Bicyclists and the death of polite society

By Kurt Genest

Our modern world is plagued by a good many problems. Pollution contributes to global warming and breathing disorders. Sedentary lifestyles lead to obesity, a key contributor to heart attacks, strokes and a host of other ailments. It is in this, our greatest time of despair, that the bicycle emerges as a candle in the night to offer a clean form of transportation and exercise. We are saved! Or … are we?

The bicycle may be a saviour, but the bicyclist sadly is not. Don’t get me wrong: many cyclists ride responsibly, ringing their bell when approaching a pedestrian on a path, signaling their turns and stopping at lights just like cars do. Unfortunately, there are far too many cyclists who ride with an arrogant sense of entitlement, treading over both the rules of the road and the moral fabric of humanity.

The behaviour that perhaps most symbolizes the common cyclist’s habit of picking and choosing whether he wants to follow pedestrian or vehicular rules is the riding of his bicycle across a crosswalk. As a cyclist, you must either stay on the road or a bike path or dismount if you wish to use a sidewalk or crosswalk. If I drove a semi-trailer across a crosswalk, I would be the top story on the news and receive nasty labels such as “menace to society,” “homicidal maniac” or worst of all, “student driver.” Cyclists across our city, meanwhile, exhibit just this sort of psychopathic behaviour everyday.

Improper use of crosswalks, along with a refusal on the part of many to ring their bells, makes cyclists a natural enemy of pedestrians. It would seem unwise, then, for them to engage in a two-front war by picking a quarrel with automobiles. While it isn’t the fault of cyclists that they are slower than cars and a nerve-wracking presence for motorists — no one wants to collide with a cyclist for fear of either blood or paperwork — they cannot shirk their culpability for the all-too-frequent tendency of weaving from a halted lane of traffic to a pedestrian crosswalk, whichever is most convenient for them at that moment. This reckless behaviour may be based on the naive assumption that skinny little bikes won’t cause the kind of harm that big cars can, but this “Now I’m a car! Now I’m a pedestrian!” mentality can cause great confusion and stress to those of us who don’t want to hit them, and confusion and stress can never be good things when driving.

Calgary’s system of bike paths is world-class — at least, that’s what the City of Calgary website claims — but there are certain elements that believe we should be more bicycle-friendly. City Council has recently been commissioning studies and developing all sorts of creative strategies to make it easier to bicycle in Calgary, recognizing the tremendous benefits to health and the environment that this mode of transportation offers. This is all well and good, but doesn’t it seem to be excessively magnanimous of us to be “bicycle-friendly” when so many cyclists are unfriendly to us? A shortage of bike paths does not excuse a blatant indifference for the rules of the road and common courtesy. If they won’t follow our house rules when we serve them coffee, why should we invite them back for caviar and cocktails?

Pollution and obesity are horrible problems that could spell the doom of our very civilization, but if the would-be-saviour cyclists choose to ignore the rules of the road and good manners, is it really a civilization worth preserving?


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