Bad Conversations on Facebook Groups

I am making a pact with myself to scroll by any conversation  in Facebook Groups about urban bicycling and urban driving. Today is October 23rd. The promise lasts until Thanksgiving.

By then, I might have a more civil voice in my head when I read comments. Right now, my internal voice is way too judgmental and sarcastic to be welcome.

The big picture about social media

Last week, I wrote about the ineffectiveness of using the phrase “I don’t believe in” instead of saying “I believe” something, as a moral good. That post was inspired by useless conversations on Facebook.

If you are on the Somerville MA Facebook page, you will see the same overblown conversation happening every time someone comments about cars, bicycles, pedestrian safety, or road changes. The same “facts” get dropped. Those “facts” get disputed, repeated, disputed again. The moral failing of people on one side of the conversation, or other, is carted out. Sometimes, there is ragging on the comparative wealth or privilege being flaunted by one side or the other. Then there’s “don’t you care about elderly and disabled people?” versus “car drivers can’t be bothered to walk a block.”

It’s stupid. It’s repetitive. It’s boring. People in a real-life group would not .repeatedly have the same conversation – and get nowhere – every week.

When walking:

I made the mistake of starting a conversation about how I am pleased that bicyclists are trying to make eye contact to regulate right-of-way between pedestrians and bicycles in crosswalks.

The situation: I was walking on Mass Ave and had two instances of successful sharing of that space, so the bicyclist did not need to come to a complete stop. I thought it was a win.

I do not think that bicyclist necessarily need to come to a full stop – like a car – when a pedestrian is crossing. If people communicate with glances and nods, it’s a win-win. That was the purpose of the post: we can do this as a community.

OMG, what a mess! The conversation degraded:

  • Bicyclist don’t follow the rules. They are a menace to pedestrians.
  • Car drivers don’t follow the rules. They are lethal to pedestrians and bicyclists. How dare you compare the two dangers!
  • No one is ever hurt by bicyclists hitting pedestrians. Of course they are!… No they are not; no reports of those injuries… Oh, but I have been hit and didn’t report it… How dare you not report it!….
  • When cars hit bicyclists and pedestrians it has serious consequences. But, it is the bicyclists’ fault because they don’t follow the rules… No, it is the fault of traffic calming making it too hard to drive… Well slow down, you driver, that’s your job!

OK, so I am not starting another one of those conversations. Ever.

The conversation I want to have.

The conversation that I want to have is about what I notice while walking or driving. I mostly walk around town. I use the MBTA when I go into Boston. I do not bicycle, based on medical advice. I drive once or twice a week, usually when I am going all the way across town or I need to carry something back from my errand.

Today, when I drove to Inman Square, I saw a few things that I would like to have an intelligent conversation about. However, Facebook is not a place for that.

Does anyone know what a bicyclist is supposed to do at the bridge where Beacon Street meets Somerville Avenue? 

Going towards Beacon Street on Somerville Avenue, I crossed over the bike lane and stopped at the light at Mossland Street. A bicyclist was next to me, to my left, waiting at the light with me. Suddenly, he went forward; the light was still red. I didn’t know why. Then immediately behind him were two bicyclists going fast. As the fast two entered the intersection, the line of cars turning from Mossland entered the intersection. The bicycles were nearly hit by cars turning left from Mossland. The bicyclists veered right into the right auto lane and avoided the cars. No harm, but a bit of drama.

On the way back, there is no bike lane at the bridge at the end of Beacon Street. At this point, I am on Beacon in the left lane and will be turning left. Two bicyclists were on the edge of the right lane, by the light. They went right on Somerville Avenue. Two bicyclists were between the two lanes of traffic. The bicycle lane sign was in the lefthand car lane. Were those bicycles in the right place? That seems like an unsafe place to be – between two lanes of car traffic.

It is a shame that I can’t discuss this civilly with local people who might know the answer.


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