Greater Greater Washington

Letters: Cycling safety starts with cyclists

From time to time, readers email in with perspectives about issues in our region. Sometimes these get worked into articles, but at other times they don't. Therefore, we're starting a new feature, printing letters from readers. We might or might not not agree with what they say, but any we print will present a thoughtful perspective on an issue.

Today's letter is from Adam Irish, who wrote the recent "streetcars are preservationist" op-ed. Do you have a letter you'd like printed? Email it to letters@ggwash.org.

Riding my bike home from work the other day, I was almost killed. This is not an unusual circumstance for the DC cyclist, who is endangered daily by aggressive drivers and unfriendly roads. But this time it wasn't the absence of a bike lane or a driver's carelessness: it was a reckless bicyclist.


Australian PSA. Photo by Gui v R on Flickr.

Many Washington bicyclists fail to respect even the most basic traffic laws. By neglecting the rules of the road, errant cyclists not only endanger their own safety, but the safety of drivers, pedestrians, and above all, other bicyclists.

I was at the intersection of G and 12th NW, pedaling through a green light in the bike lane, when the car next to me swerved into the bike lane and slammed on its brakes. Luckily the vehicle was a few feet in front of me and I was able to brake before plowing into his back windshield, but the difference of a foot or two saved me from an ambulance.

Why had this car nearly killed me? No fault of the driver. An oblivious bicyclist was slowly navigating across the intersection, through heavy traffic and a red light. A moron. The problem is, morons on two wheels abound in this city. I'd say at least a third of my scary encounters on the road involve reckless fellow cyclists. I'd go farther and say that a good portion of the road rage we endure is the product of unsafe and disrespectful bicycling.

The bicycling community these days is rather prickly when it comes to criticism, and for good reason. As a regular bike commuter, I know the disrespect from automobiles and infrastructure inequalities firsthand. Bicyclists have a right to be on the road. They deserve dedicated lanes and signals. They deserve respect from drivers and pedestrians.

They also deserve to receive tickets, pay fines and attend court dates just as motorists do when they fail to obey the rules of the road. "When traveling on city streets, cyclists should follow the same rules of the road as motorized vehicles," says the DC Metropolitan Police Department website. "This means stopping at stop signs; obeying traffic signals and lane markings; and using hand signals to let others know your intention to stop or turn."

This should be a revelation to many DC cyclists, who seem to feel entitled to break as many traffic laws as possible. Almost every day I witness two-wheeled commuters clustered at a red light jockeying with one another to cross an intersection and dodge oncoming traffic. Sometimes I wonder if such public feats of rush-hour derring-do inspire some people to bike to work in the first place.

If bicyclists want to be treated equally on the road, they need to be treated equally in the eyes of the law. A biker running a stop sign should be just as likely to get a ticket as a motorist doing the same. This is certainly not the case in the status quo. Until then, DC bicyclists need to take the initiative to obey traffic laws without enforcement for the sake of safety and courtesy. After all, they go hand in handjust ask an infuriated driver or a cyclist who has met one.

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Comments

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You write, "I'd say at least a third of my scary encounters on the road involve reckless fellow cyclists." I don't believe that proportion is at all accurate, and so it makes it hard for me to buy the rest of your argument.

I bike every day, and, it's more like 1/50 or 1/100 scary encounters that result from bicyclists. I'd really appreciate that someone ticket taxi's for not pulling to the curb, or FedEx for parking illegally, or pedestrians for standing in the street while talking on their phones, or drivers from texting and driving, or the ever present random u-turn. But, cracking down on bicyclists won't address the vast majority of safety issues.

I get that you're infuriated, but I don't think you've got a valid public safety argument.

by mtp on May 24, 2010 2:28 pm • linkreport

Don't forget the jaywalkers. They're part of the problem too!

(I actually saw a cop ticketing a group of Jaywalkers at Columbus Circle the other day...)

by andrew on May 24, 2010 2:32 pm • linkreport

As a runner and a pedestrian, I usually have one good scare from a biker each week. It's usually one of the lycra Livestrong guys. As a biker, though, it's probably more like three scares, and it's almost never another biker. There's a commuter food chain, and it's pedestrian < biker < car. The biker-on-biker cannibalism in this article, on the other hand, is pretty rare.

by aaa on May 24, 2010 2:41 pm • linkreport

I agree: cyclists can still complain about motorists, but need to do the right thing themselves. Its not just breaking the law, but being a moron, like the example you cite. I was cycling on Friday and almost killed two cyclists who were going through a red light into my path.

by SJE on May 24, 2010 3:01 pm • linkreport

Every case of cyclist-oriented road rage I've seen - every single one - has involved a cyclist operating within the law, and a driver who objected to that cyclist's very presence on the road.

I have a hard time believing that there's some kind of moral calculus in which an angry driver says "oh, cyclists break the law by proceeding through stop signs; therefore, I will hit the gas and buzz the next rider I see." Certainly there are people who write letters to newspapers, complaining about bicyclists breaking the law, but I very much doubt that anyone thoughtful enough to write a letter is likely to use a car as a weapon.

