PREST: Don't bring a car to a Facebook bicycle fight

If past experience has taught me anything, a large number of people are going to read this column and get very angry about it.

Then they’re going to go online to their favourite social media platform where they will register their anger about the content of this column and then get into arguments with other social media people, possibly calling a complete stranger a “fascist jackass.” (Internet slang: “fasc-ass.”) What is this life-altering topic that inspires such passion, rage and hate?

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Bicycles.

Yes, bicycles. As the lead Facebook Guy for our esteemed newspaper, I’ve seen the bicycle blow-up play out over and over again. I’ll post an article or letter to our Facebook page that has some sort of connection to bicycles, and then the comments section will immediately turn into a howler monkey knife fight.

Depending on the content of the original Facebook post, it will draw a swift and angry response either from the small and well-organized citizens of Militant Bike Facebook, or the more vaguely defined but just as fierce group known as Angry Driver Facebook. The comments may start with an anecdote about a cyclist running a stop sign, then someone will bring up “Scandinavia,” then someone will say they were run over by a cyclist, then the word “entitled” will be thrown out, and then all digital hell will break loose.  

In extreme cases (read: all cases), someone will eventually say something like “you should go back to your own country” and then I’ll get really mad because instead of doing my regular job, which mostly involves scrolling through Twitter, I have to moderate our Facebook page and tell people not to start talking about genocide or whatever because one time a cyclist clipped your mirror.

The fights go on and on, sometimes for days. Recently we had the story of the North Vancouver father who was riding with his children to school down a narrow residential road when the driver of a minivan behind them started honking at them before ultimately pulling past the dad, clipping his bike.

That one spawned a novel’s worth of letters to the editor and counter-letters to the editor, and the comments left on our website and social media pages were so fierce we had to get IT to come in and wipe down the inside of my computer for spittle.

Over in Vancouver, mayoral candidate Wai Young appears to have centred a huge part of her election campaign around bike lane hate. She wants to implement a “one-for-one” policy in which any new bike lane that goes in must be balanced by the destruction of an old one. It sounds a little ridiculous, but it all makes a bit more sense when you learn that bike lanes once borrowed her entire collection of According to Jim DVDs and never returned them. She’s never forgiven them.

Against the backdrop of all this fighting you get tragic stories like the one we had last month about the North Vancouver cyclist killed in a collision with a dump truck. It was another reminder that in this fight, the stakes are much higher for one side than the other.

I, like many cyclists, can claim to represent both sides in this argument. I used to ride to work every day over the Lions Gate Bridge, and still do commute by bike once or twice a week. At the same time, I also enjoy piloting motor cars, unless traffic gets really bad, which on the North Shore happens now and again (and again and again).

When I get mad at traffic jams, I sadly remind myself of the old adage: “You’re not stuck in traffic. You are traffic.” 

In most instances, though, “traffic” is not caused by bicycles. When I’m stuck in traffic, there’s nothing I want more than to be on a bicycle. That’s one of the reasons I find the hysterical rhetoric of the bike debate so strange. Cyclists for the most part are just trying to get around quickly, efficiently, cheaply and healthily. They aren’t the problem.

Sure, some cyclists, like some drivers, are idiots. I’ve seen the ones who blast through red lights or stop signs, the ones who clog up a main artery when there’s a bike route one block over, the ones who race down shared  trails like they’re finishing the Tour de North Van.

I get it. It can be angering. But as drivers, we just can’t act out that anger.

It reminds me of parental relationships with children. 

It can be hard – oh so hard – to remain cool when young children are doing everything they can to try to put themselves, their siblings, and everyone around them into emergency rooms or mental institutions. No one in my life has figured out ways to get my blood boiling like my children have. They’ll even throw punches, when presented with the right combination of hunger, tiredness and me giving them the purple cup when they wanted the blue cup.

But even when so provoked, you can’t fight back. It’s not a fair fight. And neither is cars vs. bikes. Sure bikes can be infuriating, but you just have to let it go if you’re in a car. The power difference is too great. Yes, bikers do stupid things. But so do drivers. And when it goes wrong between them, cyclists always lose.

That’s it, Angry Driver Facebook. I guess I’ve picked my lane. Feel free to call for my assassination in the comments section.

Andy Prest is the sports editor for the North Shore News and writes a biweekly humour/lifestyle column. He can be reached via email at aprest@nsnews.com.

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