Favors, scofflaws and rage

Random Thought: Are scofflaw cyclists really better drivers than they are cyclists?

First of all a favor: Can somebody (doesn’t need to be everybody) let me know if your’e able to leave a comment on this post? I upgraded this site’s software and I’m no longer able to leave comments on my own site. Thank you. The commenting seems to work now, so never mind. Though if you can’t comment, there’s not really an easy way for you to let me know, is there?


This morning’s bike commute seemed to have a higher proportion than usual of law abiding drivers. I was amazed to see somebody actually signal his turn!

I ride through a school zone with a radar-activated speed limit sign that continuously flashes “SLOW DOWN” as scofflaw drivers speed past walking children on the narrow residential road with no sidewalk. Today, the sign displayed speeds well below the speed limit with no flashing red reminders, but that’s because a moving truck was blocking half of the street. Ah well.

Finally, I get to the four-way stop at Ringwood and Middlefield where, again, NOBODY ever comes to a complete stop. Miracle of miracles, most of the drivers were at least putting an effort into it today, and that’s when I got suspicious, looked around, and saw the Menlo Park patrol car parked conspicuously on a nearby side road.

I’ll take what I get.


Kyle on his Specialized

There’s been a lot of discussion at the Urban Country’s proposition that cyclist behavior has nothing at all to do with motorist anger towards cyclists. I believe cyclists should ride courteously, but I agree with James Schwartz’s thesis that perfect behavior will not engender much additional goodwill to cyclists overall.

Consider Bryce Barker of Berthoud, Colorado. Last summer, Bryce yelled at a trio of road cyclists in exurban Larimer County, Colorado. The cyclists — all between the ages of 50 and 60 and riding as they were on a rural two lane near Berthoud (an area I biked plenty when I lived in Boulder County) — hardly fit the profile of daredevil scofflaws, but were likely just riding along when Barker stopped his car, pulled out a baseball bat and started into an insane tirade about old guys from Boulder riding their bikes on his county roads. Barker was arrested and is on trial now.


For those who would like to punish all cyclists for the scofflaws, consider this: Do you really want to push the scofflaw cyclist off of his bike and behind the wheels of a car? 17% of traffic fatalities in the United States involve an unlicensed driver. 14% of drivers are uninsured. What makes you think the young male eschewing bike and road safety regulations will think any better of licensing, registration and insurance requirements for driving? Do you really expect the maniac you see running red lights in heavy traffic on a brakeless bike will be a better driver than he is a cyclist?

Photo: That’s Kyle riding in front of me in San Jose. He braked for the salmoning crosswalk cyclist, and I nearly rear ended Kyle because my hands were on the camera instead of the brakes.

15 Comments

  • Andy
    March 2, 2011 - 7:11 pm | Permalink

    Attempting to leave a comment…

  • Andy
    March 2, 2011 - 7:11 pm | Permalink

    Looks like that worked. FYI, I am logged in with Disqus

  • March 2, 2011 - 8:08 pm | Permalink

    Works for me signed in with OpenID

  • March 2, 2011 - 8:19 pm | Permalink

    Thanks guys. And, oddly, it works for me now too. I’m told there was some sort of problem w/ Disqus and the new WordPress upgrade.

  • March 2, 2011 - 8:27 pm | Permalink

    I’d always assumed that the implication was that being a licensed and insured driver with the responsibilities of a car owner would transform a reckless scofflaw into a respectable member of society, not least because that would mean the former scofflaw would finally have to start working for a living.

    I’m not convinced the idea of “bicycle commuting” has really caught on in the popular imagination yet. I think there’s a sense that cycling is for college students, trust-fund babies who can afford to go green, stay-at-home yuppie moms, wealthy professionals who need an expensive hobby, and retirees. In other words, nobody who has to work for a living. What was yelled at me every other morning? “Get off the road—some people have to work for a living!”

    (One time I felt especially miffed by that remark and told the guy I was a technical editor, and he just barked “That’s not a real job!” I think I could have told him anything and he would have said the same thing. Any job you can ride your bike to in the morning can’t possibly be a “real job.” Probably just an internship or some kind of post-college dalliance to avoid the “real world.” Goes hand-in-hand with being single long after your friends have paired off and started spawning, I guess.)

