Thursday, July 26, 2012

Be the Change: A way to safer riding

I’m not that old.  It wouldn’t surprise me if 85% of you are older than I am—so I don’t have an amazing wealth of wisdom to draw on when writing of cycling’s enigmatic topics.  But there are a few topics that, from my perspective, seem pretty unambiguous, yet still draw fervent debate from the two-wheeled (and in this case 4-wheeled) masses.  Cyclists’ safety is one of those common sense issues that in our world of extreme polarization, weasels its way into controversy.  

I don’t even feel like I’m going out on a limb when I say that safety—whether it pertains to cyclist-motorist relations, cyclist-cyclist relations, or cyclist-pavement relations—should not be a controversial issue.  Unfortunately it is, and we only have ourselves to blame.  More accurately, EVERYONE, cyclists, and motorists, and while we’re at it, pedestrians alike, have only themselves to blame. 

Unfortunately for everyone, human nature dictates that we have a pretty narrow scope when it comes to perspective.  We tend to see things from only our own point of view and try as we might; it is difficult to truly empathize with someone else’s perspective.  Because of this, issues like this fall victim to an “us vs. them” mentality.  Let’s face it people: humans are a pretty selfish breed.  Selfishness and our own inability to step outside of ourselves for even the smallest moment lead to simple issues—like safety—becoming controversial ones.  As a cyclist, I want measures to protect my rights as a cyclist.  As a motorist, Billy wants measures that protect his rights as a motorist.  And poof, a recipe for controversy is born.  

At their core, these opposing perspectives are not the problem.  Cyclists advocating for cyclists and motorists advocating for motorists should lead to fruitful compromise.  The problem is born out of either side’s selfish inability to consider the other’s point of view.  Controversy begets misunderstanding.  Misunderstanding begets animosity.  Animosity begets this.

At the beginning of this miniature rant I’ve embarked upon here, I said that this issue is a simple one.  So what do I propose to solve it?  We as cyclists have to start with ourselves.  I’ve seen so many articles that like to put all the blame on the other side.  “Annoying cyclists always ride in the middle of the street!  They always run red lights!” “Motorists are so careless.  They run us cyclists off the road!  They almost killed me!”

To be honest, both of those statements are absolutely true.  My problem with them though, is that they lay the blame squarely on the other side—while not even considering that both sides should share the responsibility.  I’m not the first to say it:  a whole bunch of cyclists ride like jerks.  But there are also plenty of motorists who give little to no respect to cyclists out there.  Confronting this lack of respect with hostility and even more disrespect only confirms the kinds of misconceptions each side bares towards the other.  So instead of trying to change motorists’ behavior—cyclists should try to change the way they themselves behave.  This will change the way that they are perceived.  Ipso facto, drivers won’t hate us so much—and maybe we can all just get a long a bit better.  

There are some simple things—things that wouldn’t even inconvenience you terribly on a ride—that will make us seem a bit less hypocritical when we wave our fingers at our four-wheeled friends. 

Though I don't recommend this, this video is pretty funny.  Watch out for stuff in the bike lanes.

Don’t recklessly blow through stop signs and red lights.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it is the end of the world to cautiously roll through either lights or signs when you can plainly see there is no traffic, but cyclists generally don’t do this—and it makes us look like assholes.  It also gives motorists the impression that we think we are better than them.  I could probably make a reasonable case that we are, in fact, better, but we are trying to make friends here.  

Helmets are cool these days.  I promise.  This kid looks super cool right?

For the love of all things that are good in this world: Wear a freakin’ helmet.  I can’t believe it, but I still see cyclists—of all types (not just hipsters)—rolling without a helmet.  How do you expect a motorist to value your life when you clearly don’t?  And don’t give me this “It’s a personal decision” argument.  I don’t buy it.  You not wearing a helmet has more to do with those around you than it does with yourself.  To be blunt, if you are in a serious accident without a helmet on, it’s likely that you won’t be around to have to deal with the consequences.  Plus nowadays helmets look pretty cool.  Get one.  Wear it. 

Be predictable.  Know your surroundings.  I could go on and on about little rules that will keep us both safer and in the better graces of motorists.  Let me be clear, I’m not trying to say that motorists are in the right here—and that we must only change ourselves to fit into their world.  That is not at all what I think.  There was a wise man who once said “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”  And I’m pretty sure that man was Ghandi.  And I’m pretty sure Ghandi knows what he is talking about.  

This guy knows cycling.

The real way forward here is to simply be careful.  What we do is extremely dangerous.  So often when you are confronted with an annoyance—like a car, when cycling, or a bike, when driving—we simply see the other side as just a motorist or just a cyclist.  We fail to see them as a husband or wife, brother or sister.  I think seeing people as other humans—with family and friends and a job and a home—make it a lot harder to be a complete jerk to them and endanger their lives.  At least I would hope that people have at least that much decency. 

Now I know that I may sound a bit optimistic here.  I am aware of the fact that it will take a lot more than just people not running red lights to stop the conflicts between cyclists and motorists.  And at the end of the day, only one of the sides is piloting a 3,500lbs hunk of metal—so we need to do whatever we can to protect ourselves.  I just wish we did it without simultaneously giving drivers unlimited fodder for their “take back our roads” fire. 

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