I used to stop and stay at red lights, when on my bike, even if there was no opposing traffic. I've ceased to do that because I can't see how that action has any bearing on safety or courtesy. It's absurd on its face. I'd rather behave considerately than blindly adhere to laws, especially when those laws are at variance with actual custom. There are other, more important ways to be courteous: wave, let others in, offer directions.

The only productive response to this kind of concern, I think, is a push for an Idaho stop law.

by David R. on May 24, 2010 3:05 pm • linkreport

I've long suspected that a lot of the animosity cyclists face is because of selection bias. You don't remember the hundred cyclists who go by you and cause no problems, but the one who does something stupid catches your eye. To say "most cyclists are reckless" is probably not true, but it is true that the cyclists we remember best are the reckless ones. That said, I find this to be the most compelling point in the letter:

a good portion of the road rage we endure is the product of unsafe and disrespectful bicycling

So for that reason alone I think cyclists need to be more respectful. I'd offer one modification, though: we need to be able to treat stop signs as yields (the Idaho stop law), and red lights as stop signs. It's ridiculous to sit there on a bike at a red light where there is no visible traffic coming from either direction. For cars, I can understand having to wait, because drivers can't see around the corner. For cyclists, momentum is precious.

by NemaVeze on May 24, 2010 3:05 pm • linkreport

While I completely support Adam's call for safe and considerate behavior from bicyclists, I respectfully disagree that following rules of the road to the letter is the best approach, when those rules are written for much more dangerous vehicles that can accelerate more easily, face no challenges making on-road left turns, etc. I would never blow through a red light at a busy intersection but I'm not going to lose all forward momentum by coming to a full stop at stop signs on deserted back streets either.

There is a happy medium which involves changing the rules of the road (a la the Idaho stop: http://bikeportland.org/2009/01/14/idaho-stop-law-faq/) to better reflect the different properties of bicycles. Right now we are trying to "cram" cycling into a transport network not designed for it.

Meanwhile, we should be guided by SAFETY and common sense.

by Erica on May 24, 2010 3:08 pm • linkreport

Does anything useful ever come out of these discussions? I'm going to sum up the responses: whine, drivers tear around like they got teleported here from a NASCAR track and we never enforce the speed limit, bikes have better visibility, it's a matter of respect, I'm a pedestrian and a cyclist ran over my baby while I was on the sidewalk and then came back and kneecapped me with a U-lock, whine, whine, whine, Idaho stop, whine.

Can we all concede that DDOT should immediately run a campaign that removes the morons and the homicidal from the streets? And take the discussion from there?

by David R. on May 24, 2010 3:12 pm • linkreport

I am in favor of the changes NemaVaze lays out, coupled with tough enforcement. If the law is willing to be accommodating, then we should expect, and even demand, tough enforcement. The current equilibrium doesn't work for anyone.

by Nate on May 24, 2010 3:13 pm • linkreport

Nema- I'm not sure I see your point. Can bicyclers see around corners better than drivers? And if you've stopped, your momentum is already gone; waiting for the light to change to green won't make it any more gone.

I don't bike, but I try to give bikers all the courtesy in the world. More power to them! But it's just as annoying to idle in a car at a red light with no visible traffic as it is to sit on a bike.

And as a walker, I'd ask bikers to please remember that drivers are to bikers as bikers are to pedestrians. You have a right to be on the road, so please respect our right to be on the trail.

by Tom on May 24, 2010 3:13 pm • linkreport

I'm not going to lose all forward momentum by coming to a full stop at stop signs on deserted back streets either.

I'm not a bike commuter, but the above sentiment just rubs me the wrong way. I understand that it's inconvenient and may be, in the strictest sense, unnecessary to stop at all stop signs, red lights and other signals. However, if you want the full protection of the law you ought to be prepared to completely obey the law, rather than explain why it makes more sense to exempt yourself.

All of us, pedestrians, cyclists and motorists alike, regularly clamor for full and equal enforcement of the traffic regulations. I suspect, however, that none of us are prepared for what a total enforcement regime would look like in practice.

by Nate on May 24, 2010 3:20 pm • linkreport

But it's just as annoying to idle in a car at a red light with no visible traffic as it is to sit on a bike.

The annoyance may be similar, but the danger of lifting that restriction is not. There is a reason that someone driving through a red light is punished harshly and a pedestrian jaywalking is (usually) not - the driver could kill someone and the pedestrian can't. Bicycles are in the middle, and therefore should face intermediate restrictions. Since the point of traffic restrictions is to reduce danger, different modes of transit should be regulated differently based on how dangerous they are. The school of thought that wants to treat bicycles "just like cars" is misguided.

by Erica on May 24, 2010 3:22 pm • linkreport

I'm a daily bicycle commuter in Pittsburgh but face similar issues. I stop at every red light and wait for it to change. Why? Because that's what's expected of me. If we cyclists want to get the respect of other on the road, we need to follow the rules too.

by Cullen on May 24, 2010 3:23 pm • linkreport

I remember when there was another bike vs. car thread on GGW, and one biker tried to convince me that he could lawfully break a red light (without any form of stopping).

Like I said in that thread, I love the idea of biking and wish them all the best. However, some bad apples seem to be ruining it for all, and there doesn't seem to be any pushback against that.

by Mr. S on May 24, 2010 3:38 pm • linkreport

I don't get the argument of "yeah, that's what the law says, but that shouldn't apply to me." Because it's always followed by the subsequent argument of "But it the law should totally, absolutely, and without any exception whatsoever apply to that other guy."

