Monday, February 24, 2014

The culture of killing cyclists in Australia

We had an empty chair at work today (hopefully the normal occupant will make it back in soon) where a cyclist was taken out by a driver.

The incident was pretty run of the mill, desparate not to have to wait a few seconds a driver raced past a group of cyclists and once just past slowed rapidly and turned left across them. The bikes took evasive action, a few ended up on the gravel, a few riders hit the dirt and our co worker didnt get up. Instead he's taken away in an ambulance with a broken collarbone and suspected fracture in a vertebrae somewhere. Thats about all we've got from his distraught wife. As for the driver, who knows, they didnt stop.

Whats really interesting in the discussions that followed around the empty desk was the frightening similarilty between the way those in the office that only drive defended the driver in a very similar way to the traditional defenders of rapists and abusers. Some of the very things said this morning were:

a) Variations of "I see cyclists run red lights/stop signs all the time." Basically these people are saying that because some other cyclist, somewhere else, some other time broke the law, this guy 'deserved' to get hit. Kind of like saying I had a mate once who girlfriend cheated on him (probably with him) and so all women are liars and deserve whats coming.

b) Variations of "well if I was on a bike it wouldnt matter if I was in the right or not, the car will kill me so they are always right". Kind of like saying, well she might have the right to an opinion but he's so much bigger than her, what did she expect?".

c) Another favorite; versions of "I hate it when cyclists are so slow". Ultimately saying, I'm in a big powerful car and I could get to work/home 10 seconds faster if you werent in my way, I deserve to get home fast, Ive earnt it. Not unlike saying, I'm a nice guy, I bought her a few drinks and dinner, I earnt a bit of loving.

d) Finally, statements along the lines of "well, its stupid to allow 2 ton cars capable of 100 kph and bikes on the same road - bikes should stick to paths". Pretty close to this workplace, locker room, train station, bus etc etc is for blokes, those blokes might do bad things to girls if they came in, so the law should stop the girls entering.

What I heard was a 'rape' culture (well not precisely but close enough until I can think of/find a name) in practice but this time directed at me, a cyclist.  No that was a bit of a head spin and personally I actually 'got' what feminists were talking about - not just understanding it, but feeling it.  Of course it wasnt the same, I'm a middle aged, middle class, white hetro male so of course people will listen to me, but still I got a glimpse of the other side.  Anyway, I blame my daughter and our recent discussions/debates/arguement on race and gender privilege for sensitizing me to this mode of thought by the way. But once having had the thought I couldnt shake it.

 What happened next was even more appalling. In my head I could hear my daughters voice. What she has said is that the 'politics of nice' perpetuates a 'rape culture'. Ie by being polite (ie cowardly) and not calling out bad behavior we encourage it in future. So I called it out.  I basically said that those drivers were acting exactly like the defenders of rapists and abusers. That it was their attitudes that had put our mate in hospital. I broke the rules, I didnt play nice, tame, timid cyclist. And our drivers stopped joking, they stopped complaining, and started thinking.

I dont know what the cycling equivalent of a rape culture is but I do know their is one.  I also know now that making the roads safer for us on two wheels isnt going to be easy but for the first time I'm beginning to see a way.