The times, as they say, are changing. Five years ago it seemed as though bikes would never get any respect on the road, and my attitude was, “If you can’t beat the cars in their blatant lack of regard for road rules and etiquette, you might as well join them.” I felt that running red lights and weaving through standstill traffic was just a matter of getting even—of making up for the courtesy that wasn’t shown to me.
Although we’re not quite living in the utopian world of ubiquitous bike lanes, separated bike paths and public cycling amenities, five years after starting this magazine it’s undeniable that there are more cyclists on the city streets. And while that’s unquestionably a great thing, there are some drawbacks for the urban cycling community.
Years ago it wasn’t really a big deal that the average motorist regarded anyone with a messenger bag as a scofflaw. Right or wrong, motorists expected to see us rolling through stop signs and jumping red lights—or ignoring them altogether. Now with so many cyclists making use of the city streets, motorists are becoming increasingly vocal about their opinion of urban cyclists. Attitudes range from a relatively understandable disdain for those of us who bend the law to suit our needs, to outrageous wholesale condemnation of the entire cycling community.
Here in Pittsburgh, a member of our cycling community recently experienced one of the most extreme examples of road rage I’ve ever heard of. An enraged motorist followed the cyclist across town, exited their car and attacked him with a knife. The cyclist suffered numerous stab wounds and a slashed throat, but thankfully survived the attack.
Now certainly the motorist (who incidentally has not been identified) could not have been of sound mind. But this incident is really just a more savage example of the kind of road rage that goes on every day. And it’s really quite a twisted notion that if the attacker had just used their automobile to run down the cyclist, the police might not have even considered the incident an attempted homicide.
So what does this mean for the rest of us? I don’t at all mean to imply that we need to avoid angering motorists for fear of a knife attack. But if you’re one who hopes for a better cycling infrastructure in the future, it might be a good time to take a look at how the cycling community is presently perceived. In other words, if the local newspaper is full of letters to the editor bemoaning the addition of bike lanes, arguing that such facilities only benefit a small group of less than desirable citizens, eventually the same politicians that signed off on those bike lanes are going to take the dissenting opinion into consideration.
More immediately, it stands to reason that if you ride the same route regularly, you’re encountering many of the same motorists on a regular basis. So if you don’t exactly ride to the letter of the law, it may be worth considering who you’re irritating on a regular basis, and how that affects your daily commute.
Or not. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to sit at an empty intersection where the green light is activated by the presence of an automobile. I’m also fairly certain that we’ll never see the day where the posted speed limit is treated like anything other than a minimum speed suggestion. But at the end of the day, one thing is for sure—sharing the road involves two user groups. One of those user groups has a two ton metal shield around them, and the other one doesn’t.