Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Making like a car

I was handily overtaken on my way to work this morning by a real bicycle commuter. He was clearly bound for the office (necktie flapping over his shoulder, messenger bag slung across his back) and he was in a hurry. Dude was riding what appeared to be a single speed road bike with flat bars and he was really making it move. I thought to myself, "One day that will be me, averaging 20 mph instead of my current 13. One day."

I watched him approach the traffic signal at Habersham and Anderson streets and then my admiration diminished dramatically. He snaked his way to the front of the line of cars waiting at the light, spied a momentary hole in traffic and squirted across the intersection. He did the same thing a block north at the next intersection.

Listen, I know that motorists run red lights all the time. However, even people who purposely gun their cars through red lights know they shouldn't do it. They know it's against the law. Yet, this obviously experienced cyclist was probably unencumbered by any such feelings.

I admit it. I've rolled through stop signs in my quiet neighborhood when the streets were totally absent of traffic. I confess. I've peddled across intersections against the light when there was not a car within sight or earshot (or when my bike would not trigger the sensors located in the pavement). But when I'm on a busy urban street during the morning rush hour, well, I make like a car. That means waiting my turn to proceed through the intersection, just like all the people sitting in their cars waiting for the light to change. Why? Because I want to be treated just like all the people sitting in their cars waiting for the light to change.

There are plenty of folks out there who believe my bicycle and I belong on the sidewalk or on some recreational bike trail to nowhere, but certainly not on the streets of this city. If I behave in a way that suggests that I am doing anything other than operating a street legal vehicle in a lawful manner, I think I've done myself and other cyclists a disservice. If I bend or ignore the rules of the road, I perpetuate the misguided notion that cyclists are irresponsible intruders in the exclusive realm of automobiles. Sure, it's unfair that individual motorists can be as inept, distracted and aggressive as they want, without calling into question whether cars should be allowed on the streets. Sadly, cyclists don't enjoy that luxury. Kurtis Blow might describe this situation as "the breaks."


Nathan said...

Don't hate. ;)

Seriously, don't let his actions eat at you too much. That other biker isn't the real problem. You're most certainly right that it pisses off some cagers and it might even make some of them resent bikers. That's their problem. I know, "Until they make it someone else's." But what needs to change is that people feel it's okay to harrass cyclists.

People (typically) only do what they feel safe doing; you do what you think is okay, he does what he thinks is okay, and I do what I think is okay. Any one of us could legitimately be given a ticket. If we were to go to NYC, any one of us could be arrested and have our bikes held as "evidence" even if we obeyed every traffic law. How can we expect regular drivers to give us respect when even the police don't? That pisses me off, not somebody on a bike running reds, riding the wrong way, or riding on the sidewalk.

Of course, that's just my opinion and you are, naturally, entitled to your own. :)


philip said...

Thank for the insightful explanation of bikes being treated as cars. You're right in saying that in order to be treated the same as cars, we must obey the same laws. I do expect more from the general public in tolerating bikes on the road.

I was England recently with some fellow Americans from south of the [Ok.] border, also known as oil-industry Texans. Anytime a bicycle was spotted on the road, the driver made every attempt to steer the car as much to the left as possible to push the cyclist off the road. And doing this with a known cyclist riding in the passenger seat! I of course letting my agitation known, but being powerless to stop it.

Now that pisses me off. We had many discussions of this scene, and I did the best I could to let them know that under most state laws here, and in the U.K., bikes are permitted on the same roads as cars, as long as certain requirements are met (brakes, lights, etc.).
However, I would be crazy to attempt to ride in northern England on such narrow carriageways!

Jim said...

I get this all the time where I pull up to a stop at an intersection, and cars in the cross-street will stop for me even though I'm the one required to be stopped. I suppose they think that I might be a little kid or some other two-wheeled type who doesn't understand the rules of the road (or the most basic laws of physics). You are absolutely correct that obeying the traffic laws instead of blatantly ignoring them is a good way to gain some measure of respect from drivers.

I'd have been tempted to punch that good-ole-boy behind the wheel right in the goddamned nose. I see intentional vehicular assault as being something that might cause me great bodily harm or death, and in my state, that meets the criteria for justifiable homicide (self-defense). I don't see a difference between the Texan's driving behavior and him pulling a gun or knife on me in the street. Either way, I'm inclined to shoot the bastard.