« People who bike to work have fewer sick days | Main | Nuthin but a hero »

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Good post. I particularly like the observation about the differing "first concerns" of cyclists and drivers (i.e., safety vs. flow) - it's obvious now that I see it but I hadn't considered it before.

A while ago I catalogued 5 tips for getting along with drivers. There are probably a good 50 more but these were the ones that occurred to me as I was writing: http://dc-bike-commuter.blogspot.com/2010/06/unsolicited-advice-five-top-tips-for.html .

I think the advice to both drivers and cyclists is pretty simple, finally -- "don't be a jerk".

I think we've got parity with drivers on our levels of rage and sanctimony. Getting parity on facilities/investment would also be nice.

This is a good post. My plan is to pretend that there's not a war, and to ride accordingly.

I disagree with your characterization of bicyclists' primary concern being safety. Most cyclists are trying to get somewhere as quickly as possible, and because of that, they tend to make a lot of stupid decisions that jeopardize their safety and that of others. Just like... (drumroll) drivers! And pedestrians.

If you need to see an example of this, ride down 16th Street NW in the morning, where you can see plenty of cyclists jumping the queue by using the 12 inches of space between the curb and the three Metro buses that are stacked up, waiting for the light.

The real problem is all the carnage on our roads and highways that driving inflicts on our society. I'd be happy if the conversation diverted to that issue.

It (the safety vs. speed characterization) is a broad over-generalization, I'll admit. Certainly cyclists are concerned with speed and drivers with safety. I thought about framing it as a spacing issue. Cyclists are concerned about having cars be a certain distance away, and drivers are concerned about having a clear path in front of them (which cyclists don't really need).

I think we've got parity with drivers on our levels of rage and sanctimony...

While this can be true, there's a bit of a false equivalence at work here. Most cyclists I know are perfectly happy people, riding along on their way to work. What makes them angry is when other road users, through negligence or malice actually threaten them with bodily harm. That ain't hyperbole--we're talking about death and dismemberment level stuff here.

Meanwhile, drivers are pissed-off as a general state of mind. They're stuck in traffic, and (understandably) they're pissed about it. So they find a scapegoat--the cyclist.

Or the pedestrian for that matter. It's a bit simplistic to make this a drivers vs cyclists thing, at least in the urban environment. In actuality, it's drivers versus everybody else.

All good points. Can you put this on your favorites list on the right hand side?

To follow up on some of the other comments, it's not just drivers against everybody else. Some drivers are against all the other drivers out there too. I haven't read the studies but I think in some cases, the rush-hour environment can transform otherwise level-headed individuals into road rage maniacs.

Then again, there are just some plain angry people out there. Last year I mentioned that I sometimes biked on the roads in downtown D.C. to someone at work. He became enraged and told me flat-out, "You better stay out of my way or I'll F-'in run you over." And I didn't consider this person an enemy or jerk in other areas. Pretty scary.

And 4) Stop rationalizing and making excuses for bad cyclist behavior.

I saw a cyclist in DC turn blow through a traffic light and turn left into the into the left lane of a two-way street on Tuesday. Yes yes, I know that motorists break the law too, and that the consequences of motorist misbehavior are often much more serious. Motorists certainly have their issues to deal with, but so do cyclists.

What does *not* help, not one bit, is the kind of argument that Dr. Pangloss is making here. (All cyclists=nice, happy people; all motorists=bad, angry people.) In fact, I wonder if it isn't parody: isn't Dr. Pangloss the over-generalizing blowhard from Voltaire's Candide?

Well this was a good article until it attempted to rationalize running stop signs and lights. That kind of cancels out everything before it.

Raymond, Please...I'm not rationalizing running stop signs and lights. For that, you'll have to go to this post. Or this one. Or this one. Or this one.

If you ever think that drivers are rude to cyclists, try taking the lane on skates (in a jurisdication where skates are legal vehicles) some time. I wonder whether the value one places on diminished scofflaw cycling is in part a function of how much one gets harrassed for taking the lane and other legal maneuvers. If every driver would assume that I am a reasonable cyclist, the road would be a nicer place for me.

Except when skating, I am never honked at for taking the lane by drivers who just sat behind me at a red traffic light through which I could have easily run; I assume that these drivers are thinking: He stopped at the light so he is not a scofflaw. But others who do not see that overt act of compliance project onto me the scofflaw image they got elsewhere.

