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No helmet? No Problem.
May 22, 2014 11:35 AM   Subscribe

Joseph Stromberg writes about science for Vox. He has recently written three articles about bike safety. First, he argues that "cyclists should be able to roll through stop signs and ride through red lights". Second, he argues that it should not be illegal to cycle without a helmet. "Let's start thinking of biking as a normal, safe activity, like walking — and helmets as an optional accessory for people who are really into it." Third, he looks at some data on the frequencies of different sorts of bicycling accidents in the US.
posted by HoraceH (253 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
I bike every day to work here in the Netherlands and I would never wear a helmet, even though my grandfather died many years ago after falling with his bike and fracturing his skull.

The only time I have seen people wear helmets on a bike is during a bicycle race, when tourists take a bike tour through our village and sometimes small children will wear a helmet.
posted by Pendragon at 11:42 AM on May 22 [6 favorites]


Wait. A California Stop isn't legal in California?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:42 AM on May 22 [2 favorites]


The Australia stats on head injuries per hours of biking/walking/driving are interesting. I'd love to see if those are broken down by age -- anybody care to check the study to see? My assumption's that the vast majority of head injuries while walking would be elderly people, and they'd be more heavily represented among pedestrians and less common among people on bikes.
posted by asperity at 11:44 AM on May 22


Are there places in the US where it's illegal for adults to bike without a helmet?
posted by octothorpe at 11:49 AM on May 22


Cyclists should not be able to roll through stop signs and red lights in urban environments because, HELLO, there are pedestrians with the right of way and the reasonable expectation that someone is not going to mow them down because "it is more efficient not to stop." Visibility is often compromised by trucks and vans parked at intersections. I can't count the number of times I've nearly been clipped by cyclists when I had the walk signal or was at a stop sign. And, for the record, I don't run or walk in bike lanes.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:50 AM on May 22 [63 favorites]


The "stop sign as yield sign" aka "Idaho Stop" makes sense to me intuitively as a car driver, as stop signs are often from side streets.
Heck, I'd like to do that in my car a lot of the time.

Don't know about red lights, though.
They generally control traffic in more than one direction and if I have the green, I'm not expecting anyone to be traveling across my line of travel.
Vehicles behaving outside of the norm contributes to a lot of accidents.
posted by madajb at 11:50 AM on May 22 [19 favorites]


After many years of helmetless biking, I switched to wearing a helmet this year - it was a combination of social pressure (since I got tired of having the "but statistics suggest" argument with my friends), worry about police response if I were hit and helmetless (since someone from my larger social circle was killed by a drunk driver and then blamed in the media for biking helmetless) and the fact that I have gone over the handlebars three times in the past couple of years, hitting my head pretty hard on one occasion.

I'm not actually sure what caused this sudden uptick in accidents - two were collisions with other cyclists, one no-fault and one the other person's fault, but all were under conditions that I've ridden under for years. I'm actually wondering if, now that I'm almost forty, I've lost some of my reflexes or my vision has worsened to some subclinical degree.

Anyway, I figured I might as well get one. Just like the guy says, the wind whistling around the helmet has really cut down on my ability to hear traffic, which makes me nervous. I feel like I've become a much more anxious rider - the helmet really does make me feel like I'm doing something dangerous, and if I forget it at work, I'm always really anxious until I can pick it up again. This even though I rode helmetless for almost thirty years of my life.
posted by Frowner at 11:52 AM on May 22 [5 favorites]


Here in Amsterdam, one pretty much only sees helmets on cops. They'll also tell you not to coast through red lights. Gotta keep the order.

I find that the mingled car/bike traffic makes the city in general less stressful. Some bigger roads have bike lanes, and there are plenty of bike paths, but there's a lot of biking in smaller streets too, which gives drivers reason to be cautious and not just own the road.

If one can ride a bike, getting around in Amsterdam is almost a nonissue. There's a Swedish song (by Svensk Pop) about a girl who leaves his boyfriend when the subway ticket prices prevent them from seeing each other. A bike-friendly city encourages friendship and romance!
posted by mbrock at 11:52 AM on May 22 [3 favorites]


I have no problem changing the rules for cyclists, but I do object to cyclists taking matters into their own hands and rolling through red lights and stop signs when and where current laws still make that illegal.

Road safety is about predictability. Just because you THINK you ought to be allowed to ignore some traffic signals because they're STUPID, doesn't make it a good idea to do so when the rest of the road isn't aware of how you feel about that.
posted by monospace at 11:52 AM on May 22 [29 favorites]


For cyclists, bicyclesafe.com has an excellent and detailed guide at avoiding getting rear ended (along with minimizing the chance of all sorts of collisions).

I'd recommend it for drivers, too. Super-ugly site design, very good information.

If instructions on how to bike safely were more consistently included in driver education, I might've been able to avoid that shouting match yesterday with the guy behind me who was really, really upset that I was waiting at a stop sign until traffic cleared for me to proceed through the intersection. Never mind that if I'd been in a car he'd have been waiting exactly as long, and I would have been equally in "the middle of the road!"

(No, this one wouldn't have been covered by an Idaho Stop. Plenty of traffic.)
posted by asperity at 11:53 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


I am a frequent and avid cyclist. I have been in at least two crashes that, had I not been wearing a helmet, would have resulted in much serious and potentially permanent injury (i.e., I had to replace the helmet I was wearing after each). Interestingly enough, neither had to do with automobile traffic (although I have been struck by cars on several other occasions), and I was not on my road bike or traveling at a high rate of speed in either case. One crash involved black ice, the other involved streetcar tracks. Both were during commutes.

I think it is perfectly reasonable that people who do not want to wear a helmet shouldn't have to wear one. But if you like your brain the way it is, and don't want waste time doing things like learning to use a fork and knife again, wear a helmet.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:55 AM on May 22 [17 favorites]


Cyclists should not be able to roll through stop signs and red lights in urban environments because, HELLO, there are pedestrians with the right of way and the reasonable expectation that someone is not going to mow them down because "it is more efficient not to stop." Visibility is often compromised by trucks and vans parked at intersections. I can't count the number of times I've nearly been clipped by cyclists when I had the walk signal or was at a stop sign. And, for the record, I don't run or walk in bike lanes.

I have mixed feelings about the rolling stop. I don't think that it should be prosecuted as an independent thing - ie, ticketing cyclists for that as the only violation - but I think that predictability is extremely important in heavy-traffic areas, and cars are already really uncertain of how to deal with bikes. I think that rolling stops should be discouraged because I think they have a ripple effect and eventually no one - car or cyclist - feels like they can predict how a given stop is going to be handled. Not that I don't enjoy breezing along as much as the next cyclist.
posted by Frowner at 11:55 AM on May 22 [3 favorites]


Cyclists should not be able to roll through stop signs and red lights in urban environments because, HELLO, there are pedestrians with the right of way and the reasonable expectation that someone is not going to mow them down because "it is more efficient not to stop."

Sounds like you and TFA are on the same page:
Idaho's rule is pretty straightforward. If a cyclist approaches a stop sign, he or she needs to slow down and look for traffic. If there's already a pedestrian, car, or another bike there, then the other vehicle has the right of way. If there's no traffic, however, the cyclist can slowly proceed. Basically, for bikers, a stop sign is a yield sign.

If a cyclist approaches a red light, meanwhile, he or she needs to stop fully. Again, if there's any oncoming traffic or a pedestrian, it has the right of way. If there's not, the cyclist can proceed cautiously through the intersection. Put simply, red light is a stop sign.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 11:56 AM on May 22 [32 favorites]


As a pedestrian, man do I hate the cyclists who don't stop at stop signs and red lights, even all-way crosswalks. It adds unpredictability to the system and it means I'm stuck standing on the curb until I figure out what you plan to do: blow through without giving a fuck, rolling stop, or actually stopping.

I have very little sympathy for arguments that cyclists need to keep up their momentum, it's so hard to come out of a full stop, my efficiency, etc. That's not a cogent argument it's just bitching.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:56 AM on May 22 [25 favorites]


This excellent comment from seanmpuckett still rings true:
Helmet laws and riding restrictions really have been a stunning success as a way of reducing the demand for casual cycling facilites such as segregated lanes, dedicated pathways and even bike racks.

Cycling enthusiasts themselves have, with what few legal recourses for cycling available to them, done a further great job alienating both casual riders, pedestrians and drivers with outlandish, unsafe behaviour as well as their clown-like attire and bizarro equipment fetishes.

Who the hell wants to just "get on your bikes and ride" when the pervasive mental image of a bicyclist these days is some spandex-clad jackass with a face-hugger on his head riding at 40 klicks down the edge of a road inches from being crushed between a bus and the opening door of a parked car and always half a second from simply plowing over someone's grandma with her arms full of groceries.

Everyone hates cyclists & no one wants to "be that guy" because he's a tool, and either you wear the gear to be "safe" or more likely in compliance with the law and now you have branded yourself a cyclist and people hate you, or you don't wear the gear and people yell at you that you're not being safe and you should have a helmet on.

It requires an investment of ego to ride a bike now, you have to Be A Cyclist.

You can't just be a person on a bicycle.

Once upon a time, people just rode bikes to get around or fuck around. It was easy and accessible and moderately safe, and streets had people walking and cycling and driving and that was okay.

It would be nice to have that again.
posted by resurrexit at 11:57 AM on May 22 [60 favorites]


I don't wear a helmet, but I sure as hell follow traffic signs. If I'm going to share the road it's got to be on a fairly equal footing - I can lane split and pass more easily, but going through a red light? I mean, I'll "jayride" sometimes if it's clear, but no, I expect (in terms of how to navigate moving objects) every other vehicle on the road to respect stop signs, yield when necessary, give pedestrians the right of way, and so on.

Not that it helps in Seattle where yield signs are stop signs, stop signs are stop forever signs, and people stop for people stopped at stop signs! Also, no signaling, ever!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:58 AM on May 22


Re: helmet: I dunno, doesn't this fall under the same sort of thing as seatbelt laws? Seems like a good-of-society thing (traumatic brain injuries having much higher monetary and social costs than a new helmet).
posted by curious nu at 11:58 AM on May 22 [4 favorites]


HELLO, there are pedestrians with the right of way and the reasonable expectation that someone is not going to mow them down because "it is more efficient not to stop."

That's not what an Idaho Stop is. The fact that some people run a red regardless isn't going to be changed by allowing others to make an informed judgement.

If you've never ridden city streets on a bike, you probably don't appreciate how much better a view of traffic cyclists have, especially at intersections.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:59 AM on May 22 [6 favorites]


"Road safety is about predictability. Just because you THINK you ought to be allowed to ignore some traffic signals because they're STUPID, doesn't make it a good idea to do so when the rest of the road isn't aware of how you feel about that."

While we're at it, let's start ticketing people who don't stop at yellow lights. There are certain laws that everyone reasonably expects to be broken by the majority of motorists.
posted by idiopath at 12:00 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


I do hope we move towards a system that regulates bicycles as their own class of road user, rather than as small cars.

Recently someone I know got a DUI on his bicycle, whereas I would have given him a medal for not driving like the dozens of other people leaving that same bar.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:00 PM on May 22 [13 favorites]


I find that the mingled car/bike traffic makes the city in general less stressful.

only once there is a critical mass of bike riders that forces cars to learn how to co-exist.

Riding on the NYC avenues that don't have physically separated bike lanes sucks. If you don't take control of the space (and inure yourself to assholes honking) it's pretty terrifying.
posted by JPD at 12:03 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


Cyclists should not be able to roll through stop signs and red lights in urban environments because, HELLO, there are pedestrians with the right of way and the reasonable expectation that someone is not going to mow them down because "it is more efficient not to stop."

Road safety is about predictability. Just because you THINK you ought to be allowed to ignore some traffic signals because they're STUPID, doesn't make it a good idea to do so when the rest of the road isn't aware of how you feel about that.


These are both excellent points. I walk around London a lot, and I've had many incidences of aggressive cyclists nearly running into me because they ignore red lights, fail to stop at pedestrian crossings and cycle on the pavement.

Pedestrians are too often forgotten in this discussion, which is generally conducted as if cyclists and motorists are the only two parties involved. But cyclists frequently behave just as badly towards pedestrians as some motorists behave towards cyclists.
posted by Paul Slade at 12:04 PM on May 22 [17 favorites]




Re: helmet: I dunno, doesn't this fall under the same sort of thing as seatbelt laws? Seems like as much a good-of-society thing (traumatic brain injuries having much higher monetary and social costs than a new helmet)


There are substantial external costs to helmet laws - there's a public health ding because they reduce cycling by 30-50% and there's a law enforcement issue since cops need to be out stopping cyclists and since the laws tend to be used in a racist manner against people of color. And then there's the fact that cars demonstrably bike closer to helmeted riders, putting them at more risk. The person who is the face of the MPLS bike share program has chosen not to wear a helmet when she's out riding, in fact, for all these reasons.

