Sympathy for Cyclists

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.

Comments

  1. Great post, Ryan. As one who moves back and forth between cars, bicycles, and my two feet, there’s one thing I think is worth mentioning.

    Many of us, while driving, will do a ‘boulevard stop’ at a stop sign – we’ll slow down enough to be sure that nobody’s coming, then we’ll pull out into traffic without having made a full stop.

    But a cyclist at cruising speed is moving at about the speed that the driver slows down to when making that boulevard stop. So in a very real sense, when a cyclist rolls through a stop sign without slowing down at all, he’s doing the very same thing that the driver did who slowed down but didn’t make a complete stop.

    But needless to say, the perception of the two acts is quite different. What bothers people, I think, is the not noticeably slowing down. The cyclist may be being every bit as careful as the boulevard-stopping driver (not to mention, being intrinsically less dangerous to others), but it sure doesn’t look that way, and it grates on people’s nerves.

  2. js says:

    I’m a doctor and I’ve seen a decent number of cycling-related accidents. The accident rate among cycling friends of mine is high. It is a more dangerous activity than we let on.

    Thing is, those accidents were never a result of running reds/ not stopping. They’re always related to either active risk-taking, really bad luck, or living in a world not arranged for bikes.

  3. Noah Kazis says:

    I think that the discussion of mass and velocity misses the point for drivers entirely. Most drivers aren’t angry that the running-a-red-light cyclist will hit someone. They’re worried that they’ll hit the cyclist. No one wants to be a killer.

  4. Tom says:

    low-tech cyclist hits it on the head. The only thing I’d add is the issue of height: cyclists are typically sitting higher than all but the tallest SUVs, which makes it easier to check for oncoming traffic at an intersection before reaching it.

  5. Tom says:

    Noah: there’s something to that, though in my experience it varies quite a lot. Certainly not every driver is hostile toward cyclists out of concern for their safety (consider that Colorado just had to pass a law making it illegal to throw trash at cyclists).

    For those that are concerned: thanks but no thanks. Even a little time biking on the road will quickly convince you that drivers can’t be given responsibility for cooperatively ensuring cyclists’ safety in the same way that drivers facilitate each other’s safety. Most motorists are simply too inexperienced driving near bikers and too unfamiliar with the laws about cycling on the street to be trusted to behave safely around bikes.

    I think that drivers and pedestrians who recoil at cyclist behavior do so because they feel that the cyclist is ignorant of the situation they’re in, and proceeding through it recklessly. In my experience this is almost never the case: cyclists have to be much more aware of their surroundings that do motorists or pedestrians. If you find yourself surprised to see a bike-rider running a red light, it’ll generally be because he or she knows something about the surrounding traffic situation that you don’t.

  6. Rob says:

    I think you only need to watch an episode or two of Parking Wars on A&E to get an idea of the attitude toward vehicular law-breaking. Even in big cities, people seem to think they are entitled to park wherever they want, whenever they want, regardless of who it inconveniences, and that those who enforce the rules are the scum of the earth.

  7. Tom says:

    Also: this post totally should’ve been titled “Sympathy for the Pedal”

  8. Christopher says:

    I guess my biggest beef with cyclists is the riding on the sidewalk thing. Partly because I think pedestrians are the highest and best use of streetscapes (and lo! I’m a pedestrian, and perhaps pedestrian too, so of course I would think that).

    As for the red light/stop sign thing. It annoys me somewhat, but not enough to bitch about it. I get really annoyed about the way people drive as well because I consciously stop at every stop sign. Signal. And know how to merge.

  9. Charles says:

    Tom says, “If you find yourself surprised to see a bike-rider running a red light, it’ll generally be because he or she knows something about the surrounding traffic situation that you don’t.”

    Aside from hopping off the bike and walking the bike across a cross-walk as a pedestrian, why would it ever be ok for a biker to run a red light? I think an argument can be made that cars can more safely run a red because they can get across the intersection faster than a bike, but that’s a very poor argument at best. I mean, if everyone was allowed to use their best judgment in these matters we’d have more disorder and more accidents than before.

    And as a driver, I do think that cyclists are reckless when I them run a red across a 4 lane road almost every day on my daily commute. Most cyclists I see are far more safe and respectful of the rules of the road, but on a percentage basis, I see cyclists break these simple rules far more than I see cars do it. That said, I can’t blame them because no police ever bother to ticket cyclists for something that would get me 2-4 points on my license and a large fine.

  10. brad says:

    Eh–As a pedestrian, I do get annoyed by bikers who blow through stop signs and almost hit me… no, I probably wouldn’t die–but I’d be hurt a lot, and that doesn’t sound fun.

    And there are serious effects on drivers… my girlfriend, for example, was rear-ended (in her car) once because she had to slam on the brakes for a biker who pulled out suddenly in front of her… (now granted, the guy behind her shouldn’t have been tailgaiting.)

    I guess I don’t understand why it’s so controversial to ask bikers to make some reasonable effort to share the road, pay attention to others’ safety, etc., in much the same way we would like drivers not to break the law, and in much the same way we expect pedestrians to take some responsibility for not running in front of 18 wheelers… why do cyclists get some protected right to be unaware of their environments?

