When I came across this video, starting with the title, I was thinking that this was a win for cycling.
So, wow. Just wow. I know this is what everyone thinks is the reality in places like The Netherlands, but it’s still a bit unbelievable to see it in action. In the Netherlands, people who ride bikes are not only widely regarded as people, but cyclists matter on a whole different level than in many other places.
There are a few things that the following video brings to mind. Firstly, as the vast majority of you reading this are probably cyclists, there’s probably a lot of, “That’s what I’m talking about! Cyclists matter, and motorists are the worst!”.
Mmmm, ok. Well, that’s great and all, but I think there is more to it than that. It’s pretty clear that people driving cars kill more people than people on bikes do, that they severely injure far more, that they have far more potential to kill and injure even more, and that you’d have to be especially slow-witted to say that bikes even remotely as dangerous as cars. Yes, there are good reasons, compelling reasons, to limit the effect of motorists (which is different to increasing the number of cyclists) and re-order our society to favour more active and less destructive forms of transportation. But…
What I was wondering is, is this situation almost exactly the same chain of events as what we see day in and day out in places like Australia and North America, only with the roles reversed? Someone does something they shouldn’t have on the roads, the general population turns on them, the media turns on them, goes after them, attempts to effectively burn them in effigy and make an example of them because of the danger they represent to all and sundry? Obviously I’m thinking about the innumerable bits of clickbait that appear in local and regional papers everywhere about those bloody cyclists, tearing through red lights and stop signs, riding at 50kph on the footpaths, running down our elderly and eating our young. “They”, the homogenous subspecies of humanity, are collectively “always doing _____” or never doing something else and have no respect for the law. “We’ll start respecting you lot when you start respecting the law”, I’m sure we’ve all heard about a thousand times before.
I think I may have slipped into a rant just then, but… yes, that situation. Just like the one here where a cyclist collided with a pedestrian on the footpath, the story was completely nonsensical, but still true that the pedestrian was hit and injured (yes, I’m weary of calculated exaggeration. For example, if the cyclist actually hit the pedestrian at 40kph, which the victim “estimated” by her ability to accurately translate an impact that came unsighted and without warning, then she would never have remained on her feet and the cyclist would have been thrown from his bike as well, and, these two articles from the same paper, by the same author, have, if not contradictory, then at least differing accounts of the story, and it goes on about internal bleeding, but a bruise is internal bleeding, so, colour me skeptical…). You can imagine the response this got in the media. Isn’t the scenario from the video above the same but with the roles reversed? Kind of?
Well… yes. Basically. I mean, at first I was wondering if there was something untoward about this. Maybe hypocritical, or just bad or unfair behaviour directed the other way from what we’re used to here.
I think what got me thinking along these lines was the part where the newspaper began badgering the offender. Sure, that’s what the media does all the time for the sake of a story, and often it can seem crass, but I don’t think that makes this story special. Then I watched the video again.
Now, I think that, although the basic formula is the same but with the roles reversed, the fact that the roles are reversed justifies the tone of the response from the wider community.
People are outraged here when a cyclist does something they shouldn’t have, but not because they are presenting a danger to anyone (they might be, but that’s not really why everyone gets upset at cycling). No, people get angry about a cyclist safely proceeding through a red light because it upsets the balance that has long been established in places like Australia. Cars on top, everyone else on the bottom. Nice and balanced like.
The prevailing attitude in many places, given the sentiment in the media, the attitude on the roads, the policies from the government, and the layout of the roads, is that motorists are more important. They matter. More.
In other places, what they have discovered is that people matter. People. Not motorists, or cyclists, or pedestrians, or users of public transport, but people. Imagine that.
From this position, you arrive at all sorts of new ways of looking at things. In terms of organizing the way people move around their communities, some people have discovered that it is more beneficial for people to have accessible, safe, friendly, healthy, and enjoyable ways of getting from A to B, and if that means everyone, then you start with those who will choose to walk, then cycle, and finally, those who drive.
Because people matter, then dead and injured people really matter. Because cycling is beneficial and contributes to healthier communities, and people live in communities, then cycling matters. Because many people cycle, and cars have a bad habit of being driven into people who cycle – people who are much squishier than cars – then cyclists matter, because cyclists are people, and people deserve to be safe.
You see, it all seems quite logical after all if you think living is more important than driving. The people in The Netherlands have decided that they like people. They like a certain quality of life for people to enjoy, part of that means that they like cycling, and they think that cars should play a smaller role than they typically do in modern life. So when a person driving a car (which in an every day context in urban centres has massive potential to be deadly and unpleasant to everyone not in a car) uses it in an irresponsible way and injures or kills someone who isn’t in a car, Dutch people get upset, and that is where the difference between this situation and a typical situation in Australia lies.
We generally dole out our transit-specific respect and consideration based on the fundamental idea that roads are for cars. Cyclists need to wear helmets. Cyclists need to wear high-viz. Cyclists need to keep out of the way of motorists. Cyclists, who aren’t perfect, need to be on far better behaviour than motorists, who most definitely aren’t perfect, because cyclists are only on the roads as guests rather than rightful occupants. It’s the same on the footpaths now that (all) cyclists are allowed to use those, except that instead of blaming the more vulnerable, as often happens when a cyclist is hit, we conveniently go back to blaming the more dangerous (which is only fair).
As far as their infrastructure goes, the Dutch and those of like minds dole out respect and consideration based on the idea that everyone is a person, and people work better when they aren’t subject to constant danger at the hands of someone using a potentially very dangerous object. The idea that cyclists matter, that this is a thing worth mentioning, is only remarkable because of the commonly held assumption in so many places that they don’t. That those people don’t matter. At least, not while they’re on a bike.
That’s a crazy idea to me. That the same person can be more important in a car than they are on a bike or on foot.
And once again, I am realizing that this problem that is playing out on our roads is merely another manifestation of the capacity of people to be less than perfect… or down-right miserable. We actually do this all the time – judge people’s worth on arbitrary and subjective superficial factors.
The Dutch seem to have done this by showing favour to cyclists over motorists, but it’s based on a far more rational decision than simply preferring bikes to cars. Its’ based on the fact that cycling is good for people. It’s good for them, their communities, their economy, their health, their environment, and their well-being, whereas, for the wider community as well as the individual, in how many ways is a car good for you?
People all want and need to go places. The burden of responsibility is not on those who are the more vulnerable to get out of the way, but the most dangerous, to allow everyone to get where they are going safely. So, cyclists matter.
Header image: source