I had a different topic in mind for this column, but on my commute to work recently I saw something that incensed me so much I had to write about it.
I was following another cyclist over the Burrard Bridge when a pedestrian began making his way toward us along the lefthand side of the northbound bike lane. I didn't think much of it; I often see pedestrians on that side of the bridge even though it's reserved for cyclists. They're not much of an inconvenience; they take up a lot less room than the southbound bikes that used to share the lane.
The cyclist in front of me, a well-dressed woman in a white coat, swung her bike over to the left to block the pedestrian's path. I figured she was about to stop and tell him that he was in a bike lane, but instead she accelerated and gave him a sharp, vicious shoulder-check that sent him staggering into the barrier between the bike lane and the traffic.
I was stunned. If she was trying to make a point about not walking in the bike lane, she failed completely. All she did was make cyclists look like aggressive jerks, and provide ammunition to the anti-bike lobby. What if the guy she hit was someone new to Vancouver and unfamiliar with the bike lanes, which are well-signed, but not eas-ily anticipated if you're not used to them? What kind of impression would that give them of Vancouverites?
It's all very well to say the pedestrian shouldn't have been there, but who among us is squeaky clean when it comes to following the rules of the road?
Which cyclist has never hopped on the sidewalk, and which driver has never blown through a changing light? Someone else's lack of consideration or awareness is no excuse for a physical assault. The incident was symptomatic of what is at the heart of the arguments about scofflaw cyclists, aggressive drivers and inconsiderate pedestrians: that we still haven't wrapped our heads around the fact that no one group owns these spaces. It only works when we share the road, which means giving respect and attention to every kind of road user.
I'm not a "One Less Car" cyclist, although I try to use my bike for every trip I can and only drive when there's a reason the bike won't work. I own an SUV and I like driving. Our streets shouldn't be an us versus them situation. There's room for everyone, but we have to be considerate and remember that not every act of inattention or carelessness is a personal slight or a deliberate attack on a different mode of transportation. Those who engage in deliberate attacks shouldn't be used to scapegoat entire user groups: the only people they really make look bad are themselves.
Kay Cahill is a cyclist and librarian who believes bikes are for life, not just for commuting. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.