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Reckless Lawbreakers

A reader sent this email in response to Monday's post on bike commuting. This type of hostile and not very constructive email would typically go straight to the trash, but I've heard this argument multiple times recently and it warrants a response.
You bike commuters think you are on top of the world. There is no way that I or any other driver can take bikes seriously as a form of transportation as long as they keep riding dangerously and breaking the law. I see bikes going through stop signs and red lights and weaving in between cars all the time. Drivers aren’t going to start sharing the road until you start following the same rules that we do.
It’s true. Sometimes bike riders break traffic laws. Since receiving that email, I decided to pay attention to traffic infractions. The reality is that I rarely see other bicyclists while I am out, but I sure see a lot of cars. Here are a few things I observed in the past three days:
  • more cars to count driving obviously above the posted speed limit.
  • 10+ cars proceed through stop signs without coming to a complete and full stop.
  • 10+ cars turning without signaling.
  • 8 cars parked illegally.
  • 2 cars turn right on red at an intersection marked "no turn on red".
  • 1 car run a red light (I think it might have even been at an intersection with a camera).
  • 1 car pass a school bus while the bus's lights were flashing and stop sign was out.
  • 1 car almost smash into a city bus for attempting to turn left at an intersection marked “left turn on arrow only” - his light was red.
And of course this doesn’t include the legal, but “risky” behavior I also saw, like a woman applying eye makeup behind the wheel and multiple people sending text messages (or emails or Tweets, who knows).

So, borrowing the same logic from the email I received.. I just don’t think I can take motor vehicles seriously as a form of transportation until drivers (notice how I’m presuming all drivers engage in equally bad behavior) start respecting the traffic laws and behaving safely while operating their vehicles.

The intent of this post isn’t to defend that bicyclists are inherently different than drivers or to argue that traffic infractions never occur. The intent is to point out the double standard that exists in these discussions.

Jaywalkers typically don’t break traffic laws because they want to be reckless lawbreakers. They do it because they think they can safely get across the street without waiting for the light. Drivers speed because they think they can safely go faster than the posted limit. Bike riders roll through stop signs because they think they can safely make it through without coming to a full stop. In all three cases, the pedestrian/driver/bicyclist occasionally makes a bad judgment that results in an accident.

I hope we can move past the banter and get to the real heart of these discussions, like how street space can be efficiently allocated and how bicycling trades off with traffic congestion. The debate shouldn't be a war, it should be a question of how different modes of transportation can be mutually beneficial.


B. P. Beckley said…
I'll tell you, the main thing that torques me off about bikes is the riding through red lights without stopping or even slowing down, or, in many cases, looking. All of the other stuff is pretty minor, but riding through red lights seems downright dangerous. Really, I feel that way about cars, too.

There's another thing about sharing the road with bikes -- they are a freaking pain to pass some of the time, and you HAVE to pass them because they CAN'T go faster than you unless they're very very fast or you're very very slow. And then, of course, you make a big effort to pass them, and they ... ride through the next red light, and then you have to pass them again.

I'm seen enough of examples of this particular argument on the net to know that none of this will garner any sympathy from bikers, but, really, the red light thing is dangerous, and the vast majority of drivers may do lots of stupid stuff, but they DON'T RUN RED LIGHTS! Even when it's safe.

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