Tristan Cleveland: Hey Halifax, we cyclists don't like jerks on bicycles either
But Metro's columnist notes cyclists aren't any more jerks on the road than drivers. So quit blaming only us.
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Just last week I saw someone biking the wrong way on Quinpool Road. Doesn’t it drive you crazy?
Mention any issue involving cyclists and people will reel off a long list of grievances with riders making bizarre, dangerous choices like this.
Well here’s news: it drives other cyclists crazy too. When I was shaking my head at that guy on Quinpool, I was also on a bike.
But there’s one critical difference.
Someone who bikes thinks, “Wow, what a jerk.”
Too often, other people think, “Wow, cyclists are jerks.”
Obviously that doesn’t make sense. When people are driving and they see someone go the wrong way in a roundabout (it happens), they don’t think, “Wow, drivers are doinks.” They think, “this guy is a doink.” That is the correct thought.
Just think about all the craziest stuff you have ever seen other drivers do. If you ignored all the drivers behaving well, you could make a convincing case that drivers are insane and reckless. But obviously, that would be stupid. Some people are jerks, many people are not.
Part of the problem is that while drivers and cyclists break laws at similar rates (according to a Colorado study), drivers are accustomed to how other drivers break the law, so it is less startling. Some drivers speed, run yellow lights, text while driving, make u-turns, drive fast in bad weather, and fail to give right-of-way.
Some cyclists bike at night without lights, on sidewalks, through red lights, or past cars that have their right-turn signals on. There are good people actively working on trying to get both drivers and cyclists to behave better. We’re all in this together.
Two years ago, I experienced two traumas. I saw a cyclist dying after she was hit on the Purcell’s Cove Road. Then, just a few weeks later, a friend died after being hit in Toronto.
After both instances, a few people said the most shocking thing to me. “Ah, that’s too bad. But you know, I’ve seen some cyclists do the craziest things.”
The implication is that the behaviour of some people on bikes means these two individuals were probably doing something wrong and therefore were probably themselves partially responsible. In fact, both were following the rules of the road and were victims of unsafe driving. But merely knowing someone died doesn’t give you the information necessary to know that, does it?
To appreciate just how insanely inappropriate these responses were, try replacing the word “cyclists” with any ethnicity. Painting all cyclists with one brush is prejudice, plain and simple.
People do have a legitimate grievance that it is hard to predict what some cyclists will do. We all want to improve that behaviour, and education and enforcement is part of the answer.
What we need more than anything, however, is infrastructure that makes safe, predictable behaviour the obvious thing to do. Once we have a proper system of protected bike lanes, cyclists won’t be out in traffic trying to make quick decisions. If you can’t stand being surprised by bikes, ask for bike lanes.
Most people who bike also drive and walk. We don’t join a different species when we change our transportation mode. We can’t talk sensibly about people on bikes or in cars if we approach it with prejudice that would be clearly unacceptable in any other context.