Last week I did the bicycle commuter survey, and received many responses. I received one email from a guy in Minden, and his message appears to come from a motorist point of view. I doubt he read my post, but just wanted to use the opportunity to vent his feelings towards cyclists. This is fine with me, as I like hearing all points of view. What’s interesting though, is that these questions and comments are pretty much the same thing that you read all over the country. Because of this, these feelings cannot be dismissed; however, they do need to be looked at further.
Stuart in Minden wrote that he hopes my survey included the following questions. While most of the questions are valid, I think they were written with the premise that cyclists are a nuisance. I’ll answer his questions here.
1) Do you obey traffic laws?
I don’t see how this question specifically relates to bicycles. All users of our roads should be obeying traffic laws, whether they’re traveling by automobile, motorcycle, bicycle, horse, or on foot. Roads are for transportation, not cars. I think some people forget that roads predate cars by several thousand years.
What’s interesting about traffic laws though, is that each user group seems to pick and choose which laws they will follow, and which rules seem to be acceptable to break. Even though there are thousands of automobile related deaths caused by excessive speed each year, car drivers largely ignore posted speed limits. They’ll go as fast as they think they can get away with without getting a ticket. 5 – 20 mph over the speed limit just seems to be socially acceptable and worth the risks to most drivers. Even the cops speed.
Cyclists have their own set of rules they follow too that don’t always follow the letter of the law. We tend to use stop signs as yield signs when safe to do so (more on this below), and don’t follow rules that will put our lives at risk. All road situations are different, and may require a different approach; for example, a dry, shoveled sidewalk may provide safe passage around deep snow or slick ice. A temporary route that you wouldn’t take in most circumstances.
2) Do you stop at stop signs?
I think the number one complaint I’ve read across the country is that cyclists don’t stop at stop signs. This seems to infuriate drivers. This type of behavior needs to quantified though. Running a stop sign at full speed at an intersection with cars and other traffic present is just plain wrong. Any action on the road that puts other users at risk is selfish and inexcusable. Blasting a stop sign is unpredictable behavior, and could cause a motorist to swerve and possibly crash. If there is traffic present at an intersection, cyclists should always stop and act predictably. I even like to put a foot down at busy intersections to show that I am at a full stop, even though a track stand would be easier. If making a right turn at an intersection with light traffic, I’ll slow to a rolling stop and proceed with the turn. I keep my momentum, but no other traffic user is surprised.
On the other hand, when riding through a quiet neighborhood with little or no traffic, slowing down and treating a stop sign as a yield sign is acceptable in my book. In fact, some states have already passed laws allowing cyclists to do so. A cyclists has the advantage of superior sight and hearing. We move at a slower rate and can stop quickly. We can usually hear traffic before we can see it. On the other hand, motorists are in a sound proof chamber, with engine noises further drowning out all the audible queues that cyclists easily hear. Add to this cell phones, texting devices, loud stereos, in dash computer displays, and it’s easy to imagine all the things robbing the driver of his or her senses. Not to mention the couple thousand pounds of metal surrounding them. They have to stop at stop signs. There’s no way they can see or hear what’s coming their way at an intersection. This is very evident on Carson’s west side where there are frequent collisions at the intersections. Even at low speeds, cars just can’t stop in time.
3) Do you stop at red lights and wait for the green light?
Yes. In fact I’ve never seen a cyclists run a red light. We’d get mowed down by a cars. About the only excuse in Carson City for running a red light would be if you couldn’t trip the sensor to make the light change. I’ve had to run a red light on a motorcycle before, because there was no traffic to change the signal, and I sat through a couple lights. I do see plenty of cars running red lights though; a selfish act that endangers others.
4) Do you ride on the right side of the road (street)?
Yes. All the time. It’s the safest place to be. I do see plenty of people who do not though, and it’s just plain dangerous. I’ve even seen people deliberately cross the street so they COULD ride on the wrong side. I think this is an education issue that needs to be addressed.
5) Do you walk your bike in cross walks?
Since most urban cyclists are going with traffic, there is usually no need to dismount the bike to use a crosswalk. It’s far easier to just take the lane and ride through. This situation probably applies more to arriving at a destination, where the cyclist is crossing the street at a half way point to get to a school or business entrance. In this case, yes, a bike should be walked through the cross walk.
6) Do your ride your bike in Bike lanes or on the sidewalk?
There are very few bike lanes in this area, and none on my typical commuting route. I do use them if they’re available and safe though. Sometimes there is gravel, water drains, deteriorating gutter, or road signs in the bike lanes that make them unsafe for cycling. Sometimes they put bike lanes in the “door zone” near car parking where a cyclist may get hit by an opening car door if they stay in the bike lane. Many folks are against adding bike lanes, but at the same time want you off “their” road. It’s hard to have it both ways.
Riding on the sidewalk is not legal in most places, and it’s also dangerous. I think it’s excusable for the young to ride on the sidewalk where it’s safe for their very slow speeds. Motorists drive too fast these days in residential areas, and have ruined the safe haven we had on our streets as kids. I do see some folks riding the sidewalks on main street to stay out of traffic, but this is a bad idea. The safe way is to ride a parallel side street, and then only go to main street when you reach your destination.
“Too many bicyclists do not obey these and the other simple laws of the road”, says Stuart. I’d say the same is true for motorists too though. I think the real deal is that most cyclists do use good traffic etiquette, but we are an invisible user group. Follow the rules, and we blend in. It’s the few cyclists that don’t follow the rules and really stick out. What the heck is that guy on the bike doing?!?
I don’t think this is the real issue though. I think drivers are just impatient. Shoot, I’ve caught myself muttering when I don’t make a light. There’s something about being in a car that makes us edgy and in a hurry. All the yelling, honking, and hand gesturing that nobody would do outside the safety of their vehicle. The slight delay that a cyclists may cause a motorist seems to be unacceptable. But being impatient is no excuse for not sharing the road. Drivers need to start getting used to seeing more bikes on the road as people switch to cheaper and healthier forms of transportation.
At the same time though, the cycling community needs to better educate our group, and teach each other how to ride predictably and safely in traffic. There is very little funding for bicycle infrastructure in this city (when compared to auto infrastructure funding), and many law makers are resistant to a more friendly bicycling community. Get used to bikes sharing the lane. The bottom line is that we all use the roadways for transportation, and that no matter our mode of travel, we all need to share and get along.