Saturday, June 8, 2013

Unpopular Opinion: No, Bike People, You Do Not Have Special Powers!

They only look dorky and responsible...
To any responsible cyclists who are offended by this piece, I do apologize.  This is not meant for you.

There are cyclists who remain watchful of their surroundings, who ride on the correct side of the road, stop at signs and at red lights, who signal when they turn, and who get off of their bikes to walk them across cross walks.

Then there are the majority of cyclists.  Seemingly unaware that their bikes are vehicles and must abide by the same rules as cars, they ride the wrong way on busy streets, careen across cross walks without bothering to put a foot on the ground, and -- oh yes -- never met a stop sign that they didn't sail through.

They're on the street one minute and the next, they're all over the sidewalk.  As if they think they're pedestrians equipped with special powers.  "Look at me, Ma!  I can go super-fast!  Whooooeeeee!"

Oops... here come the protests.  "What about cars?  So what if bike riders are annoying -- cars kill!  Apologist!"  

I am not a fan of cars.  I try to do as little driving as possible.  My fantasy is to one day be completely rid of my car and to travel everywhere on bicycle or by foot.  I also understand that cyclists are much more vulnerable than drivers.  Recently, I visited the most bike-friendly city in the United States and rushed off on my rented bike with helmet firmly in place.  Despite the abundance of bike paths, clearly marked lines, and helpful signs, I never felt so exposed.  Even parked cars along the side of the road became a silent enemy.  I understand that riders need to develop a certain fearlessness in order to share the road with vehicles several times their weight and power.  Yet many cyclists have taken "fearless" up a notch to "asshole".

"BUT!  Car drivers are the real assholes!  Going fast, making sudden turns, opening doors when they know bikes are coming or just not bothering to look!"

No doubt many car drivers behave irresponsibly, putting cyclists' and pedestrians' health at risk.  But as an avid walker, I have been far more threatened by bikes than by cars.  I have yet to walk on the sidewalk or a pedestrian path without encountering at least two bikes going at top speed -- on the wrong side of the road no less.

These cyclists are either really ignorant or just don't give a fuck.  It never occurs to them to slow down -- ever.  And why should they when police officers rarely lift their hands to write a ticket?  Sure, you stop your car beyond the designated stop line and they're all over you, but weave through the intersection on your bike like you're heavily intoxicated?  "Haha, hope you're having a good day so far, young man.  Carry on."*

A car driver's irresponsibility can cause harm, but if all drivers acted like cyclists, the streets would be filled with carnage.  No one would get from Point A to Point B alive.  We'd all have to buy insurance just to cross the street.  Which is to say that while drivers need to be more careful, that does not give cyclists license to be less careful.    

"Well look at you, High and Mighty Pedestrian!  Like you never jaywalk right in front of cars, forcing them to come to a screeching halt!"

That's illegal, by the way.  A pedestrian's "right of way" doesn't permit him or her to endanger the health and safety of others.  That said, other than that incredibly brazen example, I can't think of a pedestrian breaking the rules in a way that causes damage like a car or bicycle.

Look, I want more people riding bikes.  I want more bike paths and bike friendly streets.  Which is why I find it frustrating that a percentage of cyclists routinely shoot their cause in the foot.  Cyclists and pedestrians should be united in promoting alternate modes of transportation.

Cyclists, just because you are vulnerable to cars does not mean the world owes you.  Stop treating your bicycles like giant toys to use however you want.  Realize that to pedestrians, you are the bully, and show them the consideration that you would like from a car driver.  Stay off the sidewalks under most circumstances.  Get off your bike and walk it across the cross walk.  Stop at stop signs and stop lights.  Ride in the right direction.  Christ, I almost hit a cyclist head on because he was riding the wrong way in the middle of the lane.  Again, bicycles are mostly bound by the same rules as cars.  If that wasn't drilled into you when you first learned to ride a bike, I'm telling you now.


Hold on.  Car drivers, like it or not, you need to share the road with cyclists.  That means scanning the road to see whether they are ahead of you or behind you -- especially before you change lanes, make a turn, or open your car door.  Don't infringe on their designated space, and if there is none, give them space on the right.  Don't speed up and intimidate cyclists just because you are The Car.

And pedestrians, don't walk out into the middle of the street whenever you feel like it and expect everything to stop for you.  Your right of way is not absolute.  Stop treating bike lanes like designated jogging paths.  And please don't walk in the middle of the road and then only bother to move over when a car or bicycle is a few feet away.  Be watchful of your surroundings, and get over to the side when you see a vehicle approaching.

Roller bladers and skateboarders, that goes for you, too.  Don't ask me why, but for some reason, you're still considered pedestrians in my state, despite being capable of high speeds.

Oh, and motorcycles... I'll leave it for another time.  Just imagine the sound of high-pitched screaming.  

