Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Forget the rules

People who ride their bikes against traffic make me wish I had a grenade launcher. This is just one of several reasons I don't have a grenade launcher, regardless of my Second Amendment rights.

Blame my short index fingers: I have an anger problem. In the course of a single day I drop enough F-bombs to level a small city. Catastrophes leave me unmoved, but petty annoyances hot wire my brain. Sparks fly.

Wednesday morning, when I rode up Main Street to work I met a gray-haired woman on her hybrid riding against traffic. I never know exactly what to do with those people. If I go to the right to shove them into oncoming traffic, I'm closer to parked cars or the debris field in the gutter. I might not want to go farther to the left at that moment. Even if I do, I hate to enable the wrong-way rider.

This morning we had a clear sight line for quite a distance, so I sat up, hands off the bars, and pointed, first at her, then at the proper side of the street, several times.

She just laughed at me and rode by.

"Ha ha ha, ya dumb b#&*^!!" I said in a loud conversational tone. It was a tone appropriate to conversation at, say, a rock concert. Glancing back I thought I saw her swing over to the proper side of the street. I turned my attention back to my own course.

It only occurred to me later that I might know this person. I still don't know for sure, but I did see her riding back to the coffee shop. I reflected glumly on my short fuse and blunt language.

In town traffic I ride in the lane anyway. The wrong-way cyclist is therefore no more trouble for me than for a motorist. The rider will pass my right elbow, no doubt oblivious to my sneer of contempt.

Out on the busy highway it's more of a problem. I have run a wrong-way cyclist into the ditch because I could not shoulder into traffic in the only available lane and I wasn't going to take the ditch myself. Fortunately there WAS a ditch. It would have been much uglier in one of the sections hemmed in by guard rails. The offender, a regular commuter who rides my route in the opposite direction, has not ridden against traffic again, at least not around me.

At the end of the day, riding out Route 28, I heard a strange engine behind me. It turned out to be a fat man on a large ATV. Riding an ATV on the highway is illegal enough. Then he whipped it across the highway and started heading down the throat of oncoming cars. I started cheering, laughing and applauding that display of sheer selfishness and brass balls. The fat man turned his bald head to see where that noise was coming from. Meanwhile, cars flashed their lights and slowed sharply as he turned into his driveway.

I had a revelation in that moment. Who cares which side of the road you ride on? Everyone has a moral obligation to watch out for people doing stupid things. Enough people get away with stupid things to make all the whining and preaching about "proper" behavior seem a little ridiculous. What's the big deal? Any driver who knows what they're doing will see you no matter what direction you're coming from.

Road rage mostly stems from our deceived expectation that other people will do "the right thing" in a given situation. Many of our operating rules are based on the principle of taking turns. It's my turn. It's your turn. Hey! Don't cut in on my turn! Don't take that! It's MINE! You get to go AFTER me! I'm telling!!

If we dump the rules, everyone has to watch out. If you come into an intersection with no idea who will do what, you bet you'll pay attention.

During the transition period, traditionalists will righteously kill other road users. After the initial bloodbath, things will settle down to a new norm.

You're already free to act as if the rules do not exist. Even if you ride legally, if a motorist kills you they will probably face no charges at all. Bicyclists are tolerated at best, never welcomed, as part of the traffic mix. There's an automatic assumption that anyone who ventures out there without massive horsepower and armor plating is simply asking for inevitable catastrophe. When the worst happens it is simply nature's cruel justice. Soft little animals get crushed by larger, harder ones.

Soft little animals proliferated by exploiting niches the large ones could not. They did it by breeding in large numbers to offset large losses. They survive by agility and by appearing in any number of ways unappetizing.

Coincidentally, I finally started reading Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt today. It addresses questions I had been pondering for years. For instance, I wondered if there was buggy rage and competitive driving when conveyances were horse-drawn. The answer is yes. Humans on wheels have always had a tendency to turn into jerks. That includes past and present bicyclists. I knew from other reading that draisine (Laufmaschine) riders had engaged in antics worthy of any rowdy crowd on a weekend night, annoying people with reckless operation. People have many different temperaments, but nearly everyone has been some kind of a jerk at some time while operating a vehicle. I guarantee I have. I've barely started the book. It's fascinating.


limom said...

Wrong way riders bother me the mostest!
Usually for like ten seconds, the amount of time it takes me to pass them.
I can't let them slide, but I won't let them ruin my ride.

cafiend said...

Yeah, there are definitely worse things, or at least things with more hang time.

Steve A said...

If you haven't seen it, go to


Must be psychic waves traveling around the blogosphere...

Kokorozashi said...

Great post! I, too, am trying to convince myself not to want to throttle wrong-way riders (likewise drivers who get in front of me, then stop at a green light).

I really like your 'Everyone has a responsiblity to watch out for people doing stupid things' philosophy.

Also, now I know why I have a flash-bomb temper in stupid, piddly little situations but am rock-steady calm in a crisis! Thanks!

I, too, have short index fingers (also, short pinkies, but that's neither here nor there).

kfg said...

You don't need the buggy, just the horse to do the road rage thang. In essence that's where steeplechase racing (off road rage?) came from and before the teenager on a fixie there was the teenager on an Arabian. It ain't the wheels that bring it out. It's the speed as power thang. I suppose the Greek and Inca messengers even had something like runner's rage. See the movie version of "City of Ember" (although I don't obligate you to like it).

Still, the wheels don't hurt and allow multi-horsepower. See the movie version of Ben Hur. Road Rage even works as a vicarious spectator sport.