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Pete Piccolo

Turning a regressive social media post into a productive discussion: A letter from Pete

On Saturday morning, I received an email from a person I didn’t know with a subject line that captured my attention: “Donation.” The sender said he wanted to donate $10,000 to Bicycle Colorado, but didn’t elaborate much more than that. A few minutes later, I received a text from a teammate. The text had a screenshot of a statement made by the prospective donor on social media; he was apologizing for and criticizing a Facebook post published on a platform his company manages.

And then I received a copy of the post. It featured four pictures, three of insects and one of bicyclists, with this caption: “Who else is ready for Fall when these pests go back to hell where they belong?”

The post sparked a public discussion that reflected the seemingly divided and sometimes callous times in which we live. Some people thought it funny and said that others needed to grow thicker skin. Some thought it tone-deaf but not that bad; I can see these people cringing as they say to themselves, it could be worse. And then some people were angry—very angry. For the record, my team and I fall into the latter camp. (Note that I had a good conversation with the CEO where we explored ways to work together to change the public narrative.) 

It’s been a tough summer. This post felt like a punch in the gut for my team and me, and I bet it felt the same for people who have been touched by tragedy on the road.

Pete Piccolo

Executive Director, Bicycle Colorado

Here is why the post had the levity of a lead balloon for a lot of people: 

First, no one ever feels good about being compared to bugs and being wished to eternal damnation. 

Second, even if this was an attempt to be funny, for the group targeted—people biking—this micro-aggression hit too close to home, reminding them of real-world scenarios they’ve been involved in that are both dangerous and traumatizing. If you ride long enough, there is a good chance that you will be verbally abused by a driver who doesn’t want you on the road, even if you’re following the law. Worse yet, there is a good chance that at some point while riding your bike, your life will flash before your eyes when a driver, wanting to make clear that you’re not wanted or welcome, hits the accelerator and speeds by with only inches separating you from their front bumper. These experiences leave you shaking and breathless. They also leave you less tolerant of stupid posts comparing you to insects. 

Third, there were readers of this post whose lives have been permanently altered after being hit by a driver while riding their bikes. Some of these people are now paralyzed.

Finally, some readers of this post have lost loved ones who were hit and killed while riding their bikes. Since July, seven people have been killed in the front range by drivers. One victim was a longtime Bicycle Colorado volunteer. My team and I have spent a portion of our summer attending and speaking at memorials for these fallen bicyclists and consoling families and friends. As I write this, I can’t get out of my mind a conversation that two teammates and I are scheduled to have this Friday with a mother who lost her 38-year-old daughter who was hit and killed in July by a careless driver.

It’s been a tough summer. This post felt like a punch in the gut for my team and me, and I bet it felt the same for people who have been touched by tragedy on the road.

As offensive as this post was, it was also a gift in that it provides us all a few important reminders.

When you find yourself frustrated with a bicyclist, remember that most are nice people who are moms, dads, siblings, sons and daughters. It’s also a good time to remember that you probably know and enjoy the company of a person or two who rides a bike. To bolster my point, check out the #itcouldbeme campaign on social media, started by someone who was involved in a serious crash with a driver a little over a year ago.

We need to stop judging books by their covers. We need to stop labeling people. We need to stop the toxicity in our daily dialogue. Moving forward, let’s all try harder to put ourselves in the shoes of others. Let’s all try harder to be a little kinder to one another, even when—no, especially when—we’re angry.

The next time you’re driving or riding a bike and you feel your blood pressure rising, hit the pause button, take a deep breath and instead of “flipping the bird” flash a smile and peace sign. You’ll be better off for it, and the world will be too.

Let’s keep each other safe out there.

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Pete Piccolo

About the Author: Pete Piccolo

Since 2018, Pete has led as Executive Director of Bicycle Colorado. He works to make Colorado a better place to ride a bike for everyone who chooses to ride. He prioritizes relationship building, collaboration and creating a strong, effective team to lead the way. Want to chat with Pete? Send him an email at pete@bicyclecolorado.org.

COMMENTS (5)

Robin - Reply

These kind of posts do make me angry. I am still upset by the guy being killed on Lookout Mtn a couple of years ago. Tom Flanagan I believe. The audacity of people is overwhelming. Just this past Friday, I was bicycling on 44th near Indiana. A semi was coming my way in the opposite lane. Then a white Porsche Panamera pulled out from behind the semi to pass, crossing the double solid line and heading directly for me. I tried to wave him off, but he kept on coming. He did not hit me though I am overwhelmed and disgusted that there are still people out there that think their convenience is more importance than someone else’s safety or life. Waiting behind this truck would have cost this loser a minute, yet he decided to put my life at risk in order to get somewhere a minute sooner. There is a special place in hell for these people.

    Peter - Reply

    Hi Robin. Thanks for reading the post and sharing your thoughts. It sounds like your encounter with the driver of the Porsche was scary and frustrating. I’ve been there and in the past, I have not always followed my own advice to take a deep breath and not retaliate with anger. I’ve been trying harder and doing much better at assuming drivers are good people and to respond with grace when they make poor choices. I feel better for it and I gain comfort knowing I’m being a good ambassador for all bicyclists on the road. The driver of the Porche made a very bad choice but who knows — perhaps he/she is not a loser that we should send to hell (to join all the bicyclists condemned to hell by the creator of the insect/bicyclists meme that prompted my blog post).

Tim Johnson - Reply

Well said Pete. As a bike commuter I often have to remind myself that the driver that just cut me off, or passed to close, probably just made a simple mistake by losing concentration for a moment, and most likely is a very good person. I have to remember that I too make mistakes while I’m riding that could cause a driver to get angry. It’s OK to be get angry if you’re a driver or bike rider, but it’s never OK to make matters worse by screaming or ‘flipping the bird’. Just take a deep breath, and concentrate on getting home safe.

Brian Schmidt - Reply

Thanks for the information and reminder. I commute daily and for the most part a have a positive experience. I’m always grateful when drivers are courteous but sometimes angry when they are not. I stopped myself last night (from flipping the bird) but it’s tough to be generous when your mindset is necessarily defensive.

Courtney Culligan - Reply

Thank you, Pete. Very well said.

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