  11. brent says:

    Bikes should obey traffic laws. If cyclists don’t think the laws are appropriate for bikes, they should work to change the laws.

    All the rest is a bunch of whiny “but it’s just me and I know what I’m doing and I’m not a bad person and I promise I won’t hurt anyone” justification for law breaking. You wouldn’t put up with a bunch of car drivers treating red lights like stop signs because no one was coming and I know what I’m doing and I’m a nice guy, etc.

    Just stop at the red light and wait for it to turn green.

  12. sleepy says:

    “I really can’t say that I’ve ever been particularly bothered by a cyclist’s behavior as a pedestrian.”

    I guess you’ve never been hit by or even gotten into a discussion of bicycle morality with a bicycle-messenger anarcho-punk.
    They don’t give a shit about the law or pedestrians. I’ve listened to their defense of “freedom” enough. The next time I get yelled at for “being in the way” I’m knocking the asshole into the street. If he gets hit, so bit it.

  13. jim says:

    I don’t think it’s lawbreaking per se, rather it’s violating expectations. As you say, “cyclists have no natural place on the road.” Bicycles aren’t cars; cyclists aren’t pedestrians. We have a set of expectations for the behaviour of cars; we expect vehicles in the car lanes to conform to those expectations. We deplore cars weaving between lanes; we deplore cars running red lights. And when bicycles don’t conform, we deplore it.

    Similarly we have expectations of pedestrians: they’ll take up a certain amount of room and they’ll move at a certain speed. Cyclists don’t even have a chance of conforming.

    Now, Tom is, of course, right that for a cyclist to try to conform to the expectations we have of cars is radically unsafe. But I don’t see an easy way out of this dilemma.

  14. Splendid One says:

    “I don’t see an easy way out of this dilemma.”

    I do. Simply obey traffic laws, whenever humanly possible.

    “Oh, no,” you say? “It is a near death experience to actually stop and put my foot down when I am biking!”

    Nonsense, I’m 62 years old, quite overweight, and ride my bike 7 miles to work a lot. I always come to a complete stop at stop signs and I never run a red light.

    It doesn’t hurt me to stop and it’s not hard to stop. And, yes, I am a very, very busy professional and time means a lot to me.

    If I can do it, anyone can.

  15. James says:

    I think Jim has this wrong–sorry, Jim. Your point about expectations may explain the psychology of the situation. But the fact is that bicycles aren’t “caught between worlds” when it comes to the law…not in my jurisdiction, anyway. They’re supposed to obey the laws that apply to cars. And most of them don’t…sometimes in innocuous ways, sometimes in very reckless ways.

    I think a lot of polite drivers get cowed by cyclists saying “you don’t understand”. But as someone who once was a bicycle commuter, and who certainly had his share of close calls with bad drivers, it gets really irritating to see cyclists do reckless things that endanger themselves and panic the drivers around them. It seems like a large number of cyclists (not all, maybe not even most) assume in advance that everyone else on the road hates them, and simply do whatever they can get away with to get to their destination as fast as they can….which, sadly, perpetuates cars behaving badly where bicycles are concerned. And leaves those of us cyclists who obey the laws in more danger because of angry drivers.

    This isn’t to say drivers don’t need a wake up call re: bicycles–they do. A lot of drivers do dangerous things, and they’re in control of a lot more deadly mass than a cyclist is. But cyclists have got to accept their responsibility as a vehicle on the road, even if it means stopping at red lights when they think they can get through. brent was right–we’d never let a driver get away with the “I know what I’m doing so it’s fine to run the red” excuse.

  16. Trey says:

    As someone who nearly walks everywhere, grocery shopping, church, going out, I have to say I don’t have enough sympathy for bicyclists in my city to ‘side with them’.

    Yes, cars are more dangerous and yes, we really should have a lot less space for cars and more for bikes and pedestrians. I vote that way.

    But, in the decade I’ve been walking in my city I or my young daughter have been hit or nearly hit by bicyclists at least a dozen times, never have had a close call with a car. That is because the cyclists that come down our street almost never obey the traffic signs. In ten years, with no exaggeration I can say that I’ve never seen a cyclist actually stop at the stop sign. Instead the come barreling through down the hill. Though drivers often don’t pay attention, and too often don’t obey signs, it is an exception. For the cyclists on my street the exception would be to actually obey the road rules.

    So, though cyclists will get my vote for more road space and better lanes because they just make environmental, health and safety sense, they won’t get my sympathy in any ‘car vs bike’ political sniping.

  17. neil wilson says:

    This is BullShit!

    I see bike messengers in Manhattan knock people over on purpose and continue on their way without even looking back.

    Bike riders will never get the sympathy that they deserve until they unite and condemn and STOP bike messengers from acting like jerks.

  18. Paul says:

    Splendid One writes:

    “It is a near death experience to actually stop and put my foot down when I am biking!”

