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Confession Time

March 23, 2010

I flipped someone off on my bike … more than once.

I know it was neither a kind nor an incredibly intelligent thing to do. It didn’t solve the problem or communicate my grievance effectively. Seeing as how a bike provides little protection against physical assault, it probably put my safety in jeopardy.

Perhaps most unfortunately, it reflected negatively on the cycling community.

That's one word for flipping people off on a bike. Another might be "stupid."

A friend—to whom I give a lot of credit for my prior commitment to bike commuting—suggested that I dedicate a NCG post to discussing the commonly-held perception of cyclists as rude, rebellious, and even radical. He said that many car-drivers and other supporters of the status quo feel threatened by these qualities. He went on to say that this perception, and its accompanying fears, may be inhibiting efforts to create real community around cycling and other forms of alternative transportation.

So, my middle finger is to blame for the scarcity of bike lanes in this country?

Not solely, but I’m sure it’s not helping our cause. I’ve heard people—friends, loved ones, and strangers—talk about cyclists: how we go too slowly, how we’re just in the way, how we don’t belong on the streets.

I’m not proud of flying off the handle, but they’re our streets too!

Yes, that was an angry exclamation point. You don’t need a motor to have road rage, and in fact, I could make the case that we cyclists have even more cause for rage than car drivers. Every time a driver parks in the bike lane, forgets to look before opening the car door on the street, neglects to use a turn signal, passes too closely, or cuts us off, our very safety is on the line.

So, yeah, we’re going to get a little angry.

My afore-mentioned friend channels his anger more constructively than I. He pulls up next to motorists at the first opportunity and informs them of their infraction. Sometimes the motorists apologize and promise to pay closer attention in the future. Sometimes they deny any wrong-doing. Sometimes they tell my friend to get away from their car window.

Sometimes my friend replies, “Do you have any concern for my safety?” That’s what I was really trying to say when I jabbed my middle finger in the air. I was trying to say:

Hey! Listen up! I’m here, limbs exposed, with as much right to the road as you.

Unfortunately, I don’t always share my friend’s ability to react to insult by engaging in productive communication. Next time, I’ll try harder—promise.

Car-freely,
Amy

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. pawl permalink
    March 24, 2010 2:40 am

    I feel pretty lucky, PDX is pretty bike friendly, and I often have road rage on the other end of the spectrum. Drivers are too courteous. That’s kinda dangerous too. Stopping at an intersection when they have the right of way, or even in the middle of a street. When the vehicles don’t obey traffic laws for our sake, it sends mixed signals.
    This makes me want to be less visible at times, so drivers quit going out of their way for me and it will be safer to assume they don’t see me and then i can act according to that assumption. I know this is dangerous too, because my Spidey-Sense isn’t always 360º.

    “I appreciate that you see me and are accommodating, but it’s really unnecessary and kind of dangerous as other driver’s may not be thinking like you.”

    Besides if I’ve already stopped, I’m cool with waiting for the vehicle for an extra couple of seconds until it clears my path. I’m all for traffic flow, be it foot, bike, automobile or any harmonious combination thereof.

    Indeed, though, it is frustrating when you’re playing the “I’m traffic too” game and people don’t see you or consider the danger they put you in.
    I also think people who don’t bike, nor automobile designers, consider bikes threatening or a consideration at all and operate or build the automobile with only other automobiles in mind. They check for other cars, but not for bikes.

    I have a bell for pedestrians & other bikers. I’ve been thinking about getting one of those air horn canisters for cars.

    And this is classic:

  2. Adam permalink
    March 24, 2010 7:12 am

    Very well said. This argument can be transfered to so many causes. It’s hard to remember that one is always representing something, especially when we are involved in changing social norms. I’ll try to remember this the next time someone pokes fun at my car, or tells me being “green” is too expensive. Change is slow, but I try to remember that we vote everyday with the actions we take towards others, the items we decide to purchase, and the times we are willing to speak up about our beliefs; especially when they rock the boat.

  3. avaerewyck permalink
    March 24, 2010 9:30 am

    Yeah, you’re right about being too cautious with bikers, like the wind from a car anywhere on the block will knock us over. Still, having experienced both extremes – hyper-caution in Boulder and general negligence in D.C. – I’ll take the former. And I love that video too.

    Thanks for your support, Adam. For better or worse, image matters, right?

  4. wendy permalink
    March 25, 2010 5:37 pm

    I agree, car drivers are sometimes less than sensitive to alternative transportation. BUT, if bikers are equal on the road, then they have to follow all traffic signs and laws. Those bikers that disobey traffic rules are misrepresentin’ man!
    I am thinking specifically of Leuven, Belgium (a city with about 25,000 bikers) where I have often been in the situation of being overtaken on the right and left by bikers while I was trying to make a turn onto a busy street with cars, pedestrians, bus traffic, etc. Bikers cannot assume that a driver can anticipate their next move if it is out of line with the flow of traffic.

  5. Matt permalink
    March 29, 2010 8:52 am

    Wendy,

    With all due respect, I think that what you experienced Leuven is exactly what bicyclists experience everyday in most places. We are constantly confronted with situations where we need to make decisions that fall outside of the flow of traffic and in accordingly unpredictable situations. In the case of Leuven, the roles were reversed and bikes were dictating the flow of traffic. It sounds like the bikes had no problem following the flow of traffic but it was very difficult for you, in a different vehicles, to navigate the situation.

    By no means are you at fault in the situation. Instead, traffic planners are to blame. They should be responsible for planning cities that are easy to navigate, predictable and safe for bikes, cars, pedestrians, etc. In most places it seems that planners have failed at this task. I think that this explains why many, but certainly not all, cyclists break traffic rules. Often, they need to break rules to keep themselves safe on roads and under laws that weren’t designed for them. For example, I often treat stop lights like stop or yield signs. Usually this is so that I can get out in front of a line of cars instead of having them accelerating past me only for me to catch up again at the next line of traffic. I believe that some cities in the US have started to create new lights and traffic rules to accommodate cyclists in such situations. Knuckleheads blasting through red lights and riding the wrong way down streets are likely breaking the law but, in my opinion, there are many conscientious cyclists breaking laws in an effort to just keep themselves safe.

  6. avaerewyck permalink
    March 29, 2010 1:10 pm

    Thanks so much for your comment, Stern! I trust you realized you were the referred to noble friend in this post. You really were instrumental in my growth as a cyclist. I’ve never forgotten the time in the kitchen when you accused me of not being part of the bike community – and I’ve been trying to prove you wrong ever since.

    Regarding the streets of Leuven, many of them are incredibly bike-friendly, as I praised them in this post: https://nocargo.wordpress.com/2009/12/29/cool-points-for-belgium/

    However, many of them are definitely not designed to accommodate two lanes of car and bike traffic. Guess we can blame that on those darn 11th-century city planners – SO behind the times.

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