Tuesday 19 February 2013

Cyclist and Driver Anger - not the same things at all

Two incidents on my ride in today.

There was a long (30+) line of cars waiting for lights ahead to change - and plenty of room to pull alongside the car at the front (or at least one of them). I was going straight on, so when I approached the front past a whole lot of cars turning right, I pulled alongside the car at the front, also indicating to turn right, and stopped on his left.

The driver looked at me with undisguised rage. I caught his gaze and quickly looked away, I don't really need that kind of anger. Too late though, I got a red-faced rant about who the **** do I think I am going in and out of traffic, where the **** do I think I'm going, do I know I'm just a ****ing bike etc. No need to labour the point here - the guy was sitting in traffic, angry, and a butt hole. Evolution in evidence - all he needs is a gob and an arse and so he's evolved a single mutli-purpose orifice.

Now the anger might seem extraordinary, but its not that surprising to most cyclists - the hostility they (many motorists) feel at us for simply being there, on the road, even when we're not slowing them down or inconveniencing them at all is something we've all encountered. I was there, I had no reason to wait for the lights to change three times to follow the cars all turning right when I was going straight on anyway. In getting alongside the car at the front I broke no laws, I harmed no one, all I did was gain an advantage at the expense of no one. Objectively viewed, isn't it amazing how angry many motorists get about that? 

I could go in to the psychology of that (we could draw in perceived, un-codified 'rules', social defectors, outlier groups, game theory etc.) but I see that as over-analysis. The phenomenon is caused when an arse hole gets in a car and is then subjected to traffic. No further analysis is needed - I feel we get close to offering some kind of absolution for these arse holes through said discussions. Yes, maybe he's conforming to a different kind of norm, maybe he's a victim of psychology. But he's also an adult who's got to take responsibility for his actions, and his actions show him to be an arse hole who by any objective standards deserves a slap (no, I don't advocate going around supplying said slap - thats inappropriate).

The second incident was way more hazardous and therefore far more serious. Approaching another junction, I slowed down behind a car in front of me stopping for the lights. Out of the saddle, balancing on the pedals while slowing, I know the lights sequence and that they would change in a moment and so I took primary position (central spot in lane) while looking about - another couple of cyclists were approaching from behind. My intention was to go straight on rather than turn right or left so I didn't indicate.

As the lights changed I moved forward, having not put my feet down during slowing, and another cyclist (togged up in hi-viz - looked serious!) nudged me on my left - he was undertaking, I moved in maybe a foot to the left as I started, his manoeuvre was silly and we both COULD have come off. Neither of us did. I called out "Dude, undetaking, THERE?" as he moved ahead of me. His road speed wasn't very great - I caught him and he said "Sorry buddy, thought you were turning right". All other things aside, I could have become quite an arse hole over this incident - but I didn't.

All the time on the road I'm burning energy - if I get worked up I can push the pedals harder, move into other gears and burn it off. I'm expending my own energy to move, I'm not gathering up loads of flight-or-fight hormones turning my stomach sour and upping my heart rate for no good reason. I'm using that as I travel - bluntly on a normal ride its awfully hard to hold on to the kind of anger that typifies the city driving experience for so many. I turned off a while after, called out to the other cyclist as he passed - "Ho harm, no worries!" I have no idea if he heard me, but I'm sure that the incident will ruin neither of our days, nor will it cost either of us any sleep.

Why is it that cyclists aren't yelling abuse at each other, despite these incidents being very common, but motorists feel such outright hostility towards us, towards each other, and everything else in their way? The answer is quite simple - and while trying to avoid the kind of over-analysis that can almost justify their behaviour, I think the phenomenon expressed above goes a long way towards explaining this. They're angry, there is nowhere for them to express their anger, we're just there. Other motorists are just there. 

The moral of this? Lets once agian re-iterate that the mutual respect mantra on our roads is vacuous crap. But lets take this a step further - quit accepting bad cycle facilities and hostile roads as if they're the best we can get. That simply isn't good enough - where there is space for good cycle facilities, and thats nearly everywhere, we must stop accepting second grade routes that don't protect us from this hostility. All that achieves is it allows the police to target us when we take reasonable steps to avoid that aggression - the facade of fake-improvement gives them the excuse they need to have a go at us and improve their otherwise pretty naff figures. The result of this is that so many people encounter this anger and simply don't ride their bike again - go on, talk to folk who don't ride and ask them about it. We need good, safe, continuous facilities to ride on, protecting us not only from the hazards brought by badly driven cars and huge goods vehicles, but also from the outright hate we face on a daily basis. We don't deserve that hostility - quit apologising.

The portrayal of cyclists as easy victims both for angry motons and a police force desperate to look good in the eyes of those same angry motons is the problem here. And we have to stop playing into their hands by blandly going along with every rubbish scheme. Time to get angry? Maybe, but all things considered we're the ones who have made a lifestyle choice least conducive to that.

1 comment:

  1. What I don't understand is what on earth it is that motorists are getting angry about. I mean, I experience my fair share of delay and obstruction to my journey. Getting stuck behind slower cyclists when it's not safe to overtake, getting stuck behind maneuvering vehicles blocking the road, or just getting stuck in traffic when it's not quite worth getting off and walking round the problem. It's annoying, but it has never made me angry.

    Even if I'm experiencing such a delay and I see other cyclists mount the payment or run a light, it still doesn't make me angry. Again, I'm annoyed, mainly because it's another nail in the coffin for perception of cyclists in the minds of non-cyclists, but it doesn't make my journey any slower.

    No, the only thing that makes me angry is when others risk my life on the road. Which I feel is an entirely normal reaction to thinking someone is about to kill you, but no amount of pedaling makes that anger go away.

    And I do yell at other cyclists. Not insults, more along the lines of 'Indicate! Give way to the right! Look before pulling out!' I sometimes do the same to drivers, but they're less likely to hear me. More likely to resort to just a 'WANKER!' then, on the basis that the general gist of my objection is probably understood, if not the precise infraction.