    “Coming to a complete stop” means “cease all forward motion.” It doesn’t mean “turn off the motor.” If you can manage a track stand for a few seconds, congratulations, you’ve just made a fully legal complete stop in most states. (At least the ones I’ve lived in).

  19. Mark says:

    It’s amazing to see all the indignation here against cyclists:

    “why would it ever be ok for a biker to run a red light?” – the state of Idaho and the city of Portland, OR have decided that it is ok. A cyclist may also – in all jurisdictions – run a red right to make way for an emergency vehicle.

    “You wouldn’t put up with a bunch of car drivers treating red lights like stop signs because no one was coming.” – But they do. From running enough lights to make red light cameras profitable to all manner of illegal right turns on red. Yet the righteous indignation against cyclists somehow greatly exceeds that against motorists.

    “why do cyclists get some protected right to be unaware of their environments” – Three out of four *at fault* drivers are not cited for hitting and killing pedestrians. I see how cyclists are protected from the outcomes of their actions.

    We’ve all been pedestrians and we’ve almost all driven – we understand those situations. I would urge anyone who hasn’t done it to commute to work by bike in their town for a week or two. Your closed mind will have been opened – I’ll guarantee you’ll understand why cyclists run stop signs and red lights and why there are parts of the US where this is legal.

  20. Shawn says:

    In 16 years of driving I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen a car blatantly run a stop sign or red light. I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen a cyclist come to a stop for a red light or stop sign. Cyclists are the problem because they won’t follow the rules of the road they insist they have a right to use.

  21. Shawn says:

    To the red light cameras comment – ever study done shows that red light running goes to almost zero if they extend the duration of the yellow light by one second. BUT camera manufacturers get a piece of every ticket issued and have control over the yellow light time setting and don’t allow the extra second to be given. Red light cameras are about revenue generation – not safety.

  22. Chris says:

    Many pedestrians here are complaining of bikers running them down. As an experiencing city biker (DC) I’d like to note the rare two instances in which you normally see collisions. 1) Inexperienced rider scared-to-death of the cars riding on the sidewalk and 2) Biker riding into pedestrian, jaywalking and not watching to see if anyone is coming down the street.

  23. Melissa says:

    I was almost run over three separate times on the sidewalk today walking back to my office from lunch. And last night my husband almost hit a pizza delivery guy on a bicycle who didn’t even look to see if there was traffic coming before running the red light right in front of him. And the red light camera one block from my house has helped the accident rate tremendously. If you tell a cabbie “Wait until the light turns green, there is a camera,” you get a response. Not if you say, there are pedestrians in that crosswalk.

  24. Adam says:

    Bikers get killed by cars all the time. This ought to be Exhibit A. (Come visit Chicago–they’ve got ghost bikes to mark the places where it’s happened.) No car driver I’ve ever heard of has been killed by a bike. I’m a regular bike commuter, not a messenger punk. The amount of times I’ve made completely legal moves on my bike and been honked at or nearly driven off the road is almost innumerable. Friends worry about my safety. It shouldn’t be this way.

    Bikers who don’t defer to pedestrians deserved to be bitch-slapped, definitely. And bikers who run red lights ought to be risking fines just like motorists–they do it at their own peril.

    Still, motorists complaining about bikers is like a king in a palace complaining about a peasant pitching a tent in the corner of one of his fields. You have all the advantages on the road, and bikes have almost none. Ditch the high horse.

  25. Paul Humphries says:

    (To Shawn – bikers should stop at every stop sign and light? You can’t be serious. The laws are a joke in this regard which is why they are rarely obeyed. Last I heard Boise Idaho for one was trying to fix these laws.)
    In any case, bikers and drivers must
    learn to “share the road”. Education is the key. But don’t set your hopes too high; we are only human after all.

  26. Reid says:

    “You wouldn’t put up with a bunch of car drivers treating red lights like stop signs because no one was coming and I know what I’m doing and I’m a nice guy, etc.”

    EVERY F*CKING CAR ON THE ROAD IS SPEEDING!!! SPEEDING!!!

    Any comment asking for perfect compliance with the law by bikers without acknowledging that every god damn car is ALWAYS breaking the law is a worthless and idiotic.

    You are essentially like an airline president saying that they can’t be blamed for safety lapses when a plane crashes into the ocean because, hey, until those para-gliders start following all the FAA guidelines, they’re really the problem in the skies.

  27. Judy says:

    Adam, I’m also in Chicago. Wish more of the cyclists in my hood (Lincoln Sq.) were as considerate as you… I was nearly clipped last week in the crosswalk by a cyclist going full speed south on Damen – didn’t slow at all for the red @ Argyle. I had to get out of HER way, even though I was walking on the green. Worse are the increasing number of people riding-illegally-on the sidewalk. I barely missed being hit my a man riding full-speed on the sidewalk. Thanks to a large apt bldg, he couldn’t see me, laden with two totebags of groceries (incl. several bottles of wine). He was going so fast, and was so startled, that he nearly fell off his bike. Still, he looked at me like I was the problem.

