Why An Anti-Cyclist Bias Remains…

Background Reading

Summary

In a recent Boston Globe article we read:

DOES INTRINSIC bias against cyclists explain why a grand jury recently failed to hand up an indictment against a driver suspected of vehicular homicide in last summer’s death of 41-year-old rider Alexander Motsenigos? Bicycle advocates believe so — fervently. And Wellesley Police Chief Terrence Cunningham and Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey aren’t far behind.

It later continues with this analysis of the plight of cyclists:

No matter one’s opinion of cyclists or their riding habits, they are practically defenseless against the smallest sedan, never mind an SUV or a truck. Drivers simply have to take the high roadnot only around cyclists who abide by the rules of the road, but even around selfish cyclists who don’t. Shaving a few minutes along the way can’t possibly outweigh the risk of maiming or killing a fellow human being.

This is a surprisingly sympathetic notion of how “drivers” need to understand and empathize with cyclists because in the final analysis the “cyclists” are the more vulnerable. Never were truer words spoken. Cyclists take their lives into their hands every time they reach a roadway and attempt to travel along its length.

So if “drivers” are being asked to look out for cyclists and consider their fragility, how are those same “cyclists” responding? What sort of reciprocation are they willing to offer to drivers? Well let’s take a look:

Reply by notoriousDUG yesterday

I made a connection with a woman who almost doored me while she was talking on her phone.  She told me I need to pay attention and look out for doors, called me a crazy person and walked off without ever halting her phone conversation.

She is going to have a missed connection with her drivers side mirror when she gets back to her car; I decided to take it because she obviously wasn’t using it.

Or another indication of the status of cyclist relations on this time with those over whom they have the upper hand, namely pedestrians:

Reply by Jenn_5.5 mi 3 hours ago
Btw…. Dearborn was the worst part of my commute home. Peds & slush. People were terribly more rude thsn normal. I had two people mouth off at me when I told them they were acting dangerous by being in the street. Ugh! Days like this I have my doubts about other humans having logical thoughts.

Given the outrage of cyclists at being subject to automobiles you would think that when they were the dominant ones in a relationship their experience would make them more sensitive. But obviously this cyclist is not seeing life through that lens:

Are pedestrians allowed in the Kinzie bike lane?
Posted by Christine Price on October 22, 2012

On the East bound side there is no sidewalk for a portion of the lane, but there is a sidewalk on the other side of the street. Sometimes there’s pedestrians there; this morning it was a person with a water bottle getting their power walking in.

I’m I correct in thinking that she should have been on the other side of the street, on the sidewalk? Or are pedestrians welcome in the protected lane?

… and what’s the legality of lance-mounted tasers? Because I totally want one now. Ugh.

Now you only have to imagine the vitriol that would be displayed had these same sentiments been directed at a cyclist by a driver. Forums like the ChainLink “go bonkers” over far less. So is this situation akin to the drama played out for centuries in Northern Island or perhaps as bad as that currently under way in West Bank? Some days I think either would be an acceptable comparison.

The Facts Are…

There appears to be something about Urban Traffic that supersedes what goes on in suburban areas at least in terms of its nastiness. I doubt it will change any time soon. But you ask, why not? Aren’t the increased instances of bicycling infrastructure the solution? One would hope so, but longstanding hatreds can never really be overcome by laws, road redesigns and fluff pieces by pro-cyclist writers.

What would have to happen is for the level of intensity to go down on both sides. That would mean that cyclists would have to try and understand drivers and pedestrians as well. Right now cyclists view these two groups as impediments to progress on the roadway and not fellow travelers. It is something that gives credence to the scientific studies that find a high correlation between stressful environments and anger.

In addition cyclists are divided amongst themselves over issues of race. Take for instance this response to a thread detailing a robbery by an African-American youth:

Reply by Juan 2-8 mi. 2 hours ago

© Juan

© Juan

As a last resort when passing through the WEST SIDE. A blast from my airhorn usually frightens off those animals in this URBAN JUNGLE.

In a word there is a disconnect between sections of the city. One rider is asking whether a large group of cyclists doing a Critical Mass Ride on the South Side would be safe:

Reply by Adam Herstein (5.5 mi) on August 28, 2012 at 10:01am
Are these neighborhoods safe to bike though?

I sometimes think that a non-denominational meeting (with vehicles representing denominations and not religions) would be helpful, but I doubt seriously whether cyclists are actually able to let their guard down and sing Kumbaya alongside the much feared and hated drivers.

No wonder the governmental agencies across the country are so eager to get these lanes installed. They are hoping that the tensions between these three factions can be mitigated with the addition of a bit of green paint and some innocuous PVC piping. I do to, but I am not yet ready to bet the farm on the success of this strategy.

Right now I am simply hoping that there can be a diminishing rate of deaths on all sides. If that were the outcome I could live with the continued hatreds. Over time the parties will “age out” and a new group will have arisen with perhaps a far different vision of the world.

