I don’t know what it’s like in the rest of the world these days, but in Boston, at least, it seems that drivers are becoming angrier. I am an experienced, conscientious, law-abiding cyclist, but recently, it is with alarming frequency that drivers have yelled at me to “Get out of the road” (which, by the way, is the only legal and safe place for me to be riding), and have even gone so far as to pretend to swerve into me. I know there are studies showing that people are more aggressive in their cars than they would be otherwise because they feel isolated and therefore immune from society’s consequences (or what have you), but sometimes I think that the anger is a reaction to the progress that cyclists are making – the more bike lanes the city puts in, the more some drivers try to intimidate cyclists off the road.

Speculating about what makes some drivers so intolerant of bicycles, together with seeing a preview for the new movie about Shakespeare, Anonymous, that’s coming out at the end of the month, got me thinking about one of the great Shakespearean appeals for tolerance: Shylock’s speech in Act III scene i of The Merchant of Venice. While I’m certainly no Shakespeare scholar, I started thinking about a cycling-themed play, perhaps titled The Merchant of Velo, where the cycling minority, represented in the character of Cyclo-ck, appeals for tolerance from the larger population of drivers.

Consider this adaptation of the famous speech:

I am a Cyclist. Don’t Cyclists have places to be? Don’t Cyclists have friends, families,
engagements, jobs, appointments, obligations; aren’t we entitled to
the same rights, injured by the same collisions, subject
to the same laws, ticketed by the same police,
enduring the same weather and road conditions
as Drivers? If you cut us off, do we not seethe?
If you yield to us, do we not wave? If you run us over,
do we not die? And if you do not respect us on the road, shall we respect you?
If we are alike in all these other ways, we are alike in this way too.
If a Cyclist takes the lane, how do Drivers react?
With anger and aggression. If a Driver cuts off a Cyclist, what is
the driving force behind the Cyclist’s response? Aggression.
I will emulate the irresponsibility and indifference you teach me,
and take it to a whole new level – regardless of the consequences for you.

Photo courtesy of Real Cycling.

The parallel can, of course, only be taken so far. For instance, in The Merchant of Venice, while Shylock is the one appealing for tolerance, he’s also the one demanding a pound of flesh from Antonio later in the play; in The Merchant of Velo, it seems more fitting that the Drivers would be after a pound of flesh from Cyclo-ck (or perhaps from Cyclists in general). The original play also ends with Shylock (a Jew) being forced to convert to Christianity. The Merchant of Velo certainly would not end by forcing all the Cyclists to become Drivers, especially considering that it’s supposed to be a comedy and not a tragedy…

The Bike’s the Thing

What is it about cyclists that can make drivers so angry? How do you respond to these drivers when you’re out riding? Or to cyclists, if you’re driving? What do you think is the best way to improve driver/cyclist relations? (Maybe a full-length Merchant of Velo adaptation?)

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