It’s always Me Me Me on the roads and this anti-cycling meme proves it

It is fascinating to study public opinion through the lens of Facebook and other social media. In an effort to grasp and express opinions, people borrow and create memes that paint a black and white picture of a particular social issue and then beg agreement from friends.

Of course if you question the logic of a particular meme, you set yourself up to get savaged by all those readers who happen to agree with the meme. This happens daily on topics such as religion, politics, gender, sexual orientation and cycling.

Whoa, wait. Cycling? Who really cares that passionately about cycling?

Angry motorists 

Well, some people do. In fact, it appears there is an entire population of people frustrated by the presence of cyclists on the roads.

All over the world cities are grappling with the benefits of cycling in terms of its economic and environmental benefits. Cycling in a city cuts down air pollution and traffic congestion, so why do so many people still seem to hate on cyclists? It’s one of those cultural questions in transition. But there are signs of change everywhere.

In London bikes have the right of way.

In London bikes have the right of way.

In London, England bike traffic mixes with motorized vehicles and buses every day. Cyclists shoot through the heart of the city in designated lanes. There are accidents, to be sure. But the priorities are clear that cyclists have a right of way in urban traffic, and it is to be respected.

Here in the states, and in urban areas such as Chicago where I live, there seems to be a bitter impatience with this entire concept of granting cyclists more time and space on the roads. The mayors of Chicago have been resolute in creating bike lanes, and cyclists do use them. But if someone breaks the law while riding, which does happen with some frequency because cyclists can be stupid or lazy just like motorists, it turns the issue of city cyclin into an indictment of the entire concept. Then the anger grows and cyclists become targets for very public ire.

Violent tendencies

It is interesting to note that in America where gun violence has taken more lives than all the soldiers killed in foreign wars, the issue of gun control is still a hot button in terms of human rights. Yet the facts don’t like. Even conservative websites acknowledge there are more than 32,000 gun-related deaths per year in America. That’s equivalent to killing the entire population of the City of St. Charles, Illinois, where I attended high school. Think about that. No more high school reunions for you, Buster.

America has grown numb to the fact that people are dying daily due to gun violence.  It is therefore just as likely that people just don’t care if human lives are threatened by large vehicles on the road. It is so ironic. People fought and died for our freedoms and then we throw away human lives through selfishness, fear and carelessness as if it didn’t matter at all. But America is not alone in the hate game for cyclists. Skepchick.com analyzes the Science of Hatred for Cyclists in this quite interesting blog.

Main Street culprits

But for me, the face of hatred for cyclists has one form. Large pickups.

In the last 12 years of consistent cycling America’s roads, drivers of large pickup trucks have been main culprits in open aggression toward cyclists. Personally I’ve been buzzed, honked at, yelled at and even stopped and aggressively confronted by drivers of large pickup trucks. Usually these trucks are of the red or black variety, with driver’s eager and angry to make the point that I do not belong on the same road with them.

The facts are clear about large pickups; they are one of the most dangerous types of vehicles on the roads. This note from the Bicycle Almanac puts it into perspective:

“Big pickups kill even more than SUV’s.  When the average large pickup truck collides with a second vehicle, people in the second vehicle die at a rate of 293 for every 100,000 crashes, according to federal crash statistics.  By comparison, large sport utility vehicles kill people in the second vehicle at a rate of 205 per 100,000 crashes; minivans kill at a rate of 104 deaths; and large cars at a rate of 85 deaths. (NYT, July 31, 2003)”

But when vehicles hit cyclists, the injury and death rates are obviously much higher. A 4,000-6,000 lb. truck can easily crush or maim a cyclist.

The Safety Debate

The debate centers on safety and laws applying to cyclists. There is an angry undercurrent out there about the behavior of cyclists on the roads. Many motorists seem to believe that cyclists simply refuse to obey the law. Recently a meme showed up on Facebook that illustrates this view. When it appeared, I read it carefully and then responded to the post in kind. It was late, so my grammar sucks. But you get the point.

Cycling Hate Meme

Motorists that hate cyclists likely seem to have little or no experience with actually riding a bike on the road. They cannot hope to comprehend that each and every cyclist is a legitimate entity on the road. In a group, they are also an entity.

