Recently there was a discussion on this blog about "why so many bikers are so bad about basic traffic safety". In addition, I've seen some recent letters to the papers complaining about cyclist running stop signs, passing on the sidewalk without giving warning, not registering their bikes and (oddly) not pulling over when they're holding up traffic. Some excerpts below:
Based on my observations at the stop signs I encounter on my walk to the Union Station metro station, virtually all of them blow through the stop signs, endangering pedestrians all the time. All I can say is, if you, Mr./Ms. Bicycle Rider, show me a complete lack of respect and courtesy when I am walking, I will return the favor when I am in my car.
On many occasions, a bicyclist has silently come up behind me on the sidewalk, startling me and once almost running over my dog. The biker never acknowledged his presence by saying “on your left” or ringing a bike bell.
I have discovered that there are no clear regulations for riding bicycles on city sidewalks. One police precinct says it is permissible; another says no, a bike is treated the same as a motor vehicle and is not allowed on the sidewalk. Further, bikes do not have to be registered in D.C. but if they are, they are required to carry a light and a horn.
I recommend legislation allowing bikes to be ridden on city sidewalks, but all should be registered and equipped with a horn and front and back lights. Hopefully, they will also be used with a little courtesy.
And a response to the one above:
In Arizona as well as in other states, cyclists riding on the city streets are required to have registered tags for a nominal fee.
They must obey traffic laws, i.e., if there are more than five cars behind them, they must pull over and let them pass.
D.C. should not permit cyclists to ride on the sidewalks since this is a tourist city, but with all the revitalization going on, one would think that bike routes would have been included in the planning. Especially since many cyclists are couriers throughout the city.
Let me clear up (as best I can) some facts here.
1. There actually are clear regulations about biking on the sidewalks. Cyclists cannot ride on the sidewalk in the Central Business District (refer to map) and must yield the right of way to pedestrians when both are on the sidewalk.
2. From DDOT's website..."DC residents are required to register their bicycle(s) with the District government. This will aid in recovering your bike in case of theft." Though this is being changed in light of questionable enforcement of the rule.
3. Bike routes have been established and the District, at least, is doing a good job of putting up signs that tell you where you're going and how far it is (see my banner for example).
Now for my opinions.
1. While cyclists run stop signs with more frequency than drivers do, I doubt that "virtually all of them blow through the stop signs" or we'd have a lot more dead cyclists.
2. I'm not sure about horns on bikes (or bells). Taking your hands off the handlebars to use them might be more dangerous than doing nothing. A good, loud "on your left" should suffice. Though I'd still like a one-syllabal word I could yell. Something in German perhaps?
3. This is the first time I've ever seen Arizona held up as a cycling example.
4. There is no way I'm pulling over because five cars are lined up behind me. How will I know? Am I supposed to turn around and count periodically?
5. Riding on the sidewalks in general is less safe than riding in the streets and should be avoided except in certain situations. For example, little kids riding around their house. Or when climbing a steep hill next to a crowded high-speed road with empty sidewalks. Or when pulling in to stop. But in general yes, off the sidewalks.
6. DC has tourists, but it's not a tourist city. The Mall is a tourist sub-city maybe, but I never see tourists on Bladensburg Road.
It's true that cyclists break the law while cycling. They (myself included) often run red lights and stop signs. They ride on sidewalks when they shoudn't. They occasionally ride the wrong way down one way streets. So if you're a law and order type, I can see why this would bother you. But it's not as though cyclists are alone. Drivers routinely speed, run red lights (The District's red-light cameras have generated more than 500,000 violations and $32 million in fines over the past six years) and stop signs, talk on their cell phone while driving, tailgate, fail to use turn signals and park illegally. Pedestrians jaywalk.
I'm not saying that two wrongs make a right, or advocating anarchy, my point is that I don't understand the anger, bordering on rage, that I seem about this. I don't think it's envy - as I've heard suggested, I just think that cyclists do it rather brazenly and they get away with it. Some people can't stand to see people get away with something. In History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters an angel tells the main character that everyone gets into Heaven, she thought that would make everyone happy, but that to some people, Heaven just isn't Heaven if others aren't punished.
So then, why do cyclists break the law? Mostly we're talking about running lights and stop signs. And I think they do this for three reasons. They often can do it safely, without getting a ticket and it saves them time (same reasons drivers speed and pedestrians jaywalk). I don't buy anything like this
The cyclist, on the other hand, sees himself as some kind of athletic hipster/environmental messiah: since he isn't burning fossil fuels or producing greenhouse gases (except by exhaling), he figures that he has a free pass. He can break/reinvent the rules of the road.
I found this great paper on the subject. Some items...
The average commuting rider is unlikely to produce more than 100 watts of propulsion power. With only 100 watts’ worth (compared to 100,000 watts generated by a 150-horse-power car engine), bicyclists must husband their power. Accelerating from stops is strenuous, particularly since most cyclists feel a compulsion to regain their former speed quickly. They also have to pedal hard to get the bike moving forward fast enough to avoid falling down while rapidly upshifting to get back up to speed.
These problems are compounded at uphill intersections. Even grades too small to be noticed by car drivers and pedestrians slow cyclists substantially. For example, a rise of just three feet in a hundred will cut the speed of a 150-pound, 100-watt cyclist in half. The extra force required to attain a stable speed quickly on a grade after stopping at a stop sign is particularly grating.
One way cyclists conserve their energy at stop signs is to slow down, but not stop.
A cyclist who rolls through a stop at 5 mph needs 25 percent less energy to get back to 10 mph than does a cyclist who comes to a complete stop. Blasting through a stop sign is a bit dangerous (though less dangerous than it seems because visibility at most intersections is good from a bicycle, and if the cyclist has slowed to some reasonable speed, there’s typically plenty of time to stop.) Of course a sensible cyclist will always slow substantially at a stop sign if there ’s a car anywhere nearby. But the car-bike protocol at stop signs is not clear. Drivers (and bicyclists) are unpredictable. Will drivers take turns with bikes in an orderly way as they do with other cars? Will they start to go, notice the bicyclist, and suddenly stop again to wait, whether the cyclist is stopped or not? Will they roll through the stop without seeing the bicyclist? Will they roll through the stop even though they see the bike? An experienced cyclist knows anything is possible. For example, if she guesses correctly that the car will wait for her, she’ll want to start pedaling again as soon as possible, preferably without having slowed much, thereby conserving energy and inertia. Indeed, traffic flow is improved where cyclists do not come to a complete stop, for drivers need not wait long for the bikes to clear the intersection.
As an admitted stop sign/light runner I have rules that I follow. I never run a light unless 1) it's absolutely safe, and 2) it won't impact anyone else (no car/pedestrian has to wait on me to clear the intersection) - I usually do it at an empty intersection. I think most other runners do the same (Social contract?). This can't really be the great scourge that people make it seem like, I have yet to have heard of an accident in the DC area where a pedestrian was killed by a cyclist. In fact I read somewhere that in New York City there were only 3 such deaths in the 90's (sorry I don't remember where, so take that fact with a grain of salt).
Streets were designed with cars in mind and so cyclists have to fit into those rules. It's not always a comfortable fit. I would prefer to see DC go to a rule allowing cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs as is true in other jurisdictions, rather than aggressively ticket cyclists; just as I'd like to see speed limits rise to the "natural speed" for most roads.
So, I don't think cyclists are "so bad about obeying traffic laws" and certainly no worse than any other party. When they break law, I think it's usually safely, and caused - in part - by laws not designed with them in mind.