Bad Cyclist Behavior Is Everybody’s Problem

Background Reading: Copenhagenize > Behavioural Challenges for Urban Cycling

Urban Cycling Behavioral Challenges

In the article above we read:

“Behavior is a tricky subject and getting groups of people to change their behaviour is never easy. Lately, behaviour is a hot topic in Emerging Bicycle Cultures. Many people who ride bicycles are generating bad press because of the way they’re cycling and many other cyclists are getting branded negatively by association.

Generally, bad behaviour is a sign that cyclists don’t have adequate infrastructure. Increasing cycling’s infrastructure and profile is a good way to calm the traffic in more ways than one.

We’re at an interesting point in the reestablishment of urban cycling as a norm. Bicycles have been a fad, a trend, for almost two years now. There is every indication that we are finally returning to a place where the bicycle is regarded as a respected, accepted and feasible transport form in our cities and towns.

Nevertheless, the trend nature of it all means that it could just as well disappear again, as quickly as it came. We need to accelerate the rush to mainstream urban cycling – Bicycle Culture 2.0 – before we lose it again.”

Infrastructure Increases Cannot Solve Everything

Randy Cohen posited that the lack of infrastructure to accommodate cyclists is the thing that drives scofflaw behavior. Would that this were true. You only have to look at the behaviors of both pedestrians and motorists to understand that despite improvements all around lousy, impatient and rude drivers still flourish. Pedestrians still venture out into intersections texting madly, oblivious to their surroundings. Jaywalking in the Chicago Loop is so prevalent that you hardly find it startling.

Getting people to resist texting or refraining from drinking while driving has little to do with infrastructure. It has everything to do with losing that smug sense of entitlement that makes you want to flout rules and laws that don’t suit you in favor of a more adult approach, being responsible.

My single biggest beef with Critical Mass is that it is long on blaming motorists and negligent in lecturing to its own. Forums like ChainLink are replete with instances in which a cyclist echoes the “I refuse to stop at intersections or stop signs” and then begins a thread a few days later complaining about taxi cab drivers parking in the protected bike lane.

Cyclists are quick to want to report stolen bikes to the very same police officers they say they hate. This is craziness of the first order. If you live in a society where you expect others to follow the rules then you have to at least consider doing so yourself.

The lack of infrastructure mantra begins to remind me of the “Devil made me do it” signature line of Flip Wilson. Both are lame and cop outs and even the heads of advocacy organizations are singing this tune. But frankly it will not wash with the general public.

Cyclist are faced with a Double Standard. When a motorist does something stupid, other motorists label him a “jerk” When a cyclist behaves equally badly we all get tarred with the same brush. Motorists and pedestrians look upon cyclists as different. They do not empathize with us. And that is our own fault.

Bringing the Average Joe into the cycling fold has been seen as a sell out up until now. We talk about motorists in very pejorative terms as if the very act of driving a motorized vehicle was against the Laws of Nature. It is not and never will be. That would be like having a vegan detesting meat-eaters because they have to kill the animals they eat. You can never bridge the gap between the mainstream and any minority of you make the existence of the other fellow an act of pure evil.

It is that kind of thinking that led Radical Muslims to join Al Qaeda in an effort to destroy the Great Satan of the West.

Our First Order of Business Is Encountering the Enemy

We have met the enemy and he is us.” — Pogo

The first order of business is to analyze where the aims of the Cycling Movement bumps up against the nature of a Democracy. Failure to understand this problem results in the kind of “foolishness” that we see played out in Washington DC. Nothing gets done until one or the other of the combatant groups gains the ascendancy. And even then there are safeguards in place (e.g. filibusters and parliamentary maneuvers) which are meant to impede any wholesale attempt to ignore the wishes of the party out of power.

Money is tight and getting people to do the things that might help make them healthier and more fit is often thwarted by short term fiscal wrangling. Nothing is certain in this life but uncertainty.

And even if more infrastructure is created it will come at a cost. And I am not simply referring to dollars and cents. It will mean an increase in oversight by the municipalities of cyclist behaviors. Stop signs and traffic signals are not going to go away. You will still be called up to obey the Rules of the Road in whatever form they take going forward. You cannot hope to have a sound democracy if everyone is bound and determined to ignore laws he does not care for.

And in the final analysis it is my deepest concern that our squabbles do not leave the millions of school children who might want to ride to school without a clear and well-defined notion of cyclist behavior. I come down on the side of Vehicular Cycling. We are probably never going to have the kind of cycling ethos as is practiced in Europe. We will probably have helmets for a very long time. But that does not mean we cannot enjoy better designed streets, Complete Streets in fact.

I am as concerned about having sidewalks that do not abruptly end as I am about having protected bicycle lanes or safer automobiles. I think we all should be. To the extent that the cycling movement becomes populated by adult thinkers it will succeed. Failing that it will become yet another social movement that died of its own weight.