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Road Rage – Brazil Critical Mass Attack

March 3, 2011

The images of the attempted vehicular homicide on the Critical Mass group in Brazil kept churning through my head all day today, haunting me as I crossed the road & never far from my consciousness while I was riding my bike through Center City Philadelphia.  It was only by a sheer miracle that there weren’t multiple deaths. I have linked a blog with various videos, which are quite graphic.  If you haven’t heard what happened, and don’t want to watch the video (if you are a cyclist, and don’t want to be haunted, maybe skip it), this is what happened:

There was a Critical Mass bike ride in Brazil.  140 bikers were riding down the road, when out of the blue, a black VW mowed into the crowd, from behind and sent bikes and bodies flying.  He then drove away, dumped his car, and was caught two days later (he is currently in jail – charges pending.  He’s claiming “self defense.”)  Forty bikers ended up in the hospital, and again, by what can only be called a miracle (and a testament to helmet use), no one died.

Every biker and runner can tell stories of weirdness from cars,  and stories downright aggression.  As a biker, pedestrian, and runner in a city – I am very lucky to call Philadelphia home.  Despite all of the bickering that sometimes happens between the biking community and non-biking community (bike lanes or parking spots?  love them, or hate them?), Philly is a fairly bike-friendly, runner-friendly town.  Or at least we’re getting there.

But this post isn’t about Philly.

This post is about general human decency.  I’ve seen it more and more with drivers, and yes, even with some bikers.  Complete and total disregard for other people on the roads.  The classic example is the driver who honks at pedestrians in a cross walk, or yells at bikers to “get off the road.”  (Note to drivers:  It’s ILLEGAL for bikes to ride on the sidewalks, at least in Philadelphia.)  There seems to be this rage, that’s boiling beneath the surface – all of the time.

And it’s so contagious.   I’ve been hit by a car once on my bike; my husband three times.   It’s really hard NOT to get in an us vs. them mentality.  (Each case when we were hit-by-cars, the car was at fault.)  I have been the victim of road rage many, many more times though.  And it is contagious.  I’d like to say that I just brush it off, but the fact is, if a driver yells at me to “get off the road” and tries to intimidate me with their SUV, there is a good chance it will involve me educating them about the road code and may involve a middle finger and the f-bomb.  And does that makes me a part of the problem?  Am I allowed to be defensive?

I’m getting better about it – I keep telling myself, “Carrie. Water off a duck’s back.”  But it’s hard.  Here I am with no protection (save a helmet), and I have morons barreling around the city in two-ton death machines.  (And yes, I have a car too.)  Today while I was out walking a dog, I watched as a man worked himself into a fury at a stop sign, as the car in front of him stopped to allow pedestrians to cross on a crosswalk.  (Which is the law.)  He didn’t know the driver in front of him, didn’t know the pedestrians, but his anger was so real and so viscous that it made me think – how can you get so mad at someone you don’t even know? For allowing other citizens to cross the road?  What is going on here?  (That could be an entirely different post about our culture.)

So this is my challenge to my fellow runners and bikers.  Be ambassadors for our side.  Be safe.  And realize that combating crazy with crazy, only makes more crazy.  I’m working on it.  Events like the Critical Mass fiasco make it really hard, but I’m working on it.  Channel your anger – at least that’s what I try to do – into something constructive that might actually bring about change.   Because think about it, I yell, “F You, I’m not allowed on the sidewalks you asshole!”  Do you think the driver actually will stop to think, “Hmmm.  That’s an interesting point.  Perhaps I should go read the road code again.  I could be totally out of line.”  That’s a long shot.  Likely the anger will just feed more anger.  Anger is like that.

What can you do that’s proactive?  Join a local advocacy group.  In Philly we have an awesome bike advocacy group – The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, and hopefully there is something similar in your neck of the woods.  If not, start one.  Get out there.  Despite the carnage that was witnessed this past weekend, we need to be advocates, but also ambassadors, like our friends in Brazil.

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