Instead of freaking out, if we redirect our frustration over the actions of fellow human beings toward reflection and understanding, it may help us better empathize with people and not dismiss them as idiots or jerks. So, here’s me redirecting some frustration I have by writing a blog post instead of doing something I wouldn’t be proud of.

I’m a bike commuter. I love it. But nearly everyday, I see my fellow cyclists do things that hurt their interests and mine too. I want to say they are being stupid (oops, I said it) but what I mean is that they are being human. Keep in mind that I love these people. They reduce congestion and pollution while they stay in shape, connect with the out-of-doors, save money and get to work—all at the same time. I wish everyone would. (In Copenhagen, when the traffic light changes, thirty bikes go past first; then the cars. What’s not to like?) Like me, the cyclists I talk with are cycling advocates, generally speaking, and would like to see more bikes and fewer cars. But riding is a risky in Baltimore. The city is only beginning to make room for us, and there is some real animosity between drivers and cyclists. There are more drivers than cyclists, and they vote. So, you’d think that all cyclists would want to act as if they were ambassadors for cycling in order to help build positive feelings about cycling and cyclists among the population overall. This might eventually lead to more bike routes, more bike lanes, more bike paths and less hostility. But because a huge factor in human behavior is expedience, cyclists do certain things that improve their short-term objectives a little, but ultimately hurt their long-term goals a lot. They regularly run traffic lights to shave a few seconds off their commute times. Even though Maryland law says that cyclists have to obey essentially the same rules as cars, off these cyclists go—whizzing through intersections at the moment they think they’re safe, though the light is red. It irks drivers to no end to see cyclists do what they themselves cannot do. Further, despite that the city spent some of the little money it has to build a separate bike path next to Falls Rd., cyclists often choose to ride out in the road instead. I feel like a tattletale—a traitor for reporting this, but it’s true and it’s important. What does it say to city drivers and city taxpayers who see it?

Humans, right? We are complex. We do things for lots of intermingled reasons. Separate parts of our brains compete to rule our behavior. Older, reptilian areas wrestle with centers of emotion and neo-cortical thoughtfulness, reason, and foresight, and the biggest brain part doesn’t automatically win. We subvert our own thoughtfulness by deploying it to do the bidding of the reptile. We rationalize to avoid inconvenience even when that inconvenience will multiply over time as a result. A bike commuter might say to himself, “Hey, drivers treat me like shit anyway and the city obviously doesn’t care about me either. I owe these people nothing. They can bite me.” Here, a biker consults her sense of justice in order to justify, rather than act in her own interest and in ways that benefit everyone else as well.

Is the human ability to know better a curse when we can still choose to act worse?

 

  • black_eye

    As a long-time bike commuter, both in Baltimore and elsewhere, I have to take issue with a couple of your points. First, the trail on Falls Road is not a designated bike trail. It’s a mixed-use trail, and not wide enough to accommodate bike commuters, joggers, and pedestrians, who are often walking two or three abreast and/or pushing strollers or walking dogs. Trying to ride at a decent speed on this trail is extremely frustrating. Currently, Maryland state law only requires that cyclists ride in a designated bike lane if present (it’s one of only 5 states with this arcane requirement); the Falls Road trail does not qualify as such and so cyclists are free to ride on the road. This trail also forces you to cross against Falls Road traffic twice, at points near dangerous blind spots on a road where drivers regularly travel at speeds well over 40 mph. Second, with regard to running red lights, while I acknowledge that this is technically illegal, as a driver I would much prefer that a cyclist move safely through an intersection with a red light or a stop sign in order to get ahead of traffic rather than have the cyclist wait at the light and hold up traffic while starting from a dead stop. In Baltimore City, there is rarely room for bikes and cars to wait at a
    light together and each have their own lane to move forward in at their
    own pace. This concept of permitting cyclists to both yield at stop signs and pause before moving safely through red lights is known as “Stop as yield” / “Red as stop” and is an actual statute in Idaho, with other states hopefully to follow. This is conjecture based on observation, but I believe most drivers just want cyclists out of their way and if that means they get a jump on the light, then so be it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lboot Lee Boot

      black_eye makes great points. I realize that the path on Falls is mixed use, and realize that’s not optimal, but it’s something and motorists don’t make the distinction when they honk and shake their fists. I agree with the wisdom of the “Stop as yield” idea too. First would be for MD to adopt it, second would be for the state to make sure motorists understand it.

  • Jorel Guire

    I agree with black_eye on the Falls Road point.  The Falls Road trail is not an official bike trail and the crossings are completely unlit.