From “Hey, You #*%!!” To “Dear Driver”

mary_beth_kelly.jpgMary Beth Kelly is a psychotherapist and a co-chair of the Transportation Alternatives advisory council. Photo: TA

It‘s hard to be nice when you’re angry. Once your sympathetic nervous system kicks in — the fight or flight response — it is such a challenge to regulate your affect. I know. I struggle with it almost every time I get on my bike in New York City.

It is rare that in the course of pedaling from point A to point B — starting out in a good mood, minding my own business, obeying the rules — that a motorist isn’t rude or downright dangerous toward me. I take it personally. After all, wouldn’t anyone smaller and less protected feel frightened as well as dissed? And since I am more of the “fight’ than “flight” kind of gal, I have to get a grip — a tight one, or I will put myself in the very danger that I am trying to avoid.

I recently met a couple of guys who are taking my problem (perhaps "our" problem) to heart, and putting some creative energy into a solution.

Dear Driver, the brainchild of Erik Fabian and Josh Weinstein, is a combination self-regulation tool and cyclist/driver communication conduit. Like many good ideas, it isn’t complicated.

It works like this. You cut me off, almost door me, or yell at me for taking street space, and I take a deep breath and hand you a nicely printed letter for you to read when you park your vehicle.

What does it say? Essentially: that I felt endangered, and that I hope you will take a moment to read a brief note that helps you understand who I am (a woman of a certain age, a psychotherapist), why I bike (I love it and its non environmental-impact), the challenge for me on two wheels (particularly since 2006 when my husband, Dr. Carl Henry Nacht, was killed on his bicycle), and what the rules of the road are for us both.

My letter then invites a response at the website where the driver might become even more enlightened about city cycling. Clean, controlled, even sweet — it replaces the hand gestures and angry retorts that keep us agitated, and allows us to quiet down our activated nervous system to enjoy our ride. Dear Driver, listen up, indeed!

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