Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Remember Your Manners Folks

As frustrations over high fuel prices reach a fever pitch, those unwilling or unable to find alternatives to automobiles are increasingly butting heads with the ever-increasing droves of cyclists on major city streets. Both parties are to blame: cyclists often disobey the rules of the road and drivers do not always give cyclists the space or respect they deserve.

In Portland, Oregon, the oft-awarded #1 bike-friendly city in the country, tensions are resulting in on-street brawls between cyclists and motorists. I implore you folks, remember your manners! If you read into all these stories, between the taglines and radical anecdotes, you will find that often the confrontations arise due to disrespect.

Cyclists who plow through red lights, ignoring the rules of civil society, invite the rage of motorists who would all love to ignore laws now and then too when they are in a hurry to get through the city. We should all respect the law.

Conversely, many motorists make the mistake of trying to teach cyclists a lesson by passing as fast and close as possible without actually hitting the cyclist. This poses a serious danger to cyclists and it makes sense that the cyclists are infuriated by it--resulting in the keying incidents and U-lock attacks mentioned in the above story. Both parties make the mistake that they are somehow invincible to the other--motorists safely protected by their steel shells and airbags, cyclists protected by their ability to make quick getaways and inspire the sympathies of society (Let all this be a lesson to you cyclists. Though you may feel that you are doing "the right thing" and that "everyone" agrees with you, this is not the case. Self-righteousness is ungentlemanly.) Both assumptions are dangerous.

Image from a Torontoist story about a cyclist/motorist clash.

Cyclists remember: if you are riding on a street with cars, behave like a car and never forget that cars have just as much a right to be there as you. Stop at lights, pass only when safe, don't "jayride" to get a head-start on green signals, and make yourself seen with reflectors and lights--no matter how "ugly" or "heavy" they may be. Motorists remember: bicycles have been around longer than cars and have just as much a right to ride on public roads as anyone else. They are not trying to make your life more difficult or your commute slower. In fact, many cyclists feel that they are doing their part to reduce the traffic congestion and pollution that make urban commuting so frustrating in the first place. Everyone could learn to have a little more respect. Wave hello to your fellow citizens, no matter how different they may be. Say nice things like "pardon me," "sorry," and "thank you." Smile at each other.

Cars are not the solution to traffic and the global climate crisis, but bicycles are not either. Bicycles can never replace cars for certain uses. Around-town, sure. But long hauls and family vacations, no. Cars are not going anywhere soon and the bicycle business is booming these days, so don't expect any less of them either. As society feels the pressures of population, resource scarcity and climate change we will need to learn new ways to tolerate one another.

Remember your manners gents. Respect your fellow citizens. Give them a smile and a wave. Let them pass when they are in a hurry (a Gentleman never rushes things, as you know). Never expect anybody to change their habits for any reason, ever. Remember that every person is entitled to their own opinions and habits. The only opinions and habits you can change are your own, and you should only do so for the better. To make society more enjoyable for everyone else, that is the Freewheeling Gentleman's creed..


Gordon Inkeles said...

Portland is proposing to license cyclists--at the same rate as cars, and considerably MORE than motorcyclists. Blow by blow here: http://bikesocial.blogspot.com/

Talk about a shot across the bow...

mary Westmacott said...

Too Right, one should always be polite, even if your totally exhausted. Great post thanks, M x