Not Even Cyclists Like Cyclists

Eventually even cyclists have to encounter one of their own whose behavior has characterized the group for years. Take for instance this encounter:

Reply by Jenn_5.5 mi on February 4, 2013 at 6:15pm
You the stereo typical pain in the ass… No lights. Weaving in & out Lincoln. The Wrong freaking way. In the snow slush mess. Middle aged… on what looks like a stolen MTB.
I yell (because I am so ladylike) ‘Wrong Way…. Dumbass!’
You ‘Get a life’
‘Got one. It’s brilliant… Plan on keeping it too by obeying the laws!’
Then you serve in front of an SUV with no warning… Also, cutting me off. Get in front of us to turn. Flip me off.
‘Still behind you, Dear.’
Ending up both going to the Y. Me to get my kid… And you presumably live there.
Arrrggghhhhh! You add to the general public hating those of us on bikes.

That last remark sums up all of the anti-cyclist bias in a nutshell. Thousands of folks on bikes can have their good behavior turned upside-down by one individual whose actions are aggressive and very anti-social. What is very disconcerting is to be driving along and have a fixie rider dash between lanes trying to get to the intersection to be the first through it when the light changes.

But if they reach the intersection ahead of time they usually continue through on the red light which is simply maddening. But listen to further responses on this one rider’s behavior:

Reply by Manny FU…Really!? 7 hours ago
I need to ride your route and just ride head-on into this turd-swallower. As if I wasn’t payng attention to him. It might give him something to think about. It would definitely make me smile.

The problem with this kind of response is the fact that it is out of proportion to the offense. And it bespeaks a level of sadistic intent that is exactly what frustrates cyclists when such behavior is exhibited by drivers. Here is some more of this over-the-top rant:

Reply by Manny FU…Really!? 7 hours ago
Thank you to the 3 moronic shit-stains that somehow thought that the flashing lights on my bike and helmet I am wearing 5 of them !) meant that they could just drive in the bike lane on Halsted (northbound from Archer to Cermak & Lockport) just because they were stuck in traffic this morning.
I thank you because I managed to vent some of my pent up energy on your vehicle after you decided…foolishly…to speed into the BIKE LANE and hit my pedals, making me skid sideways, before slamming on your breaks knowing that you hit someone. I obviously came to a sudden and abrupt halt, which allowed me to kick the shit out of your car ! Screw you for not looking before you moved into what you think is your lane!!!!! (Don’t make me angry….you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.)
Oh, and by the way, Have a Great Day !!!

Respectfully,

Manny FU

Sporty cyclists few in Amsterdam but individualized and stylish cycle gear abounds. Photo A. Streeter.

Sporty cyclists few in Amsterdam but individualized and stylish cycle gear abounds. Photo A. Streeter.

Now most ChainLinkers will listen to this second rant and nod their heads in agreement. But it is exactly this sort of behavior on the part of everyone on the road which makes jurors decide that perhaps a driver is within their rights to do some of the dangerous and deadly things they do to cyclists.

We have to realize for a moment that drivers can read and they have ears to hear the venom in our voices on forums like the ChainLink. There is virtually no amount of Pollyanna-ish sweet talk about how loving and caring this group is that will penetrate the human mind once these kinds of rants have been read and understood.

About the only other place you can find this level of vitriol is on a Skin Head or Neo-Nazi or Klan site. It is troubling when you realize that all of these folks are likely to be sharing the road with you or sitting on the bus next to you or walking down the same streets. Our anti-social side as a community is well known. And we need to do a far better job of repairing that image than we have to date.

Like the GOP we are losing the electorate with our over-the-top aggressive behaviors. Drivers are no different than cyclists. When one of their own misbehaves they will ignore that fact in lieu of coming down hard on cyclists who run red lights, ride at break neck speed between cars, cut off pedestrians and shout obscenities at them when they do and so very much more.

We are quite a long ways from having the stylish look of females on bikes be the norm for drivers instead of the angry hipster males who are hell bent on stomping other cyclists and damaging driver side door car mirrors.

Journalists Are Not Helping

We spend far too much political capital on journalistic efforts that attempt to paint us as victims. That sort of thing plays well to the cyclists who read it but it does not sway the drivers and pedestrians who see us in action every day on the mean streets of their cities. We spend far too much time developing schemes to try and shame drivers who use our lanes by photographing them in the act.

And yet when the very same thing is done to cyclists we are less than sanguine in our responses when the same stunt is pulled on us. I suppose all of this tit-for-tat stuff plays well in junior high school. But in the real world it is about as tiresome as “gotcha politics” as played out in the halls of Congress.

StreetsBlog is not chartered to do a tit-for-tat style of journalism as a means of furthering the cycling agenda. But quite often that appears to be what its journalists see as their duty. Would that we spent as much time doing some soul-searching as we do trying to find the speck in other people’s eyes whom we think are anti-cycling in their agenda.

The rants I refer to above are from cyclists about cyclists. We have to be smart enough to realize that if we are unable to deal with our own, then we have little to offer to the collective debate over transportation alternative.