Cars and Bicycles as Weapons

Background Reading


Posted by Jeff Schneider on November 16, 2013 at 2:42pm
Today I saw two instances of people being threatened by drivers. One was a cyclist who had to take the lane to pass a parked truck and some major potholes. The driver tailgated him while laying on the horn. The second was when a woman walking a dog was still in the crosswalk as the signal changed to green for the cross street. The driver accelerated hard across the intersection, stopped just short of the crosswalk, and of course layed on the horn.

We desperately need to have transportation options other than driving, if only because a lot of people don’t have either the intelligence or temperament to do it responsibly.

Reply by Heather 38 minutes ago
It’s terrifying sometimes. About a month ago we were biking down Belden and waited our turn at a four-way stop to cross. But while we were crossing, we weren’t fast enough apparently for a BMW driver, who threateningly drove into the intersection and stopped just a few feet from us. We didn’t know if he was going to stop or not. And just last night a car in Pilsen turned right in front of us while we were walking across the street (and had the walk sign), barely missing us by inches.

I drive and I get frustrated often, but I’ve never done this kind of thing. I’m not sure what the answer is.

My Gut Feeling

(RedEye illustration )

(RedEye illustration )

Jeff is reacting the way I would when faced with the umpteenth episode of mass shootings by someone with an AR-15 or its equivalent. It goes something like this. I do not know what to do about the level of violence in our society. The last violent act was carried out by someone wielding an assault rifle with an extended capacity magazine. Therefor we need to ban such weapons with the idea that this will make it more difficult to kill lots of people in a short amount of time.

Now the answer to this lies in an entirely different thread.

Reply by Liz W. Durham on November 1, 2013 at 6:00pm
Like I said…not so cool to be judging me as if you know a thing about me. Clearly you don’t. Perhaps taking some time to know more about others you choose to judge before doing so might make some sense. You been by my place? You checked out the context of this? You ever sat down for a drink or chatted on a ride with me?

I have been riding and locking my bikes in Chicago for 17-18 years. This is the first time I have ever had a bike stolen. Every once in a while a bike ends up not locked the most secure way. Nobody is perfect. Not even you. Truly, there is no need to be talking bad about others in such a way. We are all people trying to get along in this world.

Reply by Liz W. Durham on November 5, 2013 at 6:29pm
For those of you who get it…that blaming and judging victims is not helpful or productive…thank you.

I did not speak well in venting my frustration and that likely contributed to some of the direction this post has taken; I apologize for that. Being caught up in frustration and freak-out does not always lead to clarity in words.

To some degree that does not matter though and also kinda proves the point as to the desire to bash others. And to continue to misinterpret things. Ah well, c’est la vie. At least I got my venting out.

The one thing that perhaps all of us cyclists should remember as to locks. The one thing that nobody has even brought up here:
My case is a good example. Although it was not locked in the most secure of ways, it was out of sight to the street, it was much less visible than the totally unlocked sitting out in the open bikes, it was inside a high privacy fence on private property (not in a courtyard). I could walk down my block and identify numerous bikes significantly less secure than mine…they are still there today.

(No one lock, no combination of locks, is 100% impervious)

Stress Lies At The Root of Anti-Social Behaviors

Behavioral scientists know that stress brings about aggressive behaviors. When I read the threads in the Urban Cyclists “Whine and Jeez” Club Forum this one fact is clearly displayed. Liz’s thread was started because someone on the forum had made some comments about her locking abilities that she took as condemnation. And the one thing that seems almost universally true about Urban Cyclists is that they find enough stress in their lives without having “one of their own” dump on them one reason or another. The syndrome is often referred to as “blaming the victim“.

Bicycle Advocacy groups are in business (and I mean that literally as well as figuratively) to take advantage of that angst at the pressures of living in a society where you get the distinct impression that with respect to transportation alternatives yours is somewhere near the bottom of the food chain. It is that feeling of not being taken seriously or having your ideals not matter that drives membership renewals each year and these groups know this.

From Whence Comes the Stress?

With the right amount of stress you feel exhilaration. For instance if you live in a rural or quiet suburban area and want to enjoy some lively nightlife you head into the city. All over the United States that is happening right now, as I type. It is a Saturday night and couples are venturing into clubs to listen to some music and enjoy a well-prepared meal washed down with some sort of alcohol. It takes a bit of the frenetic urban activity level to make you feel alive again.

