Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Why are they so angry? (A guest essay)

Posted by on July 2nd, 2014 at 1:15 pm


Sarah Gilbert

This essay was written by local writer and bike tour guide Sarah Gilbert. Her last piece for us was Two moms, two cargo bikes, one big adventure.

Why are they so angry?

This was my first question. I told my story from the day a woman in a Mercedes pulled out from a side street onto Holgate, turning right, when I was riding up the sidewalk with my oldest son on the back of my longtail. But I could have told you about the man in a sports car who swung around a group of us, narrowly skirting my mama bike, as we rode laughing in the middle of a beautiful spring morning east on Everett Street. I said something like “watch it!” and I too was angry but not so much as the pedestrian walking beside us. He told us it was the law to ride single file.

Later I looked it up and learned that it’s a grey area, and anyway that guy was speeding so I’m pretty sure in a head-to-head battle of situational ethics I’d win. It was the middle of the day, a low-traffic situation, he had no reason nor right to endanger anyone to get around us. But it wasn’t him but the pedestrian, a well-dressed guy maybe in his 50s or 60s, who couldn’t let it go. At the time I replied to the pedestrian in surprise, “no it’s not!” and then he insisted it was, hotly, so we rode on. I made a joke something like, the guy in the sports car was trying to make a citizen’s execution, that was some punishment for the crime I was pretty sure was not eligible for the death penalty or probably even a ticket if a cop had happened upon us. We were joking loudly and there was a traffic light stopping us so the angry man could hear us and as we pulled away, when the light turned green, he yelled after us, “you have to give respect to get respect!”

I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work this way. I like to think smugly that I’ve given a lot of respect to the world in my life, even stopping at those stop signs in the circles for instance, even waiting at red lights when it’s late at night and no one’s around, even teaching my kids to respect the laws I think are kind of stupid, but — while oh I love this bike riding life! — the world at large does not see this respect and give it back to me. The world instead gives me a lot of anger.

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I sought to answer the question, why are they so angry?, in this essay I wrote for Creative Nonfiction’s Human Face of Sustainability contest, and I ended up a finalist with $1,000 to spend on things I’d carry home on my bike. I was thinking about riding my bike but other things too, using reusable containers at the grocery store bulk bins and eating organic tomatoes I can myself and not buying new toys made from plastic in China. More too, growing food in a garden and being picky about how my meat was raised and lots of crunchy choices that get me called “self-righteous” and “holier-than-thou” and “elitist” because I’ve decided I can’t live with myself creating any more environment-destroying gunk than I absolutely must.

So we get angry. I get angry and the guy walking down the sidewalk gets angry and the angry bike guy on Portlandia gets angry and we’re all avoiding dealing with helplessness/chaos/shame in some way.

Of course I needn’t really create any, but that’s the other side of this essay.

The answer was, I finally realized while riding my bike, ethical traps. The things I’d been reading about in a book that looked like it would be boring, “Ethical Traps for Executives,” written by a friend of a friend, Robert Hoyk. We all make these ethical compromises every day to live in the world in which we live. We fall into traps like Trap 29: Everybody Does It. If I don’t buy that plastic My Little Pony doll in its cardboard-and-plastic box, someone else will. There’s Trap 27 (Advantageous Comparison: at least I’m composting my kitchen scraps), and 25 (Reduction Words: no big deal, just driving to the grocery store and to work), and 24 (Desensitization).

I think the most important one is what Bob Hoyk calls “Coworker Reactions,” and I’ll quote my essay here, “but it’s really Society’s Reactions: ‘If our fellow [humans] ignore, justify, or condone our unethical behavior, it supports our view that we didn’t do anything wrong or that if we did, it’s no big deal.’ Reduction Words again.”

I talk in the essay about how I’m falling into ethical traps, too, to use my coltan-rich laptop computer and live in a home heated by natural gas and my iPhone. (Addiction.) (Justification.) (Everybody Does It.) (Society’s Reactions.) I’m not saying I’m perfect. I know I’m far from it.

What I want to do is to stop talking about what’s happening to the environment (we’re pretty much fucked there anyway, no way of reversing the damage we’ve done) and human lives (30,000-some die each year in the U.S.) because of our insane overuse of cars and start talking about why we’re not doing anything.

A family ride to IKEA-8.jpg

(Photo J. Maus/BikePortland)

The answer is in the anger. Anger is a trap too; anger is a way we cope with feelings of helplessness, chaos, and shame. I’d say we all feel helpless about this. I’d say the world is in environmental chaos. I’d say we all feel shame.

So we get angry. I get angry and the guy walking down the sidewalk gets angry and the angry bike guy on Portlandia gets angry and we’re all avoiding dealing with helplessness/chaos/shame in some way. We’re all skirting the issue. We all need to own up.

I’m riding my bike not just because I have decided not to fall into a lot of those ethical traps but because it makes me happy. And I know it’s self-righteous again but part of the reason I live like I do is I want to raise the issue. I’m going to be honest here: I want to make people angry. I want them to face their shame.

I’ve let go of some of my anger but it follows us so, I’ve seen the anger flame out in other bicyclists, shouting at me and friends for taking up too much of the road on a bike boulevard or scenic highway, or shouting the other direction, at motorists. We’re all scared and we’re all spending so much time thinking in us vs. them mentality — whoever them is — that we forget what the real goal is here. Is it to get somewhere the fastest? Is that really the goal?

Get angry then. Get apoplectic. Yell and stomp and call the other guy a thoughtless asshole. And then start thinking about why you’re angry. What you fear. Take it apart bit by bit and hold the bits in your hand and look at them a minute. Now do something.

Tell someone else how happy your bike makes you or encourage a friend to ride a bike or spend an hour lecturing someone passionately on the ethical choices you’re making. Take a picture of your kids laughing behind you. Organize a thrift shop ride. Join a bike gang. Ride naked not to protest anything but just to feel the sun on your skin.

I’ll tell you what my goal is: my goal is happiness. I’m riding these days slow and heavy with too much cargo and super-short skirts. I’m riding in high-heeled sandals or ballet shoes, not yelling at anyone most of the time. Unless you’d like to hear my lecture on bicycle ethics. Sit down. I’ll pour you a beer in a mason jar. Now… first… take a deep breath…

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  • are July 2, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    excellent. thank you, sarah.

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    • spare_wheel July 2, 2014 at 6:18 pm

      i liked this meta-opinion piece so much that i’m going to go home and re-read it.

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      • sarah gilbert July 3, 2014 at 7:25 pm

        thank you two for your lovely comments. I am thrilled to have this piece be read 🙂

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  • jeffb July 2, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    Once I told a motorist I was angry, and she proceeded to try very hard to run me over.

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    • sarah gilbert July 3, 2014 at 7:25 pm

      I refuse to accept liability for expressions of anger prompted by my essay 😉

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  • dan July 2, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    Reusable containers at the grocery bulk bins is a good one. I guess I could start by at least re-using the plastic bags they put out at the bulk bins. But I wish our Freddy’s would let us start using tupperware, mason jars, etc.

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    • BIKELEPTIC July 2, 2014 at 6:04 pm

      I don’t know what freddies you use – but I’ve always used my own tupperware containers. I measure the tare first and have it written on the container – that’s what the issue is really. because they don’t know the weight of it. Sometimes if I forget I just tell them I don’t care and charge me for my own container.

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    • spare_wheel July 2, 2014 at 6:13 pm

      i use re-usable bags made of fine mesh. they clean up well in the laundry too.

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    • sarah gilbert July 3, 2014 at 7:26 pm

      I use reuseables at Freddy’s too sometimes. often you have to explain to the checker the tare concept. but the Hawthorne Freddy’s has been good! (plug for People’s; their bulk bins are some of the cheapest I’ve seen.)

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  • rachel b July 2, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    This has been covered ad nauseum, I know, but drivers are testy and angry because driving in Portland has become an exercise in futility and cyclists represent just one more obstacle in the commute that never ends. More and more people move here every day and I can certainly feel it, the crowding.

    I think the anger’s more diffuse than directed. My husband and I have no car and get around on our bikes, our feet and mass transit. But we occasionally, very rarely use ZipCar and each occasion just reinforces our decision to go car free. Driving in Portland is a seriously aggravating experience nowadays, and nervewracking.

    Anyway–Portland’s current auto traffic is the best deterrent to more Portland auto traffic I can think of. I would love it if they made downtown a car-free zone. And dedicated several car-free streets, north-south and east-west. Heaven! 🙂 It is my dream.

    As to the other thing, pedestrians are angry when cyclists ride on sidewalks. I’ve both ridden on sidewalks and been the angry pedestrian, mad at someone riding (dangerously or impolitely) on the sidewalk. I do it only where road conditions are super unsafe, and then I go very slow or get off and walk my bike. I warn folks when I come up on them, give them space and cede first right to pedestrians, meaning I don’t act like I own the sidewalk. I’ve been noticing a lot more cyclists downtown riding sidewalks at unsafe speeds and cutting too close to pedestrians. Rude! And dangerous. Because of these folks, many pedestrians are going to be leery when they share the sidewalk with a cyclist–any cyclist.

