Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Second Class Citizen

About a week ago, I had some errands to run around town. It was actually a lovely, albeit brisk, autumn day with a small amount of ice on some roadways from snow that had fallen a couple of days prior.

I think that this time of year might actually be my favorite for riding in many ways. It's cool (sometimes cold), but with a few layers on a sunny day it can actually be quite nice to get out on a bike. Plus, as I've mentioned prior, I have found motorists to be far kinder and frequently more aware when the weather turns cold, at least as a general rule.

On this particular day as I pedaled about town, one of my stops was to a store that recently opened in our currently-being-constructed mall. The mall itself is a bit of a hot topic locally, with some residents taking issue with the removal of the former indoor mall in favor of the outdoor one under way, as well as some being disappointed (to put it politely) about the types of stores going in to this new construction.

But, since I'm not much of a shopper anyway (unless it's related to bicycles), this hasn't been of great concern to me. I'm actually happy to see something being built that will hopefully get use and bring some tax dollars into the local economy.
Part of the discussion about this new build encompassed thoughts on making the area more bike friendly, and even improving paths to this location on heavily motorized travel roads. So, when I pedaled my way through the construction zone to the store I was needing to visit, I was unhappy to see that there were no bike racks anywhere to be found.

I was informed several years ago that bike racks were a requirement for any new construction taking place in city limits, so I was definitely surprised to see that none existed. It was especially disappointing because I was visiting a sporting goods retailer, which one would think would be more likely to push for bike racks outside their establishment.

But, I figured I'd wait to see what happens, as frequently racks tend to get installed at the very last point of construction. As you can see from the photo above though, there aren't a whole lot of options for locking up. So, my choices became a stop sign at the intersection, or one of the light poles. I opted for the light pole as it seemed a bit sturdier, despite it being a bit more awkward because of the cement barrier built up around it.
After finishing up at this store, I needed to travel to a couple of other locations. I was debating which way to go as I pedaled through the parking lot, but ultimately knew I'd have to cross a busy road. So, as I sat waiting at the signal to cross, I checked out the traffic all around me, happy to just be out on such a beautiful day, and lost in my own thoughts.

Suddenly, I was kicked out of my blissful utopia by someone screaming, "Get a car, you loser!" I looked around, wondering who this person was yelling at, only to come to the realization that he was speaking to me. I must've looked confused or lost because he continued his rant, "Yeah, you! Get a car!!" At which point he began to honk his horn like a stark-raving mad lunatic. By this time, the cross signal had changed and I was heading across the street and could no longer make out what this person was attempting to say to me, but I couldn't help but laugh as I crossed the road.

It's frankly not the first time someone has shouted at me about being on a bike, but I couldn't quite figure out what it was I'd done to upset him so much. I was following all the laws and rules, waiting at the red light. I'd pressed the cross button and waited for it to turn before proceeding. I was out of traffic, and honestly not in any way disrupting his day because he was heading in a different direction anyway.

Was it just my existence that had upset him? The fact that I was smiling and actually enjoying my day? Why was I automatically deemed a "loser," and furthermore why did he assume I don't have a car. Why would my not having a motorized vehicle make me a loser anyway?

As I reached the other side of the road and his signal had changed green, I could hear the engine revving and his screeching tires as he made his way around the corner in the opposite direction. I'll admit it was one time I was grateful to have so many cars around me as witnesses in case of some sort of incident, but as is usually the case in these moments, the yelling was about as bad as things became.

Still, as I pedaled (ironically, back to pick up our car which was being serviced) I couldn't help but have an imaginary conversation with this fellow. I always wish that these moments weren't so anger-filled and that I could have a rational conversation with people involved in these run-ins, in hopes of understanding what it is that upsets them, and hopefully having the opportunity to explain to him/her that there is nothing transpiring that in any way disrupts their life.

There seem to be the few who simply despise people on bicycles and the anger seems misplaced, in my opinion. More often than not anger arises due to traffic delays and if anything I am helping to alleviate this problem by being on a bicycle. I understand that there are always going to be those who are not courteous or don't follow the law, but the same can be said for motorists as well. If a car rolls a stop sign, no one rolls down their window to yell at them, but if I were to do the same on a bicycle, even if I look in all directions and am aware that there is no traffic coming, motorists seem to have need to yell at those on a bike because of this.

