“I want to kill a bicyclist. I want to hit one of them with my car, knock him off the road, send him spilling over the curb, tumbling out of control. I want to see the bike go flying, and then–this is my fantasy–I stop the car, get out and so do all the other drivers. They cheer me. They yell ‘hooray!’ and then they pick me up and carry me around on their shoulders.”
– Richard Cohen, journalist, in Washington Post Magazine
I don’t think Mr. Cohen really means he’d like to murder someone. At least I hope not. If he does this, though, we have this in print, so we know he’s been thinking about it for a while.
Thank goodness this is not a fantasy that is prominent in most people’s minds. At least, I don’t think it is. Most people treat other people the way they’d want to be treated. Usually it’s not even done consciously. Maybe they don’t often go out of their way to help someone, but whether in big cities or small towns, in cars or on the sidewalk, there’s an acknowledgement that the people around you are just that: people. Mothers, sons, friends, daughters, and fathers. Waiters, engineers, teachers, CEOs. Poor, rich, and everything in between. There’s a dance, or an unending string of “negotiations,” if you will, among motorists, among pedestrians, and even between motorists and pedestrians.
And yet, once in a while, the humanity disappears. The dance turns ugly. We see road rage. We see hit-and-run crashes with other motorists, with pedestrians, with people riding bicycles.
Did you see what I did there? Motorists and pedestrians, more often than not, are seen as people. But “cyclists” are those whack jobs in garish outfits who have no respect for the law. They never stop at stop signs or lights and just appear in front of you out of nowhere! They insist on riding in the lane and I can’t get past them! Why don’t they get off the roads??? The dance ends. Negotiations cease. In their place, rancor. Dehumanization.
News flash: those “cyclists” are people, too. People riding bicycles. Parents, children, friends. Musicians, bus help, vice presidents. People at every level of education, society, economics. People riding for fitness. For fun. To get to work or school. To run an errand.
And, yes, some of them may be disobeying traffic law. But before you judge, look in the mirror, buddy. Do you ALWAYS come to a COMPLETE STOP before turning right on red? I didn’t think so. Do you EVER exceed the speed limit by a few miles an hour or so? Oh, yeah, I thought you did…So wait, we’re ALL scofflaws. And we’re ALL people.
Mr. Cohen’s rant takes the humanity away from those who choose to (or have no option but to) use another form of transportation. It reduces the person on a bicycle to an object. In fact, an object of disdain, to be (literally) crushed. Luckily, most people don’t share his fantasy. Most motorists are perfectly willing to coexist with other road users.
But there is ignorance out there. Many people in cars don’t really understand how to behave around bicyclists. And some people on bikes don’t play nice. We need to better inform EVERYONE of his or her rights and duties. Better behavior can happen, but we really are talking about a change in the culture.
In one sense, it’s an enormous change. It’s moving from a car-centric view of the world to one that sees roads as a means to facilitate movement from one place to another for all who wish/need to use them. Looking at it another way, though, it’s not so big. It’s just looking AT, not THROUGH, people, and remembering that we all have the right to move about in society, in whatever way we choose.