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Rage between cars, bikes is a vicious wheel
By Kevin Williams and Editor Of The Tribunes On The Town Section
April 27, 2008
We’re mad as hell, and it’s all because of the wheel. Cyclists are dropping, and the whole bike-versus-car showdown has become a tinderbox. This should make any sane person slow down and think. Instead, it inspiresinvective. Just look at Internet message boards, like the Tribune’s, for proof:
“Those bikers had it coming. They don’t obey traffic laws,” says a motorist.
“SUV-driving pigs hog the road and waste resources as they try to kill me,”says a cyclist.
But here’s the thing: When I am in my car, cyclists vex the mess out of me. On my bicycle, cyclists and motorists vex the mess out of me. And at the root of it all is anger. Why? What’s making us all so mad?
“We’re trained that way,” said Leon James, a psychologist who has studied drivers and their psychology for 25 years. “It’s cultural practice to be tough and say, ‘Don’t let them make a fool of you.’”
That’s right. You wake up angry, roll out of the house angry and are just waiting for the catalyst that turns anger into rage. Everybody’s angry, and everybody’s wrong. As a cyclist and driving enthusiast, trust me – both sides are being buttheads.
But why does this blind, festering, almost cauterizing rage seal off logic? Why does it make everyone as stupid as the day is long?
I repeat: It’s the wheel. Wheels make life a race. If you are strolling 10 feet behind an elderly couple, do you break into a run to reach a spot before they do? No. Do we try to out walk each other to work? No. But put us in a wheeled conveyance, and it’s competition. Gotta get there first. Back-in-the-day B.C., when the wheel was first used on Mesopotamian chariots, was there chariot rage? History doesn’t track the first case of chariot rage, but I’m betting it was like on “Monday Night Raw,” with people flipping whatever Mesopotamians flipped at each other. Inca, Aztec and Maya civilizations reached high levels of development. But they didn’t use the wheel for transport. Did they know better?
“If every cyclist obeyed every single traffic law, I don’t think the [Internet] comment boards would change that much,” says Bob Mionske, former Olympic cyclist turned attorney and cycling advocate. “Drivers ask, ‘Why are they in my way?’ I think that in some of the more general ways, it’scompetition for a limited resource: the roadway.”
Cyclists feel that the system doesn’t have their best interests at heart, so why should they obey the traffic laws? Motorists say cyclists don’t obey traffic laws, so why should they respect them? And it’s all because the other guy is a convenient target for this guy’s anger.
“Motorists say that the biggest problem is other motorists,” Mionske says.”But how do you [single out] other drivers? But cyclists, now you have an outgroup … we’re the minority, and the majority is mad at everyone.”
If you were on foot, would you be as mad? Is there such a thing as pedrage? Most people walk at about the same pace. No Ferrari shooting up on the right, setting off your motorized vigilante; no cyclist smoking a stop sign, rousing fist-shaking ire. Everyone is just walking. No wheels, no anger. We’ve all had that moment where we’ve turned in the same direction while facing another pedestrian. We both smile, maybe quip, “Shall we dance?” and keep on walking.
Ten minutes later, in the car, we try to stuff that same person like a holiday turkey. “This lane is closed, sucka. Mwahahahaha!”
What can we do? Summer is looming, with cyclists and other motorists coming out of the woodwork. Will this be the Season of Rage, with little indie kids on fixed-gear bikes slamming into SUVs? Not if you take these easy steps:
– Use wheels sparingly. You already know they’re evil.
– Self-witness, as James puts it. The psychologist recommends turning on a little tape recorder while driving. Verbalize all the invective you’re feeling, and play it back later. Shameful, isn’t it? Realization is the first step toward correction.
– Recognize that we’re all vulnerable. On a bike, you earn the karma you might have spawned by buzzing a pedestrian or running a light. In a car, you buzzed a rider, now an SUV is crowding you. Is that 18-wheeler crowding you, SUV driver?
If John McCain wants to suggest something instead of his gas tax holiday proposal, I’d like to offer Wheel Freedom Day. No wheels. No skates, bikes, cars or cabs. Everybody’s on foot until we all calm down. Because everybody is mad, and nobody is thinking.