A day after the Tour of the Fireflies, a video made its way to YouTube showing an irate female motorist wildly gesticulating and spewing venom at those who were part of the 10,000-strong peloton. Actually, I was there when it happened and I figure very briefly in the video, walking past the woman's vehicle which she deliberately placed in the middle of the road to block the cyclists' path. I almost got hit as she went on reverse, ignorant of the fact that she forced herself into the route of a mass ride.
I'm interested to find out why the road rage switch automatically gets flipped on the moment a person is on the driver's seat. We Filipinos take pride in our hospitality and have been described as tolerant people yet behind a steering wheel we're messengers of death. And one could not be blamed for assuming that the message is aimed directly at cyclists. What gives? Why does it seem that people on bikes are almost always the target of people with road rage? How come other people can wait so patiently in traffic when build-ups are due to other reasons (like a Pacquiao motorcade) but think that mass rides and bikes don't belong on the highway? To a cyclist like me who often rides on Manila's roads, that's unnerving.
The Critical Mass Ride (CMR) was originally organized with the idea of drawing attention to how unfriendly cities can be to cyclists. With the frequency of reported road rage cases in the metro, it's plain to see that our streets can be a deadly playground. Even in places like Marikina where they've dedicated bike lanes on the roads, it doesn't mean a thing since motorists don't respect that space. We all try to reclaim our place on the streets by showing power and unity in numbers but ironically, the avenue which we believe will raise awareness is the same one that creates more enemies for us.
Don't get me wrong. I think the sight of thousands of bicycles taking over main highways in the metro is magnificent. However, we don't always show our best colors when we're in these rides. We also do things that don't contribute to the cause but instead make other people think less of cyclists--we taunt, berate, flip them off, then humiliate them online. Sure, I believe the lady who blocked the peloton during the ToF and the countless other drivers who tried to force their way in were all wrong, but I also think our approach to reprimanding them is flawed. With the speed in which information is spread online when the video of the lady goes viral, do you really think that's going to make her feel sorry about her actions? Or would it only serve to reinforce what I think her perspective is--that we were nothing but a big mob? What's going to happen the next time she sees cyclists on the road?
What's needed here is something simple and complex at the same time: a paradigm shift. Obviously, there is no easy way to achieve this. However, it would go a long way for people to experience being behind the steering wheel of a car and the handlebars of a bike to see things from both perspectives. Hopefully this would help create more tolerance, something which would be beneficial to everyone.