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« Replacing McQuaid: Mission Impossible | Main | Dictatorships »

Cyclists Misbehaving

“There is nothing wrong with the world except for people misbehaving.”

Think about it; if people behaved themselves, there would be no crime, no wars. No need for armies or police.

There would be no need to lock our doors, and we could leave our car or bike anywhere unlocked.

Utopia of course; a fantasy world that will never happen.

Here is a comment on the current bikes vs. cars situation in New York City from a Jack Brown, a former bike store owner no less.

I think his words sum up the situation probably as good as any I have read.

"Cyclists can be anywhere, at any time: on the sidewalk, riding the wrong way down the street, and you have no peace. The anarchy that has been allowed to prevail is astonishing.

According to butterfly theory, according to chaos theory, I am sure that the level of emotional and psychological damage wrought by the bicycle far exceeds the damage done by cars. The cumulative effect is equivalent to what happened on 9/11."

I think the comparison to 9/11 is a little strong; however, he is talking about “Emotional and Psychological” damage, not actual physical harm being done. That cars have far more potential to do physical harm than bikes is not the issue here.

In reality pedestrians are not being mowed down in large numbers and killed or seriously injured by cyclists, but the fear that it could happen causes emotional stress; in the same way that living in a high crime area causes stress.

Like living in the constant fear that you could catch a stray bullet at any time; it the fear that is real, not the odds in your favor that you will never actually be shot.

The problem is being caused by a minority of cyclists, just as a minority of people misbehaving can turn a community into a high crime area. No one notices the dozens of cyclists riding in an orderly and proper manner along a street or bike lane.

It is the cyclist brushing past you on the sidewalk at 15 or 20 mph that you notice, or the one who blows through a red light and you don’t even see until he flashes past the hood of your car. It is not the fact that either encounter was not even that close; it is the emotional stress caused by the shock, the surprise.

The stress causes fear, a fear of what could have happened. Fear is then transformed into anger; it is the natural human way of coping. Pretty soon just the sight of a cyclist makes a person angry, and there is a loss of sympathy for the cyclist’s vulnerability. An attitude of, “If these maniacs don’t care for their own safety, why should I care?”

I don’t feel by writing here I can change the situation, anymore that I can stop wars or crime; all I can do is speak to those who do care. Half the battle is understanding the other person’s point of view, and trying to understand why some pedestrians and motorists are angry with all of us.

Know that the fear and resulting stress caused by this anarchistic minority is all too real. Fear breeds anger, and anger breeds hate.

I refuse to live my life in fear; I will not ride my bike in fear. By not riding in fear, I am not riding in anger. Knowing that the motorist’s anger towards me is basically born out of a fear that he/she might hit me, is in a small way comforting.

And by riding in a responsible and courteous manner I am soothing the fear, thereby calming the anger. It is one of the few things a responsible cyclist can do.


Here is some interesting reading on the subject in Chicago Magazine and from NYC in the New York Magazine and The Gothamist   


Reader Comments (7)

if brown offered ANY data whatsoever to back up his claims, i might begin to take them seriously, but his statement seems to be a thoughtful, off-the-cuff sort of thing. did he interview pedestrians or motorists? does he offer a way to quantify the fear induced by cyclists? personally, i feel more fear driving a car among other motorists than i do among cyclists.

also, anarchy does not = doing whatever you want, whenever you want. you do true anarchists a disservice when you compare them to irresponsible cyclists.

yes, i do recognize that irresponsible cyclists are a problem for all of us, but brown's comments seem totally out of proportion. there just are not that many cyclists, much less the utterly irresponsible/disrespectful sort.

March 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjames

In my younger, more angry days, I used to fill my pockets with gravel for "encounters" with cars (e.g. closely averted right hook). I'd flight a handful onto their cars to get their attention. I was also known to chase down cars waving my u-lock.

Somehow I never got beat up.

I've long since given up this behavior, but I never could come up with a good method for getting a driver's attention, or letting them know they encroached on my right-of-way in a potentially fatal manner. "Whoa howdy!" was the best I could do.

A few months back I had a close scrape and I shouted at the driver: "God is love, brother!" I don't know why I shouted this, I'm not a churchy person at all. The reaction was amazing, the whole episode was immediately de-escalated and he even apologized.

I say this like a mantra now in sticky bike/car situations. It multiplies the empathy, not least of all to myself.

March 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Souders

"Right and Wrong is merely a matter of perspective"

I think "fear of cyclists" is preposterous . I would be more inclined to say
that motorists attitudes stem from:

"I'm inconvenienced and it annoys me"

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTimo

While I agree Jack Brown has no data to back up his claims one of my most vivid cycling memories is the stress and fear our (cyclists) behaviour can cause...

I had a very near miss with a fast moving car. It was completely my fault - a cleat refused to disengage, I panicked and made a poor decision to try to beat a car out of a junction, rather than just fall over as I should have done. After the near miss the young woman driving stopped by the roadside. I did likewise to offer an apology, explain she had done nothing wrong and that I was to blame. I'll never forget the look on her face and just how badly shaken she was. Believe me, when she set off again she pulled away very slowly.

To this day I believe if she hadn't missed me I would be dead. I think she realised it as well. Thinking of that incident always acts as a reminder to me to be cautious in traffic - you don't have to have a collision to thoroughly wreck someone's day.

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMark Roberts

never mind cyclists totally FOUNDED fear of motorists!

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterarchie

Pedestrians fear being hit by cyclists, motorists fear hitting, or getting involved in an accident with cyclist.
Have you never had a cyclist suddenly appear out of nowhere while driving a car? Riding the wrong way, or jump from a sidewalk to the road, because I have many times. The thought that I could hit a cyclist, even though not my fault is scary.

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDave Moulton

I think you have made a good point Dave, but that it would have been better served by not including the Jack Brown quotation.

"According to butterfly theory, according to chaos theory, I am sure that the level of emotional and psychological damage wrought by the bicycle far exceeds the damage done by cars. The cumulative effect is equivalent to what happened on 9/11.""

This is simply a triple helping of nonsense (and completely unlike the rest of your post). This guy hasn't got a clue about chaos theory, and his comparisons of cycling to cars and 9-11 are both contrary to common sense and completely pulled out of his ass.

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermander

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