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    • 9watts July 2, 2014 at 2:35 pm

      rachel b, well said. I too think that driving is a really excellent way to increase one’s stress. I don’t think we’re psychologically or cognitively well equipped to deal with the demands of driving in cities. Sarah’s more general points about anger are also well put, but I do think the pace and risk and overall dynamics of cars in cities makes for an unpromising dynamic. Add the demands of cell phones into the mix, and it’s a wonder anyone still wants to drive. Do they even know how much easier it is to bike?
      Habit, I suppose.

      The future will be human-powered.

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      • Sigma July 3, 2014 at 7:41 am

        …except for the 90% of us who will continue to drive cars, which will be powered by hydrogen or electricity generated from solar or wind sources.

        FTFY. This transition is happening right now.

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        • 9watts July 3, 2014 at 7:47 am

          “except for the 90% of us who will continue to drive cars”

          That is a higher percentage than drive right now. And the share of carfree households, at least in Multnomah Co., has been increasing of late.

          As for solar-derived hydrogen and electricity as transportation fuels, I’m curious for you to share your findings, your scenario of how this is going to save the car. Since you say it is happening right now that shouldn’t be too difficult.

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        • El Biciclero July 3, 2014 at 10:58 am

          Fuel selection is not the only problem to be solved to maintain a high level of car use; in cities at least, space is a bigger consideration. It’s easy enough for governments to force residential or suburban property owners to sell their homes and land for use as roadways, but try knocking down that high-rise downtown just to add a couple of lanes to Arterial Boulevard.

          If the “90%” of our current population are having a tough time fitting all their cars onto the existing streets (and finding parking spaces for them) How are the “90%” of the future (assumed to be greater) population going to find the space? Streets can’t really be widened much in many areas of the city; the only way to relieve traffic is to make it smaller or make it less. If not bicycles, then scooters or motorcycles. When the number of single-occupancy SUVs becomes just too large for the streets to handle, then multi-passenger TUVs (Transport Utility Vehicles–better known as “buses”) will have to take their place. It will become a matter of choosing the right tool for the job, and for a trip into town, the Escalade(tm) ain’t going to be it.

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    • was carless July 2, 2014 at 6:11 pm

      Yeah, I kind of agree, although I think driving has been bad for at least the 10 years since I moved here. My car is growing moss on the roof while I get around primarily by bike. The car gets relegated to trips over 5 miles in length.

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      • davemess July 3, 2014 at 1:15 pm

        Can people define “bad”. Are talking slow, constant gridlock? Dangerous? Mainly during peak hours?

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    • Spiffy July 3, 2014 at 8:14 am

      it’s not just Portland… you can’t drive in any city without breaking the law… if you do then you end up going way out of your way and being severely delayed… I get angry too when I have to deal with thousands of people breaking the law just to force a broken system to work a little better for them…

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    • Reza July 3, 2014 at 11:20 am

      I agree with the gist of this, but I actually think it’s way too easy to drive in Portland, with the possible exception of downtown because of the (meager) cost of parking. But it’s free and mostly plentiful almost everywhere else, traffic is nowhere near as bad as larger cities (try commuting by car in Seattle sometime), and we refuse to implement tolls on bridges/tunnels or around downtown using a cordon. We devote a ridiculous 8 lanes to cars on MLK/Grand in the heart of our Central City! Plus our transit service is still pretty skeletal outside peak hours, so most people don’t consider using it outside for non-commute trips except for large events.

      In short, we have a long way to go.

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    • Paul in the 'couve July 3, 2014 at 1:20 pm

      I mostly agree with you Rachel. Along with a couple of others, I will point out that Portland traffic really isn’t that bad (with out getting into the problems with popular measuring metrics). Seattle, SF, LA, Houston, NY, DC all have much worse traffic (although in some ways DC is turning corners). The issue you identify with anger is common however in all of these cities. Drivers are not getting what they feel entitled to, speed and short travel times, and convenience and every lie of the automotive advertising machine they’ve bought into. It is accute in Portland not because traffic is that bad but because many Portland area drivers have a higher expectation of ease and convenience for driving. Native inner PDX residents might be the least angry. People who moved to Portland from more rural areas, commuters from the exurbs, even people from cities like LA who expect Portland to be “lower key” have false expectations of not having to deal with driving. Portland neighbourhoods may contribute to this not being dense by big city standards. People see a down town core and expect it to be grid lock, but they see a suburb and expect to drive unimpeded.

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    • Paul July 3, 2014 at 1:56 pm

      Driving in Portland is one of the easiest of the cities I lived in. In fact, so easy that people continue to drive.

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  • Anne Hawley July 2, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    Thanks, Sarah. This is great!

    It all kind of comes down to that old bumper sticker, “First heal yourself: the key to planetary transformation.” Americans are unsustainable simply by being alive and American. Nobody here is holier than anybody else, and feeling guilty/angry/defensive about driving a car, eating meat, having kids, or exhaling carbon dioxide gets nobody anywhere. As you say, break it down, look at the pieces, and decide where to make your stand. And be willing to re-evaluate and change that stance every now and then, too. Then aim to be happy.

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    • sarah gilbert July 3, 2014 at 7:50 pm

      yes, yes, yes Anne. continually looking at ourselves and figuring out what we’re doing to cause our own anger/fear/pain. we’re all just creatures trying to survive and some of us do it more elegantly than each other but in the end none of us is getting a trophy. “best human!”

      our best possible goal might be personal happiness through connection to the other lovely people around us, and living every value we come across and want to claim as our own. I can never be happy living contrary to my values (though I catch myself doing it all the time) and that’s why I ride my bike.

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  • Roger Averbeck July 2, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    Anger is a unsuccessful attempt to communicate…

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    • spare_wheel July 2, 2014 at 6:17 pm

      i prefer righteous anger to the banality of evil.

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  • Rob Chapman July 2, 2014 at 3:48 pm

    Hell yeah Sarah! Thanks for this.

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  • Paul H July 2, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    Sure, get angry — but love first. Find your highest aspirations of kindness, community, patience, empathy. Take several deep breaths of all that first.

    Only then will your anger focus on what’s important (rather than the transitory and trivial); only then can you speak with people rather than at them; only then can you identify the aspirations you share with the people you’re addressing; only then can you elevate yourself and your community.

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  • Joe July 2, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    I get mad yes only human… 🙂

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  • Zaphod July 2, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    Thanks for the article. Your perspective overlaps very much with mine. I’ve given this topic a lot of thought as well. The thing that’s different that I’d like to add is:

    Driving a car is the most unnatural suppression of our primal selves.

    Think about how musical instruments become an extension of the musician, the skis to the skiier, etc… and the car an extension of the driver as so many bmw adverts will attest.

    So imagine you become this *thing* that’s powerful fast and strong beyond what a human could ever dream. Now take this gazelle and stick it in traffic behind some other f***ing car. Or sitting at a red light. When another driver doesn’t accelerate as they should or otherwise keeps this powerful beast waiting… it’s super aggravating. Any pause becomes a frustration. Cyclist, another motorist, traffic signal, pedestrian… doesn’t matter. The machine wants to run.

    So the rural open road with no traffic is the rare time when the human/machine can run free. And even then there are animals, police radar and maybe the unexpected cyclist.

    The human is given a HUGE amount of power and then can rarely, if ever, open it up. Never mind every car advert suggests how awesome and american it is to buy something massive fast and powerful.

    I think this goes against fundamental primal forces within us. And this is at odds with our conscious minds and we have difficulty reconciling these things.

    So we exist in an agitated state while driving and get angry because we’re already in this conflicted state.

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    • stacia July 3, 2014 at 9:37 am

      this is a really interesting way to think about all kinds of technology that we use. thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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    • El Biciclero July 3, 2014 at 11:27 am

      Yeppers. I was going to post pretty much this same thing about the source of driver anger. Unmet expectations of unfettered, exciting, fast, and convenient transportation, when the reality is constrained, slow, boring, and inconvenient. The problem comes when angry drivers go about selecting a target for their anger. The target is rarely the red light or the speed limit, it is more often the other driver, the pedestrian, or the cyclist that “shouldn’t” be in the way or “should” be doing things differently.

      As far as causes of pedestrian or cyclist anger, I think they come from a couple of different places, generally speaking. Some pedestrian (and even cyclist) anger with bicyclists, as mentioned in the essay, comes from the pedestrian identifying with drivers, and seeing what they believe is the source of all their problems when they are driving (see above). The same kind of anger for cyclists I think comes from a place that says “other cyclists shouldn’t do things that upset drivers–it makes drivers mad at all of us!”

      Then there is the common source of anger for cyclists and pedestrians which comes from having our bodies or lives threatened by others. The pedestrian who gets brushed back by a car or a bike, the cyclist who gets passed aggressively and a little too closely, the cyclist who gets nearly right-hooked because a driver isn’t paying attention, or thinks they can save two seconds by cutting ahead instead of waiting…any number of things.

      Adjusting one’s expectations can go a long way toward dealing with things that might otherwise cause frustration or anger. Developing empathy helps as well. Perhaps most difficult of all is to remove the emotional filter from your lens of perception and think rationally about what is really detrimental to your travel plans, what kinds of things actually cause delay, and how much “delay” you actually incur because of them. Unless you are suffering arterial bleeding, that extra two minutes or so isn’t going to kill you.

