Friday, January 29, 2016

The impact of peer pressure

Every year in this country, dozens of people take up transportation cycling, while thousands get their license to drive.

During driving season, I think about these things as I wait to emerge from the steel shell and return to the the sane and satisfying pace of pedaling.

Yesterday, I was chatting with a fellow bike commuter who has had two serious impacts in the past two years. In the first instance (not HIS first by any means), he failed to control the lane and got right-hooked by an impatient and oblivious woman in an SUV. He has a headlong personality, so he can be hard to convince when his negligence might have contributed. And the right hook indicates the motorist's inability and lack of inclination to look for vulnerable users in the death slot before turning.

The second crash was fully the motorist's fault. The driver of a pickup truck made a methodical left turn in front of the cyclist, who was fully in the lane that time, and sitting up, wearing bright colors and all the rest of the safety mantra.

Motocentric mentality absorbs the majority of road users. I need to use the faster vehicle myself in this rural area, where at times I need to go from one place to the next faster than I can pedal it. In my early 30s I would reel off a 50-mile day of assorted errands, but that left no time for other things, like keeping a marriage intact.

Even now I have three cats by my second marriage. While the cellist is away chasing the orchestra dollar, I have to be there for our family. That limits my urge to roam.

Most people assume they have to drive and want to drive. The fact that they are far more impeded by a slow motorist squarely in the lane in front of them for mile after mile than they are by a cyclist or two that they have to slow briefly to pass safely does not get through to them. The slow idiot in a motor vehicle is at least a fellow motorist. They might flip them off, flash the lights, or -- occasionally -- shoot them, but they're at least driving, albeit driving annoyingly badly.

As an experienced cyclist I feel the peer pressure emanating from motor vehicle as they pass. I've been fortunate to avoid major impacts in the past 29 years, but I assume no immunity. Eternal vigilance is the price of a relatively intact skeleton. Scars are cool and all, but injury and healing are expensive and cost you a lot of down time.

I fear legislators more than I fear fellow road users. New Hampshire has fairly enlightened bike laws, but no law is set in stone. Even if they were, there's a whole industry devoted to arguing over interpretation. Laws oppressing cyclists, forcing things like riding to the far right at all times, or even mandatory dismounting for the convenience of passing drivers deserve to be ignored, but they legitimize aggression by motorists, when aggressive motorists already need no excuse. Lawmakers succumb to the peer pressure of the motorist majority to suppress the rights of the pedaling minority.

Any discussion of the cyclist-motorist interface quickly leads to a full-spectrum discussion of advocacy and infrastructure. Have at it. I have to get to work.

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