    Rant over, I think everyone one on wheels – bikes or cars – needs to be far more mindful. The one plus with the two-wheelers – they’re less likely to be on a cell, talking or texting. Still, on my street, adjacent to park regularly filled with small kids and dogs, virtually no one obeys the stop signs. I don’t want to think what it would be like if they’re weren’t speed bumps.

    Seriously, if it were not for the increasing mindfulness of pedestrians, I think there’d be far more accidents. Still, it’s falling on we two-footers.

  28. L2P says:

    But a cyclist at cruising speed is moving at about the speed that the driver slows down to when making that boulevard stop. So in a very real sense, when a cyclist rolls through a stop sign without slowing down at all, he’s doing the very same thing that the driver did who slowed down but didn’t make a complete stop.

    And both of them broke the law, and should be ticketed. A bicycle is a vehicle, and must follow all the rules of the road that apply to vehicles. This really isn’t so hard, is it?

    And you know what I never see a car do? Run a red light. Never. I’ve seen people jump out and hit the crosswalk button, but I’ve never seen somebody run a red light in a car.

  29. Sally says:

    I ride my bike to work every day. If I run a red light on my bike (always after stopping), it’s because I know that I’ll be in a lot less danger if I can get far ahead of both the approaching cars and the cars that are stacking up behind me. No one behind me will have to feel compelled to squeeze between me and the cars in the approaching lane, facing the possibility of having to wait through another red light cycle.

    Sometimes, it’s an intelligent decision to break the law, and it results in a safer, more efficient traffic flow for all. I’ve been hit by a car before (it was being driven in the wrong lane by someone who was on his cell phone, and he didn’t feel sorry at all), and I would prefer it not happen again.

    [also: I pay the same road taxes as the guy in the car; I agree about slapping bikers who don't understand right-of-way -- a bike hitting a person could cause terrible harm; sorry about bikers on the sidewalk (the category of 'biker' includes 'ignorant idiot' as well as 'conscientious & informed citizen,' and I have no control over others on bikes); I don't think bikes belong on the sidewalk except when there is no possible road alternative or when they are ridden by children. If I have to take my bike on the city sidewalk, I hop off and walk it.]

  30. mothra says:

    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.

    Um, no. Cyclists DO have a natural place on the road. THAT’S the freaking problem–most motorists/cities do not wish to recognize that, and don’t give us room or decent space on which to bike. But we DO belong on the road–and we DO NOT belong on the sidewalk. If a cyclist feels he or she must be on a sidewalk and there is foot traffic on the sidewalk, the cyclist MUST dismount and walk.

    As one of the posters who lost her mind at Atrios’s original post, my puzzlement/concern was not that he was posting that cyclists can often be jerks–they can! (but so can everyone else, so), but that he thought it was cute to say “yeah, they piss me off, so I think it’s okay to lob something at their head” and then linked to a post which linked to a couple of deejays getting hard-ons by talking about violence against cyclists. THAT was my problem with his post. It indirectly advocated violence against cyclists–and was a dog whistle to all those out there who somehow think it’s okay to hurt a cyclist because they saw a cyclist once do something bad.

    I’d like to take Atrios on several bike rides in my area and see if he maybe changes his tune. Just a little. Although it seems he has caught no small amount of heat for this–good.

  31. mothra says:

    If I run a red light on my bike (always after stopping), it’s because I know that I’ll be in a lot less danger if I can get far ahead of both the approaching cars and the cars that are stacking up behind me. No one behind me will have to feel compelled to squeeze between me

    Sweetie, those cars will still catch up to you after you’ve run the red light. You are never safer running red lights/stop signs.

  32. mothra says:

    And you know what I never see a car do? Run a red light. Never.

    Really? Come to New Mexico. It’s pretty much a given, here. That’s why we have the “wait 20 seconds” rule at a green light–you need to let all the red-light runners clear the intersection.

    No, I am not joking.

  33. Sally says:

    They don’t catch me; I’m pretty quick. ;)

  34. Tom says:

    Charles said:

    “Aside from hopping off the bike and walking the bike across a cross-walk as a pedestrian, why would it ever be ok for a biker to run a red light?”

    Sally’s response is correct; Mothra’s counterresponse is not. I should preface this by saying that I am scrupulous about stopping at lights and stop signs, despite my belief that doing so is frequently more dangerous than the alternative.

    But it’s commonly acknowledged that getting to the front of a line of queued cars is the safest option for cyclists — this is much of the point of Portland’s “bike boxes”, which are on track to being emulated elsewhere. The most important thing a cyclist can do to ensure their safety is ensure that they are seen. Passing stopped traffic (requiring it to re-pass you) is one of the best ways to do this.

    And I think that can be extended further: the safest place for a cyclist to be is away from cars. That’s what tempts me to run red lights. If I can see an open stretch of pavement and make use of it before the enormous machines behind me will be, it’s going to be best for everyone involved.

  35. Reid says:

    And you know what I never see a car do? Run a red light. Never. I’ve seen people jump out and hit the crosswalk button, but I’ve never seen somebody run a red light in a car.

    You know what I’ve never seen a bike do? 40 in a 25. But I see cars do it. All the time.

    Do the math:
    Momentum=Mass*Velocity

    M of a biker going through a stop sign? Maybe 2000 lb-mph. M of a car only going 25 mph? 50,000 lb-mph.

    Face it: Cars are a deadly weapon. Bikes aren’t. Riding a bike irresponsibly is like waiving knife around in a crowded room. Driving a car irresponsibly is like waiving a loaded and cocked pistol.

    It’s not an equality thing. Drivers are putting us all at higher risk than bikers are and as a result they should be held to a higher standard.

  36. skiddie says:

    why would it ever be ok for a biker to run a red light

    Because one of the most dangerous parts of cycling on a busy road is starting from a red light. If you know you can avoid that dangerous minute or so (but break a traffic law) I can understand the impulse.

    For instance, if you’re waiting in front of the line of cars (as is safest and recommended), you’ve got a line of cars behind you eager to pass as soon as the light switches to green. This is dangerous for obvious reasons.

    If you’re stuck somewhere to the side of the road when the light turns green, you’re subject to turning cars crossing your path and thus running you off the road.

    If you stay in the lane at a red light, several cars back from the stop line, god save you. You’ll have cars impatiently trying to pass you on both sides.

    This is what people men when they say there’s no assigned place for bikes on the roads– if the infrastructure isn’t purpose-built, the existing infrastructure (and thus the traffic laws themselves) can be quite hazardous.

  37. Spambalaya says:

    It’s not an equality thing. Drivers are putting us all at higher risk than bikers are and as a result they should be held to a higher standard.

    Drivers are held to a higher standard; that’s why they’re required to be licensed and carry insurance, while any damnfool airhead with two working feet is allowed to ride a bike on a public road. If you were looking the wrong way running a stop sign and wind up strewn over the hood of my car, I might have my license revoked and my insurance premiums will double, but you’ll be able to go right back out and be a hazard to navigation again just as soon as you heal up without any of those financial or legal considerations to constrain you.

    Here in Old Town Alexandria, Va., there’s a bike path that runs along the banks of the Potomac River. This path is restricted to cyclists and pedestrians; no motorized vehicles are allowed. And at the several intersections where the path crosses paved streets there are stop signs posted. Yet at least half of the time you’ll see cyclists zipping past these signs without even slowing. Got that? These signs are aimed SOLELY at cyclists, not at cars, but are routinely ignored by them. Cyclists just can’t seem to bring themselves to conform to the law or conduct themselves safely, even when there’s no question that a particular traffic restriction is being deliberately applied to them.

    It’s been my experience that far too many bicyclists seem to think that, because the laws are soooo inconvenient for them to obey, that they somehow have a right to disregard those laws. Sorry, but if we follow that model then the law isn’t worth a warm bucket of spit. I realize that immaturity and self-absorption are the order of the day, but at the very least you shouldn’t expect to be lauded because you think refusing to grow up is an admirable trait.

  38. Splendid One says:

    “’Coming to a complete stop’ means ‘cease all forward motion.’ It doesn’t mean ‘turn off the motor. If you can manage a track stand for a few seconds, congratulations, you’ve just made a fully legal complete stop in most states. (At least the ones I’ve lived in).”

    True. And (I know a lot about this as I was a vaudeville-type acrobat as a child.) you are not really very validly checking out the safety to move ahead while essentially performing “tire ballet.”

    If you balance like that, fine with me. I’m after the guys who just blow right through. I count the times I see cyclists (other than myself) stop at stop signs or obey traffic lights (not counting when traffic forces it). I don’t need more than my ten fingers and thumbs, most years.

    I also was giving first aid to a 23-year-old young man – when he died – about ten years ago after he ran a red light about 100 feet in front of me, on his bike, and I watched an innocent high school kid kill him with the family van.

    He would have said, had I met him a few moments before, that it was none of my business that he ran a red light. My nightmares, and who knows what happens in the mind of the 16-year-old who killed him, say it was and is my business.

    Some of the arguments in here from cyclists seem to amount to “Well, the individuals who can be hurt the most should be able to violate the laws the most.” Uh-huh. Wonder what Darwin would say about that?

  39. Jeb Stenhouse says:

    I agree entirely that pedestrians and cyclists must support each other in a car-worshipping culture. However, I can tell you exactly why pedestrians rip cyclists – it’s because they’re in perennial danger from being run over by cyclists who illegally use the sidewalk. I’m sympathetic, because I myself would not want to bike on some of those dangerous D.C. streets with bike-hating motorists… but it’s unacceptable for cyclists to infringe on the sidewalk and then expect pedestrians to be enthusiastic supporters of cyclists.

  40. TB says:

    “Pedestrians have sidewalks and cars have their lanes, and a cyclist must navigate his way between the two, which isn’t easy or comfortable.”

    Wrong, cyclists do NOT have to navigate between the two. The sidewalk is for pedestrians ONLY. Most cities have laws against riding a bike on a sidewalk. They have these laws for very good reasons: Safety.

    ” … cars are the most dangerous and take up the bulk of the space,”

    Wrong, TRUCKS are more dangerous than cars, and they take up more space.

