I had a really freaky experience on Saturday working as a Route Marshall at the “Gear Up Girl
” women’s cycling event. The event was the first all women’s bike ride to celebrate International Women’s Day. I spent a good part of the morning directing women cyclists along he shared cyclepath/ pedestrian walkway at Brighton Le Sands. As they passed, I asked them slow down and watch for pedestrians as they negotiated the shared part of the course. During the day a man with a pram walked up to me in a screaming rage and threatened to hit me. The altercation went something like this:
Crazy man: “Why aren’t these cyclists keeping to the left!”
Me: “Sir, I’m asking them to slow down and watch out for pedestrians as they pass”.
Crazy man: “This is dangerous, we have children walking along here… who is responsible for this?”
Me: “Sir, this is an event run by Bicycle NSW, we have a traffic management plan that is approved by the RTA and the police, we're trying to make this safe for everybody.”
[the crazy man then walks away then turns back towards me clenching his fists threatening to hit me]
Crazy man: “You f**king smart arse, I outta punch you in the head”.
[I stepped back away from him]
Crazy man; [Screaming] “You f**king cyclists, I’ve seen you in the city, you run the red lights, you break all the road rules, you’re fucking hypocrites... hypocrites."
[Crazy man finally walks away].
This altercation scared the hell out of me. I’ve had bad run-ins with motorists trying to run me off the road, but I’d never had a pedestrian abuse me in this way (and I wasn’t even on my bike). Now I know that the man had a pram and probably had some hard-wired nurturing instinct to protect his young from any real or perceived danger, but his reaction was completely over the top. There were signs everywhere saying there was a cycling event on, and the women were not racing. I was astounded by the way the man quickly turned his line of reasoning from some moral indignation about safety to broad speaking hatred of all cyclists as “f**king hypocrites”. I wonder, does this man own a bike or have ever or have ridden one? Does anybody in his family own a bike? Do any of his work colleagues or friends consider themselves “cyclists”? If I was a real smart arse, I would have told him:
"Sir, do you think it is interesting that bicycles have outsold cars for the last 7 years in a row?"
To witness such pathological behaviour is understandable and I’ve felt similar outrage when I’ve felt like I was going to be killed by a motorist. I’ve wanted to blow my top, but I usually control my anger and not blow up. I do feel sorry for pedestrians who used shared cycleway/footpaths. They can be dangerous and not all cyclists are sensible they way they ride around on them. However there are risks everywhere in our society. It seems that cyclists find themselves to be “betwixt and between”. Somehow “we” find ourselves as illegitimate users of both spaces. Within some quasi-democratic-spatial imaginary, going for a walk and driving a car holds resonance as legitimate social activities, but supposedly cyclists go about their ways as vile law-breaking monsters.