If you read the linked post, actually, there seems to be new research that suggests that helmets don't actually do that much in the aggregate. (And it's been known for years that the study everyone cites about helmet benefits is so flawed as to be ridiculous - two unlike populations were studied, one of which rode on city streets and got hit by cars and the other of which rode on greenways and fell off their bikes.)

As the dude says, there's certainly an argument for some people wearing helmets - since I seem to do a superman over the handlebars about once every six months these days, I definitely want to wear one. But if I were just riding my bike idly at low speeds on sunny days on the weekends in the park? It might be reasonable not to wear a helmet.
posted by Frowner at 12:05 PM on May 22 [6 favorites]


I have a very hard time sympathizing with cyclists and the Idaho Stop considering how many times I've been nearly hit as a pedestrian and ON MY MOTORCYCLE here in San Diego.

I can count at least two recent incidents where I looked both ways, was in the intersection, and almost got hit by a cyclist blowing through a stop sign while I was walking to the store for lunch. One incident was down in La Jolla. Me, me wife at the time, and a couple holding an infant were crossing the street when a cyclist bombed down the hill, screamed 'Get the fuck out of my way!' and blew the stop sign. We had words.

I've had at least 2 to 3 incidents with the same cyclist on my motorcycle. Each time I've stopped at a stop sign, looked both ways, and head into the intersection. Each time this guy nearly T-Bones me and I have to panic top. I swore if he ever did it again I would follow him on my bike, as long as it took, to have some words with him.

My personal safety has been put in jeopardy on multiple occasions by cyclists blowing stop signs, and it is something I cannot get behind.

If people REALLY want this to happen, then they need to heed that 'is the intersection clear' portion.
posted by The Power Nap at 12:05 PM on May 22 [5 favorites]


I live in New Orleans and I bike to work at least twice a week. I also wear my helmet, yield at stop signs and come to a complete stop at red lights. I will cross at a red light, but only if it's 5am and there is literally no one on the road. My parents have also added me to some GPS social media app (Latitude and Find My Friends) so that they can tell where my phone is at all times because they are certain I am going to be a hit-and-run victim someday.
posted by domo at 12:06 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Frowner: hmm, ok. Putting aside whether or not they are effective, am I correct as to the rationale behind the laws?
posted by curious nu at 12:11 PM on May 22


If helmet laws made sense they'd make you wear one in your car.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:14 PM on May 22 [14 favorites]


If people REALLY want this to happen, then they need to heed that 'is the intersection clear' portion.

Most people do. You're talking about a couple of people who didn't. They don't represent all bike riders. Just become some assholes don't follow the laws doesn't mean that we shouldn't write the laws so that they're the most beneficial to everyone.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 12:14 PM on May 22 [7 favorites]



Frowner: hmm, ok. Putting aside whether or not they are effective, am I correct as to the rationale behind the laws?


I have no idea what the rationale behind the laws is! (And the linked articles either give or link to all the information that I cited, in case you want more details.) My guess is the rationale is "social", as you say, but combined with utopian thinking ("of course these laws will be easy to enforce and will be enforced fairly!") and the usual forgetfulness about external costs, plus the usual "whatever isn't forbidden is compulsory" mindset.
posted by Frowner at 12:20 PM on May 22


I think a better idea would be to make things completely fair and mandate that automobile drivers and their passengers should wear helmets.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:21 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


Pretty much every situation that would be covered by an Idaho Stop for people on bicycles is one that's already addressed by rolling stops for people in automobiles. Few automobiles in my experience come to a full and complete stop before proceeding through a stop sign with no other automobile traffic in sight. To quote myself:

I think the process most drivers use to decide whether they need to come to a complete stop is as follows:

1) If I were to come to a complete stop at this intersection, would I have the right of way?
2) Is there anyone in sight who looks like they might put me in danger if I don't come to a complete stop?

If the answers are yes and no, it's a rolling stop. It's harder to see this when you're also in a car (you don't have as wide a viewing angle, and can't see the wheels of other cars easily) and I suspect the effect is lessened when there are pedestrians nearby (at least, it ought to be), but it becomes pretty clear when you're on a bike.
posted by asperity at 12:22 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


there's a public health ding because they reduce cycling by 30-50%

Can you point me to a link? the vox.com article is far from convincing on this point.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:22 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


It's always weird to me how, in these conversations, we get all these "SOME CYCLISTS!!!!" anecdotes as arguments why no one should much worry themselves about cyclist safety.

Like, people crash their cars into things constantly and do a lot more damage, but very few commenters were would ever say that drivers shouldn't have any right to expect other vehicles to follow laws and not put them in danger.

One of the above comments even SAID that it's frequently the same guy doing this in his neighborhood.

If someone is a dick on a bicycle is it open season on the rest of us? Seriously?
posted by Narrative Priorities at 12:25 PM on May 22 [19 favorites]


"If helmet laws made sense they'd make you wear one in your car."

"I think a better idea would be to make things completely fair and mandate that automobile drivers and their passengers should wear helmets."


This argument seems designed to convince nobody, but boy, it sure does show those sheeple in their gas-guzzling deathtraps, don't it?
posted by murphy slaw at 12:25 PM on May 22 [5 favorites]


This argument seems designed to convince nobody, but boy, it sure does show those sheeple in their gas-guzzling deathtraps, don't it?


I think it's the converse of "Well, cyclists should be licensed and forced to pay insurance, like drivers!" and "We pay road-tax and gas-tax! Cyclists should have to pay tax too!"





Let the bears pay the bear tax- I already pay the Homer tax!"

"That's 'homeowner tax'."

posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:32 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


If someone is a dick on a bicycle is it open season on the rest of us? Seriously?"

It is most certainly not, but those dicks are the ones that get remembered and they're the ones who drivers think represent the attitudes of too many cyclists.
posted by jgaiser at 12:32 PM on May 22


This argument seems designed to convince nobody

I'm not sure what you mean. Given the sheer tonnage of material in your average car accident vs. your average bike accident it it seems prudent at least.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:34 PM on May 22


I want to know, as a pedestrian, why the hell so many other pedestrians think it's such a great fricking idea to stand in the bike line while waiting for the light to change.

...it's a bike lane! The sidewalk is four feet away, go stand there! The bikes still have a green light you morons!
posted by aramaic at 12:38 PM on May 22 [7 favorites]


I find that the mingled car/bike traffic makes the city in general less stressful. Some bigger roads have bike lanes, and there are plenty of bike paths, but there's a lot of biking in smaller streets too, which gives drivers reason to be cautious and not just own the road.

At the risk of saying something ~super controversial~/flamebaity, i think that the "own the road" attitude is the single biggest problem i've had cycling in seattle.

Nearly every negative interaction, near miss, risky behavior or accident me or friends i've talked to or have been involved in radiated "how dare you be in my way, i'm in a CAR!". The many hurled insults and few actual verbal interactions i've had with angry drivers explicitly stated that point as well.

I'm not like, extreme cycling activist dude or anything, just a guy who rides his bike sometimes and used to commute to work everyday. But seriously, this is 99.9999% an attitude problem on the part of drivers that makes it unsafe. And i think the optics of someone wearing a helmet to drivers, and the attitude changes that makes in both the driver and the cyclist contribute to making it more unsafe.

And seriously, i could go on for ages about how heated people get when they're stuck going 15-20 on a narrow street, with a school on it, that has a 25mph speed limit that's reduced to 20 during school hours anyways who just HAVE to redline their engine and pass someone on a bike because "fuck, i don't have time for this, i have places to be! and they shouldn't be riding on the road anyways".

So pretty much i think that the problem of drivers being aggressive and angry around and about cyclists is a way bigger issue that cyclists being dickheads sometimes. Someone rolling a stop sign on a bike is not an implicit threat of violence the way someone driving aggressively around/at a cyclist is.
posted by emptythought at 12:38 PM on May 22 [34 favorites]


I think part of the problem with this debate is that you can't really look at each transportation method in a vacuum; the whole system needs a good hard look, and like any complicated system it's difficult to boil down the solutions to a headline. In the end, though, I believe that the biggest thing that will increase safety is a cultural shift in the form of wider acceptance and expectation of a shared-use infrastructure.

In most of the US, we're still in that growing pains phase where bike and foot traffic is increasing but the culture (and the infrastructure) is having a hard time keeping pace. Other than slapping down bike lanes everywhere, I'm not sure how to effect the sort of change that's required to keep everyone safe. Stricter enforcement of reckless endangerment laws might be one way (for everybody, not just cars - if that one guy down the street is the one blasting through crosswalks on his bike, he should be ticketed for that in my opinion).

Anger towards cyclists comes from the same place as any other kind of road rage, I think. The cyclist, able to weave between stopped traffic and roll through lights with impunity, is getting away with something that I as the hypothetical driver can't. I get mad because someone else is getting something that I am not afforded.

So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that the changes that need to be made are a lot more systemic than wear helmets/don't wear helmets. More infrastructure would help, but better traffic policing would also help. It's complicated.

I wear a helmet when I am on my Serious Bike, but I don't wear a helmet when I ride the bike share in town. I don't know which scenario is safer, but on the bike share I tend to be riding more slowly and I'm a much more upright, noticeable target. Plus, I figure that in the city the biggest danger is getting doored or literally getting run down by a car, neither of which is mitigated by wearing a helmet. Plus, it's a pain in the ass to carry a helmet around all day just in case I need the bike share. I stop for the lights and for pedestrians in the crosswalk.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:38 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


Those dicks are the ones that get remembered and they're the ones who drivers think represent the attitudes of too many cyclists.

Okay, but what am I supposed to do about that? I ride responsibly, I'm extremely cautious and conservative, and the same goes for all of the people I know. What else can I do? Somehow force strangers outside my sphere of influence not to engage in bad behavior?

Of course we should all work toward making sure cyclists understand the laws and the importance of following them. But this isn't entirely their responsibility.

It just seems to make a lot more sense to work to change (American) attitudes about cycling than to hold the larger population hostage to the inconsiderate riding of a minority.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 12:40 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


I'm as usual on the "I don't give a shit if you think it's inconvenient to stop, I'm walkin here!" side, but the helmet thing is really a pretty bad idea. Helmets for bicycling on the road should be mandatory like seatbelts are. Any cyclist knows that cycling on the road can be deadly because you don't have the protection of a giant metal and glass shell. Riding without a helmet is taking a further unnecessary risk. I know in the USA people like to effectively supplant universal health care with civil action, and "helmet optional" just seems like it's a whole new can of worms you don't want to open in terms of liability.
posted by Hoopo at 12:40 PM on May 22


almost got hit by a cyclist blowing through a stop sign

Idaho stop isn't the equivalent of blowing stop signs. It converts a stop sign to a yield which means if the right of way of others is not respected by the cyclist they are in for a ticket. Fines for these violations in Idaho are greater so if you are looking for the protection of the law, you have more, not less.
posted by Obscure Reference at 12:42 PM on May 22 [5 favorites]


"Road safety is about predictability.

Actually, it's not.

Incidentally, I've found dicks also drive (a lot of 'em) and walk. (No, "on your left" does NOT mean step to your left. Yes, your dog does need to be leashed. (Probably your kid, too.))

Cyclists have to deal with everything all the motorists here have bitched about and they don't have a 3000 lb steel cage to protect them, either.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:43 PM on May 22 [5 favorites]


My concern about this is always accountability. Cars have license plates someone can write down. They can be caught on traffic cameras. My fear about cyclists -- who are neither more nor less careful than anyone else, based on everything I have ever seen -- is that they stand essentially no chance of being caught if they themselves are not hurt and they decide to leave. (This can happen with cars, don't get me wrong, but it's designed not to.)

So for me, I've always been perfectly comfortable making traffic rules more conservative for bikes than for cars, not because anybody is any better than anybody else, but simply because there's very little check on them after the fact. Admittedly, my opinion on this was affected by a single incident in which an old man who used to take walks with his wife up and down 7th Street in DC -- a man I saw almost every morning when I went to work -- was run down by a bicyclist who simply left, and who to my knowledge was never caught. And the man died. There was no plate to write down, even if there had been witnesses. It's anecdotal, I know, but again, cyclists are no more or less moral and responsible than anybody else, or at least they can't be presumed to be, so based in part on what I freely admit is anecdotal evidence, I'm sympathetic to the idea of reducing the amount of "use your judgment" that we allow in order to increase efficiency until there's some kind of plausible recourse if that judgment is wrong.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 12:43 PM on May 22 [4 favorites]


Also, I'm totally fine with cyclists obeying the same rules of the road as drivers. I do it, and it doesn't really cause me any inconvenience.