    ” … pedestrians and cyclists are jockeying for the small area of … ”

    If they are, they shouldn’t be. Pedestrians have the right of way. Cyclists MUST cede the right of way to them at all times. If there is a cyclist on the sidewalk, the cyclist is in the wrong. The cyclist is directly causing an unsafe situation.

    And to say “This is just how things work, for all modes,” is a false equivalencey of the worst sort and utter BS.

    Every time I drive in my car, and I mean every time, I see at least five cyclist blowing through stops,lights as well as signs.

    On an average drive across town it is usually well over 20 times. I cannot tell you the last time I saw a car blow through a stop sign.

    For a group of people to so utterly and consistently behave in a categorically unsafe manner and then bitch about cars making things less safe is insulting.

    But ultimately, the bottom line will be this:

    Keep up the cavalier attitude cyclists the laws of physics are not on your side.

  41. midtoad says:

    Shawn and L2P both say they have never seen a motorist run a stop sign or run a red light. What, are you both blind, or willfully ignoring common practice?

    I live in a condo with a view of a T-intersection in a residential neighbourhood. I charted the behaviour of every motorist I saw approach the stop sign over a 6-month period. 55% of them did not do what the law requires: stop, and signal their turn. Lots of them rolled through at 20 km/h or more, without signaling.

    And in my neighbourhood I see, not infrequently, motorists pull out on a red light, especially when making a turn onto a one-way street, even when it’s a left turn off a two-way street onto that one-way street. As for stopping at a red light when turning right, the compliance rate is pretty low.

    Many motorists are in fact effectively racists, condemning and demonizing visible minorities (cyclists) for actions they routinely practice themselves and accept as normal when practicing by others in their racial group (motorists).

    And as Reid says, virtually every single motorist on the road is breaking the law at all times by speeding. When I drive a car at the speed limit (which I do much of the time just to see what will happen), I rarely if ever pass another motorist. But a lot of other motorists pass me.

    At no point am I saying that cyclists are perfect. Cyclists are just people, same as motorists. Why would we expect, or demand, that they operate their vehicles to any higher standard of perfection than motorists do?

  42. Joe says:

    I probably run more miles than 90% of the cyclists cover each week. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been confronted by two cyclists or more, riding side by side and bearing down on me. Instead of riding single file or yielding so much as an inch they invariably lower their heads and just speed up. One of these days one of them is going to get an elbow in the chin.

  43. PJ says:

    Cyclists who break the law are a problem. So are drivers who break the law and pedestrians who break the law. Running a red light, in a car or a bike or on foot, is BY FAR the most egregious form of breaking traffic laws, and it’s wrong to defend it.

  44. Tallest says:

    I can virtually guarantee every motorist complaining so angrily about cyclists does not own a bike, so off the bat I say you have no frame of reference on the matter–plus you’re less fit then me. I am a motorist & pedestrian, but I also bicycle a lot. Here in Minneapolis we have the Grand Rounds and some of the very best biking in the country. Things to think about:

    Share the road! & be aware of your surroundings, this goes for everyone. I’d argue bicyclists are the most aware of everyone out there because we are in the most danger (this is prob where the attitude comes from–almost being killed offends a person).

    Pedestrians are typically oblivious. I’m convinced I’d make a great pickpocket ’cause people waddle totally around unawares of their surroundings. There is lots of fast happening stuff in the city–keep your wits about you!

    Motorists: AIM YOUR EYES IN THE DIRECTION YOUR CAR IS MOVING. Don’t speed. Give cyclists room on the edge of the street. Stop BEHIND the stop sign! I was half driven over by a lady who rolled up past the stop sign, into the bike lane, chatting into cellphone, not looking or stopping until she was edged into the intersection to make her right & I was then under her car like a mechanic. Signal your intentions. You are most deadly and so have most responsibility.

    Other Byciclists: spend $10 & buy a friggin bell and front & rear lights for Christ’s sake. If you’re a shadow in the dark you deserve to get hit. If you flash up on cars or people going 25mph without warning them, you are the dick. Bikers should slow at stops, but don’t like to stop at every sign b/c we lose all momentum and have to start up again from a standstill and it often is really pointless–but you wouldn’t know about that because you don’t own a bike &are overweight right ;)

  45. DavidK says:

    Gotta weigh in after surfing from atrios and reading comments. I’m a daily bike commuter in San Francsico, which is an extremely bike-friendly city from my perspective as a southern california native.

    I’ve been struck by cars twice while riding my bike. Lots of near misses, too, all basically the same story. Driver rushed and/or distracted (fscking phone!!).

    I’ve seen lots of pedestrians in collisions with bikes, and it’s usually the same issue: distracted, on phone, steps into traffic while talking or runs from between parked cars to make it to the bus island. Wham. Probably because they’re looking for cars, not bikes.

    I’ve seen a small number of cyclist-ped incidents where it was clearly an issue of cyclist taking right-of-way that wasn’t his, but that’s definitely the minority in my experience. Often a bonafide messenger rather than a run-of-the-mill commuter.