It's a lazy argument, no matter which group uses it to portray themselves as the innocent victims who are being ganged up by law enforcement, the government, or public opinion.

by Fritz on May 24, 2010 3:44 pm • linkreport

"This means stopping at stop signs; obeying traffic signals and lane markings; and using hand signals to let others know your intention to stop or turn."

This should be a revelation to many DC cyclists, who seem to feel entitled to break as many traffic laws as possible.

Don't flatter yourself. You are showing your true colors when you write this. Anyone who is a regular bike commuter and doesn't live and work in the most bike friendly parts of NW has to regularly "break the law" to stay safe and not invoke the wrath of aggressive drivers.

You try not getting run over at the intersection of Georgia and New Hampshire Avenue by obeying the stop light. Have you ever had a Municipal trash truck driver blare its horn at you because you decided to sit at a red light while he wants to illegally make a right turn? Didn't think so. What about waiting for green to get moving northbound on Connecticut and R at rush hour? I bet you'd start running reds in a second after feeling the wrath of a hundred cars passing you and honking horns.

Your "revelation" works fine for the maybe 1 percent of DC that is truly bike-conscious (any cyclist that doesn't stop on PA Ave now is a jerk) Otherwise, you are kidding yourself if you think the safest thing to do, every time, is follow the rules of the road. The rules of the road were designed for multi ton vehicles that can achieve great speeds and rip apart flesh. So excuse me if I work around those rules to do what feels safest for me, which usually involves staying the hell away from frustrated drivers on car sewers.

I very seriously doubt that the author of this post is commuting more than a mile or so from his mid city house to his mid city job. Come back and make this argument when you are biking out to PG county or Wheaton on a daily basis.

by JTS on May 24, 2010 3:45 pm • linkreport

@Erica,

The annoyance may be similar, but the danger of lifting that restriction is not. There is a reason that someone driving through a red light is punished harshly and a pedestrian jaywalking is (usually) not - the driver could kill someone and the pedestrian can't. Bicycles are in the middle, and therefore should face intermediate restrictions. Since the point of traffic restrictions is to reduce danger, different modes of transit should be regulated differently based on how dangerous they are. The school of thought that wants to treat bicycles "just like cars" is misguided.

You're comparing apples and oranges. You're correct that running a red light in a car and jaywalking at that same red light are punished differently. The Idaho stop doesn't provide an intermediate punishment for the cyclist, though - it exempts the cyclist from restrictions that the driver and the pedestrian are expected to comply with. Not saying that adopting the Idaho stop is necessarily a bad idea - but the rationale you advance makes no sense.

by dcd on May 24, 2010 3:59 pm • linkreport

I think it should be pointed out that the stop light was not invented until cars became more ubiquitous. Why? Because cars are heavy machinery and did not play well with bicycles, pedestrians, and horses on city streets. The heft and velocity of motorized vehicles required vast changes in how intersections were managed. Imagine if tanks became came into vogue as a mode of transportation, I'm sure we'd have to put in place new safety regulations to accommodate their size and their drivers' lack of visibility.

by Laura on May 24, 2010 4:05 pm • linkreport

i partially agree with this - the reckless minority is what other drives and pedestrians will remember. but i don't think that stopping/yielding before riding through a red light or stop sign is necessarily reckless. there is a LOT of biking behavior that is stupid and reckless and needs to change: biking the wrong way down a one-way street, wearing earphones, texting, going the wrong way in a bike lane, buzzing pedestrians who have the cross signal, it bothers me every time i see a biker doing these things. cyclists and drivers could both stand to change some of their worse habits.

by kate on May 24, 2010 4:09 pm • linkreport

A great deal of this discussion has a different meaning on the street than in words.

I don't think that standing at red lights, or stopping at stop signs (rather than yielding) is what's expected of cyclists. At the very least, social customs regarding cyclist behavior are debatable, and that's where this enmity comes from.

> Can bicyclers see around corners better than drivers?

Well, yes: no steel posts in the way, and the cyclist is 3-6 feet farther forward than a driver. I never really understood exactly how much better a cyclist's situational awareness was until I was on a bike.

To that end, I'll make an offer. I'm a transportation cyclist, a highly assertive but good natured person on the street. If you're interested in experiencing my point of view and my decision-making, I will gladly ride with pretty much anyone.

I'm interested in other people's point of view, despite my cynicism regarding bike discussion threads. I care more about what you see/do on the street. I'll also travel with you - bike, car, on foot. And I might write up my reaction and my observations, if anyone cared.

Caveats: I have to be convinced that you're not an axe-murderer, and I will not ride Metro for more than 15 minutes, because the lights make me feel nauseous.

