|[Stafford's photo is a classic psychologist stereotype.]|
Here's the key point of the piece:
So now we can see why there is an evolutionary pressure pushing motorists towards hatred of cyclists. Deep within the human psyche, fostered there because it helps us co-ordinate with strangers and so build the global society that is a hallmark of our species, is an anger at people who break the rules, who take the benefits without contributing to the cost. And cyclists trigger this anger when they use the roads but don't follow the same rules as cars.Now, cyclists reading this might think "but the rules aren't made for us – we're more vulnerable, discriminated against, we shouldn't have to follow the rules." Perhaps true, but irrelevant when other road-users perceive you as breaking rules they have to keep. Maybe the solution is to educate drivers that cyclists are playing an important role in a wider game of reducing traffic and pollution. Or maybe we should just all take it out on a more important class of free-riders, the tax-dodgers.
While Stafford frames his piece as a simple attempt to understand the mysteries of anti-bike rage, he ends up picking sides, condemning bicyclists as being "free riders" within a system of moral order. It's a new argument, and it's entirely misleading.
The main problem here is that car drivers generally, and Stafford in particular, are universalizing the system of rules for automobiles we've developed, and applying them to everyone. Stafford calls this the "moral activity" of driving, and describes it with a bit too much reverence:
Driving is a very moral activity – there are rules of the road, both legal and informal, and there are good and bad drivers. The whole intricate dance of the rush-hour junction only works because people know the rules and by-and-large follow them: keeping in lane; indicating properly; first her turn, now mine, now yours. Then along come cyclists, innocently following what they see are the rules of the road, but doing things that drivers aren't allowed to: overtaking queues of cars, moving at well below the speed limit or undertaking on the inside.
As Tom Vanderbilt's wonderful book Traffic points out, there are infinite codes and rules for different streets in cities around the world, and they're constantly changing and being negotiated in everyday life. Universalizing one automobile standard -- and this case, a constraining, unnecessary, and boring standard -- is shortsighted at best.
[The orderly chaos of San Francisco's Market Street in 1906.]
|[Part of a Minnesota safety guide for bicyclists from 1946, blaming cyclists for 94% of accidents.]|
|[A 1937 WPA poster on jaywalking.]|
The end result was a system of rules that actively discouraged anybody trying to get around on foot, on bike, or using transit. (For example, streetcars used to let people on and off in the middle of the street.) At some point, you reach the absurd situation we have today, where people walking are forced to press buttons and wait long periods to cross the street, bicyclists are told that they "fare best" when acting like motor vehicles, and you're confronted with stop signs for pedestrians.
Luckily, today we're starting to see shifts in auto-dominated Anglo-American cities. Trends like shared space, common-sense stop laws, and bicycle boulevards mark a return to a pre-automobile concept of the street, one that relies far more on a latent moral code than an explicit set of often unenforceable rules. The trend these days is not to make everyone in the city behave at all times like a motor vehicle. Rather, it's to make people distractedly operating fast-moving energy-sucking machines behave more like someone on foot.
|[A Hans Monderman-inspired "shared space" in London.]|
|[Graphic from NYTimes.]|
I roll through a red light if and only if no pedestrian is in the crosswalk and no car is in the intersection — that is, if it will not endanger myself or anybody else. To put it another way, I treat red lights and stop signs as if they were yield signs. A fundamental concern of ethics is the effect of our actions on others. My actions harm no one. This moral reasoning may not sway the police officer writing me a ticket, but it would pass the test of Kant’s categorical imperative: I think all cyclists could — and should — ride like me.The overwhelming majority of "accidents" on city streets are caused by people driving cars, not only killing each other but killing people trying to walk or bike to get around. There were 176 cyclists and pedestrians killed by cars on the streets of New York City last year. There really isn't an evolutionary or ethical defense of anti-bike rage. The shoe is on the other foot.