I frequent the MTBR forums a bit more than I should. Mostly the commuting and fat-bike ones. I post a bit and I read a bit. And I’m often a bit confused by what I see and read over there. Sometimes I’m puzzled. Sometimes I have deep questions raised from the discussions.
One such question that has popped into my mind stems from one of the regular posters over there who lives in a big city in eastern Canadia. Where they talk French mostly. I don’t remember which city, but it’s irrelevant.
What is relevant is that most of his posts involve some dumb-ass driver doing something dumb-assed and nearly killing him. In fact he was recently hit while commuting. And that sucks. I get it.
So, he’s gone out and bought a camera to record his daily commute and the crazy drivers so that he can take the footage to the police and try to get some redress. Much like this guy, I guess.
And that’s cool. I guess.
But it does raise a question for me. From a philosophical standpoint. I mean, if the future is always already mediated by the present and our projections of what we want the future to hold, then if someone — a bike commuter, say — goes out for his daily commute thinking that, “Shit, another day where a driver is going to do something stupid and just about kill me,” then does it not stand to reason that this is the exact outcome he will face?
Whether the drivers are doing stupid shit or not, has this cyclist entered into a mind-set where even if the drivers are doing everything right that the three-foot passing zone will be perceived as much less than three feet? That the driver who passes and then makes a right hand turn, seemingly only inches from his front tire, is actually passing and turning well within a safe distance and there is no willing intent to harm the cyclist? That the minor traffic offenses such as not using a blinker or rolling through a stop sign are not necessarily signs of bad or even distracted driving, but simply conforming to the unwritten agreements that drivers in that location have come to?
I don’t want to come across as sounding like drivers do everything right and that there aren’t any out there who do drive with malicious intent towards cyclists. But it often seems that we, as cyclists, tend to manifest bad experiences.
Personally, I know that if I am in a bad mood, or if my mind is not 100 percent on the riding, I am much more likely to feel that a driver overtaking or making a turn in front of me is doing something illegal or dangerous or malicious. Of course, this negativity then feeds into other interactions and it seems to create a spiral of shitty drivers who are just out to get me.
But when I sit back and think about it, most times those interactions and the negativity of them have been driven by my own emotional state at the time. Yes, there are drivers who just plain should not have a license and, being a cyclist, interactions with these drivers is quite disturbing as we don’t have the death-box cages to protect us from their mistakes. And so we get worked up about what we view as drivers being willfully negligent and wanting to kill us. Then we post articles about it and scream about it wherever we can and further build the divide between cyclists and drivers.
I suggest that maybe we are our own worst enemies here when it comes to feeling safe on the streets. Or maybe I am willfully naïve, but I try everything in my power to not think about that big redneck truck behind me revving his engine as anything more than some guy with a small unit trying to get the cute girl in the next lane over to look at him. He’s not out to kill me. At least not anymore than he is out to kill any other road-user who slows him down.
Admittedly, my interactions with drivers on my commute are fairly limited. The morning commute is before traffic really starts to heat up and the evening commute has only a brief amount of on-road riding. This said, though, I have had a number of different commute routes that put me on some hairy Anchorage roads — Tudor, C street, Arctic, Northern Lights — and I did have some negative encounters on those routes. And Anchorage has, I think, some of the worst drivers in the Americas simply because we have drivers from all over the place each trying to drive according to the driving mores of their home-place. But honestly, I’ve had as many or more negative experiences on the roadways while driving.
I’m much more nervous while driving. Does that correlate to having more negative experiences while driving? Maybe. Am I mediating my future through my projections in the present (i.e., when I post a comment to the forums about a bad commuting experience, am I creating a future in which these negative events are more likely to occur)?
I don’t know, but I wonder how much this ties together. If we are the architects of our own futures, then how much influence do our expectations about upcoming negative experiences have? If I expect that I am going to have a bad experience with a driver today, will I have a bad experience with a driver?
Or are drivers really so bad that some cyclists really do have shitty experiences with drivers daily?
Then, let’s throw the camera into the equation. Many commuters are turning to cameras to help catch drivers doing something stupid as a way to provide evidence when something bad happens. I can understand wanting to have something to prove that the driver is at fault.
As with pre-mediation, does the camera become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Does our having a camera to catch those bastards in the act tend to bring out more of the bastards?
Again, I don’t know. I’ve got nothing to prove one way or the other. But it sure seems like the folks who post close calls while on the commute tend to be the same people time and time again. Which to me, maybe through faulty causation or whatever, seems to point to the fact that they are manifesting a world into which they are prone to having these types of negative interactions on a regular basis. Or they have realized that posting about a negative commuting experience results in a lot of response posts from other forum users and they grow addicted to the feedback (celebrity?) so they post bad experiences all the time? I don’t know.
So here is the crux of the matter I’m trying to get at, I think: Cyclists as commuters are vulnerable. We know this. The nature of cycling is vulnerable. However, I suggest that there are too many activists out there blaming the car only and that this pre-mediates all of our future interactions with vehicles.
If we look to the cycle-droid dude I think he provides a damned good example of this. Through his actions and his interactions it is clear that his intent is to find bad drivers. He takes pleasure in catching people behaving badly, so he’s always going to find someone behaving badly. In doing so and in his confrontations with these “bad drivers” he engenders negative stereotypes of cyclists in the drivers so that they are less inclined to have any type of sympathy with our needs for safety on the road – thus continuing the problem rather than resolving it. And too often this is the case.
How many times has your first reaction to being cut off by a driver, or honked at or yelled at, to throw up a middle finger and shout something akin to “fuck you?” We get angry when someone does something that frightens us and our first response to that anger is to respond in kind. To try to make the cause of our anger and fear also fearful and an aggressive response is what we know can cause the desired response. But this just feeds into a negative feedback loop, promulgating the whole biker versus car conundrum we find ourselves in right now. We manifest negativity to feed our negativity. We become the enemy within.
Wow. Isn’t this a whole bunch of confused philosophical mumbo-jumbo? Give a guy a single philosophy course during grad school and he thinks he’s freakin’ Hegel or Barthes.
That is all. Merry, freakin’ X-mas.