For contact info, see http://imaginaryterrain.com/ .

by David R. on May 24, 2010 4:19 pm • linkreport

I think the writer has a valid point. I commute on my bike and ride it a lot and I have had some terrifying moments because of other bikers. I agree that bikers need to be more responsible. The city cyclist-as-renegade scofflaw was appropriate 20 years ago but it's time to put it to rest. There are a lot more of us now and the situation on the roads has improved. Let us all be glad that you don't need to be a daredevil to bike in DC anymore.

by Wreckfish on May 24, 2010 4:25 pm • linkreport

beating a dead horse, but as a pedestrian living and working downtown (i.e., below Mass Ave) i find it especially ironic when self-righteous bikers talk about how scary it is when cars get close to them, etc. - yet have absolutely no sympathy when that happens to pedestrians with bicycles on the sidewalks. Here's the difference - anyone is the street has an affirmative legal duty to keep an eye on the road at all times. That duty does not exist in the pedestrian sphere, and on the sidewalks people are not expecting, not should they be, anything faster than walking speed. I used to be a serious LSD runner and I learned long ago that even running on the sidewalk is a recipe for disaster (and as a runner, one gets a little more exposure to pedestrian reaction than one does when whizzing by on a bicycle).
So I always love these posts that bring out all the self-righteous bicyclists always blaming "the other" without bothering to acknowledge that they themselves contribute to the problem because they just don't think that the rules apply to them. Very typical DC.

by andy on May 24, 2010 4:51 pm • linkreport

Wow...LSD running sounds intense. Are you sure you aren't just hallucinating from all the dehydration and LSD? :p

by anonymous on May 24, 2010 4:56 pm • linkreport

yeah anon - I knew it would bring out the buttwipes. LSD = Long Slow distance - such as 10 miles in 3 hours - that sort of thing. Now grow up.

by andy on May 24, 2010 4:58 pm • linkreport

Wow...

by anonymous on May 24, 2010 5:03 pm • linkreport

Hmm, non- auto-traffic law disobeys traffic laws designed for the convenience of drivers. And this is news?

Here's my solution: remove about 90% of the stop-lights in the city and convert them to 4-way stops. Then implement Idaho-stop rules for cyclists, and give pedestrians the right-of-way in all circumstances.

Recently there was a power outage on Penn Ave SW, and MPD erected temporary 4-way stop signs. There was no appreciable impact on auto throughput, but things were a hell of a lot more reasonable than they usually are, with folks taking their turns crossing, rather than making crossing pedestrians and cyclists (and cars) wait for minutes on end to cross the street while Penn Ave auto traffic screams past unimpeded.

Also, moratorium please, on the phrase "almost killed a cyclist" or "almost killed by a cyclist". It's unnecessarily overwrought. You can certainly say you were scared by a cyclist, but given how infrequently anyone is killed by a cyclist, it's a bit much to say that death was thwarted every time a cyclist and a car/pedestrian/cyclist comes within 4 feet of one another.

by oboe on May 24, 2010 5:17 pm • linkreport

Yes, many bikers break the law. But let's not forget that virtually every car driver speeds at some point during every single ride. This whole debate is a pot-kettle issue.

If you want to make the world a better place, start with yourself. And treat others the way you want to be treated.

by Jasper on May 24, 2010 5:20 pm • linkreport

If bicyclists want to be treated equally on the road, they need to be treated equally in the eyes of the law.

who wants to be treated equally? not me. my bike and i deserve priority over everyone but walkers. simple.

there are about a thousand things wrong with this Get Off My Lawn letter, but...

cars should not be allowed on the streets at all. if and when cars prove they can regularly drive on our streets without breaking the law, without endangering innocents, without terrorizing, maiming, and killing people, then we can consider allowing run through DC again -- until that time, they need to be banned. and we should also ban casual acceptance and toleration of the Blame-The-Bikers meme. it's dangerous.

and your evaluation of the situation you faced doesn't make any sense.

Why had this car nearly killed me? No fault of the driver.

actually, it _was_ the fault of the driver. there's a law called Improper Change Of Lane/Failure To Signal/Etc. -- there's a reason for that law -- you might want to ask the driver why they chose to break that law and endanger you. orrrr, you could always save your venom for the most vulnerable road users. yeah - let's do that instead.

i love the setup, tho -- "I know the disrespect from automobiles." aww, gee, shucks -- golly gosh darn -- you know, sometimes those drivers are just so fusty, ya know? fusty, but harmless. BUT THOSE BIKER PEOPLE -- _THEY_ REALLY SCARE ME.

by Peter Smith on May 24, 2010 5:21 pm • linkreport

Bicycles and motorized vehicles all have the same problem, idiots at the controls. Bike riders
have a duty to stay out of harms way just as motorized vehicle drivers are responsible for the
results of their actions. Conflicts begin with human idiocy replacing rational response when
challenged with the need to allow another person space. How many times have you tried to pass another car driver and they sped up to thwart your attempt? It is a rat race in traffic.
Compiled with cell phone usage, reading anything, putting on make up or shaving, or any of numerous actions that distract or impede recognition of what is safe passage, we are at a loss.
Japan has multi phased traffic signals, and different stop lines for bicycles and scooters to allow the slower vehicles a head start to clear the intersection for safe usage by all. This precludes the interactions of slower vehicles and faster heavier cars and trucks as turns and cross traffic clear ahead of the cars.
None of this speaks to the proclivities of insane operators of any vehicle. Bike riders are
at risk of their own actions and the dangers of distracted motorists. All involved by their
presence in the road are culpable. NYC has begun placing bike lanes behind a row of parked
cars to screen with the very solid line a safe passage for pedalers. Still the intersections are
tricky but not beyond safety when a little commonsense by all users is applied.

