The modern phenomenon of "road rage" is pervasive. Motorists in the U.S. routinely heap abuse on each other, as well as innocents on bike and foot and even dogs. Road rage (or "aggressive driving" or "intermittent explosive disorder") gets some media attention, but rarely becomes a cause celebre.
But when the routinely abused strike back or respond in kind, expect a backlash of "man bites dog" media coverage. Such is clearly the case with the recent fallout from the March Critical Mass ride in San Francisco. One troubled cyclist, burdened by unknown traffic-related angst, fueled by the perceived provocation of an impatient driver, and empowered by the anonymity of a group, smashes a vehicle window and provokes a media storm over bikes.
As the San Francisco bicycling community learned from a similar experience with Critical Mass in 1997, heightened media attention on bicycling presents a crisis, but also an opportunity. It creates a space for discourse on the place of bicycling in our transportation system. Any publicity is good publicity, as the cliche goes, and bicyclists in San Francisco are organized, vocal, and generally media savvy. We push back. We make the case for bicycling.
Fortunately, our efforts over the years have built a reservoir of public support, and have won more than a few friends in the local media. One such supportive publication is the San Francisco Bay Guardian, which published this op-ed:
Tempest in an urban teapotThe March incident in San Francisco has also attracted national media attention. National Public Radio's "Day to Day" program had this feature, interviewing the motorist and several bicyclists. Interbike had a thoughtful piece. The Fredcast interviewed by friend Jon Winston, host of the inimitable Bikescape podcast. Reactionary dimwit Michelle Malkin offered typical stupidity. And, of course, considerable comment by bloggers.
Critical Mass and the press
Our local road-culture war has erupted again, this time thanks to some unsavory gossip columnists at the monopoly paper in town. Wildly distorted accounts of two confrontations at Critical Mass in March have been presented as evidence that bicyclists are antisocial, out of control, and generally immature scofflaws. Such accounts serve to frame a narrative that is in sharp contrast with the actual experience of tens of thousands of bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorists on the last Friday of every month, not just in San Francisco but in hundreds of cities worldwide where Critical Mass rides take place regularly. (Read more.)
Critical Mass has enthusiasts and detractors among bicyclists. Everyday urban bike commuters tend to support it as an empowering event. Infrequent recreational cyclists tend to cringe in fear of provoking motorist rage. I'm an enthusiast.
Whatever else it may have accomplished, Critical Mass creates conversation. And talking about bikes is always a good thing.
Image: Web capture
Resources: SFBC "Give, Get Respect" Flyer
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips