Admit it, when you see a hipster roll up to a stoplight on their bike and then pass right through, it raises your blood pressure a measurable amount. There’s nothing worse than some clown riding his fixie making the whole world hate those scofflaw bicyclists. Or is there?
Let’s be clear, I hold bicyclists to the same standard as other people when it comes to following the law. This post isn’t an apology for bicyclists behaving badly, it is, rather, an examination of the exaggerated rhetoric directed at them and, by extension, other bicyclists too.
Find the comment section on a blog post relating to car/bike relations and you are virtually guaranteed to hear about the litany of ways in which cyclists abuse their fellow road-sharers. Wrong way down one-way streets, not stopping at stop signs, slowing down traffic by taking up too much space on the roadways. Judging by the vehemence with which some people berate the wayward rider you might think thousands of people are being killed on our roads each year.
The truth is, they are. But not by bicycles. That’s why I fail to comprehend how a bicyclist doing an Idaho stop (besides me, the Idaho stop is the greatest thing to come out of Idaho) is more deserving of our collective scorn than the hundreds of drivers who do the same right outside my apartment all day every day.
It seems to me if our true interest is in safety, our ire should be focused on a much bigger, faster, more dangerous target: scofflaw drivers. It should be obvious that the faster a car is going when it hits a pedestrian, the more likely the pedestrian will die. Do you know how likely? At 20mph, your chances are reasonably good – only 1 in 20 people die. Bump that up to 30mph and it’s not much better than a coin toss. At 40mph, you’re dead meat. Given that we seem to build an “acceptable speeding” cushion of a few mph above the posted speed limit, this means getting struck at the average speed in your typical residential neighborhood leaves you almost as likely as not to die from your injuries. And speed limits aren’t the only law drivers routinely break, just the one that is most socially acceptable.
For the folks who foam at the mouth over a bicyclist riding contraflow on a one-way street, consider this question: if we should step up enforcement of traffic laws for bicyclists, should we not also start ticketing jaywalkers? It is, after all, against the law to jaywalk. And yet the difference in risk posed to oneself and others between a jaywalker and a wrong-way bicyclist is negligible.
If we’re going to fight about bad behavior on the roads, it makes sense to me that we come down hardest on those whose actions are most dangerous. Without question, this means cars. If I run a stop sign and you step out in front of me, well, you probably couldn’t step out in front of me because I’ll have seen you coming, thanks to an unobstructed view of my surroundings. And even in the case that I do hit you, you’re likely to walk away with a few scrapes and bruises. I doubt we could say the same if you get hit by that teenager blasting his music and texting his girlfriend.