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I ain't no stinking ethicist, but it seems you can make the same argument about automobiles proceeding through red lights if there is no cross traffic either.

BTW, how can one become a certified ethicist? I'ld love to lord my superior sense of "right vs. wrong" over everyone else.

I'm not buying it either. What's more, part of the argument is that cyclists are entitled to a pass because they are morally superior to emissions-belching drivers. Even if one thinks that way, it's never a winning argument in the real world.

I'ld love to lord my superior sense of "right vs. wrong" over everyone else.

And that disqualifies you from being an ethicist.

The cul-de-sac article mischaracterizes Ellsworth Drive. It is not the county that closes it at times; it is the owners of the City Place property. They are allowed to do this by the agreement they made with the county to do the development.

@ antibozo

It is indeed the county, yielding to pressure from the local homeowners associations, that has restricted Ellsworth Drive so that you cannot get to the business district from the east. Ellsworth Drive has long been restricted at the Silver Spring Library to allow only one way traffic toward the east. This was done long before the more recent development in the business district.

I have taken classes and worked with "professional ethicists" in the medical area: they consider the ethics of human clinical trials, certain procedures etc. They are supposed to be an independent check on decision makers. In one case, working closely on an ethical opinion, I found the ethicist to be more motivated by political correctness. So, the "bikes are good" doesnt surprise me.

Wayne, i didn't think that was what the article was referring to. It uses the phrase "cut off a through-street entirely". The only case i know of where that happens is at City Place; access at the library is restricted one-way. But i do now see from the Google Maps link in the article that it appears that your interpretation was what the article meant, despite its incorrect description. And this is a case where i think it may be justified. Ellsworth is wide and there is a public playground just north of the library.

Also, people frequently disregard that one-way sign. One of them came barreling through one day last year just as i was cycling through it in the correct direction.

What's more, part of the argument is that cyclists are entitled to a pass because they are morally superior to emissions-belching drivers.

I'm curious: can you point to a single person making this argument--instead of someone who wants bikes off the road constructing a straw-man?

I don't think you need to be a professional ethicist to understand that with greater power to do harm comes greater responsibility. Someone driving a tractor trailer through town needs a CDL. Someone riding a bike does not. Let's all weep and shout at the heavens at the unfairness of it all.

Traffic lights exist to prevent the drivers of motorized vehicles from killing one another. Period. Get rid of cars and you get rid of the need for such signals.

So, yes, an SUV needs to stop at a light at 5am when no ones coming. (Though I'd be willing to bet a lot of drivers would treat a stop light as a stop sign in that circumstance.)

There are a lot of laws on the book: I think it's quite interesting to see the ones we deem non-negotiable. Let leave aside the obvious example of speed limits. Did you know that drivers are required to use turn signals? It's actually a law. And a society where drivers use their fucking turn signals is a much safer society than one in which all pedestrians and cyclists wait for the walk signal in the absence of traffic.

So where's the outrage? Why do drivers feel like they're entitled to use the roads when they won't obey the most basic traffic laws. Want to use *my* roads? Use your turn signal!

Crickey, I didn't read it that way. I thought his point was that legal and ethical don't overlap. That polluting is legal, but not ethical and that running stop signs is ethical, but not legal. But I don't see where he makes the argument that running stop signs is ethical because cars pollute. His reason for thinking it ethical is that "My actions harm no one."

"Cars also harm us insidiously, in slow motion. Auto emissions exacerbate respiratory problems, erode the facades of buildings, abet global warming. To keep the oil flowing, we make dubious foreign policy decisions. Cars promote sprawl and discourage walking, contributing to obesity and other health problems. And then there’s the noise."

I have no idea where I got that idea.

Crickey, yes, he says that cars cause pollution. What he doesn't say is that that somehow makes jaybiking ethical. Look at what he says before that. "we humans are not good at weighing the dangers we face. If we were, we’d realize that bicycles are a tiny threat..." Then he lists the threats. So I see where you got the idea...it's just that you were wrong to do so.

I think Cohen is saying that following the Idaho Stop law instead of the actual law is ethical because it harms no one (the Idaho Stop law dictates that usual right-of-way rules hold sway, just as they do with the right-turn-on-red law). I think he is separately saying that the Idaho Stop law is a good idea because it is practical and is more likely to be followed.

As I forgot points out, drivers can make that same argument. So how does the author get around that?

