Saturday, 3 September 2016

Why Can't We Be Friends?

I love the headline of this article by David Reevely.  

Some time has passed since the death of that young lady on Laurier Avenue, and my social media feeds are littered with the same rhetoric, angst, and finger-pointing between cyclists and other drivers. Car drivers think they own the road, and cyclists don't follow rules. It's the same argument over and over. 

"The first step to safe streets is really wanting them."

The real question this headline is asking is not one about infrastructure. When you really look at the dangers cyclists face, it always boils down to the same basic arguments. Car drivers say cyclists are lousy road users, and cyclists retort that car drivers are lousier road users.

Both positions are absolutely correct.

Car drivers roll through stop signs and lights, often speeding up to clear intersections when they really shouldn't do so. Cyclists roll through stop signs and lights, often speeding up to clear intersections when they really shouldn't do so.

Car drivers ignore right-of-way rules and use the size of their vehicles to block cyclists from passing them, and seem ignorant to the laws of giving space to cyclists. Cyclists ignore right-of-way rules, often using the small size of their vehicles to turn themselves into opportunistic pedestrians squeezing into small spaces between cars when waiting in the queue would be the safer option.

Car drivers will do anything to pass a cyclist, often taking unnecessary risks rather than waiting for a safe passing point. Cyclists will do anything to get to the front of the queue, forcing the cars that just took these risks to pass them yet again.

Car drivers have a right to use the road. Cyclists have a right to use the road.

So why can't we be friends?

When we boil down the complaints of road users, we come to the rather obvious conclusion that road safety is less about infrastructure, and more about attitude. Our attitudes on the road have become so absurd that we have actually coined a phrase to externalize the personal liability of our own stupidity. "Road Rage".  This is a term specifically designed to let your inner asshole off the hook.

We drive and ride around like our own priorities and agendas are more important than anyone else around us. This arrogance is the precise reason why we have actual written laws to force people to move over for emergency vehicles, to let buses out of bus stops, and not run over kids alighting a school bus. 

I'm a guy who spends a whole lot more time on the road than most, and I have seen things that most people simply wouldn't believe. I've seen cars take a shoulder to pass my bus while I'm deboarding, and cyclists pop onto the sidewalk into a crowd of passengers. I've seen cyclists pass countless cars on the right who are signalling a right turn at an intersection, and countless cars who have turned right across a bike lane "right hooking" the bike.

And don't get me started on how many reckless texting morons have nearly killed me on my motorbike.

Sit at a green light for three seconds, and someone behind you will call you an idiot. Make an error at an intersection and block a crosswalk, and someone will call you an idiot. Make a U-Turn anywhere in this city, and someone behind you will call you an idiot. Make a lane change preventing someone from passing you, and someone will call you an idiot. Have a moment of indecision in an unfamiliar intersection, and someone will call you an idiot.

Or just read the comments on an article about a young lady who just lost her life, because people are calling her an idiot.

Our attitudes on the road center around our inability to recognize that we have ALL made every single mistake listed above, and many more that I have not listed. We don't think of ourselves as idiots when we err, but we have also ALL called someone else an idiot for making the very same mistake we have most certainly made ourselves.

Our lousy, arrogant attitudes start the day we learn to drive. We sign an insurance policy that states a very clear response to any mistake we may make in the future. "In the case of an accident, do not admit fault."

And we do not admit fault ever, because we are all infallible.

"The first step to safe streets is really wanting them."

Infrastructure is a good start, but the real challenge lies between the ears of both drivers and cyclists. It begins with a long look in the mirror. 

Maybe once we recognize how our vanity mirrors reflect our own lousy attitudes, we'll start to see the young lady in the mirror beside us, and prevent this from ever happening again.


  1. There's actually some pretty good evidence that cyclists should be allowed to roll through stop signs when safe. I'm not suggesting that the ones who roll through stop signs and traffic lights in places where that's illegal are in the right, of course. They are not - they do need to follow the rules of the road, just like anybody else.

    This is part of the problem of living in a permissive society - one that has a fuzzy relationship with the "letter of the law". People push the limits, other people get hurt, everybody points fingers - especially others who roll through lights and stop signs, because they don't want to stop doing it, and they also want to diffuse responsibility...they don't want to feel like they're contributing to behavior that gets people hurt.

    Even though without question, that's what's happening.

    We all need more compassion. Except you, Ken - you continue to show that you are doing your part, every single day. Once again, I'm proud to call you my friend.

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  3. Sadly, we cannot stop people from driving and biking unsafely. It's about defensive driving and defensive cycling. It's just not worth your life. Somebody out there loves you.