If we all just learn to follow the rules and be watchful, we should all be better off.  Everyone agree?

*sound of crickets*

Okay then.

* Yes, this actually happened, when a cyclist swerved back and forth through the intersection of a four-way stop.  A nearby cop looked as though he were contemplating the number of calories in the doughnut he just ate.

The above image was supplied by thadz on Stock Xchng.  Use of this image does not mean that thadz endorses this commentary.  In fact, thadz probably thinks I'm scum. 


  1. Your opening paragraph illustrates that you are not out to get cyclists in general, so for that I salute you.

    However, many still voice out on how they perceive things as individuals. Personally, I think it's more productive to look at statistics. For example, In the U.K, according to the RoSPA, pedestrians are killed at a ratio of 312:2 cars vs cyclists respectively. In the face of such statistics, the first argument most will use, is that cars outnumber bicycles, but remember that we are talking about pedestrians on crossings and footpaths here.

    Please understand, I am not protecting or condoning the antics of these idiots on bikes and I would love to see an end to it. A few years ago, after witnessing a horrific accident where a child was hit by a car, I decided to become less dependent on my car and have now given it up completely in favor of cycling and public transport. But every day, I suffer at the hands of generalized opinion against cyclists, and please believe me when I tell you that many powered vehicle drivers will deliberately disregard my rightful place on the road under the context of the anti-cyclist generalization.

    I want the government to clamp down on bad road behavior, but they need to clamp down on all illegal road use and not single out any particular transport type.

    One final point, if anyone I love in a moment of absent mindedness ever steps out in front of a road user, I hope the road user is only an idiot on a bicycle and not an idiot in a car.

    1. Thanks for your comments. Despite the overall harshness of my tone, I really do support the idea of more cycling. I think as drivers become more used to seeing bicycles, the entitled mentality will fade and they will start to be more watchful/considerate. It's unfortunate that there still are too many roads that do not allow for safe cycling, at least not without the car going 15 mph. At the same time, many cyclists need to adopt a new attitude of responsibility. The ones that don't seem to fall into two categories: (1) gung-ho cyclists with a "F--k you" mentality toward cars and (2) newbies who took up cycling for fun and to save gas, but have not bothered to educate themselves and treat their bicycles like toys. The newbies are a danger not only to pedestrians, but to other cyclists.

      I would support law enforcement cracking down equally on all types of bad road behavior. Where I'm from, they are very zealous about cracking down on cars, not so much bicycles.

      As for which would be safer if I met one out in the middle of the street, it depends: if the car is going 25 mph but the bike is speeding, I would take my chances with the car. Speeding cyclists have also been known to kill as well, and I've yet to be threatened by a car when walking on the sidewalk.

  2. I agree with much of what you wrote, but not all of it.

    1. I live in Seattle, where political battles rage between bicyclists and motorists. I am firmly on the side of motorists in those contests. On the streets, it's different. The majority of drivers, riders, and pedestrians are just fine. So I disagree when you accuse "the majority of cyclists" of various sins.

    2. Please think of the real world. I'm both a driver and (like you) an avid pedestrian. In the real world, no one is perfect. I jaywalk all the time. Every time I park mid-block and cross the street directly rather than walk to the end of the block, I've jaywalked.

    And do I always make a complete stop at every stop sign? Nope, but I never roll through at more than a couple miles an hour, and if there's a person or vehicle (including bicyclist) anywhere in the vicinity, then I do make a complete stop. So let's back off of the idea that we're perfect and everyone else is an idiot.

    3. Unlike you I really LIKE cars. My fantasy is to have an electric car. Oh but wait, I do. So now my fantasy is that battery technology will take a big leap so that everyone can have an electric car. But, whatever the motive power, I like cars.

    1. Hi Placeholder (heh, I like your name):

      I definitely don't dispute that people can make mistakes. I certainly have made many myself. My issue is more with a certain attitude than with the minor failure of, for instance, failing to stop perfectly behind the line. You say that you make a complete stop when you see people or vehicles in the vicinity? That's better than 90 percent of the bicyclists I've seen. There have been times when I've literally been in the crosswalk, and have seen bicyclists blow through a stop sign and head right toward me. Thanks, assholes.

      I don't have issue with small deviations if there is no one else around who would be harmed. But wow, I routinely see so much dumb crap. *Willfully* dumb crap done right during the peak of traffic. And where I live, there isn't much effort to hold bicyclists to account for their behavior. I don't think bicyclists should have to buy insurance, but some mandatory road safety lessons wouldn't be such a bad thing. The dumb bicyclists unfairly taint all bicyclists, including the ones that actually do obey the rules.

      And I could see why you like cars if you have an electric. I would love one myself. Can't afford it, but someday...