Understanding Privilege: Bicycle Versus Car

The road is public, it is a place with set, and known rules. It is also a place where there are unwritten rules of etiquette that can not be enforced by law but no less effect the experience of those on the road. Culturally, and empirically there are a number of things at play when you put a 150 pound body of flesh and bone traveling at an average speed of 12 miles per hour up against a metal framed automobile that weighs 2,000 pounds traveling at 40 miles per hour. In a collision, the car will a always win, always.
This is the litmus for racism. The collision of physically and culturally different entities where one party is seen to have irrefutable superiority.  Cars are bigger, faster, and stronger but does that give them any more right to the road than a bicycle? A busy driver may say yes, but if you’ve ever been a cyclist in street traffic you may beg to differ, especially after looking at the staggering increase in the number of Tampa motorcycle accidents befallen by car drivers.

To understand this proposition we must outline a metaphor where the laws of physics are likened to the will of God. The vehicle is to the road, as the majority is to the society at hand. Bicyclist’s relationship to vehicles and the road is the same as that of the minority to the majority and society.

For those that don’t like analogies we can look at it this way: Since we have no way of self regulating our behaviors in a dispute society has always looked to an external arbitrator to settle matters at hand. For many this is religion, for others it is science. In the case of racism, it has long been held that those in power we placed in power by a defined entity. That is to say it is not that whites were predisposed to technological advancement because of their distance from the equator forcing them to cultivate fire and technology in lieu of the agriculturally rich equatorial populations, but they were somehow “chosen” by God to be the ruling class just as the kings of the day were said to be selected.

Whether you believe this to be true or not has everything to do with what measure you are looking at to determine a person’s life worth. If you are looking at the fact that one group of people as lower value because of the amount of fire power at their disposal then it is easy to qualify people. But if you are looking at the agricultural and social contributions of a group then  you might have to rethink that value.

The same is true with vehicles on the road. A car carries multiple passengers, it is larger and faster than a cyclist so using these criteria the only conclusion must be that vehicles have a greater right to the road because of how it has been granted power by a force outside of the system. But again, looking at it holistically, bicycles increase fitness, and health, and are a zero emission vehicle, and reduce the amount of lethal risk for pedestrians. By capturing these benefits the value proposition of who is “better” becomes more complex.

Without the aid of a benevolent arbitrator how do you determine who gets equal right to the road? One may say that cars should have the right of way because if a driver wants to push through an intersection or take a lane, it is physically capable of doing so with out a cyclist stopping it. There are others that would say, because the damage done to the human body in a low velocity impact will far out the damage to a car, vehicle drivers should take extra car on behalf of those they share the road with.

In the interest of treating everyone fairly the road should be shared evenly but, allowing a cyclist to take over a lane at a slower pace unnecessarily impedes the traffic flow of cars that could be going much faster. The compromise is of course the bike lane, carving out a special section of road for bicycles to use without having to interfere with cars. While this solution is fine for traffic in the world of race it amounts to segregation.

When you try to give bikers their own lane it amounts to them getting a much smaller portion of the lane that cars can freely trespass upon in most cases. The biker is still put at great risk though, if they were to travel into the regular lane. It creates a paradigm of restriction for the cyclist just at society restricts the travel of minorities.

Fundamentally racism is what happens when one group defines the terms of what is good or better based on their own image disregarding objectivity. Without accounting for other versions of what might be good we see that superiority has been cultivated in a vacuum and anything outside of the vacuum is deemed lesser than simply because the rules were pre-set for them to be that way.

The black and white of it is that the rules of the road were not defined with the interests of all vehicle traffic in mind, the rights and road uses of the cyclists were simply an after thought. Even though and objective view on who has more right to the road can not be ascertained the laws disproportionately favor drivers. This is the basis for the argument of systemic racism and white privilege in America.

It is the simplest and gravest abuse of power to watch a car undeservedly power through a lane to the detriment of bike riders simply because it can. Similarly it is abusive of power to see a member of a majority group plow through society to the detriment of others simply because they can as well. Just as drivers must recognize how their actions on the road can impact bikers and pedestrians, all member of society should be aware of their privilege and extend basic courtesy to those around them.

Share the road. Share the world.





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