Now would people please stop trying to kill me with their automobiles?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:44 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


When I last biked regularly, I did so for exercise and I biked exclusively on paved paths that snaked around my community. I was never in traffic and I kept things at a nominal speed, so I'd bike without a helmet. Unfortunately there was one Lycra clad cyclist who would come up behind me and scream "ARE YOU TRYING TO BE AN ORGAN DONER" at me for not wearing a helmet. This happened about three times, and I dreaded this interaction so much I wouldn't bike during peak hours to avoid this person. On about the third time he did this I screamed back "Fuck you! I'm just out here to bike!" Shortly after this I lost my job, so I could bike during the day when the Spandex and $5k bike club was out.

My only other hazard was this group of teens who shot me with an airsoft gun, when I called the police the officer asked if I had recovered the pellet they shot me with.
posted by hellojed at 12:44 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


So pretty much i think that the problem of drivers being aggressive and angry around and about cyclists is a way bigger issue that cyclists being dickheads sometimes.

My daily experience on a bicycle is this. Every day. There is a short one-block stretch I ride where the road narrows such that there is no way a car can pass me safely. So yes, I plant myself in the middle of the lane. For about a hundred feet. On the approach to a traffic light that is nearly always red.

The number of times cars have done crazy unsafe things to get around me, I don't have enough fingers and toes to count with.
posted by ambrosia at 12:46 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


Is airsoft pellet ballistic fingerprinting even a thing?
posted by asperity at 12:47 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Any cyclist knows that cycling on the road can be deadly because you don't have the protection of a giant metal and glass shell.


Funny, that giant metal and glass shell is actually responsible for more deaths of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians than any bicycle.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:47 PM on May 22 [5 favorites]


One quibble: In the graph labeled "Driver error contributes to way more deaths than cyclist error", "Drivers who commit hit and runs" are grouped into the purple section (which is apparently the driver-error-caused group).

A driver who might hit-and-run very well might do so even if the accident was not their fault. That group is not really lumpable in one group or the other.

Still, most accidents are clearly caused by car drivers, even were this group split evenly between the two groups.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:48 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


It's weird, I've come full circle on a lot of this stuff having ridden for so long. When I was young, I rode like a crazed nutball that would be hated by drivers. I ran red lights, I jumped on sidewalks and off whenever I could save more time. I used to ride down Market street in SF at 30+MPH dodging cabs and yelling at people to get out of my way. I was The Worst Cyclist.

Then I grew up, and realized I was taking my life in my hands everyday and life wasn't a bike messenger movie scene that I wished it would be. In my 30s I started to always obey stop signs. Then I learned about the Idaho stop and that makes sense in terms of physics, but as a sometimes driver myself, I know what the real problem is in dealing with cyclists and it's when they're not predictable and acting erratically so I've been stopping at stop signs and obeying traffic lights and always in the correct lane whenever possible. I also almost never pass cars on the right, since it's dangerous to do that in a car to other cars as well. I ride extremely defensively, assuming every one in front of me is going to do the worst thing at the worst time, so that I'm rarely surprised by a sudden turn cutting me off.

I used to wear helmets religiously and I still do when on a bike, except when I ride in the city, for many reasons stated in the Vox post. I don't want people in cars to see me covered in armor and to dehumanize me and assume I can "take a hit" from them. I can tell it freaks drivers out a little and they pay more attention to me and give me a little more room now.

In my ideal world, we'd have cars and bikes separated, like much of Europe. That's the goal and what I hope to get to someday, but for now, being among cars in the US, it's kind of tough and I pick my streets carefully to stack the safety odds ever in my favor.
posted by mathowie at 12:48 PM on May 22 [8 favorites]


But if I were just riding my bike idly at low speeds on sunny days on the weekends in the park?

My dad's best friend got to live on through organ donation doing just this. Been about 15 years now.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:49 PM on May 22


This argument seems designed to convince nobody, but boy, it sure does show those sheeple in their gas-guzzling deathtraps, don't it?

Well, to be fair, it was a lame attempt at a joke. But if it makes you feel better, as a dedicated pedestrian I loathe both motorists and cyclists.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:51 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


Recently someone I know got a DUI on his bicycle, whereas I would have given him a medal for not driving like the dozens of other people leaving that same bar.

I'm glad he got ticketed. Let him walk his bicycle. You don't get a cookie for doing the less bad thing.
posted by maryr at 12:51 PM on May 22 [11 favorites]


The number of times cars have done crazy unsafe things to get around me, I don't have enough fingers and toes to count with.

I got to witness a sort of everyone-was-at-fault accident a couple weeks ago triggered by a car trying to beat a bike. Driver right-hooks the cyclist in order to turn right on red; that cyclist slammed on his brakes. Second cyclist was following too close behind the first guy and apparently hadn't used disk brakes very much because he was forced to slam on the brakes and suddenly went ass-over-teakettle in the middle of the road. Everyone was ok, luckily, because it was an amazing spectacle to watch the arms and legs go everywhere. Almost wanted to give the guy a high five for his acrobatics.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:51 PM on May 22


Any legal regime covering cyclists would necessarily have to contemplate both the responsible majority and the jerky/unwise/inexperienced/whatever minority.

As a NYC resident, I am not yet convinced that the Idaho Stop would work here, although I bet it really does work elsewhere. Treating red lights as stop signs sounds good, though.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:51 PM on May 22


Yes, your dog does need to be leashed.

Oh, man. It really ought to be legal to tase anyone who says "he/she's ok" when they're letting their damn dog run around on a trail and think the rules don't apply because they're so special.
posted by planetesimal at 12:52 PM on May 22 [7 favorites]


Seriously? The reason you don't wear a helmet in a car is because I am strapped into a padded seat, bolted inside a steel safety cage, surrounded by airbags. The reason you don't wear one while walking is because you are moving at around 2 mph as opposed to 15-25 mph on a bike, you are also closer to the ground while walking and better able to protect your head if you trip and fall as opposed to being thrown into the air over your handle bars.
posted by MrBobaFett at 12:53 PM on May 22 [4 favorites]


HoraceH: "First, he argues that "cyclists should be able to roll through stop signs and ride through red lights". Second, he argues that it should not be illegal to cycle without a helmet. "Let's start thinking of biking as a normal, safe activity, like walking — and helmets as an optional accessory for people who are really into it." "

This might make sense in non-urban areas. But in cities, and especially in NYC, it strikes me as a Darwin Award waiting to happen.

A cousin of mine once hit a water-filled pothole that she thought was a shallow puddle on an empty, remote road in New Mexico. She wiped out and went flying. Landed badly. Concussion. Stitches under her scalp. This was before helmet laws.

Biking is a relatively safe activity, but accidents don't just happen to people who do risky things. Why be stupid about it?
posted by zarq at 12:54 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


if you like your brain the way it is, and don't want waste time doing things like learning to use a fork and knife again, wear a helmet.

Bike helmets are flimsy as fuck though. I doubt they save nearly as many lives as people think.

The problem with th Idaho Stop is that it converts a Stop sign to a Yield sign and no one in the US knows how yield signs work because you don't use them much. I'm guessing 99% of US drivers couldn't tell you which direction you yield to. In places where yield signs are common everyone knows already. As noted above its all about predictability.
posted by fshgrl at 12:55 PM on May 22


Can you point me to a link? the vox.com article is far from convincing on this point.

This page outlines a couple of studies. That said, it seems like there are some contradictory studies elsewhere on the internet. It seems like one of those things that would really, really benefit from well-funded non-partisan research, because it should be possible to find out, and finding out seems pretty important.

I am no statistician and I admit to arguing from authority a bit - the fact that the MPLS NiceRide director rides without a helmet in order to encourage ridership leads me to assume that this isn't just wildly ridiculous.
posted by Frowner at 12:58 PM on May 22


Wear a helmet if you want to; just don't make laws that force the rest of us to adopt your personal risk metrics.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:59 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


My helmet makes a convenient mount for my enormous mirror. Dunno that the helmet itself makes me feel much safer, but the larger field of vision I get with the mirror sure as hell does.
posted by asperity at 1:00 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


Oh good, another cycling flame thread on Metafilter.

I ride my bike to work almost every day. I stop at red lights, slow to a near-stop at stop signs, and other situations where I'm likely to get hit by a car or clip a pedestrian. I do not obey the law because it is The Law and I live in a Prussian mega-state, I obey the law because I do not want to get hurt or hurt other people. I am a realist.

Every day I witness many cyclists, perhaps 20-25%, behaving in an egregiously dangerous manner out of apparently blatant disregard for their fellow human beings. A smaller category, maybe 10%, are just incompetent – riding on the wrong side of the road, riding on the sidewalk during rush hour, etc. The worst offenders are bike messengers, the Evil Knievel's of the cycling world. I once watched a guy on a fixed gear bike with no brakes clinging to the back of a UPS truck as it sped down the street. I would not be opposed to banning all bike messengers forever, or maybe throwing them all in the mouth of an active volcano. A more common example of a bad cyclist is the person who tried to pass me in the bike lane morning as I slowed to avoid getting doored on a busy street.

It is tempting to conclude that cycling attracts jackasses, or to propose some alternative theory for the perceptible jackassery of cyclists. But really, my experience driving has been similar. There is something about putting a person in control of a vehicle that, in some portion of the population, transforms an ordinarily harmless egoist into a menace to society. Or maybe all these people are just drunk or something. I don't know.

There are jackasses, jackasses everywhere. The difference between a jackass cyclist and a jackass driver is that the jackass driver has a two ton chunk of steel at their command, and the cyclist has a narrow aluminum frame. A car is and always will be several orders of magnitude more deadly, simply through sheer momentum. I've been hit by cars and bikes. By far, the least pleasant vehicle to be struck by is a car. I could have easily died in the car accident; the bike accident just made me kind of mad.

Kind of mad, versus hospital visit. Yeah.

When I ride my bike, if I approach a stop sign with no traffic, I do not stop – I slow down and keep going. I do not feel guilty at all, because I am a conscientious person who does not behave in a manner that puts other people at risk. I follow the traffic rules strictly when driving because a car is a big heavy thing and I have to be really careful with it. Sure, you can propose situations where bone-headed cyclists do something insane and get somebody hurt. But for every cyclist-induced injury, there are literally more than a thousand deaths by motor vehicles, to the point that it's a leading cause of death in developed countries, on the order of lung cancer. Holding bicycles to the same safety standards as a car is like making someone who buys a pen knife go through the same background check process required to buy a grenade launcher. Except in this analogy everyone has a grenade launcher, and we're shooting rounds off everywhere, all the time, just for fun.

So, car != bicycle. The law should reflect that. What is so hard about this.
posted by deathpanels at 1:01 PM on May 22 [18 favorites]


Bike helmets are flimsy as fuck though. I doubt they save nearly as many lives as people think.


The ones I have used have been surprisingly durable. Of course, if something goes badly enough, you're dead either way. However, I'm talking about avoiding or mitigating serious brain trauma, which is a laudable end on its own.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:01 PM on May 22 [4 favorites]


This shit again? Ride a bike in Chicago without a helmet? Your fucking crazy. Its a cultural thing. As a whole, the U.S. hates bikes/cyclists/pedestrains. Europe loves them. Its apples to oranges. Helmet in U.S., maybe not elsewhere. Simple.
posted by repoman at 1:01 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Having biked in multiple cities, I feel that bike safety and accident probability are much more a function of road maintenance and cultural acceptance of bikes than cyclist ability (as opposed to awareness). So I wear a helmet most times when I ride locally, but I'd probably skip it if I ever biked in Amsterdam.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:02 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


The biggest problem with bicyclist safety is not laws, lack of laws, or even minor violations of laws. There are *lots* of minor violations of laws that are routine and overwhelmingly tolerated among motorists - going 5-10mph over the speed limit, not signaling turns when it's obvious which way you're turning (i.e., you're in a left-hand-turn lane) slowing and rolling through stop signs when no other traffic is coming, etc. These things are violations of the law but not really worried about because they're not really all that unsafe in general. This doesn't mean that certain violations aren't worse (like speeding at 50 over, etc).

The same is true for bicyclists. It's unsafe to shoot through a red light without slowing or looking, but it's not, in general, particularly unsafe to roll through a stop sign where an intersection is clearly visible and empty of other traffic. The places where cyclists can safely bend the rules and where motorists can safely bend the rules differ, though, and this seems to be a huge source of anger among various groups.

Frankly, the biggest danger to cyclists is innatentive or overly aggressive motorists, who aren't paying attention or think they own the road. These are a minority of motorists but there are still enough of them out there to cause a real issue. Heck, sometimes motorists blind adherence to the law is more dangerous than bending it a little. I can't tell you the number of times I've been passed extremely closely by a car simply because the driver refuses to cross a double yellow line, even though the other side of the road is clearly empty for hundreds of yards. Just move over two feet, it doesn't matter if your wheels touch some orange paint for a couple seconds.

As a long time motorist, cyclist, and new motorcyclist, most of the near misses that I've seen in all different types of transportation are caused by a simple lack of awareness on someone's part, and the second highest cause of near misses is over-the-top recklessness (not minor rules violations).
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 1:02 PM on May 22 [10 favorites]


I wear a helmet, because most of the time I am riding with my kids, and they have to wear them, so it's simpler to avoid the whole "why do I have to wear one, and you don't? thing that kids do. Now it's just a habit, but I wouldn't support anything that would make it any harder for people to ride bikes, and a mandatory helmet law for adults would do just that. I'd be down with the local fire department or something giving them away to people who want them, though.
posted by ambrosia at 1:03 PM on May 22


The thing about bike helmets is that you kind of need to wear one if you are cycling in North America these days. Here in British Columbia, pretty much Ground Zero in Canada for cycling, everyone is riding either a mountain bike or some sort of what used to be called a "10 speed". In both cases you are hunched over the handle bars so your center of gravity is somewhere an an axis between your solar plexus and the back of your head. You're also travelling (here anyway, where there are bike lanes) at about 20, 30 kilometers an hour, faster if going down one of the many hills here.

So what happens if you crash? A helmet is not going to save your nose or your teeth, but when travelling at speed and experiencing mechanical failure or running into an obstacle, at least your brain has more of a chance of being saved than if you were not wearing a helmet.

Now, from personal experience I know that generally when riding a bike with low-slung handlebars we tend to fall diagonally (onto a forearm or shoulder when going over the bars) but I do know people who have gone, at speed, head first over the bars. One guy was wearing a helmet. He blacked out but recovered. The other guy suffered brain damage.

A helmet is kind of like a hedge. Now I don't know if it is going to help you if you collide with a car, but it seems pretty intuitive that a helmet will help.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:03 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


My dad's best friend got to live on through organ donation doing just this. Been about 15 years now.

Yes, of course. And I know someone young and otherwise healthy who was badly injured by a fall in the shower, and my mother knew someone who was wearing a helmet on her first ever use of rollerblades and crashed and died despite the helmet. Honestly, "something very, very bad happened to one person out of many who do this thing, therefore there is no reason not to Take Extreme Protections whatever the downsides may be"....hey, I hate to fly. I can't believe that the plane isn't going to fall out of the sky. And undoubtedly there really are plane crashes. I could reduce my risk of dying in a plane crash to zero by never flying, but I still fly a couple of times a year.

What I'm saying is that there comes a point when the response to a very small risk of a very bad thing is up to the individual, precisely because there's always a very small risk of a very bad thing.
posted by Frowner at 1:04 PM on May 22 [11 favorites]


"it is more efficient not to stop."
I've never managed to sympathize with this argument. I wasn't pedaling my ass off and watching what I ate because calories were expensive things in need of efficient conservation. I simply had acquired too much ass and I was literally trying to pedal some of it off.
posted by roystgnr at 1:04 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


...and since we are all swapping nonscientific personal anecdotes here, I haven't ridden a bicycle since Seattle passed its mandatory helmet law. That isn't why I stopped, and it isn't the only reason I haven't started again, but it does contribute to a feeling that bicycling would actually be sort of fussy and uptight and hard work, not really fun the way it was when I was a kid.
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:05 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


"If helmet laws made sense they'd make you wear one in your car."

"I think a better idea would be to make things completely fair and mandate that automobile drivers and their passengers should wear helmets."

This argument seems designed to convince nobody, but boy, it sure does show those sheeple in their gas-guzzling deathtraps, don't it?


I know these are sarcastic joke comments, but seriously it's kind of weird how safe people (including myself) perceive cars to be even though they are really not safe at all. It would be terrifying to try to ride a bike in the middle of a freeway with cars whizzing by going 70 MPH, but on a normal 2 lane road if you're going 45 in one lane and someone else is going 45 in the opposite direction then either one of you is one small swerve away from getting killed in a head-on collision. Really everyone driving cars should be trying to make them more safe even if it makes things inconvenient.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:07 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


While we're at it, let's start ticketing people who don't stop at yellow lights.

The yellow light doesn't mean stop. It indicates the light is about to change to red, which does require that you stop.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 1:09 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Bike helmets are flimsy as fuck though. I doubt they save nearly as many lives as people think.

I know this is not what you're saying, but it reminds me of my brother's friend who wiped out on his bike and landed head first on the 6", well maintained suburban cement curb. He was wearing a helmet, but the helmet ended up with a big crack in it. This was evidence to the kid that his helmet clearly wasn't working and he shouldn't have to wear one. The idea that the helmet cracked instead of his skull apparently didn't click.
posted by maryr at 1:09 PM on May 22 [8 favorites]


Like some of the other NYC folks, I'm still not convinced that the Idaho stop is a great fit for congested urban areas.

One of the two pictures in the Vox.com piece was taken at a location—the intersection of Prince Street and Broadway in Manhattan—where Idaho stops seem like a particularly terrible idea. The intersection combines a ton of pedestrian traffic, including scads of erratic tourists, with two very busy streets. As is, the congestion inspires impatient drivers, bikers, and pedestrians to swiftly muscle through any opening they can find, leading to near misses. And that's when people are working with the lights.

Sure, a sane biker wouldn't attempt to plow through that intersection during the day. Just like a sane taxi wouldn't whip a fast left turn in the hope that pedestrians will scramble out of its way, and a sane person wouldn't try to jaywalk dense Broadway traffic. But all three happen. Unfortunately, it's sometimes better not to leave things up to individual judgment, especially in a city where we can't figure out how to police anything from basic speeding laws to vehicular manslaughter.

In my ideal world, we'd have cars and bikes separated
A thousand times yes. I know it will never happen, but I wish this city could install protected lanes on each and every street. It would be life changing.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 1:09 PM on May 22


I don't think conflating seatbelt laws with helmet laws really works, either. Nor do i think you can even really compare motorcycle helmet laws. It's the equivalent of disabling all the safety systems in a car(or driving a very old car) and yet at the same time not.

Mostly though, it bugs me because evidence pro or anti helmet is pretty murky and it seems like it could legitimately be a wash. But primarily, because it strikes me as a fucking bullshit cash grab by the cops.

At the beginning of college, when i was working at a shitty chain coffee shop, i was pulled over by a cop who had essentially set up the bike equivalent of a DUI checkpoint to stop EVERY bike going by and ticket them.

The reason i say every bike, is that all 200 people or whatever he stopped weren't wearing helmets. I saw the same cop doing the same thing other places. Some people would look at this and say "good", personally i look at it as an easy way to collect $105 from as many people as possible, since the law is so sparsely enforced unless they've got an end of the month quota to meet like every time i've ever seen a cop systematically writing helmet tickets like this.

There are jackasses, jackasses everywhere. The difference between a jackass cyclist and a jackass driver is that the jackass driver has a two ton chunk of steel at their command, and the cyclist has a narrow aluminum frame. A car is and always will be several orders of magnitude more deadly, simply through sheer momentum. I've been hit by cars and bikes. By far, the least pleasant vehicle to be struck by is a car. I could have easily died in the car accident; the bike accident just made me kind of mad.

And i think this is the brunt of the argument here. The Horrible Aggressive Cyclist thing is a straw man, since 99% of the time even if they do get in an accident they're only going to hurt themselves, and the times they do it's essentially the same amount of damage they would have done just tackling someone while wearing a 20lb backpack.

So yea, now that we've established that you're really only putting yourself at risk, what is the actual argument that people should be required to wear a helmet when it's proven to only maybe do something sometimes? It's nanny state bullshit, and a cash grab.

While we're at it, let's start ticketing people who don't stop at yellow lights.

Nah, lets start ticketing the people who suddenly full force slam on their brakes at yellow lights.
posted by emptythought at 1:10 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


On the helmets-in-cars thing, running the Fuelly car site, we used to get periodic email from a guy that suffered massive injuries in a car crash who made it his personal mission to get helmets required in cars. I don't know if it was his passion or partly some head injuries but these were manifestos and he'd blast them out regularly with pictures of him driving a car always wearing a helmet.
posted by mathowie at 1:10 PM on May 22 [4 favorites]


These threads always amaze me. Bikers being jackasses are generally only a danger to themselves. Drivers being jackasses endanger everybody around them.

Jackasses in cars killed 33,561 non-vehicle occupants (i.e. pedestrians and bikers) in 2012. Jackasses on bikes killed three people from 2007-2011.

I don't think anybody should be a jackass on the road, but when it comes to crackdowns on bad behavior, the target should overwhelmingly be cars. 150,000 people dead versus 3. It's not even a fucking contest.
posted by zug at 1:10 PM on May 22 [35 favorites]


I don't think anyone is arguing that drivers should be jackasses or shouldn't be ticketed.
posted by maryr at 1:12 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


I feel that bike safety and accident probability are much more a function of road maintenance and cultural acceptance of bikes than cyclist ability (as opposed to awareness).

I absolutely agree. I ride, with my kids, to drop off my son at our public kindergarten. The public schools in our town have strongly embraced "Safe Routes to Schools" programs and have bike rodeos and so forth, encouraging kids to walk and bike to school. Around our local public school, even the parents who drive are aware of bikes, and careful to stay out of the bike lane, and so forth.

On the way home, the most direct route takes me past a parochial school, where five or six kids (out of 300 students) ride bikes to school. The street has a bike lane on it, and I quickly realized that going past that school at drop-off time was super dangerous- practically none of the kids bike, and the parents aren't prepped for people on bikes, they blithely weave in and out of the bike lane without looking for cyclists. I realized that the school culture hasn't adopted bikes, and changed my route rather than tempt fate.
posted by ambrosia at 1:12 PM on May 22


This was obviously written by a bicyclist. I want the pedestrian and driver versions of the same articles. Each one will be obviously biased toward the author's own mode of travel.

The pedestrian can say "Why jaywalking should be legal" and "Why bicyclists and drivers are idiots" and proceed to justify it with some shaky logic. The car driver will say "Why bicyclists should stay out of the road" and "Why bicycle lanes cause more problems than they solve."
posted by ChuckRamone at 1:13 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


*whispers* most cyclists are drivers and pedestrians too
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:16 PM on May 22 [15 favorites]


My commute is four cities and only the small one in the middle has a helmet law. Helmet laws are just another indirect tax.

I usually wear a helmet but I'm against helmet laws for bikes or motorcycles.

But then I'm against seatbelt laws, too, and I'm in favor of more organs in the donation pool.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:16 PM on May 22


*whispers* most cyclists are drivers and pedestrians too

You should have put a snark alert on that. Sometimes drivers are pedestrians too. I meant your main mode of transport. Anyway, we know most hardcore cyclist types are the ones who couldn't hack it on a skateboard.
posted by ChuckRamone at 1:19 PM on May 22


If someone is a dick on a bicycle is it open season on the rest of us? Seriously?

Not ALL bicyclists!
posted by bicyclefish at 1:20 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


For anyone wanting hard data on crash statistics in NYC (including bike/motorist and bike/pedestrian): here is the data.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:21 PM on May 22


It really ought to be legal to tase anyone who says "he/she's ok" when they're letting their damn dog run around on a trail and think the rules don't apply because they're so special.

Oh man, yes, this.

Actually I think some places in my area do ticket for this. I generally ride only on greenway/trail spaces (I am not super coordinated, and that makes me... realistic... about my chances of surviving traffic in Boston) and one of the places I bike most often has the craziest dog owners. We always have dogs running around, trying to bite our tires, and owners saying "Oh, Muffy is just a softie, she won't hurt you!" and not realizing that dude, I am trying not to hurt Muffy! Muffy is trying to kill herself under my tires! Please control Muffy for her own safety!

