Editorial: Rudeness No Surprise to Bicyclists

Rudeness has been in the news a lot this week. Congressman Joe Wilson yelled at the president, Kanye West was, well, Kanye West at the MTV Video Music Awards, and all of it has unleashed the media pundits. Speculation abounds about whether our culture has reached new lows of selfishness and entitlement. Everything from the Internet to recession-related social stresses have been advanced as explanations, but the general lack of civility seems to have reached crisis proportions, at least if you watch the 24/7 cable news networks.

But if you ride a bicycle regularly in San Diego, or in any other city, you know that uncommon levels of rudeness are nothing new, and in fact, are not uncommon at all. This is not a “oh, poor bicyclists” rant, but just a simple observation that bicyclists seem like particularly easy targets for misplaced bile. Verbal violence, actual assault, and aggressive anti-social behavior confront bicyclists daily. It has become a standby of bicycle blogs and message boards, and almost everyone has their own “war story”.

While riding this week I was called “gay” by one driver (I didn’t even know that was still considered an insult). A friend of mine was called a “f*cking hipster” while riding with his brother. Another was threatened with personal violence after riding into the lane to avoid a parked delivery truck. A while back, another friend was hit with an orange thrown from a car (yeah, an orange). Less dramatically, but no less inconsiderately, I spent my entire ride up and down Utah Street yesterday dodging trash cans improperly placed smack dab in the middle of the bike lane. And this was just locally.

Other dramatic incidents across the nation have recently highlighted the problem, but the media coverage of these incidents has generally not considered the problem of driver-on-bicyclist road rage as either a specific problem or as an indication of broader trends of incivility. I don’t have the space to really consider the sources of this particular brand of rage, or why is seems so virulent, but I would like to make the observation that if we can’t simply pass through space without screaming insults at each other, what hope do we have for civil discourse?

As bicyclists, as citizens, we have a responsibility to raise the level of our public discourse. Our response to road rage cannot any longer be, “oh yeah, well f*ck you, too!” There is more at stake than simply our right to the road. By failing to confront the issue in positive ways, we perpetuate the escalation of the very problem that threatens us, and we risk losing one of the foundational elements of civic democracy.