De Omnibus Dubitandum Est
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This little philippic is an attempt to fire and invective tipped arrow straight into the heart of current populism which is egregiously traducing my native city of San Francisco in a most distasteful way. I have long felt that due to the perception (often erroneous) of this city’s pervasive libertine political atmosphere, one can also in equal measure experience a taste of liberal fascism, and let it be clearly understood that I never use the term fascism flippantly. Since totalitarianism historically has easily ridden in on the coat tails of populism, it is always wise to be mindful of popular and unquestioned assumptions of social etiquette and intercourse. One such notion is the current rage for the new environmentalism or green politics which seem to be so idoneous to San Francisco and other such liberal conurbations. A favored manifestation of this attitude is found in discussions of transportation; what kind of car should we drive or should we drive at all, the use and improving of public transportation, or making walking easier and safer on city streets. Yet when it comes to bicycling and cyclists on the streets of San Francisco, a particularly annoying mentality emerges which one is accosted with daily when caught not transporting oneself on a bicycle.
Within the past couple of years, it appears rather obvious that the city government has completely capitulated to cyclist lobbying and civic bullying concerning the expansion of bike lanes throughout the city. And I assert this contention as a long time pedestrian and not as an apologist for motorists. Now, I am all for the promotion of lower-carbon emitting forms of transportation of which walking is the epitome. Along these lines, I am also mostly supportive of the newly augmented streets which allow for more fluid bicycle travel, and to some degree ameliorate the intrinsic hostility between drivers of bikes and cars. Wait a second, let me rephrase this. Where there are actual delineated bike lanes, this civic mollification occurs. What has more pervasively occurred though, is that a simple bicycle symbol and arrow gets painted in the middle of streets, particularly heavily traveled corridors which are notoriously narrow (as is expected for a dense city) with very little room between cross flows of traffic. So what happens is that cyclists feel that they can now freely ride in the middle of the street and impede the flow of traffic with impunity. And if you happen to be in a car in this kind of situation, then don’t you dare try to get a cyclist to “share” the road. You will rue the day!
Now what mostly pisses me off here is that this state of affairs allows for the ubiquitous dismissal of the reality that riding bicycles, which are vehicles after all, on city streets compels their drivers to obey the laws just as motorists and pedestrians must as well; this is the type of social glue which keeps our fissile society together, such as it is. Yet there is a foul disconnect here, because more often than not cyclists are completely cavalier and indolent when it comes to adhering to stop signs, red lights, and pedestrian right-of-way.
And if this were not bad enough, if a pedestrian was to say use a crosswalk and all of a sudden had to make way (which happens all too regularly) for a cyclist blowing through the intersection and this pedestrian dared to bring it to their attention as they sped away, suddenly they would find themselves being called an asshole for so impertinently asserting the obvious infractions along with being accosted with a panoply of other such expletives. This scenario I can personally attest to on a near daily basis, and is only exacerbated by Critical Mass events which can be quite harrowing for pedestrians and car drivers alike.
It has become I’m afraid de rigueur for cyclists in San Francisco to maintain this stance and attitude, so much so that I am truly and earnestly shocked on those rare occasions when a cyclist actually does obey the laws, and yes it only gets worse. For it seems to occur to me more and more as of late that I must now make way for cyclists on SIDEWALKS! It would seem that cyclists now feel anywhere and everywhere is their domain (I now regularly see cyclists using crosswalks as means of surreptitiously going through red lights). As much as I hate using populist lingua franca in my writing, it seems I just can not get away from saying What The Fuck when it comes to San Francisco cyclists and their ever increasing social pathologies.
It has gotten so bad that even senior citizens are now in the position of being killed crossing the street on green lights not only by cars and their distracted drivers, but by determined cyclists running red lights as well. In the past decade, I can safely say that I have had more close calls of being run over by cyclists in crosswalks then I have been by cars or buses, and yes I am fully aware that this is where my animus and bias finds its locus, in case anyone wants to use this as a means of criticizing me. It is this exact mentality and arrogance which needed a pother and rebuff. Because urban cycling is currently cloaked in populist rhetoric, this debate is not occurring with the civic urgency which it demands.
In my own small way I hope to have contributed to the realization of seeing an end to the delay of this debate along with also seeing the near useless police enforce the law on this group with more earnestness (or at least as much as they do on motorists and pedestrians). And yes, this endeavor has a long way to go as all attempts at pushing back at populist consensus inherently do. Perhaps then a new manifesto must be drafted to initiate the battle cry against sociopathic urban cycling. Since I can not entertain any certainty that my words alone are adequate for this polemical enterprise, I will instead leave you with a variant of some words used in a much more famous call to arms, if I dare be so impertinent: PEDESTRIANS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!
We teach kids in high school how to drive a car and abide by the rules and so we could also teach them how to do the same with bicycles. Surely this could be added to the curriculum in schools? Maybe add it to some part of Phys.Ed.? I don’t think it would be that difficult to find the space in the calendar and it would be easy enough to teach rules and then test students on them, just like we do for driving a car. In fact, I’ll bet someone is already doing this somewhere and we don’t even need to reinvent that wheel.
I wish I could share your optimism when finding a solution to this sociopathic behavior, yet I appreciate your obvious grasp of the logical in this matter. The problem here is particularly acute for San Francisco since so many residents are not natives and come here thinking that it is still 1967 and that anything goes! But since we (“we” being pedestrians as well as motorists) are constantly being harangued by cyclists to “share the road”, then shouldn’t this request be a two-way street?