Good luck from Berkeley

by Michael on May 24, 2010 5:21 pm • linkreport

I commute on my bike and ride it a lot and I have had some terrifying moments because of other bikers.

I commute on my bike and ride it a lot and I have never had any terrifying moments because of other bikers.

by Peter Smith on May 24, 2010 5:37 pm • linkreport

i've started tweeting a new meme recently -- it's called the 'bikers need to stop at stop signs' meme. here's how you play, you wait a few minutes for your feed reader to refresh and show you the latest car-on-biker-or-walker horror, and then you tinyurl it with a tweet that says, 'bikers need to stop at stop signs'.

if it's a particularly gruesome crime, you can say something like, "I agree - bikers _really_ need to stop at stop signs."

get it? it's really funny, right? you see, it's not _just_ stop signs that bikers need to obey, but _all_ signs -- all traffic laws, in fact, since bikers are obviously the most dangerous people on the roads by far. it's kind of using the 'stop sign' thing as a farcical catch-all of blame-the-victim-ness with a nice, healthy dose of black humor and rage.

here -- let's play:

bikers really need to stop at stop signs.

see how fun that was?! now you try...

by Peter Smith on May 24, 2010 6:39 pm • linkreport

Some of the self-righteousness on this thread is highly entertaining.

by Fritz on May 24, 2010 8:28 pm • linkreport

@David Alpert and the rest of the GGW crew:

You guys are some of the sharpest thinkers in the Greater Washington Area today. Your blog posts highlight issues of supreme importance, and have in many ways replaced the post as a leader on a lot of urban planning beat reporting (or whatever).

That said, this bikes vs. cars vs. peds thing has played out a million times on the internet; I find it to be tired and pretty worthless.

Your commenteriat are a pretty sharp bunch of people, but I find this tends to bring out the worst in people. Without question, DDOT and others would benefit from regularly reading the articles and subsequent comment threads this blog generates. Except when it comes to this exhausted issue. If CNN is doing fluff pieces on bikes vs. cars, surely GGW can rise above it. Just my two cents.

by anonymous on May 24, 2010 9:24 pm • linkreport

The more I read about the bike issue, the more convinced that (1) the rules of the road we have today were indeed custom designed to work well for motorized vehicular traffic and pedestrians, but NOT for motorized vehicular traffic, pedestrians, and bicycles. We'd need a whole different set of rules on the road if we were to have rules that made sense for bicycles. But that would mean removing all motorized vehicles from the roads ... And I don't just mean cars. I also mean buses ... and streetcars ... and anything else that isn't lithe and able to stop on a dime (unlike a bike.)

BUT, since we'll never possibly get everyone on a bike ... Hell, we won't even get a significant number of folks on a bike for any of the many trips people must take for work, play, etc. every day, than the option of giving up the roads to the bikes (because they must operate by their own set of rules) isn't going to work.

So, what can we do? We can build a network of ROADS FOR BIKES. Like we saw in the video of those cyclists in the Netherlands. That keeps the motorized traffic and pedestrians who do play well together in a 'closed' transportation system that is efficent for them. And that puts the bikes in another 'closed' transportation system that is good for them.

Everyone gets the road system they need for the set of rules that makes sense for their mode of transportion to work best. Everyone is happy. And if a cyclist or two happens to come on to the regular roads, well ... as long as it's one or two, there won't be a problem because the peds and motorists and the streetcars will likely give them a polite 'pass' at following their own rules of the road ... Just like things used to be before everyone with a few bucks for a Walmart bike started thinking they could be Lance Amstrong on the road.

;)

by Lance on May 25, 2010 12:49 am • linkreport

As a cyclist I am so morally superior that I should not be required to follow the same laws as motorists, who should not only be banned from the streets, they should be summarily arrested and given life sentences. Moreover, my judgment is so impeccable that I should be permitted to behave in traffic however I deem best for my safety and convenience, regardless of whether my actions can safely be anticipated by others around me. If anyone disagrees with me they are so stupid as to be utterly unworthy of consideration (yet apparently not beneath contempt, as evidenced by the seething anger that is all too evident in most of the posts in this thread).

by jimble on May 25, 2010 1:03 am • linkreport

"LSD = Long Slow distance - such as 10 miles in 3 hours - that sort of thing. Now grow up."

So 3.3 mph? Isn't that more commonly known as walking?

by dcd on May 25, 2010 7:53 am • linkreport

@DCD, You should already know not to ask questions of andy-- especially concerning acronyms that only he can decipher. You will be called a buttwipe mercilessley. It should be obvious to anyone with half a brain that LSD running is on an nth level of seriousness and LSD runners will not cotton to any sort of banter regarding the hobby's coincidental acronym-- much less its velocity.
Good luck sir,
For you are perilously close to joining the ranks of the 'buttwipes.'

by horseydeucey on May 25, 2010 9:21 am • linkreport

the rules of the road we have today were indeed custom designed to work well for motorized vehicular traffic and pedestrians

You should try crossing most major thoroughfares in DC if you think this is the case. There are crosswalks here where you end up waiting for speeding cross traffic for about 120 seconds, then are given 15 seconds to cross eight road lanes, and a median. So you get stuck on the median...where you wait another 120 seconds for the walk signal.