Perhaps some of this is born out of fear? I know some motorists who worry when they see a cyclist because they are concerned that the cyclist will suddenly weave or dart out into traffic. While I cannot assure anyone that a cyclist wouldn't do exactly that, I think as a general rule, most people on a bike are well aware that those in a car have the size and weight advantage and are not going to ride unpredictably because they do not have a death wish.

People on bicycles often seem to be perceived as second class citizens in many parts of this country as is evidenced through lack of bike parking at establishments, proper/adequate/safe bike infrastructure, as well as lack of laws to protect vulnerable road users from injury and/or death. The pervasive thought that those riding a bike are not paying for the roads has been proven time and again a faulty argument, yet I hear this as reasoning for not wanting bikes on roadways as well.

After many years of writing here and reading in other places, I still find frustration with the lack of urgency and speed in resolving problematic roadways that would allow all road users to get to destinations in peace, with ease of travel and safety for all. There are ways to solve these issues, but the progress always seems slow and at times non-existent, and I frequently wonder if change will take that anger away from some motorists who seem to feel rage for no real reason at all.

What do you view as the problem with your local roads (if any)? Could issues be simply resolved or will it take massive change over many years (or decades)? Have you encountered an angry motorist when you were not impeding traffic? What was your response?

Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving (for those in the U.S.) and safe two-wheeled travels wherever you roam.

17 comments:

  1. It's not you. America in general is a society pathologically sick with anger, aggression, and violence.

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    1. Agreed. So many people have severe depression during the holiday season too, so I'd think that cannot be helping the anger and aggression that is so often misplaced.

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  2. Many people I encounter in the streets have pent-up rage and barely controlled anger ready to burst forth at small triggers. Often they have legitimate problems and stresses weighing them down. The problem is not so much that they have these problems, stresses, and negative factors--don't we all who live on earth to some extent or another?--but that they seem so ill equipped to deal with them effectively that they vent their rage at the nearest outlet. I try to soothe them. I send positive emotions after them. I try to encourage them to heal whatever it is that's wrong with their broken self. Send compassion and sometimes it makes a difference.

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    1. I agree with you. I tend not to engage with people who are angry on the roads because I don't need to make the situation worse. I think, more often than not, it has nothing to do with me (or anyone riding a bike). There are times when I feel as though I have no choice but to interact, especially in situations like Chainring describes below when a driver could very well have severely injured or killed me, but I try to limit those to the most serious/severe.

      This could lead into another discussion too about Americans who put ourselves into situations that cause unnecessary stress. We've discussed in our household over the years that this country survives on credit, and credit keeps people in jobs they don't necessarily like, away from family, and away from doing the things that they enjoy. It's a vicious cycle of debt creating obligations, which brings on depression, which promotes more spending to soothe the pain, and then we never get out of the cycle.

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  3. I had to laugh at your mention of the "imaginary conversation". I can't tell you how many times I've found myself doing the same after similar encounters with bozos like you came across. The bright side of such events is I typically find I've climbed a long, hard hill and had not given it a thought - as I just spent the past few minutes focused on my imaginary repartee with said bozo.

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    1. I talk to myself quite a bit on my bike. People may think someone with a butterfly net will soon pick me up. :) But, sometimes it's the only way I can work through a situation -- to have the imaginary conversation with the person I've just encountered... or, sometimes I'm just working through whatever in my own head.

      I agree with you -- having those conversations is a great distraction for a big hill climb though. :)

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  4. It happens to me only once in a while, but I figure it's not directly related to me because I am riding a bike. It's always someone yelling from a passing vehicle. It must be rage, hormones, whatever, and they need a release...and cruising by means they never have to account for their actions. A quick yell and it's all over. I don't let it ruin my day.

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    1. Sam and I have been out riding in town a couple of times and there have been teenage(ish) boys who like to yell things at us. For some reason, those instances don't bother me. We've all been the immature teenager, so I understand that one day they'll get through it and understand (at least hopefully) that they were behaving in a silly manner.

      As for adults, I agree that when it's just yelling out the window (as opposed to being combined with some sort of physical threat), it's much easier to let it go. In this instance, I knew the shouter's truck was behind another car at the signal, so there wasn't much he'd be able to do physically even if he wanted to, but he seemed so enraged just at the sight of me that I was taken a bit off guard.

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  5. My most violent encounter happened at the beginning of last spring, simply riding with traffic across an intersection on a weekend. A man in his large pick-up truck had a one-way conversation in a very angry way with me (I was wearing headphones), and he flicked a lit cigarette butt at me, which made brief contact. My response was one with a single finger gesture, and mouthing of significant obscenities. No Idea why he had the outburst! "Merica"?

