I’m sitting here scrolling through my facebook feed and, as you might expect, there is quite a lot of it that is to do with cycling. Some of it is awesome, but in reality, most of it is frustrating and depressing. Negative. Controversial. Pointing blame. Calling out everything that is awful.
Everyone that gets hit by a car or is on someone’s camera acting like a prat, and every bit of clickbait that newspapers print. All the “this cyclist did this” and “this motorist did that”, and quite a lot of black and white statements about anything and everything. People who advocate for cycling and who you would think should be allies are calling for each others blood.
I get the distinct feeling that this isn’t helping anyone. Ok, sometimes we need to know about the bad things so that we can be aware of how to deal with them, and some issues need to highlighted so that we can take steps to improve them. But it also might be helping people to dig themselves in to their prejudices and become aggressive. It might rally the troops and embolden members of your own group to remain vigilant against the other, and is it really helping to promote community and empathy, etc?
If you just landed on earth and watched the news for 3o minutes, you’d want to go back to wherever it is you came from, because it appears to be a dreadful place to live. The few good news stories are puff pieces, mostly, and everything else is sensationalized at every opportunity. If someone offered you a bike to go ride in Australia, you would assume you were going into battle or being set-up for something nefarious, such is the atmosphere produced around the activity in the media.
Is it as bad as all that?
I’m not about to say that we need to stop trying to hold people accountable for their actions and to just take all the crap that is thrown at us, but I might suggest that the balance needs to be shifted a bit regarding cycling.
Maybe it’s a contextual thing. In Amsterdam the people rose up to say enough is enough. “Stop the child murder!” Tensions were high and the stakes were too. The reaction fit the bill.
Here in Australia, we find ourselves in a similar situation to early 1970’s Netherlands, except for a rather significant difference – we have approximately 80% fewer deaths on our roads compared to that Netherlands of that era. The Netherlands had a population of 13 million in 1972 and 3264 traffic deaths with 450 of them being children the following year, compared to Australia’s 24 million people and 1199 traffic deaths last year. You get the impression that the situation regarding cycling here in Australia must be extremely dire to cause so much drama between different members of public, like, deaths all over the place, can’t step outside your front door on a bike, dire.
Yes, the automobile’s hold over our world is still immense, and yes, those of us who are interested in seeing that diminished need to do something about it. Cycling is great, and Australia really isn’t all that progressive in it’s attitude towards cycling. But, and stick with me for a second here, maybe the bark isn’t representative of the bite?
Could it be that the situation on the ground is fueled and whipped up by all the press that cashes in on the controversy? More than that, are we as much harm to ourselves as any piece of clickbait in the press?
When we buy into and perpetuate the story that cycling is controversial, that it is dangerous, that it is for the brave or stupid, that cyclists and/or motorists are different from other people, that all motorists are all out to kill you, that cars are inherently evil, that the problem is everyone else, and that by riding a bike you are taking a stand against something or proving some sort of point to the world – perhaps these are the sorts of things that keep bikes from really reaching the average person who might have otherwise hoped on one to get to work or play. Perhaps our obsession with making more of cycling than there really is (not how awesome it is, but the other stuff), in the grand scheme of things is actually selling cycling a bit short and, just maybe, doing a disservice to it.
When we surround ourselves with this kind of negative press we’ll be less likely to see the next bike ride as a wonderful opportunity to enjoy ourselves while providing low-cost and highly beneficial transportation, and more likely to see otherwise innocuous situations on the road and elsewhere as a declaration of battle.
What would a solution be for this? Pretty simple really. Don’t perpetuate the negative press. Don’t buy into the story that pits cyclist against motorist and pedestrian like that is the natural order of things. See that bike over there? Yeah, just go ride it. That’s it. Enjoy it. Make use of it. Think about how great it is. Talk about how great it is. Encourage others to use it. Ride responsibly. Be a good person. Be generous. Be careful. But above all, just go ride your bike.
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