So let’s start with the basics. For one thing, it is perfectly legal for cyclists to ride on the roads. Motorists are required to give cyclists fair sway in the road, with three feet being the required distance in many states. That’s the law.

Also, the taxes paid to build and maintain roads come from more than vehicle fees. So motorists need to stop rolling down their windows to complain loudly that they have more right to drive on the road than cyclists do. Plus, a huge number of adult cyclists also drive cars, and pay the same fees.

And there’s no way that a single cyclist on the roads impacts your right to drive on the same roads. You just have to pay attention to Driving 101.

Driving 101

Knowing how to legally and safely pass a group of cyclists is as simple as Driving 101. Whether you are passing a large farm vehicle or a group of cyclists, the rules are the same. Look ahead to discern approaching traffic. Allow ample space on the road to pass the hazard safely while accelerating, and pull in with ample time and distance to avoid cutting off the other moving vehicle or group.

This is known as “separating hazards.” It’s a basic part of driving. But America’s new Culture War mentality seems to have overridden basic courtesy with respect to separating hazards. The question seems to be “Why do I have to do this?” rather than “How do I have to do this?”

When drivers are frustrated by the “why” they can no longer make good decisions on the “how.” That’s when people honk their horns loudly, roar up from behind and then cut in aggressively on a group of cyclists. It’s dangerous, and it’s stupid. But from the frustrated driver’s point of view, it is practically necessary to demonstrate one’s prowess and ownership of the road.

Group dynamics

Groups of cyclists constitute a different dynamic. Riding two abreast in long rows is often the acceptable formation on a ride. It is a consistent shape so that motorists can see the number and width of cyclists they need to circumvent. Plus, on narrower roads, cyclists in groups generally call out to each other to go single file. These are discretionary calls in terms of cyclist laws and etiquette.

However, when large groups of cyclists are competing for space on the roads, especially on fast group rides, these rules of etiquette shift tremendously.A driver approaching a group of cyclists from behind is likely to view this dynamic as a sign of chaos, not order. The fact that the group is shifting and covering the entire lane of a road is no doubt frustrating. However this is where the Rules of the Road also apply to motorists.

As any cyclist in a competitive group ride can tell you, it is either hang tough in the group or be dropped. Driving behind a fast group ride can and will frustrate many a motorist. But again, the relative delay is often seconds or less than a minute before a motorist can get past and on their way.

Bigger issues

Never mind that much larger vehicles than pickups somehow find a way to get around cyclists whether they are in groups or riding alone. I’ve written previously about the gravel truck operation whose drivers excel in road safety. They separate hazards because their livelihoods depend upon it.

By contrast motorists whose schedules are slightly interrupted (perhaps a minute or so) by the need to get around a group of cyclists…well, it’s just selfishness that makes someone so angry. If the predominant viewpoint toward use of the world’s roads is always “Me Me Me” then there’s little hope for humanity in general.

Disobeys traffic lawsYes, there’s a need for cyclists to show good behavior on the roads. This last meme illustrates the anger toward cyclists who want to Share the Road but flaunt the right.

But until motorists comprehend that some of the rules of the road are a grey area, such as getting through stop signs efficiently so that cars can get on their way, there will continue to be conflict on the roads. And memes to prove it.

werunandridelogo

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About Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth is a content producer, writer and blogger with more than 25 years’ experience in B2B and B2C marketing, journalism, public relations and social media. Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @gofast and blogs at werunandride.com, therightkindofpride.com and at 3CCreativemarketing.com. Online portfolio: http://www.behance.net/christophercudworth
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6 Responses to It’s always Me Me Me on the roads and this anti-cycling meme proves it

  1. Dan In Iowa says:

    Here in rural Iowa, I’m beginning to see a shift. Lately I’ve had more car drivers wave and give me room. I’ve had fewer times I’ve been crowded on the road. Obviously, this isn’t a “scientific” study since it’s just anecdotal evidence and it may just be that the “locals” are getting to be used to me. I hope not.

