Cyclists do run red lights. And, as if I’m some duly elected representative of cyclists everywhere, people will point this out to me and suggest that they’d actually feel bad for all those cyclists who get killed by motorists every year and support my cause if we’d all just behave and start obeying stop signs, all the time without realizing how incredibly stupid they sound. On the scale of stupid-and-annoying, it’s only slightly less annoying, but possessing the same tone, as if you were to tell a woman with an abusive boyfriend that everything will be fine if you just don’t piss him off so frequently.
There’s such a thing as cognitive dissonance. Pretty much, your brain allows itself to believe two completely conflicting things and provides ways for you to not think about it too much. And it looks really pathetically stupid when you take a bunch of steps back and look at the cold equations, but it’s also what helps you go to bed at night. The canonical example is the UFO cult that dealt with the failure of the prediction that the world would end in 1954 by becoming more fervent in their belief, deciding that they had been spared for a reason instead of questioning the failure of the prophecy.
Cognitive dissonance is a great way to get smart people believing stupid things.
If you survey a bunch of drivers, every one of them, even the drivers who are going to eventually kill somebody, will describe themselves as above average. Whereas, if you ask the same people, they’ll complain about the other drivers, how nobody follows the rules of the road. I see this and how absurdly dissonant it is, but this is only because I no longer see drivers as ‘us’ anymore. And it’s only funny for so long to laugh at somebody’s hypocrisy behind their back.
The chorus often times is that the streets are dangerous. Sometimes they tell me to ride on the sidewalk.
At the same time, if I wish that cyclists carried handguns so we could even the death-tally, I’m the one with the diseased mind.
If your cycling experience is cruising around a block or putting your bike on a rack on a car and taking it to the trails, you won’t get just how obnoxious the class of people who drive cars actually is. But just about everybody who has actually tried to do real life tasks on the bike ends up having altercations with asshole drivers.
Most importantly, there’s plenty of research that shows that the speed limits exist for a reason, but you have to be pretty fucking naive to think that most drivers obey the speed limit. There’s plenty of research that shows that talking on the phone while driving is not safe… most especially holding the phone up to your ear and driving. But every day, I see a driver holding the phone up to their ear and talking on it. Or drivers with headsets on, which is still not really safe. I’ve seen a good number of my friends doing it, and, as time has gone on, it’s pissing me off when I see them do it so cavalierly. And if I ever question somebody about how they are talking on the phone while driving, there’s always some excuse about how they know what they are doing, how they can do it safely, or other excuses. These days, I don’t even bother saying anything because it’s just going to make me more annoying than I already am.
And while you talk about how annoying it is to see cyclists running red lights or stop signs, I’ve had to dodge a fair share of cars running red lights or stop signs. Heck, I’ve had driver friends get hit by drivers who were doing something stupid like looking at their GPS instead of the road and running a stop light. Really, at least we have an excuse some of the time. Even in cities that proudly display their “Bike friendly city” signage, the traffic lights don’t always trigger correctly.
If the same level of outrage caused when one cyclist did something stupid and killed a pedestrian in San Francisco was applied repeatedly to car drivers, you all would be driving around with a shotgun wired to the front windshield set to go off if you exceeded the speed limit or ran a red light. Because drivers kill a lot of people by doing things they aren’t supposed to all the time. And, frankly, the penalties for breaking traffic lights are a bit more painful without a metal cage surrounding you.
It is only the cognitive dissonance, the perception of those people who drive as ‘us’ and the people who reject the golden calf of the car as ‘them’, that makes you notice the cyclist running the red light and ignoring the car running the red light. Because I’m pretty damn sure that on some subconscious level, you have accepted that if there was a shotgun on your car set to go off whenever you broke a traffic law, you would die quickly at your own hands. Cognitive dissonance creates invented thoughts in your brain that enable you to say “Sure, car drivers break the law, but BIKES DO IT SO MUCH MORE OFTEN” so you feel a bit better about yourself.
Oh, and if you were wondering, I stop at every stop sign and stop light. Even with a clearly and visibly empty street, I’ll obey the traffic signal, even getting off the street to trigger the crosswalk signal. Even when it’s a really stupid traffic signal. I do it specifically so that when it comes up in conversation, I can troll people.