Cyclists and motorists: why we can’t all just get along

There is a lot of debate about the relationship between cyclists and cars on the road in the media, and it makes me so goshdarn angry to see some of the stupidity that comes out of people’s mouths (or fingers, since it is mostly online).

If people would just understand one single simple fact, it would put an end to 90% of the stupidity and allow the debate to focus on constructive solutions.

So are you ready for enlightenment? Well, here it is:

The only thing cyclists have in common is that for at least one portion of their lives they are on a bicycle.

That is it, nothing more, nothing less.

  • Cyclists do not cycle for the same reasons (some do it to save the environment, some to save time, some to save money, some to save their health…and many more reasons).
  • Cyclists do not have a creed, or a doctrine, or a philosophy. The only scripture they are asked to follow is the road rules.
  • Cyclists are not lawbreakers, or law enforcers. Some will break rules of varying seriousness (from riding on the footpath to running red lights), for reasons of safety, convenience, or a simple lapse in concentration. Some will follow all rules to the letter. Some will berate others for failing to follow rules.
  • Cyclists are not bad. They are not good. They are just a bunch of people who happen to use the same mode of transport (mountain bike, hybrid bike, road bike, electric bike, recumbent bike…).

It is no different for car drivers. Or public transport users. Or people who walk to work. They are all just a mix of people, with different motivations, different worldviews, and different value systems.

So can you see why I get mad when someone posts a comment like “Well, I’ve been hit by three cyclists who were illegally riding footpaths. I see every day cyclists illegally crossing at unsignaled pedestrian crossings pushing their through people trying to walk. I see them running red lights, over taking cars on the right hand side. IF cyclists really want to have any sort of repect [sic], you SHOULD odey [sic] the LAW!

Our good friend Doug has used the powers of confirmation bias to ignore every cyclist who follows the rules. He has lumped them all together into a collective of lawless cowboys who are only in it for themselves, and decided on that basis that respect for any cyclist is not deserved. I hate to be melodramatic (well, not really) but this attitude kills people. Even if 90% of cyclists break the rules as he says, that still leaves 10% of cyclists who do not, and who do not deserve to be in a potentially fatal accident because a careless motorist feels that his right to be on the road trumps theirs. Doug is 100% right that cyclists should obey the law, but he should not treat all cyclists as if they don’t.

Every time someone like Doug repeats this view of cyclists as a lawless collective, it just perpetuates the negative stereotype of cyclists and gets the innocent ones caught in the crossfire.

Now I admit that this blog entry is mostly critical of motorists, but it is for one good reason: if a cyclist does something dumb, he or she is unlikely to do much damage to anyone but themselves (well, apart from psychological damage to some poor driver who ran over a moron). But if a motorist does something dumb, there is a too-high risk that a cyclist will be killed or disabled or severely injured. If you choose to take responsibility for controlling a ton of dangerous fast-moving metal, then the onus is on you to take extra care not to hurt innocent people.

So why do I care? Well, I am a cyclist (and a motorist, and a public transport user) who follows the road rules (where it is safe to do so) and wants to live as long as possible. I don’t want people to be at my funeral mourning a grumpy curmudgeon who died too young because an idiot in a car had the wrong attitude. Well, on reflection, I probably should seek a better poster child for my cause…

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