But last weekend we tried a different multiuse trail, and every dog owner (and there were many dog owners) had their dog either (a) on a leash, or (b) demonstrably under voice control. It was amazing. I can only assume that the police ticket people on that trail, because it was breathtaking how compliant people were. THOSE DOGS WERE GOOD DOGS YES THEY WERE
posted by pie ninja at 1:26 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


However, I'm talking about avoiding or mitigating serious brain trauma, which is a laudable end on its own.

Oh absolutely. But the average plastic REI bike helmet is a piece of junk compared to the helmets used in every other sport on the planet.

Not to mention most bike helmets are years old and have a ton of UV exposure, no one uses covers. Or replaces them after dropping them. That's why they break when you fall, because they are brittle and probably already cracked.

I ride horses and motorbikes too. We buy good helmets and take care of them. You'll notice bmx kids do too, they tend to be in skate or multisport helmets. A lot of casual cyclists should upgrade and learn a bit more about the care and feeding of their helmets. Because they ain't doing much.
posted by fshgrl at 1:29 PM on May 22


Of course fatalities from car accidents (which will include those accidents with both cars and bikes) are going to be greater than accidents involving only bikes. Cars are obviously larger and faster. Bike-only accidents are much less likely to outright kill, as opposed to merely injuring people. I'm not exactly sure how comparing those fatality rates concretely relates to the issue. We still need appropriate rules/culture/etc. for bikes and everybody else. Whether we're avoiding death or mere injury, if the changes being discussed would be a net positive, then those changes should be made.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:38 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


But the average plastic REI bike helmet is a piece of junk compared to the helmets used in every other sport on the planet.

Which of these helmets do you consider to be the average plastic REI bike helmet?

compared to the helmets used in every other sport on the planet

The helmet requirements for motorcycle racing are going to be different from the helmet requirements for riding to the grocery store or racing a crit.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:39 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


bike helmet designs have their safety intentionally compromised because safer also means hotter, which makes it a thing you don't want to wear while you're exerting yourself.

Mandatory helmet laws are a great way for a city to save money on bike infrastructure like safe roads/ bike lanes, and bike locks because it makes it appear that only risk takers ride bikes, and reduces the total number of bikers on the roads.
posted by garlic at 1:40 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


I think part of the problem when cyclists "interface" with either motorists or pedestrians is that cyclists are pumped full of adrenaline because of physical exertion and because of the "fight or flight" response triggered by riding with cars. I know my own behavior can change when I ride a bike, which is why I no longer cycle all that much. I prefer walking.

As a motorist, I try to be mindful of the agitated state of most cyclists just trying to get from A to B without becoming road kill, and give them lots of room whenever possible.

As a pedestrian, though, I cannot for the life of me figure out why cyclists have to be so aggressive. Intellectually, I know it is the adrenaline, but still I get sick of the holier-than-thou rhetoric.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:42 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


I don't think conflating seatbelt laws with helmet laws really works, either

Why not?

Funny, that giant metal and glass shell is actually responsible for more deaths of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians than any bicycle.

well there's that ONE bicycle...

The point of that comment was that the force of a "fender bender" between 2 cars where no one is hurt is enough to potentially kill a cyclist. If you're driving at 70mph, maybe not so much, that's very perceptive.


So, car != bicycle. The law should reflect that. What is so hard about this.


No license or insurance is required to ride a bike on the road, so clearly the law does not treat them the same to begin with. I'm OK with laws about how to behave on the road being the same for every vehicle on the road because it is shared. Hell, I expect a horse-drawn carriage to stop at a stop sign. I'm not sure why they shouldn't have to follow the same rules as any other slow-moving vehicle.
posted by Hoopo at 1:44 PM on May 22


People often express bewilderment at how vehicles transform people into maniacs, but it seems like it might not be too far fetched to talk about stress in general. Maybe it's been talked about already, like, back when urban life was new and interesting. Inner city pressure!

Isn't there a somehow delusive quality to urban traffic? Like, a mass insanity type vibe? If you want to express a character's turmoil and alienation, have them stop at a red light on the way to work.

It all just begs the totally obvious question: why are so many people in a hurry all the time?

If they made a five year old the president, they'd ask about that.
posted by mbrock at 1:44 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


I have no idea how this is even an argument. In the event that your head is going to hit the pavement, why would you not want something other than your brain to absorb the energy?
posted by the jam at 1:46 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


I have no idea how this is even an argument. In the event that your head is going to hit the pavement, why would you not want something other than your brain to absorb the energy?

Because it looks doofy, duh
posted by Hoopo at 1:48 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


I bike commute to work, and I wear a helmet. I love love love riding, and a helmet doesn't reduce any of the joy that comes with riding a bike.

Maybe helmets wouldn't be such an apparent deterrent to riding a bike if people stopped saying things like helmets aren't cool, man, or that they kill some sense of childlike wonder. There are plenty of "fashion" helmets (I have one myself), and nothing looks less cool than having your brains smeared on the pavement.
posted by jess at 1:48 PM on May 22


Cyclists should be free to not wear a helmet, but if they make that choice then they should be liable for their own head injuries stemming from any accident, even if another vehicle is at fault.
posted by rocket88 at 1:50 PM on May 22


I have no idea how this is even an argument.

Many people on the pro-helmet-law side can't seem to distinguish between the claim that helmets are a good idea, and the claim that people ought to be punished for failing to wear them. We are having an argument because not every good thing need be mandatory, and not every bad thing need be prohibited, but people disagree about where to draw these lines.
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:50 PM on May 22 [7 favorites]


when the pervasive mental image of a bicyclist these days is some spandex-clad jackass with a face-hugger on his head riding at 40 klicks down the edge of a road inches from being crushed between a bus and the opening door of a parked car and always half a second from simply plowing over someone's grandma with her arms full of groceries.

Everyone hates cyclists & no one wants to "be that guy" because he's a tool.


this is textbook othering and I wish it would stop, because no one in my club rides like that, I don't ride like that despite having been a bike racer for decades, and in fact the only people I've witnessed who DO ride like that are either "posengeurs" (hipster messenger wannabes) or rich old farts out for their Sunday hammer fest who have zero care or inkling how competitive cycling actually works. They're a fractional minority of cyclists who are the de facto "welfare queens" of the brand.

so yeah. I wish you wouldn't do that please.
posted by lonefrontranger at 1:56 PM on May 22 [5 favorites]


I have no idea how this is even an argument. In the event that your head is going to hit the pavement, why would you not want something other than your brain to absorb the energy?

Exactly. Helmets should be mandatory for all pedestrians.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:57 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


What's the good of forcing me to protect my brains if you're not going to let me use them?

Not every head injury arises out of stupidity, and strictly speaking you're very likely not the only one who is potentially affected by your own traumatic brain injury. If they are at all effective, helmets could potentially save society a great deal of money on emergency care, rehabilitation, or long-term care and support services (where applicable)
posted by Hoopo at 1:57 PM on May 22


I think a lot of people don't understand how an Idaho stop works. It's a fine thing to use in a congested urban area. At as stop sign you slow down, IF THERE IS NO CROSS TRAFFIC then you proceed, ELSE STOP! So if there are pedestrians, if it's a 4 way stop with a line at every stop line, we stop. We only keep going if there IS NO CROSS TRAFFIC TO EFFECT.
posted by MrBobaFett at 1:58 PM on May 22 [5 favorites]


> Cyclists should be free to not wear a helmet, but if they make that choice then they should be liable for their own head injuries stemming from any accident, even if another vehicle is at fault.

Wow, that's some serious flamebait. Any injury? Plenty of cyclist deaths and injuries from car accidents would've happened whether or not there was a helmet, and angry fiat won't make a good law.
posted by planetesimal at 1:58 PM on May 22


I'm sure just like how self-driving cars will solve all our driving problems, self-riding bikes will solve all of our riding problems. Especially when they become mandatory in 2031.
posted by FJT at 1:59 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


In the event that your head is going to hit the pavement

The argument is pretty simple:

In all likelihood, my head is not going to hit the pavement.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 2:00 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


For every cyclist that rolls through a stop sign, there are probably 100 motorized vehicles that do it, but you don't see anyone wining about that for some reason. I wonder which is more dangerous to the precious pedestrians?
posted by Brocktoon at 2:02 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


I think a lot of people don't understand how an Idaho stop works. It's a fine thing to use in a congested urban area. At as stop sign you slow down, IF THERE IS NO CROSS TRAFFIC then you proceed, ELSE STOP!

it's weird too, because in my observation lots of drivers do this already in their cars. Not sure why it's a mystery to them when bikes do it.
posted by Hoopo at 2:03 PM on May 22 [5 favorites]


There's a decent argument that helmets shouldn't be mandatory, because if that's a risk folks wanna take, then whatever. But I'm very frustrated by the argument - which I've seen before - that wearing a helmet increases the risk of an accident. For that argument, Stromberg cites a 2007 study saying that drivers leave less room when overtaking helmeted cyclists, and this risk compensation theory that cyclists drive more recklessly when helmeted. The study was conducted by a single person in a different country with a different biking culture, and from what I can tell the experiment has never been replicated. And the risk compensation theory openly admits it's a theory with no real data to back it up.

His argument is partly based on the disparity between League of American Bicyclists data that implies helmets only decrease your risk of injury by 10-ish percent, which is a far cry from the government's census that implies you're 5-10 times safer with a helmet. If that data is accurate, then he might have a point, since even a smallish increase in risk would overtake the increased safety and make helmets a liability. But if the census data is right, helmets would have to be 5-10 times more dangerous to be riskier than riding without one.

Telling people helmets might actually risk their safety when the data to back up your argument isn't extremely robust is just irresponsible.
posted by Peevish at 2:05 PM on May 22 [4 favorites]


Cyclists should be free to not wear a helmet, but if they make that choice then they should be liable for their own head injuries stemming from any accident, even if another vehicle is at fault.

And by helmet you mean a magical forcefield that prevents all damage to your head no matter? Because as I've noted above most commuters are in helmets rated for maybe 10-15mph crash and that's when they're new. Or do you think everyone should be in full face downhill gear? How about if you break your arm and aren't wearing body armor?

This is why these rules are stupid. I wear a helmet when I commute because why not? but I don't pretend it makes me immune to harm or assign it some kind of moral value.
posted by fshgrl at 2:06 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


pretty much tylerkaraszewski. I rode as a working messenger for 2 years in DC and for city traffic in 2 decades before I regularly bothered to wear a helmet every time I got on my bike. And it was only because I was sick of the holier than thou types lecturing me about it.

I've hit my hands about 8,000 times in falls, and so I always wear full finger gloves for that reason, but wearing a helmet to commute to work in summer? Yeah, fuck that.

I've cracked a couple helmets, too. One in a crit and one in a mountain bike race. They did their jobs.

The 2 bike racers I personally know who died in bike races were both wearing helmets. The head and facial trauma they sustained killed them instantaneously and would have killed them whether or no they were wearing a lid - at the speeds they were traveling they'd have needed a set of moto leathers and full-face moto helmet and even then they'd have probably gotten badly hurt.

riding bikes is fun, sometimes frustrating and occasionally dangerous. There's some assumed risk and to assume you know better as a casual layman, well... I'm not sure what to tell you.
posted by lonefrontranger at 2:06 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


MrBobaFett, the problem is that not all intersections in all environments would play equally well with the Idaho Stop, especially as a blanket solution. There is also the matter of the real world - perfectly executed, there might be no problems, but just as helmet laws may have problems with discriminatory enforcement and unintended disincentivization, there may be other issues with introducing the Idaho Stop in certain environments.

If there is proof that I'm totally wrong, then that's great, but it's not unreasonable to look at some, say, NYC intersections and think, "I'm glad that's a stop sign and not a yield sign."

I think Idaho Stops would work fine in Hartford, Schenectady, and other urban places. It all depends.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:07 PM on May 22


The Horrible Aggressive Cyclist thing is a straw man, since 99% of the time even if they do get in an accident they're only going to hurt themselves

Grumpybear69's link regarding crash stats in NYC shows that in 2012, 32 bicyclists were injured in crashes with pedestrians, while 244 pedestrians were injured in the same crashes.

So no, it's not a straw man, at least around these parts. Pedestrians aren't getting killed by bikes, but they are injured in crashes with them, and that's a non-negligible problem.

Cyclists aren't all jerks. Bicycling should absolutely be encouraged, but safe biking should be incentivized. As part of that, we need to eliminate situations where traffic pushes sane bicyclists to do things that increase their safety or visibility, but make things worse for pedestrians. The fewer times that a pedestrian has to stop short or jump out of the way for a bike, the more positive people will feel about sharing space, and the easier it will be to pass pro-bike legislation and traffic changes.

