In ’96, Chris Rock did an HBO special called “Bring The Pain”. In it, he asks, “Who’s more racist, black people or white people?” He waits a moment, then says “Black people. Why? Cause everything white people hate about black people, black people really hate about black people.” As great comedians do, he was humorously making a very serious point, and it happens to translate well to cycling. I’ll come back to this. Some back-story first.
Today I was driving back from dinner with my kids – yes, I drive on occasion, go figure – and had just exited the turnpike, heading towards home. This stretch of road passes the local bike path. It’s a five-lane road were it crosses the bike path, with well-timed lights and great visibility. It’s the newest on/off ramp to the turnpike in the city.
On the left I had seen five cyclists climbing the hill towards the stop light. My first thought: “Looks like they’re having fun, even in this heat. Wish I was out there.”
I’m heading towards this stop light, and I’ve got the green – no hint of red in sight. And what do I see? Four of the cyclists start to cross the road! Yup, right in front of me.
Scratch that, not cyclists. STUPID cyclists. If it was a blind corner, maybe I’d understand. If it was just one or two of them that didn’t see me, I might understand. If it was one of those lights where pushing that little button does about as much as writing to a congressman, I’d probably understand. But it was four of them at a wide-open intersection with a working button that changes the light rapidly.
How do I know this intersection? Because I RIDE THAT TRAIL 3-4 TIMES A WEEK! So other than wanting to be roadkill, or to demonstrate the results of a blatant disregard for mass, kinetic energy, and Newton’s First Law of Motion, or possibly an attempt clean up the shallow end of the gene pool, what was their motivation for rolling out against the red light in front of oncoming traffic – namely, me?
I stopped and let them pass. And as they passed I wasn’t impatient. I didn’t honk my horn. I didn’t flip them off or yell at them. I simply lifted my hand in acknowledgement, and one of the four managed to wave back. As I start to move forward again, the fifth one goes – again, light for him is still red.
Now I’m starting to get pissed, and not because he’s making me stop in the middle of the road and several cars are piling up behind me. No. I’m getting pissed because I’m planning to ride tomorrow, and the look on the driver behind me was clearly one of “Why don’t you just run them over?” That means that when I go out and ride, that pissed off driver behind me – who most likely isn’t a cyclist – is going to remember what these guys did and be pissed at me for it.
That’s when I realized that what drivers hate about stupid cyclists, cyclists really hate about stupid cyclists. I stop at red lights. They don’t. I ride cautiously in traffic. They couldn’t care less. I have good lights and reflective bands and clothing. Their kit just matches their bike. And as much as drivers can’t stand when a cyclist does something stupid, I hate it even more because not only am I gonna have to deal with that pissed-off driver someday, but that stupid cyclist just made me and all decent, law-abiding cyclists look stupid.
It’s like there’s a civil-war going on between cyclists that really care about being a part of transportation solutions and healthy activities, and then there’s the people who I’d seriously beat with a bike pump just so that they can stop making drivers hate us. Or at least, stop adding to the levels of resentment drivers already carry around.
So do me a favor. If you see a cyclist doing something stupid: riding in the middle of a two-lane road, running red lights, throwing their trash on the road, say something. Don’t be mean about it. We all make mistakes, and every one of us has done stupid things or made dumb decisions. Just be like, “Hey, it’d be better if we waited for the light to change.” Will they listen? Maybe. Maybe not. But if we don’t say anything, you know what will change?