The idea that the "rules of the road" are applied for the benefit of both cars and pedestrians is something that one could only believe if you never walk anywhere.

In any case, your channeling of the late, lamented 'w' notwithstanding, I think (in DC, at least) we're less likely to see the "comprehensive network of separated bike paths" than we are to see the fulcrum continue to move away from an emphasis on efficient auto throughput, with minor half-concessions to pedestrians, towards greater pedestrian and cyclist focused solutions.

I won't argue with your basic premises (though I disagree), or get into our customary, enjoyable prescriptive battle of attrition, just saying, that appears to be the way we're going.

by oboe on May 25, 2010 9:50 am • linkreport

Yet apparently not beneath contempt, as evidenced by the seething anger that is all too evident in most of the posts in this thread.

I nominate jimble's submission to the category of "Unintentional Irony", FTW.

:)

by oboe on May 25, 2010 9:52 am • linkreport

As an addendum to my letter, I wanted to add that the day I wrote this, I biked home from work and was stopped at a red light when the driver in the car next to me rolled down her window. "I always have to thank cyclists who stop at red lights," she said. "And by the way, I have the same bike horn."

The point I failed to stress enough above is that if more bicyclists behave safely and courteously on the road, more motorists will treat bicyclists in a safe and courteous manner. I think it's fair to say there's a cause for driver enmity for bikers, because as kate wrote, it's the "reckless minority" that drivers remember.

But the problem I see on the roads every day (and in many of these comments) is exactly what jimble describes: cyclists who believe that "my judgment is so impeccable that I should be permitted to behave in traffic however I deem best for my safety and convenience." I agree with Wreckfish that the heyday of the "cyclist-as-renegade scofflaw" has passed, and preserving this mentality can only damage the causes cyclists want to promote and make the roads more dangerous for other cyclists.

I am in favor of changing the laws to better suit bikers(e.g. Idaho stop). Until that occurs, however, cyclists should be law-abiding, or at the very least follow the spirit of the law (in the manner described by some of the commenters). But if the public perceives cyclists in general as reckless and believing themselves to be above the law, it undermines the legitimacy of our claims to parity.

by Adam I. on May 25, 2010 9:59 am • linkreport

The point I failed to stress enough above is that if more bicyclists behave safely and courteously on the road, more motorists will treat bicyclists in a safe and courteous manner...if the public perceives cyclists in general as reckless and believing themselves to be above the law, it undermines the legitimacy of our claims to parity.

I strongly disagree, and I think you're confusing cause and effect. There is a very small subset of drivers for whom cyclist behavior is a major issue. "Scofflawism" is a fig-leaf they use to justify their irritation at having to share the road. There will always be some drunk helmetless homeless guy on a bike they need to deny cyclists legitimate use of the road. Furthermore, you speak about "cyclists" as though they're some sort of homogeneous group who can be exhorted to become good-will ambassadors on two-wheels, as opposed to just a incredibly diverse cross-section of society who happen to be on a bike (c.f. "bicycling hobo").

The activist types who post here may be persuadable, but I'd argue you'd have less success getting "bikers" as a whole to behave than we've had trying to convince "drivers to behave." That's certainly a more homogeneous group.

To say "cyclists should be law-abiding" is like saying "pedestrians should be law-abiding". In other words, like saying pigeons should walk straighter.

You simply undermine your credibility with the more persuadable cyclists when you try to link compliance with legitimacy.

by oboe on May 25, 2010 10:34 am • linkreport

We'd need a whole different set of rules on the road if we were to have rules that made sense for bicycles.

yes.

and that's what us 'activist types' have been arguing for...forever.

personally, i hate activist types -- they're so....annoying. they're always trying to...change things. :)

all this bike hate is nothing more than wanting to get off by punching hippies in the face. just a power trip. drivers see their power slipping away so they're lashing out. as for the bikers who defend law-breaking drivers, i can't really explain that. some kind of weird subservience thing.

we're all responsible for the predictable consequences of our actions. if we all get busy blasting Kim Jong-il without condemning similar and worse human rights violations and war crimes by people we actually have influence over -- like Bill Clinton, George Bush, Barack Obama -- then all we are doing is providing cover for atrocities committed in our name. i'm looking at you, bike hating letter-to-the-editor writers. i'm looking at you, 'bikers are anarchists!' people. i'm looking at you, people who are unwilling to condemn in appropriate proportion the acts of aggression and serious and dangerous crimes committed by drivers every single day. if and when the next driver maims and/or kills the next pedestrian or biker, it will be you, more than anyone but the driver, who will responsible for that horror. your vocal bashing of cyclists will have legitimized the 'cyclists do not deserve protection under the law' worldview -- which results in maimed and dead cyclists and pedestrians. these consequences of your words are predictable. whether you decide to continue provide cover for law-breaking, dangerous motorists is up to you.

MEGA-DITTOS that for the 'bikers need to wear helmets' crowd.

so, you may manage to get a 'deserving' hippie maimed or killed, or maybe just 'taught a lesson', but you may also manage to teach a lesson to a family whose loving father is never coming home again. remember that next time you feel the need to go off on the most vulnerable road users.