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      • sarah gilbert July 3, 2014 at 8:19 pm

        (and I always think to myself, what could I have done with that extra 30 seconds? that extra minute? is it worth someone else’s life? is it worth mine? is it even — on the bike or off it — worth my clenched jaw and my stress? probably not.)

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      • jd July 4, 2014 at 11:53 am

        I think it’s legitimate to be angry at specific people who are being inconsiderate toward you, however you have chosen to live your life in a given moment. It’s when people generalize inconsiderate cyclists to all of us that I worry. And I think that’s just some weird quirk of how our brains work.

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    • sarah gilbert July 3, 2014 at 7:43 pm

      beautiful observation and I think very true. I often refer to the driver brain as “monkey brain,” and it’s also partly because we have So. Many. Things. to fear when we’re driving, as another commenter mentioned brilliantly. the very possibility of having an accident — causing expense, embarrassment, injury to driving record, difficulty getting a job, even killing someone! — is enough to put a somewhat anxious person into a state of blind panic. when we’re afraid we use our primal brain, not our rational one.

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  • Hugo Triptoph July 2, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    When I’m a pedestrian, cyclists ride on sidewalks, run stop signs, ignore crosswalks, and nearly hit me on a regular basis.

    When I’m driving my car, cyclists get in the way at every opportunity, and they don’t obey traffic laws which are designed to make the roads safer for everyone, including cyclists.

    Of course everyone else hates them.

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    • Chris I July 2, 2014 at 8:32 pm

      Have you ever tried riding a bike in the city?

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    • GlowBoy July 2, 2014 at 9:56 pm

      Hey Hugo, since you’re all into the us-vs-them mentality, and particularly into hating people based on their behavior (wow, psychopath much?), try these on for size:

      – When I’m a driver or a cyclist, pedestrians “jaywalk”, crossing against the lights and in mid-block, failing to look our approach, staring at their smartphones with those silly giant headphones on their heads. Of course everybody else hates them.

      – When I’m a cyclist or a pedestrian, drivers break the speed limit and roll stop signs with their marauding two-ton machines, stare at their smart phones while they’re careening down the road (saying they’re just “navigating”), turn and change lanes without signaling, race from stoplight to stoplight, turn right without watching for people in crosswalks, pass within 3 feet, fail to stop for pedestrians in both marked and implied crosswalks, get automatic green lights in advance of their arrival while everyone else has to push a button and wait an extra cycle for permission to cross, spew smelly exhaust in everybody else’s face, take up way too much space on the road, create smog, warm the planet, send our armies into foreign lands to feed their relentless appetites, and kill 30,000 of their fellow Americans a year – far more than are killed by people wielding firearms. Of course everybody else hates them.

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      • Pete July 2, 2014 at 11:54 pm

        Not to mention the #1 killer of Americans up to the age of 19. Also, far more pedestrians are killed by drivers than by bicyclists.

        But when I’m a driver everyone else around me uses their turn signals, obeys the speed limit, slows and pulls behind instead of passing me when they’re taking the approaching exit to my right, and never tailgates me, nor do they ever text or talk on the phone while driving.

        I just wish my tax money didn’t have to go towards installing all those red light cameras to catch those darned scofflaw bicyclists…

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        • Paul in the 'couve July 3, 2014 at 1:26 pm

          I’ve been thinking about this. Heard a news story recently about a couple inured while eating breakfast in their kitchen by an out of control car that crashed into their house. I’d plan to research, but I be more people are killed each year inside building being hit by cars than pedestrians are killed by cyclists.

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          • Todd July 4, 2014 at 12:57 pm

            Were they wearing their breakfast helmets?

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      • Spiffy July 3, 2014 at 8:19 am

        firearms and motor vehicles kill about the same number of people each year…

        although many firearms deaths are intentionally self-inflicted while few motor vehicle deaths are intentional…

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    • Spiffy July 3, 2014 at 8:26 am

      when I’m a pedestrian: cyclists ride on sidewalks, run stop signs, ignore crosswalks, and rarely ever come close to me…

      when I’m driving: cyclists are never in the way (they’re just traffic), and they obey more traffic laws than the dangerous motor vehicles…

      of course not everyone hates them…

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      • KYouell July 3, 2014 at 6:08 pm

        An idea my husband and I pondered a bit back (my own take, don’t blame him): those pedestrians walking willy-nilly just parked. Those people are drivers who were annoyed by everyone in their way, parked, then walked from the triumph of the free parking space the scored and to the business they were coming to patronize. They still approach the street with entitlement, just not with the metal and air bags protecting them. I’m starting to think that there needs to be some “walking from car to store” bits in the drivers license exam.

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      • sarah gilbert July 3, 2014 at 7:46 pm

        yes Spiffy! I think the “cyclists” and “drivers” labels are so much the visible minority being made a stand-in for all. even the minority — well, I understand. there is always a time when people turn off their considerate brain and turn on their inner id. we all do this. it’s when we start seeing what the “cyclists” or “drivers” do as a personal attack (even if it results as such, I doubt very many cyclists or drivers actually have a goal of running each other over) that we break down. and start hating.

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    • El Biciclero July 3, 2014 at 11:36 am

      So what’s stopping you from breaking the rules? In fact, I’ll bet you already do–ever go 5 over the speed limit? 10 over? Ever turn or change lanes without signaling? Ever roll a STOP sign or right on red without coming to a complete stop?

      Let’s say you don’t ever break a single rule; again, what’s stopping you?

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  • Drew July 2, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    Last time I was the focus of somebody’s anger it was a UPS driver on Hawthorne. I had to take the lane for a few blocks (no room). That ticked him off.

    At a stoplight down the road, he walked by me carting some boxes, yelling that I violated his “road rights”.

    I told him that I had been informed I was going directly to Hell anyways.

    He was flummoxed and sputtered ” Well… You should!”

    Riding away I waved and said “see you there!”

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    • Spiffy July 3, 2014 at 8:27 am

      I try to always report people driving badly in company vehicles…

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    • April July 4, 2014 at 1:11 pm

      I drive a USPS vehicle for a couple of hours a day, and I try to be hyper-aware of cyclists and pedestrians. I can see people on bicycles giving me the side-eye when they see me, but of course I have no way of saying “I see you, you’re fine” or “I’m a cyclist when I’m not at work” other than eye contact and waving.

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  • Carnac July 2, 2014 at 10:24 pm

    The parody level of this post could be a little more subtle, but well done.

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    • sarah gilbert July 3, 2014 at 7:40 pm

      … can’t… help … myself. my sweet, I am perhaps a parody of a creature in and of myself. but I mean what I say 100%.

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  • spare_wheel July 2, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    This was my favorite part (bolded):

    Get angry then. Get apoplectic. Yell and stomp and call the other guy a thoughtless asshole. And then start thinking about why you’re angry. What you fear. Take it apart bit by bit and hold the bits in your hand and look at them a minute. Now do something.

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    • jd July 4, 2014 at 11:43 am

      Hm, I fear people becoming so self-indulgent that they fail to acknowledge the interests of other road users. Not getting over so people can pass is relatively mild, disrespect-wise. But that kind of selfishness is related to the kind that causes texting and driving.

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      • spare_wheel July 6, 2014 at 11:10 am

        not sure what your comment has to do with mine.

        but…for the record, i always attempt to let motorists pass if they are stacked up behind me and i am going significantly less than the speed limit. that being said, if i am going close to the speed limit i not only take the whole lane but i purposefully take the left hand side so as to discourage dangerous lane-straddling close passes.

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  • GlowBoy July 2, 2014 at 10:53 pm

    Having lived in other cities, I don’t think Portland’s particularly nerve-wracking to drive in at all. Driving amongst other vehicles is just inherently nerve-wracking. There is NOTHING new about this. It’s been at least twenty years since the term “road rage” was coined, IIRC not too long after a spate of highly publicized freeway shootings (imagine!) in the late 80s. I’ve been driving for over 30 years, and I don’t recall a time when motorists didn’t get righteously angry at each other for tiny violations.

    Amd really, why should this be a surprise? Even ignoring the deadly consequences of driving (which people are increasingly doing, since cars have such good crash protection nowadays), a minor collision with another car can cost thousands of dollars and a staggering amount of hassle. The stakes are huge. (Among other things, the prospect of a fender-bender threatens to wipe out the very time savings achieved by driving!) So the tiniest slight can light the fuse on all that suppressed rage.

    And I’m just talking driver-on-driver action. So far. Now bring an increasing number of cyclists and pedestrians into the mix, because the roads are becoming slightly less hostile to them. Many drivers suddenly (1) feel under threat, because their numbers are declining and they’re not quite the KIngs of the Road they used to be, and (2) have a common target for their rage, instead of each other. Let’s pick on the “other”, because they’re different, their perspective is baffling, and they’re a minority!

    One of the common refrains from the anti-bikers is that we break “the rules” “all the time.” Even ignoring the hypocritical mass delusion that cyclists are somehow bigger lawbreakers on the whole than drivers: what these people won’t acknowledge is that those rules exist first and foremost to protect people from being maimed and murdered by marauding masses of metal. Sure, a secondary reason is to ensure an orderly flow of traffic to minimize conflict and property damage – but witness the rage expressed towards cyclists who roll stop signs when no one else is around! How DARE we! What the haters really resent is that they expend a huge amount of mental energy following the rules to avoid killing people at every turn, while for us it’s not quite as deadly important for us to blindly follow the rules all the time.

