I think a lot of people were a little mystified by Atrios’ “cyclists are a bunch of dangerous lawbreakers” posts, that being a fairly auto-oriented sentiment and Atrios being a pro-urban type. I’ll count myself among them. I really can’t say that I’ve ever been particularly bothered by a cyclist’s behavior as a pedestrian.
I certainly struggle to understand a pedestrian getting indignant about a cyclist’s law-flouting — running red lights and stop signs and such. This is just how things work, for all modes. Pedestrians break the law all the time; I’ll admit to jaywalking on a regular basis. And while drivers protest about Idaho-stopping cyclists, they too are constantly breaking the rules. They speed, they roll through stop signs, they double-park, and so on.
There are two things to think about here. One is that observance of various laws and norms, and the seriousness with which we uphold those laws, is largely about safety, which is largely about mass and velocity. A car or truck is much heavier than a cyclist or pedestrian, and it travels at much faster speeds. It is right and proper that a car’s behavior should be much more rigidly controlled. A biker is heavier and faster than a pedestrian, it’s true, but the difference between a pedestrian and a cyclist is nothing compared to the difference between a cyclists and a small car. In any system in which a space — the road — is shared by multiple modes, we’re always going to care most about constraining the behavior of the most dangerous vehicles.
The other thing to think about is that cyclists typically have no natural place on the road. Pedestrians have sidewalks and cars have their lanes, and a cyclist must navigate his way between the two, which isn’t easy or comfortable. For a pedestrian to complain about cyclists is to misunderstand all the main sources of imbalance in the sharing of the road — cars are the most dangerous and take up the bulk of the space, and it’s only because pedestrians and cyclists are jockeying for the small area of relative safety at the edge of the road that conflicts between them arise. Cyclists simply aren’t the problem. Undue deference to cars on city streets is the problem.