Running stop signs or red lights is not that important to me, so its easy for me to say: everybody ride like me so fewer people will yell at me for taking the lane. But someone who does not take the lane anyway but hates to stop at stop signs and red lights could reach a different value judgment even if we agreed on the proportion of drivers who would be more reasonable if cyclists obeyed traffic laws

Most people ride a bike before they drive a car, which leaves me to wonder whether alot of the scofflaw driving we see is the child of scofflaw cycling. Dad runs stop signs on bike, so I guess that's ok says the 6 year old, who becomes a 16 year old. The cost/benefit calculation changes, but the basic lesson that traffic laws are advisory may be learned at a very young age.

Jim, there are almost certainly gains to be had by eliminating bad behavior. And there is probably more to be gained by strict adherence to the law. In fact, because strict adherence is somewhat irrational and not displayed within other groups it would make it a powerful signaling device. There are many situations in which rationally choosing to be irrational is the best signaling position to take (Nuclear deterrence, war and dating all come to mind). But the fact is we don't really know. There is no real evidence to support the claim that behaving in this fashion will result in better treatment.

Unlike you, I have been yelled at immediately after stopping at a stop light, and while I've heard many cyclists tell the story of changing their ways and having drivers suddenly treat them as equals, I remain skeptical.

So we don't really know if it would work, and it would only address one of the problems Elbow addressed, so it would not be a panacea. Not to mention that this is largely an academic question since I don't think anyone knows how to get all cyclists to follow all laws - especially ones that may not work well for cyclists.

In my mind there is heirarchy of "bad" cycling behavior that looks something like this:

1. Dangerous behavior
2. Rude behavior
3. Illegal behavior without gain
4. Illegal behavior that is more convenient
5. Illegal behavior that is safer.

Whether 1 or 2 are illegal is moot. And we can't yet get all cyclists to stop doing these. So I'm not inclined to waste one breath on getting cyclists to stop doing 3 until we can make a dent in 1 and 2.

For items 4 and 5, I support decriminalizing them.

I would just like to add that very often, when I am approaching a 4-way stop sign and I slow down because there are other cars there. I wait for someone to make a move and I get the wave-through when I'm at a complete stand still. At which point I ahve to exasperatingly tell them, no, you go ahead, I have no momentum so getting back up to speed is going to be slow so you might as well proceed. I find it so annoying. If drivers just went along with their business and obeyed traffic laws and the rhythm of who goes when, I could slow down to let the cars go and I can then proceed without stopping or impeding the flow of the intersection.

(dose this make any sense?)

Greg, it makes sense to me. I don't want to cut in line, so I too end up slowing down more when drivers are trying to be polite. But it's hard to be angry when people are trying to do something nice for me. I just laugh it off.

Hi Dave,
I agree we don't know whether more compliance would induce a beneficial response from drivers and/or the public. Or more precisely, we don't know to what extent it would do so. Surely there is a positive response from some people, while others will never be placated--but the magnitudes can not be predicted. And add to that: we have two separate effects, reciprocity from drivers and the political impact of improved image. On the latter--and maybe even the former, for all we know, the perception that we are trying to police ourselves might have a beneficial impact even though our success would be partial at best

I largely agree with your hierarchy, though not all your recommendations. I'd say that illegal behavior that is safer (assuming no increased danger to others) is reasonable behavior and might in fact be acquited for that reason under a necessity defense. Under that category I would put rules that prevent one from taking a narrow lane, which we still have in DC (since the regs seem to preclude taking lanes 11-14 feet). So I have no problem violating laws when safety benefits.

Convenience is different. Here we have a dilemma: Does violating a law impair efforts to repeal it? I'd say that it may depend on whether it is enforced. If thousands of cyclists were going to jail for running stop signs, repealing that law might be possible. But as long as it is rarely enforced, the case for repeal is more difficult--unlss we all stop at every stop sign and complain about the waste (My view is that the Idaho stop sign rule should be implemented with signs intersection-by-intersection which is feasible.)

All of these rules of the road are perhaps a lower priority than securing funding, but I'd love to see some day a test so we would know. For example, a serious crackdown--encouraged by cyclists--on wrong-way riding, illegal sidewalk riding, and failure to yield to pedestrians with social scientists and highway engineers studying behavioral changes. I actually think that yielding to peds when the cars don't do so, while arguably silly, can have an impact. Like the Lion and the Mouse.

I agree that nice behavior--no matter how clumsy--warrants a smile. Some drivers view bikes as peds. Quite a few drivers will not pass within a lane even when there is room, preferring to treat bikes as if they were motorcycles. I hope that most drivers think that the percentage of polite cyclists is as high as the percentage of polite drivers.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Banner design by creativecouchdesigns.com

City Paper's Best Local Bike Blog 2009

Categories

 Subscribe in a reader