Friday, January 11, 2008

Problems with drivers

Maybe it's everyone getting back into the swing of work and school, but it seems that the bike blogs are a little more crowded than normal with stories of road problems. I saw two recently and they got me thinking.

The first was by Jeff Moser, who posts at Cycling Carson City and also at Commute by Bike. Jeff's post was about riding a little earlier than normal and being crowded almost off the road by a truck. It appears that the crowding was intention since he "could see him looking in his mirrors, making sure he got as close as possible without actually hitting me." Clearly unacceptable behavior, but unfortunately the driver was too far away from Jeff before he was able to react and get a plate number.

The other post was by Dave Moulton, at his blog, and was in response to comments made after he discussed the Matthew Paris apology. The comment was asking what cyclists can and should be doing to improve our standing on the road. Dave's post is a great discussion of how to advocate by riding and how many of the things that aggravate cyclists about the way cars operate on the road are mirrored by the way pedestrians view some cyclists. I highly recommend reading both the post and the comments after it if you do any city biking.

In the comments on Jeff's post there are a few people who mention getting into violent altercations with drivers who have done similar things, and a few of the comments on Dave's post reference the same. This is also a common refrain in the Advocacy & Safety and Commuting pages at BikeForums. If you as a cyclist are crowded, threatened, yelled at or otherwise annoyed by a driver the best thing to do is yell back, key the car, smack the car as you ride by, or any other of a number of more extreme responses. Some riders have posted about following cars until the driver stops and getting into an argument about the law and the way the driver was driving.

Maybe it's the fact that I've never had to deal with an intentional problem like Jeff and many posters at BikeForums, but I just don't see continuing the anger and violence as the right solution. I've been crowded, honked at, shouted at, and have felt threatened by cars. I've been angered by them and said nasty things under my breath and often more loudly. Then I realize that my being angry is doing nothing to the driver and is ruining my time on the bike.

I ride for pleasure primarily and I'll be damned if I'm going to let some anonymous driver ruin that pleasure by making me tense and angry. Holding onto the bad feelings the encounter creates just causes problems for the rest of the day. The best way I found to think of this comes from "The Awakening of Faith" and says "One's mind should become like a mirror, reflecting things but not judging them nor retaining them." In The Compass of Zen, Zen Master Seung Sahn discusses this same idea at great length, with the result being that in order to achieve happiness it is important to develop the capacity to react to the things in front of you (reflecting) but when the thing is gone your mind should let it go in the same way the mirror does, rather than dwelling on it, judging and retaining it.

After all, if I wanted to be tense and angry I'd be driving my commute, like them.

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