about enough of this crap

Christ: another one. Why is it that any time someone points out that despite bicycling being a clean and cheap mode of transportation our cities make it much more dangerous and difficult than it ought to be, the first reaction is always, ALWAYS for people to exclaim: “But sometimes bicyclists run stop signs or ride on sidewalks!”

I’m really trying to keep this short, so I’ll just say: speaking for cyclists everywhere, out A-#1 top priority is not getting killed by automobiles. I’m sorry that this edges out “not startling those not on bikes” and “not inconveniencing those driving”, but it does. The stakes are just a wee bit higher, is the thing. We’re riding to get away from cars, to get seen by cars, and to avoid winding up under cars. If you don’t ride a bike you don’t understand, and you certainly have no right to make assumptions about the correctness of typical cyclist behavior based on your occasional prudish outrage at the antics of a few reckless downtown couriers.

Someday I hope we’ll all be able to live in peace and harmony. But as someone who’s employed all three modes of transportation, take it from me: right now irresponsible or dim-witted drivers put cyclists in danger much more frequently and to a greater degree than cyclists endanger walkers and drivers. Please try to apportion your outrage accordingly.

11 Responses to “about enough of this crap”

  1. catherine

    that’s not true. i ride a bike and have for a long time, and i see bikers blowing through red lights and stop signs all the time, and it pisses me off. it wouldn’t be hard for them, or life-threatening, to not do that. andrew beaujon, who wrote that post, is also a big bike proponent and rider.

  2. Tom

    What can I say? That’s not my experience. I commute to work every day on my bike, and although I typically see one or two fellow bikers each way, I rarely see cyclists breaking the law. But have a look at the comments surrounding the MyBikeLane project on DCist, Yglesias’s, CityDesk, or the post Tim wrote in response to mine: the first reaction is always to bitch and whine about people running stop signs. Or to complain about them riding on the sidewalks — which is legal in most parts of the city.
    Yes, cyclists do sometimes break the law, and not infrequently. But certainly it’s less common than, say, people jaywalking — something you don’t hear much complaining about that.
    The problem is that people don’t like being startled, and bicyclists often startle them in a way that pedestrians don’t. That’s not the cyclists’ fault, though, and it shouldn’t be their problem.

  3. catherine

    maybe it’s mostly bike messengers to blame. they’re crazy bike riders and are almost always running over pedestrians and throwing themselves into intersections. i’d guess that it’s from them that most people get their negative impression of bikers, probably because they’re also the most obvious bike presence in the city. i think you’re probably right with regular commuter bikers like you and me and others, we’re not cruising around like insane maniacs and are mostly respecting the laws.

  4. Tom

    Yeah. I should add: I’ve got no objection to starting to ticket bad cyclists — the same way that MyBikeLane is trying to get tickets issued to bad parkers. My complaint is just that anytime bike regulation comes up, the response by commenters (and commentators) is invariably to say, “That’s interesting, but the REAL story is that in the past I have been annoyed by someone on a bicycle”

  5. sam

    The most egregious violators of the rules that I’ve seen are either messengers who have a financial incentive to go as fast as possible, and food delivery people, who I more often than not see on sidewalks and/or riding in the wrong direction on streets. Particularly in NYC where the one-way streets have “trained” most pedestrians to only look in one direction, bikes going the wrong way can be a really big problem.
    Most of my own cycling is for leisure, not commuting because (a) there’s nowhere safe to lock up my bike near my office (and yes, I’ve started a petition to install a bike rack near the entrance) and (b) I actually live close enough to walk on most nice days. Whenever I do cycle around though, I (generally) obey traffic rules. At which point I almost always get honked at by some car thinking that I’m in their way. While in the bike path. At a red light. My middle finger gets lots of exercise on these trips. Apparently the only thing more confusing and irritating to drivers than cyclists who *don’t* obey traffic laws are those that *do*.

  6. tim/son1

    …or the post Tim wrote in response to mine: the first reaction is always to bitch and whine about people running stop signs.

    I’m not really sure that an apportionment of outrage can be inferred from a single snide and poorly-worded blog post that I choose to write in a fit of pique. I usually get a lot angrier at cars and their drivers than I do at bicyclists, even if that doesn’t come through online.
    But anyway, point taken.

  7. Ben Sherman

    I ride a bike, and do illegal things all the time. The reason? It’s safer for me. I blow thru stop signs so I can avoid getting turned into by people tuning right. I run lights because I can maintain my speed, and not get rear ended by cars waiting at the light (or approaching it when it turns green).
    It aggravates me when an inexperienced rider is on the sidewalks, but not when a messenger does it – the messengers startle people, but they don’t HIT people, and they get out of the way (and know how to stop). People that ride on the sidewalks because they are scared of cars often do so because of inexperience, and are bad at handling their bike as a result. That inexperience is what causes the danger. They don’t know how to stop or move.
    When I am riding my bike fast enough to be a car, I obey the rules of cars – riding on the streets, with traffic, signaling and stopping (or slowing to pedestrian speeds). When I am going as slow as a pedestrian, I use the rules of common sense, not car laws.
    Not coming to a complete stop at red lights and stop signs really is easier on everyone – you can stay away from the traffic more. I equate it to being in a car and having the engine shut off whenever you come to a complete stop, only able to turn it on when the light changes. If that were the case, people in cars would act a lot more like bikes.
    Cars and bicycles don’t need to follow the same rules if they both just use some common sense when they are near each other.
    The mentality of people behind the wheel of a car is that everyone going faster than you is a maniac and everyone slower is an idiot, which means that no one behind the wheel is rational.

  8. mothra

    Ben Sherman:
    You need an effective cycling class. You can avoid getting “right turned” without running traffic signals. I don’t even get what you’re talking about in getting rear-ended. I fail to see how running a traffic light is ever, ever, EVER safer for a cyclist. Keep riding like you do, Ben, and you’ll end up as roadkill soon.
    Oh, and bike messengers do run into pedestrians. Because pedestrians do unpredictable things. All the time.

  9. Tom

    I’m pretty sympathetic to Ben’s view. Blowing through a stop or red light blindly can’t be justified. But I don’t see anything wrong with simply slowing down enough to determine if it’s dangerous and then proceeding, though. And behaving as if you’re a car really does put you at pretty serious risk in a number of ways.

  10. Tom

    And Tim — I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to lump you in quite so harshly with anti-bike reactionism. Your post was perfectly fine, and I shouldn’t have included it in that list.

  11. Marcin Tustin

    One of the nice things about DC is cycling on the pavements.

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