Force This

A few days ago I was completely baffled by this tweet:

The grainy picture, the lone guy in business attire, the apparent lack of actual gridlock…

Then I got caught up on my TV watching and realized it was from the latest episode of “Succession.”

I’m still not sure using smarmy opportunist Greg to make bikes look good is a great choice for an advocacy organization, but it is accurate, and I will totally cop to being a smarmy opportunist myself. For example, consider this tweet:

As I mentioned yesterday, advocates get very upset when someone blocks the bike lane. Very often the line is that they’re “forcing you into traffic:”

Yes, it’s annoying, it’s frustrating, it’s infuriating, it’s potentially dangerous. At the same time, in recent years I’ve become increasingly troubled by that oft-repeated phrase:

And what troubles me is that idea that any of these people can “force” you to do shit:

I mean yes, if you’re in motion and the driver’s in motion and he steers his car into you, he can force you to do all kinds of things, including crash and die. But a driver sitting in the bike lane and picking the crabs out of his pubes has no real power over you. Yes, you cannot continue along your desired path, but the pube-picker isn’t “forcing” you into traffic either. You can choose to go into traffic, or you can stop, dismount, and walk, or you can just hop the curb and ride on the sidewalk, annoying the pedestrians in the same way the driver is annoying you. Granted, in that last scenario a cop might then force you to receive a ticket, but you do always have the option of…ahem, “schluffing:”

Though I’d imagine technically they could ticket you for that, too. In some places they might even consider that “fancy riding,” which could be illegal in your jurisdiction:

If riding fancy is a crime then I’m guilty as charged:

I realize that’s not what they mean by fancy riding. My point is that you have an infinite array of choices such a situation, with the sole exception of continuing straight ahead.

My objection to the idea that drivers “force” you into traffic is by no means to suggest it’s okay that they do it, or that we should surrender our bike lanes. However, it is to suggest that saying someone is “forcing” you into traffic is its own act of surrender. Not only are you forfeiting control, but you’re also forfeiting your sanity. There’s all sorts of stuff the city should address, but they’re not going to address any of it in the time it takes for you to ride from your home to your destination; in fact, they’re almost certainly not going to fix it in your lifetime. This leaves you with a choice: enjoy each ride (aand by extension your life) as much as you possibly can, or go ahead and trade that enjoyment for anger so you get to blame somebody else for the fact that you’re angry. This virtually guarantees you a lifetime of misery, because when you assign responsibility for your emotions to someone else you can be sure you’ll never be happy again.

So as hard as it can be sometimes, when I see something like the tweet I referenced above…

…I do my best not to get mad at either the schmuck behind the wheel or the shmucks who work for the city. (Please note I didn’t say I necessarily succeed, but I do make a good faith effort.) Instead, I take the “safety checklist,” crumple it up, and toss it in a storm drain. Then I try to remind myself how fortunate I am to be on my bike in this situation. Unlike the driver in the giant unwieldy box, or the transit rider in the unweildy box someone else is driving, I can do pretty much anything I want in this situation. I’m mostly immune to traffic and delays, and it’s glorious. I have no illusions that I’m in total control when I’m riding a bicycle, or that any number of horrendous things can’t happen to me, but I also appreciate that I’m in as much control as it’s possible to be in this city on anything that has wheels.

So embrace smarmy opportunism! Assuming you’re a reasonably competent rider (an an important, oft-overlooked aspect of being a competent rider is leaving on time, being patient, and not being in a hurry), the only real mistake you can make here is thinking those lines on the street mean anything. I’d say they’re merely suggestions, but that would be an insult to the act of suggesting things to people. No, the lines the city draws on the street are more like the tattoos people get–more often than not they’re mostly just wishful thinking. The city would like to think (and would like you to think) it’s looking out for people on bikes in the same way the person with the word “Courage” in big gothic letters on his person would like to think (and would like you to think) he is in fact courageous. I mean I’m not saying he is and I’m not saying he’s not, but putting too much stock into these bike lanes is like expecting the guy with the word “Courage” tattooed across his chest to save you from a knife-wielding psychopath–and then blaming him for “forcing you into trusting him” when he instead runs into the nearest deli and cowers under the sneeze guard at the salad bar.*

*[Fact: no matter what the emergency, the best course of action is always to find a salad bar and cower under the sneeze guard.]

There’s a notion when it comes to urban cycling that you need to be this or that–a crusading smuggie or one of those wacky 1970s porn star vehicular cyclist types:

In fact the reality (at least here in New York) is that it’s probably best to be something that’s currently wildly out of fashion, and that’s a pragmatist. In cycling terms, I’d define “pragmatist” as a smarmy opportunist who also yields to pedestrians. Use the bike facilities we’ve got but be prepared to fend for yourself at any moment. Concern yourselves with what drivers do, not what they should do. Slow the fuck down. (I’m not saying you should never run a red light, but I am saying you should never run a red light if your reason for doing so is to save time.)

And most importantly, remember that nobody can “force” you into anything.

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