Alienation and the Car Community
by Jennifer Mann, PhD.
Research Psychologist,
Neurospychiatric Institute

The most difficult aspect of cycling with traffic is seeing and hearing the anger, wrath, and lack of humanity that is demonstrated by drivers of cars. People do not seem to look at each other or regard each other as fellow inhabitants of this earth. They focus on the vehicle that is in their way, or that is not driving in a fashion that is convenient for them. I saw an example of this kind of behavior recently on Motor Ave. I was on my bike and waiting for a light to turn green. Two oncoming cars were head to head, both were making a left. One of the drivers was a handsome young man in a huge black Ford Blazer. The other driver was a beautiful blonde woman in a Range Rover. The woman honked at the man to get out of her way so that she could make her turn. The man gave her the finger as he used is right hand to steer in front of her. He also honked at her. She honked back. He honked back.. She laughed and turned after he made his turn. I felt so sad. They were fighting like bitter siblings despite the fact that they had never met. Actually, they did not even look at each other. This kind of thing happens all the time. I call them the "honking wars." The cars do not stop until they are out of hearing range. Outside, on the bike, I am exposed to the entire horn session.

My daily commute is a time in which I am free from the stress of work and I am given the opportunity to burn off my excessive energy and enjoy the outdoors. However, I often feel vulnerable commuting on my bike. In reality, I am very susceptible to being hit by a car. I travel 30 miles everyday in very dense traffic. Lately, I have had this impulsive desire to confront motorists who blatantly disobey all rules of human decency. For example, I am cut off almost every day by drivers who turn into parking lots right away instead of waiting for me to pass the driveway or store entrance. Instead of cursing silently to myself, I have become extremely bold and somewhat stupid. On more than one occasion, I have ridden up to a driver's window as they were finding a parking place and have asked them if they saw me before they chose to turn. Every person I have confronted admitted they saw me and said with embarrassment, that they were sorry.

Riding up to drivers and connecting with them while they are sitting in their metal boxes leaves me feeling powerful and effective. I believe that some people need to be jolted into reality. It is too easy to allow our anger, frustration, and feelings of loneliness take over our sense of judgment. As a cyclist, I feel it is unfair that because they can kill me they can ignore my presence on the road. This aggression is somewhat analogous to child or animal abuse. The abuser has a great deal of unresolved anger which he or she projects onto a helpless victim. As our streets become increasingly populated and our sense of community diminishes, so do our morals and values. I have the opportunity and misfortune to experience this phenomenon as a psychologist and a cyclist. However, one of the main reasons I have chosen that profession and that mode of transport is to make a positive and lasting impact on society. I hope I am not being too idealistic!

Dr. Jennifer Mann