cycling · fitness

Riding this election season: is it me or are drivers even more angry than usual?

If you are reading this from the comfort of some country other than the US, consider yourself lucky at least in one respect: you don’t have forced ringside seats for the most tawdry, surreal, high-stakes, expensive political brawl in my country’s history.  Everyone is on edge, and no one can look away.  I think many of us feel like Alex from “A Clockwork Orange”:

Alex from the movie "A Clockwork Orange", hooked up to electrodes, with his eyes forced open for viewing.

Usually, though, when the going gets tough, the tough have the option of getting going– on bikes, on foot, in boats, in studios, in boxing rings, up mountains, etc.  To paraphrase William Congreve, movement hath charms to soothe a savage breast (most people think it’s “beast”, but it’s actually “breast”– at least according to the internet).

I mean, who can get sucked into the latest video scandal when you’ve got the open road, bright-colored leaves on the trees, and crisp (but not freezing) temperatures?

Two women cycling on the road on a fall day; trees with fall colors in the background.

I pursued this line of two-wheeled therapy on the recent holiday Monday this week.  A bunch of friends and I rode out west of Boston on scenic roads adorned with fall colors.  We made the requisite stop at a New England country store, updated for Halloween by inflatable day-glo spiders.  We didn’t mind the mixed visual themes.

Women cyclists standing outside a New England country store, with bikes in the foreground and two halloween day glo spiders (yellow and purple) on the roof of the store.

But of course even though we could pedal, we couldn’t hide from the aggression in the environment.  One driver rolled his window down and called us idiots (for what? for riding?  he should try it– it’s fun).  Others honked at us.  Yet others passed us more aggressively than usual, even though it was a holiday.

On Friday afternoon I rode with my friend Pata.  We left a bit later than planned (2ish rather than 1ish), so we did encounter more traffic.  But we also encountered some seriously aggressive drivers, including one that flat-out broke the law, turning left in front of me (as I was getting ready to go straight at an intersection) when that person had a steady red light.  At another spot two cars made foolhardy lefts as we were turning right, nearly taking out both of us.  Even on the street going home (where there are soccer fields and parks for little kids to play), cars were zooming past us, far too close, going much faster than they usually do.

Of course, in some ways this is no news.  We seem to be in a stage of traffic evolution in which there is a lot of driver anger against bicyclists, and a lot of bicyclist anger against drivers.  I keep hoping that we’re making progress toward this:

Traffic in a Dutch town, with cyclists in their lanes and cards and busses in their lanes.

But until we all reach the Dutch level of city cycling nirvana, we’re going to have to watch out for ourselves and others.

I wonder, though:  how much is the political season affecting the moods and health and behaviors of those of us who are living through it?  Of course the answer is “a lot”.  But is it creating conditions in which we are all more at risk in our everyday behaviors (like driving or cycling or walking to work)?  I’m not trying to be alarmist, but rather to say that, at least for those of us in the US (and maybe there are spillover effects, for which I personally apologize on behalf of the American electorate), a little more care may be in order.  I’ll still be cycling, but will adjust the times of day I ride in town when I can.  Maybe more off-road riding is in order, too.

Ending on a positive note:  there’s nothing more fun than riding a bike wearing a costume.  Along with a bunch of friends, I’m going to do the costume race on October 30 for the Orchard Cross cyclocross event.  I’m pulling out the banana costume again– after all, I paid $15 for it and want to get as much use out of it as I can.  If you’re anywhere nearby that day, come out and ride or watch.  I hear the giraffe cyclist may be back.

Cyclist riding a cyclocross course in a 14 foot tall giraffe costume.


9 thoughts on “Riding this election season: is it me or are drivers even more angry than usual?

  1. Yay riding, yuck mad drivers. I don’t know if it’s just bicyclists though — I was driving yesterday morning in a very not-busy time, and I sort of cut off another driver (I didn’t really, but he wasn’t paying attention and didn’t notice I’d pulled up beside him on his left on a two lane road and he tried to merge into my lane and was surprised to find me there). He yelled obscenities at me, caught up to me at the next light and yelled some more, then followed me to the NEXT light and yelled some more. And I’m in Canada, and I was in a CAR.

    1. Yuck! Not liking the aggressive driver, but thanks for sharing. Yes, the world in motion seems much crabbier these days. I’m thinking more off-road riding will help, but it won’t help the car situation. Sigh.

  2. The bicycling clubs in Sacramento, Ca are trying to get the city council to make the city more friendly to bicycle riders; however, they can’t even get cooperate from the police who claim that the cyclists are causing traffic accidents all over the place. Then again, many of the city residents are claiming that many of the bicyclists are not obeying traffic laws like riding against traffic, speeding fast on the main streets and/or side streets, not walking their bicycles at stoplights in the crosswalks, and not signaling their attentions when they approach a stop sign or stoplight.

    1. Yes, you’re right– the cycling community is really a fragmented not-well-connected group, including cycling clubs, commuters, occasional recreational cyclists, and lots of others on two wheels. It makes me really annoyed and frustrated to see people on bikes blow red lights– it’s unsafe and makes us all look bad. And worst, it provokes drivers to lack of empathy when one of them kills one of us (which has happened several times in the last few months in the Boston area). We’ve all got a lot of work to do, but we can use some help from city planners and police in enforcing driving laws as well as cycling laws.

      1. I have seen the cops on bicycles also disobeying the various traffic laws when they are on duty as part of the police bicycle squad. Bad enough when they violate the traffic laws when they are in their patrol cars or motorcycles and then they take their poor driving habits when riding their bicycles. Sad role they are no matter which mode of transportation they are utilizing.

  3. There is a spate of poor behaviour where I live in Canada too, and it is partly related to education. Recently, the main street in my area was redesigned to limit some on-street parking, reorganize car lanes, and add bike lanes. There was a lot of ranting in our local email group about aggressive cyclists; the specific complaints were about cyclists who were unhappy when drivers did things that the Driver’s Handbook says are punishable by significant fines. I shared the link to the on-line version of the handbook, which shifted the conversation pretty quickly.

    1. Oh Canada! I wish US drivers would respond with the same submission to the laws in out drivers’ handbooks. They generally just keep ranting that we don’t pay taxes (false), that we should ride on the sidewalk (illegal), and then it becomes less coherent from there. Hopefully as more of us are out on the road, driving norms will shift. We need police support for this, though, and that is slow to change, too.

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