Sunday, January 9, 2011

Riding Responsibly in the Frosty Air...

Yesterday, I wish I had cloned myself or simply timed my day more effectively. As it was, I attended a school event that I am writing up for this coming week. That meant I missed WABA's New Year's Resolution Ride. So here's the report from Shane Farthing himself:

I'll be curious to see how this effort fares. Already I've seen comments in the blogosphere of cyclists who feel they're being blamed for the actions of others, etc.

I understand the frustration, but that reminds me of my days in a classroom when my (9th grade) students would complain about how I insisted on some basics: no cheating, no rudeness. Of course I'd get the "..but other people do it" argument, and lots of questions like "But why should we do x if other people won't?"

I'm grateful that for me the answer to that question is: because what I do matters most of all, to me. I mean, why wouldn't I want to be able to say that I behave in a way that --when I see it in others--I admire?

Sure, I screw up, but why not make the effort and succeed in small ways? I consider it payoff enough when a motorist shows me courtesy, when we can exchange a smile, a nod, a thumbs-up. We live in a community that I would like to see become better, safer, warmer.

Two sets of lyrics come to mind: Joan Armatrading's somewhat guarded, "Kind words and a real good heart, don't mean you get respect." And my imagined response from Elvis Costello in the song, "What's so funny about peace, love and understanding?"

Yeah, I know. I'm such a sap.


  1. No actually there were two components to the distaste (backlash is too strong a word).

    One was the "I pledge to stop beating my wife" aspect of the pledge. The second was the fact that it sent the wrong message to government, law enforcement, and non-cyclists. Secondly, it failed to address the larger problem, which is that one of the prejudices that WABA should be combatting is that cycling "scofflawism" is some sort of significant problem. Everyone agrees that the *perception* of cyclists as scofflaws is a problem. But the answer to this is an education campaign as to why cyclists behave in such a way. Because a non-trivial number of cyclists will *always* slow-roll stop-signs. Or proceed through red-lights when no traffic is coming. This is for the same reason that pedestrians jaywalk when there's no traffic in sight. And cars drive 5 mph over the speed limit.

    If the predominant sentiment of the age was to deny drivers the right to the road because 99.999% of them exceed the speed limit, you can bet that AAA wouldn't be conceding the point that such behavior is intolerable, and distributing a pledge to its members asking them to always drive below the posted speed limits. First of all, it would be counter-productive, since they'd be reinforcing the negative framing. Secondly, they'd lose a massive number of members--because generally drivers don't engage in a whole lot of self-flagellation.

    It certainly has nothing to do with cyclists refusing to behave "admirably" out of some sort of gratuitous mulishness.

    Richard Layman has an extended (and more coherent) take on it here:

  2. Interesting take and I understand your viewpoint--and your frustration. I guess my point is: I have no problem with making the statement that riding responsibly is something I take seriously. I don't see myself as giving ground by taking a pledge to do so. It's not a request for permission to road access, it's just a statement, that yes, this is what I try to do. I also try to obey the laws as a motorist and as a pedestrian.

    But like you, I also get very tired of being painted as either a nutcase or a scofflaw simply because I hop on a bike to get around. I get tired of the rap that cyclists are 'taking' something away from motorists when we are simply making use of the roads that we pay for too. But then again, I get tired any time someone wants to paint with a broad brush and make snap judgments based on one piece of information about me.

    And yes, I'd like those same motorists who go on rants about scofflaw cyclists to do a self-check. How many times to they speed, make illegal U-turns, change lanes without signalling, double-park, roll right past a stop-line at a red light? (Doesn't this get covered in driver's ed? Do drivers not know what a stop line is vs the crosswalk?)But I think we can get mired in the "Yeah, but he broke the law first..." kind of arguments.

    To be fair, AAA Potomac has indeed launched a number of public safety campaigns over the years. Back in 1996, they commissioned a study on aggressive driving, and launched a public education campaign on the issue. AAA Potomac also lobbied for tougher laws in Maryland including those aimed at protecting pedestrians(most notably the campaign to change Maryland's vehicular manslaughter laws). And no, this isn't a commercial for the organization, it's just that I've covered these issues myself, locally and in Annapolis.