Bigotry is Blinding
The image below shows Primrose Dr. on the approach to Robinson St. South of Jefferson there is a wide bike lane (only wide for a block). At Jefferson, that space becomes a general use lane as Primrose goes from one lane to two. It works out pretty well since it puts the cyclist in position to control the right lane. And because motorists are already in what becomes the left lane, they have to change lanes if they want to use the right lane.
This evening, my friend Marcus and I were taking Primrose from Central to the Cady Way extension north of Colonial. We crossed Jefferson with no traffic behind us, rode double to the intersection and stopped at the red light.
The first driver who queued up behind us did so by changing lanes into our lane, with us in full sight. Typically, only right-turning drivers queue up behind me at this light because mindful drivers don’t queue up behind bicyclists (or buses or amish buggies) if they have a choice.
When the light turned green, we continued riding and having a conversation through the intersection. The lanes on Robinson are about 9ft wide. As you can see from the street view, they are barely wider than a car. A car cannot pass a solo bicyclist on Primrose without changing lanes. It makes no sense to ride single file for the sake of illusion.
Well, we were barely across the intersection when the driver behind us started honking. Without breaking stride, I indicated the existence of the adjacent lane. It didn’t take him more than 5 seconds to change lanes, but as he passed he yelled something about us being f$#%^& a$$holes. A half mile later he was waiting one car ahead of us at the red light at Colonial (which turned green within seconds of our arrival).
This is run-of-the-mill incivility. It doesn’t get under my skin and it doesn’t happen to me very often in the urban core. I’m writing about it because it’s a good example of a core dysfunction in our traffic culture — entitlement and complete lack of perspective.
First of all, he didn’t have to queue up behind us but he did. Why? Wasn’t paying attention? Or thought we’d just get out of the way?
Was he more incensed by the fact that we were riding next to each other? Probably. A lot of people (including bicyclists) think it’s uppity to ride side-by-side, even when it makes no difference. I have never had anyone honk at me there when riding alone. But it would not have been any different if we were single file — on the edge of the road, even. He still would have needed to change lanes. The left lane would have had to be clear for him to pass, even if it was a straddle pass. He didn’t notice that. Didn’t care. He only saw two people who he believes don’t belong on the road — second class citizens. We violated his sense of superiority. Even moreso, I’m sure, by not skittering out of his way like rats.
What’s at play here is nothing less than bigotry. Yes, bigotry.
The notion that a bicyclist shouldn’t be on the road is bigotry.
The notion that two bicyclists should not ride side by side, when doing so makes zero difference, is bigotry.
The inability to recognize that having to wait 5 seconds to change lanes was a result of you choosing a lane that had bicyclists in it to begin with (or a result of you not paying attention), is bigotry.
The inability to recognize that the extra 5 seconds to change lanes makes zero difference to your trip time because the red light at Colonial is 1:30, is bigotry.
The inability to recognize that the two people in front of you were, well, PEOPLE! on their way home — just like you — just using different vehicles, is bigotry.
Every lame excuse about bicyclists delaying motorists is bigotry. I-4 looks like this —>
every afternoon and there are no bicyclists there.
The reason this is on my mind is yesterday’s kerfuffle over 60 high school students being suspended for riding bikes to school. The reasons cited by the principal (despite the kids having a police escort which included the mayor!) was that it was unsafe and they were causing a traffic jam. The principal, who I’m sure was horrified to find her 15 minutes of fame involved being the center of a national hatestorm, has apologized. But I think the initial reaction is telling. Because it is bigotry. Anyone who has ever witnessed traffic near a school knows motorists cause massive traffic jams all by themselves. I also wonder if the public reaction would have been as intensely in their favor if the students hadn’t enlisted the police to help them.
Bigotry against bicycling exists because it is a product of our culture. Militant bigots act out because they feel they are supported by their peers (but just in case, they have the anonymity of their cars). Why do they feel that? Because for almost 100 years we’ve been indoctrinating people into a dysfunctional belief that roads are for motor vehicles and anyone not in one is an interloper. And yet that’s only 100 years of dysfunction, superimposed on a public space with centuries of history that did not traditionally include cars or the speed, throughput, fear, selfishness and entitlement that came with them.
THAT, my friends, is what we have to tackle if we want bicycling to become normal, accepted and respected as a mode of transportation. We won’t tackle it by avoiding and reinforcing it with facilities that get us out of the way at our own expense.