A view from the (shared) cycle path
note: the title is a play on the well-worth-reading website, “A view from the cycle path“.
It’s not motorists. It’s not cyclists. It’s not joggers or pedestrians. It’s not even white-van-men or ute drivers (well…).
It’s you, and it’s me.
Now, it would be stupid to say that it’s only yourself you have to worry about on the road, because that is quite obviously not the case. Sure, some people are actually their own worst enemy, but as cyclists, we know quite well that we do not cause the close pass, the failed attempt to look before turning, or any of the numerous other things that result in drivers hitting or nearly hitting cyclists. However, my point today is not to write yet another piece on how cyclists are marginalized and it’s all the other person’s fault. I mean, sure, there is a lot that they have to answer for, but today, it’s about our own motivations and actions.
We can recognize the enemy, because the enemy is within.
The right tool for the right job
Vehicles are like guns. They empower the powerless. Usually bigger ones, or more of them, can overpower smaller ones. It doesn’t matter what your vehicle is as long as your method of travel is in some way bigger, or faster, or puts you at an advantage over someone else. Some people use this to their personal gain more than others, but we all do it to some extent sometimes.
As cyclists, we get really, really upset at motorists of all kinds when they seem to drive with no regard for our lives. As cyclists, however, we often do the same thing.
(Now, before we go any further, I’m in no way making an equation between the danger a person driving a car, truck or bus presents, and the danger a person on a bike presents. There was a clip from a news piece from New Zealand recently regarding bike registration (here you go) and one guy that the reporter on the street was talking to said, quite unequivocally, that bikes were every bit as dangerous as cars, “if not more so”. With a straight face. Such is the ridiculousness of this statement and others like it, that people who make them should be reconsidered as to whether or not they are fit to be responsible for anything important.)
This behaviour, where people act with no (or little) regard for others is certainly not limited to situations where there is risk or danger, though you might argue that it is the only situation where it actually matters. One of my pet peeves is when I am walking down the sidewalk either on my own or with my wife and there is a group of people walking towards us – which usually happens to mostly be groups of 2-4 women between the ages of 30-45 for some reason – and instead of that other group thinking, “here is a person who deserves the tiniest shred of decency by providing them enough space so as to exist”, and scrunching in a bit or falling into 2-2 formation, they remain spread right across the sidewalk, leaving a bit less than however much room you require. Seriously – how important do you think you are?!?
Anyway, my point (that I’ve made before, I’m quite sure) is that when we cyclists find ourselves in a position where we hold the advantage, the same number of us will abuse it as the numbers of drivers will abuse their advantage.
We’ve all been there – for example, zipping past a slower cyclist in traffic a bit too fast and close. Mostly though, it’s with pedestrians.
Another one of my pet peeves (I have many!) is when pedestrians insist on walking on the wrong side of a shared path or even jogging towards you in the cycle lane. I usually ride as far left as possible in these situations (because I’m petty and sad), inferring that they need to move to the proper side of the path, but it never works. These people are even more stubborn than me. “Would you drive on the wrong side of the road so you can keep an eye on all the traffic swerving to avoid you?!?”, I scream inside my own head.
However, when I stop to think about what their reasons might be for their choice to upset the established order of things and introduce an extra element of chaos to a system that has worked for… well, forever, I actually come up with a plausible answer without much trouble at all.
Some cyclists make them feel unsafe. And so, they choose to walk on the wrong side of the path so as to remain aware, maintaining a clear sight-line of the rogue cyclist.
No bell. No warning. Close pass. Causing a bit of a fright. Annoyed that you’re in their way.
That view from the shared cycle path…
My wife is a runner, I don’t think she’ll mind me telling you. She used to cycle quite a lot, but hasn’t in the past few years. Not at all, actually. The sad part is, it’s mostly because she can’t be bothered with battling traffic. Too dangerous. Too unnerving. Not worth it.
Some of her route often takes her down a shared path, and it is here that we have the source of today’s content. With some consistency, she encounters cyclists who behave in the exact same way that we cyclists blame motorists for doing, providing regular examples of our desire to put ourselves first, made all the more possible when we have the tools at hand to facilitate that.
The most common sources of frustration include:
– Just because cyclists ring their bells (if they do), they believe that this absolves them from behaving in a responsible and respectable manner. You can’t just ring your bell and then speed past at close quarters, or not slow down for intersections. Merely ringing your bell does not constitute safety or consideration. In these cases, the bell means, “outta my way, simpleton! Cyclist coming through!”
– The general attitude that some people have that says they have priority on the shared path because they are on a bike and traveling faster.
– Not being patient, “accelerating to squeeze between me and another pedestrian, almost running into me, and then getting mad at me for being in his way!”.
– Visibility. No lights, dark clothes, pre-dawn or post dusk. To be fair, this is at least as bad for pedestrians, who are often almost literally invisible. How this is not first and foremost an issue of self-preservation for either group is beyond me.
– Lights that are too bright. Contentious for obvious reasons, but a concern nonetheless.
So, cyclists, we are caught again in the space between being reviled by both those who are a danger to us, and by those to whom we are a potential danger. It is that unique position in the middle of the food chain that should give us pause to consider the motivations behind the actions of others in light of the motivation of ourselves.
And so, motorists, when you are on foot, you likewise can have a view of how your actions affect those around you who are not blessed (or hindered) with the same size or speed that you possess when driving. Next time you get buzzed by a bloody cyclist, take a second to consider the view from behind your wheel in light of the view from the (shared) cycle path.