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Close but no cigar

April 2, 2012

Andrew Sullivan has been running a few posts about “Drivers vs Cyclists,” and recently featured this reader response:

I lived in NYC for 20+ years and I’m currently living in San Francisco, and I can tell you the reason for bike problems is that there really are no rules for bicyclists. As a pedestrian I’ve nearly been killed in NYC by a bike going the wrong way down a one-way street. Or just recently in SF in the SOMA district, I saw a woman nearly hit as a bike sped along the sidewalk around a corner and never slowed down. Bikes are not supposed to be going fast on sidewalks in city, right?

It’s not about bike lanes; it’s about people thinking they own the streets and sidewalks because they’re on a bike.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a bike rider myself, but again, I was nearly knocked down by a speed cyclist around the seaport in Manhattan on my bike. The thing about bike riding is that there are no rules, really, and that’s part of the beauty, the freedom. But as they become more prevalent in car traffic and pedestrian traffic, it’s really becoming a problem. Like I said, I’m an urban dwelling bike rider myself, and I’m appalled at the bike riding behavior going on.

Emphasis mine. We’ll have come a long way when people finally realize that being nearly hit by a cyclist is far better than being actually hit by a car.  But I guess almost only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and cycling.

  1. April 3, 2012 10:51 am

    =v= We are constantly “nearly hit” and “nearly killed” by cars on a daily basis as well, except that’s so common and so accepted that it slips down below the level of awareness. I agree that bikes should stay off sidewalks, but the city this person lives in has the highest pedestrian death and injury rate on the West Coast thanks to cars. No psychological imaginings about the mental states of those drivers, though.

  2. Killer Cars permalink
    April 3, 2012 12:08 pm

    This is really about courtesy and not about safety. A bike is my primary mode of transportation in NYC and I tend to treat red lights the same way pedestrians do: if there’s no traffic, go for it. But I always pass behind pedestrians crossing with the light and if I see someone waiting to cross who’s waiting for me, I just slow down and stop so they know I’m not going to cut them off.

    Every time I tell a bike-hater that I pass behind pedestrians when I run a red light, they agree that that’s ok. But if it were about safety it really shouldn’t be ok because passing behind someone is surely not much less dangerous, and arguably more dangerous because you do it in a way that they often don’t know you’re there.

    But New Yorkers are used to a high degree of danger on the streets. Most people are perfectly comfortable jaywalking in front of a cab without even glancing at it as it comes within inches of them. What New Yorkers will not tolerate, however, is someone encroaching upon “their” space. I think that’s what really irritates people when bikes cut them off at lights or ride on the sidewalk. Add to that the fact that it’s illegal and the natural response is “this jerk thinks he’s above the law!”

    The reality is that a bike is a far safer and more flexible vehicle than a car. It can accomodate a wide variety of situations and behaviors that a car simply cannot because of its size, speed, limited manuevarability, and the way its enclosure limits the visibility of the driver. For safety’s sake it makes sense that cars should be subject to strict rules. Subjecting bikes to those exact same rules is just another way the City persecutes cyclists. If more people rode bikes public opinion about the bike laws would be the same as opinion about jaywalking.

  3. April 3, 2012 12:56 pm

    =v= I agree that courtesy and respect are paramount. Even so, motorists who are discourteous *or* deadly don’t elicit this kind of response. Their behavior is internalized as part of the landscape, and dealing with them is considered a badge of urban sophistication. Indeed, anyone who’s ruffled by them or has a complaint about them is considered some sort of bumpkin.

    So truly, there’s some other psychology at work in both NYC and SF that compels people to fuss about bicyclists while keeping mum about motorists.

  4. April 4, 2012 12:19 pm

    @Killer Cars well said!

  5. jj.macdonald permalink
    April 4, 2012 5:50 pm

    Close calls are bad enough! Cyclist need to follow the law. As a cyclist I am amaze at how many cyclist violate the law then get so angry when you point it out. We are vehicles and must follow the rules set by the city of New York. Why should cyclist be exceptions?

    I have been hit by two cyclist last year who failed to follow the law. I can tell you it hurt a lot. Maybe not as much a car but if one my kids was with me the hospital is where they would have been.

  6. nhamblen permalink
    April 4, 2012 9:46 pm

    “We are vehicles”

    Speak for yourself. I’m a human.

  7. April 6, 2012 12:17 pm

    As a cyclist, I feel strongly that we should follow the road rules as currently set up, if only because we have a great deal to gain if motorists start following the rules too:
    However, it’s absolutely worth pointing out that cyclists do far less damage to other people on the roads than cars do:
    It’s also fairly clear to me that many people get angry about cyclists’ rule-breaking in a way they don’t about motorists’ contraventions simply because people find cyclists annoying per se, for no particularly good reason:

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