Thursday, February 09, 2006

Journalistic Slant on Cyclists

I find this article about the recent altercation between a cyclist and a motorist in Toronto quite distressing.

The author chooses to focus on "militant" cycling and the conflicts caused by activistic riders. He chooses to compare Ms. Hollinsworth, the cyclist who was attacked, to a heroin addict and former messenger whom he touts as a militant cyclist pioneer. According to the article, his militancy consisted of wearing torn-out jeans, riding 12 months a year, and referring to motorists as "sellouts".

The article glosses over the fact that Ms. Hollinsworth was physically attacked by the driver. Throwing the littering driver's trash back into his car was confrontational, yes, but not violent. I feel in this situation the motorist clearly is the militant, yet I've discovered a similar journalistic tone in other articles addressing cyclist/motorist conflicts - the general idea being that a cyclist invites conflict by not conforming to a standard and thus gets what s/he deserves.

I'm reminded of a controversial article about a Boston messenger who collided with a pedestrian who happened to be a prominent banker. This much publicized accident was the impetus for the introduction of licensing laws for messengers and a general crackdown on "renegade" cyclists. Had this gentleman been hit by a car, I strongly believe it would have been dismissed as an unfortunate accident rather than a cause for public outcry and unnecessary legislation.

I like this quote:
"It's a built-in conflict," said Darren Stehr, a Toronto-based activist who has spent years campaigning for cyclists' rights. "You're on a bicycle, and they're in a steel box."

He blames the drivers. "They're in a deteriorating situation. There are more cars out there every day. The traffic is worse than ever. They're not getting anywhere. They get angry at us, but we're doing them a big favour. We take up less of the road. We're creating space for them."

I should add that I am confrontational with motorists on occasion. Ususally, it is because I feel endangered by a motorist's carelessness or deliberate action to intimidate me. Sometimes it's because certain people think it's fun to be verbally abusive and I'm not big enough to let it go. But in the end, I'd like to reiterate a sentiment in the above quote: cars are gigantic, fast, dangerous, and they protect the driver. I don't have similar protection on a bike, yet nearly everyday a motorist will attempt to use their vehicle to muscle me. Somehow, however, I'm the militant.


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