COMMENT & ANALYSIS: Listen long enough and you’ll hear (or read) it: some comment somewhere about how entitled cyclists are. We’re not talking entitlement in a good way, in the context of explaining someone’s rights.
No. We’re talking about the word “entitled” being used as an insult, meaning an assumption of privileges you have no right to. This article in the Irish Independent last year is a case in point.
You’ll find more if you look – I won’t link to them here. Yet, every time I step out of my front door, whether on foot or by bicycle, I see a road user group that is far more entitled than cyclists can hope to be. Yes, drivers, I’m looking at you. (And before you scroll down to the comments section to point this out, I know, I know: #NotAllDrivers — and in case you don’t know what I mean by that…).
People who feel entitled to public space for the storage of their private property are invariably drivers. People who feel entitled to use space specifically set aside for the exclusive use of other groups are overwhelmingly drivers. The majority of drivers feel entitled to travel at what speed they like, rather than the maximum speed prescribed for a given stretch of road.
The facts simply don’t support the assertion that cyclists are the ones who are entitled. Why, then, do people say they are?
Drivers are used to all other road users showing deference to them, generally behaving such that the driver is preferably unaware of their presence. When one doesn’t – for instance, when a cyclist takes a lane – the driver doesn’t recognise that the other road user is simply claiming the exact same right as the driver is exercising. They experience the cyclist’s perfectly legal and safe behaviour as entitlement.
This is a case of “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression“. Drivers are a privileged class on our roads, and their response to other road users not behaving with an “I’m sorry I exist!” attitude needs to be seen for what it is.
Nadia Williams is a postgraduate researcher investigating the role of social dynamics in cycling uptake and safety. She lives car-free with her family in Dundalk.