Many cyclists will emerge from the shadows now that the days are longer, so should we also expect even more conflict between belligerent motorists and indignant bikers? This writer hopes not.
Philadelphians are eager to make good use of this extra hour of daylight. When they’re not dusting off grills or softball equipment, people are probably inside their homes and apartments… dusting.
One article certain to make its debut for many this spring is sure to be the bicycle. Whether it’s the warm-but-not-yet-face-melting temperatures, a desire to drop a few pounds, or done out of old-fashioned financial necessity, expect plenty of people to be pedaling around for the next couple of months. But should we also expect even more conflict between belligerent motorists and indignant bikers?
I hesitated to even write this essay, because it’s such a well-worn topic around these parts, and each side seems entrenched. But when I noticed some choice quotes in the CityPaper’s “Best of the ‘I Love You/I Hate You‘” column, I couldn’t keep quiet. The vitriol was caustic, as one faceless driver opined that “I hope the next time you [biker] blow through a red light, some car smashes the [stuff] out of you.”
Not to be outdone, a cycling partisan responded that “I bet you’re just some fat pompous [jerk] who drives a Hummer/SUV because you … can’t fit on a bike.” Hyperbole helps get readers’ attention, but is it really doing anybody any good in this case? Obviously, somebody needs to inject a little fresh, sane air into this subject before things get worse.
It doesn’t take getting around on a Schwinn to learn that a lot of drivers out there don’t make use of turn signals or have, at best, a loose grasp of essential road terminology like “stop sign” or “one-way.” And the DMV does not test for thoughtfulness or personal composure when licensing drivers. Of course, encounters with these types are a bit more harrowing from the cyclist’s perspective than from behind the wheel of a large automobile.
But, like Broad, this discussion is a true two-way street. There’s an array of annoying bike-users pedaling around through these bumpy, irregular boulevards. The preachy type. The daredevils who give us all a bad name. The guys who like to dress up like the one-man peloton. And, of course, the many bikes in the city that seem to believe that the directional arrows painted on bike lanes are purely decorative. All of these people are unquestionably in their own world and out of touch with the realities of the road. Speaking as a regular bike rider, these folks annoy me, too, make me late for work, and can make my commute dangerous.
So what’s the solution, then? Are these two sides irreconcilable as countless angry anonymous letters and postings would suggest? Of course not.
Our eyes and ears are always drawn to the most obvious elements that make up this debate: There’s the guy simultaneously eating a burger, tuning his radio dial, and using some electronic device while commandeering his portentous vehicle; and there’s the skinny, helmetless fella on the bike ripping through a red light and narrowly avoiding a baby stroller or something. I swear, these two keep running into one another, literally, causing everyone else to take sides.
So, I propose: Can we all just agree that neither of these caricatures are worth supporting? They’re both idiots.
Despite the angry diatribes, nobody in the city drives around looking for cyclists to murder just as nobody gets on their bike in hopes of causing an accident. Most drivers and bicyclists are safe, responsible, and simply trying to get from one place to an other, incident-free. Every driver surely has a story about an irresponsible cyclist, just as every biker has a cautionary tale of automotive recklessness. These anecdotes can serve to remind us to be careful and remain mindful of one another, but they don’t need to become exaggerated forms of “evidence” about which side is in the right.
There are good reasons to own and operate a bike (it’s cheap, Philly is flat, and I like bike rides), and there are times when cars are the way to go (I want to buy something larger than a backpack, it’s raining, and I’m tired). There’s simply no good reason why we can’t do like the signs say and just share the road.
Wint Huskey lives in Fishtown, works in North Philly, and can be seen riding his bike along points between on weekdays.