Sunday, March 21, 2010

Maybe cyclists are people

I rode my bike to a friend's potluck this afternoon to find a small squadron of bikes already parked in the car port like the jumbled flight line at an air show. I pulled out my aunt's famous quinoa salad and sat it next to the gauc, curry masala, and kimchi, and quickly found a group to start nodding in agreement with.

Turns out I couldn't have pedaled to a more synchronous crowd. At one point, overhearing my confessions of bad behavior in traffic, a couple of cyclo-badasses shared their own and we explored solutions to our self-righteous road rage. It's satisfying to hear others looking at these issues of fear and victimization and martyrdom and justice.

Many of us chose to ride because it's good for ourselves and everyone else and the planet and the community. But making one good choice, one hugely good choice, doesn't absolve me from the responsibility to continue making good choices. In fact, choosing to ride a bike instead of driving a car is irrelevant or even damaging if I don't ride coordinate with the principles of that choice. That is, it doesn't matter that I choose the humanizing form of transportation if I react to motorists as a threat, a challenge, as anything other than another person. What's more, it's not enough to respond well to conflict. I need to ride in such a way that prevents it in the first place.

Solutions to motorist-cyclist conflict can be found in our laws, infrastructure, manufacturing and design, and in our culture. But what's interesting about any of these solutions is the mechanism by which they reduce and eliminate the conflict. It's through humanizing the interaction. When we slow down traffic, it brings us to a speed at which humans can make eye contact. When we build roundabouts and flatten curbs, it brings us together and with greater awareness. Vehicles with greater visibility and multi-tonal horns permit greater recognition and reflect our universal desires to be seen and understood.

Our problem is that we have a place where, for so many reasons, we are discouraged from expressing our humanity. Our discourse devolves; our beautiful and crafted language is paved into a three-part lexicon: the horn, middle finger, and f-bomb. Repairing our communities means engaging one another's humanity. And the institutions we subsequently build will reflect that constant decision.