Friday, July 15, 2011
When I titled my third novel Cyclizen, I didn't exactly invent the term. But I like to think I popularized it. Obviously, my dream of making it a mass cult movement was an epic fail.
Anyway, riding home from work today, I pondered the term "cyclophobia" and was surprised to see that it's already a real word and apparently an actual phobia.
The definitions seem to focus on a root fear based on some childhood trauma. Some people are afraid to ride bicycles. If they have balance issues, or a traumatic past, that could be the reason. After my last serious accident, I refused to ride, then was afraid, then cautious, and now, I'm still cautious, but of other vehicles, not cycling itself.
But some other people, non-cyclists, don't fear cycling as much as cyclists themselves. Actually, to compare it homophobia, they don't fear bicycles as objects, or snap at them like pretty much every small dog I ride past. Instead, they hate cyclists like racists hate people of other races.
Yesterday, an elderly woman was struck and seriously injured by a cyclist in downtown San Francisco. This led to many online comments, including a few posts by Facebook friends, who made generalizations like "most cyclists are rude and arrogant." "Most cyclists have a smug sense of entitlement." "Cyclists should be forced to get insurance."
It went on. And on.
Yet, only the day before, a UCSF shuttle bus crashed into a truck carrying a trailer of cars at the infamous Most Dangerous Intersection, Octavia and Oak. One person was killed and four injured. Here's a previous article about the intersection.
This is also the same intersection where I photographed the handsome Patricio Hoter years ago for the cover of Cyclizen (the upper half is of an early 1990s New York ACT UP protest).
I didn't see any posts about how dangerous shuttle buses are. However, I can recall three times when a UCSF shuttle bus driver nearly killed me by swerving into the bike lane, and in one case, a driver was so enraged when I tried to escape his path that he deliberately drove at me to run me down. I only escaped by jumping onto a sidewalk and behind a garbage can.
It was a horrible incident, and my complaints to UCSF were, of course, ignored.
Do I now have a phobia of shuttle buses, or UCSF? No. Do I generalize now that "most" shuttle bus drivers, UCSF ones in particular, are lousy drivers who probably hate their jobs? Yes.
But despite the overwhelming factual data proving that the majority of traffic accidents involving cyclists are caused by cars and jaywalking pedestrians, the hatred and fear of cyclists continues. People who have one or more unpleasant interactions or near-accidents with cyclists foist their hatred and fear on all, or "most" cyclists.
The most ridiculous things I read were frequent resentful complaints about our "entitlement," as if we all think we're 'allowed to break traffic laws because we're cyclists.'
Yes, some do. Some cyclists are total jerks. But they're no doubt jerks off their bikes, too.
I hardly consider myself "entitled" when I have to daily avoid cars, trucks, cab doors, double-parked vans, deranged homeless people and drunks wandering in the street, not to mention nails, broken glass, sunken curb drains and sewer holes, and dangerous potholes in the street.
To top it off, a new study claims that cyclists are more prone to heart attacks than sedentary auto drivers.
But wait. The same British media publication debunks that. So yes! No! Whatever.
A higher chance of being killed, a probability of dying from bus fumes, a near certainty of eventual bike theft, and a large-scale vilification from non-cyclists.
If that's entitlement, you can have it.
UPDATE: July 20: Another serious accident, another online article and another venue for irate vindictive cyclophobes to foist their hatred against an accident victim who may be dead.