Road Rage Calming for All

Background Reading


A man yells at a cyclist stopped by police for going through a red light in Central Park on Sept 19. Photo: Robert Miller

A man yells at a cyclist stopped by police for going through a red light in Central Park on Sept 19.
Photo: Robert Miller


Animosities are welling up all over the place. Part of the problem is that as a society we live lives ‘apart‘. If you are a cyclist your friends and acquaintances pretty much hold the same views as you do. And if you fail to hold the right views someone is likely to level your entry into the verbal fray on your favorite cycling forum as a ‘Troll Post‘.

There is a certain amount of nascent ignorance that circulates on these forums especially from those trying to ‘fit in‘. Evidently (as with most religious organizations) you have to recite the catechism as dictated by the Elders in the Church of Urban Cycling. Failure to do so could get you ‘shunned‘ at the next ‘automobile slapping frenzy‘. These are known as ‘Critical Mass Rides‘ and they often end up with a few hundred motorists suddenly surprised (and not in a good way) with cyclists who take to slapping (open palm) on the roof of your vehicle and shouting ‘Happy Friday‘.

I guess that the cyclist arrested earlier this past week forgot that the maneuver is really meant to antagonize the automobile occupant and ‘not as a gesture of friendliness‘. And that brings me once again to my point about ‘living apart‘.

Cyclists Need Licensing and Education

Nothing makes you aware of your responsibilities as the operator of a vehicle like remembering that stupid maneuver you just made could have been caught on camera. And if you are a driver you certainly have to consider that your license plate number could end up in someone’s video.

In fact bicyclists have begun to use video as a kind of weapon against ‘the others‘. And eventually some wag gets the idea to open up a channel on YouTube and invite the True Believers to come and witness ‘just how evil the others really are‘.

This is a legitimate use of technology and could help save lives. But I am afraid that cyclists have lost perspective when it comes to ‘evil behavior‘. When it comes to pedestrians ‘we are sometimes worse than motorists‘ in the eyes of those on foot.

Unlike cars we are allowed (excluding sidewalks) on many of the pedestrian venues that are situated in and around the city. The Chicago Lakefront Trail is one such venue. But on that trail I routinely witness cyclists traveling at speeds far in excess of the 15 mph that is mandated and they do this approaching pedestrians from the rear!

The other rear problem in terms of safety (besides not slowing down) is that they pass pedestrians at these speeds with far less than 3-Feet of passing room. This only compounds the problem of passing too fast. It means that if the pedestrian makes a sudden turn or has a pet or even a child in a stroller and wants to turn 180-degrees we are incapable of avoiding a collision without putting ourselves ‘in danger of a wipeout‘.

But as usual our worldview is skewed towards our own needs. We blame the pedestrian for not looking over their shoulder before making a turn. And while they should, we are the ones who all along are aware of the impending danger of sudden moves and should be slowing down as we pass.

But frankly like motorists we are ‘too self-absorbed in maintaining our momentum‘ and end up either slamming into the pedestrian, having a near miss that frightens the unsuspecting pedestrian half out of their wits or ending up on the pavement with bruises and bumps.

And of course our ‘first line of defense‘ is to go whine in the midst of other True Believers about the dangerous ‘others‘ whom we know as pedestrians. We develop snarky names for them like ‘Walking Dreads‘ if they happen to be people-of-color.

Having a license plate or other clearly visible means of self-identification on our bicycles would mean that the next time we nearly clip a pedestrian in a protected crosswalk we could be ‘caught on film‘. That would have a sobering effect on many of us, because we realize that a traffic ticket or two could be coming our way.

Just like the hapless drivers whose managers have to contact us, we could be hearing from our own bosses or the local police district commander because some pedestrian had lodged a complaint about our behavior and accompanied it with ‘video proof‘.

This could be a healthy series of events. We would suddenly be on alert that we are as offensive to pedestrians as we consider motorists to be to us. We could be considered as dangerous in our behavior as motorists seem to us. And remember it does not take a cyclist much more than an 8 mph bump with a pedestrian to send them crashing to the pavement with life-threatening injuries that in a couple days time will result in their deaths.

We need to drop that lame notion that it takes a 2-ton vehicle to kill. It really does not. And if we find ourselves put on notice that our behavior is not just irksome to people crossing the streets in the Loop but downright dangerous it might help to give us some perspective.

Ignorance Is No Excuse For Our Collective Behavior

I read recently about a cyclist who displayed a considerable amount of ignorance about the nature of ‘bike lanes‘. Evidently it still has not sunk into the loosely packed craniums of cyclists that those large bicycle icons on the pavement do not designate a protected bike lane.

New Sharrows place riders in 'Door Zone'

New Sharrows place riders in ‘Door Zone’

What they do signify is that your goddam municipality is too cheap to spend the money on pretty green paint and PVC bollards. So they cram cyclists into the Door Lane and call it being ‘bike friendly‘. Then when the get a few hundred miles of these things they call in PeopleForBikes to write a meaningless article about how wonderful a place they are for cyclists and everyone is happy.

Getting Over Ourselves Is ‘Job One’

We should not spend the next decade trying to convince ourselves that we are doing the world a favor. And that because we ride bikes they owe up all sorts of perks. We do need to stop at stop signs and obey red lights. And yes we do need to dress so as to be seen in low light level conditions.

All of that drivel that is circulating in the pews of the Church of Urban Cycling is the same sort of stuff that Evangelicals use to make them feel good about disobeying the Supreme Court rulings on ‘same sex marriages‘. But so long as we are going to behave in like manner we should simply ‘own our deceits‘.


Same Rights, Same Rules

There is no good reason to trot out yet another vacuous piece on why we should never have to come to a complete stop. We should be subject to the same rules as everyone else. Trying to justify our ‘bad behavior‘ is wearing thin.

So let’s all ride around with cameras strapped to our heads and license plates clipped to our butts and enjoy the freedom to be filmed doing stupid things and own the tickets we get. And in the process all that road rage will perhaps melt away and nobody will come prancing up to the altar trying to say aloud a prayer that proves that we are God’s Own.

The best lesson we could learn is that we are all sinners. We all make mistakes and the one single thing that magnifies our sinfulness most is a self-righteous thread on our favorite forum to explain away our sins.