(Edit: what I forgot to include was the apparent approval of this message by BicycleSA – the official body that apparently represents cycling in our State. Unless Christian Hagg was grossly misrepresented, which I’m certainly prepared to believe, I am quite disappointed indeed. Perhaps BicycleSA wasn’t prepared to align themselves so decisively with the interests of cyclists in an effort to remain politically uncontroversial, but I quite think that they have done themselves a great disservice in the eyes of many cyclists and otherwise reasonable people. To decline to comment would have been far better than giving creedence to this towering pile of feculence. Now then…)
We live in a world where there is no shortage of things that enrage us, or make us sad, or make us fear for our immediate safety or for the future of the world we live in. We all know that bad news is good news, at least for ratings. Fear is a far greater motivator than happiness, and anger gets a stronger reaction than kindness.
We all know this, and nobody puts this reality to work better, more obviously, and less scrupulously, than popular news media.
It’s not just bad news in general, however. Yes, that still works, but fear and anger are more potent the closer to home they hit. 200 killed in a bomb on the other side of the world? I can’t be concerned about that when there is a dangerous felon on the loose in my neighborhood. That’s actually pretty reasonable on a basic level, but the fact that it is is used by the media to construct a news program with the maximum impact and largest engaged audience. It’s all about the benjamins. The dolla dolla bills, y’all.
Fear is great, and anger is pretty good, but anger mixed with stroking one’s ego and sense of entitlement is fantastic.
Look, I know that people don’t want to spend their days being depressed over the terrible state of our world and the bleak outlook for humanity, and distracting oneself with things that are trivial, superficial, and self-gratifying is an effective, though costly, antidote. Still, with all of the terrible, atrocious things going on in the world, I’m amazed that people still get as riled up over a cyclist “doing the wrong thing” as they do.
But people do. Oh, how they do.
In general, cyclists are apparently waging a war against motorists right to drive wherever they want, as fast as they want, as often as they want, and for as short a distance as they want. Cyclists are nibbling away at one of the foundations of modern society as we know it. One of our basic human rights. The right to drive.
So yesterday 7News in Adelaide knocked another one out of the park when it apprehended footage of a cyclist riding in the middle of a lane. You know, the lanes that are for cars, not people. Not even traffic as the law defines it. Just cars. Observe:
I honestly despair for humanity. How do we ever expect to conquer the real evil in our midst when we save our best, most fervent, indignation for such an inconsequential act as this?
A quick rundown, if I may.
As you have keenly observed, the cyclist was travelling at the same speed as the rest of the traffic around him, on roads that were far from congested (not that that would have anything to do with it), next to a bike lane that wasn’t a bike lane (it’s technically only a “bike lane” between the hours of 7:30am-9:00am, Monday to Friday), which, as it happens, is a painted line signifying the 2-3 foot strip where all of the broken pavement, glass, general rubbish, and drain-covers happen to be when there aren’t parked cars in it.
To summarize, the cyclist was in no way inconveniencing or endangering anyone, and to top it all off, happened to be legally in the right.
With this in mind, let us continue.
The dead-eyed and serious news-reader starts us off with a masterful collection of completely irrelevant phrases, such as:
“An inconsiderate cyclist has angered peak-hour motorists in Adelaide’s inner south.” We’ve already covered the fact that he wasn’t inconsiderate. Peak hour? Maybe, but the roads looked pretty lightly occupied. Enraged peak-hour motorists? Well, they spoke to one guy involved, who provided the footage, but he didn’t seem all that enraged, did he? The rest of the people they
interviewed coaxed a conditioned response from all gave the appropriate soundbites, but they were all just random people who had nothing to do with the situation in question. Next.
