A couple of years ago, my wife and I were casually walking along the downtown streets of Charleston. We stopped at a red light, waiting for it to turn before we crossed, when all of a sudden a cyclist comes from out of nowhere. We hear him coming and look back, and to our surprise, he ignores the light completely, rolls through it without even touching his brakes, and disappears out of sight. We looked at each other and both shook our heads. “Stupid Cyclists!” I said.
And then it hit me that if I were thinking that way, what would someone who didn’t ride a bike think? I wouldn’t be so bold to do what this cyclist did, which was indeed stupid, but I have tapped my brakes and kept going through a stop sign if the coast was clear. I’ve done other things that people would frown upon or not understand. All of us have to a certain degree.
Last night I attended a function at Outspokin’ Bicycles where Amy Johnson from the Palmetto Cycling Coalition was speaking. I’ve mentioned them numerous times on this blog, and am a strong supporter of everything they do. The problem is, South Carolina is not Colorado, Oregon or California. Our legislators are not inclined to pass pro-cycling legislation, and it is through the efforts of people like Amy that have made an impact in the state.
Amy used the term “Bike Lash” as a way of describing some of the recent antagonism towards cycling in the state. I’ve already talked about the ludicrous bill that Representative Nanney tried to pass. She wanted bikes to carry liability insurance and to get registered.
What I didn’t know was her thought process for this absurd agenda. As it turns out, she was driving on a 4-line highway one day when she saw people hitting their brakes. Sudden stops can cause chain reactions and accidents, as cyclists know all too well. The culprit in this case, at least in the congresswoman’s eyes, was a cyclist that had been crossing traffic to try to make a left turn. When Representative Nanney saw this, she got the idea that they should carry liability insurance in case their actions caused an accident. They would be at fault.
What Nanney didn’t consider was that it is already illegal to follow too close. We’ll never know whether the cyclist jumped into traffic. It is hard to think that someone would be that foolish, but I didn’t expect the Charleston rider to blatantly run the red light either. Whatever happened, any accidents that occurred would have been the fault of the driver that first rear ended a car.
There was another bill proposed that didn’t get nearly the amount of attention, and actually came from a more benevolent place. A legislator wanted to ride on the sidewalk of a 55 mph 4-lane highway, but it was illegal due to a local ordinance. Sidewalk riding is permitted in most places in the state, yet some local governments may choose not to. It makes sense for downtown areas with a lot of foot traffic. We don’t want cyclists running into pedestrians. It doesn’t make sense when there’s a dangerous highway and no other alternative on where to ride. This gentleman tried to make it legal statewide to ride on the sidewalk. His mistake was that he wanted to make a sweeping change to address a local issue. Just like Nanney’s, his bill went nowhere.
The “Bike Lash” is occurring because so much progress has been made. Greenville is one of the top cycling cities in the southeast. They have done an excellent job with their cycling infrastructure. Some people don’t get cycling, and think that they are footing the bill for this progress. A lot of nonsensical arguments are made, one of which is that cyclists don’t pay taxes. We do. Most of us have cars, houses, and we buy stuff just like everybody else. Don’t get me started on all the taxes that I pay.
When a motorist sees somebody blow through a stop sign, stop light, or cross traffic to make a left, it gets them heated. As cyclists, we have to be conscious of how we present ourselves to the public. We have to be aware that there are other people using the roads that simply don’t like us.
Following traffic laws is just a small part of what we can do. I try to be aware of when cars are behind me. If there are several that cannot pass, then sometimes I will stop and let them go by. Sure, I cannot stand it, but it makes a difference. When a car waits patiently to pass me and gives me a wide berth, I will acknowledge with a friendly wave as they pass, thanking them for their courtesy. Some may still curse me as they drive by, but some will momentarily think: ‘That cyclist was a nice guy. I’m glad I was patient with him.’ The little things make a difference.
As tempting as it is to blow people up that disagree with us or simply don’t understand the realities of cycling, it is important to be civil yet assertive with the debate. Calling names does not help. People called Representative Nanney some names, and she probably was stunned by the response. Others spoke to her with respect and explained the flaws in her arguments. Hopefully she has come to a better understanding, and hopefully many more people will as well.
We have to be aware that there will be people who will try to slow us down, literally and figuratively. We have to be prepared for it, yet also make a good impression and keep pushing for progress in our community.