    Speaking of resentment … while we may be riding our bikes because it’s fun, or because it’s healthy, or because it’s less damaging to the environment, or because it saves money, or our friends are doing it, or whatever reasons … our presence reminds them that they are NOT doing it. A driver who feels even slightly guilty about their environmental impact is going to be reminded that you’re more “eco” than they are – even if you’re riding for your health. A driver who feels slightly guilty about not driving to the gym often enough to keep in shape is going to be reminded that you’re taking better care of your health – even if you’re riding to save money. You’re doing something good that they aren’t doing. Cue resentment and anger.

    It doesn’t matter why you actually ride. If you are perceived as doing something more virtuous, whether or not that is your intent, people will perceive you as a smug do-gooder and resent you for it. It is human nature, and cycling is far from the only example. Combine that with the suppressed anger that many drivers already feel, plus the frustration that they can’t take their anger out on us with their vehicles (and get away with it), and I think I know why “they” are so angry.

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    • Pete July 3, 2014 at 12:10 am

      I frequently travel to cities all over the US and world for business, grew up in Boston (legendary for aggressive driving, if you hadn’t heard), and currently live in California (where people are obsessed with their cars). I also spend a great deal of time in Oregon (at my second home), a fair amount visiting friends in Portland and its burbs (where I used to live). Oregon in general has the most courteous, law-abiding drivers I’ve ever encountered… it makes me chuckle when I hear the opposite. Last week I was in Vancouver (BC) – that other bikey Utopia – and people there are super-nice but behind the wheel they still don’t compare. Just before that I was in Atlanta and Houston… nuff said.

      Maybe you remember Steve Martin in the movie LA Story… checking his watch then pulling out and loading his handgun because it was rush hour on the freeway! 🙂

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  • Peter July 3, 2014 at 7:29 am

    Very nice article! On my bike I wonder why I just got mad at that car driver who offended me in some way, sometimes benign, sometimes not, but I find that over the next few miles of pedaling I work it out and the anger just disappears.

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    • El Biciclero July 3, 2014 at 11:42 am

      This is one of the advantages of active transportation. When anger does arise, one can “pedal it out” while thinking of all the other nice things, such as hearing the birds singing, smelling which flowers/shrubs are in bloom, the feeling of gliding along, etc. bicycling affords.

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      • sarah gilbert July 3, 2014 at 7:23 pm

        exactly! I call my bicycle my thinking machine.

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  • Pete July 3, 2014 at 9:51 am

    ‘Nuther little anecdote… the other day I was in a bike lane slowing up for a red when a woman in a Prius swerved to block most of my lane as she stopped. I had to stop quickly, then I noticed she was head-down texting. She was an older woman – even wearing reading glasses to see her phone! I tapped on the hood and pointed and shook my head and she acquiesced, and I pointed and said “look where you’ve driven!” (which she hadn’t noticed). She apologized and moved the car out of the way; I did all this in a diplomatic manner as I’ve learned anger just puts people on the defensive. As the light turned green and I started riding away, the woman in front of her blasted her horn angrily at me and glared and shouted a bunch of stuff I couldn’t hear – although they weren’t together, apparently she was upset at me lecturing the woman! Takes all kinds…

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  • paikiala July 3, 2014 at 10:02 am

    “There is more to life than simply increasing its speed.” – Ghandi

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  • Oregon Mamacita July 3, 2014 at 11:01 am

    This article is one long exercise in stereotyping people based on their mode of transportation. Calling the group you’re putting down “angry”
    is an old trick. Circa 1965, African American males were criticized for their anger, suggesting that they weren’t entitled to their point of view- they were just “angry.”

    And before you flip out at my reference to civil rights, remember that
    there is a body of academic research supporting the idea that African American men as a group benefit from car ownership. Any rant against car ownership unintentionally implicates race and class in a way that
    makes progressives uncomfortable. So we bury those thoughts.

    As for the author’s anger- meh. Life is short.

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    • Chris I July 3, 2014 at 1:05 pm

      That research is bunk, because it doesn’t factor in the cost of car ownership, then claims there is a benefit to having access to a car. Of course a car is beneficial if you don’t have to pay for it! But as it stands, 24% of African American households do not have access to a car, which is much higher than the national average. They can’t afford to buy a car, so it is disingenuous, and frankly, insulting, to claim that anyone advocating against more car use is racist. Shame on you.

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      • Oregon Mamacita July 3, 2014 at 4:59 pm

        Look- Chris is trying to “shame” me because I hold a different scholarly viewpoint. The last time I saw the argument presented was in the Atlantic
        Magazine, but boy, disagree with bike evangelism and you are “shamed.”

        Double standard here, folks- my first response was censored.

        Yes, folks- no racial or gentrification problems with the anti-car side of active transportation- don’t even consider other points of view, because that would be SHAMEFUL.

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        • dr2chase July 6, 2014 at 5:04 am

          Compared to the inadvertent and not-so-inadvertent racism of actual gentrification, I don’t think you’ve got a really good case for your point. Advocating for better treatment of cycling or improved bicycle access is not much like pricing people out of their rentals.

          The more overt and effective racism that I’ve seen has revolved around transit and resistance to cycling facilities — don’t extend the subway line, because Those People will use it to come to Our Town; we want to Preserve Property Values (this is why the Red Line in the Boston area stops at Alewife). Don’t run a “crimeway” behind my house, we don’t want an “urban population” in our backyard (this almost directly repeats two remarks I heard or read, I’m not stereotyping in the least here).

          The Atlantic article was somewhat crap, because (as was otherwise pointed out) it considered only benefits, not costs.

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          • Oregon Mamacita July 7, 2014 at 8:57 am


            Boy, talk about race and the biking community FREAKS. Why is race such a sore spot? Perhaps because the biking community feels uncomfortable with the fact that it is always middle-class whites telling the rest of the city that “bikes are the answer.” I

            Look at the sources for this quote- Brookings Institute (usually pro-density shills) and the Urban Institute (not exactly the Koch Brothers). The quote was taken from the arch-conservative rag known as the Daily Beast:

            “A 2011 Brookings Institute study (PDF) found that in the 100 largest U.S. metro areas, only 22% of low- and middle-skill jobs were accessible by public transit in under 90 minutes, suggesting that today’s working-class riders cannot access needed opportunities. And a new study (PDF) released in March 2014 by the Urban Institute found that public transit access had little effect on economic outcomes. While tracking households that had participated in two federal housing voucher programs, it found that car owners were twice as likely as transit users to find jobs and four times likelier to retain them. Car-owning households were also able to locate near better neighborhoods and schools. This reaffirmed previous work by the Progressive Policy Institute arguing that car ownership plants the seeds for upward mobility.”

            Now, Chris I tries to engage in “shaming” me for departing from the cult-like devotion to bikes as a moral virtue (as opposed to my simple enjoyment of bikes). But I am much more comfortable being in the same corner as the Urban Institute and away from the self-congratulatory narcissism I see on this thread.

            Have at it! Let the name calling begin! I haven’t heard “breeder” in awhile
            on this blog.

            PS Topic sentences don’t result in global warming, so maybe the next piece
            about how great cyclists are should have some topic sentences and maybe
            even paragraphs that flow.

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            • dr2chase July 7, 2014 at 1:16 pm

              Not quite sure where you get the idea that I’m freaking out, or that your references inevitably lead to your conclusions. One reason people can have a hard time reaching jobs on transit is because transit gets screwed up — in some cases, by planning/policies that looks pretty racist. Look at MARTA in Atlanta; there’s all sorts of places it doesn’t go because suburbs didn’t want it. Or look at the racist backronym for MARTA (it’s in the urban dictionary). Or here near Boston, where subway line extensions were rejected by suburbs because of “those people” (a friend of mine lived in one of those towns at the time, he said it was not subtle). A friend of mine who lives north of NYC tells me that many of the bridges on roads in Westchester County were deliberately built low to exclude “those people” who were believed to travel in buses (e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hutchinson_River_Parkway#cite_note-13 ).

              So, is it any surprise that it is more difficult to get to work without using a car? And the cycling advocates are the real racists here? Much the same goes for suburban snob zoning — nothing makes a car necessary like legally-imposed low density.

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              • Oregon Mamacita July 7, 2014 at 2:35 pm

                Why are we talking about racism, aka the conscious hatred of other ethnicities? My whole point is that here is irony in a certain group of privileged whites lecturing the poor on how to live ), and that there are unintended consequences to some policies.

                Of course the bike community is not in league with the Aryan Nations. I don’t see facial tattoos of Norse runes on anyone’s face, nor lightening bolts (tattoos that should scare you…)

                Sorry if I implied you (dr2chase) were freaking out. Your remarks are civil. But the problems remain- not hate-fueled, but dogma-driven.

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              • 9watts July 8, 2014 at 11:08 am

                “a certain group of privileged whites lecturing the poor on how to live”

                That was a reach. And so was your first comment above:
                “This article is one long exercise in stereotyping people based on their mode of transportation.”

