharrows) as an official marking—in order to allow the marking into the MUTCD, the minimum placement recommendations were reduced so much as to invalidate the purpose of the thing. Dan Gutierrez is cataloging the results of that now. I will soon be sharing another frustrating saga on the enforcement of imaginary laws, and how police officers are stubbornly refusing to interpret the exceptions to the FTR and MBL law in favor of a cyclist’s right to travel safely.
Most of the contention about the CIC label surrounds applying it to cyclists themselves. I refrain from using it to describe people who are simply, naturally afraid to ride in traffic. We all come into adulthood with this baggage, it takes education to get rid of it. In fact, key components of the CyclingSavvy course were specifically designed to free students from the baggage — you simply can’t teach strategies for safe and empowered cycling with that stuff in the way.
What’s interesting is, while motorists have been enculturated in this belief system, too, the majority actually hold onto it with less ferocity than cyclists do. As I mentioned before, non-cyclists have related to me, without animosity, the experience of encountering an assertive cyclist. When I explain exactly why we ride that way, it connects the loop between experience and knowledge and makes complete sense to them. In my experience, the motorists who reject this information and refuse to get it are as much a minority as the ones who honk (less than 1% of those I encounter).
Inferior cyclists seem convinced the assertive ones will anger the gods of the temple of speed and cause them to smite the tribe.
There seems to be a larger percentage of cyclists who are hostile to those of us who do not act like second class citizens. I have encountered these everywhere: browbeating former students when they try to practice what we’ve taught them; writing hostile comments about our educational videos; inhabiting advocacy forums and running advocacy organizations that refuse to support the rights of assertive cyclists (then deliberately discrediting said cyclists in order to save face). They seem convinced we will anger the gods of the temple of speed and cause them to smite our tribe (and refuse to give us more bike lanes). There really isn’t any better way to describe that behavior than to call it an inferiority complex. It does more to undermine the legitimacy of cycling than anything motorists do.
But it really was a lovely ride.
And a lovely ride home, as well. I took the quiet streets. Because I wanted to.