The Ides of August was hellish for people trying to get home from work. It was a hot day by Vancouver standards, without much of a breeze, but the sweat on the brows was more caused by a series of incidents where cars unsuccessfully tried to share space with one another.
However, on a hot day like this, one incident causing delay often cascades into a series of other incidents as people become less patient, less rational, and the natural dehumanizing effects of being in a car get people treating everyone around them, the people they share a community with, like their mortal enemies for having the gall of trying to do the same thing they themselves are doing because aaaAAAARRGGH!
I commute by car, by transit, and by bike, depending on day, weather, schedule, and lifestyle factors. Yesterday, I was fortunate to have taken my bike into work, so my commute home was relatively stress free. I have to admit a bit of smugness enters the mind when you are relaxed on a bike, enjoying the weather, and pedaling softly by a long line of single-occupant cars, which almost offsets the self-hatred I suffer every time I am in the car, stuck in a line, and see some much happier person riding their bike past me. However, having been that person stuck in a car, stuck in traffic that I am also a part of, it never occurred to me to blame the person on the bike for my physical predicament, or my mental state.
So yesterday, I am riding east along Westminster Highway near the Nature Park during this traffic chaos when I see something new to me. I am exposed to Richmond Drivers on a daily basis, but this was a little over the top. There was a line of about six or seven cars just rolling down the bike lane. It is almost as if the drivers had decided that two lanes were not enough, and had, en masse, decided this is a three lane road, passing the vehicles stuck to their left. At some point, a group of about 4 were stopped at a light, and I rolled past them. This might have been a little untoward, but after all, it is a bike lane – no sharrows or bus stop or shared parking space or right turn lane ambiguity here, and I was on a bicycle.
This was too much for a guy in a 4th generation Camaro Convertible with the ginormous Polska Pride flag decal covering the the hood. He took the opportunity to suggest to me in no uncertain terms, that I should not be riding my bicycle “on the road”. I saw this as a great time to remind him that I was, in fact in a bike lane, as evidenced by the nearby signage, and that he, in fact was also in the bike lane, without a bike, so I may have been in the right here.
At this point, he started into a lengthy screed, which was about 40% profanity and about 60% Bruce Allen “reality check”, neither of which were probably appropriate for the 8 year old in the passenger seat to witness. The short version was that bicycle riders don’t buy insurance, they should not be on the road, and that I, although obviously homosexual, engage in unwholesome acts with my mother.
I rode away from him and his impotent rage, and generally enjoyed the rest of my ride home. I did so, however, once again wondering what it is about driving a car that dehumanizes us. Why do we behave in a line of cars like we never would in a line at a bank? Why do we feel a car allows us the threaten and intimidate other people, be they children or senior citizens, and yell racial and homohpbic epithets that we would never do at a public park, on the beach, at work or in a mall? Outside of actual war, is there any other group activity we volunteer to engage in where we so publicly and unabashedly hate the people we are surrounded by? Why do we even do it?
Also, what is this strange fascination with attempting to license bicycles like they are some sort of parallel with cars? As His Snobbiness (slightly profanely) reminds us: you don’t need a commercial pilot’s license to operate a car. Bicycles present pretty nearly no risk whatsoever to drivers, passengers, or public property, except for some risk of scuffing the paint on their car, for which ICBC will make the person at fault pay. Even if I did buy insurance attendant to the risk I present to third parties (which would surely cost a few dollars a year relative to the risk I pose when I shuffle down the road at 100km/h in 2,000lbs of steel), do I think Mr. Polska Camaro is suddenly going to see me as a legitimate sharer of road space and afford me respect?
Yet for some reason, otherwise seemingly rational public servants from Toronto to Vancouver suggest there is some problem with adults riding bicycles that licensing can somehow cure. They aren’t too sure what the problem is, and have a hard time tying this solution to it, but they need to be seen to be doing something about the bicycles, because people in bicycles are not angry enough.
Let’s all try to get along, folks. Autumn is nearly here.