It has not been an awesome week to be an urban cyclist. Yesterday, the Washington Post ran a screed about how mean bicycle “bullies” are trying to rule the D.C. roads by “pushing” for a bicycle escalator to help riders climb a steep hill (an idea on loan from Trampe, Norway, where citizens seem okay with the idea!). On Tuesday, an Orange County cyclist who was struck by a bottle of Gatorade thrown by a passing truck driver learned that he could be facing charges for using “words in public likely to illicit a violent reaction.” And even mild-mannered NPR has its name attached to some cyclist-hate, via reporter Scott Simon’s Twitter rant last week about cyclists who think they’re “above the law.”
Cyclists can incite some astonishingly intense vitriol among drivers (and pedestrians, too), and some psychologists are working to understand the social factors that help explain aggression toward them. For one, as psychologist Tom Stafford once wrote for the BBC: Cyclists make drivers bonkers because drivers perceive them to be upending the long-established conventions of the road. They’re not moving as quickly as the speed of traffic, and yet there they are, riding along with the cars.
Of course there are some who blatantly do break the rules, like failing to stop red lights. But let’s leave those rule-breakers out of this, because, as Stafford pointed out in an email to Science of Us, “you can cycle perfectly legally 100% of the time and still be hated by some drivers.” It’s hard out there for a cyclist.