So I was just scrolling through fakebooks and came across a post from Safe Cycling Australia, regarding a prominent AFL player who enjoys the bicycling. Before we get into the heart of the issue, I want to say that I am most definitely in support of the motivation behind Safe Cycling Australia (at al) to do what they do. They are active in promoting better conditions for cycling on public roads and don’t mind being bold about it. Because they produce a prodigious amount of material on their fakebooks page and are rather passionate about some of their arguments, now and then that inspires me to start an argument. This is one of those posts.
So, the post in question tells us how someone famous AFL player (if you follow AFL, which I don’t) rides a bike. A comment is made thusly:
My first thought was ‘I wonder who the first idiot will be to honk an afl star and have no idea who it is.’ Just goes to show that you can’t generalise who’s riding that bike up ahead!
And then I got indignant.
I hope this isn’t news to too many of you, but being a celebrity does not grant you special rights. Hang on, actually, it does, which is precisely why I get so annoyed with this. Firstly, and completely irrelevant to my line of argument, there is this: if the person honks at a star and has no idea who they are, then I should hardly think that they would be embarrassed at something they are not at all aware of.
Secondly, yes, you can, and in fact, should, generalize as to who’s riding the bike up ahead, as long as that generalization is “another person”.
Thirdly, someone’s first thought was that “this person is a star, and won’t the idiot who harasses him, upon finding that out, well, won’t they just want to find the nearest rock to crawl under and die!” O-M-G! I’m so embarrassed!
The moral of the story here is really that anyone with a relative amount of celebrity deserves greater respect than someone who merely teaches your children, removes your cancer, or cleans your toilet. The issue of whether or not you are treating a fellow human being with the amount of respect you would grant to a stray dog, a fallen log, or any piece of rubbish that has enough mass to damage your car a bit, is, curiously, not considered.
The cult of celebrity is so strong that even an organization dedicated to safer conditions for cycling – and isn’t this a hilariously ironic analogy – gets distracted by celebrity and crashes straight into the issue of basic human respect that was cowering in the gutter – I mean, bike lane. Maybe the sun was in their eyes?
So, coming back to the title: who do you treat better on the roads, and why? We are all guilty of this behaviour at least sometimes. When you drive, do you let the more expensive car merge and leave the cheaper one waiting, or leave the cyclist to fend for themselves? When on your bike, do you give way to the pedestrian at the crossing where they have right-of-way or not, because you can just sneak through real quick? Are you more civil towards utility cyclists, roadies, or mountain bikers – whoever is “your kind”? Do you wait behind slow grandmas on old bikes but blast by slower people on expensive roadies? Basically, do you treat anyone with less respect than you give to others? Like celebrity others? This morning I was behind a guy who decided that he would, upon approaching the reasonably busy two lane roundabout, go from the outside lane to the middle of the two lanes, pass between the three cars who had stopped for the cars entering the roundabout from the right-of-way, and proceed on his merry way because of some swollen sense of cycling-self-entitlement. The old, “I’m a cyclist and I have the same rights you do, but I’m going to just slip into behaving as bad or worse than any motorist I’ve pointed my rod of chastisement (hint: it’s a small one), but then you’d better respect me again after that, because I have the same rights you do!” trick. That one never gets old.
That last one was getting off topic a bit, but it was fresh in my mind from the other morning (and, I’m not making this up, but I’m fairly certain I ended up behind the same guy, at the same roundabout the very next day, and he did the exact same thing!). The issue of treating some people better than others on the roads, or thinking you are better than others in life in general, is at the heart of why our roads are such a mess in the first place. We are terribly self-absorbed and narcissistic creatures. Who we grant respect to is quite often based upon comically base, subjective, and quite unreasonable criteria. Like celebrity. Or income. Or race. Or chosen mode of transportation. More importantly, and far more worryingly, who we decide is undeserving of respect on the roads is just as poorly reasoned (when it’s reasoned at all).
There needs to be some way that we can re-write the dialogue between motorists, cyclists and pedestrians so it doesn’t include this hierarchy of importance. So that it is about people. That’s it. Not which mode of transport they decide to use. Honestly, I think that all the do-gooding language that gets lumped together with cycling (cycling will save the planet!) and poo-pooing that is heaped upon driving cars (take your pick) is actually serving to provoke the hostility between the groups, even though it is a) mostly true, and b) usually just trying to promote a real and positive change. So, maybe we need to find a smarter way of communicating the benefits of cycling – which are many – and that maybe not everyone needs to use their cars all the time.
In any case, ask yourself who you treat better on the roads, and why? Think about others on the roads as people rather than an extension of their mode of transport, what they are wearing, or if they kick a ball and chase a bunch of other dudes around a field for a living. We are all just people trying to get where we are going. Preferably safely. And alive. That’s it.
Header image: source