By Henri Venable (Bicycle Friendly Campus Initiative Intern)

Too often the discussion regarding “alternative” transportation focuses on the car as the epitome of evil. But this causes a dangerous mentality to take root in the minds of cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians alike. It fosters antagonistic relationships between the 3 modes of transportation that, on the road, manifest into unnecessary and sometimes dangerous, behaviors. Everyone has their story about “the other side” – cars running cyclists into the curb and off the road, cyclists running stop signs and lights, or inattentive pedestrians crossing outside of crosswalks. If anything this proves only that we are all human, all flawed, and all deserving of each others’ respect and understanding.

A mentality of confrontation only leads to confrontation. The solution, however, is simple. Respect. Our commute is the means by which we go from one social part of our life to another.[1] Supposedly mutual respect is the norm in our everyday, face-to-face social interactions. So why is our commute so different? Why do we abandon this basic social principle for the 20-30 minutes we spend moving from one social event to another?  Why indeed.

Few of us, especially in Bloomington, are single transport users to begin with. I prefer to bike when possible but in the winter I walk to avoid the slush and icy roads, bus when it’s pouring rain, and when I go grocery shopping I drive a car. There is no “us versus them.” We are all pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. The problem arises when we forget this and instead perceive other road users as simply obstacles to our own objectives. By drawing these abstract “modal borders” it’s easy to cast cyclists as inconsiderate jerks who just slow you down, motorists as sociopaths who make it a game to kill and intimidate, and pedestrians as suicidal lemmings. It is transport-based prejudice. A little conscious effort on everyone’s part, a little respect, and a shift in how we talk about society’s transportation needs can go a long way in stemming this “road war”.

There is no doubt a cultural shift is required in the way we move. Indeed such a shift is already taking place with the percent of miles driven by Americans in their twenties having dropped from 20% in the late 1990’s to 13% percent today.[2] The current discourse, however, puts everyone on the defensive and leaves little room for compromise. The car isn’t going anywhere, but it is losing its status as the conventional or default mode of transportation. The sooner we embrace all modes of transportation, and the people who use them, the more respectful and enjoyable commutes will be for everyone.

The city of Bloomington has launched a Civil Streets Campaign to enforce the idea of civility and respect on the road. Click the link to check it out!

[1] BikeSnobNYC. The Enlightened Cyclist: Commuter Angst, Dangerous Drivers, and Other Obstacles on the Path to Two-wheeled Transcendence. San Francisco: Chronicle, 2012. Print.

[2] Speck, Jeff. Walkable City: How Downtown Can save America, One Step at a Time. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012. Print.


3 thoughts on “R.E.S.P.E.C.T

  1. I like the term “modal borders”. It’s true that I have different mentalities when I’m driving, walking, or biking. The basis of the Civil Streets program is recognizing these different perspectives and a mutual respect that should exist– a great start to changing behaviors.

    I really enjoyed reading this informative post- it brought to light some of my own behaviors and the need for change!

  2. Henri,

    I debate this topic constantly, and I agree that the problem occurs when people “pick a side” and then criticize the other ones. Even as I read this my mind travels to all the drivers I’ve seen play chicken with bikers and vice versa. But you’re right, we are all human and therefore bound to err regardless of our present mode of transportation. I’m glad the City of Bloomington is doing something about it. On their website there is a great list for rules of the road. I hope once the word is spread and the myths about biking on sidewalks and such are cleared, our citizens can take pride in it’s diversity of travelers.

    Thanks, Liz

  3. That is so true! I had not really stopped to consider this before but it does seem that as we are moving from one place to another we do not fully consider those who are traveling around us in the same manner which we would in closer quarters social situations. The antagonism often arises from our own misplaced anger from fear of injury but this response is not beneficial for anyone involved. Thank you for your thought-provoking article!

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