Why are people such jerks on the road? A Calgary driver, cyclist and pedestrian weigh in
It's 'every person for themselves' out there but maybe — just maybe — we can find some common ground
This story was originally published Oct. 4.
On the roads, it's easy for someone else to get on your nerves.
The cyclist who runs a stop sign. The driver who nearly clips you as he passes too close to your handlebars. The pedestrian who darts out from between parked cars.
Yeah, most of us get along, most of the time. But it just takes that one jerk to put you in a foul mood.
And it's easy for the anger toward that one person to spread. Especially when we have no direct recourse against some nameless road user who offends us, it can colour our view of the entire group to which they belong.
Suddenly, the problem isn't that guy on the bike who blew through the light. It's cyclists. It's not that inattentive person behind the wheel. It's drivers. It's not the jaywalker on a cellphone. It's pedestrians.
This becomes the language we use to talk about the other jerks on the road.
But how does that same road look from another person's point of view?
To see the fuller picture, we brought together three Calgarians with three different ways of getting around the city.
And we had a conversation.
Meet Rob, Lindsay and Erin
Rob Eberhardt is our driver.
Lindsay Bliek is our cyclist.
Those in the cycling community may be familiar with her blog — thismombikes.net — where she details life as a mother of two who prefers transport on two wheels.
And Erin Dick-Jensen is our pedestrian.
She's one of those rare Calgarians who doesn't have a driver's licence (only a learner's permit) and she regularly gets around on foot.
They all came to the CBC Calgary studios to talk things out, agreeing to bring their own opinions but listen to others' perspectives, as well.
You can listen to an abridged version of their conversation here:
And read a condensed version of it below:
How do you find it, getting around Calgary?
I hate driving in this city. I absolutely hate it. And you know what? I used to really like driving.
The other two cities I've lived in are Montreal and Vancouver, and I'd way prefer to drive there. Especially Montreal, where people are aggressive and pushy but they're very calculated and they know the size of their car. It's more interesting and engaging. I find driving here quite boring and it requires a lot of patience. You have to wait for the turn signal to turn left and the light is forever and you just sit there. So, of course, when you get to go, you want to go.
And then I find cycling much less stressful because I've got routes that are much more free-flow, with our historical pathway system.
Pedestrians for the most part, on the routes that I take, I have no issues with.
The people that I have issues with are the cyclists that like to think they're a car but then ignore all the rules of the road. So they'll cross intersections on red lights because there's no traffic coming. They'll ride across on crosswalks, as opposed to walking on crosswalks. They are referred to as crosswalks, not crossrides, right?
I have no problems with the cyclists that actually follow the rules of the road. It's the ones that use them when they're convenient and then ignore them when they're not. Those are the guys that drive me crazy. That, and other cars, of course.
For cars, to be quite honest, I'm usually riding in a very big bike — a cargo bike — and have my kids, and I find people are generally quite respectful.
But there are a few pinch points in the city that are problematic, for sure ... but never so much in regards to feeling physically threatened, more just emotionally threatened.
This past Saturday I was trying to transition from the cycle track on Fifth Street to become a motor vehicle again on the street itself, out of the cycle track, and I had a guy pull up to me beside me and and ream me out and tell me that I had to choose between being a cyclist or a motor vehicle.
And then he told me that he was afraid for my daughter. And, you know, to me that's a judgment on my parenting, which I don't think anyone should be able to do in public.
Other than being yelled at, I feel like I have a great relationship with the way I can move around this city.
I actually struggle more with cyclists, which is interesting because I never really thought about that, but I do, as a pedestrian.
Especially in Kensington, on the park along the river, and the pathways, there are designated paths for cyclists and pedestrians and I find that cyclists don't necessarily follow that. But I've also heard them say that pedestrians don't, either, so it's a mutual kind of situation.
And also, cyclists using sidewalks. Just like, regular sidewalks. I mean, there's nothing wrong with a slow kind of ride on the sidewalk. But sidewalks, especially, are intended for pedestrians. So that's difficult, especially if the speed is really fast. I feel like I've almost been in more danger on sidewalks than on the roads.