    I’ve got no sympathy for cyclists on the sidewalk unless they’re walking like everybody else. I believe strongly in cars yielding to cyclists, and everyone yielding to peds above all else.

    As a driver, cyclist and pedestrian, I strongly agree with Tom #5 when he posits that cyclists usually have a better read of the situation than anyone else. It’s true out of stature (fewer visual obstructions than a driver; higher profile than a ped) and out of necessity — you’re mixing it up with the cars. A couple of absent-minded right turns in front of you as a cyclist, and you become very good very fast at reading cars and intersections, and quickly coming up with possible scenarios and what your reaction will be.

  46. peep says:

    As a cyclist (both recreational and commuter for 20+ yrs) I run lights/stop signs. But I am anything but reckless, as I have a wife and daughter. I do it when there is without question a clear view and no vehicles nearby, and always slow down approaching intersections. Believe running/rolling stops can be safer than waiting for a green light and having cars line up alongside and behind. Also think it helps traffic flow, which is priority #2 when riding (safety is #1). I try to be very aware about not impeding the progress of motorists. And yielding to pedestrians when they have the right of way. But many peds have a way of lollygagging across the street even when they don’t have RoW.

  47. bystander says:

    I take it all the dissenters to cyclists “running red lights” live where there are sensors in the road calibrated to recognize a cyclist. There are times when I have to wait through three light cycles for a car to come alongside and trip the light for my lane; cross traffic gets to keep the green until oncoming turn traffic gets green, I get to sit while the light ignores me. And, doG help you if you can’t get through an intersection, on the Green, as fast as the car alongside.

  48. Mark says:

    “Running a red light, in a car or a bike or on foot, is BY FAR the most egregious form of breaking traffic laws, and it’s wrong to defend it.”

    Fine for stopping at a red light and then proceeding through it in Boise, Idaho:

    On foot: $46.50
    On bike: $0
    In a car: up to $141.50

    Clearly even the LAW disagrees with you.

  49. cecinit says:

    > In 16 years of driving I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen a
    > car blatantly run a stop sign or red light. I can count on one hand…

    I live in the SF East Bay, & people run stop signs so frequently that, unless I
    see someone run one in front of me every
    day, I feel the world is out of balance.
    It’s a pretty balanced world as it turns out!

    We’ve plenty of red light runners too but
    they’re common all over.

    That’s as a car driver. As a bike rider, sign jumping is the least of my
    worries.

  50. ryan c says:

    As a driver, I’m much more angered by riders like Splendid One at #14, who claims he comes to a full stop at every stop sign.

    If I’m a oonscientious driver, that means I have to wait while he slowly and painstakingly gets back up to speed and crosses the intersection. If the guy would just blow through the stop sign like a normal person, I wouldn’t have to wait for him.

    Fact is, though, most of the whiny drivers never even think of this, and if the situation presented itself, they wouldn’t wait — they’d blow through before their turn to avoid having to wait.

  51. Aimi says:

    In London, UK a large number of cyclist deaths occur when law-abiding cyclists stop at a red light and then get crushed by a truck or bus turning the corner. In fact, it has been suggested that more women die than men because women are less likely to break the law.

  52. Jamey says:

    I’m afraid that Duncan Black is turning into an old sciold before our eyes. His “for-me/none-for-thee” shtick–and willingness to turn his distasted for cyclists into the stuff of urban legend–is getting tired. Too much roof-garden barbecuing at a fashionable rowhome in a tony part of Philly will do that to a man.

    I live in NNJ and bike to and from my job in NYC. When in NYC, I walk practically everywhere. I have NEVER encountered the demon-cyclists that Duncan claims are the rule, rather than the exception. For the record, I coast stop lights and stop signs mostly to give myself a buffer zone between me and motorists in my lane. The running calculus I do every second of my ride boils down to one thing: “what can I do to make this safer for myself and the people around me?” And nearly EVERY other cyclist I know more or less holds dear the same belief.

    I think Duncan Black is on the wrong side of this issue, and the more he attempts to clarify himself, the more condescending and insulting he becomes. I’m truly sorry if he had a run-in with a cyclist. But, just as I don’t speak for all cyclists, nor can I be held responsible for the actions of one or a handful of bad actors.

    I mean, shit, Duncan is always whinging about being tarred with the same brush as other irresponsible bloggers. So why does he feel comfortable railing against the bulk of “cyclists” from his bully pulpit?

  53. DBX says:

    If a pedestrian is in a crosswalk, already with the right of way, and gets buzzed by a cyclist at 20mph, of course he has the right to be indignant. Bikes don’t have some kind of magic priority over other road users. And a bike on pedestrian crash is often very serious.

    If a motorist is in an intersection, already with the right of way, and gets hit from the side by a cyclist riding the sidewalks, of course he has the right to be indignant. (Yes, this has happened to me)

    And if a motorist stops, looks, sees that everything is clear of pedestrians and other cars, and goes, only to have a cyclist blaze through from a quarter of a block a way, and then gets yelled at by said cyclist, again he has the right to be indignant. (Yes, this has happened to me more than once).