He makes a thinly concealed argument that even if drivers wanted to make a similar point, their moral taint would prevent it. In the real world, calling drivers evil as part of your argument for being allowed to disregard laws is, in a word, dumb. I'd say it's elastic ethics, to boot.

drivers can make that same argument.

No. They can't. Not with red light running at least. That's why we HAVE red lights. As far as stop signs - they already do behave the same as cyclists.

As far as I'm concerned, only Spider-Man is exempt from traffic control devices.

What? They can say "I stopped, the coast was clear, I went, and it's perfectly safe?"

If traffic lights are for cars only, I think that would have been in my driver's manual. I always though they were for defining rights-of-way over extended time periods.

If they aren't there for bicyclists and pedestrians, why have walk signals (for pedestrians)?

At non-peak hours, I see quite a few car drivers completely ignore red lights. They don't even slow down. They just blow right through them.

And even during busy times, many car drivers don't slow down at all when making right turns on red lights. They don't bother to look for pedestrians in the crosswalk. Apparently they just expect pedestrians and cyclists to scramble out of the way.

I don't know about the ethicist approach to cycling (or driving), but it's certainly not just cyclists that ignore some of the rules and laws in real life. Even many of the pedestrians ignore laws and basic common sense too. (How many times am I going to see pedestrians dart out in front of speeding traffic when they can clearly see cars heading their way? And then expect that traffic to stop for them, even if the pedestrian is jaywalking?)

How many times am I going to see pedestrians dart out in front of speeding traffic when they can clearly see cars heading their way?

Forget that. You're overselling the argument. Is there an adult human being on the planet who stands there for 50-70 seconds waiting for the walk light to change when there's absolutely no traffic coming in any direction?

Some might argue so anonymously on a blog, but the answer is "No." Or at least, no one for whom walking isn't a completely new experience.

"I stopped, the coast was clear, I went, and it's perfectly safe?"

They can say it, but it isn't true. In order for a driver to get far enough out to see that it's safe, they have to first put the front of their car into the way of other cars. So it's move into the way, then look. This isn't true for cyclists. They can look before moving into the way.

If traffic lights are for cars only, I think that would have been in my driver's manual.

Nice straw man there. I said that we have traffic lights because of cars, not that legally they are only for cars.

I'm talking about jaywalking in the middle of a block with cars or bikes about 10 seconds away. I see this happen all the time. Not at crosswalks and nowhere close to walk signals.

And some of the jaywalkers don't even run across the road. They step out and then purposely stroll slowly, expecting and demanding that traffic stop for them.

Jaybikers do that, too. I see it frequently. At the very least, cyclists ought to always yield the right of way in that situation. Part of the reason I'm philosophically opposed to the POV of this article is that once you decide traffic control devices don't always apply to you, you rationalize more and more instances when they don't, with the only logical stopping point being when not stopping = death or injury. The fact that one may be cutting off others gets discounted.

Cohen's argument doesn't have much to do with some of the examples cited above, only with cyclists treating Stop as Yield and Red as Stop. To do so properly (and ethically), that means yielding the right of way to other traffic so no other road user is inconvenienced any more than if the actual (non-Idaho) law was followed. The fact is that this has worked just fine in Idaho, where the largest city has a population of 200,000+, for the past 30 years. Cohen is _not_ arguing for lawbreaking whenever there is "no harm."

Cohen goes on to suggest that, if the Idaho Stop law was widely adopted, people might do a better job of obeying the law (because it is safe, effective, and is what many people are doing anyway). FWIW, I agree.

He also suggests a mild form of civil disobedience, saying cyclists _should_ follow the Idaho Stop law instead of the actual law. IMO, if all cyclists did exactly that, we might collectively demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of the Idaho Stop law. However, this is just a pipe dream. Cycling education and outreach is so spotty that it is hard to get cyclists to do much of anything consistently.

To do so properly (and ethically), that means yielding the right of way to other traffic so no other road user is inconvenienced any more than if the actual (non-Idaho) law was followed. The fact is that this has worked just fine in Idaho, where the largest city has a population of 200,000+, for the past 30 years.

Heck, it's worked well in the Nation's Capitol for the past 20/30 years.

:P

I think conflating Idaho stops and running traffic lights is disingenuous. I don't see letters to the editor from drivers complaining about bicyclists yielding, but not stopping at stop signs (which is different than blowing through stop signs). I think cycling advocates proclaiming that cyclists shouldn't have to obey traffic lights makes cyclists appear arrogant.