Also, at least around here, we need to do something about the fact that some people's livelihood is entirely dependent on biking as fast as they can, because they're earning a measly $3/hr delivering food in the most expensive city in the country, and hoping to make the rest up with tips.

Finally, it would be great if people didn't perceive road safety as a zero sum game. Everyone should be able to feel safe using the streets, no matter their mode of transport.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 2:11 PM on May 22 [6 favorites]


Automobile crashes are a significant cause of traumatic brain injury incidents in the US. I'm not sure where bicycle accidents are classified in this data, but it's probably split up among motor vehicle accidents and falls, I would guess? In any case, a large percentage of people with brain injury were clearly drivers or passengers of cars, so why don't we require them to wear helmets?

Disclaimer I feel I have to make: I am a cyclist, a driver, a transit rider, and a pedestrian. I wear a helmet when I bike, usually, but not when I do any of the other things that are probably equally as dangerous. I wear it because if I ever do get run over by a car, I don't want the news article to lead with irrelevant data about whether or not I was wearing a helmet. I'm tired of the anecdotal tsk-tsking from people telling me about their brother/friend/cousin/coworker who cracked their helmet and Would For Sure Have Died without it, or who did get into a crash and suffer TBI. So I wear it just to shut everyone up.
posted by misskaz at 2:12 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


I've hit my hands about 8,000 times in falls, and so I always wear full finger gloves for that reason, but wearing a helmet to commute to work in summer? Yeah, fuck that.

I wear a helmet when I ride, because hey, why not, but I've often told people that if I was only going to have one piece of safety gear, I'd easily pick gloves over a helmet, any day.

Sure, the potential for a catastrophic injury is higher without a helmet than without gloves, but I'm about 100x more likely to fall and scrape my palms off on the pavement than I am to have a serious head injury. I've fallen and landed on my hands several times, often catching myself so my head doesn't hit the ground. I've never fallen and hit my head.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 2:16 PM on May 22


Also that data set I just linked to was for emergency room visits. Check out the TBI-related deaths one, and how HUGE a percentage of them are motor vehicle related. Especially/even for kids. Ugh.

It's amazing how much we've let these death-machines (only saying that partly tongue-in-cheek) invade our society and day-to-day lives such that we can't imagine a world without them, we spend billions on infrastructure accommodating them, considering how dangerous they are to their users and everyone around them. While at the same time it's even more depressing - in a city with a cell phone/texting ban - how many people aren't even fucking paying full attention to what they are doing with those 2000 lbs of metal and glass.
posted by misskaz at 2:23 PM on May 22 [6 favorites]


Seriously, it's going to take 119 comment to do this?:

I am a frequent and avid cyclist. I have been in at least two crashes that, had I not been wearing a helmet, would have resulted in much serious and potentially permanent injury (i.e., I had to replace the helmet I was wearing after each). Interestingly enough, neither had to do with automobile traffic (although I have been struck by cars on several other occasions), and I was not on my road bike or traveling at a high rate of speed in either case. One crash involved black ice, the other involved streetcar tracks. Both were during commutes.

I think it is perfectly reasonable that people who do not want to wear a helmet shouldn't have to wear one. But if you like your brain the way it is, and don't want waste time doing things like learning to use a fork and knife again, wear a helmet.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:55 PM on May 22 [6 favorites +] [!]


Eponysterical
posted by ssmug at 2:26 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Bicycling should absolutely be encouraged, but safe biking should be incentivized.

The way to accomplish this is proper bicycle infrastructure. There is a reason they don't have these kinds of arguments in Copenhagen or Amsterdam.
posted by ambrosia at 2:27 PM on May 22 [5 favorites]


misskaz: see my rant in the comments on this gem of a Boulder Daily Camera article where I drop some statistics on the solipsism rampant within.
posted by lonefrontranger at 2:29 PM on May 22


I realize that this kind of discussion and advocacy doesn't have to be a zero-sum game. I know that nothing is stopping people from BOTH advocating for helmet use AND better transportation infrastructure that makes all users safer. But it sure feels like the discussion tends to stop at helmet laws and maybe "OMG bikes break the law" conversations and never progresses to how much more effective changes to the built environment would be to improving everyone's safety.
posted by misskaz at 2:29 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


Stop signs as yield signs, yes. Every intersection is different, and it should be a case-by-case thing, but generally I think cyclists should be given the freedom to go on through if it's obviously clear. Let's face it, some intersections don't need stop signs at all; on my morning commute I can think of at least two intersections that never have any traffic other than me.

Red lights? Different story, maybe. Again, all intersections are different, but it makes a lot more sense to stop at a light. But losing all that momentum is such. a. bitch.
posted by zardoz at 2:33 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


If helmet laws made sense they'd make you wear one in your car.

It would help no doubt, as would requiring cars to have cages inside the cabin, both of which are required if you race a sedan. Airbags help tremendously in cars now for head impact injuries. I don't believe it has anything to do with making sense but rather money, which sadly dictates a lot of regulations (or lack thereof) and human behaviour. The fact that I'm typing this on a computer is basically me accepting the fact that I'm typing with bloody hands as somewhere down the line, someone (or many) was fucked over to allow me to do this, and wear clothes, etc. In Toronto I'd say 80% of the time, when I'm driving, I'm driven into and have to avoid an accident. Thankfully, when cycling, a lot less, though the avoiding action when cycling (either from a car or another cyclist) are more stressful.

These threads always amaze me. Bikers being jackasses are generally only a danger to themselves. Drivers being jackasses endanger everybody around them.

The key thing being "everybody around them". Cyclists who are around other people can be quite dangerous when being jackasses, such as the assholes who ride on sidewalks or who flip you the bird and scream at you if you dared to move a cm before seeing them emerge from behind your realistic point of view, and then having seen them, you stopped, but then still get a fuck you, you "almost" hit me even though I was 5 metres away from you when you stopped moving forward reaction.

This is why these rules are stupid. I wear a helmet when I commute because why not? but I don't pretend it makes me immune to harm...

Who pretends that? The helmets are marketed as reducing the risk of serious head injury, not eliminating it.
posted by juiceCake at 2:34 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


I actually did an "Idaho red light stop" which isn't legal in Boulder this morning after waiting for a bit at a light because it was at 6AM on empty streets and this is on an intersection that doesn't have a walk button and the loop isn't sensitive enough to trigger for bikes.

as I pulled out I realized the car behind me was a police prowler. Oops. He waved me on like NBD, dude.

Common sense. It's a thing.
posted by lonefrontranger at 2:36 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


You kind of need the ability to go through a red light (if clear) in Idaho, because a lot of the lights are on sensors and bikes don't always set them off. The light might never turn green, unless a car comes up from behind to trigger it.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:36 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


A bike-friendly city encourages friendship and romance!

It's true! Google Images will tell you so, or failing that take it from Rutger Hauer.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 2:38 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


The way to accomplish this is proper bicycle infrastructure.

I 100% agree.

Personally, I am happy to stop at every single stop sign and red light I encounter on a bicycle, even at an empty intersection, and never ever salmon or ride on the sidewalk, if it will help in some small way to make that change happen.

After all, getting that infrastructure involves building consensus around biking, which, around here, has been absurdly tough to do.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 2:38 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


evidenceofabsence, I totally get that. I'm on my (ostensibly bike-friendly town)'s Transportation Commission, and there is a vocal chunk of our population that will stand up in a town meeting and say "streets are for cars, not for bikes" and if our town ever had the courage to build some serious bike infrastructure (El Camino Real, I am looking in your direction) the uproar would be intense.

And yet, people love to complain about how bad traffic has become, and how difficult it is to find parking downtown. But heaven forfend you actually make it more attractive to bike somewhere in this basically flat, mild climate-blessed burb.
posted by ambrosia at 2:45 PM on May 22 [5 favorites]


God I hate myself for even thinking this, but...

The whole "if only cyclists would just behave better, people wouldn't hate them so much!" sounds like a tone argument to me. The privileged road users (privileged because they are less vulnerable and because the infrastructure is centered on their needs and convenience) are the drivers, and the less privileged are the cyclists. The cyclists are saying "Please, stop hitting us! Prosecute those that do things that harm us! Maybe give us some bike lanes so we are safer on your streets!" The drivers are responding with "As soon as every one of you obeys every (even the illogical and not written with you in mind) law, oh and you better be wearing a helmet too, then maybe you'll be a Good Cyclist and deserve a bike lane or better laws or more appropriate enforcement." The truth is, cyclists will never be Good enough because the entrenched majority doesn't want to give up their streets, built entirely for them.

Ok I know it's a bit of a stretch but maybe you smart people can go somewhere with it. I feel a parallel even if I'm not expressing it well. Not trying to yell "I'm oppressed!" here - I own a car but identify more as a cyclist and pedestrian.
posted by misskaz at 2:47 PM on May 22 [31 favorites]


I changed my mind about mandatory helmet laws when I learned that they were disproportionately used to harass and fine riders of color. I still think helmets are a good idea; my husband bike commutes to work, just over a hundred miles a week, and he buys a new helmet every year. Our kids don't go out on their bikes without helmets. If I found out a friend of mine was doing a major ride without a helmet, they would hear from me about what kind of a bad idea that was. But laws? Nope. I am now against mandatory helmet laws.
posted by KathrynT at 2:48 PM on May 22 [4 favorites]


If you're cycling just to "keep fit", then let me ask you this: how come there's no special lane for those guys in squat suits, lifting belts, and Vibram fivetoes, who Pendlay row to work? That's right, you're not as special as you think.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:58 PM on May 22


I'm a pretty rulesy cyclist. I think that we need to follow the rules (when it's safe to do so) so that we can narrow the divide between cyclists and drivers. I want less driver road rage directed at me. I want drivers to start voting for bike infrastructure.

So I have this obnoxious thing that I do. When a cyclist cuts off a car, or flies through a red light, or plays the I'm-a-pedestrian-I'm-a-vehicle-I'm-a-pedestrian switcheroo, I shout "you are why they hate us!"

Might not do any good, but it feels marvelous.
posted by gurple at 2:58 PM on May 22 [5 favorites]


One of the two pictures in the Vox.com piece was taken at a location—the intersection of Prince Street and Broadway in Manhattan—where Idaho stops seem like a particularly terrible idea. The intersection combines a ton of pedestrian traffic, including scads of erratic tourists, with two very busy streets. As is, the congestion inspires impatient drivers, bikers, and pedestrians to swiftly muscle through any opening they can find, leading to near misses. And that's when people are working with the lights.

In which case, the Idaho Stop would be a mandatory stop. The first two corners of my commute are stop signs on short and narrow residential streets with no through traffic. In that case, the Idaho Stop is slow down, approach cautiously, and stop if anything else including pedestrians, cats, dogs, pigs (yes really, poor pet pig with an idiot owner), or horse-drawn carriages off the usual tour route are visible.

Most of my route takes advantage of yield signs and round-about squares, which get a slow-down regardless, and a full stop if cars, other bikes, cats, dogs, pigs, or horse-drawn carriages are visible. Possibly a full stop in the case of pedestrians, but most are willing to let me pass behind them with plenty of room unless there's a group. In which case, full stop.

Which isn't all that different from how cars or pedestrians handle stop signs with no visible traffic. It's illegal for cars, but I don't think pedestrians are obligated to break stride if they have clear visibility and right-of-way.

I find negotiating right-of-way with a car stopped at an intersection to be nerve wracking. I see them coming, so I slow down. I see them stop, I slow down more hoping they'll take their right-of-way. They stay there, I come to a complete stop at the white line and put my foot down.

At this point, I see a vague gesture from behind the windshield. I don't really know what it means, because I have the disadvantage of perspective, a dashboard, a dirty windshield, sun glare on the windshield, and my sunglasses. Perhaps it's breakfast, a cell phone, or a friendly wave. I don't know, so I wave the car driver through the intersection.

Often I get another handwave, which might be another french fry, or it might be in a pissing match of politeness in spite of the fact that the guy behind the windshield had right-of-way for the last 20 seconds.

At this point, start to get myself moving, which is a bit harder because I'm not an elite spandex-clad bike courier or curb-hopping student, I'm Homer Simpson in my work clothes trying to get into the office safely, and the road is just a bit humped so even if I'm standing on the pedal it takes a bit if I'm not in the best gear.

Just as I start doing this, the car often lurches forward a few feet and stops just as abruptly. If it's an especially ugly day, I'll get horn as well. From someone who had the right-of-way and could have been through the intersection before I came to a complete stop. Then we have to do the whole pissing match again, at a quicker pace with more piss.

