I’m sorry. I really am. Just to be up front about it, this is going to be another response to an anti-cyclist argument (that’s giving it too much credit) made by a professional journalist and published author, printed by a major newspaper, and reprinted in numerous others.
I don’t know why I bother, as these are as numerous as there are mouth-breathers who can punch a few words out on a keyboard and press send, but I do bother. It’s a sickness.
The lesson I should be learning here, I realize as I am typing this, is that getting all snarky like I am is not going to win over any of the authors of said arguments, but make them hardened in their position, because that’s what happens when people are accosted.
So, let’s recognize that but leave it behind, and get to the unpacking of the spurious article from Peter Fenton, printed in The Washington Post, and titled, “This is what makes bicyclists blow through red lights”.
The title. The title is even incorrect – and also misleading – so that’s a good start.
It’s incorrect in so far as there is no “this is what” at all in the body of the text of the article. There are a few personal opinions, a study that he claims is recent, but is in fact over 2 years old and which comes to very different conclusions that Mr Fenton does, a lesson on kinetic energy, and some more opinion. No conclusive revelations here.
It is misleading in so far as, colloquially, to “blow through” a red light is to recklessly ignore a red light at speed, without slowing down, and against the flow of cross traffic of both human and mechanical form, risking the life of one and all. We may discover that this isn’t the case…
Indeed, the conclusion Mr Fenton comes to is that urban cycling is becoming the newly preferred reckless activity for people engaging in risk-taking for the thrill of it:
Clearly, urban cycling, despite its green patina, qualifies as risk-taking endeavor. Running red lights and other outré maneuvers only enhance the adrenalin rush.
Marvin Zuckerman, pioneer of research into risk-taking, wrote in 2000 that the most common outlet for sensation-seeking was reckless driving. In 2015, I would venture, heedless cycling is an emerging rival.
The study that he quotes surveyed 2061 cyclists in Australia, and found that 63% of them have said that they had not, leaving 37% (not 40%) that “had ridden through a red light at some time when they were riding.” So that means at least once, ever.
Of the 37%, 32% of those (244 people, by my math), were making left turns on red, which is a very low-risk maneuver and is in fact perceived to be safer in many cases, as it explains in the study. A quarter of the offenders (185 people) said that proceeded through a red because the sensor in the ground responsible for the light changing from red to green did not pick up the cyclist. Sounding risky yet?
Nobody else on the road and proceeding through a pedestrian crossing were the remaining answers, the first of which carries exactly zero risk, and the second, totaling 87 people, carries the most risk, but statistically, has resulted in almost none in recent history.
So, thanks for spelling that out for us, Mr Fenton.
I should have led with this, but the incredibly misleading series of numbers at the beginning of the article are basically an outright lie:
We are to believe that 432,500 cyclists run red lights every day in America. Except, the study is for Australia, as I already mentioned. That’s kind of a problem. Even if it wasn’t, it would still be just over a third of them who had proceeded through a red light at least once, in very low-risk situations, which is an extremely long ways away from 432,500 cyclists running red lights every day.
Let’s even say that this was true (and, keep in mind, this is actually irrelevant, yet far, far worse, and much, much more dangerous). Looky what the first Google result was for a certain search. “Motorists run 1.23 million red lights in New York City every workday.”
Alright, so moving on, “we feel” (we, keep in mind, so it’s OK), “so emboldened to disregard the rules, putting our lives on the line in the process”, and then we are invited to wonder “whether motorists or cyclists cause more deaths”…
Yep. That actually happened.
After a lesson in kinetic energy (thanks for saying “physical science”, by the way – I would have been completely baffled by “physics”), we get a list of other “pragmatic justifications” that he’s “come across”, and then, finally, the real reason. This is it. Brace yourself.
The real reason is that, amongst other irrelevant reasons, cyclists seemed to proceed through red lights more when alone, or when small groups of other cyclists were already crossing on a red.
Hang on, wasn’t this supposed to blow my mind?
No? Well, then Mr Fenton lists a few other reasons, for good measure. It’s because some cyclists feel marginalized by the “system”, man. It’s “payback… an injudicious act of defiance, like back country snowboarding in the shadow of an unstable cornice.”
Beautiful. Really, great stuff this.
We are then provided an out of context quote from an article that I’m fairly certain is satirical (if not, then that’s a whole other topic…), and then some stats that in the US in 2012, a lot of motorists hit a lot of cyclists, and killed many of them, which is double the amount from 9 years prior. When there were fewer cars and fewer bikes on the road.
It finally ends with Mr Fenton’s aforementioned opinion that “urban cycling” is a risky endeavor, and that cycling like this is the new way to feel alive for a significant portion of the population.
That’s how you do it. That’s how you maintain your reputation as a published author and respected journalist. Just cobble together some anti-cyclist jibber-jabber, use liberal amounts of the inclusive “we” so it’s all OK and so much more authentic sounding, through some misleading stats our way, offer your opinion as fact some more, and come up with an ill-conceived yet somehow totally conclusive conclusion.
Job done. Where do I collect my check?
Header image: source