“Cycling groups warn his reckless riding’s a reminder that safety’s the responsibility of all road users.” Again, there is no reckless riding observed. None. That is pure invention. The assertion here that safety is the responsibility of all road users is curious, especially if it did actually come from “cycling groups”, as a) the cyclist is not riding dangerously in any way, shape or form, b) the cyclist is actually safer riding in this way as he is more visible form behind and from side-streets, and c) the fact that the cyclist was just labeled as “reckless” obviously puts the onus of responsibility on him rather than “everybody”, which means that what they meant to say is that “safety is the responsibility of cyclists, because, I don’t know, they don’t pay ‘road tax’ or something, and they look funny”.
“The meter-matters message clearly hasn’t gotten through to this lane-hog… he steers well wide of a vacant bike lane”, begins the reporter bringing us this newsworthy story. “Little bit frustrating that, uh, we’re not sharing the roads”, chuckles the witness whose life will never again be the same after not being held up or inconvenienced or endangered in any conceivable way.
Somehow the safe passing law (“a meter matters”) has worked itself into this story, when in fact it has nothing to do with it in any way, as there was no passing, as is universally observed when things travel at the same speed.
But, he was being a road hog. Hoggishly hoarding all the road so that no one else could have any. Oh yeah. That’s right – he wasn’t. Nor was the frustration at all linked to the ill-conceived idea that the cyclist wasn’t “sharing the road”. Apparently sharing the road means that cars get it all and no one else gets any, and by frustrating he means frustrating like when you think you got the last ice cream cone and then you see someone else enjoying the same ice cream cone and you’re frustrated because you wanted to be the only guy enjoying that flavour of ice cream cone.
Riding “well-wide of a vacant bike lane”? Technically, not true. Relevant? Maybe. Meaningful? Important? No. Anyone who has ridden a bike around most cities knows that these kinds of bike lanes are token at best, and actually less safe to ride in than the real lane, often enough. It’s true that with the new safe-passing law came the fact that cyclists can be fined if they are riding outside of a bike lane where one is provided, but again, that is not the case here, yet it didn’t stop 7News from coming back to it again and again.
After a few more pointless remarks, we are treated to a fine selection of opinions from the peoples. “Cockroaches on wheels.” “Idiots like that that get in accidents, it’s their own fault but they blame everybody else.” A “foolish thing to do”.
Well. Had I know better, I wouldn’t have gotten so worked up about it.
Really, this is a non-story. It’s a guy riding his bike in a legal and unobtrusive way, but with the backdrop of the recent safe-passing law and the more distant but ever-present backdrop of the Frome Street bikeway, Adelaidians can be counted on to get fired up about anything that loosely resembles a cyclist daring to infringe on the natural rights of motorists to occupy all of the road, all of the time.
What it is is one of the best value commodies that an Australian news rag has at its disposal. With nothing more than a few seconds of footage of a cyclist doing something legal and then putting some loaded phrases over-top of it, you get about a week, or maybe two, of people clicking on and sharing your social media and leaving comments that are self-perpetuating and echoed ad-nauseum by other tiny minds (think “cyclists don’t pay rego”, “lycra-clad”, “think they own the road”, etc), until some other story catches their attention or they just get bored with being self-righteous about nothing. 7News brings nothing new to the table here, but they don’t need to. The formula works. The smack-heads will continue to line up to get their fix, and the wells run deep.
All I can say (hope?) is that they are a dying breed. Slowly, yes, but surely. One by one, people are realizing that we cannot continue down the road we have been on and expect there to always be another tomorrow. We’re going to run out of chances some day, and it’s media stories like this that will keep people with their head in the sand until the very last second.
As I’ve said before, I think the best thing we can do with regards to stories like this is to ignore them, and if we do engage with them, to do so with only the facts as dispassionately as we can so as to give them nothing to fight back with (and once again, I’m not sure I’m the best example of this approach…).
The idiocy surrounding these stories is enough to make one’s head explode, so it’s probably best to keep your distance and not get sucked into the vortex of vapid stupidity. Just ride your bike, be courteous like we all should be, obey the laws that don’t endanger you, and use the bike lane, except, of course, where they are full of obstacles, are dangerous, inadequate, have cars parked in them, end with no warning, or simply aren’t there to begin with.
Header image: source