    And if a cyclist gets run off the road and into the emergency room by another cyclist not even looking before making a turn, he also has the right to be indignant. (This has happened to me too).

    I’ve never been hit by a car, though. Funny, that.

    Being on a bike does not give you the right to flout the law. The only exception I’ll grant is in suburbs and exurbs that put red lights on a sensor rather than a timer, a recipe for cyclists to get stuck for several light cycles.

  54. DBX says:

    @Aimi — yours is a really interesting point, it makes sense especially given how London drivers treat bikes (like dirt, for the information of those who haven’t been there — we are lucky here in Chicago), but I’d like to see some stats.

    @Jamey — I can’t speak for the East Coast, but here in Chicago the way cyclists act is a real problem, and it’s getting to the point where the cops don’t care any more either way — cyclist at fault, or motorist at fault, or pedestrian at fault. That ends up being a dangerous situation for the most vulnerable road users. When you have cyclists riding the wrong way on a one way at night without lights and wearing dark clothing and talking on a cell phone — a combination I see repeatedly here — you’ve got trouble. And it’s not as though the biking organizations don’t know about it — the League of American Bicyclists reserves its gold and platinum awards for bike friendly communities for places like Portland or Davis that actually make the effort to educate and enforce the law as well as provide the facilities.

  55. DBX says:

    @Mark in Boise.

    That’s an interesting fine schedule. It makes a great deal of sense to have cyclists treat red lights as a stop sign because it clears them away from the danger that’s inevitably created when the motorists rush on the lights turning green.

  56. DanB says:

    So, let me get this straight: it’s OK for cyclists to break laws because their vehicle isn’t as heavy as a car, and if they hit a pedestrian, it doesn’t really count because the worst they’ll do is break some bones?

    Please. I (and most drivers) are fine with making extra room cyclists. We have no problem with 99% of cyclists. It’s the 1% of you who are assholes with entitlement issues that we don’t like.

    Grow up. Follow the law. Stop whining that some driver doing a rolling stop justifies your being a jerk.

  57. Let’s talk about when you should look for a mechanic, and when you should just use the service shop at the car dealer. In general, most cars that are still under warranty should be looked at by the dealer shop if there’s any mechanical problem with the car.

  58. Murray says:

    As someone who walks, runs, bikes and drives on a regular basis in NYC, I’ll say this:

    All four groups break the law, routinely. No surprise there and it’ll never change.

    I do think cyclists should be a lot more careful when they run red lights – so many just scream through hoards of people crossing the road.

    And drivers are at times woefully ignorant that cyclists are on the road.

    But of the four groups, pedestrians pay the least attention to what is going on around them, by far.

  59. ClareB says:

    I’m a relatively new cyclist – about 4 months, but I travel about 16 miles a day – and I admit to sometimes going over crosswalks accidentally when peds are waiting to cross. I am definitely getting better at not doing it, and of course they’re right to get mad – but isn’t there a modicum of understanding that I’m pretty focused on figuring out where the big killing machines are and which of them are about to cut into my path?

    I live in London where there’s been a massive increase in cycling recently, and most of my route to work has green bike lanes and boxes on the road – wilfully ignored by most cars and all motorbikes (to the extent that one driver leapt out of his car and tried to punch me when I told him he had swerved into a cycle lane and my pathway rather quickly, and it was only when I pointed out the colour of the tarmac at his feet that he decided I didn’t deserve to be physically assaulted for being irate that I had almost been killed).

    Cyclists which needlessly run red lights do make me angry too, as they are a major factor in creating the rage that I’ve suffered from – but I would wager quite a sum of money that none of the drivers on this blog can say they have never broken a rule of the road…

  60. DavidK says:

    With regard to bikes running through stop signs, you should see the confusion that erupts when a cyclist does *not* roll through when there are other cars waiting.

    For many cyclists, it’s not so much about having to slow down as it is having to stop and start again. So a lot of people (myself included) try to time their stop sign violations so that they’re not usurping anyone’s right of way, but still can roll through.

    In San Francisco, cars are so used to this behavior that if you do actually stop, you often get confused and possibly angry drivers — not because you followed the law, but because you violated convention.

  61. Reid says:

    So, let me get this straight: it’s OK for cyclists to break laws because their vehicle isn’t as heavy as a car, and if they hit a pedestrian, it doesn’t really count because the worst they’ll do is break some bones?

    No it’s a question of degree. Something that you apparently can’t wrap your head around. Some crimes are less bad than others. And when people who are routinely committing worse crimes (i.e. drivers) point and whine about those who occasionally (1% by your measure) commit a lesser crime than it is perfectly rational to ignore their whines.

  62. Francesca says:

    The streets were made for cars. Cyclists don’t belong on them. If you don’t want to get hit, don’t go on the road with cars. If you do get hit, take responsibility and stop acting like a victim. If you damage someone’s car with your entitled stupidity, pay for it and never ever go on the road again. End of discussion. The same pretty much goes for jaywalking. If you don’t care about your life and safety I don’t either, got it?

    And if you can’t afford to drive, move to a cheaper place to live, ie get the hell out of CA.