Opinion: a reminder for drivers and cyclists alike (Hint: Be excellent to each other.)

Special to KT by Kevin O’Donnell

Sharing is important, which is why it’s one of the first skills we teach children.

We teach them that hogging anything is bad. Ask a child “how would you feel if someone else didn’t share with you” and they will answer something like “sad.” Knowing the rules only goes so far. After that children need to have empathy for others before they really feel how important it is to share properly.

Soon we grow up, get into a driver’s seat or onto a bike, and some of us promptly forget everything that was drilled into us for years. We forget how to share. Not because we forget the rules, but because we lose empathy for how it feels to be squeezed out.

In a car we forget we are the biggest, strongest kid on the road. The most capable. The fastest. The most dangerous. We’re the kid on the playground the tiny kids are afraid to even approach. Yet for some reason we often can’t tolerate having to wait for a littler one to amble by if it delays us for a few seconds. Never mind that we have a gas pedal at our command, and often it costs us no time at all to speed up later.

On a bike we forget we’re the heaviest, fastest kid on narrow recreational pathways. We are the one that forces parents to constantly hold onto their kids because we zip past them at 25km/h, inches away. We’re the big guy who thinks: “this entire park is for me,” and by doing so, prevents little kids from being able to truly enjoy a walk along the river. It’s hard to investigate interesting rocks and flowers and bugs when your parent is too scared to let go of your hand.

As a society, we’ve lost our empathy. A brush up on the rules of the road which change over time is always useful, but unless we pair knowing how to share the road or pathways, with truly caring about other people, we’ll get nowhere.

You may have noticed more sharrows popping up on West Wellington, now paired with “Bicycle Priority” signs. [continued below]

What is a sharrow?
What is a sharrow? Here’s some helpful info on the City of Ottawa website.

Drivers, have empathy for the cyclists. Think of how it would feel to be small and vulnerable while a big kid pushes you off the playground. Sit back, enjoy your music, and accept you’re just going to get stuck at a red light anyway.

Cyclists, think about how scary it is when a car buzzes by you, close enough to touch. Now think about how fast you are relative to pedestrians. It is horrible that the City of Ottawa and the NCC still force cycling commuters, high-speed recreational bikers and pedestrians onto one tiny path. We should certainly all be demanding separated pathways. But for the time being, the paths are going to remain too narrow for cyclists to pass pedestrians while at top speed. Slow down, ring your bell, pass, then accelerate. Rinse. Repeat. Yes, it’s inconvenient to waste momentum. Now bask in the warm glow of knowing you are a kind person. Also think of just how much stronger and more toned your legs will be.

Empathy is sexy.

When you are driving, eager to get home to loved ones, remember people on bikes want exactly the same thing. When you are biking, enjoying your momentum, remember people walking are trying to enjoy their walk as well.

Everyone, realize you can always ease back, give others more space, make them safer, and it will cost you nothing. With practice you’ll soon arrive at your destination more relaxed, knowing you made someone’s day better.

To sum up, just do as Bill and Ted have always said: Be excellent to each other.

Kevin O’Donnell is a Hampton-Iona parent, safe transportation advocate and creator of OttWatch.ca

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