SF Cyclotouring

Ride reports and other ramblings from a San Francisco cyclist.

1/05/2007

Two Wrongs Don't Make It Right

On my morning bike-commute to the Caltrain station at 4th and King, I
encounter many traffic signals. One of these signals is, I think, at
5th and Bryant, and is timed in such a way that it often is a four-way
red stop light with a white pedestrian "WALK" in my direction of
travel down 5th. I sometimes take advantage of the pedestrian
right-of-way and roll through this intersection, nudging over towards
the crosswalk -- I acknowledge that this is poor effective-cyclist
behavior on my part.

Today I did this again, since I was late this morning and I was trying
to hustle to catch the last morning bullet train. While I was waiting
at the next red-light intersection (at 5th & Brannan, which doesn't
have the same crosswalk loophole), a motorist in a minivan with a
wireless cellphone microphone plugged into his ear rolled up next to
me and shouted through his open window "Why don't you run this light
too?!".

Apparently to his disbelief, I said "I didn't run the light, I moved
through the crosswalk which had the right-of-way" (admittedly I was
bending things a bit here, as I mentioned above). He stared back at
me blankly and retorted "Of course you did, I saw you, I was sitting
right there!" I replied "Hmm. Like you've never broken the speed
limit, either." "F%#K You" he yelled, and drove away. "No, F#%k
YOU!" I yelled back at him.

I made my train, and once I boarded, racked my bike, and found a seat,
I had time to think on what just happened. Many ideas swirled in my
angered head, but ultimately I realized the age-old rule, oft repeated
by my mother when I was a young kid: "Two Wrongs Don't Make It Right".

When someone confronts you with something you (obviously) did in
error, it doesn't help matters to attack them in return. Two wrongs
don't make it right.

When someone yells profanities at you, it doesn't accomplish anything
to swear back at them. Two wrongs don't make it right.

[And if I WAS going to take the low road, in hindsight I wished I
would've at least been more productively clever and said something
like "Why don't you pull that thing out of your ear and focus on
driving?!"]

As I sat and thought about this incident further, I realized that
there was a broader lesson to be learned here...

Anyone who's bicycled with me knows that I'm a fairly strong supporter
of Effective Cycling practices: Ride your bike like you're driving a
car, with the same rules and responsibilities, resulting in
predictable behavior on the road. For the past many years I've
attempted to do just that, always stopping at every light and sign (my
trackstands got real good, yo!), signaling turns, and using good
lights at night.

I got mad every time I saw a cyclist blow through stop signs or
lights, sometimes chasing them down and attempting snide comments like
"Nice stop, yo!" or "Get some lights!" if they were riding in full
stealth-mode at night. I felt personally violated -- it was my belief
that these ignorant riders were selfishly lowering the bar of respect
for all of us out there pedaling two wheels...see one stupid cyclist,
it's easy to assume we're all like that. At one point my feelings on
this issue got so bad that I nearly decided to stop bicycle commuting,
because I didn't want to be associated with people who behaved so
irresponsibly.

I thought long about this problem, and finally came to the conclusion
that it must be human nature to break a rule when we know we can get
away with it. We're generally selfish beings, right? People on bikes
blow through stop signs because they know they can get away with it.
In our cars, we go 5 or 10 miles per hour more than the speed limit
because we know we can get away with it. Do we ever stop to think
about the larger picture, the cascade of ill-effects we may be
generating? I'm certainly guilty of doing this, just as much as that
minivan driver who crossed me this morning is.

In spite of my perfectionist longings, this train of thought made me
realize "Hey, I'm no better than anyone else" and also "If you can't
beat 'em, join 'em." I decided to stop seeing things in absolute
black and white, and try going shades-of-gray for awhile. Relax! I
rolled through that occasional stop sign when no one was looking.
Blow that traffic signal, no harm no foul. Everyone else does it,
right?

Well, today that old adage "Two Wrongs Don't Make It Right" caught up
with me again, it just took awhile longer than usual. Taking extra
personal liberties on a bike -- just because other imbeciles do too --
doesn't make anything better for anyone, it just makes us ALL look
dumb. Aside from yelling at me and ruining my morning, that driver did me a
favor and reminded me of that, because he labeled ME as the Dumb
Cyclist this time. Oh how easily the tables are turned!

In the odd chance that Mr. Minivan Driver reads this, I'd like to
apologize for taking the low road this morning. And also thanks for
the dose of reality!

Be safe, stay lit, and stop for reds!

1 Comments:

Blogger BikeFixe said...

Jim:

Your timing is uncanny. I had a similar experience last week, though my behaviour was even poorer. Riding through a town on my commute, I was passed by a jeep during the last 100 ft before an intersection and red light. At the last minute he put out his right turn signal and scooted halfway into "my space", the 3 or four feet of roadway to the right of the lane, intending to turn right even though there was a car in front of him that didn't give him enough room to proceed any further until the light changed. A parked car on his right also blocked any progress. So now after passing me just before the light, he'd just dramatically narrowed the path in front of me for what looked to me like no good reason, absent-mindedness, or (in my semi-stressed post-work mindset) spite. I had one instant to jam to a stop, but I let it pass and attempted to thread the needle since the light was about to change and I could be out ahead of everyone into the intersection. The gap was too narrow, as I shifted weight left to avoid the parked car's sideview mirror, I hit him on the right side, the butt end of my dirt drop handlebars (cloth tape, plastic end plugs) sliding along his along his car. I was stunned, and then embarrassed, but I didn't stop. There followed an awkward cat and mouse game through local streets, and we finally approached each other with heated words at another intersection. I wound up walking away from the argument with him shouting after me that he'd "hunt me down" and arrived home greatly agitated. I've been deeply ashamed at my response, still mixed some with anger that the guy didn't see how he'd put me in a tough spot. Nevertheless, in the last two days I've been making much more of an effort to be a good example on the road.

5:23 PM  

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