>Attitudes & Platitudes

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Mankind has invested more than four million years of evolution in the attempt to avoid physical exertion. Now a group of backward-thinking atavists mounted on foot-powered pairs of Hula-Hoops would have us pumping our legs, gritting our teeth, and searing our lungs as though we were being chased across the Pleistocene savanna by saber-toothed tigers. Think of the hopes, the dreams, the effort, the brilliance, the pure force of will that, over the eons, has gone into the creation of the Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Bicycle riders would have us throw all this on the ash heap of history. 

~P.J. O’Rourke
Image info here.

Consider these two stories:

  1. Driver gets 90 days in jail for hit-and-run involving bicyclist
  2. Rich Vail Fund Manager Hits Cyclist And Runs, Gets Off Because Charges Might “Jeopardize His Job”
Both of these stories have something in common: In both cases the DA refused to press charges. In one story, however, bicycle activists (read: people who think cyclists should not be unfairly discriminated against) helped get the case to court and the hit and run driver got 90 days.
I have written about bike safety before, and about attitudes of both cyclists and motorists. I am curious about traffic in general and why it is the way it is, and why people are the way they are. (Read Tom Vanderbilt’s great book Traffic.) Why is it that our society, not that different from others, has such deep seated prejudices against bicyclists? I know all the arguments about cyclists running red lights, but that is still no excuse to hit one with your car and then drive away like nothing serous happened. And many of these kinds of cases (there are quite a lot) involve very responsible, law abiding cyclists on their way to their professional jobs [which allow them, like every one else, to pay for the roads that cars wear out at a far greater rate than any number of bicycles could ever do. This is not hyperbole. If you don’t believe it, or have not thought about who really pays for the roads, then read this.]
The problem with prejudices is that we all have them even if we don’t see it. There are many people who would be incensed if called racist, but still hold racist views because they just don’t see their views as racist. Sometimes the best solution is just to let someone speak their mind. That way the prejudice is out on the table for all to see. Maybe we just need more people to say out loud their thoughts about cyclists so we can ask, “really?” As a piece of evidence in this line of reasoning (poor as it is), here is some anti-cycling prejudice from a (sadly ironic) video clip that’s been all over the Interwebs:
Those cyclists deserve what they get, right? Roads (read: the world) is made for cars and, apparently for Rob Ford, cars are for getting you to the all-you-can-eat endless-platter-special at the Hog and Heifer.* Maybe Mr. Ford should just keep his opinions to himself from now on. So much for that theory
But general contempt for others around oneself, or at least around one’s speeding car, comes in many forms. Most of the time contempt does not display itself as outright hostility, but masquerades as benign indifference. We know that many states now have hands free laws that forbid drivers from holding cell phones to their ears while driving. I think that law is somewhat debatable, but there is no doubt that we are all far more distracted while driving than we either realize or admit. Some drivers, however, take it to a new level, like this driver who (it’s fair to say) does not care about anyone else around him, including you or your children:
According to the Bush Doctrine it would be completely appropriate to physically run his car off the road into the ditch before he hurt anyone. He is “driving” a lethal weapon after all.
I wish these were isolated cases, but I fear they are not. Every day I still see people driving with their cell phone to their ear, even though it is against the law in this state. I also see cyclists riding without lights at night, riding the wrong way on bike lanes and roads, running stop signs and lights, and generally navigating their bikes like they learned to ride when they where thirteen and never advanced beyond their adolescent brain.
Which makes me think we live in a society that, for the the most part, views bicycles as toys; either toys for kids, or toys for adults. If a bike is not being used as a toy then it must be for someone who cannot afford a car, which means they are poor, which means they deserve double contempt – cycling while poor – right? Well, societies don’t change overnight. I don’t see a new world anytime soon. As soon as we figure out why nice, kind, ordinary, god fearing, family loving individuals turn into maniacal, cursing, foaming at the mouth tyrants as soon as they get behind the wheel of their car we just might figure out why there is so much contempt between drivers and cyclists.

I end with this quote, a kind of bookend to O’Rourke’s at the top:

It is curious that with the advent of the automobile and the airplane, the bicycle is still with us. Perhaps people like the world they can see from a bike, or the air they breathe when they’re out on a bike. Or they like the bicycle’s simplicity and the precision with which it is made. Or because they like the feeling of being able to hurtle through air one minute, and saunter through a park the next, without leaving behind clouds of choking exhaust, without leaving behind so much as a footstep. 

~Gurdon S. Leete

* I don’t intend this to be a “fat joke”, though Mr. Ford is rather rotund, for I am somewhat doughy myself and in my weaker moments, of which there are many, I  have dreams of binging at the Hog and Heifer.

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