So it seems to me that while everyone wants for cyclists to yield right-of-way at stop signs, a significant number of people in cars don't know what the fuck to do when they actually get it. Then there's the people who shall not pass no matter how much room you give them, and give you the horn when they finally do.

But other than those people, the puddles of horse piss, and pity for the guy who doesn't know how to walk the pig, it's a pleasant enough commute.

Note that the stoplight exception is explicitly for dead lights controlled by in-road sensors or pedestrian switches.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:08 PM on May 22 [7 favorites]


The whole "if only cyclists would just behave better, people wouldn't hate them so much!" sounds like a tone argument to me.

i've nearly hit cyclists who were riding on the sidewalk in a way that was unsafe and unpredictable

i've nearly hit cyclists who went straight through stop signs

funny thing is, i've never almost hit a cyclist who was riding on the road and obeying the rules
posted by pyramid termite at 3:18 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: at a quicker pace with more piss
posted by squorch at 3:23 PM on May 22


I changed my mind about mandatory helmet laws when I learned that they were disproportionately used to harass and fine riders of color

Thing is, that's an enforcement problem and not a problem with the law itself. I don't think the police should not pull people over, but I gather they disproportionately pull over drivers of color (at least that's the impression The Pharcyde, Abstract Rude, Digable Planets et al have left me with)

And I'm sure a similar thing happens with cars where low-income people are going to be disproportionately affected for any number of vehicle safety regulations because their old cars aren't up to code and they can't afford to get it there. But I'm overall OK with there being vehicle safety regulations generally even if it is harder for some to comply with than others.
posted by Hoopo at 3:26 PM on May 22


misskaz, I fully agree, and furthermore I'm uncomfortable bringing this into the debate as well, because to bike is to be privileged in many cases. However, this ongoing behavior by drivers is absolutely othering and tribalism and entitlement and privilege on their parts because they have the upper hand and not merely their absolute sheer power of weight and momentum and numbers, but also the cultural and infrastructural power of their needs being overwhelmingly catered to in this country.

Not to mention getting behind a car seems to turn on this weird ragey self-righteous force field in many individuals that I find difficult to fathom. Such that once you are on a bike and dare to be in traffic You Are Other and sometimes it feels like you're in the middle of some bizarre Frogger LARP experiment, idk.

I really don't like having to draw these examples either. But you know, the bulk of the cycling infrastructure in this region is multiuser, and oftentimes merely a glorified sidewalk, which has its own dubious benefits; and as it frequently happens, despite best intentions they are some, most or all of the following:

- poorly lit
- poorly maintained
- not policed in any way shape or form
- strewn with broken glass, sand, gravel, litter, mud piles, etc.
- home to various transients who have nowhere else to turn
- flooded with water and/or a sheet of ice anytime precipitation occurs
- riddled with dog shit and sometimes human feces (see transients)
- carpeted in seams, cracks, potholes and tree root bursts
- poorly configured with blind turns
- too narrow for adequate safety in 2-way traffic
- full of tourists walking 6 abreast, or SUV-sized strollers, joggers, roller bladders, loose dogs, small children toddling or cycling in unpredictable butterfly-chasing loops, and/or poorly managed dogs on fully extended 25' zip leads

such that they're basically unfit for safe cycling at any speed and in most cases it would seriously be faster to walk, but GOD FORBID that for the safety of yourself and other path users you attempt to forgo riding on these "bike paths" in favor of adjacent streets that (gasp) FREQUENTLY ALSO have a bike shoulder because You Are Not Welcome Here, You Cyclist Trash - those charming multi user trails do in fact feel an awful lot like the disadvantaged neighborhoods I spent my young adulthood in, which we affectionately term "ghettoes".

so yes there is a somewhat apartheid mentality at play here, even if it's horrible of me to use that example.
posted by lonefrontranger at 3:27 PM on May 22


argh edit window "getting BEHIND THE WHEEL OF a car..." I meant to say.
posted by lonefrontranger at 3:33 PM on May 22


sounds like a tone argument to me

I get that. But I'm willing to be twice-as-good—I mean, shit, I'd be happy to wear a t-shirt with big reflectors that read "HELLO, HOW IS YOUR DAY, PLEASE TO OBSERVE HOW MUCH OF A MODEL CITIZEN I AM BEING!"—if it means more protected bike lanes and traffic calming measures.

I guess it helps that here, it isn't just privileged drivers making demands (though we certainly do have that), but pedestrians who legitimately don't want an additional thing to worry about when navigating already difficult-to-cross streets.

In which case, the Idaho Stop would be a mandatory stop.

Given the chaotic and dense traffic in NYC, and our aggressive road culture, and how terrible we are at enforcement, I think it's best if we shy away from laws that involve the idea of "sometimes mandatory," since that relies on personal judgment.

I think Idaho stops make complete and perfect sense in other environments! (Given the description of your commute, what with the roundabouts and horse carriages, it sounds like you are somewhere else?) However, I assure you that "pissing matches of politeness" are pretty much the one hazard we don't have to contend with around here.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 3:37 PM on May 22


While predictability may not be the only key to safety, common understanding of the right way can make a big difference.

I'm basically on a bike 90% of my travel time, and I think misskaz's tone argument point is very accurate.

However, I will still say that too many cyclists have no concept of the right of way and it's a problem. Cars and bikes have come to an uneasy impasse in my city where cars basically always wait for bikes at 4-way stops, even when the cars would clearly have the right of way. This is because lots of bikers just ride through them without slowing down at all and also because cars don't realize that you are actually slowing down and that they can get through the intersection before you even get there (and then continue smoothly through). As CBrachyrhynchos puts so eloquently, most of the time this slows down bikers who attempt to follow any kind of right-of-way logic (me). I often use my head to gesture to a car to go ahead because yes, I will actually stop if you have the right of way.
posted by ropeladder at 3:42 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


so yes there is a somewhat apartheid mentality at play here

I do think that there are some liberal white males* who like to do things that allow them to claim to be members of a persecuted class. I think some of those people treat cycling that way.

Please don't read my comment to mean that all cyclists are like this, or that all liberal white males are like this. I'm a liberal white male who cycles, and I don't think I do this.

But let's not go talking about apartheid, either.


*(some of whom may be neither liberal, nor white, nor male. This is more of a personality type thing and a not-actually-a-member-of-a-persecuted-class thing)
posted by gurple at 3:42 PM on May 22


Pedestrians are too often forgotten in this discussion, which is generally conducted as if cyclists and motorists are the only two parties involved. But cyclists frequently behave just as badly towards pedestrians as some motorists behave towards cyclists.

Too often forgotten in this discussion is how accident statistics in urban areas aren't about cyclists vs. pedestrians, they're about cars and commercial vehicles vs. everyone and everything. Taking out accidents involving at least one motor vehicle reduces serious accidents by an order of magnitude at least.

Here in Toronto, there was a very high-profile issue last municipal election: the supposed "war on cars", putatively waged by left-wing politicians on behalf of light rail, streetcars and cyclists. This issue propelled Rob Ford into the mayor's office, where he and his suburban allies ripped up cycling infrastructure and canceled fully funded transit projects that had already broken ground.

The statistics are noisy, I know, but you have to wonder why there has been a huge uptick in pedestrian deaths since that election. We now have a few years of data, and while before November 2010, there was a strong downward trend in pedestrian deaths in Toronto, since then numbers have shot upward, almost doubling in a few years. Most of those killed are in the suburbs, and mostly elderly.

Pedestrians talking about "close calls" with cyclists are dime a dozen, but as already mentioned upthread, pedestrians in NYC are 250 times more likely to be killed by a driver than a cyclist. Pedestrian and cyclist deaths are going up, while passenger vehicle occupant deaths are going down. The same article shows accidents involving pedestrians of all kinds drop by between 20 and 40 percent on streets where bike lanes are installed.

Of course, there are reckless jackasses on bikes, because reckless jackasses are everywhere, but statistics seem to support the idea that getting more bikes on the road and giving cyclists infrastructure improvements instead of tickets makes streets safer for pedestrians too.

Here in Toronto, a lot of the designated bike routes are full of all-way stops as a means of calming vehicle traffic. It's a real pain to come to a complete stop on the far side of an all-way stop t-intersection with no other traffic on it, only to have a car come from behind, roll through, and cut you off behind a row of parked cars while exiting the intersection. The only safety-related reason for me to come to a complete stop here would be to allow a pedestrian to cross, or more often, to allow someone turning left to ignore the stop sign.

A friend of mine was recently ticketed for a rolling stop at a 4-way on her bike. The intersection was clear and the cop was following behind her, probably waiting for a ticketable offence to happen. Meanwhile, I have literally never heard of a driver being dinged for a rolling stop, because everyone does it. Oh, and undercover cops trailed our mayor for the better part of a year, allowing him to drive everywhere while knowing that he was drunk as fuck and/or high on crack.

Most of the people I know in this city who drive everywhere do so drunk as hell all the time. Unlike in BC, it seems DUI enforcement here takes a back seat to ticketing cyclists for rolling through stop signs.

The yellow light doesn't mean stop. It indicates the light is about to change to red, which does require that you stop.

A yellow light means stop unless it is unsafe to do so.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 3:43 PM on May 22 [10 favorites]


let me wind up with (and I swear I'm done after this) to say that I don't hate bike lanes or bike paths or multi use trails or anything like that. I'm completely, entirely and enthusiastically in favor of cycling infrastructure and bike specific rules, but not ones that, once put in place, allows transit administrators and law enforcement and drivers and basically everyone under the sun to pat themselves on the back and feel oh-so-justified and spunky about being a Platinum Level Cycling Community (whatever the fuck that means) while completely ignoring any further responsibilities towards making it actually, you know, SAFE to use, meanwhile just the mere fact of these programs existing seems to somehow absolve them of any responsibility for or introspection about the utter homicidal shit show that is car culture in the USA.

that's really all I'm asking.
posted by lonefrontranger at 3:46 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


I was in a bike accident 15+ years ago that left some pretty good scars. Two things saved me from worse damage: my helmet and 600 pages of a Harlequin manuscript in my backpack. (I was a Harlequin proofreader at the time.) Helmet, backpack and Harlequin were all shredded, but the bits of me they protected were more or less intact.

I think every cyclist should wear a helmet. And carry a Harlequin manuscript in a backpack.
posted by peterdarbyshire at 3:51 PM on May 22 [6 favorites]


once you are on a bike and dare to be in traffic You Are Other

It gets really terrifying out there sometimes. The vast majority of my almost-entirely-utilitarian bike riding is perfectly pleasant, whether on roads I'm sharing with cars or on trails I'm sharing with peds and dogs, but now and then there's an aggro driver that a) doesn't know how the rules of the road apply to bicycles and b) is completely, furiously convinced that I am breaking them just by being present. They'll do things like stop in the next lane of traffic specifically to shout at me out the window, blocking traffic themselves, or honk their horns close enough to me that it's painful. It tends to ruin at least a couple hours of my day, and doesn't do a damn thing to improve my bike-riding skills. At least I've avoided the ones who do things like aim their cars at people on bikes, or pull out other weapons. So far.
posted by asperity at 3:51 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


If you're cycling just to "keep fit", then let me ask you this: how come there's no special lane for those guys in squat suits, lifting belts, and Vibram fivetoes, who Pendlay row to work?

Uh ... because you don't do those things on a road, you do them in a gym? So they already have their facility.

Your point seems to be a churlishly-made utility argument, basically saying that someone using the road or a bike lane for a recreational purpose has less of a right to use it than someone using it to commute from their McMansion in their McSuburb to Downtown and back.

There's no prioritization given based on where you're going or what you're doing on a road. Someone out for a Sunday drive in the mountains has just as much right to the lane as someone going home from work, and they both have to follow the same rules. (The only exceptions to this are emergency vehicles, who do get priority based on where they're going, but for what are generally accepted to be pretty good, narrowly-defined reasons, and sometimes public transport, but that's more a type-of-vehicle separation.)

The reason people cycling to "keep fit" deserve a bike lane is because they're on a bicycle. So yeah, they should get a bicycle lane, with the other bicycles, and it doesn't matter a whit whether they're riding to work, or down to the pub, or just around in a 20 mile loop for no particular reason, any more than it matters where the average car driver is going when they get on the road. That's not how roads work.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:52 PM on May 22 [6 favorites]


I've had a driver slow down next to me, while I was biking immediately next to railroad tracks, so his passenger could bark like a dog as loud as he could in my face. Presumably trying to scare me into going over the tracks and falling.