What do you think of the city's roads, pathways, bike lanes?
I do ride on the sidewalk sometimes, especially in the winter when snow is very bad and the roads haven't been properly cleared. But, thankfully, my neighbours have shovelled their sidewalks, for the most part.
But I always stop and pull over if there's a pedestrian coming, and I ride slowly. And that's more of a I-can't-get-on-the road thing, so I try to be as respectful as I can.
What drove me crazy a couple years ago is when the cycle tracks first came in. It wasn't the fact that they were cycle tracks, it was that it was a change from what I was used to.
And now that I've actually been driving around them for a couple years now that they've been in place, they're actually starting to make sense to me. It's not change anymore. It's something that we're actually used to.
I'm actually glad that they're there, because where the cycle tracks do exist, they separate cyclists from the motor vehicles for the most part, and I think it makes it a safer environment all around.
I don't think any of the infrastructure, in terms of cycle tracks or anything, have affected being a pedestrian.
It's literally all the construction. This affects being a pedestrian.
I've never seen it this bad as this year. This year has been unbelievable. Just walking six blocks — the detours and the lack of signage of where to go and where to walk and being put in vulnerable situations on the road. Like, with no signage, you're stuck standing on a corner.
Where do you think road rage comes from?
I'm 41 years old and I haven't got my licence yet because I just have a fear of the test. But I drive our car with a learner's permit, and I am astounded at the other drivers … and how aggressive and intense, particularly trucks, are on the road.
This city is quite young and I think there's a level of testosterone that happens with the trucks, as you're saying.
The other point that I see is people are leading very busy lives and they're up at six o'clock in the morning and they're not going to bed until midnight or one or two in the morning and they're not getting the sleep that they need, which makes them grumpy.
Now they get into their little cocoon, which is their place, and it's "I need to get to where I'm going," so the rage starts to amp up.
I find this huge disconnect in Calgary and, maybe this is a really uncouth example, but, you know, we have a big flood and everybody comes together. There's this huge spirit of helping hands and figuring things out together. And yet on the roads here, it's very much every person for themselves.
It's very narcissistic and it's contrary to the spirit of Calgary, from what I understand it to be. There's just a high tolerance for anger towards other people, without assuming the best in them.
What can be done to make things better?
It's so interesting that you brought up the flood because, you know, that big event caused this really beautiful, compassionate, amazing thing to happen. But you're right. Where is it? It doesn't feel like a really community-minded city all the time.
But I don't think that's just a Calgary thing. ... I think something bigger is happening. I think the aggression and the stuff that's happening on the roads — the escalation of it — is just a symptom of something.
Just be compassionate to people. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
I don't need to get into turning people into one-dimensional characters so I can be mad all the time.
Between the rapid growth that we've been going through and trying to catch up with the infrastructure that we have here, it's just a matter of time until things get better.
The city is making an effort to try and move some of the business parks out of the downtown core into more remote areas, so that the commute is different for those people, and they don't have to go downtown.
If we had the opportunity to work closer to where we lived, I think it would make things a little more easy. And some of the communities are trying to do that, but it's all going to take time.
I just wish everyone would assume the best in people. I really and truly believe that it would help a lot.
And I know that's a nicety but, honestly, I think if we just looked at each other with a little bit more of a glass-half-full perspective, it would just help things to run a bit more smoothly.
Calgary: The Road Ahead is CBC Calgary's special focus on our city as it passes through the crucible of the downturn: the challenges we face, and the possible solutions as we explore what kind of Calgary we want to create. This story is part of a sub-series on roads and how they shape our lives. Have an idea for a future story? Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
More from the Roads sub-series:
- ANALYSIS | How Alberta built enough roads to reach the moon
- ANALYSIS | Why slamming on the brakes won't stop a new kind of speed camera that could end up on Alberta roads
- ANALYSIS | How we could build roads for fallible humans rather than 'perfect operators'
Other stories from the series: