Multimodal Repeat Offenders

I’ve done several “residential events” in the last week, which means I go talk to apartment complex residents about all the different ways they can get around without a car – biking, Capital Bikeshare, Metro, ART buses, etc., plus walking routes to get them more active and used to walking for errands. It’s always fun to talk to people, but it does open me up for some uncomfortable conversations at times, like the woman last night who said there aren’t enough parking places being built. (Um, that’s the point. And she didn’t even own a car!)

Residential Event, with coffee courtesy of Java Shack!

Residential Event, with coffee courtesy of Java Shack!

The most awkward conversations are about cyclists. I always hear several people rant and rave about how awful the cyclists are, how they blow through lights, run down the elderly and children, and so on. Tonight two different people both said they don’t like to bike because they don’t like the rude cyclists on the mixed use trails. Sometimes I don’t identify myself as a cyclist, but other times I really enjoy standing there in my business clothes and replying, “Oh I know! I get so frustrated when I bike to work in the mornings and I see some other cyclist running a red light!” That usually stops them short. They don’t expect me to be a cyclist – I look so… normal! Like them! That happened tonight, of course.

On the way back to the office in a cab tonight, and on my bike ride home, I saw two different cars making very stupid and dangerous moves. It got me thinking. No one ever says, “Oh, I don’t want to drive around here because the drivers are so crazy! I don’t feel safe on the streets with those drivers!”  Clearly it is not the vehicle itself that does stupid, reckless, dangerous things, it’s the driver (or rider).  So is there a certain type of personality that will repeatedly do the same bad behavior over and over, regardless of the mode of transportation? Are the cyclists who seem reckless on the Mount Vernon Trail also reckless behind the wheel on Army Navy Drive? Are there multi-modal repeat offenders?

Biking the Mount Vernon Trail on a Capital Bikeshare bike (no traffic!)

Biking the Mount Vernon Trail on a Capital Bikeshare bike (no traffic!)

As I begin to plan my first half-century event of 2013, and dust off my road bike (I will conquer my fear of the clipless pedals!), I know that I will be out on the trails soon, navigating around pedestrians, hating to stop at red lights and stop signs, not wanting to break my rhythm and concentration. I do understand those cyclists who don’t stop or alert walkers; I’ve forgotten to ring my bell occasionally too. But I also know there are cyclists out there who are jerks, and intolerant of anyone in their way. And I wish that there was a better answer for the people who are afraid to bike because of them, because biking is so fun and freeing. Everyone should be able to bike at their own pace, and we should never discourage anyone from doing so.

Testing out the clipless pedals last weekend

Testing out the clipless pedals last weekend

While I continue to try to set a good example, and to show others that being a “cyclist” does not mean wearing spandex and disregarding the rules of the road and others on it, I hope that other cyclists, regardless of what they wear and where they ride, will remember that we really do need to all get along. Better bike infrastructure will never gain enough support if everyone else is fighting over who is better (see GiveLoveCycle’s latest blog post too).  Honestly – no one is. There is no mode to rule them all (If the Ring is a symbolic car, and Frodo is a casual bike rider, and he pitches it into the fire…). C’mon everyone, be a PAL! Don’t be a multi-modal repeat offender!

One thought on “Multimodal Repeat Offenders

  1. The answer is the “jerk constant”, a concept I first encountered here: http://www.themorningnews.org/article/how-to-not-kill-a-cyclist

    That is, some people are jerks. This status is independent of, but expresses itself via, their choice of transportation mode.

    The jerk who cuts you off at the stoplight in his SUV or cuts in front of you at the grocery store line will cut you off when he’s riding his bike. He’s a jerk.

    People who don’t bike notice jerk-like behavior by people who bike because that’s “the other” doing it, not a member of your own tribe, so it’s exceptional and memorable.

    Every time I’ve described the jerk constant to people who don’t bike they’ve nodded in recognition of this reality. I don’t know if it sinks in enough that they don’t categorize all riders as jerks just because of the occasional one they encounter; I hope so.

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