On the other hand there are couples who have driven away from the city last night and awoke this morning in some quiet bed and breakfast or in their tent in a semi-remote forest. They are also escaping their pressure cooker lives by getting away into the country. The pace there is slower and the noise level almost non-existent.

A steady diet of just about anything creates stress. Living in high activity areas creates stress and it manifests itself as aggressive behavior. The same thing happens if the stimulus level is too low. Place an animal in a cage in a zoo and up goes the stress level, because he has nothing to do, no stimulus. The same thing is said to happen to prisoners, especially those in solitary confinement.

In fact if you spend enough time chatting in a single forum, day after day about essentially the same issues and get the exact same response from the same people you end up with the kinds of threads that Liz was engaged in.

Aggressive Behavior Causes Us To Revert To Tribalism

Jeff was talking about the often inexplicable meanness that is demonstrated by cyclists towards motorists and vice versa. Most cyclists have an express fear of the possibilities that a motorist will one day snap and run them over. I suppose that it seldom occurs to cyclists that pedestrians think the same sorts of things too. Only pedestrians have both motorists and cyclists to contend with.

This weekend I did some research and was amazed at how much of a problem there really is with collisions between pedestrians and cyclists. If you care to learn more about the problem look here:

What is interesting is that the closer to the bottom of the transportation food chain you are (with pedestrians being at or near the bottom) the less likely it is that you even know that those below you are as afraid of you as you are of the ones above you. It is as if you are living in a jungle where you are a predator looking for your next meal to survive, but aware too that you are prey for someone else.

Cycling-related forum threads serve as group therapy sessions. Whenever you feel that someone passed you too close or honked at you needlessly it helps to use the passively-aggressive Missed Connection thread to vent. But aside from some temporary relief, the pressure mounts. It can get bad enough that you start to realize that riding alone at night (something you used to love to do along the Chicago Lakefront Trail) is now simply out of the question.

If you have been assaulted along the lower Wacker Drive area along the Chicago River what was once a pleasant place to be alone with your thoughts is now just another place to get mugged or worse. And Goodness knows what your mind races to when you consider the possibility that your own neighborhood could be the next target of a drive-by shooting!

The Answer Is Not Banning Weapons

I hate to agree with the NRA but banning weapons is never really going to solve the problem of aggressive behaviors. And on the other side of that same coin is the fact that concealed carry laws will not help either. If you or I were in a crowded theater where a gunman suddenly opened fire and began shooting an AR-15 and then someone across the way pulled their gun and started shooting back and then a dozen more folks started firing at no specific person but rather at whomever they thought might be part of a group of terrorists, well the outcome could be grim.

You might find that the target for the shooting was more often someone wearing a turban or a flowing garment than the guy in the body armor under a khaki military outfit. After all this is happening in real time and unless you are high above the fray looking down on the activity it might be impossible to tell who the bad guy(s) is(are). All that you know is that you need to survive and instinctual behavior takes over.

But getting back to the banning where automobiles are concerned. Consider the Castro District murder by bicycle of an elderly Asian pedestrian by a cyclist hell-bent on breaking a Strava record. Do we ban Strava? Do we ban bicycles in heavily trafficked intersections? Do we ban Asians from those intersections since it appears that they are the problem (having incited a fellow cyclist to plow through the crowd rather than lay his bike down). Sorry could not resist the inane idea. It helps to reach towards the absurd sometimes to expose the ineffectual thinking we do when stressed.

Pogo Was Right

Commuters with bicycles, electric bikes and mopeds move across the street, Friday, May 23, 2008 in Shanghai, China. While two-wheelers have long since yielded the roads to sedans in this increasingly affluent society, the bicycle is far from dead. In fact, its numbers are growing. For many, if not most Chinese, pedal power remains a mainstay, for commuting, sending children to school or making a living. (AP Photo)

Commuters with bicycles, electric bikes and mopeds move across the street, Friday, May 23, 2008 in Shanghai, China. While two-wheelers have long since yielded the roads to sedans in this increasingly affluent society, the bicycle is far from dead. In fact, its numbers are growing. For many, if not most Chinese, pedal power remains a mainstay, for commuting, sending children to school or making a living. (AP Photo)

We humans are the problem. Assume for a moment that all cars were banned from Chicago streets and we were left with this:

There would still be collisions and altercations because there would still be stressed out people. They would just be on bicycles rather than in cars.

And instead of ramming you they might pull out guns or knives to make their point that “you are in the way“.

What I do know is that it often helps to consider the other persons point of view. We humans are the problem, we are our own enemy.

