Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Oh, Now I Er, mmmmmm, Understand?
Many of us are sick to the back teeth of the sickos on cycles who turn any walk though a city into a navigational nightmare. There exists, in California, a startlingly rare insect. The Ohlone tiger beetle is found in just five locations, all areas of less than two hectares within Santa Cruz county.
The beetles emerge for two months every year to mate and feed, and, for some reason, they choose to mate and feed on trails through grass. That has created a problem, however, because these trails are hugely popular with local cyclists. Mountain bikers are now believed to be the single greatest threat to the survival of this species as they squish and squash their way through the beetle population.
The Ohlone tiger beetle has been given federal protected status, and signs have been posted alongside many of its favourite trails, expressly banning cycling. But guess what? The cyclists don't care. "If this beetle is only found in five places, maybe it's no longer viable as a species. If the beetle's going to survive, it's going to have to change its habits," one irate cyclist told a local paper, the Santa Cruz Metro.
And there you have it, the perfect summation of the cycling mindset: no, I won't change. I'll ride wherever I want. You can't stop me. So a species faces extinction? I'm meant to walk my bike for that? Get out of here! None of which is news to pedestrians.
In all the kerfuffle over who should be liable for road accidents involving bikes - cyclists or motorists - one group, the most vulnerable of all, was forgotten: the foot-soldiers of urban transport, the walkers. And many of us are sick to the back teeth of the sickos on cycles who turn any walk though a city into a navigational nightmare.
What hazards do we face? Cyclists who decide a one-way system is too much hassle for them, and take to the pavement instead. Cyclists who decide the traffic light system is for guidance only - red means go, unless there is a clear and present danger to the cyclist's safety; amber just means go - regardless of whether pedestrians are crossing the road. Cyclists who appear to believe zebra crossings are only designed to compel cars to stop. Cyclists who decide No Cycling signs on park paths don't apply to them.
It's easy to work out why the victimisation - and that is what it is - of pedestrians by cyclists is ignored. We are not as vulnerable to cyclists as they are to motorists. We don't get killed when we are hit by cyclists, and rarely are we hospitalised. In 1998, the last year for which casualty rates have been compiled, fewer than 100 pedestrians required hospital treatment after collision with cyclists.
But that doesn't mean recklessly ploughing through crowds of pedestrians is acceptable, or that hitting them doesn't really matter. I could put a drawing pin on your seat every day for a year, which would cause you pain and drive you wild with anger, but it wouldn't necessitate your seeing a doctor. That's how many urban pedestrians feel about cyclists: we are at the end of our collective tether. We want only to be able to cross the road when the little man is on green, and to walk on our designated paths without the risk of being knocked to the ground. But cyclists will not grant us that courtesy.
Naturally, they all deny their guilt. All regular bike riders condemn "kamikaze cyclists" who "give the rest of us a bad name". In fact, finding a cyclist who admits to wilfully ignoring the rules of the road is as difficult as finding a white South African who will admit to having supported apartheid. "No mate, not me. Never do a thing like that. Terrible."
Even when caught red-handed, cyclists simply attack. Twice on a recent Sunday, I pointed out to cyclists riding along a pedestrian-only path in my local park that they were in the wrong. On neither occasion did I swear. On both I was told to "fuck off", once by an elderly woman, once by a young woman who told me she was "nowhere near your fucking child". Maybe so, but that's not the point: the point is I should be free to let my two-year-old daughter walk on pedestrian paths without worrying that she might be hit by a bike rider.
Cyclists' arrogance towards pedestrians stems, I think, from the moral high ground they have seized in their battle with motorists. Compared with urban drivers of sports utility vehicles, riders are paragons of environmentally friendly safety. And they think they retain that status no matter what they do. But we walkers are less dangerous - the only person who might end up in A&E when a pedestrian walks across a road against the lights is that pedestrian - and we are even more environmentally friendly.
The most depressing aspect of the clash between cyclists and pedestrians is the animus it is generating on the part of the latter. A fellow walker told me: "If I saw a cyclist get knocked down and hurt because they'd ignored a set of lights, I wouldn't care." I feel the same, no matter how wrong and appalling it is to do so. But, riders, you brought it on yourselves.