I just read this article in the Telegraph from Hugh Morris, titled, “Why do cyclists provoke such anger from other road users?”. Give it a read, and then come back to discuss. Don’t feel like it? Alright, it can be summarised thusly:
Now, the article doesn’t actually deliver on what it hints at will be discussed (the “why”) at all, really. Hugh recounts how he has been abused, comprehensively and with great regularity, on the streets of London, and how he finds this troubling. We all get mad, but getting mad at motorists with words and middle digits and getting mad at cyclists with horns and 2 tonne battering rams are two different things entirely. Please don’t. It’s not nice.
He makes some good points, and valid ones too, but there isn’t much here that we don’t already know, and nothing new is offered. I might as well throw a few things out there. Please feel free to agree, disagree, challenge, or otherwise enlighten the discussion.
Firstly, rather than cyclists provoking anger from other road users, why don’t we just say motorists? Cyclists provoke anger from motorists. That’s who’s going to get us killed. That’s who we’re concerned about. Oh, sure, a percentage of pedestrians can’t stand us, and that’s bad too, but they’re not likely to risk our lives.
Secondly, provoking anger? I know, technically, that provoking is simply arousing, stimulating, or giving rise to, but most people tend to think of provoking as having intent. “Stop provoking me!” This is how I think motorists and cyclist-haters in general see it. By riding on the roads, cyclists provoke motorists to anger in the same way that Foghorn Leghorn provokes the dog (only with slightly less schtick). That is a problem, and it needs to be dealt with. The way I see it, the cyclist/motorist problem as it stands could largely be dealt with on a social level rather than an infrastructure level. Could. It never will be, but that’s because people are hopeless and we need to separate the children lest somebody loses an eye.
Thirdly, if he, or anyone else, is constantly getting abused by motorists, perhaps he and the rest of us should be asking ourselves if we are doing anything to actually provoke the anger? Seriously. If you are constantly on the receiving end of a bad attitude from more than a few people, then there is a good chance that you have a part to play in that. I’m not saying that Hugh is at fault, but it’s something we all need to have a good think about.
Fourth…ly, and he does mention this one, but you won’t make any friends by shouting. You make friends by being nice. Being nice when someone nearly kills you isn’t all that easy, and might just be pretty much impossible, but in reality, it probably has a greater effect.
Fifth, just because there is a difference between the effect of cyclists getting mad at motorists and motorists getting mad a cyclists, that doesn’t make it any better. At least consider that while I think it is a reasonable response to having your life endangered, it is a slippery slope from believing that there is a difference, that our anger is justified, and then getting morally outraged at any and all minor traffic infringement that we encounter. You are not automatically a better person because you are on a bike – ok, you are, so rather, the person in the car is not any lesser a person because they are in a car.
Sixth, it actually happens quite a lot more than we care to admit: cyclists provoke anger from motorists in the common sense of the word, by the choices we make. I don’t care who breaks or bends the law more, the simple truth is that cyclists do too. It may not carry the same consequences, and it may not even matter, but sometimes, cyclists either endanger themselves or others, or they simply flaunt their ability to easily abide by their own rules right in front of the motorist that they direct their holy indignation for the very same.
In closing, I’ll offer one insight into why it is motorists who routinely get angry at the world, and it comes via the fantabulous book, Traffic – why we drive the way we do, but Tom Vanderbilt. It’s not the root cause of the behaviour, but it may shed some light on why the fuse is lit so easily. He refers a number of times to the ideas that some motorists behaviours can be attributed to the fact that they are enclosed in their own private space, that they are more-or-less anonymous, that they rarely make eye-contact with the “offender”, usually can’t engage the response of other motorists, and that the situation is fleeting and you’ll likely never see that person again. If any or all of these elements are present, then you can get worked up into a frothy rage with basically no consequences and it makes you feel better about yourself. Justified. I would definitely agree with that, but I’m not sure it is entirely the car’s fault as much as being in traffic in general, because I get worked-up while cycling in traffic on a fairly regular basis!
Stay safe, and be nice.
Header image: source