                I have learned here that you regularly interpret conversations in which automobile ownership is called into question, problematized, as an attack on the poor, as lecturing them, as an exercise in stereotyping; but with all due respect, I think your agenda is clouding your ability to read what folks here are actually writing, what they are saying.

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              • 9watts July 9, 2014 at 6:47 am

                “But the problems remain- not hate-fueled, but dogma-driven.”

                Pot calling the kettle black? I think it boils down to different views about how we got to the point where lots of people including poor people who can’t well afford to drive/must drive/can’t not drive. Your conclusion is poor people need more cars and therefore our interest in moving away from cars as a society is (unwittingly) racist. My conclusion is that the *system* that requires far too many people to have and use their cars, including many who can’t afford to but still drive, is broken and we need to fix that too.

                Adding more cars, subsidizing poor peoples’ access to cars, is not, in my view, a sensible way to tackle these coupled problems.

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    • El Biciclero July 3, 2014 at 1:40 pm

      You may be over-simplifying the theme of the essay. Some of the reader comments aren’t as carefully presented, but I don’t see anywhere the author calls “drivers” angry. She does mention that “The World” seems to dish out a lot of anger, but other than that, she recounts a few anecdotes and observations where people–some drivers, some people at the grocery store, some bicyclists, at least one pedestrian–actually exhibited angry behavior in word or deed. If we confine our contemplation to those individuals and anecdotes, rather than dismissing the entire essay with blithe accusations of “stereotyping”, it becomes a very legitimate question: why do people get so angry seemingly just because other people do things differently?

      Is it because we value convenience so much that any perceived impact to the flow of our daily activities that makes them other than instantaneous and butter-smooth is a grave affront to our very selves?

      Is it because we are afraid we may be forced to do things the way we see others doing them, and we don’t think we’d like doing them that way?

      Is it because we assume the motivations of other people are always hostile, arrogant, or self-centered?

      Is it because we secretly wish we could be like someone else, and seeing them be that way reminds us we can’t (or won’t)?

      I also have a hard time seeing this essay as a “rant against car ownership”. The author explains some of her motivations for not using a car, and does admit that she thinks the overuse of cars is “insane”, but leaves rationalization of car ownership to the car owners.

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      • sarah gilbert July 3, 2014 at 7:21 pm

        thank you El Biciclero. your reasoning is careful and insightful as always (and I’m so biased, but I do love the way your mind works). I’ll own up to believing that car ownership is not a value I admire, and that starts with the pure personal finance measures (ask any personal finance expert; cars are an expense, not an asset, they depreciate terribly and in my opinion and the results of some studies demonstrate that driving is bad for both your physical and emotional health). I do it for money. I do it for happiness. I do it for environmental reasons. and I don’t think it can be described as racist for me to wish others to operate in the same manner.

        I doubt I’ll convince you though mamacita.

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        • Oregon Mamacita July 4, 2014 at 9:27 am

          Sarah- I never called anyone a racist- I merely pointed to some issues you refuse to consider. I must say, this has been an ugly blog experience for me- so sayonara. I am not angry- just bored with bike evangelism.

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          • 9watts July 6, 2014 at 7:10 am

            “there is a body of academic research supporting the idea that African American men as a group benefit from car ownership.”

            You once referenced a paper that was on this subject, from UC Berkeley I believe. I too thought it took a rather narrow view of the matter. I’m curious what you make of this paper?
            Catherine Lutz. 2014. “The U.S. car colossus and the production of inequality.” AMERICAN ETHNOLOGIST, Vol. 41, No. 2, pp. 232–245.

            Here’s the abstract:

            The contemporary world is one of restless mobilities, radically morphing physical landscapes, baroque technologies, new forms of governance and subjectivity, and onerous inequalities. The automobile provides vivid insight into all five phenomena as well as into their relationship. I ask how the car-dependent mobility system of the United States not only reflects but also intensively generates the inequalities that characterize U.S. society. I propose that “compulsory consumption” and the automobile’s centrality to the current regime of accumulation can help account for this. Theories of inequality and mobility, I suggest, can be adapted to account for the automobile industry’s capture of contemporary life. [mobility, transportation, inequality, automobile, regime of accumulation, political economy, United States]

            And a paragraph:
            “This material allows insight into the several significant pathways by which the car produces or amplifies inequality in the United States and, potentially, elsewhere. I argue that the car system not only reflects inequality but also actively produces it, massively redistributing wealth, status, well-being, and the means to mobility and its power. While declining wages, rising corporate control of the state, and rising costs of higher education and health care are also crucial to these redistributions, understanding the car system’s special and deeply consequential inequality-producing processes is key to any attempt to solve a number of problems. Prominent among the problems that the U.S. car system exacerbates are inequality of job access, rising wealth inequality, and environmental degradation and its unequal health effects.”

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      • jd July 4, 2014 at 11:39 am

        It is self-centered to take up the entire road, the entire time you ride your bike, every time because you gotta let the Earth Mother embrace your spirit child.

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        • El Biciclero July 4, 2014 at 1:45 pm

          I’ve got plenty of self-centered for you: choosing to drive your single-occupancy motor vehicle along with 20,000 other people, making the lines at traffic lights interminable and forcing others to wait through several signal cycles before they can be on their way (granted, creating a traffic jam is a team effort). Cutting off a pedestrian so you can squeeze in that right turn 3 seconds earlier. Cutting off a bicyclist in a bike lane (i.e., not hogging “the entire road”), in violation of their right-of-way, to again make that right turn 3 seconds sooner. Pulling over and parking in a bike lane to make or take that cell phone call–the fate of the world may depend on YOU! Driving 30 – 35 mph through residential neighborhoods because you’re cheesed off at all the other drivers hogging up the main route…

          I’ll tell you that I’ve been held up far more by CARS when riding my bike than I’ve ever held anyone up BY riding my bike. When driving, I’ve been delayed far, far more by all the other CARS than I ever have by other people riding bikes (yes, I drive a car fairly often). Ever had to go 12 mph in a 55 zone on the freeway? I have, and it sure wasn’t somebody on a bike holding me up–it was not enough people on bikes.

          You’re suffering from what many people call “car head”, which in part makes you believe that people driving cars are important, but people on bikes are not. It says that driving is the “natural” choice, and anyone else that doesn’t drive is “weird”. It tells you that the only thing that belongs on the road is your car, and any other people or non-motorized vehicles are “guests” on “your” road. Next time you drive somewhere, just make a mental note of how much time you spend waiting for traffic controls and other cars, compared to how much time you actually spend waiting for bicyclists. In that comparison, you can’t count waiting for a bicyclist to take their turn at a 4-way stop, and you can’t count having to slow down for a bicyclist if you end up at a stop light behind another car. Rational evaluation of causes and results of perceived delay can be eye-opening.

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    • GlowBoy July 3, 2014 at 8:58 pm

      For the record, I am a car owner – and driver. I’m speaking from my own perspective when I say that a lot of drivers are angry. Myself included. I often get upset when I’m driving, at what I perceive as a lack of respect for “the rules” from other drivers – failure to yield, cutting other people off, turning without signaling, texting while driving, and so forth. Stupid, careless stuff that genuinely puts people and property at risk. Fortunately I have enough awareness of what it’s like to actually be a cyclist in traffic, and of the most important reasons for “the rules”, to not resent people on bikes for observing and/or flouting “the rules” in different ways than drivers commonly do.

      It’s not about stereotyping people based on their mode; some level of anger is inherent in the act of driving, I think. And cyclists make a particularly convenient target for a certain percentage of drivers.

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      • spare_wheel July 6, 2014 at 10:03 am

        the anger (entitlement) is aided and abetted by laws and courts that allow motorists to injure, maim, and kill with almost no risk of lasting consequences. strict liability would help motorists be less angry (entitled) and more fearful.

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    • gutterbunnybikes July 6, 2014 at 9:59 am

      The study you mention merely points out that poor urban black people tend to live far from employment centers (often being left behind by white flight to the burbs). But it doesn’t take into account other transportation options -which at best are unreliable, and at worst non existent in the poor neighborhoods.

      And why is it only the black men that “need” cars? I suppose a black woman wouldn’t need one? Or do the women already have them and the men don’t? OR are the women getting to work without them and the men aren’t?

      But transportation is just the start of urban poor problems. Once the person makes it to an employer, they likely wont get hired regardless of how qualified they are because of the neighborhood they live in.

      Having grown up in Detroit, I’ve seen all of this played out way too many times.

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  • xydeco July 3, 2014 at 11:18 am

    Glowboy nailed it just above, especially in his bolded lines. Drivers are definitely aware – however consciously or not – of the damage that they participate in, and project their guilt and whatever else onto us cyclists. So many drivers are thus primed to go off at the slightest perceived provocation.

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  • Carter July 3, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    You should always be considerate of other road users, and the writer was not being considerate on that beautiful spring day. She seems to have thought that since she was in a carefree mood, riding with her friends, everyone else should have been as carefree as she was. Drivers had no right to be in a hurry. They should let her set their speed. She should have been alert to traffic behind her and at least try to get out of the way. That would have been considerate. Maybe the driver was reacting more to her ignoring him than to her taking the lane.

