when cars turn against people

Yesterday on the Saturday community bicycle ride down Lake Mary Road south of Flagstaff, a chevy pickup driver steered his vehicle into two bicyclists, hitting them with his truck, while screaming “get out of the road!”.  Unfortunately during the summer tourist season bicyclists receive low level harassment and are endangered by motorists regularly.  This is not the first incident I’ve been present at when a motorist forcefully used her/his vehicle to “teach us a lesson”.  The kind Sheriff responding to our 911 call yesterday must have been wondering, why would we keep coming out to do this ride when our safety continually is threatened?  First, it is an appropriate road to do a group bicycle ride on (more on that in an upcoming post!).  Second, well, we are Americans, and Americans don’t compromise their passions for living just because hate criminals and people willing to take advantage of power differentials are out there on the prowl.  We are a courageous not cowardly people.  Third, intolerance is antithetical to American values, and we stand up for those values, not run away from attacks on our common bond of civility.  Hostile traffic and road rage is not unique to bicycling, it is a problem for everybody.  We believe in equality and justice, the sanctity of human dignity in every individual, the right to pursue happiness, and recognizing our common humanity beyond the labels that describe our differences.  There is no better place than the United States for these ideals to thrive.  We need to support victims, not reprimand them, and teach vehicle operators that escalating a misunderstanding or trying to punish someone, or even being rude to a fellow road user, is a non-starter.

Law abiding bicyclists riding with consideration for others have no need to apologize.  After repeatedly being treated like they are doing something wrong, most cyclists I know end up thinking from someplace deep inside themselves that can’t quite be pinpointed that there is something wrong with riding a bicycle on the road, that there is something wrong with them.  These are symptoms of being a recipient of continual abuse.  This is a rather traumatic “normalized” state for people to be functioning in.  It is a drain on society, the families and children of bicyclists, for our employers, for reaping the full service potential from our citizenship.  The most common reaction is for people to turn away from road biking and retreat to mountain biking, or some other calming activity.  The closing of opportunities is a huge problem we can reverse with a concerted, unified, sustained effort.  Often times law abiding bicyclists’ safe and predicable road manners are misinterpreted by motorists who don’t understand other points of view exist on the road besides the one from their own windshield.  I sent a letter to the editor to the Arizona Daily Sun knowing this educational component was not universally understood.  The Pima County Sheriff’s Office put out a nice memo clarifying the commonly misunderstood rights of bicyclists.  http://azbikelaw.org/cases/PCSO-2abreast.pdf  It would be beneficial for Flagstaff Police and the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office to jointly develop a uniform enforcement policy confirming the same rights, and for the motor vehicle department to initialize educational campaigns and training modules informing the public of the shared road guidelines.  Check out the “Bicycle Law Enforcement: Enforce Laws with Mutual Respect” article on Flagstaff Cycling.  There are more good resources for bicyclists on where to ride in the “Street Smarts” publication, and it is ok for motorists to cross train in this realm too, even if you don’t ride, perhaps especially if you don’t ride.  The law is on the side of bicyclists, but the public perception needs to come around so differences are better understood from our shared common ground as legitimate citizens on the shared road:  http://azbikelaw.org/blog/take-the-lane/

We have a big mountain to climb in front of us to put these principles into motion as normalized best practices on the road, and to stop the discrimination against bicyclists.  The best thing we can do is to understand why these crimes are happening and make sure drivers have the tools, knowledge and support they need to make peaceful decisions going forward.  We can forgive, warm up our hearts with compassion and move forward, recommitting to relating to each other on equal, mutually respectful terms.  I hope the riders that were hit yesterday are healing up OK, in their bodies (they appeared OK, they were very lucky, and highly skilled to stay upright), but equally so in their psyches, where post traumatic stress syndrome can sneak in and start strangulating the state of feeling well.  Keep riding, be rolling ambassadors, take care of each other, come forward and voice your concerns so everyone hears from you, and never stop working to make the shared road a microcosm for the democratic values we formed this wonderful nation to preserve.  We can do better than bashing each other around.  Let’s give hope some legs.  Time to go for a ride!

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