“In Defense of the Law-Breaking Cyclist”
Jake Blumgart, writing in Pacific Standard, has a nuanced take on the reasons why he, as a regular bike commuter, breaks the law:
Because bikes belong on the road, they have to contend with laws and infrastructure that were not made for them. Most of Philly’s bike lanes are not separated from traffic, so people park and idle in them, taxis swoop over to pick up fares, and on the big boulevards—which you have to cross to get to many neighborhoods—cars are going up to 50 miles an hour.
In such an environment, it’s not a level playing field for bikers. I have to take my advantages where I can to avoid one of those awkward outbound hospital calls that mothers are so loathe to receive.
Like Blumgart, I experience this need to “take my advantages where I can” every day. Take, for example, a situation where I’m stopped at a red next to a line of drivers and scan ahead to see cars parked in the bike lane just beyond the intersection. In such a scenario I have three choices:
- Stay to the right of the driver at the front of the queue. When the light turns green, attempt a dangerous merge with a steady stream of moving traffic, since cars can accelerate from a dead stop faster than a person on a bike. If it’s an intersection where drivers can turn right, run the additional risk of a right hook.
- Pull in front of the first driver in the queue. When the light turns green, take the lane until I pass the double parked cars and can re-enter the bike lane. This choice yields additional choices: pedal as fast as I can when the light turns green or pedal at a normal pace and risk an angry honk from the driver behind me. (Note: sometimes pedaling fast also yields an angry honk.)
- If there’s no cross traffic nor pedestrians in the crosswalk, go through the light, cycle at a relaxed pace around the double-parked cars, and re-enter the bike lane long before light behind me turns green and the drivers can catch up.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, I opt for choice three. In the absence of a clear bike box that’s respected by drivers, a cycling-specific traffic signal or leading interval, and a general culture of civility, it is one of many situations I and many other people on bikes face in which the technically illegal choice is by far the safer one.