Thursday, September 21, 2017

When Cyclists Are In the Wrong

Several weeks ago, I was traveling down a road and came to an intersection with a 4-way stop. All of the vehicles present were taking turns as usual when a cyclist traveling eastbound blew through the stop sign. When I say this I mean it quite literally. Wearing headphones covering both ears, without a look in either direction of the opposing traffic, he literally picked up speed and rolled through the stop sign.

As he was proceeding through, a truck heading southbound was taking his turn to cross the intersection and nearly collided with the cyclist. When the truck honked at the cyclist, the man on the bicycle turned around and flipped the driver the bird.

I was in shock at the cyclist's absolute disregard for his own personal safety as well as his gumption to actually be angry at the motorist who had followed the rules of the road. I truly couldn't fault the man in the truck as I'm sure he was startled by the sudden appearance of the individual on a bicycle, who he most likely couldn't see was approaching the intersection at full speed.
For the record, this cyclist in question was not dressed like a hipster.
*Image found here
A couple of weeks after this incident, I was traveling behind another cyclist who made the decision not to stop at a 2-way stop sign, narrowly missing being hit by a person driving a car. A few blocks later at a busy intersection with a signal (that happens to be notorious for close-calls and accidents with cyclists and pedestrians) this woman once again ran the stop light.

Pedaling behind her, I reached the signal shortly after she rolled through and pressed the crosswalk button. The signal turned green about 30 seconds later, after which I proceeded through, catching up to her shortly thereafter.

At the signal, this rider had turned her head and noticed me approaching behind her, so I wanted to make a silent point by passing her. If she had simply followed the rules, she would not have delayed her travel much at all, and also not put her life in jeopardy.
*Image found here
These types of incidents seem to be happening with more regularity. Sometimes, they are minor infractions and other times they are potentially life-altering types of incidents. Regardless, I find myself (at least during these types of moments) siding with motorists who recount stories of ill-mannered and poor-behaving cyclists on the road. I am not making light of the situation with the memes posted here either, but simply pointing out that what is an easily found opinion of motorists can seem to be true in these instances.

I have an understanding that "scofflaw" cyclists are not the majority and that many people who ride regularly don't intentionally put their lives in danger, but within a three week span, I personally witnessed or encountered more than half a dozen people on bicycles blatantly and thoroughly breaking the law. Living in a community of under 100,000 people, that may not seem like a huge number, but it is an amount that seems to have grown tremendously from past experiences.

Why the sudden increase?

It would be easy to say that it was summertime and more individuals are out riding a bike. Perhaps that is part of the equation, but it doesn't account for the sudden increase in this behavior over past summers. I have even considered that maybe more people are riding in general and with that comes a certain level of comfort on the roads as cyclists begin to think it is safe to ignore basic travel/road etiquette and laws.

I am not the safety police nor the law, and I have shared more than once that I have been known to, at times, not follow the letter of the law when it puts me in more danger on a bicycle, but when people on bicycles are making leaps to running red lights at very busy intersections without looking, or picking up speed to roll through 4-way stop intersections, we are not helping our cause in the least.

It can easily be witnessed that many vehicles, motorized or other, break the law. Cars and trucks are seen with regularity rolling right turns at red lights, not stopping completely at stop signs, not signaling lane changes or turns, driving distracted, speeding, running intersections with red lights, and any number of other infractions. There's a comfort level that happens when we get used to driving or riding and if we get away with something once, it becomes easier to try it again, and before we're even aware, these momentary lapses in judgement become habits.
*Image found here
While I will always believe that vulnerable road users (pedestrians, cyclists) need to be given space on roads and shown respect, I also believe it is our responsibility as a cyclist or pedestrian to raise the bar and behave better than those traveling in motorized vehicles. It's unfortunate, but it is the only way in our current societal norm to find a way to potentially peacefully co-exist because the above meme is precisely what many motorists already believe. If or when we run signals or stop signs, we are illustrating to those who believe cyclists shouldn't be on "their roads" that they are correct in their thought process. When we as people on bikes are seen breaking the law with regularity it sends a message to motorists that they are right about cyclists being individuals who constantly break the law.

