Monday, October 27, 2008

Peds v. cars v. cyclists

What is it about the subject of vehicle-cyclist-pedestrian interactions that engenders so much anger in people? A recent Capital Times article dealing with the issue sparked a whole slew of comments, most pointing fingers at either inconsiderate drivers, bikers, or pedestrians. The resentment on all sides was palpable. And this certainly isn't unique to that article. I've come across it countless times whenever the subject comes up.

Because, y'know, it's never your fault. It's always the pedestrian who doesn't look before they cross the street, or the biker who runs a red light, or the driver who tries to run you down.

The fact of the matter is, I think, that all of us have the capacity to be the asshole--and all of us likely have been, at one time or another. And simply claiming that one or the other party is completely at fault for all the trouble on the road is wrong, and completely misses the bigger picture.

Bikers are, by law, supposed to act and be treated as fellow vehicles on the road. You ride with traffic, stop at stop lights and signs, signal your turns, and kit yourself out in the appropriate safety gear (helmet, lights, etc.). Not all bikers do this, however, and they're the ones who typically inspire the most hatred in drivers. Thing is, plenty of law-abiding bikers are still finding themselves at the receiving end of motorist's bile, simply for daring to share the streets with them. And even those drivers with nothing against bikers are sometimes prone to not paying enough attention. Heck, I'm an avid cyclist and I'm still sometimes times guilty of this when I'm in my car.

And pedestrians--especially, for whatever reasons, the students downtown--can be prone to wandering out into the street without so much as glancing up from their ipods. I don't know what these folks were taught as children, but apparently they missed the "look both ways" lecture.

I understand the frustration felt by all parties, as I've been all parties at one time or another. I think most of us have. But somehow, we seem prone to forgetting what it's like to be the cyclist when we're driving, or the driver when we're walking, etc. We're quick to anger at the slightest inconvenience, we zone out and don't pay enough attention to our surroundings, we let a sense of entitlement creep into our heads--and the results are often dangerous and tragic.

Simply put: we all need to suck it up and take responsibility for ourselves and the people with whom we share the city. Bikers need to strap on a helmet and obey the traffic laws. Pedestrians need to actually pay attention to their surroundings. Drivers need to remember that they're not the only ones on the road, calm down, and pay attention.

Because it's not just one party or the others responsibility to make our streets safer--it's all of ours. So put down the cell phone. We'll all be better off for it.


michael d said...

I think there's another part to it: many people think their mode of transit is inherently better than the others, and so they start out biased against anyone who's using one of the other ones.

Emily said...

That's certainly a factor for some folks, for sure. I think it falls in with the entitlement mindset. Your method is the best method, and therefore you are entitled to all of the space and all of the considerations. Very lame (even if I am a little biased toward bikes) no matter who it's coming from.

michael d said...

I think thinking about that entitlement mindset and reminding people that the other side has rights to is useful. There are plenty of things you can do to make life easier for the other people on the road without even costing yourself anything, but you'll never think to do it if you can't put yourself in the other folks' shoes.

Example: as a pedestrian, sometimes you'll encounter a car trying to pull out of a parking lot onto a busy street. The car's a little bit into the sidewalk. Because the driver's a jerk? Probably not -- likely he needs to pull out a little bit so he can see back far enough to know when there's a chance for him to get out. Walking behind his car instead of in front of it doesn't really take you any longer, but it means that if he gets his window he can take it rather than having to wait for you to pass and then take the next window.

I don't think the golden rule ever becomes a cliche. Honestly think about other people's point of view and treat them with the respect you'd want in their position. It's like magic.

Oh, I've found one totally awesome thing in traffic. When you screw up and actually take responsibility for it (shouting "sorry" if it's summer or you're both not in enclosed vehicles or giving an apologetic wave), most people are instantly no longer angry.

The Lost Albatross