July 4th weekend saw a pretty horrific encounter between a driver and two bicyclists in Los Angeles. The residents of the community involved are upset about how cyclists have come to make driving difficult, cyclists are in an uproar about the outrageous behavior of the driver, the police are involved, and it’s starting to garner attention not just outside the area, but outside the state. It’s just an ugly situation all around.
I’ll let you do your own homework on the incident and commentary surrounding it, though. I don’t feel like rehashing my opinions on the matter here. But there are a couple things that merit discussion.
First, I suspect the tension between these drivers and bicyclists is inevitable and, to a large degree, may be irreconcilable. These two groups exist in completely different realities. A bicycle is 20-30 pounds of wafer-thin, steel tubing powered by an engine (the rider) that has a peak power of about 1/3rd horsepower. Safety consists of strapping 9 ounces of foam to your head. Drivers, on the other hand, are encased in 3,000 pounds of steel, surrounded by airbags, and have 100-150 horsepower at their disposal with a simple touch of the accelerator.
Two completely different modes of transportation in terms of handling, safety, and environmental impact. These physical differences in machines translate to ideological differences in their respective riders. It’s pretty clear we will always struggle to understand one another. The most I think can be hoped for is for is to start moving away from this pattern of distrust and resentement that has evolved. Doing this will require treating one another with courtesy and decency, even at such times it may not seem warranted and, hopefully, we can begin to develop a bit of mutual respect. It’s worth a shot at least.
The other thing I wanted to touch on is a bit more ominous. One of the forums discussing the above incident had to close down commentary because people kept posting the personal information of the driver involved. It is clear that there are a lot of very angry bicyclists out there, and a story about an incident as blatant as this one provides them with a tempting target. Out of curiousity, I found myself doing a little research to see how hard it would be to track down some information on the driver. In a span of about 5 minutes, I was able to find his home address, email address, home phone number, Google Maps imagery of his house, and the tax records and property value for his home. It’s pretty spooky how easily available such information is.
The specter of online vigilantiasm is very intimidating. In the Old West, vigilante justice required rounding up a willing posse from your local community, tracking down the villian in question in person, and applying a very personal, hands-on form of justice. All of which required real energy and risk to the vigilante. The internet changes all that. Instead of a posse of half a dozen neighbors, the “villian” faces a veritable army of outraged users around the globe. Users who, instead of having to confront him in person, need only sit in the comfort and anonymity of their homes, hundreds or thousands of miles away, and tappity-tap at their keyboards to wreak a staggering amount of digital mayhem.