For most of my cycling life I have considered the responsibilities of cyclists as well as their rights. Because our contributions to environmental and social health are not recognized, motorists believe we have made a lifestyle choice that has a direct effect on the motorist lifestyle. They have to maneuver around us. We have voluntarily inconvenienced them.
Unquestionably, widespread use of bicycles could improve public health. Car-free inner cities would automatically create a more humane landscape and reduce the sense of personal isolation you get when you seal people in glass jars. But it ain't happening soon. So, wherever we ride, we're out there with the flow of larger, faster, more powerful vehicles filled with harried, over-scheduled people.
All our communication tools and transportation options have allowed us to jam our lives with whatever seems important. If relaxed contemplation is the casualty I guess that's tough. Courtesy seems to have gone down along with it, but who has time for that, either?
I want a jersey and a sign for the back window of my car, both of which say, "It's not my fault you're late."
With all this in mind, I was in a hurry yesterday, thinking, "I'm glad it's winter. I won't have to slow down for any cyclists." I would certainly slow down. And I refuse to tailgate when I drive, no matter what kind of hurry I'm in. But it made me consider how much leeway we need to give the over-scheduled, over-stressed majority.
Just because it's normal doesn't make it right. If everyone chain-smoked, it would still be deadly. So in one sense I feel cyclists set a good example by choosing a healthier option in the face of mass opinion to the contrary. Americans notoriously resist nearly everything that is good for them. They quickly flock to slogans praising the "freedom" they express by obstinately laying waste to themselves and their environment. But some people really do have to drive somewhere, and we can't be sure, in many cases, whether the person coming up behind us is one of the destroyers of society or just some poor schlump on a reasonably tight schedule.
A cyclist is a lot easier to pass than a loaded truck, a school bus or a piece of heavy equipment. A broken-down bike doesn't block a whole lane of traffic during rush hour. Cyclists who ride like jerks gum up the works, but Darwin has a way of dealing with them. Too bad they color the opinion of all other road users. All we can do there is try to ride better and distance ourselves from the anarchists who lack the maturity to see how the better world can be built to accommodate a wide range of needs.