Monday, May 6, 2013

cyclists and respect

Last week KSL TV ran a “news” story about “cyclists who break laws”, using what appeared to be an investigative effort on roadies in Emigration Canyon blowing by a school bus with its red lights on and the stop sign out:
 I was made aware of it by a Facebook post that decried KSL for doing so, and for sure it was classic local TV news that was a bit melodramatic and cheesy (and it’s worth watching the guy’s female cohort who clearly thinks it’s a completely asnine story).  Reading the FB thread of fellow cyclists’ comments was also pretty predictable:  KSL is lame, motorists are lame and should understand cyclists better, nitpicking at the details of the story, etc.  But no one acknowledged a fundamental  truth: ALL cyclists (not just virtually all:  ALL) knowingly break traffic laws - and most do it pretty flagrantly – yet expect to be treated with respect. 

 In other words, I can blow through every stop sign on my route, stop then roll through a red light, blast past a school bus with its lights flashing, ride in a wide peloton with my bros, and not make simple hand signals, but YOU GOTTA STAY THREE FEET AWAY FROM ME!  I would like to say I can’t really understand this hypocritical indignation, but of course I can; I’ve spent a good chunk of my life being hypocritically indignant.  But over the last few years I’ve been trying to be better, and try to keep in the back of my mind:  “if I want respect, I gotta show respect.”  And lord knows, we NEED respect!  A quick skim of just a handful of the 200 comments that came in to the KSL site before they shut it down shows that motorists who are not bicyclists do not understand cycling at all:  they don’t know that we are a social lot and we ride side by side so we can just chat, they don’t know that it’s simply a bummer to lose your momentum and/or stop because of the flowy essence of speed on a bike, they don’t know that we don’t need to unclip from our pedals to come to a full stop, they don’t know that we are already seeking out the least-controlled roads we can as it is, they can’t tell the difference between a fixy punk and a DUI guy on his Mongoose and a recreational rider and a commuter and a Cat 1 pro, they have no idea how vulnerable we are, and  - unbelievably – they think somehow that we don’t actually pay taxes that pay for the roads! 

But here’s the rub:  it doesn’t matter.  They don’t understand, and they won’t.  But they – like all of us - are simpletons and therefore they DO know what they see:  people on two wheels who flagrantly violate very simple, basic laws (that they themselves dutifully follow:  when was the last time you were driving your car and blew through a red light or past a flashing-red school bus?).  I’ve seen middle-aged fathers who chastise their kids for not politely saying “thank you” routinely blast through busy, controlled intersections and then scream something to the effect of “go fuck yourself!” at the motorist who calls them out on it.   I think it comes from the emboldened power associated with two components: a)  “the uniform” (I have this theory that wearing any  kind of a uniform - whether military, police, or the Canyon Bicycles team kit – is an automatic arrogance-catalyst) and b) the presence of our peers (in their uniforms as well).  But regardless, in the plaintive words of the late Rodney King:  “Can’t we all just get along?” 

So was the KSL clip a little over the top?  Sure.  And I’m the first to admit that I’ve got a lower respect for any kind of authority/rules than most.  But do they make a point that it is possible that we cyclists are partly to blame for the lack of respect that we get from motorists?  Absolutely.  And is it that big of a deal to at least be conscientous about breaking laws when lots of motorists are around to see us?  Maybe:  when I see headlines like “2013 is the Year of the Bike” in Salt Lake City and they just started a bike share program and we have a Mayor who is an avowed bike commuter and last weekend they had an “Open Streets” thing downtown where a busy street went car-free for the day and there’s a new City-sponsored bike website and the UTA buses/trains are being retrofitted to add more bike capacity and they are adding bike lanes and putting roads on diets and….and……these are done with public funds allocated by public officials elected by people who vote….motorists who vote! 

So even though – as one Facebook commentator pointed out – on the KSL clip “every cyclist they show is a newbie who wears pro team kits. Those cyclists are the worst!” (what an idiot!) I think that it would do our global cause some good to at least be somewhat respectful – maybe even just when there’s lots of eyes on – of the little rules that society has created so it can hopefully come back around to help us all (and don’t get me wrong:  I need to remember and exercise that myself!)

And as it turned out, a headline in the Tribune just the day after the airing of the KSL piece was “Citations for Cyclists Plunges”, so maybe we are getting it after all….

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