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    1. I remember that incident. I think those are the type that bother me more because there was a physical interaction and you can't help but wonder how far someone will take it. Of course, I know you're not the sort to let anyone get away with it and you like to offer your own "special" response. :)

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  6. I don't understand the attitudes so many people have toward cyclists, but I'm convinced it's a cultural factor that will never change. People fear what they don't understand, and I think most people don't understand why a seemingly middle-class adult would chose to ride a bike instead of drive a car.

    I wonder how often low income people on bikes get harassed.

    What's truly baffling is that people have so much fear of cyclists that they will act out verbally or in some aggressive manner.

    Like you, my most aggressive interactions have been out of the clear blue sky and seemingly unprovoked on my part. Well, except that time I banged on the young lady's trunk for almost hitting me in a parking lot. She parked her car and came running up to me as I locked up my bike. She got in my face and started yelling at me because I hit her car with my fist. I tried to point out that if I was close enough to hit her car and she hadn't even seen me then perhaps she hadn't been paying attention to where she was going. And then she shoved me.

    But for the most part my interactions have been being honked at, being yelled at to "Get off the road!" and being told to get a car.

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    1. This is an interesting idea you bring up... I have wondered myself if the anger is pointed only at those who appear to be middle class and the motorist thinks the individual should have a car, or if they would make the same comments to anyone on a bike. We have a lot of homeless folks locally who ride bikes too and I wonder if they get shouted at out of car windows? I know it would be challenging to get accurate information as those with lower incomes tend to be underrepresented anyway, let alone in this sort of discussion. I may start asking though when I have the opportunity at a signal or at slower speeds around town. My suspicion is that they may receive the same sort of commentary or have physical run-ins with drivers but they may not report it. I could be entirely wrong, and it may be that the anger is directed only at those who are thought to be middle (or higher) class citizens.

      I find the "get off the road" and related rants to be fairly common. I try to stay as far out of the way of motorized traffic (keeping in mind my own safety, of course) as possible to avoid these interactions, but sometimes they just don't care and it wouldn't matter how far over I am on the road -- they just don't want me there at all.

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    2. That kind of disturbs me too. That some people are against bicycles on principle regardless of whether or not they are actually inconvenienced by them...it's like they are offended merely by the presence of a cyclist and feel they need to express it. You could be stopped on the side of the road fixing a flat and they would scream at you. It's weird and without reason.

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  7. I usually ignore people who yell or honk at me. I always told myself that if I were ever confronted directly, I would do everything possible to de-escalate the situation. That's a great theory. Problem is the first time it ever happened I completely lost my cool! A guy pulled up behind me as we were approaching an intersection and really laid on the horn. He got closer and closer and kept pounding away on the horn. Finally, when I stopped for the red light, he pulled up next to me, rolled down the window, and started yelling that I had no business being on the road, that it was illegal and dangerous.

    Instead of enacting my cool as a cucumber plan, I hollered "You better learn the law before you start lecture others about it! I'm allowed to be here and it is safe. You know what is illegal? Harassing cyclists! If you don't shut up and roll up your window right now, I'm calling the cops!" He looked totally stunned, then slowly rolled up the window. He peeled out of there when the light changed.

    I just stood there shaking and furious for a minute. Then I pedaled away l laughing at myself. I never lose my temper!

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    1. Isn't that just the way things seem to go? I know I try to plan for those sorts of incidents too, but sometimes when that realization that serious injury could have occurred kicks in and it's tough to not say something. I don't think I've had an incident like yours that didn't involve some involuntary shaking after the fact.

      At least you were able to laugh as you rode away. :)

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  8. Wow. I put off reading this post a few days as I knew the content was not going to be, hmm, 100% "positive", shall we say. Having read it, I'm actually relieved: you're OKAY.

    So many people are just a mess in their heads these days. We can't fix them. I agree with everything everyone else has posted here, and would particularly like to "+1" what John Romeo Alpha said. Even if sending positive vibes has no impact on THEM, it does on you. Shed the bad feelings, pedal merrily on your way. Be happy that you're YOU. I am! :)

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    1. Yeah, sorry about that. I suppose I could've come up with a title that was less of a downer. I am definitely okay, but always surprised by these sorts of incidents, even though I know they will happen from time to time.

      I am grateful that we have the opportunity to vent frustrations to each other. It's nice to have a community of others who understand or who have found ways to deal with this moments in their own way.

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