A new Business Insider article documents the fact that cyclist deaths on American roads increased by 10% last year. That may only constitute an additional 100 or so people, but that is still inexcusable.
The article states: “It’s not the only city where biking might be getting riskier. According to a new report from the US Department of Transportation (DOT), preliminary data from 2018 show that cyclist deaths are estimated to have increased by 10% last year, even though overall traffic fatalities are estimated to have fallen slightly.”
I go for my driver’s test tomorrow because my birthday is coming up. I should probably study the Rules of the Road before taking the written test, but I passed last time and think I know them fairly well. I’ve been driving since 1973 and have had a few tickets and a collision or two along the way, but nothing has been truly awful about my driving record. I just received a 25% discount on my Nationwide Auto Insurance rates after traveling around for six months with a device that measures driving habits.
So the evidence of my safe-driving habits is empirical. At the same time as a cylcist and runner over the same number of years, it is not my imagination that I have borne witness to some of the worst and least capable drivers in this world. This is real-time, real-life experience, not some tool on the underside of a dashboard.
While I’ve yet to have been outright struck by a vehicle, the instances in which it has almost happened have been outright chilling. While cycling on an open country road in Dekalb County, Illinois two years ago a vehicle traveling at least sixty miles an hour on a semi-gravel road missed my elbow by a mere three inches. I believe that was an accidental near-miss.
But I have also been aggressively threatened by drivers who refuse to grant a cyclist any room on the road. Most recently this occurred in May while finishing a sponsored ride in Jo Daviess County east of Galena, Illinois. While traveling down a regional thoroughfare that was light with traffic, a driver of a red pickup blew right next to my wife and I allowing no more than half a foot between his mirrors and our shoulders. He then pulled even farther onto the white line to show that he meant it. I screamed at him to no avail. He was probably proud of his actions, but by every measure of traffic safety and most state regulations, he was actively breaking the law.
Versions of the law
It almost seems there are two ‘versions’ of the law at work in terms of public attitudes toward cyclists on the road. Many’s the time that people have yelled at me out of their car windows, “Get on the bike trail.” Sometimes there is one nearby, but they typically don’t go very far, or else cross so many driveways and make so many turns that a cyclist traveling more than a couple miles has no use for them. America’s cycling infrastructure with rare exception is like this. Few cities or counties have actual bike lanes. There are noble exceptions in places like Tucson where cycling is a driver of tourism. But America does not generally seem to believe in the Field of Dreams model that says, “If you build it, they will come.”
So that leaves cyclists to largely fend for themselves out there on the American byways. Some do so with notable protection of their space, teaming up in large groups that cover the entire lane of a road, forcing vehicles to find a passing lane to get around them. This is a major frustration to motorists who consider roads the sole property of vehicles, and nothing else. My encounters with this type of attitude have included farmers far out in the agricultural zone who pull over to lecture me on the fact that they pay taxes for the roads they drive. Kindly reminding them that all of us who drive do the same has never proven to be a consolation to them. It usually produces a major middle finger, a few curse words and a truck roaring past our bicycles a mile or so down the road.
Last year a Corvette driver determined on his own volition that I had no right to ease my bicycle past a line of traffic in order to cross a bridge under construction that passed over the Interstate. Seeing me approach in his rearview mirror, he pre-emptively turned his vehicle so that his tire on the right side covered the white line. He’d made up his mind that he didn’t want me going ahead of him.
From there he tried to drive me off the road a couple times and stopped his car to get out and yell obscenities at me. I wave nicely at him the first two times, and then kindly flipped him the bird. Another driver saw the incidents taking place and pulled in behind the angry old bird with his white beard and Corvette hat adorning his head while his hands clenched on the steering wheel.
So it surprises me not that cyclist are getting killed out there on the roads either through driver negligence or through purposeful intimidation. A triathlete friend of mine was struck a few years back during a road rage incident from a woman who veered her van across his path and destroyed his bike. That accident also badly injured his hip and gave him long-term effects from concussion. The dangers of cycling are real. The reasons why such incidents are occurring are rather unreal.
Recently a bike commuter in our area was struck by a driver who was texting. The driver swerved twelve feet off the main road to hit the cyclist from behind. The accident crushed the rider’s bike and left him with multiple severe injuries. He’d been riding the same route for many years and had long learned to trust its safety. Until some kid caught up in the virtual reality of his phone crossed the line into reality and nearly killed the guy on his bike. But these incidents have taken place with some regularity in our area, which is a popular place for cycling. So people driver cars should know better. But the accidents keep coming.
The anti-cycling crowd
Anti-cyclists can scream and fret all they want about how cyclists are always breaking the law. Yes, some cyclists do break laws by running stop signs or riding more than two-abreast on roads.
But there’s also some aggressive projection at work in these accusations. I’ve read YouTube comments on cycling stories in which people actively and openly threaten to run down cyclists if they get the chance. Perhaps they don’t realize this is a confession of guilt and a form of pre-meditated murder if they ever follow through with the act.
