An Open Letter: The Bicycle Edition

Dear Bicyclists,
I like you guys. You always look so friendly, whizzing along on your bikes, little backpacks on or with saddlebags or baskets. Earth-friendly, healthy, energetic. I like this. I am almost jealous, especially feeling like a horrid person driving around in my car (not much of a gas-guzzler, but I could still do better). And the cyclists busting ass look pretty awesome in their little sponsored athletic wear thingys.
But here’s the thing. You’re on the road. I’m on the road, too. And I do NOT want to hit you guys. Because I know that, tiny though my grad student poverty-ridden car may be, if I hit you, I will probably be unhurt, and you, assuredly, will not. I do not want to hit you. I don’t think I could ever forgive myself if I accidentally hit someone on foot or on a bike (well, injured anyone, really).
So here’s the deal. When you are on a bike, and you are on the road, YOU ARE A VEHICLE. You are not a happy little kid on a trike and this is NOT your neighborhood or a parking lot. This is a divided road with an effing median, stop signs, stop lights, and a speed limit of around 35. It’s downtown. It may be busy. And there will be lots of people driving much bigger cars than I am driving, and paying much less attention than I am. I don’t want to hit you, and I don’t want any of them to hit you either.
When you are on the road, you are a VEHICLE. This means that you may not:
1) Run stop signs
2) Run stop lights
3) Make left turns where there is no left turn
4) Go the wrong way on a one-way road
(The above four perpetrated by the same bike in about 100 yards).
5) Make turns without signaling
6) Whip across three crowded traffic lanes, assuming the cars won’t move
7) Ride going against traffic
8) WEAR A GORRAM HELMET. I don’t know how much they really do, but something is better than nothing.
Please. Follow the etiquette of biking on the road, or stick to the sidewalks and neighborhoods. If you can, find a bike lane (though I know they are not always available). Please. I do NOT want to hit you. I want you to get where you’re going. I want other people to be inspired by you and bike to work or school as well. But for this, we need to make a deal. I keep an eye out for you. You bike as safely as you can.
I yell because I care,

15 Responses

  1. As a regular cyclist, I’d just like to say this:
    While most people seem to behave pretty well most of the time, people who don’t can do a lot of damage to themselves or others (whether it’s a bike hitting a pedestrian or a truck hitting a car).
    And if you’re on a pushbike, show some awareness. If you want to dawdle along, do it in a park or on a bike track off-road somewhere…

  2. Would this particular cyclist have been riding a fixed-gear bike by any chance? Most of the helmetless cyclists I see are fixie riders. But it’s their head in any case. I usually confine myself to worrying about the minority of fixie riders who are too cool for brakes.
    Then again, I do treat stop signs like yield signs when cycling, so I’m not sinless either.

  3. When you are on the road, you are a VEHICLE. This means that you may not:
    8) WEAR A GORRAM HELMET. I don’t know how much they really do, but something is better than nothing.

    I don’t think you meant to say that.
    (And I still – product of my age, I know – think riding facing traffic is safer. Not that I’ve been on a bike in 40 years…)

  4. The Ridger: oops. Yeah. PLEASE DO wear a helmet. 🙂
    I’m not sure about riding facing traffic vs away, but I think now the rules of the road are that if you’re on it, you need to all go the same direction. No salmon swimming heroically against the current.

  5. “stick to the sidewalks and neighborhoods”
    Umm.. that would generally be illegal.

  6. You’re sure there’s no stipulation in your local traffic ordinance that allows bicyclists to always turn left, and/or go against the traffic on one-way roads? Neither is that uncommon – we have it where I live – and we’re all expected to know the local traffic rules after all.
    Agree completely on running lights and stop signs. And people with fixies are frankly asking to get into trouble – most places mandate functioning brakes for a reason.

  7. I think you’ll find this post (and comment thread) interesting on this topic… 😉

  8. I completely agree on every point. (Though I don’t wear a helmet when I ride. Stupid, I know.)

  9. Yeah, I know that biking on the sidewalks is illegal. But if you’re biking really badly, I’d rather have you up on the sidewalk where I’m much less likely to hit you. That’s my personal preference, though.
    Janne: I’m actually not sure about the one-way street and turning left. My main issue is that he was running a red light at the time and didn’t signal, and I worry when they’re going the wrong way up a one-way street that they could get hit…but I’ll look that up.

  10. Coturnix: yeah I read that, esp as I have an affinity for Charleston and all. 🙂 It actually got me mad. If a CAR approaches an open intersection with a red light, the car is STILL supposed to wait at the red light, regardless of how many people it’s holding up. A bike, on the road, is a vehicle and should not behave differently. Red lights are red lights, and if you’re on the road on wheels you’re a vehicle, and I don’t care if you’re driving a car, a bike, or a Segway.

  11. @ mike-
    In some states yes, in some states no. I happen to live in a state where the law is as follows:
    “Section 3508. Pedalcycles on sidewalks and pedalcycle paths.
    (a) Right-of-way to pedestrians.– A person riding a pedalcycle upon a sidewalk or pedalcycle path used by pedestrians shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and shall give an audible signal before overtaking and passing a pedestrian.
    (b) Business districts.– A person shall not ride a pedalcycle upon a sidewalk in a business district unless permitted by official traffic-control devices, nor when a usable pedalcycle-only lane has been provided adjacent to the sidewalk.”

    People need to chill the heck out about bicycles on sidewalks. I grew up in a neighborhood where it was extremely common, and I can’t think of it ever leading to an accident (except perhaps with a large, poorly trimmed lilac bush that extended over the sidewalk).
    The last time I was out biking (in an area with no pedestrians), we had a car honking and yelling at us like crazy, presumably for biking on the sidewalk (the screaming was not coherent).
    Despite the facts of the law, when I googled about it there was a video of a woman being punched by police for riding on the sidewalk, and a news story of a man being jailed for it . WTF? I can understand a ticket, particularly if a pedestrian witnesses lack of yielding the right-of-way. But jail?

  12. So, Sci, would oppose changing the traffic laws to make it legal for bikes and Segways to do that? And do you have some good consequentialist reason for that position? Or is the objection simply that people are Getting Away With Things They Shouldn’t?
    (Boo to Rechtschaffen!)

  13. On the left hand of the bell curve we have climate change denialists driving petroleum powered vehicles. I can’t believe the complaints I hear from drivers about cyclists not coming to a complete stop; within five years the Idaho Stop Law (which has worked in Idaho for thirty years) will be standard. Driving on the sidewalk is fine for kids on tricycles, but my average travel speed going to work is sixteen mph. Eleven pedestrians were killed in New York City by cyclists between 1996 and 2006. Of course cyclists shouldn’t travel the wrong way on the street; one quarter of all bike car collisions are contraflow accidents. To better understand the risks of bike car collisions, check out a website documenting cycling hazards across the U.S. It’s a shame that on a science blog, no one is making relevant comments about the actual data available on bike car collisions. P.S. If your not a good driver, I would prefer you drive on the sidewalk. It’s just a personal preference, but that way you won’t hit me.

  14. Bravo! It’s incredibly stressful to have to maneuver a car around people who seem intent on testing my reflexes. Sure, it’s their head, but I’m not really keen on reliving a moment of horror in my dreams for the rest of my life, or getting their blood all over my favorite pair of jeans while I try to resuscitate their mangled body in the roadway.

  15. I’ve encountered this a lot too.
    It seems that the guys in street clothes are usually a less aggressive. to them the bike is simply a way to get from here to there
    It’s the ones in matching, logo covered riding attire that seem to be more aggressively problematic. Bike riding for them has left the pragmatic and approached religious status.

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