I saw the first sign of spring the other week - a cyclist running a red light.
The cars driving east/west were stopped. The cars running north/south had a green. This did not worry the cyclist. She cruised through the intersection, wind jostling her red locks, barely slowing down. It was a grey, wet morning. Nothing bad happened. I dismissed the event as a one-time seasonal aberration. It was a scene as sweet and familiar as a crocus bursting through freshly thawed soil. The cyclists are rusty, I thought, they'll settle down.
The following day, another red light, another cyclist breezing through. And so it went, virtually every single day I witnessed a bicycle blowing through a red light or stop sign.
Sometimes they kept it simple and just glided past, other times they executed strange crossings, cutting along the stopped traffic, scraping by pedestrians, jumping up on sidewalks, until finally making their illegal cross. It was clear. This was not the exception, this was the rule.
Who are these guys?
They can't be the cycling advocates who believe that drivers are all deranged fiends determined to rub out two-wheeled beings wherever they find them. The cyclists who send me abusive e-mails any time I write about bicycles and, who with faces straight, liken today's current cycling climate to the terrorizing racial violence of the American south during the 1920s. These folks are paranoid. No question.
But you know, I don't blame them. They're right. I'm not here to defend drivers. Hate all, I.
The average motorist got his or her licence some time in the early 1990s (when, during NHL playoff season, you could get a G-class permit free with specially marked two-fours of lager) and has never made an attempt to improve his or her skills.
When operating their automobiles, they eat, argue and text. Creationists shouldn't try to discredit science when they argue against evolution; they should just hold up a picture of the average North American motorist.
So, if all that is true, here's what I want to know:
1) Who are the folks cycling through red lights?
2) Can I get $75 of whatever they're on?
This cheery state of mind has to be chemically produced. It is the only explanation.
How could a rational, sober, sentient being make that move? When I try to run the process through my mind, I end up in a state of pant-dampening fear.
You're on a bike, right? You're surrounded by hulking masses of speeding steel. These are vehicles that, even if you follow every traffic law, might still harm you. There has to be some feeling of vulnerability, some trepidation. You see a line of cars stopped. They're going the same way you are. They face a red light. You too are meant to stop. The cars going the other way have a green light. They see this light and believe they have the right of way. You approach this situation and, in your mind, you hear a calm voice that says "Keep going through. You'll be all right."
That's what I call optimism!
This mindset leads to an interesting question. Who is better off? The people who live in fear, aware of the risks they run, or those who simply say "It won't happen to me" and live blissfully, until one fine day …
The truth is that red light runners illustrate our current commuting climate's unwillingness to change.
Our traffic rules are rigged for the automobile. Take the red light. It's easy to stop at a red when you're driving a car. You press your foot down. If you run it intentionally, you'll be arrested. On a bicycle that kind of stop and start is counter-intuitive. You're travelling at a slower speed and it's easier to check oncoming traffic. Hence the roll-through - your senses and your bicycle are telling you it's safe. The reality is that you're playing a game of "Rushing Roulette."
As more and more people choose to use the bicycle not just for recreation but for transportation, the pressure to alter traffic laws to reflect how bicycles operate will increase. City planners and transportation experts will need to decide if the current trend towards blending the bicycle and automobile is the best course. Most cities have bike lanes. Why not bike roads?
For instance, if the City of Toronto turned Dundas Street into a bicycle-only road, people living in Scarborough would be able to pedal into the city centre in around 40 minutes. Cars would simply use other routes.
While it sounds like paradise, it could be a nightmare to police. A bike-only street would be bike-on-bike crash central. Ask any bike commuter, the only folks they fear more than drivers are other cyclists. The biker who brushes past at high speed, the guy who slows them down, the guy who cuts them off.
So what's the take-away? You can stick a guy on four wheels, you can stick him on two, you can stick him on a unicycle, there's only one thing you can be certain. He'll be unhappy and he'll think the world's out to get him.
Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy