On getting angry

There’s a road on my usual Brompton commute which has many pinch points on a straight, wide road with a 40 mph speed limit – they are there only to slow traffic, there’s no reason to cross the road for most of its length. I try to take an assertive position through the pinch points, as I have no wish to be passed closely at 45mph (I reckon the sort of driver who is likely to think that it is appropriate to pass a cyclist through a narrow part of the road like that is also the sort of driver who thinks speed limits apply to other people…). Once through the pinch point, I’ll drift to the left a bit, but keep an eye behind ready for the next one.

So the other day I spotted a car coming up behind me fairly briskly, so I gave it a hard stare and carried on… once through the pinch the driver gave me one of the closest passes I’ve ever had. I made the gesture that the Nice Way Code says I shouldn’t make at him, and he stopped! So I stopped a bit back from him (I don’t want to get to close) and we proceeded to have a non-conversation, him saying that I should be at the side of the road and me trying to explain why I was not.

In retrospect I wish I had asked him why he felt the need to threaten a women with a tonne of metal. I also wish I’d pointed out that I’ve probably had a driving licence since before he was born. I was trying to keep calm (after the initial gesturing) and think I succeeded – but I don’t think either of us gained anything from the conversation. In fact, I wish I had got angrier with him.

That left me thinking about getting angry. This post from another (much more interesting) cycling blogger reflects some of the things I could get angry about as he does, and he starts by saying that he feels that “Anger is not generally a constructive or attractive emotion…”. Not generally, no, but maybe sometimes it is useful to get angry. By being “nice” to the young driver in Livingston, I don’t think I got through to him. If I had been more forceful, perhaps I could have got him to listen to me. And yet, once the anger is gone, one could be left with regrets about things said in the heat of the moment.

There are thoughts about campaigning here too. You get some organisations, like Spokes who have been around for many years and do excellent work campaigning for what is possible now. And then there are other groups, like Pedal on Parliament who are more “angry”, perhaps, more forceful, more concerned about the bigger picture and the long term goals and the bigger changes. And actually I think we need both, both the focus on the “easy” changes (and even those things are not at all easy, as I’m sure the people who do tireless work at Spokes will tell me), and also the drive to the bigger goals and the real changes in infrastructure and attitude that will ultimately be the only way that there will be a real change in the numbers of people cycling in this country.

So next time I have a conversation with a driver, I might allow myself to be a bit more angry. Or I might not.