How and Why Bicycles Kill

If you watch football you have seen a tackler hit a receiver who has leaped into the air to catch a pass before landing on his feet from where he hopes to run towards the end zone.

But there are tackles where the receiver is hit high (near the chest area) and thrown down with such force that he is rendered temporarily unconscious. You can also recount perhaps the times when a lineman grabbed the quarterback and slammed him to the ground with such force that he broke a bone in his shoulder or was knocked senseless.

The NFL has banned those kinds of hits. Enough of them over a lifetime and you can create a situation where the brain sustains enough trauma that depression and memory loss haunt the player long after retirement. A blow from an upright bicyclist to a pedestrian is exactly like those kinds of hits. As one report describes it the bulk of the really serious pedestrian injuries from collisions with cyclists are brain-related. The patient often dies because of brain swelling as it bleeds inside the cranium.

But like our motorist counterparts we discount just how horrible our actions are regarding the other guy. We let our aggressions bubble to the surface and completely discount what it would be like to be struck by an automobile and tossed 25 feet into the air. We take our tandem along a busy street and disregard what our stoker might suffer were a car door to suddenly open and we could not stop in time because we are riding a too fast a speed in the Door Zone.

We roll through stop signs and enter intersections when the lights are red not knowing what a motorist or pedestrian might suffer if the roadway is icy and an uncontrolled slide occurs as someone is trying to avoid hitting us on our bikes, needlessly trying to save a few seconds by performing our version of an “Idaho Stop“.

And when we recount the details of a near miss with a pedestrian who ventured into our way on the Dearborn PBL or Kinzie or even Milwaukee we never stop to ask ourselves whether it was worth taking the life or seriously injuring the person who is the sole support of a family of five or the mother or two toddlers. All we know is that “we are the only ones with skin in the game” and “bikes don’t kill, cars do“.

Like the motorists we are a special kind of asshole who in self-indulgent, possessed of a special sense of entitlement and unaware that our delusional behavior is brought on by too much stress, resulting in aggression that leaves us unable to empathize. All we were thinking about as we approached that walkway ahead in our high end automobile is that our boss is an ogre or our spouse is cheating on us or that cyclist over there is shoaling me or that one over there is salmoning and we hate that.

There are times when the pressure cooker we call life is lethal to our sanity and our physical health and to that of others around us.

We Live In A Time of Too Much Noise

City life is what I find most stressful. But as I said before there are plenty of rural and suburban souls that find quietude unbearable. Eventually we get this white noise rattling around in our heads and we lose sleep and we eat fatty foods and sugary snacks and suddenly we have put on 10 pounds and our skinny jeans are much too tight.

Now couple all of this with the fact that those around us are sometimes poorer than we and envious of what we own. So they steal to pay for drug habits or simply to feed themselves. And that raises their stress levels as well as our own. And when we seek solace in the comforting words of the tribe we call our own, we sometimes get dissed. We get told that leaving our bikes improperly locked is stupid.

Or we make a wrong turn on a Divvy bike and find ourselves caught in the No Man’s Land of Lake Shore Drive and worst of all our plight is captured on the ubiquitous cell phone camera and goes viral in 24 hours and everyone gets to witness our distress. We are like the bicycle equivalents of Bartmann and his baseball catching fiasco.

The Golden Rule Is What Might Just Save Us

Yep, I just reached into that soppy area of religious teaching and because we are all worldly-wise savants of the urbane scene we just know that was a mistake. Come on guy, you can’t really be telling me that something other than Protected Bike Lanes could save us? Well, yes.

Unless we get a handle on who we are in relation to the fellow alongside us we are doomed.

Reply by Elaine O’Sullivan yesterday
There is only one answer to this question. In the end we, must as drivers see each bicyclist as our children and drive accordingly. As cyclist we must ride thoughtfully to make our parents proud of us. When that  happens Cyclist will stop being Killed.

Let Me Amend This Truth

When I saw this reply in a thread on killing cyclists I was stunned. It is simple and straightforward and speaks volumes about the kind of person Elaine is. What I would change is that last sentence. Bicycles do Kill. So it should read “When that happens Cyclists and Motorists will stop killing.” And I suppose that we could further amend it to read “we humans will stop killing“.

We humans are in desperate need of one another. We are put here for one purpose and one purpose only to learn how to live consciously. We need to learn how to wish for one another what we wish for ourselves. With that spirit inside us it won’t matter whether we are piloting cars, trucks, jet planes, buses, bicycles, skate boards or running shoes.