There are so many things about anti-cycling aggression that I simply cannot reconcile. Obviously, I spend an enormous amount of time in advocacy efforts both online and in person. I also ride, a lot. As I ride, I get to see a great number of behaviors from people that range from respectful to frustrated to aggressive, all the way to potentially deadly.
For the past week I was on vacation. I took one of my bikes with me, and I rode at least 30 miles every day, using a mix of road, bike lane, road attached bike path and even some off road trail. Some miles in cycling kit, some not, some even without a helmet *gasp*, which is not something I normally advocate, but I was testing a theory.
The week was spent in a beach destination location, Destin, FL in the panhandle, where bikes and pedestrians are a prominent fixture within the infrastructure, though the infrastructure is incomplete, and in many ways, VERY broken. Still largely a car centric beach town, there are bike lanes, bike paths, sidewalks, and lots of infrastructure elements that should make cycling fairly attractive. In addition to the infrastructure, the roads are completely and utterly overwhelmed by automotive traffic. One would think that in this environment, all kinds of non-car options would be popular and desired. The reality is far worse than it should be.
If you do not know the area, it is a peninsula of land between the ocean and bay about 25 miles long. At its widest it MIGHT be 4.5 miles. For most of the way, there is one main road, US-98, and at various points, 1 or 2 alternate routes stretching from the Okaloosa Island bridge to the end of the bay north of Grayton Beach off of 30A. There is a bunch of residential and visitor lodging along here, and that translates to a very high number of cars.
To combat this, many visitors get to their destinations and rent bicycles or golf carts to get around for the duration of their visit. Bikes are everywhere. People of all ages are riding them. Barefoot, flip-flops, swimwear, no helmets, no safety equipment. They are traversing bike lanes and bike paths, often on sidewalks. They use bike racks. In short, they treat bikes like transportation. They have fun on them, and respect them while they ride them, all while getting frustrated with drivers that do not give the right of way to the bike paths or the walkers blocking the paths walking 5-7 wide. Then they park the bikes. They walk or jog on the same paths and sidewalks and get angry at the bikes crowding them, while railing at the cars that fail to respect the bike paths and sidewalks. Then it is time for lunch, dinner or a grocery run so they hop in the car, and immediately disrespect the bike paths, sidewalks and bike lanes that they just enjoyed.
And even with all of this, when they go home, they cannot see a bike as anything but a toy.
In 7 days of bike rides along this corridor, I lost count of the number of drivers who pulled in front of cyclists and pedestrians alike at the various intersection conflict points, realized the error and shouted ‘sorry’. The drivers did not take anything from those conflicts, since I saw several do it several times in a single drive ( the joy of riding a bike when car traffic is stop and go and averaging just 6-10mph ). These same drivers fail, consistently to respect the bike and pedestrian spaces, even while they enjoy using them, complete with complaints towards the cars that do not respect them.
Then of course there is the same level of disconnected infrastructure that plagues most of the country. Bike Lanes that begin and end with little to no warning. Bike Lanes on roads with 65mph speed limits. Sidewalks that stop and start at random intervals. Bike Paths that are multi-use paths, where bikes really aren’t welcome. Poor signage indicating what is and is not legal. For example Florida is one of just a handful of states in which bikes may indeed use the sidewalks. It is also a state that requires the use of a bike lane if it is present, unless it is unsafe to use ( which is sadly the case for most of them, but local law enforcement seemed determined to stick to the first part of that while ignoring the later and they really do not like non residents pointing that out to them ). Helmets are not required, and only the serious cyclists will be seen wearing them with any regularity.
It is a beautiful thing to see so many bikes, pedestrians, skateboards, scooters and runners out an about without their cars. Lots of smiles. People waving, chatting, enjoying the outdoors. It only marred by the disconnect that occurs as soon as we get behind the wheel of a car.
While riding on the same roads as the rented mopeds and golf carts, having the occupants cheer as a bike rides past them, moving over to make space for the bike, and then mixing with cars who go out of their way to block the same bikes from passing. This is a behavior that I have seen for years away from bike friendly infrastructure when dealing with cars.
The only conclusion that I keep circling back to is this:
Something about the operation of a car has a fundamental psychologic impact upon us. When we get behind the wheel of a car, we become almost pathologically selfish and isolated, with a must get ahead of *that* person, as all costs. We take obscene risks with other peoples lives in the interests of getting somewhere just a few seconds faster.
When it comes to advocacy of anything that is not a car, that is the one thing we have to change. Everything else is slapping a bandaid patch onto that problem.
Because really, it might just be the car that is the problem.