Compromise: bike, walk, bus and, sometimes, drive
Winnipegger Louella Lester understands commuter frustration - she's been there, done that
Road rage is the only way to describe what I recently saw in a YouTube video embedded in a CBC News story. A Calgary driver, wanting to make a right-hand turn, honked his horn for 40 seconds because a cyclist, waiting for the light so he could go straight ahead, was holding him up. Similar scenes involving all modes of transportation play out in cities across Canada every day. It really is about time that we all settle down and show some patience and empathy towards our fellow commuters. After all, we're in this together.
A few days before I watched that video, a car cut me off when I was riding my bicycle down a quiet street in Winnipeg. Just minutes later, I spotted an ad for Peg City Car Co-op on the front of a garbage and recycling container. It read: Bike. Walk. Bus. And Sometimes, Drive. Though the ad was intended to encourage more environment-friendly transportation use, it struck me that it was the opposite of road rage, too. It didn't say we have to get rid of one mode or the other. It suggested that we can do better, give a little, maybe compromise. Gee, what a thought.
The ad also struck a chord because I use all four modes of transportation to varying degrees, depending on the season, the distance I have to travel or the time of day or night. In the spring, summer and fall, I cycle or walk, but I drive when I go out of town or need groceries. In the winter, I don snow pants and walk, wanting to avoid driving on icy roads or sweating in an overheated bus. At night, I take the bus when I must go downtown but don't want to drive the car because there's a Jets game leaving few parking spaces. This means that I've often seen the rage from all sides.
Everyone needs to be heard
Everyone has a story. The elderly pedestrian almost mowed down by the cyclist speeding along the sidewalk. The tired bus rider stuck on the bus that car drivers won't allow back into traffic. The cyclist spilled on the pavement after a car driver has come too close. The car driver, late for an appointment, missing the light because of a slow-moving pedestrian. Everyone needs to feel they've been heard.
A personal story comes to mind when I think about this topic. I was cycling down a one-way street that had generous lane widths. The traffic was not heavy, so I was shocked when a truck, pulling a large trailer of lawn-care equipment, passed me so closely that the side mirror missed me by only a centimetre. I struggled to keep control of my wobbling bicycle, as the trailer seemed to take forever to pass. When I was able to look up, I saw the truck driver's face reflected in the mirror. He was laughing. Surely, he wouldn't have laughed if I had been crushed beneath the trailer wheels? Would that have turned road rage into empathy?
Often battle lines are drawn when new roads, bike paths or pedestrian corridors are proposed. Few seem willing to look at the other point of view. Many car drivers say tax dollars would be better spent on pothole repair, unaware that cyclists and bus riders hate potholes just as much as they do. Some people need a reminder that those using the other modes of transportation also pay taxes. It's possible that more bike paths could mean fewer cyclists in traffic lanes. Bike lanes on side streets running parallel to major thoroughfares might be a smart alternative for cyclists during the rush hour. So it goes. Let's keep open minds.
We all need to take the time to put the tire on the other rim. If cyclists feel they need to use the sidewalk, they can slow down or take the boulevard when passing pedestrians. Pedestrians can move a little more quickly when they cross the street. Car drivers can give cyclists more space when they pass. Bus drivers can wave a thank you when a car driver lets them into traffic. No matter our mode of transportation, we can all do better. Empathize. Compromise.
Louella Lester is a Winnipeg poet and writer.