This Toronto Sun article by Julia Alexander is simply bad comedy: a Sun reporter – and for those of you not aware, the Sun is the most conservative paper in the city, a right-wing tabloid rag that makes a point of showing off nearly-naked girls on page five every day – starts out by declaring how she hates cyclists, and then in a spontaneous fit of journalism actually decides to try out cycling downtown. At this point she learns that, whoops, cyclists have it way worse than drivers, and spends two hours scared out of her mind. But, because she is a Sun reporter, Ms. Alexander’s final conclusion is this:
I used to hate cyclists, but I don’t anymore. I understand them, but for things to get better, they need to start understanding drivers, like myself, have needs too.
At which point you just have to throw up your hands and say “no, what actually needs to happen is that you need to fuck off.” Because cyclists understand drivers perfectly well. Most of us do drive cars on occasion, you know; most cyclists are not rabid environmentalists to the point of refusing to drive. We know what it is like to drive a car, and we also know that the majority of drivers simply do not give a shit about cyclists. We know this via statistics and we know it via experience.
This is generally the point where some well-meaning driver just exclaims in frustration that no, they really do care, they just wish cyclists would obey traffic laws. But any experienced cyclist knows this is bullshit, because it is a tossup at any given time whether drivers get pissed at you for disobeying traffic laws or pissed at you for obeying traffic laws. I have literally had drivers get out of their car and shout at me when I was waiting for them to advance at a stop sign. Cyclists know that it is simply a tossup as to whether a driver gets pissed at you for trying to execute a proper and legal left turn or if they get pissed at you because you choose to cross with the pedestrian crossing because you’ve been nearly killed too many times trying to execute proper and legal left turns. It is up to each driver’s individual whimsy! What fun!
Of course, all of this assumes that the driver deigns to acknowledge your existence in the first place, and that itself is a hit-or-miss proposition to say the least. Ms. Alexander confesses that she often opens her door into traffic without checking first, and since the two times I have come closest to getting killed while on my bike were because of drivers dooring me in my goddamn neck and causing me to collapse over towards the middle of the road, I will at least note that she is being honest about something that I think causes more cyclists to think murderous thoughts than any other, but that is all the credit she gets because, you know, there were those near-death experiences and I’m still a little put out about them. Ms. Alexander explains them away in this manner:
Ironically, drivers and cyclists share a similar concern — survival. Cyclists don’t want to be hit by an oncoming vehicle and drivers don’t want to hit them.
Which: no, we don’t share a similar concern. Cyclists are concerned about their own survival. Drivers, when they are concerned about cyclists at all – and again, this is very much a hit or miss proposition – are concerned about somebody else’s survival, and I shouldn’t have to explain that worrying about somebody else’s safety is not the same thing as worrying about your own. If those two things were equivalent then Ms. Alexander wouldn’t be opening her goddamned car door into traffic without looking, or doing all of the other stupid, negligent things drivers do every day when they operate their vehicles, which in case we have forgotten are large and dangerous enough to be able to kill somebody when they are only moving fifteen kilometers per hour.
And this is the thing: I drive as well, and I get it. Driving has become more and more stressful over the years; I would not be surprised to find that the incidence of road rage has increased at basically the same rate that the real median wage has decreased, because the more costly any accident becomes for an individual, the more they personalize their driving experience – where an accident in decades past might have been unfortunate but livable, now an accident means an often-unaffordable increase in insurance premiums and the loss of something vital to many people’s jobs.
More to the point: driving is very, very easy to fuck up! Forgetting to check your blind spot, not signalling a turn, sudden dangerous stops, not obeying traffic signs properly – every driver alive does something wrong at least once per day, because there are simply so many things you can get wrong. On my bike ride home from work each day, I see at least three or four “rolling stops” at stop signs – hey, they’re only stop signs! Really, if I had a nickel for every basic driver error I see each day, I could go buy my own private island, pave it and cycle around on that instead.
But just because I understand that driving is stressful and much more difficult than people assume doesn’t mean I’m sympathetic to this article’s position that this is a teachable moment for all concerned. Because it isn’t. The problem is not cyclists. Yeah, there are a few asshole cyclists out there, but there’s a few assholes everywhere: most cyclists are generally law-abiding. The problem is drivers, because the root of the problem is that every driver wishes that they had the road to themselves, and unlike their relationship with other drivers, the relationship a driver has with a cyclist is inherently an imbalanced one.
So don’t come to me, as a cyclist, and tell me I need to “understand drivers.” Because I understand what drivers want from cyclists. They want them not to be there.