Automotive Arrogance

Everybody’s experienced some smart-ass cutting them off in traffic. It seems there’s a certain mentality that considers others as an obstacle to progress.

It’s damned irritating when it happens to you while driving.

It is flat out frightening when it happens to you while walking in the crosswalk.

I was coming back from downtown not long ago and looking to cross Figueroa to catch the 81 bus back home. I stepped into the crosswalk only to catch a flash of Mini Cooper flying by me. I could see the woman driving looking at me as though I had offended her.

It was startling for me, but it was really scary for the poor woman walking a few feet closer to the moron in the Mini. We briefly exchanged looks then I began scouting around for a rock to throw. I am sorry to report that Figueroa, at least around Ave 57, has been swept clean of throwable items. I would happily have tossed a stone through this woman’s back window if I could have found one in time.

I suppose that I’m glad no rock was available. I am, after all, a pacific individual. I believe that violence is not only ineffective in most circumstances, but is the stupidest response you can make to any situation.

Then I thought of some of the comments made in a NY Times article some time ago on the changes in New York streets in the attempt to make the place more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly.

Comments like, “They’re taking away our rights.”

The offending activity in that case was the adding of bicycle lanes.

When I took Driver’s Ed in high school the teachers used to tell us, “Driving is a privilege, not a right.” Apparently there are a large number of people who did not get that lesson.

More than that many drivers behave as if they believe the roads to be their own and anyone, on foot, on bicycle, in a bus or on motorcycle who dares cross their path is in danger of being mowed down, or at least intimidated. If you don’t believe that buses are endanger as well, watch how many times a bus is cut off in traffic.

It is commonly accepted among bicyclists that if you ride long enough, you will be hit. Maybe not killed, but that is an option.

The doctor who criminally assaulted two cyclists by slamming on his brakes in front of them was more than unapologetic he apparently felt justified in his actions. He was angry that cyclists dared slow him down as he left his Benedict Canyon home.

Part of the car culture has become convinced that driving is only the beginning of their rights, that the rights of drivers have expanded to include all the space on the road, not limited to, but certainly including the space occupied by others.

There is an attitude that “I need to get there (wherever that might be),” and if I have to cut you off to get there, that’s your fault.

This is not unlike the so-called “smoker’s rights” movement. If you recall, the essence of that movement was that smokers had the right to smoke anywhere, even if they endangered the health of others.

There are a number of people driving out there who feel that they have the right to drive anywhere even if their driving endangers the health of others, albeit in a more immediate fashion than smoking does.

We have a long way to go to educate the majority of drivers who are not actively hostile to non-vehicular transportation. Driver’s need to be aware of others on the road.

But we also need to recognize that there is a percentage of the driving population which regards anyone not in a car as the enemy.

Those of us who advocate cycling and pedestrian rights need to recognize that this is not going to be an easy campaign. Educating the ignorant is going to be the easy part and that may take a generation.

Convincing the arrogant is going to take a lot more. I am not sure what the strategy will have to be, but I know you cannot count on there being a rock around when you need one.

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