WNYC, New York City’s leading public radio station, recently started a series called “We The Commuters.” It looks at how people get around town. Cycling, not surprisingly, is a topic. On the one hand, cyclists are unabashed in their love of riding. On the other, many pedestrians and drivers are not shy about their loathing of cyclists.
The lead correspondent for the series, Shumita Basu, recently did a segment on this flavor of haterade. The title: Why Do NYC Drivers and Pedestrians Loathe Cyclists? She talks to cyclists, she talks to pedestrians, she talks to drivers, she talks to experts, she looks at data. Here’s the big takeaway.
“There’s also a persistent idea among many pedestrians that cyclists pose a high, fatal risk to them. But the NYPD’s latest statistics don’t support that. In 2017, people driving motor vehicles killed 106 pedestrians. People on bikes killed one pedestrian. As for non-fatal crashes, about 2 percent of all pedestrian injuries involved people on bikes that year.”
It’s heartening to see a thorough and dispassionate look at the matter. And that’s even considering that the story possibly overplays the threats cyclists present to others. Just looking at her statement, she could have pointed out that pedestrians are 45 times more likely to be injured in a non-fatal crash with a car, and fatalities were on the order of 106 to 1. If she bothered to dig into historic data, she’d see that for every time a pedestrian dies as a result of an impact from a cyclist, somewhere around 1,000 pedestrians are killed by drivers. And that when the DOT studied driver behavior around red lights, it was determined 1.23 million were run every day.
I looked at the comments. Big mistake. Naturally, the ones who write in are the most angry and least rational. And they’ve got killer anecdotes oh-so-carefully framed. I don’t know what people think they’re accomplishing with their anecdotes: do they feel their single experience or handful of experiences should overwhelm reams of data points? One expert in the story even discusses that such people have confirmation bias (keep this term around). Possibly worse are that many of them know why cyclists do it. They know exactly why. And they shared it.
Cyclists are: “arrogant,” “privileged,” and “believe they are above the law.”
I don’t know how they can deduce our mindset.
Especially because they’re wrong.
Calling cyclists “privileged” is particularly strange in light of reality. Not only do drivers have legal privileges (aka their license), and most of the nation’s transportation network is designed to favor driving, but cyclists have no privilege. Privilege is a luxury, a luxury that anyone on a human-powered vehicle expected to mix with cars, doesn’t have. Cyclists don’t have steel and airbags to protect them when they or someone else screws up. They’ve got pavement to stop them.
I spend considerable effort thinking about my comportment on the road. It is literally a matter of life and death. I assume that most cyclists do the same.
My first mission is to myself. That is, to complete the ride without getting injured.
The second mission is to others. That is, not to harm them. And ideally not inconvenience them. I have no desire to harm anybody. Hitting a car, pedestrian, or another cyclist hurts. It also slows down the ride, meaning I’ll get to my destination late, and is potentially expensive. I want no part in these things.
After missions one and two are covered, there’s room for me to enjoy the ride. Which I do. Every time.
Bike-haters seem to demand complete obeisance to the law. This is ridiculous on many levels. Nobody lives their life this way. And these people don’t seem to know what the law actually is. It also makes a mockery of what laws are about. They’re put in place for the common good. If a law increases danger, or is contrary to keeping people safe, it probably should be ignored.
Cyclists know from both obersvation and experience that pedestrians and drivers break the law and do so pretty much with impunity. Some cyclists assume everyone is out to get them, while others assume nobody else cares; it used to feel that being a cyclist rendered you invisible, so you should accept it as reality and work with it. No matter what, since a cyclist has a near-impossible task of influencing the behavior of these strangers, at least not at the critical moment, the best thing to do is ride in a way that minimizes risk to oneself and others. If that means breaking the law, then, so be it.
I’m not going to tell you why drivers and peds act the way they do. I don’t know. But as they’re human, it probably is part of the same reasoning that leads cyclists, also human, to act the way they do. The psychology could be that drivers and peds don’t know what to do around cyclists, and this stresses them out, or that cyclists are disruptive to their understanding of the world. Or it’s simply that they hate us because we’re having too much fun.
I walk and am on my bike every day, and I see pedestrians breaking the law constantly. So long as they don’t endanger me or others, I don’t let it concern me. For example, if I have the light, I don’t mind pedestrians crossing the street against the light, so long as they’re not getting in my way and endangering me. That’s how I believe cyclists should act if they’re going to cross against a light; it’s the ethical thing to do.
I walk and on my bike every day and I see drivers running red lights frequently. On my standard commute, I’d put it as at least twice within five miles. This concerns me far more than pedestrians breaking the law, especially the bigger the motor vehicle. All are a serious danger, but truck and bus drivers should receive far more scrutiny and be burdened with greater penalties for illegal behavior as their vehicles can do far more damage than a compact passenger car driven at the same speed.
I drive occasionally. I didn’t think about how insulated a driver is from the world sitting inside a steel box when I first started driving, but that feeling of separation probably contributes to bad behavior from drivers. It’s not only road rage, but ‘making a light’ and more. There’s no feeling of effort, so it’s hard to remember that speed has consequences. I can see where a driver would get upset that a cyclist or pedestrian was taking space the driver thinks belongs to those with motors and four wheels.
I suspect riding would be easier if the loathing didn’t exist. But I’ve been yelled at and complained about and even threatened by drivers and pedestrians and police for most of my life. I guess being noticed is better than not. Maybe the trend is actually going in the right direction. More people are riding, more seem accepting of cyclists. Maybe these haters are the final holdouts.