Why one Toronto cyclist thinks that car-centric road rules are made to be broken.
When I am on my bike I normally don’t stop at stop signs. I’ll slow, take a peek around corners and continue on my way, attempting to be safe while also maintaining precious momentum. Many cyclists do this; it’s called an “Idaho stop,” named after the one U.S. state where this type of maneuver by cyclists is considered legal. Some local cycling advocates think it should be legal here too.
This move also pisses drivers off. I can feel scorn radiating from the driver’s seat as they dutifully slow to a complete stop as I Premium Rush my way through the intersection. I can hear the grumblings about how cyclists should obey the rules of the road.
And you know what? Good. I hope it does piss them off.
I’m tired of feeling like an irresponsible lout, like a punk because I don’t follow traffic laws in a city that has made minimal efforts to create laws and infrastructure that keep me safe. I’m exhausted from worrying about getting ticketed for not obeying rules of the road that were never designed with me in my mind to begin with.
When you ride a bike there is a physical limit to everything you do. You can only go as fast as your legs will let you. Some cyclists do get up to tremendous, dangerous speeds. We’ve all been passed by a Lycra-sheathed bullet whizzing by at speeds that could end an unsuspecting grandmother exiting a No Frills. Even these guys and girls, though, are subject to what their bodies, specifically their taut calves, are capable of. Reaction time, velocity, communication (through eye contact, your vocals, body movements)—the things that would determine the severity of an incident—are all within the physical limits of the cyclist and the world around them, up to and including this happening.
Even your emotional highs and lows are constrained by what’s going on in your body and around you. It’s hard to feel intensely angry or delusionally cool while going up the hill on Christie St., just as it’s hard to be distracted and morose on the way down.
Cars, of course, have no such limits. A car is not restrained by rickety tendons or fear of streetcar tracks. When you are in a car the only limit is your own restraint and common sense. Which, when you really think about it, is terrifying, because if there’s one thing cars are known to produce in humans, it is definitely not a rational demeanour. Quite the opposite, in fact: We feel free to lose our minds in our cars. Hidden in our mode of transportation, we do or yell outlandish things that, if recreated in public, unadorned by a metal pod, would likely get us arrested or beaten up.
The quickness to anger in a car is no accident. The irrational frenzy of road rage that consumes even the most mild mannered is a byproduct of the advertising and ideology of cars. Cars, with their speed and power, their implied wealth, are the ultimate object of personal liberation. The promise of the car is that we are a master of the world around us, at the merest hint of our desire we can speed off into a whichever beckoning distance we choose. The rage comes, easily and frequently, because all too often for the driver this promise is broken.
That’s the irony of the car. We feel outraged when our desire is thwarted, but the car’s capability to readily fulfill any desire, including darker ones, means it necessitates regulation and control. The reason that we have to have so many frustrating rules and bylaws for roads is that the vehicle we use as our main mode of transportation could legitimately be used for an indiscriminate killing rampage. On top of that, they make just about anybody angry enough to want to go on an indiscriminate killing rampage, and we let anybody who can afford one have one.
Any debate about how cyclists should act then obscures the fact that cars, and their potential for tragic irresponsibility, have ruined roads. Before cars monopolized roads, thoroughfares handled a variety of functions. Kids could play sports, streetcars could run beside carriages, vendors could set up shop and fantasy novel quests could begin. Then cars, with their irrational wish fulfillment, flooded the streets, dominating what was once a shared space with merciless, steel phallic symbolism.
It’s like roads were once a great bar where you could go, listen to music, and have good beer and conversation—until one day a bunch of uber-douches show up and start fist-pumping and pushing people around. Instead of kicking them out, road legislation behaved like the owner of this hypothetical bar, metaphorically pumping Tiesto and declaring it would only serve Coors Altitude.
That’s why I will continue to gleefully coast through stop signs despite the scorn from some drivers. It’s my subtle middle finger to a system of transportation, and its accompanying rules, that I didn’t create or want to be a part of. Don’t demand that I play by them and resent that I don’t simply because you have to. I’m sorry you’ve chosen a vehicle that creates its own prisons around itself. There is a solution, though. Come for a ride with me, frustrated driver; I know a great hill that will get rid of any road rage.
Jordan Foisy is a Toronto comedian and the host of the podcast Should I Be Scared of This.