Sometimes everyone’s wrong.
The other day, I recognized myself as a Mass-hole, a person in Boston who drives/bikes/walks like a self-centered and semi-suicidal maniac, giving Massachusetts as a whole a bad name while simultaneously endangering everyone that happens to be around them. It was a bit of a shock, to be honest, and I was immediately overwhelmed with guilt–how could I be one of those people that I so despise?
Let’s backtrack to my daily commute. I bike to work, down part of Columbus Ave, making a left onto Mass Ave, taking this bike path straight past the reflecting pool, Boylston, Newbury, Commonwealth, Marlborough, Beacon Street, and the Charles River, until I reach Cambridge and make an easy right on Albany to my final destination. On a good day, it takes me 12 minutes. On a bad day, it can take me 25. What is a bad day? One in which I get blocked by every #1 bus on Mass Ave, or get cut off while trying to make a left turn, or get held up by some guy who’s walking the length of Mass Ave in the bike lane (and not quickly or safely). Sometimes there’s more traffic than usual, or people are being especially dangerous. Sometimes the wind’s stronger and it’s harder to pedal over the bridge. Sometimes I’m just tired and can’t go as fast or start up as fast, and sometimes I have to make way more stops because other people keep stopping, and than in general just tires me out.
So most of the time, my commute isn’t too bad and I have a relaxing trip, but sometimes people are Mass-holes and it stresses me out. These people are the cars who think they can make a right turn and cut off a bunch of cyclists, and then end up sitting there waiting for pedestrians and making us all stop and start and miss a bunch of lights because it’s just harder to get going when you’re using your own leg-power to propel yourself. Or pedestrians who stand in the bike lane while all the cars are going by, thinking that those extra two feet will help them jay-walk when the light turns, not realizing that cyclists have the same light as these cars and don’t want to have to stop for them. Or super slow cyclists that take up an entire lane and block everyone behind them. Or cyclists who bike on the sidewalk across the river when THERE IS DEFINITELY NOT ENOUGH SPACE. The problem is that each of these groups is thinking only of themselves and not of those around them. The problem is that everyone is convinced that they’re right, or that they have the right of way. The cars assume cyclists are going to run every red light. The pedestrians assume that the cyclists are all not supposed to be wherever they are (sidewalk, street, wherever), the cyclists assume that every car is going to cut them off. We all get mad at each other. We’re all wrong.
A change in bike culture starts with you. I was talking to one of my coworkers the other day about bike culture, how hard it is to stop for a light when you know the other six cyclists behind you are going to blow right through it and be fine, and she just looked at me and said “be the change.” And it makes sense–who else is going to do it? If every cyclist stopped at every light, pedestrians would stop cursing them, would stop assuming that they were going to try to scoot around dangerously. If every cyclist stayed in the bike lane, people would recognize where cyclists are supposed to be. If every cyclist used hand signals, cars would trust more where they were going and wouldn’t try to cut them off. Granted, it will never be 100%, and people will always make mistakes, but a change in the culture would help everyone. A recognition of goodness in other people, a trust in your fellow commuters, would change how everyone treats one another, and would make travelling by any method a lot safer.
So why was I a Mass-hole the other day? I was walking to the store after a long day of work, class, and some roommate drama, and I was in a bad mood. My evening run had been interrupted so now I was walking, and I knew it was getting late and I was tired, and none of this mattered. I walked across Hemenway just as the light turned green (for everyone except me), and I saw a car inch forward. And I thought to myself “how dare he try to go when I’m walking here,” and I gave him a slight glare and sauntered across the street before looking up and realizing that he had the right of way. I felt horribly guilty. I was one of those people who thinks only of herself and disregards the rules that are set in place to keep EVERYONE safe. I had a major attitude problem and probably convinced that driver that pedestrians suck and people suck and driving in Boston sucks (which it does but only because of this culture we’re talking about) and that’s not the kind of person I want to be. So many people do this; it’s not just cyclists, or pedestrians, or drivers. It’s all of us who have been cut off enough times that we feel both defensive and aggressive when we go outside, and it’s all of us who need to be the change.
I talk to cyclists sometimes when I’m stopped at lights, and I’ll comment on how we’re all stopped and how we’re changing bike culture. And sometimes they’re like “yeah, just trying to be safe,” and sometimes the look thoughtfully at me and kind of nod, and sometimes they give me a weird look and push off the curb as soon as the cars stop but wayyy before the light changes. It doesn’t matter. One person at a time who realizes that we all have the power to do something is the only rate of change that we need.
So I urge you all to think about how you travel and how you treat those around you. Get to know the rules of the road. New college kids: jay-walking is a thing here, yes, but even though Buzzfeed tells you that you’ll learn to “jaywalk like a pro” in New England, please know that you should be less worried about that $1 fine (there really is a $1 fine for jaywalking) and more worried about the fact that you are inconveniencing everyone else that has to wait for you. Is that what you want to bring to this city? Be the change. Let’s see how good we can be to each other.
If you’re that guy I cut off, I’m really really sorry.
If you’re that guy who walks in the bike lane every morning, however, please stop. That’s like actually the worst idea ever.
Stay safe, Boston.