  2. That’s good, and I see some of that as well. Yet there’s a visible cranky anti-biking populace growing that suspiciously resembles the anti-environmental cranks and the anti-gay cranks and the anti-government cranks. And when they get vocal, it almost doesn’t matter that they’re 30% against the 70% that get it. I’m waiting for Fox News to do a piece on how cycling is anti-American. It’s coming. Just you watch.

  3. bgddyjim says:

    Christopher, as usual, you missed the bullseye by about a mile and a quarter on gun control, but that makes sense for a fella from Illinois. Humorously, and ironically enough, you also forgot to mention in this post that Republicans want to kill your grandma.

    Otherwise, I agree with your assessment on pickup truck owners and rules regarding stop signs, though I understand the desire to keep things consistent. In fact, our group, and we’re stupid-fast, decided collectively that for the safety of the group we would treat intersections with more respect for motorists. We rarely come to a full stop except for two intersections in 30 miles, but we’re crawling across many “just to make sure”. It’s safer for us anyway. We had a couple of close calls where intentions of motorists were misunderstood and we almost lost a guy. Better to err on the side of not being mushed (both cases were our fault btw, the car technically had the right of way).

    Still trying like hell to get a speeding ticket though.

    That said, it’s getting better, not worse, in Michigan. From what I understand from some of the old-timers, much better.

    • Explain to me how quoting simple facts about gun violence constitutes “missing by a mile and a quarter.” There have been more people killed by gun violence in America than all the soldiers every killed in foreign wars. And there are now Concealed Carry laws in all 50 states and gun violence continues relatively unabated. Worst of all, much of the gun violence seems to be by the very police commissioned to protect us. And the reason why they’re so scared for their lives is because guns are so prolific they never know whether the person they’re arresting is armed or not. So the response, as in Texas, is to make Open Carry the law. Which basically sets up a vigilante state like the Wild West. But if you haven’t noticed, there are thousands of businesses and other organizations who think the whole Concealed Carry thing is a bunch of crap. They post signs on their doors that say “No Guns.” And the reason for that, is that there is no reason to have guns in public other than to incite violence. People claim it’s for their own protection, but what does that say about their belief in civil society? They don’t believe in it. When you go out with an attitude of fear you actually engender the very circumstance you most wish to avoid. Caution, yes. Aggressive plan to shoot if accosted? Look what that got that sprinter in Australia. An accident was it? That’s bad enough. But if he believed he were acting in supposed self-defense, is that really that much better a result? This whole idea that it’s “kill or be killed” is a primitive, immature product of a violent culture. Our nation was formed in violence and hasn’t come to grips with that fact. We committed genocide against Native Americans because we were better armed and aggressively selfish about property. I think the world recognizes this in us, but we refuse to recognize it in ourselves. Our culture is addicted to violence, and we ignore the former line in the Constitution about a “well-regulated militia” to emphasize the latter, more selfish form of law, which states the right to bear arms shall not be abridged. This is a highly selective form of worldview and its consequences are in fact a more violent, selfish society that has turned even our politics and even religion into a winner take all brand of ugly behavior. So don’t try to lecture me about my views on guns unless you can provide a substantive response. I’m not alone in this viewpoint, so don’t try the whole “crazy liberal” crap either.

      • bgddyjim says:

        First, the how: Concealed carry license holders commit crimes at rates that are a fraction that of the normal population. Gun violence will happen in this country no matter how illegal guns are. Just ask Mexico. Hell, we supplied them weapons (that’d be President Obama’s doing by the way, in case you missed it). You miss the mark because you lack the ability to separate your hatred of a Constitutional Amendment and a Godforsaken talking point.

        What does a pistol for protection say about society? That police are to heavy to carry on one’s back. As for that hogwash about the “Hokum of Attraction”, good Lord, man. Save that for the initiated. As for the well regulated militia, that is separate from the right to bear arms. A free state requires a well regulated militia, therefore the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed upon. The consequences are not more violent whatsoever. It just means that the only people with the guns are not cops and bad guys. As an example, automatic assault weapons are illegal almost the world over, with the exception of some VERY exclusive license holders in the US, yet they’re on ever street in every major city in the world. How did the thugs who committed the Charlie Hebdo murders get those weapons into France? They’re illegal. They can’t have been there. Yours is certainly a naïve world view should you think that banning law abiding citizens from owning pistols will stop gun crime.

        As for lecturing you, I certainly didn’t mean to do that. I just said that you were off the mark. I simply disagree with your notion of what guns restrictions would do. See, we live in a Nation of cowards who are unable to hold a simple conversation… Well, maybe quoting the Attorney General of the US is going too far to fanning the flames but what you write regarding your idea of weapon regulation is in the tiny minority of the country and obviously counter the Constitution of the US as has been held by the Supreme Court of the United States. That’s about all. You may not like it, but banning and melting every gun in this country won’t stop gun crime… Of course, I’d go with the Switzerland as the way stuff should be, but that’s just me. Oh, and what’s the crime rate there? Non existent.

        That said, you’re obviously fired up. I do apologize for getting you lathered. That wasn’t my intent. I was trying to walk a tight line between just letting your off remark go and getting all “Michigan Militia” on the subject (of which I am not a part, by the way, I’m just a normal guy). My apologies if I failed that attempt.

  4. I’m never lathered. I just don’t accept the cognitive dissonance, and you’ve pointed it out so well. The idea that the clauses pertaining to a “well-regulated militia” and the “right to bear arms” are separate is certainly a convenient rationalization. But if one weren’t meant to apply to the other, why have them appear in the same sentence. That’s the ultimate divorce from cognition. And it’s been used to essentially separate fact from reason. So now the personal reasons to own guns, whatever people deem them to be, now override the more important commonwealth goals of gun control. That’s the NRA’s total methodology. Divide and conquer. But the facts remain that more than 30,000 people each year get shot. The reasons don’t really matter. Gun proponents try to justify all that murder and suicide under the banner of patriotism and self-defense. But civilized nations that have a fragment of that gun violence going on somehow don’t need that rationalization to have a peaceful and just society. I don’t advocate banning gun ownership. I never have. That is a projection and a supposition on the part of many people that have reacted to articles I’ve written such as America’s Gun Addiction published on Yahoo! years ago. My consistent position has been simple: More guns does not equal more peace. The shootings at University campuses where security is evident prove that point. And on military bases where access to weapons (if not directly carrying on the person, then easy enough to get in an emergency, right) should be deterrence enough against gun violence, it still occurs. And I do think the Hokum of Attraction is anything but. The imagined capability to shoot and kill relentlessly is what fuels so many killers. Even killers without political motivation, only anger and disenchantment, fuel their rage with fantasies about wiping out their social enemies. It’s comic when news media speculate “what was the shooter’s motive?” Well, often there is no motive other than to kill as an expression of power in the face of perceived powerlessness in the face of social pressures. Not ironically, those are the very same reasons people distrust the government and feel compelled under guise of self-protection to form so-called “militias” that actually and typically constitute hate groups or people radicalized by economic or other social forces. Yet these are the very people who vote Republican, and it is the Republican Party and conservatives that have killed unions, shipped jobs overseas and started wars of choice that depend on the poor and middle class to fight them. The GOP guarantees the right to own weapons alright. “Now go and shoot them Arabs and Muslims. Because her in “Merica we believe in guns and God is on our side. But don’t come home unless you’re winning, son. And maybe it’s best not to come home at all. Take a few tours in fact, for your Mother Country. Don’t worry about your brain and all that PTSD stuff. That’s for sissies son. Carry that weapon with pride because the Constitution sez it’s your God-given right.” It’s a massive cycle of fight and die for the warhawks (many of whom never fought…) and people in power who don’t give a shit about people on a lower economic rung. Then they pit those sequential rungs against each other racially, and by gender and orientation, convincing otherwise good people that enemies are all around them and trying to take away their homes and their money. The NRA does this shit alllll the time. That’s their whole thing, and then they project and threaten that Obama or Clinton or whatever Democrat they target…that is supposedly going to “take away your guns.” It’s bullshit, and you know it. It’s a political tactic to make people fall in line and make them feel like they’re empowered when it’s just the opposite. But it works, and it works so well it convinces people that anyone who opposes the cycle of dissolution fostered by conservatism is the crazy one. It’s sad. It’s sick. It’s perverse. And it’s psychopathic.

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