This issue has been debated back and forth and it is clear that no minds will be changed. In that case, I will stick to my pet delusion that the only reason most bicyclists don't wait for the green on my commutes along Fairfax, Wilson, and Clarendon through Arlington is that they don't wish to suffer humiliation by me during the Cat 6 races.

"I think conflating Idaho stops and running traffic lights is disingenuous."

I see people do this all the time. Cycling advocates argue for the Idaho Stop law and people respond (as on this thread) as though some version of anarchy is being proposed. The reality is that the Idaho Stop has a lot more in common with "Right on Red" than with whatever the anarchists want.

"I don't see letters to the editor from drivers complaining about bicyclists yielding, but not stopping at stop signs (which is different than blowing through stop signs)."

IMO, that distinction is more subtle than the arguments put forth in many such letters. It is usually some version of law=good, cyclists=bad.

"I think cycling advocates proclaiming that cyclists shouldn't have to obey traffic lights makes cyclists appear arrogant."

I agree in that I prefer that they take a more positive tack of saying they want to change the law first and then obey the new law. FWIW, Oregon came close to adopting the Idaho Stop-as-Yield law a few years ago.

In any case, in a world where the life of a cyclist is still a $250 ticket (and maybe a point or two on your driving record), I think we might kinda want to consider the remote possibility that it could better for us to "appear arrogant" than to "be dead." Put another way: arrogant motorists kill and show no sign of easing up. They need to be taken down a peg or two.

I'm all for passing an Idaho stop law.

I don't see how defending cyclists proceeding before a light turns green, or actually doing this, "takes down motorists a peg or two" or in anyway lessens the chance of me being run over by a car. I have at no time defended driver behavior in this conversation. I do think cycling advocates would be taken more seriously if they didn't advocate that certain laws be ignored.

If one believes that cyclist should have to wait for the green, then advocate changing the law. I don't think that will particularly help the cause.

On the subject of proceeding before the light is green, there is this article from the UK:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2182586/Bradley-Wiggins-knows-lot-cycling-But-wrong-safety-benefits-wearing-helmet.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

From which we have:
"There is some evidence (the Department for Transport has some stats on this that it tried to bury a few years ago) which suggested that highly ‘law abiding’ cyclists were more likely to be killed, particularly by commercial vehicles at junctions. This is because when push comes to shove, a cyclist is very often better off ‘jumping’ a red light by a few seconds to avoid being crushed by a truck’s nearside turning left (a major cause of cycle accidents)."

Like I said, better arrogant than dead.

"I think cycling advocates proclaiming that cyclists shouldn't have to obey traffic lights makes cyclists appear arrogant."

It makes them appear more than arrogant, it makes them also appear hypocritical and irrational, and it's part of the reason the public at large has such a low opinion of cyclists generally. The, "No law shall apply to us" message is counterproductive.

In the last post, the should should have been a shouldn't.

@JK:
I'm not going to put myself to the right of a truck if he might turn right, turn signal or not. No one is going to right hook me even if I don't run a light. I'm at the front of the line glaring at any driver who might attempt to do so.

It makes them appear more than arrogant, it makes them also appear hypocritical and irrational, and it's part of the reason the public at large has such a low opinion of cyclists generally.

Oh good, our resident self-hating cyclist is here. But I hate to burst your bubble, but the general public actually has a positive opinion of cyclists - on average.

And no one is arguing that "no law shall apply to us."

So that makes one wrong fact and one straw man argument. What else you got?

The minority of the general public who has a low opinion of cyclists holds this opinion because cyclists pose a minor inconvenience to them--and such folks are usually massive narcissists.

Having said that, I agree that cyclists shouldn't be formally proclaiming that they don't have to obey the laws. That is counterproductive, and it's the same thing as the countless drivers we hear from who argue that speed limits are not actually speed limits, and that drivers should be allowed to ignore them.

Having said that, cyclists should treat the Idaho Stop as the de facto law since it's perfectly safe, and more convenient.

In other words, I'm not going to waste my time defending jaybiking any more than I agonize over whether to enter the intersection as a pedestrian while the "don't walk" light is blinking. I'm just going to do it, and ignore the small minority of folks who throw a tantrum.

@oboe Good approach. Doing it is probably as good a defense as talking abut it.

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