Tuesday, August 11, 2009

On unruly cyclists, part I

Important prefatory note: Bike riders who put pedestrians at risk of injury or who even make pedestrians anxious about their safety are bad. There is no excuse for adult bike riders on a sidewalk.

The recent Globe article on "unruly [bike] riders" touches on so many important topics, it's hard to know where to begin. So, a good place is the start -- the article's first sentence:

Boston has launched a high-profile campaign to become a friendlier city for cyclists. Now the question is whether bicyclists will become friendlier to Boston.

What we have here is a reformulation of the perennial response to requests or plans for bicycle accommodations: if bikers want better conditions, they need to behave themselves.

There are arguments to be made -- some of which are made in the article -- that the lack of accommodations is a cause of the unruliness and that more and better bicycle accommodations will actually reduce the unruliness. But, first, let's examine the premise. Why do bicyclists have to earn accommodations?

Imagine a world where the Globe had a front-page story about the recent bridge repair bond bill that started:

The Commonwealth has committed to a massive and costly effort to fix bridges better across the state. Now, the question is whether drivers will fix their bad habits.

Imagine if, every time some public agency contemplated traffic-related improvements, there was a story about drivers':

  • Epidemic speeding
  • Regular failure to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks
  • Unacceptably low use of turn signals
  • Habitual blocking the box at busy intersections during peak hours

Or, even a mention of the fact that there are hundreds of traffic-related fatalities and tens of thousands of serious injuries in Massachusetts every year.

And, how about a front-page story about how motorists routinely park and drive in bike lanes, open car doors without regard to cyclists (now a traffic infraction), cut across bicyclists, &c.?

Bicyclists represent an insignificant threat to public safety relative to motorists, yet the Globe chooses to catalog biker misdeeds on its front page. You could pick any of a dozen area intersections where motorists regularly break the law in numbers much higher than those the reporters noted for bikes. The proportions wouldn't be as high, but the threat posed by a multi-thousand pound car is much higher than that posed by a couple of hundred pounds of biker and bike.

So, why is it that bicyclists get singled out for this special linkage between accommodations and behaviors? I remain convinced, as I wrote last year, that it is the novelty of bike riding that stirs anxiety and prompts media coverage. And, more importantly, we've all become inured to "the never-ending, soul-grinding driver misbehavior that pollutes our roads".

I'm not holding my breathe for a Globe account of intersections in the area where drivers are the problem, complete with counts of all the unticketed infractions.

Cross-posted at Blue Mass. Group.


Anonymous said...

I routinely have to deal with bike riders blasting around on sidewalks and using people as cones. It is pretty rare to have cars drive on the sidewalks.

Better bike lanes and cracking down on law breaking auto drivers will help but I am pretty certain bike riders will take whatever short cuts they take now and menace pedestrians.

Mass public transportation and walking is the way to go. If we let bajillions of people blast around on any sort high speed personal transport it will be a problem. There are just too many idiots.

Doug Cornelius said...

I did not like the tone or approach of the article. But it's hard to argue with the facts.

I just started back to commuting to work by bike into downtown. Nearly every cyclist I encounter breaks basic traffic laws.

It breaks my heart to see then running red lights. I see the same thing on the backroads with weekend cyclists. There is flagrant disregard for traffic signals by many (most?) cyclists. Just yesterday on the ride home, every cyclist I saw ended up breaking a very obvious traffic law. 8 for 9 (if you include obediant me).

If we cyclists expect the law to protect us (Cyclist's Bill of Rights) then we also need to follow the law.