So, what can we do? We can build a network of ROADS FOR BIKES. Like we saw in the video of those cyclists in the Netherlands.

yep. basically. but this might not mean what you think it means. more and more, we're going to see existing roadways given over to bikes, and it will be the cars that will need a special network built for them -- i.e. ROADS FOR CARS. but, of course, those ROADS FOR CARS will not be built. they already have the big, stupid interstate systems. the cities will increasingly belong to non-motorized traffic.

as motorists, who should not only be banned from the streets, they should be summarily arrested and given life sentences

we'll be happy with the banning of cars, thanks. and in case you haven't yet noticed, that's exactly what's happening in DC and in many other cities and towns across America. first it starts with an 'innocent' little sharrow. then a bike lane. then a buffered bike lane. next thing you know there are certain day/time restrictions on private cars (non-taxis). then all motorized traffic gets the boot. either that, or a woonerf-style street is created. oops -- too bad -- now you have to go the long way around, just like they do in the Netherlands. then we're left with only walkers, bikers, and possibly a train. hey - welcome quality of life! good stuff.

as evidenced by the seething anger that is all too evident in most of the posts in this thread

you act as if 'seething anger' is unjustified. weird. maybe hop on a bike?

"I always have to thank cyclists who stop at red lights,"

I always have to thank drivers who stop at stop signs. haven't had that opportunity yet.

if someone said that to me, i'd be like, "Weird -- you should have that checked out." :-D

Until that occurs, however, cyclists should be law-abiding, or at the very least follow the spirit of the law (in the manner described by some of the commenters).

the 'cyclists should abide by the law' is nonsensical for several reasons. why should we single-out cyclists to obey rules of the road which don't exist for any other road user? why not drivers, too? why not pedestrians? i think you must actually believe that drivers are not law-breaking scofflaws, too. weird. ditto 'following the spirit of the law'. i say, lead by example. when drivers start coming anywhere near close to even following the spirit of the law, then we can talk. second, we've already talked about, and seem to have found some agreement, that the system is stacked against walkers and bikers. so, there's an obvious way to fix that -- change the system. and we're working on it. but it doesn't help when there are 'advocates' out there screaming "dirty hippie crazy anarchist bikers never obey the law!" instead of "this is an unjust system with unjust laws and they need to be changed, and drivers continue to maim and kill people every day, so can we please focus on the actual dangers of the roadway, m'kay?"

it undermines the legitimacy of our claims to parity.

we don't want nor need parity, we want and need priority -- on the roads, in law, in the courtrooms, in the court of public opinion, etc. that starts with a willingness to stop picking on the most vulnerable, and target the people who are maiming and killing every single day. it's mostly drifting in the right direction now, despite these never-ending 'bike hate' letters to the editor, and BRT, and a few other horrific anachronisms.

by Peter Smith on May 25, 2010 1:00 pm • linkreport

The most serious injury I've suffered in bicycling -- compression fractures of two vertebrae, and I'm lucky to be able to walk today -- came as a result of a bike-bike collision. We worry about being right-hooked by cars, but I've been right-hooked by bicyclists, blazing through stop signs and endangering the biker who had the gall to stop for the stop.

The behavior of bicyclists infuriates drivers, who then take it out, yes, on other bicyclists. This anarchy on the roads is doubly dangerous to us bicyclists: the threat of harm from aggressive bicyclists, and from drivers enraged by their aggressive, lawless behavior.

by Jack McKay on May 25, 2010 2:07 pm • linkreport

I bike commuted very regularly from 1995 until 2008 (and still would if my workplace weren't my home). Arlington to DC, Herndon, Reston and Silver Spring at different times during that period.

I would often hear from other cyclists about their close calls with cars and their anger about the idiocy of other road users, etc.

I started examining my own experience and noted that I had had virtually none of those types of encounters in a long, long time--despite the fact that I ride fast (East Falls Church area to 13th & L in under 23 minutes) and mix with traffic a lot (and "bend" the rules a bit in ways that enhance my safety but don't annoy drivers [too much]--like cheating the green a little to get a head start and better positioning or squeezing between a crushload of gridlocked cars to get up to the red light they've been waiting two cycles for). Somehow I had come to a working compromise with my internal-combustion-driven compatriots.

A good deal of this came from my getting better and better at anticipating what the traffic was going to do, and instead of fighting it (because I was "right"), adopting an intelligent alternative workaround (. . .squeezing me off the road? quick! up on the sidewalk for 1/3 block. . .). Over time I developed a large arsenal of skills and ways to deal with almost any situation--keeping me mostly out of harm's way and still progressing quickly to my destination.

I also did not allow myself to get pissed because someone did something stupid, since usually I could tell it was coming and had already prepared myself. Besides, I can't claim to have never made a stupid move or two myself, so I don't mind giving a pass to others now and again.

I'm not sure what the point of this is, but at least I can say from my own experience that this animosity does not have to exist. I definitely agree that more cyclists make it better, because the cars are more aware, but other than that, I'll let others try to come up with a moral for my story.

by Steve O on May 25, 2010 2:31 pm • linkreport

(1) the rules of the road we have today were indeed custom designed to work well for motorized vehicular traffic and pedestrians, but NOT for motorized vehicular traffic, pedestrians, and bicycles.