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    • El Biciclero July 3, 2014 at 2:23 pm

      If indeed one should always be considerate of other road users, then shouldn’t the Mercedes driver have passed more safely, with greater consideration for those he could maim or kill? Or does one person’s perceived lack of consideration merit having their life threatened?

      “Sure I killed her! She wasn’t being considerate!”

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    • sarah gilbert July 3, 2014 at 7:16 pm

      this is the first time I’ve heard that one might be inconsiderate should one wish others to be carefree. hell yeah I want everyone to be as carefree as me! I am an ambassador of carefreeness.

      eye-rolling aside, I’m serious when I say that I believe that other road users should release some of their fears. live happy. the happier the more considerate you’ll be. as Anne Hawley said, first heal yourself.

      I will never believe that riding slowly and happily is inconsiderate, unless I am refusing to acknowledge your polite request for me to move, or something equally ignorant. excessive speed, in my opinion, is not a universal right.

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      • jd July 4, 2014 at 11:34 am

        Some people have jobs.

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        • sarah gilbert July 4, 2014 at 12:01 pm

          jd, you don’t like me. I get it. so I’m only going to respond to one of your comments. please tell me about this job you have. does it require you to drive in excess of the speed limit?

          I have watched many, many motorists pass me on the road, many of them angry because I am there (even when riding by myself). I know you think it’s inconsiderate of me to ride on a road you believe should be left respectfully to the cars, who should be allowed to go whatever speed they can gain between stop lights. I’m not saying that one should be disrespectful to someone else. I’m just saying that I don’t think it is disrespectful to value life over speed.

          I’ve done the math. Slowing to wait until you can pass me safely might take a few seconds off your commute. Or it might not affect it at all, given the plenitude of traffic lights (especially in the downtown district, where my motorist in the story was, and going quite a lot over 20 mph). I’d love to hear what was so important at work — that couldn’t wait a few more seconds — that you think is worth risking someone’s life, respect or no.

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          • 9watts July 4, 2014 at 5:11 pm

            The other side of carhead is speed entitlement.

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        • April July 4, 2014 at 1:20 pm

          I have a job. To which I ride my bicycle. And when I’m slowed down–by construction (happening a lot right now because I ride up McLoughlin), by a headwind, by other cyclists–I take a deep breath and remind myself that I should just leave the house a few minutes earlier next time.

          I also drive a motor vehicle for a couple of hours a day as part of my job, and when something slows me down, I take a deep breath and I remind myself that I’m paid by the hour and that the safety of myself and others is more important than how fast I finish my route.

          Seriously, shit happens, get over it.

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        • KristenT July 5, 2014 at 8:30 pm

          Yup, and some of us plan our commute accordingly, and leave enough time so we can get to our destination in the proper amount of time.

          And that goes whether I’m riding my bike, or driving my car. Because I use both methods to get around. You should try it sometime, JD, it’s definitely an experience and may make you a better road user all around.

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    • gutterbunnybikes July 6, 2014 at 10:08 am

      Legally the vehicle in front does set the speed. City streets don’t have a minimum speed limit. The speed limit is merely the fastest you are legally allowed to travel, but it isn’t a guarantee that traffic will move that fast.

      You’ve never been slowed down by someone driving slow?

      Someone looking for a parking lot?
      Someone trying to read a street sign?
      What about someone with a heavy load in the back of a truck?
      Delivery vehicle?
      Street cleaner?
      Garbage truck?
      horse drawn carriage?
      Rush hour?

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  • spare_wheel July 3, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    From Sarah’s description it does not sound like Mr. Mercedes Benz gave them much time to respond before passing aggressively (shouting at someone is aggressive behavior). Drivers have every right to be in a hurry but they should be in a hurry without harassing other (slower) road users.

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  • Chris July 3, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    Thank you Sarah. This is a wonderfully written article.

    I struggle with my anger from time to time with obnoxious drivers. I have dreamed about mounting a squirt gun on my handlebars that has paint remover inside. Satisfaction guaranteed.

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  • PW July 3, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    “And I know it’s self-righteous again but part of the reason I live like I do is I want to raise the issue. I’m going to be honest here: I want to make people angry. I want them to face their shame.”

    Uh, yeah, this is about as effective as carrying a gun into a public place to make people appreciate the 2nd amendment.

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    • PW July 6, 2014 at 3:02 pm

      LMAO. “I choose to open-carry my AR-15 into Chipotle and ride my bike side-by-side with others. These are my constitutional rights and the more I exercise them to the fullest, the more others will respect my worldview.”

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  • jd July 4, 2014 at 11:30 am

    I like a lot of the things you say in this piece. The ways we all justify our literally Earth-shattering choices are sneaky.

    But I don’t think the people you mentioned were angry because they’re ashamed. I think they were angry because it’s inconsiderate (whether legal or not) to ride double when someone needs to pass. If the other cyclist was a child, that’s a different story, but when I drive and I have to go 3 m.p.h. in a 20 m.p.h. zone because two grown cyclists think riding side by side is more important than my very existence, I also get angry. Not because I’m ashamed to be driving, but because when I’m driving, it’s because I need to be going more than 3 m.p.h.

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    • El Biciclero July 4, 2014 at 1:24 pm

      Try going 3 mph on a bike; it’s harder than you make it sound…

      Here’s some advice I’ve heard as a cyclist many times, adjusted to be appropriate for drivers: Too much [bike] traffic? Drive somewhere else.

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      • dr2chase July 5, 2014 at 7:10 pm

        Practice, and you can do it. I’m still (age over 50) practicing various things. Being able to ride at a very low speed is useful in all sorts of situations — being safe and polite on the MUP, creeping towards a red light (since I have yet to master a track stand), that sort of thing.

        But as near as I can tell from what I observe on my commute, one of the main reasons for driving a car is so you can get stuck behind something that’s in front of you. If someone doesn’t like that, perhaps they should ride a bicycle instead, and quit being mad at whatever is in front of them. Note that you can be stuck behind a pedestrian, stuck behind an animal crossing the road, stuck behind a car, or stuck behind a bicycle, but in most cases, if you’re stuck behind something, it’s because you’re in a car. (Sometimes if you are on a bicycle you can get stuck behind a car, because they hog the whole road.)

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      • gutterbunnybikes July 6, 2014 at 10:54 am

        Slow riding is skilled riding. Unless you’re pushing the limits of the mechanics of the bicycle (which most never do), the faster you go the easier it is to stay on the bike.

        So many bike riders think skilled riding is fast riding. But the real trick is how slow can you go, and what can you do while going that slow? And it’s more applicable to urban riding conditions than fast riding is.

        Personally I got a lot more respect for flat BMX trick riders than I do for nearly all other bike riders, to do those tricks with such little momentum is extraordinary.

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        • El Biciclero July 6, 2014 at 9:31 pm

          Right you are; I practice slow-riding all the time on the MUP, at stop lights, what-have-you. I just find it amusing when other people describe bicyclists’ speed.

          Pedestrian: “He must have been going 30 mph–on the sidewalk!”

          Driver: “…and I’m stuck behind this arrogant bicyclist going 4 mph–in the middle of the lane!”

          Witness to crash [trying to sound ‘official’]: “Well the bicyclist was proceeding down the street at a high rate of speed, so he didn’t have time to stop when the car exited the driveway.”

          Parking Driver [after opening door]: “Well, she was just going so fast! I didn’t have time to see her!”

          Again, a rational observation will most likely reveal that the cyclists in all the above fictional cases were probably going between 12 and 15 mph. But when it suits the purpose, bicycle riders are all going 25 mph, all at the vanishing ends of the bell curve.

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          • El Biciclero July 6, 2014 at 9:53 pm

            Should have said “less than 5 mph or greater than 25 mph.” HTML didn’t like my “less than” and “greater than” symbols.

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  • Hugo July 4, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    The problem with a lot of cyclists is that they’re out to prove a point, and they intentionally do things to upset motorists. It should come as no surprise that you when you deliberately set out to make other people angry, they get angry.

    There’s no denying that many cyclists really and truly want to create conflict between motorists and themselves. Take the “Critical Mass” rides as an example. These aren’t just people who happen to be riding on the same route at the same time. It’s an organized and intentional attempt irritate motorists, to prove a point. The point they’re trying to prove is that cyclists have a right to be on the road. Sure, whatever…but you’re upsetting people to try to prove this point.

    So don’t be surprised when motorists get angry at cyclists.

    The ONLY reason cyclists are allowed on the road at all is because nobody has put it to a democratic vote. It’s a communist plot.

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    • 9watts July 6, 2014 at 6:33 am

      “The problem with a lot of cyclists is that they’re out to prove a point, and they intentionally do things to upset motorists.”

      Oh, my. A lot of cyclists? Hm. And you know this, how? Is it possible that, never having been in their shoes, you are misinterpreting some of their actions, the cues they’re sending you?
      This doesn’t seem like a good attitude, a good starting point, for getting along with others in traffic, Hugo.

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    • 9watts July 6, 2014 at 6:43 am

      “The ONLY reason cyclists are allowed on the road at all is because nobody has put it to a democratic vote.”

      How do you feel about pedestrians? Would you like to qualify a ballot measure to outlaw them too?