    Anyway, if you perceive riding a bike as a cause or condition of being a (presumably either young or old enough to know better) reckless scofflaw, then driving a car (plus all the baggage that goes along with that action) may well seem like a logical “solution” to the “problem.” Kids these days, etc.

    In addition, there are arrogant buttheads who drive exactly like these “reckless scofflaws” ride their bikes—but where’s the societal angst against them? And even “regular” drivers roll through stop signs and run red lights all the time, every time, without the slightest thought. In fact, when drivers run red lights and get tickets in the mail, they throw such a fit that municipalities are compelled to take down the cameras. (But somehow WE are the ones demanding special treatment under the law? Right.)

  • March 2, 2011 - 8:35 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and bums. They should get jobs, too, and stop endangering themselves and everyone else with those rusty mountain bikes with the plastic bags tied to the handlebars.

    Comments are posting and email notifications are being received, btw.

  • March 2, 2011 - 9:57 pm | Permalink

    I think sometimes a driver goes through an intersection and nearly hits a cyclist who has chosen to ignore the stop signs. That scares the driver and sets them on a rant. If cyclists could be encouraged to obey the traffic laws, that one situation could be averted and maybe there would be that much more good will (or less ill will) towards cyclists.

    BUT I don’t think that covers all or even most of what sets drivers against cyclists. Many complaints I hear are of people stuck behind group rides, people encountering bikes on busy roads, people who see a bicycle where they didn’t expect to see one and are forced to slow down. You can’t fix that by making cyclists adhere to the law. A good number of people assume that a cyclist who can’t maintain the speed limit is breaking the law, as is a cyclist who isn’t on the sidewalk, or a cyclist who is riding in the middle of a lane. Getting cyclists to obey the law won’t affect the large number of motorists who don’t actually know what the law is as it applies to bicycles. It seems that every time someone tries to measure it, it turns out that car drivers are at least as likely to break the laws as cyclists and are at fault in at least half of the car/bicycle collisions. Blatant running of stop signs/lights are a convenient and obviously illegal thing that can be grabbed on to rail against, but even if you could convince cyclists not to do it, it wouldn’t change the underlying problem which is that many drivers don’t think we should be out there in first place.

  • Andy
    March 2, 2011 - 10:25 pm | Permalink

    Rob, usually the case I see is a car not coming to a stop, and I (with the right of way) have to swerve to avoid them. If drivers could be more encouraged to obey the traffic laws, that situation could also be averted.

  • March 2, 2011 - 10:32 pm | Permalink

    If there is a “scofflaw” problem (and that’s a big if), I’d say it has to be partially related to the our rider demographic: overwhelmingly male, young, and recreational. This is the same pool of individuals who like risk, or at least can deal with it, and for whom traffic rules aren’t a very big behavioral deterrent. This is a selection bias. If we had decent infrastructure that encouraged a risk-adverse ridership, we might see a very different result.

  • March 2, 2011 - 10:32 pm | Permalink

    If there is a “scofflaw” problem (and that’s a big if), I’d say it has to be partially related to the our rider demographic: overwhelmingly male, young, and recreational. This is the same pool of individuals who like risk, or at least can deal with it, and for whom traffic rules aren’t a very big behavioral deterrent. This is a selection bias. If we had decent infrastructure that encouraged a risk-adverse ridership, we might see a very different result.

  • March 3, 2011 - 12:32 am | Permalink

    i can’t post :)

  • March 3, 2011 - 5:28 am | Permalink

    +1 Andy :)

  • March 3, 2011 - 5:33 am | Permalink

    Jennifer, I don’t know where you live but it’s a real bummer to be treated like that! Here in Toronto we get a lot of angry drivers, but luckily we have enough professionals who commute around the city on bicycles that I’ve never had anyone tell me to get a job ;)

  • March 3, 2011 - 5:50 am | Permalink

    I live about a mile from the University of Chicago Campus (and used to work there), which I probably should have mentioned. There’s lots of complaints every spring and fall about “all those students” on bikes, and at 29 I still look young enough to be one.

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