[image via Copenhagenize]
Spring is here and the number of new cyclists is multiplying rapidly. It's fantastic to see so many people in Cambridge and Somerville going about their day on two wheels, as if this were entirely normal and natural - which of course it is. But with more bicycles on the roads, this is also the time of the year for complaints: motorists complaining about "scofflaw cyclists" and cyclists themselves complaining about "newbies."
While motorist hostility is nothing new or surprising, there is somewhat of a debate in the bicycle blog world as to whether it's right for cyclists themselves to criticise other cyclists' behaviour. On the one hand, when cyclists don't follow traffic laws and behave recklessly, they not only "make all of us look bad," but actually endanger us. The biggest example of this that I experience in Boston, is when I am intentionally riding toward the left of the bike lane in order to avoid the door zone, and a cyclist passes me on the right. I have also had cyclists nearly crash into me as a result of their running a red light: Ironically, those who do so tend to watch out for cars but not for other bicycles. Naturally, I find such actions disconcerting. I feel no common bond with those who jeopardise my safety - regardless of what mode of transportation they are using.
But when cyclists criticise other cyclists, I wonder about its overall effectiveness. Do the scofflaws feel shamed and curb their transgressive behaviour in response to the critical rants of law-abiding cyclists? Or is it more likely that they carry on just as before, and it's the timid, fledgling cyclists who are scared off from even trying to navigate such a treacherous landscape? This is what I was thinking while reading this post on BostonBiker this morning. While I actually agree with most of the points the author made, the tone just seemed so hostile. It also made me uneasy that the author criticised "new cyclists" - while themselves having only begun cycling this past winter. I have been cycling for over two years in Boston, including winters, and still consider myself to be fairly new at it. While I am safe, law-abiding and friendly, I am not perfect and sometimes make mistakes despite my best intentions. Is there a cyclist ranting about me on their blog because I neglected to signal a right turn last Thursday? A depressing thought.
I would not go so far as to suggest that cyclists must not criticise other cyclists, as part of some Velocipedean Brotherhood Code of Honor. But there has to be a way to discuss these issues in a more constructive manner. Do you complain about other cyclists when you think they are behaving recklessly, or do you opt for a united front? Is there an approach that accomplishes both?