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      • Lizzie July 6, 2014 at 4:34 pm

        Cycling is a form of transportation and cyclists have a legal right to the road. Some people only have a bike for transportation and other prefer to cycle. Cyclists do everything you do in your car for the same reasons. Share the road.

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    • El Biciclero July 6, 2014 at 9:59 pm

      Heh. Critical Mass is not representative of daily transportation bicycle riders. Many of the things you assume are done out of antagonistic motivation to “annoy” motorists are actually bicyclists following proven safety techniques. Please give examples of times you have personally seen a bicyclist doing something strictly to purposefully annoy you as a driver.

      And the only reason bicyclists are allowed on the streets is because this it NOT communist Russia–people in the United States have a right to travel anywhere they wish. The revocable privilege is operating a multi-ton piece of machinery in close proximity to other people whom you could easily injure or kill.

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    • GlowBoy July 7, 2014 at 12:44 pm

      Oh, so you’re in favor of the tyranny of the majority? Minorities get screwed every time their rights are put up to a public vote, because you canNOT count on the majority to understand the minority’s perspective. We’re just starting to get past the stupidity of having put gay marriage rights up to public votes in state after state.

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      • GlowBoy July 7, 2014 at 12:47 pm

        Also, what biciclero said: Operating a deadly motor vehicle is a privilege, not a right. Being able to travel around (including by bicycle) IS a right.

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    • KristenT July 7, 2014 at 4:54 pm

      Well, I think you’re wrong– a LOT of cyclists are just trying to get to their destination, the same as you and all the other people using the road.

      Personally, I think A LOT of car drivers and truck drivers out there intentionally do things to try to scare me off the road, like pass way too close and way too fast, and honk when they come up behind me, throw glass bottles into the bike lane, and roll through stop signs and right-turns without stopping or looking. Sometimes, I think A LOT of car drivers are trying to injure me.

      This is where you, Hugo, get to step in and say, ” well, I certainly don’t do any of that!”

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  • chasingbackon July 4, 2014 at 11:02 pm

    When I’m on Clinton, LIncoln or another similar bike designated street, I thoroughly enjoy riding 2 up and going a speed my lesser experienced riding partner can handle, no matter what the traffic behind us. Nothing is more important than my safety. Nothing.
    If you feel you need to drive faster, find another street. Clinton is not your speedway cut through to beat the traffic on Division.

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    • Reza July 7, 2014 at 11:50 am

      “Clinton is not your speedway cut through to beat the traffic on Division.”

      But of course it is. Drivers currently do this with impunity west of 39th. But will the City do anything about it?

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      • spare_wheel July 9, 2014 at 2:46 pm

        sadly, cut through driving is legal. and even more sadly cyclists are legally required to move over “as far right as practicable” when cut through drivers want to pass. we are second class traffic even on bike boulevards/greenways.

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        • Paul in the 'couve July 10, 2014 at 10:54 am

          As for being required to move over, I disagree. At least that isn’t clear taking all the parts of Oregon Vehicle code into account. If oncoming bike and auto traffic is clear, I will move over for a polite driver. Of course speed is a factor, I typically ride at nearly 20mph. I don’t move over very often on green ways, or really any lane with sharrows. Motorists need to learn to deal with it or go over to the high traffic street with free parking on both sides.

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          • spare_wheel July 10, 2014 at 11:54 am

            there is an exception for cyclists who are moving at the normal speed of traffic but it’s vague. however, for anyone who is cycling less than 20 mph would still be legally required to “cycle as far right as practicable”. the existence of bike boulevards provide a good argument for repealing oregon’s discriminatory AFRAP statute.

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  • dr2chase July 6, 2014 at 5:53 am

    What I find that ticks me off more nowadays are government-level issues, and not so much people in cars. I suspect this has a lot to do with (1) playing life on the very lowest difficulty setting, so I don’t get much crap on a day-to-day basis, (2) having learned how to ride in ways that are generally less annoying to drivers, and (3) route choice — if there’s a route where I must routinely take-the-lane, I go looking for a different route. And my commute to the nicer office has the property that I suspect a fair number of people driving it *wish* they could be on a bicycle or make transit work — often enough, *I* am passing *them*.

    The government-level stuff falls into two categories — there’s the stuff that inconveniences me (note — I am a recovering Effective Cyclist, so on the whole my commute to the better work office seems plenty nice to me — the recurring irritant is that there’s not enough empty places to park a bike), but the larger frustration is all the stuff that keeps other people off the roads.

    I ride right past where my wife works — and a commute that I think is mostly fine, she (like most people) finds unacceptable (she has a Dutch colleague who’s also willing to commute by bike). We’ve tried it on a tandem, which has its plusses and minuses. The roads are bumpy, the most direct routes are cut by little black holes of traffic nastiness (Harvard underpass, Davis Square, Mass Ave traffic sewer) and often the nicest routes are made less useful by one-way restrictions that make no sense for bicycles (they’re usually intended to reduce noise+danger from auto traffic — not a bicycle problem). Some of Cambridge’s experiments with bike infrastructure are good (there’s a great cycle-track I use), some are kinda broken (some of the stuff near MIT seems great, till you need to turn left, then what do you do?)

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  • Shawn F July 6, 2014 at 7:01 am

    Good article but as an avid cyclist I fully understand why riding two abreast is appealing but the pedestrian was right, it is inconsiderate. It is a nitpicky point but I also think it put you at great risk as it forces drivers into more dangerous territory to pass. Similarly you mention in your article riding on the sidewalk which may be legal in Portland but where I live would get you a ticket. It is also unsafe as it brings you out of motorists line of sight.

    I really look forward to the day when cyclists are treated equal to motorists and that will mean getting over our sense of entitlement and self importance. It is great that you are trying to avoid anger but it sounds like you need to take some responsibility for the situations you are causing. I think some of the oversized anger responses come from motorists witnessing thoughtless behaviour on the part of cyclists over and over again.

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  • Lizzie July 6, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    In my city, cyclists can go two abreast on the road, legally, but if someone is trying to pass and can’t, they should file into a single line. If everyone just tried to respect each other and be thoughtful of others, there would be less stress. Everyone seems to be angry and self absorbed these days, which is unfortunate.

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    • spare_wheel July 7, 2014 at 7:39 pm

      so you want me to enable aggressive speeders by getting out *their* way?
      i think we disagree strongly about who is self-absorbed these days, which is unfortunate.

      Ray Thomas of Swanson, Thomas, Coon & Newton :

      Thus, if you are proceeding at the normal speed of traffic, you have a right to take the entire lane. ORS 814.430 (2)(e) also provides that you can ride “twoup” or side-by-side.


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      • El Biciclero July 8, 2014 at 9:26 am

        You don’t even have to get out of the way–I was passed in rapid succession by two drivers yesterday while taking the entire lane, and exceeding the speed limit. While taking a slight downhill in a 25 mph zone at 26/27 mph, two drivers thought that was too slow and used the full oncoming lane to pass me. They never would have even thought about doing that if I were on a motorcycle, but something about a bike flips a switch in some people’s brains. It must be like an urgent orange flashing light with an accompanying computerized voice that says “Bicycle! Pass! Pass! Bicycle! Pass! Pass!”

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  • GlowBoy July 8, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    “Something about a bike flips a switch in some people’s brains. It must be like an urgent orange flashing light with an accompanying computerized voice that says “Bicycle! Pass! Pass! Bicycle! Pass! Pass!””

    I once experienced this while going the legal speed limit (which I think was 35mph) on a long downhill while riding around Crater Lake. Some idjit in a pickup just decided he HAD to pass me. You know, because I was on a bicycle, and his subconscious told him I was an obstacle to be passed. Worse, he tried to avoid crossing the center line, despite an absence of oncoming traffic, so he squeezed by way too close. That pushed me dangerously close to the edge, a couple inches beyond which I would have tumbled down a 1000′ cliff into the lake. Well, it was my turn to be angry, and justifiably so.

    I caught up with him a few minutes later at the Cleetwood Cove parking lot and proceeded to chew him out. He expressed disbelief that I could have been going the speed limit because I was on a bicycle. After watching her husband reveal ever greater depths of defensive idiocy, his wife finally interrupted him with a heartfelt “we’re sorry.” It seemed genuine on her part (and seemed likely that she would continue the chewing-out after I left), so I accepted and that was the end of it.

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    • spare_wheel July 9, 2014 at 2:38 pm

      thanks for being willing to pursue the miscreant and attempt to forcefully educate him. you did good (even if many on bike portland don’t understand this).

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  • Tate Matson July 9, 2014 at 3:48 am

    I might know why he was angry–number 1–roads are paid for and funded by taxes off gasoline–and of course the licensing fees of vehicles–and so while your having a nice ride–most people in their cars downtown–are either going to or from work–or on errands/appointments–and instead of being able to go the speed limit–they have to wait for you. And another point–I think its time you people did some independent research on your own—the mean global temperature of the PLANET has actually gone down 1.5 degrees over the last 20 years–the NOOA finally found “JESUS” so to speak and came out with facts which will most likely get them fired by this corrupt administration. Last winter was the coldest in 100 years–not just in the USA but the planet–the polar ice is not melting–Global Warming never really existed–and instead of reading a report–or doing research on your own–you “smart hip bike riders” just assumed your government that gets its pay, bonuses, retirement from our taxes, would never do anything unethical–I mean since when do people in politics lie?? CO2 is breathed in by plants and algae–and those plants and algae then exhale oxygen the stuff we humans and animals breath—the planet is greening naturally–meaning with the extra “CO2” in the air is allowing plants, trees, etc. to grow faster and healthier–so do us all a favor–ride your bike to the library and grow your MIND and leave the downtown core during the week to people and their cars–who pay for the roads with the gas taxes they pay…..

