In our North American culture - whether consciously or subconsciously – we seem to think that you’re defined to a certain extent by how you get around. If you drive a luxury car, of course you’ve “made it” in life and you probably feel you deserve everyone’s respect and admiration. If you’re a busy mom and need to chauffeur your kids to their many after school activities, your mode of transportation is expected to be a van or SUV, and if you own a lesser vehicle, it’s probably because
I guess I’m guilty of similar thinking myself. I like to think that I have good reason to do so. When I see a big pick-up truck--especially one with oversized tires and adorned with an aggressive looking grille on its front that warns you to “get out of my way, and fast!” -- I tend to associate the looks of the vehicle with the personality of the driver. I must say that these types of vehicles do seem to move at higher average speeds and sometimes keep a less than respectful distance from me when passing me on my bike. Occupants of these types of vehicles also typically seem to be the ones to yell unpleasantries or honk at me.
Often people also tend to have certain preconceptions about people on bikes. Again, they like to think that they have good reason to do so. Especially in a town like Maple Ridge, where the downtown seems to be plagued with a variety of crime issues, which are often said to be committed by helmetless, dark-clothed people on unlit bikes, their faces hidden by their hoodies. These bike bandits are said to endanger lives by racing down the sidewalks in total disregard for other users and disobeying the rules of the road in various other ways.
I’ve been in a situation myself once where I was suspected of being a homeless person, just because I happened to be riding a bike. I was trying to talk to a lady on a bike, but she was hastily pedaling away from me, seemingly out of fear. Once I caught up with her at a stop sign and talked to her, she quickly realized that she was mistaken and profoundly apologized.
Of course in our hearts we know it’s wrong to judge others by their looks and by the way they get around. But being confronted with people that you suspect of being homeless and dealing with such issues like drug and alcohol abuse and prostitution tends to make us feel uncomfortable for sure. And most of us try to stay away from it and look the other way, so we can pretend in our minds it doesn’t exist. There are the good people of the Caring Place, safe houses and all kinds of social workers and others whose job it is to deal with these social outcasts and their problems, so we don’t need to deal with them ourselves. There’s an element of fear as well of course. Are they all purse snatchers if you encounter them in a dark alleyway?
Last week, I was following an on-line discussion between some cyclists in Vancouver, who said they were trying to convince other people on bikes to use lights when cycling in the dark, by calling out to them “lights!” They said the response they most often got was a rather unappreciative: “F… U!!” I did think it was perhaps a good idea to at least try here in Maple Ridge, because some of our roads are awfully dark and unlit bikes can be pretty hard to spot for drivers. When I was out on my bike last night, I came across several people on bikes without lights. So I cheerfully called out to them: “lights!” to which they cheerfully replied back: “Hi!”
To be honest, I don’t think any of them will change their habits. But these and other brief interactions I’ve had with the types of cyclists in our town who don’t wear helmets and aren’t lit up at night have pretty much all been of the friendly type. One occasion comes to mind a few years ago when I told a suspected homeless person that I liked his bike trailer, upon which he offered to teach me how to make one. Perhaps I should have taken him up on his offer.
There’s no doubt that some of these people are pretty screwed up, and whether that happened because of certain events in their lives, wrong choices, or whatever else, I think most of them do appreciate and can use some kindness. We all know how sometimes a friendly word or a gentle smile from a stranger can lift our own spirits. It really doesn’t take much. So next time you’re out on your bike, and you meet someone else on a bike, just ignore the fact that he hasn’t shaved for weeks and has some teeth missing, and try a simple “hi!”
by Jackie Chow
Director, CEED Centre Society
Ridge Meadows HUB Cycling Connection