02 May 2013

bikes vs. cars?

i've been a cyclist for decades - i've even biked to niagara falls and back including the climb up the escarpment - as well as being a regular bicycle commuter during the less-snowy months. i also drive. and walk. and take public transit. all things being equal, i'd probably make walking my transportation of choice. but my schedule doesn't allow for that.

in toronto, we hear often about the "war on cars" or "war on bikes" (what they call it depends on who's talking). and i think about it a lot, because i experience it (i.e. hear complaints) from all sides.
herewith, my oversimplified breakdown of the situation.

the way i see it, there are two main groups of people: the self-righteous, and the apathetic.
the self-righteous can be further divided into two groups: the nervous-nellie subtype and the belligerent warrior subtype.

i tend to be the former: i stick to bike lanes as much as possible as a show of good faith, religiously using hand-signals, stopping at every stop sign even if no other soul is in sight, and muttering "don't forget to ring your bell" at the various cyclists who whiz past me.

the warrior is the sort who feels that, as long as the world is stacked against them, they have the right to do what they have to to survive. this may include riding on sidewalks, going the wrong way down a one-way street, and yelling at anyone who gets in their way or complains. they might even go out of their own way to prove a point, also known as biting off one's nose to spite one's face.

the apathetic people are just going about their business, not really thinking about whether or not laws apply to them. not necessarily breaking them, but not necessarily following them either. there are apathetic law-abiders, and apathetic law-breakers. these tend to be the cyclists who are just biking to get around and save money, not because they care about fitness or the environment or whatever. the point is, they don't spend a lot of time thinking about their behaviour, or the behaviour of others.
these categories apply equally to car drivers, pedestrians, and every other subgroup of human you can imagine.

each category can be annoying to one degree or another, the most annoying being the belligerent self-righteous types. they're the ones we notice the most as well, because they're the ones yelling expeletives, cutting people off, passing unsafely, and on and on.

it's the belligerent self-righteous cyclists that give all cyclists a bad name. and it's the belligerent self-righteous drivers that give all drivers a bad name among cyclists.

the thing that people forget is this: belligerent self-righteous cyclists also annoy other cyclists, and belligerent self-righteous drivers also annoy other drivers.

drivers attribute their most unpleasant qualities to the fact that they are cyclists, and vice-versa.
but you know what?

take put a belligerent self-righteous cyclist behind a steering wheel, and you'll have a belligerent self-righteous driver. and vice-versa.

it's not the mode of transportation that makes them horrible people, it's their personalities.
would rob ford suddenly become a lovely person if he rode a bicycle? i doubt it!

and as long as these people - the loudest and angriest bunch - are controlling the conversation, we'll never get anywhere. they make it divisive, because they like it divisive. fighting is what belligerent people do. it's hard to get them to sit down and be quiet.

so what to do?

be nice. make eye contact. follow the rules. wave "hello" to the bus driver and the crossing guard, every neighbourhood face you encounter every day. respect everybody you encounter, however they get around.

and when someone does something belligerent, resist the urge to yell at them how wrong they are. because it never, ever, ever changes anyone's mind.

have you ever had someone behind you in traffic honk at you to hurry up? did it make you hurry up, or make you go slower?

personally, i'm working on becoming an apathetic law-abider, instead of muttering obnoxious passive-aggressive comments at the people around me. it's harder than it looks.

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