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    • Chris I July 9, 2014 at 10:49 am

      1. Gas taxes and vehicle fees only fund part of road maintenance, particularly in cities. The funding percentage is higher for federal highways, but is nowhere near 100%. Given that bicycles cause zero damage to road surfaces, the city saves money when someone ditches a car and starts riding a bike.

      2. Climate change is real, and it is human-caused. Your politics are clouding your logic.

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    • Alan 1.0 July 9, 2014 at 11:00 am

      Tate, have a go at reading “Whose Roads” and if you’d like a few references to back up the fact that motorists are subsidized by the population at large you’ll find them over in this forums thread.

      NOAA can speak for itself: http://www.noaa.gov/climate.html .

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      • dr2chase July 9, 2014 at 1:01 pm

        More data on the “drivers pay for roads” claim — http://dr2chase.wordpress.com/2014/03/28/weve-been-subsidizing-driving-for-years/

        I put that graph together after another such “discussion” on the internet. You can click the graph to get the spreadsheet if you want it, and that contains links to all the data sources. The pretty picture uses US government numbers for money input, miles driven, and inflation correction, and what you see there is both gasoline and diesel, and the “money in” is before any diversions to any non-car purposes (like transit). That’s all of it, and gas taxes, excise taxes, and tolls have not covered the entire cost at any time in the last 20 years, and it’s gotten worse recently (because gas taxes have not kept pace with costs).

        Right now, each gallon of gas you buy comes with a 40-cent subsidy from other sources of money, like income, property, and sales taxes. (All cost figures on that graph are computed in 2011 dollars, but we’ve had very little inflation recently.) The total shortfall for the last year in the graph was about $80 billion, or around $250 per capita. This does not cover any hypothetical costs of carbon taxes, nor does it cover the costs of fighting oil-related wars (at the height of the Iraq+Afghanistan wars, we were spending the equivalent of 50-70 cents per gallon of gasoline consumed), nor does it include any Pigovian (nuisance) taxes for pollution, noise, or impaired use of road space by others (e.g., pedestrians, for whom free use of the road used to be legal, not “jay walking”).

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        • Alan 1.0 July 9, 2014 at 1:36 pm

          Thanks, Doc, I added that reference to my list. What’s going on with the decline on all three plots since 2009/2010?

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          • dr2chase July 9, 2014 at 1:48 pm

            I think you see several things going on. One, in 2009 (?) there was ARRA spending for our lovely recession. Two, the costs of driving arrive over time, so if there’s less driving when the economy sucks, we’re still spending at roughly the same rate, so the per-gallon cost can go up. Three, when the price of gasoline spikes, the cost as a fraction of the price can go down. I plotted all of them because (as you can see) they don’t always move together.

            One thing to note is that you actually want deficit spending in a recession, at least if you subscribe to Keynes’ theories, so it’s not 100% clear that subsidizing road use a little is that terrible a thing — however, the idea that cyclists get a free ride and drivers pay their way is nonsense.

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    • GlowBoy July 9, 2014 at 12:21 pm

      If there are a lot of drivers whose logic is confused as yours, I think I see why they are angry. 😛

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  • Oregon Mamacita July 15, 2014 at 9:39 am

    Here is research that supports my concerns that this community has a tendency to lecture others from a place of white, middle-class privilege, and that the lectures are falling on deaf ears. Hey, I am of the caucasian
    persuasion, and blessed with educated, middle-class parents who helped me get the tools I needed in life. But I live outside the Bike Portland echo chamber by choice. No one on this blog is a racist, so don’t even pretend that Mamacita doesn’t save that word for when it truly applies (Sheriff Joe Arpaio) But a failure to examine your own privilege is lame. And it explains why Portland will continue to stagnate bike-wise. Take the homeless out of the cycling count in Outer SE and it would be me and a few of you guys.

    Here, for benefit of my nemesises Chris I and 9 Watts:


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    • Pete July 15, 2014 at 3:37 pm

      So you’re saying we should learn the low-income bike commuters view from a Fulbright scholar with a Master’s degree and an assistant professor with a PhD?

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      • are July 15, 2014 at 8:20 pm

        if they went out and listened to actual people, yes

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        • Pete July 16, 2014 at 12:13 pm

          The article is great. I think it’s ironic, though, to get chastised about being “middle class” then presented with an article drawing the same conclusions and recommendations myself and others have made here in the echo chamber. The discussion on income level versus housing/proximity to jobs (and thus bike-ability) is not a novel one here on BP.

          Of course the poor want cars! Life in the US is centered around cars; our country has a rich history of catering to wealthy business interests (dating all the way back to our white landowning Freemason forefathers). As a result public transit in most US cities is a joke (DC included) – Portland is an exception not the norm. In Europe and Asia passenger rail systems connect entire countries on time and on budget. Here in California we don’t want passenger rail in our backyard because it’ll increase (gas) taxes. We’ll take federally-funded water and gas pipes though, as well as fat wires pumping down NW electricity.

          What I’d have loved to learn from this study is how many of the respondents subscribed to cable TV packages, and how many hours of car-centric advertising they were exposed to daily.

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    • 9watts July 15, 2014 at 5:54 pm

      I’m getting lots of error messages. Not sure why my reply won’t post

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    • spare_wheel July 15, 2014 at 6:13 pm

      Take the homeless out of the cycling count in Outer SE and it would be me and a few of you guys.


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      • Pete July 16, 2014 at 12:16 pm

        That is pretty funny, as well as “echo chamber”… 🙂

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    • 9watts July 15, 2014 at 8:31 pm

      Interesting bit of research, OM.
      You wrote: “this community has a tendency to lecture others from a place of white, middle-class privilege, and the lectures are falling on deaf ears”

      I do not disagree that I have a lot to learn from those who currently don’t bike/don’t want to/imagine it to be unpleasant/have no experience biking/etc. But that is a far cry from some of the claims you’ve been making here. For instance:

      “This article is one long exercise in stereotyping people based on their mode of transportation.”

      It seems you are conflating three issues.
      (1) the inequality that a car-based system such as ours produces,
      (2) our dreadful over-reliance on cars, and
      (3) road rage/uncivil intra-modal behavior

      All three are problems.
      All three arise from too many cars.
      All three may be causally related to the lack of opportunities available to some of those without a car.

      But telling us to shut up about the need to move beyond the car does nothing whatsoever to advance the issues you are concerned about. Getting beyond cars also gets us beyond the over-identification with cars the subjects in the study you cite evidence. Cars appear to them to be a solution–and in a static sense they may be–but this is not a static problem. We’re about to all lose our cars, at which point we’ll all have much bigger problems than the length of our commutes on the bus (and some great opportunities we didn’t have before). And the inequality that some of those who currently lack cars experience will cease because the rest of us will have joined their ranks, at which point they can teach us a thing or two.

      Little experience with cycling can lead people to say lots of foolish things, you know.

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    • 9watts July 15, 2014 at 8:39 pm

      from that study you linked:
      “In 2013, respondents reported more than 30 barriers to cycling or walking. Physical safety (32.6 percent), distance (30 percent) and comfort/cold/sweating (25.4 percent) were the most common objections. Other barriers included the difficulty of carrying bulky items, work attire, not knowing how to ride, theft risk, poor health or disability, the slower speed, ‘laziness,’ and a lack of desire. One respondent said, simply, ‘I just want a car.'”

      Lots going on here, to be sure. But I suspect we can reduce a goodly share of the ‘more than 30 barriers’ to a lack of experience with bicycling, perhaps few peers who bike, and all the inertia that comes from (the car) habit.

      To me skateboarding isn’t something I’ve had any experience with. I can’t, for instance, well imagine hauling bulky items with it, or imagine it to be very safe initially, but I also recognize that I’m not in a very good position to judge how easy or difficult or safe or practical it might be to adopt skateboarding as my means of transport until I tried it, gave it a shot.

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  • GlowBoy July 15, 2014 at 11:37 pm

    If by “lecturing others” you mean talking about the benefits of cycling, I’m not going to stop doing that. Nor will I stop pushing for improvements that make it safer and help level the playing field of our still horribly bike-hostile infrastructure. EVERYWHERE, including parts of town such as East Portland that haven’t seen proper investment in the past.

    For the record, I’m not as anti-car as many BP commenters: I’m a car owner, and drive some of the time. I don’t see cars as evil incarnate, but I do think our society has become far too reliant on them because of how we’ve built our communities. I don’t support dictating to other people what mode to use, but I am fully behind making it easier and safer to choose bicycling, walking and mass transit.

    At least physically. Culturally, probably not much I can do. If so many people in poor communities avoid biking because they continue to view cars as symbols of upward mobility, how would I as a privileged white person influence that anyway?

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