No longer am I the king of the road. No longer is my right of passage evident. No longer is the world planned around my needs. And this frustrates me. Moving from the Netherlands to Sweden, the only real culture shock seems to be in the road. No one is allowed on the back of my bicycle, cycling next to each other is considered to be wrong, and one way streets do not make exceptions for cyclists.
I miss the position I had as a cyclist in the Netherlands. Unaware of the luxury. Ignorant of the struggle cyclists are having in other parts of the world. I cycled, while happily chatting with friends, undisturbed from A to B. The worst that could happen were other cyclists, or, even worse, a tourist-cyclist.
But now I occasionally find myself frustrated in traffic. It’s not only that I’m no longer part of the dominant mode of transportation. I, and other cyclists alike, are often not even considered to be equal. Recently I saw another cyclist being cut off by a driver, followed by the shouts of a head shaking driver. The cyclist quickly continued his way.
My personal low came last week. It all started when a friend and I cycled two weeks ago to the Cykelfabriken (a bicycle store in Stockholm selling a Dutch brand: de Fietsfabriek). After stopping at a traffic light, I just started to make a turn to the left, when a driver, who wanted to go straight ahead, honked and almost hit me. Not much later I had forgotten all about it and was making a test ride for a new bike, turning the steering wheel a bit to get a feel for it, when a car drove by honking. As I was standing way out from the driving lane, and wasn’t obstructing the car from passing me, my frustration reached a peak. When I saw that the driver had to stop for a red light not far away, I cycled over to him in a gush and tapped on his window, which resulted in us shouting at each other until the light turned green and he had to drive away.
I didn’t feel better, and certainly not relieved, after pouring my frustrated emotions in an uncontrolled fashion all over the public space. I cycled back to my friend and felt ashamed that I had let myself go. Of course, in the Netherlands I had also been in situations where I thought a driver behaved like an asshole, but never before had I chased someone to shout at.
When Lior showed me a video of a bicycle-vs-car-road-rage the other day, I understood, because of my own recent outrage, how the situation in the video could have emerged. But, although the car driver in the video really turned out to be an asshole, the cyclist also seemed to be looking for situations like this. He even has a YouTube channel filled with him being in road-rage situations.
I searched for more cyclist-driver road rage videos, and there are plenty out there. Drivers running after cyclists, a driver who gets knocked out by a cyclist and vice versa, and even an ambulance who almost runs over someone. In all of those videos the drivers behave badly, however, in most of those videos the cyclist are, just like I was, frustrated and not trying to avoid a fight.
I’m part of Cyklistbubblan, a Facebook group of cyclists in Stockholm, where often interesting articles are posted about anything related to our favourite mode of transport. But besides the articles, just as many pictures are uploaded of cars being parked on cycling lanes, followed by many comments of sympathy and disgust.
I can imagine myself standing there, angry with yet another obstacle, getting my phone with trembling fingers to shoot a picture of a car that is standing where I’m entitled to cycle. After putting my phone back, I would cycle around the car, continue my way, and look forward to all the sympathetic likes and comments that are waiting for me when I get home.
It’s a war between cyclists and car drivers. The movie Bikes vs Cars is all about this war and the struggle of cyclists to get their politicians to change the built environment in their favour. And that is important, because a car stopping on a cycling lane is less of a driver problem, than it is a design problem. Cycling lanes should be protected by a line of parked cars, instead of the cycling lane protecting parked vehicles.
The cyclists who participate are at the front of this war, either by filming, shouting at, and taking pictures of bad drivers, probably all want their city to be more bicycle friendly in the end. They are all looking for some respect and decency in traffic. But are they reaching their goal? I guess the answer to this question is both yes and no.
Yes, they make politicians more aware of the problems that cyclists encounter in traffic. These complaints might be taken seriously and slowly the city adapts to the needs of cyclists.
No, a good cycling culture is all about critical mass. With this I mean that a city needs a certain amount of cyclists for it to become that cycling utopia we are out after. This means that not only the die-hards are out on the streets, but also people who feel more vulnerable in traffic. Emphasizing all the things that are bad, picking fights with drivers, are more likely to escalate the problems and chase could-be-cyclists away.
Of course we should still report things that are bad, but we shouldn’t look for a fight when we can avoid one. Certainly we will get annoyed when someone parks on a cycling lane, but we can just cycle around them, which shouldn’t be too hard because I see them more often on Facebook than on the road. In my opinion a great cycling environment is created by tolerance and mutual respect. This means that both drivers and cyclists need to find a way to deal with the current situation. They will have to tolerate us in the middle of the road, and we will have to tolerate them sometimes blocking our way.
PS: for those wondering if I bought the bicycle at Cykelfabriken, I did not, although they are very cool, I decided to instead renovate my old Dutch racer.