“So this car at a stop sign pulls right out in front of me and then at the next intersection the driver starts yelling at me for being on the road.” Cyclists hear and exchange these stories on far too routine a basis and sadly these experiences bubble up to the top of our minds for what was otherwise a nice bike ride. There’s no shortage of bad experiences while cycling even though these events typically reflect a very small percentage of the cyclist’s interaction with others during a ride. Of course the reason these events are pinned at the top of our recollection of the ride is because of the danger and emotional outrage. These episodes of danger and emotion are not limited to experiences with drivers as cyclists have certainly had a share of difficulties with pedestrians and even fellow cyclists.
How cyclists deal with these events at the moment and later during a ride or a conversation also creates a lasting impression. And so, cyclists must be careful with the impressions made and perceptions of their actions and reactions. These episodes also present an opportunity for a calculated response that benefits the cyclist and cycling community by demonstrating, literally and figuratively, the value of cycling.
The Advocates Spin: Make the Impression that Benefits you and your fellow Cyclists
The Cycle Advocates programs, Give 5 and SSEA, developed out of a civil rights integration platform, detail positive interaction which cyclists should use to build acceptance, empathy, and inclusion of cycling within the community. These positive engagement practices raise awareness of the persons with whom the cyclist is interacting, but just as importantly, others who observe and perceive the interaction from the viewpoint of a non-cyclist or even another cyclist. Cycle Advocates can generate empathy and identity with members of the community through consistent uniform actions that acknowledge and reward the other person, creating positive engagement and triggering identification and inclusion of cyclists as valued and protected.
If, on the other hand, cyclists are the “bad driver” experience that our fellow citizens remember, then cycling suffers from the episode. By definition, the perception of what is a “bad cyclist” is very subjective, ranging from mere presence of a cyclist on the road or pathway, to allowing for all but the most egregious behavior as acceptable. Certainly there will always be elements of the extreme, but it is the vast majority of members of the community who will form their perspective from experience with cyclists and the lack of experience with how to interact with cyclists. Perspective, the point from which one views and perceives information, is malleable and subject to reformation given the proper groundwork to reveal different positions that benefit the observer. The methods of setting the stage for change and obtaining revelation are better served by application of honey than vinegar. That is to say, one can better invite change by leading the subject with consistent kindness and reward than argument and scorn. The former brings people together integrating a community, while the latter, if successful, seeds divisive identity and resentment. The opportunity to demonstrate these principles through cycling is a valuable tool in the Cycle Advocates platform.
Perception and the American motorist: Most drivers identify themselves with their automobile. This culture of individual identity has fueled automobile sales for over one hundred years and contributed to the suppression of mass transportation. The individual’s automobile identity combined with the highway and road infrastructure has also set the “me versus the other guy” mindset of adversity that is manifest in various acts of aggression, disregard, and road rage prevalent in American road society. To be sure, the automobile transportation system is one of individualism and adversity, energized by the convenience of getting there quickly.
Enter the Cyclist: Most of the American infrastructure was not built with a vision toward multiple use by automobiles, cyclists, and even pedestrians. And most American drivers have little to no experience or education with regard to how and where cycling fits into their system of transportation. Thus, in a charged system of adversity built around the concept of individual identity, convenience, and haste, the American driver is most often frustrated and apprehensive when dealing with cyclists. Cycle Advocates believe that most American drivers are not overtly opposed to cycling and even harbor a deep seated fondness for cycling arising from their own childhood experiences. Yet even the best intentioned driver is challenged with the danger, worry, and liability of an automobile-bicycle collision. “I was worried the bicycle might fall over into the road.” “I was afraid the bike might turn into my car.” Sadly, on the other end of the American driver perspective is the lack of desire to pay for dedicated cycling trails, paths, and protected lanes despite the broad ranging immediate and long term benefits that would inure to the entire community.
Right, wrong, or as is truly the case when the answer is not yes or no, cyclists are seen as an impediment and unpredictable element on the road that make drivers anxious. Cycling remains a fringe activity among most communities, obscured by an automobile culture that does not understand how to interact with cyclists. How will this stage of isolation and friction ever produce anything more than uneasy coexistence? How do friends of cycling turn this paradigm into one of acceptance, value, inclusion and integration? Slowly at first, with the patience and positive attitude that drives a bike down a long road or up a lengthy climb, gathering momentum and confidence as the distance is traversed.
Positive Engagement- Breaking the Us and Them perception with Acknowledgment
Unfortunately, cyclist practices of interaction with automobiles, pedestrians and even other cyclists are scattered and inconsistent. As a result, cyclists remain random unpredictable elements creating reactions ranging from confusion, apprehension, tension, to aggression, with little room for acceptance. The solution to resolve these problems, as with most lack of understanding, starts with effective communication of a Coherent and Consistent message.
“Cycling Needs Unified Practices on and off the bicycle that engage Cyclists and the Community, expanding presence, awareness, empathy, acceptance, and value of Cycling.” Cycle Advocates GIVE 5 and SSEA programs address the need for unified practices.
Uniformity is the Key- Empathy is the force that turns the mind toward Integration
Consistent safe riding practices which respect the local rules of the road and community laws are an essential foundation with which to build Positive Engagement. Cyclists must start their advocacy by understanding and observation of local rules of the road, as well as riding in a predictable manner consistent with the law. But conformity with the law is not sufficient to change the perspective of the driving public, pedestrian, or erratic cyclist. Advocates must lead by example that engages others through acknowledgement such as the GIVE 5 practices. Advocates will take the initiative to break the perception of isolated individualism, appealing to positive reward and mutual identification. Thank the driver for their actions in trying to cope with the bicycle, and give them a High 5 waive and a smile when they accommodate cycling. Signal or waive to the apprehensive motorist, giving them a little more space or time. The little gestures stand out against an otherwise bleak landscape of transportation. Drivers will remember this conduct as it directly relates to them through positive acknowledgment.
The “Bad Driver” Cyclist: Beyond good cycling practices consistent with the law, under no circumstances should engagement on the road, path, coffee shop or social gathering be negative. Few to none are open to a lecture or being corrected. Correction, reprimand, terse remarks, or derogatory exchanges will not convince others drivers or pedestrians to change behaviors, and will more likely raise tension and antagonism against cyclists. Worse yet, this tension and antagonism will likely manifest in ways that make cycling the road and path less safe and cycling viewed negatively. The cyclist seen in an antagonistic exchange will not create a positive or empathetic response, and most other non-cyclists will perceive cyclists negatively as a result. Cycle Advocates seek to set positive examples for integration rather than a reinforcement of negative perceptions and attitudes toward cycling.
The path to integration requires the dissolution of the false perception that the problem is a matter of Us and Them- there is only Us, all of Us, and it is the role of the Advocate to reveal the benefits of integration to those who view the community with the eyes of division. This truth, the ultimate reality of community, is revealed through demonstration of positive acts and exercise of civil rights in a manner that builds community. Advocates must show the community to the better way, to a better community. This truth will lead the community to Protect Cycling rather than prohibit its growth and inclusion.
Keep those wheels in motion.