Friday, February 11, 2011

In this game there are no winners, only weiners and whiners

Traveling anywhere in the city is likely to cause even the coolest of Lukes to grow hot with indignation, fear, rage, or the impotent sensation of all three munged up together. Some of the most humorous things I've ever witnessed involved day-glo, neoprene, 17 flashing lights, a car and a lot of hand waving and swerving. But if you've ever been part of one of these encounters, on either end, you can probably attest to how unfunny they are. For the cyclist, you are all-too-aware of how perilous your grip on life is in the midst of all those rapidly moving tons of steel. It takes nothing more than a poorly-timed mirror adjustment or cup-holder-search-for-spare-change to send a car into you. If this isn't always in your mind when riding in the city, it will be soon. Once you've had that first close call you'll join the ranks of trembling, shrill cyclists that scurry about like so many mice running across a trestle between train crossings.

People that come down hard on urban cyclists lack this perspective. The biker/driver conflict experience for the driver, encased in their steel womb, is merely annoying, not life-threatening. And being in a car (I'm not sure how this works) seems to suspend people's behavioral compass in a manner akin to being in a lynch mob. That, and the sense of entitlement to the road, means that progress on driver/cyclist relations in this country essentially stopped about 20 years ago.

There are many that would point out that cyclists own their share of the problem. We evoke the ire of drivers, they say, by breaking so many traffic rules. Again, I think that this is purely a product of motorists' lack of perspective. It doesn't take many bike trips around the city before you realize that (1) you're doing rolling stops through stop signs, (2) never signaling and (3) blocking crosswalks.

I challenge anyone to take a ride across Seattle, or any other city, and behave exactly as though you were in an auto. Stop for every light and stop sign, use hand signals religiously, and yield when appropriate. I guarantee you will anger more drivers for this behavior than you will for being a scofflaw. What you eventually learn from experience cycle commuting is that breaking traffic laws occasionally is the best way to stay safe. Running red lights puts you out of phase with car traffic, so you aren't riding as close to or with as many cars.

It is truly a lose-lose, and whether you choose to abide by traffic laws or deliberately break them, you as the cyclist are going to be the loser. Obey the laws, and drivers will honk and yell because you're blocking traffic. Break the laws and they'll yell at you because that apparently bothers them (although I'm not sure why they don't had out similarly rough treatment to jaywalkers. Maybe they assume they're in a hurry to get to their cars).

Yes, many cyclists run red lights because they are cool. But most practical, habitual riders (all three of us) have learned that there is a place between the letters of the law and the lawlessness of youth that affords commuters the best chance of not being killed or maimed.

It's foolish to think you will ever please motorists. As a cyclist, you don't have the choice in the matter. You do, however, have a choice over what they get mad at you for. For me, I play the odds. The math is pretty simple.