Believe me when I say that I didn't have to look long or hard for any of the photos in this post. I can also open any news article online about a cyclist being wounded or killed and find too many comments that blame the cyclist's bad road behavior even when the readers don't know the situation or the person involved. They all have a story though about the cyclists they see doing something wrong and that's all they remember when these types of incidents occur.

If we ride our bicycles in a manner that is predictable and safe, it becomes more difficult for motorists to blame cyclists when road incidents occur. Even though I believe the majority of people on bicycles do behave well on the roads, the few times these incidents occur just add fuel to an already raging fire.

What do you think about cyclists who break the law? Is it possible to change the opinions of some motorists by modeling better behavior than they do? It seems a near impossibility to create a world in which no cyclist ever breaks the law (just as it's impossible to make every motorist obey all the laws), so how do we change many motorists views that all cyclists are rogue, scofflaw individuals? I welcome your thoughts on the matter.


  1. I agree with your points wholeheartedly. Cyclists that don't follow the laws give us all a bad name. I agree most ill-mannered are not scofflaws, probably most are simply ignorant of proper cycling behavior. I also agree there are times a cyclist cannot safely follow the letter of the law - but your points are in regards to the more typical egregious behavior.

    Like you, I do try to model good cycling practice - like actually signaling a turn. That (signaling a left) miffed a following roadie cyclist the other day, who apparently thought I should stop and wait for him to roar by before I turned left off a bike path at a rest stop. The particular area had signs posted citing "Congested Area" due to lots of turning on and off the path. Does he expect left turning cars to stop when he passes them in his car?!

    Anyway, your "silent point" is well taken, even though, I sometimes verbalize some "suggestions" - which resulted in a young, professionally dressed, lady hurling expletives at me when I suggested she could roll her car around the corner to park instead of parking in a separated bike lane - causing cyclists to pass in the adjacent lane of fast moving auto traffic. Luckily I have thick skin . . . Especially if it might result in someone thinking twice next time.

    1. I'm always amused when I signal a turn so that a motorist knows they can proceed through and it's as though it's an entirely foreign concept. I start to wonder if arm signals are still taught in drivers ed courses. I assume they are, but maybe I'm incorrect in this assumption, or perhaps people have just forgotten what these mean?

      As for your experience with signaling as a roadie approached, I've had similar moments. Most of the time I just have to shrug it off. I know I'm doing what I'm supposed to do and if they choose to be perturbed by my actions, I think that is on that individual.

  2. There's always an increase in cyclists riding dangerously once the college students arrive in late August. I love the influx, but dislike the crazy riding habits. And the blooming idiots who ride in the dark without lights adds a whole other dimension! I'm extra careful, whether I'm on my bike or driving the car...

    Our local bike advocacy group is holding bike safety sessions on college campuses plus handing out free lights. They know it's a big problem.

    1. Oh, the student cyclists! Always a joy this time of year. :) We were in Boulder a few weeks ago just as the university was starting the fall semester. It was utter chaos on the roads with students riding the wrong way in bike lanes, swerving out into traffic, and so on. I used to work for the university several years ago and they they would also give away free bike lights, but I don't know if they ever held safety sessions (which I think would be great, but wonder if the students would heed anything they were taught). I know on campus they used to be subject to fines if improperly using bicycles, but I don't know how it stands today.

    2. Ha! interesting to hear the problem of university students is "universal"! Here in Tucson, we are about a mile off campus of a large university and a few years ago we experienced a constant problem of cyclists riding without lights at night. No bike lights with a city that limits street lights to allow viewing of the night sky and you have a formula for problems. I would half joke with my wife to look out for unlit skateboarders as I backed out of the driveway, when we went out at night.

      After a strong emphasis on night safety and bike light give aways for cyclists, and all the other mobility choices these days (boosted boards, Solowheels, etc), I must admit it is now much better. Thankfully, the safety education programs have been effective. We live on a "bike boulevard" a street cyclists are encouraged to use. It is a light show these days with the flashing LED's cyclists can attach to their bike spokes, etc.

    3. I'm sure that's a challenge living on a street that is a preferred cycling route! Particularly when trying to exit home at night. It sounds as though lights are becoming more of a regularity for riders though, so that is helpful.

