Once again, the few mess it up for the many

Bad attitude cyclists give us all a bad name

As late as last night, the Peterborough twittersphere included another small event that is a wobble on the road to mutual respect and a shared transportation environment (see, also, here).

While we so wish it wasn’t so, there is tension between cars and bikes. We can take an evolutionary view of things and believe that, as time passes and more people take to bikes (for whatever reason), things will get better. Blocking and even, at times, reversing this trend are the less enlightened, more self-absorbed who put their needs above others and act in ways that put a dent in progress.

This video is funny, mostly because we see examples of all of these characters everywhere.

While there is ample evidence of selfish mentality on the car side (think “Ford Nation” and go from there), we, as cyclists, have to admit that, taken as a whole, we are not blameless. There are those among us that, out of attitude or ignorance, think that a bike is more of a toy than a vehicle and the rules don’t apply to them. They can be seen often: running red lights and stop signs; driving the wrong way on one-way streets; riding on busy sidewalks or taking other liberties.

Every time this happens, the goodwill that is slowly building between cyclists and other users of the road is eroded (and this includes pedestrians crossing roads). In the worst cases, entrenched bigotries are confirmed and the us-versus-them (or worse) attitude continues. And just like the physical fallout when it comes down to a bike versus car showdown, the cyclists usually lose more in the cultural tussle, no matter who is at fault.

Possibly the worst culprit in tearing down the slowly developing détente is the “holier-than-thou” cyclist who, armed with a seriously inflated sense of moral indignation, takes a reasonable set of cyclist rights, wraps them up tightly into a roll and uses them like a baseball bat to bludgeon others into submission (and create a lasting hate-on for cyclists). The guy referenced here could be a poster child for the Rob Ford war on cars campaign and hurts relations between cyclists and the public at large. This attitude has been noted by many including author Douglas Adams who, in his book “The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul“, made the pithy observation: “…nearly forcing him into the path of a cyclist, who cursed and swore at him from a moral high ground that cyclists alone seem able to inhabit”.

The trouble with this situation is that there seems to be little we can directly or individually do to fix the situation. Confronting people who act this way doesn’t help, usually only serving to bring the wrath of them on to you. We can run around with little apology notes to give to drivers and pedestrians: “sorry for the bozo cyclist, we are not all so selfish”.

Like most broad-scale cultural changes, a respectful bike-car-truck-people environment will take time. Like attitudes to seat-belts, smoking and safe sex, this is going to be an incremental change process. Certainly, better bike education, starting with children would help. Schools would be a great start but it is really a parental responsibility. Greater discussion among cyclists, drivers and politicians is needed.

All these are great, but they are all helped along by individual cyclists being ambassadors for cycling and showing the rest of the world we respect others and we can demonstrate the attitude we expect back. A spin on that saying, usually attributed to Gandhi:

Be the change you want to see.