Thursday, July 5, 2012

Killing Us Softly.

It was with no small share of vested interest that I clicked upon the link for 'How Not to Kill a Cyclist', thinking that approaching the issue from the car driver's worst case scenario might be a great way to advance the discourse on sharing the road. I was immediately disappointed. Amongst a lot of sensible remarks I was confronted by what I think is a very unhelpful addition to the mêlée,

"…there are also many things bike riders would like drivers to know… that “cyclists” and “pedestrians on bicycles” are two distinct groups, or that we know we look ridiculous in bike shorts.…"
(Emphasis mine, obviously. And you certainly do.)
 Later in the article, the author goes on to describe what he probably considers 'real' cyclists, as

"…travelling at a high velocity, and chock full o’ adrenaline…"

and so that is why you shouldn't randomly honk your horn at them out of pure annoyance. Not because it's discourteous, an abuse of the horn and generally a dick-move to make loud noises in public spaces - but because 'real' cyclists are constantly in a 'fight or flight' mode and might bolt from their state of cat-like readiness into oncoming traffic!

Here's the thing about Real Cyclists™ Vs 'Pedestrians on bicycles': As somebody who has spent her entire life at leisure to observe the driving style of friends, family and strangers without a layer of personal ideology for what I think is the 'correct' way to drive (i.e "Exactly how I would do it," as most drivers think) I can tell you that a large portion of car drivers are 'Pedestrians in Cars'. They don't really 'understand' their vehicle and its consequences, they use speed limits as a vague guide, they don't ever consider that they might be at fault, they text or phone or do their make-up or read maps or try to drink scalding hot coffee or smoke or do any manner of things inside their car that in an ideal world would be confined to their lounge rooms. Even drivers who are not spilling lattes on their groins can be unpredictable 'Pedestrians in cars', darting about in a way that does not technically break the law but makes the road more dangerous for everyone around them. Why? Because they are not professional car drivers. Nor do the majority of them drive cars as a sport or take a defensive driving course or learn how to drive as a fleet. They scrape through their driving test and then THAT'S IT FOR LIFE. Now we are supposed to classify them as 'Real' drivers, even if they spend their entire career on the road failing to advance their skills or increase their confidence and racking up speeding fines because they believe that breaking the law in their car somehow 'doesn't count'. So how do other drivers, how would a professional or top amateur racer treat these, the weaker of their brethren? How would current Formula One World Champion Sebastian Vettel, a man who is such a 'Real Driver' that people pay him to do it, treat YOU and your lack of equal skill on the road? Would he tell other road users that you are the cause of all driving related problems? Would he burn rubber rings around you as he passed you on the freeway? No. He would take you and the varying style of people around him into account.

A cyclist does not have to be speed matching the average car, wearing lycra or "chock full o’ adrenaline" to obey the rules of the road and cycle courteously anymore than weaker drivers have to sit on the speed limit and drive aggressively to be acceptable to other car drivers. What we all have to do is be predictable as possible and make sure everybody knows the rules. If you drive a car, you should already be able to transfer those rules across to cycling and indeed, the majority of cyclists are actually 'drivers' first, cyclists second. It's rare to find somebody who is pure pedestrian/cyclist so the idea that a pedestrian mindset is to blame becomes even less relevant to the debate. To be fair, the article spoke about predictability and cars following the rules as usual when a cyclist is near - but the testosterone fueled 'us and them' mentality hidden within that casual quote is actively damaging to our transport evolution. Ultimately, all cyclists are only as safe as the largest vehicles around them. Yes, the occasional impatient car driver will spend their entire time complaining that not everyone is as fast or nimble as they - heck, they'll probably even honk their horn at other road users as they overtake and then speed off to get to the next red light before everyone else. But does the civilised transport world cater exclusively to the 'Professionals'? Or are we all just trying to get somewhere in one piece?

In the end, the only kind of pedestrians we should worry about? Every single person we see, regardless of what they're driving or riding. We were all born with squashy pedestrian bodies and fragile pedestrian skulls and it doesn't matter how good we are at pretending to be invincible.

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