  3. I can agree with a lot of the above but would like to point out a few things:
    1. Your third example, vehicles do not have any "rights" on the road. They are licensed and regulated and it's a privilege to operate a motor vehicle on the road. Not so with a bicycle, which has an absolute right as a pedestrian does.
    2. In order to bring some civility to this discussion, we need to implement a nationwide "Idaho stop" law. Asking cyclists to stop at every stop sign, when there is one at every corner, and the motor vehicles just slow down to 10 mph and roll through, is being very disingenuous. Personally, slowing down at a stop sign, looking to assess the traffic flow, and yes, stopping if a vehicle is beginning to move through the intersection, is the way to approach this. Stopping at red lights, yes, absolutely, every time.

    1. If I stated or insinuated that driving was something other than a privilege, that was certainly not my intent. In our current society, however, those driving motorized vehicles seem to have a belief that they have a right to the roadways and no one else does. It's entirely erroneous, of course, but it is very challenging to change people's beliefs, especially in a society that is ruled by individual motorized transportation. My hope would be that if cyclists are behaving appropriately on roads that it would help to improve car-bicycle interactions and individuals driving cars and trucks would become less likely to have such strong resentment and/or hostility toward those on bicycles.

      I have absolutely no issue with the "Idaho stop" rule for cyclists, and fully support implementation across the US. It is insane when there are multiple stop signs in a row, especially in low traffic areas, to expect that a cyclist is going to come to a complete stop, put a foot down and then proceed (there is actually an intersection on local roads that police sit and watch in the summer, waiting for cyclists to come through. While I have not been witness to it, I've been told that officers specifically ticket cyclists who don't come to a complete stop AND put at least one foot on the ground, even though there is no impediment on motorized traffic). As you mentioned, motorized traffic often doesn't come to a complete stop, so it seems a bit ridiculous to expect this of every cyclist at every stop sign. My support of the Idaho stop assumes that cyclists are aware of his/her surroundings though and checking for traffic as s/he proceeds through an intersection. My issue is more specifically in reference to known, busy intersections for which cyclists do not slow at all and do not look for any type of traffic, and sometimes while wearing headphones to boot. This is just dangerous and self-involved behavior that I find difficult to excuse - and, that frankly gives the majority of people on bicycles, who are behaving appropriately, a bad name.

  4. I agree with everything you said here, but do want to point out one factor that we often don't take into account: We tend to notice when cyclists break the law and ignore the ones who follow it. That makes it seem like there are more law-breakers than law-abiders. It's also true that proportionate to their share of road use, far more motorists are breaking the law than cyclists are. We're so used to it, though, that we don't notice it. Where I live NO ONE obeys the speed limit. It is rare to see someone signal a turn. No one stops to allow pedestrians to use the crosswalk. Motorists regularly get so obsessed with turning right on red that they fail to look left to notice the pedestrian trying to step out into the crosswalk. The list goes on and on. It's also true that motorists sometimes think we are breaking the law when we aren't. For instance, in Tennesee, we don't have to ride in the bike lane just because it is there (one of your memes suggests that bikes have to do that). Some of our bike lanes aren't safe, so I ride in the lane of traffic with the cars.

    I know that you already know all of this. I've just been very frustrated lately with motorists making complaints about people on bikes who put themselves in danger while ignore people in cars who put others in danger.

    Okay, rant over. 😀

    1. There is a lot of complaining from motorists about cyclists, and my goal was not to add to this here... certainly, we as people on bikes get enough of that type of feedback. I have just become frustrated by the individuals who choose to ignore everything as though they are the only person in the world (I came across yet another cyclist today who didn't look in any direction at an intersection and just sped through without slowing or stopping), and the memes in this post are often the types of sentiments I have seen or heard expressed by frustrated motorists. They are not the way I personally feel, but rather what has been expressed to me by motorists who don't ride and that I know others hear regularly as well.

      You are absolutely correct in stating that we notice those on bicycles who break the law far more than those in motorized transportation, despite of (or maybe because of) the numbers of each. I think it's become acceptable behavior in cars to roll stop signs, lights etc, but is viewed as unforgivable when it's a person on a bicycle. Which just doesn't seem equitable, fair, or even right.


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