There’s been plenty of news lately in the war between cyclists and motorists. I suppose there always is a lot in the news on this subject if you simply look for it. Still, it seems more widespread than ever before and it makes me wonder if we are on the verge of some great change.
Let me tell you a story.
As a youngster in the 1970s, I eagerly accepted temporary employment at the local Eagles Club selling snacks during Bingo Night. I would load up a cart of goodies and circulate amongst several hundred people, trying to sell my wares.
One of my strongest memories is that everyone smoked. A lot. As the evening wore on, a haze from the second-hand smoke would fill the hall, slowly expanding downward from the ceiling. It was very impressive. There was a handful of people who preferred not to be in the smoke-filled hall and a small room was set aside for their use. Nobody thought it odd that hundreds of people should be exposed to a roomful of secondhand smoke, including a young man trying to sell candy. As for the people in the smoke-free room, they were tolerated, although they seemed to be a tad anti-social.
My, how times of changed. It took 30 years, but the smoke-filled room no longer exists and smoking indoors would not be allowed in a public building. The notion of a kid working in such a place is distasteful. The question is, how did society decide to modify its behaviors concerning such an addictive substance as tobacco and what does that mean to cyclists?
I think there’s good news out there for cyclists. I don’t think the change in people’s behavior is unique to smoking. Drunk driving and women’s rights are a couple of other examples where society significantly changed its attitudes. There are other examples out there if you put your mind to it. The point is, behaviors viewed as perfectly acceptable can and do change. The question is how does this happen and how long does it take?
My answer is, I don’t know.
I do know this. Cycling on the street was ILLEGAL in much of Virginia and Maryland as recently as 1998. Most city bike share and bike lane programs are less than ten years old. The first ever Critical Mass ride took place in 1992. While some cities can trace their bike infrastructure program back to the 1970s, most didn’t put many resources against the plans until the turn of the century. Protected bike lanes (those which put some sort of physical barrier between cars and bicyles) didn’t exist in America ten years ago. Cycling issues such as how to punish motorists who accidentally kill cyclists and (of course) cycling infrastructure are appearing more often in local news.
On the other side, it is still obvious to Your Humble Scribe that motorist attitudes towards cycling are tolerant at best and physically hostile at worst. The notion that streets are for cars and cyclists are a nuisance to already clogged traffic arteries is still strong, especially in suburbia.
Can things change? When I think about that smoke-filled bingo hall 35 years ago, I realize the answer is “absolutely.”
Will things change? I’m afraid my crystal ball is a bit cloudy on that issue!