The students are back!
September can be a somewhat dangerous (or at least adventurous!) time
to ride a bike in the Boston area – newcomers to our town don’t know
how to drive, how to cross the street, how to ride a bike….
But we expect this, right? We see it happen every year. To
paraphrase DAZED & CONFUSED, we get older, the college kids stay the
I think September should be a month for us experienced city dwellers
to take a deep breath and cut the new kids a little slack. They’re
not out to get us, they don’t mean for us to hit them when they run
across the street against the light, they don’t drive in the bike
lanes on purpose, and they’re not trying to piss us off by riding
their bikes like ten year olds.
Tonight (Friday) I was riding my bike home, down Mass Ave from Harvard
Square toward home in Dorxbury. I was actually riding a little faster
than ususal because I wanted to get home and eat some food. But I
know it’s a dangerous time, so I was being careful.
A guy with a bicycle tattoo on his calf totally dusted me near MIT.
No big thing. Up ahead, I saw a car swerve a bit into the bike lane
near him, but the speed demon didn’t get hit or anything. And the
driver didn’t appear to be trying any funny business. Just the kind
of thing that happens.
As I rode up, he was yelling at the driver.
Screaming, actually, in a very threatening way, about how they
shouldn’t drive in the bike lane. True enough, but his method of
education left something to be desired. Sarcastic fighting words were
exchanged. The driver was a young college type girl, hardly the
menacing type. He smashed the car with his bike lock (or something
heavy) after I passed, and then rode over the bridge on the sidewalk,
no doubt to avoid more confrontation with the girl, dusting me again
once we’d hit Boston.
Unlikely as it may be, I really hope both reconsider their behaviour,
but especially him. College students who drive around the city and
swerve into bike lanes admittedly suck. But screaming and freaking
out isn’t helpful to anybody. Certainly ignorance of the law is no
excuse for breaking it. But knowledge of the law is no reason for
being an asshole.
I can understand why he was yelling at her. But honestly, would it
have killed him to take a breath once she’d rolled down her window and
just calmed down enough to deliver the point without starting a fight?
Say hey, you need to keep your car out of the bike lane. I’m not
protected by a metal cage and I don’t make a lot of noise. Be careful
of this life I’m trying to hold onto.
Cyclists who freak out on people give calm cyclists a bad name. I
know you (yes, bike tattoo guy, I’m taking to you) don’t mean to speak
for us all, but honestly, give us a break. College students driving
around in cars sometimes wind up as college grads who traverse the
city by bicycle. Let’s give the kids a chance to evolve. Don’t make
them hate bicycles.
Cyclists (and pedestrians) benefit from drivers who empathise with
them. Do unto others and all that. Drivers, at some point, have to
get out of their cars and mabye even cross the street. This means
they recognize what a pedestrian is because sometimes they are one.
Drivers are not necessarily cyclists. Many cyclists have been or are
at least occasional drivers. This makes us good at driving around
bicycles. We know to give the rider some space, to use our
directional signal (I hope), and to generally give them respect.
Predictability is the key. Nobody likes a pedestrian who darts out
from behind a parked car. They are putting us at risk of hitting
them, whether we’re driving a car or riding a bike. Cyclists don’t
like people who pass them in cars and then unexpectedly take a right
turn without signaling or giving the cyclist a chance not to hit them.
And guess what? Drivers don’t like cyclists who do unpredictable
I guess my point is, remain calm. Empathy is what makes us civilized.
And be careful out there.