I’ve been actively buzzed by early morning half-drunken drivers in rusty old vans and nearly struck to death by distracted moms hauling kids to soccer games.
Yet somehow, when I cycle a nearby country road where multi-ton gravel trucks runs back and forth all day, I don’t feel the least bit threatened. Those drivers understand and appreciate the deadliness of their vehicles. They respect the law that says three feet is the minimum passage all motorists must allow when passing cyclists in Illinois. They’ll wait for an opportunity to go around cyclists even though they’re on a driving schedule and timelines. Because it does not slow them down that much. I’ve even seen them pause and wait for groups of cyclists blocking their way on those roads. Eventually they might give a polite tap on the horn encouraging the cyclists to move over and go single file.
When I take my driver’s test tomorrow, I’ll be interested to see if the questions involve a famous etiquette of the road called “Separating Hazards.” It seems a lost or quaint art in the modern age. Perhaps it is because the selfish interiors of air-conditioned vehicles with digital guides on the dashboard have objectified the driving process of driving to the point that it has become and inhuman and therefore inhumane activity
Or else Americans have become so used to being rewarded for selfish instincts and bigoted attitudes there is no longer any concern for people trying to actually enjoy life for real while out on the road rather than imagining themselves to be the owners of the whole domain.
Sources of ignorance and denial
I point fingers at a number of potential sources of these attitudes toward cyclists. Quite interestingly, I don’t count envy among them as a cause for driver disdain for cyclist. In fact, it is quite the opposite from what I’ve read and seen out there in the world. There is so much disdain for the spandex and brightly decorated that it borders on a pathological attitude toward “the other.” Perhaps this disdain is combined as well with projection of anachronistic attitudes toward the attire of cyclists those who can’t imagine themselves in any other situation than wearing “normal clothes” and traveling in a “normal driver’s seat.” Never mind if that seat is covered by a big sweaty ass and a tragic pair of camo or cargo shorts. That state of fitness and attire is definitively Walmart approved. So it must be truly American at heart. And fuck those cyclists. They’re in my goddamn way.
Then there’s our anti-exercise President
We also have a President who insists that exercise shortens your life, so people are feeling justified in their self-indulgent lifestyles and the camouflage of facts buried under opinions. Millions of people line up to embrace this indulgently insecure brand of self-worship in which the Golfer In Chief drives on the golf greens because he is too fucking lazy and scared to get out of his cart to even putt the ball.
He also regularly expresses hatred toward those who chose to live differently from himself. Even his supporters fail to see the disturbing yet carefully disguised dislike he holds for all of them. He recognizes that the fantasy of his promises are the yeast of his corrupt brand of bread. His consumers gobble it up like manna (religious and political) while claiming persecution and blaming any other lifestyle than wealth-worship and tax-aversion as unAmerican. All this hate is fueled by the instinct to run down the opposition as a sign of patriotism.
A long way from civility
You can criticize this commentary as lacking civility, but public protest without identifying the source of patent or portentous evil is pointless. Because this is how far we’ve come from actual civility. We live in a world where tens of thousands of people fall victim of gun violence each year, and those who die are left behind in a wake of conservative rationalization so deep and treacherous it swamps even the right of the Center for Disease Control to actively measure the impact of gun violence in America. That is insanity.
It is also the hallmark of egregious denial at work, which keen similarities to other sources of denial at work in America. These include the anachronistic worldview of creationists who comprise some 30%+ of the American population, and who deny science on religious grounds. We are also faced with the constricted lies of constitutional originalists who ignore the fact that America passed Amendments to fix what was originally wrong with the law and focus on the supposed perfection of constitutional law created by the Founding Fathers. And that’s a lie too.
Self-absorption in the digital age
All these are symptoms of the most self-absorbed citizens in this world who love to claim principle while dismissing the deadly and divisive outcomes of the corruption created by the unreal determinations of ideology cherry-picked from religion and law to effect a given worldview. It is has become apparent that the supposed path to Make America Great Again has room only for people who don’t care how many lives they destroy if they get their own way in the process. That applies to immigrant and American citizens alike. Even the President no longer pretends to tell them apart. If they can be targeted as the Other for political gain, he tears up that page of the Constitution and tweets racist shit to raise the ire of his base.
The President is a fascist. We are rapidly becoming a fascist nation. And people are dying or about to die from the selfish nature of an ideology that dismisses facts, reality and cause and effect as liberal concepts worthy of hatred and disdain.
The dangers of living in America these days are real. The reasons why are increasingly unreal. There’s a reason why the Liar in Chief uses the words Fake News to describe those he hates of lying. It’s called gaslighting, a tactic designed to make people doubt their own beliefs about the world. It is a cruel and vicious way to govern, and the evidence of its impacts are found out there on the roads where people dismiss cyclists as less-than-human in order to justify their claim to their version of reality.