In an earlier post, called Read This Second, I asked cyclists to resist driving their cars for transportation every time.
Think about riding your bike, I asked, just as if I should have to beg cyclists to ride their bikes. But I do have to beg them to ride if they have to ride around cars. Riding around cars is scary. Driving a car is easy and not nearly so scary.
I got a comment from a fellow named Kurt, from Golden, a famous western Denver suburb, home of the Coors Brewery and the Colorado School of Mines. The town is hip deep in cyclists, mostly recreational riders enjoying the quiet foothills roads.
As one rides toward Denver from Golden, traffic increases; the level of driver intensity and impatience rises. Kurt tells me that he is afraid to commute from Golden to Denver, not an easy daily ride, but one that many riders across America would envy. If not for the traffic.
We are not suffering on our roads because of a concerted effort on the part of motorists to make our riding lives miserable. We are not suffering because all drivers dislike us and wish we'd just disappear from what they think of as their roads.
We are not suffering worse than other road users from driver carelessness and ineptitude. We're just awfully vulnerable, is all.
We're vulnerable and they suck. They may not suck as human beings. That's another matter. They surely suck as operators of motor vehicles. Ask any cop. Ask a trucker. Ask a fireman paramedic. Ask an insurance adjuster. They'll all say the same thing:
Drivers overwhelmingly suck, or enough do so that it's plenty safe to generalize about them.
So, if it's a given that drivers suck, and it's equally a given that we're vulnerable on our bikes, what's to do?
We are traffic legally and morally. We have every right to be there on our minor slice of the roadway. Drivers don't know that, just as they don't know how to signal turns or begin turns from the proper lane. They evidently don't know how to read speed limit signs.
They don't know these things and they don't care. Unless they get caught.
They don't think of driving as a responsibility or privilege, as they've been told oh-so many times. They think of it as how they get to work or the mall. They feel they should be able to drive to work or to the mall at any speed they choose - without interference from school or construction zones, without interference from silly goddamn bicyclists.
If a motorist sees three cyclists on his/her commute, that motorist will write off those cyclists as odd-balls, lost licenses and poor people. As undeserving of respect. Perhaps they deserve a minor scare to remind them whose road it is - whose taxes paid for it.
If that motorist sees thirty cyclists on his/her commute, that ignorant, prideful stance will be harder to support. Maybe one of those cyclists is his/her minister or brother-in-law. Maybe one of those cyclists represented the driver in court or delivered her baby.
Maybe one of those cyclists is a decent human being trying to get to work, a decent person deserving of respect, deserving of the few feet of clearance that the law suggests.
The more of us they see, the more chance that one of us might be okay, might be more than a pain in the ass.
If many of us hang up our bikes and drive because we are afraid of traffic, we will never be granted our rightful place on the road. Drivers will take anything they're given. More.
We have to ride even if we're scared. Nothing will improve for us if we let their cheap terrorist act intimidate us off our bikes. Like Kurt, I've been intimidated off my bike. I quit riding for seven months after a particularly effective scare. I won't quit again.
We won't gain anything if we don't ride. We lose if we drive. We'll be part of the problem on the road, one more car. Maybe seeing us in our cars will convince other cyclists to drive instead of ride.
We have only our fear to overcome. I'm not saying it's easy or that our resolve not to quit will never flag. I'm saying I hope to see you on the road. Wave if you see me. Think what we have in common.