What Oboe said. I can't think of very many busy intersections in this city that are pedestrian friendly and a whole lot that aren't. In fact, most traffic control design is geared for cars only.

I've noticed an upswing in bad bike behavior and don't know if I'm noticing it more or if more cyclists=more bad behavior. I've been almost hit by cyclists blowing stop signs a lot more recently. It's still not as frequent as cars blowing stop signs or ignoring pedestrians in the crosswalk as they turn right or left.

by lou on May 25, 2010 2:39 pm • linkreport

I'm from Chicago, and I must say this. As a Chicagoan, most bicyclists there are MORONS! I used to love biking on the city streets, but I trail ride now. Know why? Not because of motorists but because of other bicyclists. I've seen them do so many STOOPID things, it's unbelievable! And in Chicago, the STOOPID cyclists far outweigh the good ones.

I've actually stopped my car and gotten out and hollered and screamed at a few of them when they've done dumb things in traffic. Puts the fear of God into 'em!

by PaulJ on May 25, 2010 2:55 pm • linkreport

What Steve O said.

by Ward 1 Guy on May 25, 2010 4:52 pm • linkreport

I nominate jimble's submission to the category of "Unintentional Irony", FTW.

Angry? Me? Not so much. Just disappointed that people can't step back and see things through anyone's perspective but their own. I've done a lot of walking, biking, and driving in my 51 years (rode to work this morning, like most days) and in my experience there's no question that cyclists' behavior in traffic is much harder to predict than anyone else's. That's because there are so many different types of cyclists out there -- the timid riders who only feel safe on sidewalks; the clueless riders who have no idea how their behavior affects anyone else; the aggressive, take-no-prisoners riders who anger so many drivers but are actually pretty safe in traffic because of their skills. And most of them -- except for the law-and-order types who stop at lights and stop signs, thereby confusing drivers no end -- seem to be following either no rules at all or their own personal idea of what is appropriate. Drivers may not follow the law very well, but they unquestionably follow a more consistent set of rules than cyclists (which is only appropriate given the potentially lethal tons of steel they are piloting). If you see more bad behavior by drivers than by cyclists it's because there are so many more drivers on the roads.

I don't know if there's a solution, but denying that there's a problem is not a good start.

by jimble on May 26, 2010 11:56 am • linkreport

I think motorists say cyclists "blow through stop signs" only because it sounds less whiny than saying cyclists "roll through stop signs and get in my way when it isn't even their turn to go yet."

Politeness matters, but advocacy matters even more. Following the law to the letter matters not at all and, as others have said, would likely make things worse. I certainly think that cycling advocates can take credit for the fact that, instead to thinking all cyclists are scum, some police officers now think that only cyclists of a "certain socio-economic class" are scum. Progress!

by Jonathan Krall on May 27, 2010 11:33 am • linkreport

I used to love biking on the city streets, but I trail ride now. Know why? Not because of motorists but because of other bicyclists.

Surely you encounter more cyclists on trails than on city streets. In my experience, certainly, the cyclists on trails are no more skilled than the ones on roads. The difference is the presence of cars on the streets. You shouldn't blame the cyclists for something that's caused by the cars.

by Ben Ross on May 27, 2010 11:45 am • linkreport

All of the self-righteous comments by cyclists on this page go further to underscore the problem. You really, truly believe that you have no obligation to follow the law. You feel that there is something morally superior about biking that gives you license to run lights (and not just when there's nobody around), go the wrong way on one-way streets, not use lights at night, etc. You feel abused by our car-oriented society, and yet you have absolutely no problem with the dangers you pose to pedestrians as well as cars who are operating within the rules. You can't even accept it when one of your own calls you out for it. And you wonder why the rest of the city hates bikers.

by anonymous on May 27, 2010 2:52 pm • linkreport

@anonymous:

All of the self-righteous comments by drivers on this page go further to underscore the problem. You really, truly believe that you have no obligation to follow the law. You feel that there is something morally superior about driving that gives you license to exceed posted speed limits (and not just when there's nobody around), make illegal u-turns, not use turn signals, etc. You feel abused by our bike-friendly society, and yet you have absolutely no problem with the dangers you pose to pedestrians as well as cyclists who are operating within the rules. You can't even accept it when one of your own calls you out for it. And you wonder why the rest of the city hates drivers.

----------------------------

The point of my parody of Mr/Ms. Anonymous's comment is to say this is a well worn and rather boring debate. Let's just all try to be courteous out there and share the road, try not to overreact to the bad apples.

by Ward 1 Guy on May 28, 2010 2:24 pm • linkreport

I have to agree that other bicyclists cause me heaps of grief. Usually it is the ones who go on the wrong side of the path or road, in order to short cut a corner. Seeing someone approaching head on scares the willies out of me. I'm all for full penalties for bikers as per the cars, for the good of the bikers themselves mainly. Saving some seconds at the lights also gives the rest of us a bad reputation.
Strangley, 90% of the cars I find are very respectful of me as a cyclist.

by Edward on May 30, 2010 6:41 pm • linkreport

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