Good times.
posted by gurple at 3:55 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


The particular behavior that blows my foolish little mind is when my husband (with his long curly hair and spandex shorts) gets catcalled from a passing car on his ride home -- and then, when the vehicle pulls far enough forward to discover that he's a man, the former catcaller hurls abuse (and sometimes objects). Because. .. because I don't even KNOW what.
posted by KathrynT at 4:05 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


So, OK, I'm a person who does All The Things in this conversation. I drive, I'm a pedestrian, and I also cycle. And I see everyone on all sides act like assholes in this discussion (not this particular thread, just the ongoing Cyclist Question).

1. As a driver, oh my god come ON people, it is not that hard to operate a vehicle in the presence of cyclists. Just go around them. Seriously, they're not going to explode as you pass. Just don't hit them. Which you probably won't. But like, honestly, it's pretty easy if you're not a dick about it.

2. As a cyclist, other cyclists, please use lights at night and follow at least some of the rules of the road and also logic. Don't talk on your cell phone while biking. Don't smoke or eat while biking. Probably don't wear headphones while biking, especially if you're already playing fast and loose with the rules/common sense. Act like a vehicle. Go in the direction of traffic. Follow as many traffic laws and signs as is feasible (especially red lights when there could feasibly be oncoming traffic). Behave predictably. Los Angeles specific advice: If you're sharing the road, don't bob and weave and get all over the place and ride so slowly your front wheel is wobbling. This isn't the fucking boardwalk. Also, everyone please learn to stop and start correctly. None of that running-start bike mount garbage. Oh, and if you decide to ride on the sidewalk, at least do it predictably. Don't come flying out into traffic in ways nobody else can anticipate.

3. As a pedestrian, would everybody else just chill the fuck out and watch what you're doing for chrissakes? Lost Angeles specific advice: please try to act rationally, jesus. Look in the direction you intend to walk. Don't stand around twiddling your thumbs while you have the right of way and then randomly decide to cross the street when drivers aren't expecting it. Don't text in the middle of an intersection.
posted by Sara C. at 4:06 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


I rode a bike for sport a good bit in the 90's. I always wore a helmet, largely because the group rides I'd go on required them.

When I started riding for transportation 4 years ago, I thought "Maybe this time I WON'T wear a helmet." So I rode bareheaded for a while. Then I started reading about how police and others tended to overly criticize non-helmet-wearing cyclists, and find them at fault more often. And then I read another person who said that they wear a helmet in order to "have the best tort case possible." That was an argument I couldn't counter, so I put my helmet back on.

Most of my riding is on suburban/medium-sized town streets. I don't encounter many pedestrians, but when I do, my attitude is that they deserve the kind of consideration from me that I'd want from cars. I stop at red lights, even though I see many, many cars who run through them. I stop at stop signs when appropriate. In my world that means: if there's a car anywhere in sight (stop sign theater), or if sight lines are not clear. Otherwise, I roll through them. Just like most cars do, at least around here.

Ironically, the one time I was glad I had a helmet on was when I bobbled throwing my leg over my bike frame. I lost my balance and fell backwards, and would have smacked my head on the curb pretty soundly without the helmet.

Better infrastructure will fix a lot of issues/conflicts between bikes and cars. I wish we had more where I live.
posted by Archer25 at 4:07 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


i've nearly hit cyclists who were riding on the sidewalk in a way that was unsafe and unpredictable

i've nearly hit cyclists who went straight through stop signs

funny thing is, i've never almost hit a cyclist who was riding on the road and obeying the rules


And, similarly, there are people in less privileged classes who are over the top aggressive, angry, name-calling, etc in discussions with the more privileged people. That doesn't mean that the less privileged class *as a whole* doesn't deserve accommodations or equal rights because a few do not behave sufficiently subserviently/politely. It just means that some people are either jerks, or in some cases have maybe good reason to behave that way. (For example, I believe that people who ride on sidewalks do so mostly because riding in the street with cars can be fucking terrifying - give them well designed, protected, connected, and useful bike infrastructure and they will use it. This doesn't excuse sidewalk riding but it does explain a lot of it. )
posted by misskaz at 4:08 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


Sure, I'm not saying the Idaho Stop should be adopted everywhere, and quite possibly in places where it does get adopted there should be signage that specifies that all vehicles must come to a full stop. I don't think it should be categorically rejected because Manhattan.

Similarly, I don't think the argument that bad cyclists justify single-mode transportation design makes much sense. Road-rage SUV-drivers who do rolling stops, lavaballers and evangelists on public transportation, stop-sign running cyclists, and pedestrians who wander into traffic because they're paying attention to their smartphone happen. You support multi-mode transportation or you don't. It's that simple.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:14 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


If we're sharing bad behavior stories, here's one from last week: I was riding home from work on a street here in Chicago. It's not my favorite street to ride on, but my preferred route is all torn up from construction, with torn up surfaces, gravel and debris, and the bike lanes have been temporarily removed to make room for the construction. Anyway, this less-preferred street is two lanes in each direction (plus parking on both sides of the street) which makes it feel really wide and cars tend to want to go fast, swerving from lane to lane in rush hour traffic to make it to that next red light a few seconds faster.

I was riding in the right hand lane, but not so far over that I was at risk of getting doored. A woman driving a car passed me so closely that it just missed brushing my elbow, and I reflexively screamed, a very loud, sharp, high-pitched scream. The driver had her windows down, so she heard me, and surprisingly (this never happens) she turned at the next light and pulled over. I happened to be turning onto that street, so I did as well, and slowed down. And she yelled out her window "OMG, did I hit you???" I responded "no, but you should not pass me that close! That was terrifying!" I was shaking and you could hear the fear in my voice. She profusely apologized "Oh my god I'm so sorry!"

Now, this is way more apology and understanding than you typically get from drivers, but I still have to wonder how she *possibly* thought it was ok to pass me that closely. She had to see me - broad daylight, I was in front of her - but she just couldn't manage to slow down until it was safe to pass, or change lanes to get around me. She had to just grit her teeth, hunch her shoulders, and keep passing at 30 MPH because... I don't know? That's just what cars do?
posted by misskaz at 4:17 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


I think the Idaho Stop question is moot in Manhattan because, unless it's 4 in the morning, there will virtually always be oncoming traffic at every intersection, period. Manhattan is the last place anyone should be worrying about Idaho Stops.
posted by Sara C. at 4:18 PM on May 22


Y'know there is a trick to triggering those loop detectors for traffic lights. When I learned this it changed my morning commute for the better. You need to line your bike up with the loop.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sj-mNB6dLkk
posted by MrBobaFett at 4:26 PM on May 22


MrBobaFett that assumes the bike you're riding has enough magnetic material on it to even trigger the loop at all, which in the case of the full carbon cyclocross bike I was riding this morning, no, actually even tipping/showing the drivetrain directly to the loop slits doesn't help either, especially when they're already not set sensitive enough to detect a normal bike.
posted by lonefrontranger at 4:30 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


I would also like to point out that at the end of the video, the cyclist raises his hands in celebration above his head while moving through the intersection. In many jurisdictions, it is a very large ticket for taking both hands off the handlebars. Ask me how I know!
posted by [expletive deleted] at 4:34 PM on May 22


I don't think it should be categorically rejected because Manhattan.

I really hope it didn't seem like that was what I was saying! Like I said, I think Idaho stops probably work great in a lot of places. I'm just suggesting that some dense urban areas might be an exception.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 4:51 PM on May 22


A lot of "Cars kill a jillian more people than bikes" has come up in this thread and I really don't know why anyone would find that surprising or a convincing reason to allow cyclists to not wear a helmet or run red lights and stop signs or whatever else. In addition to the obvious "cars are giant fast-moving hunks of metal that weigh a ton and bikes aren't", you're also typically going to encounter a lot more cars than bikes in a typical North American city.

Also a lot of the arguments about why cyclists shouldn't have to stop at an intersection apply to motor vehicles as well. If the driver looked around and saw no traffic, then why not? It's also often more fuel-efficient to not stop and start all the time. But we expect them to stop anyway because it's the rules and the rules exist for good reason. Namely that a tiny error or mistake in judgement is enough to have terrible consequences. For cars, bikes, and pedestrians alike.
posted by Hoopo at 5:06 PM on May 22


A lot of "Cars kill a jillian more people than bikes" has come up in this thread and I really don't know why anyone would find that surprising or a convincing reason to allow cyclists to not wear a helmet or run red lights and stop signs or whatever else.


It isn't that. It's a response to the "I saw a cyclist do something bad once, and therefore we shouldn't have bike lanes." argument.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:24 PM on May 22


Hoopo,

I was specifically addressing complaints about cyclists being a danger to pedestrians that always show up in these threads. I wanted to point out that the real risk to pedestrians is cars, and the statistics seem to bear out a positive effect on pedestrian safety when more bikes are on the street, most likely by forcing drivers to become more attentive and to drive a little slower.

The difference is that cyclists have vastly better view of the intersection than a car, have more room to maneuver, and most importantly, are generally moving so much slower than the average car that they need to reduce their speed much less in order to effectively yield the intersection to oncoming traffic. This is the key that non-cyclists are missing, I think. Nobody has suggested that cyclists should be allowed to blow through stop signs at full speed, more that the law should reflect that it's perfectly safe for a cyclist to only slow down to the speed necessary to yield.

Another complaint, I think, has to do with the way these laws are enforced. Cyclists don't have brake lights, and it's easy for an observer to miss the modest speed check necessary to effectively yield to any traffic that might have the right of way. While a driver not coming to a complete stop behind the line is something that happens more often than not, so is a cyclist not putting a foot down at every 4-way stop on the traffic-calmed bike route, yet the latter is something that cops routinely like to ticket in a lot of places.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 5:35 PM on May 22 [5 favorites]


"Roll." It is to laugh. Roll.

In San Diego, cyclists don't "roll" through stops, or even red lights. They CHARGE through them, aggressively, full speed ahead, pedaling the whole way, pedaling before even reaching the intersection. All this talk of "rolling" is quaint but not reality. At red lights with red arrows or "no turn on red" signs, they charge right through and make their right turns, even with oncoming vehicles; they do so at speed, usually with their earbuds in their ears, probably oblivious to any sound; they're surely never looking, just powering on through. Or they'll run a stop sign while talking on a cell phone.

These are not rare or unusual incidents. This is every day. Every hour. Every minute. All over town. Honk your horn when they blaze right in front of you, out come their middle fingers as if they're the victim, and the cut-off motorist, or the motorist with the right-of-way, is the bad guy. Cyclists seem to believe they have right-of-way anywhere, everywhere, any time, all the time.

Cyclists are cheaters, plain and simple, like their hero Armstrong. They break the law, and they do not get caught. And they do it again. And they do it over and over and still don't get caught, or get caught so infrequently they just don't worry about it. Parents in bicycles with kids in tow? Run stops too. No big deal. Everybody does it. Kids learn that that is the way you behave on public thoroughfares. Like ignorant, selfish fools.

Every single day I am out on the road, I can affirm that within 60 seconds of driving I will witness a cyclist pulling some shit. There is no sense of sharing the road. There is no sense of privilege. There is no humility. There is no empathy. It is pure selfishness, ignorance, and assholery.

Cyclists are horrible people.
posted by brianstorms at 5:44 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


I've not yet been to San Diego, but that doesn't sound like cyclist behavior I've ever seen, anywhere else in the country, on both coasts, including in Los Angeles, which I'd assume has a similar cycling culture, as another SoCal city.

I know cyclists who run lights, but I've never seen a cyclist literally charge through a light at full speed, plowing into pedestrians and not heeding oncoming traffic.
posted by Sara C. at 5:52 PM on May 22


brainstorms,

Show us where the bad cyclist touched you.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:54 PM on May 22 [8 favorites]


Drivers are cheaters. Drivers roll through four way stops (especially if they are turning right, they somehow think they don't need to stop?) Drivers decide to pull out into the bike line to pass traffic on the right (nice, passing on the right AND driving in the bike lane). Drivers pass bicycles within inches, then insist they didn't when you roll up at the stoplight and tap on their window to complain about it. Drivers pull out of parking spaces across bike lanes without looking for bikes coming along behind them. Drivers throw crap out their window and fill the bike lane or shoulder with litter that people on bicycles have to dodge.

Every single day I am out on the road, I can affirm that within 60 seconds of bicycling I will witness a driver pulling some shit. There is no sense of sharing the road. There is absolutely sense of privilege. There is no humility. There is no empathy. It is pure selfishness, ignorance, and assholery.

Drivers are horrible people.

/hamburger

(Seriously dude, paint with a broad brush much?)
posted by ambrosia at 5:55 PM on May 22 [7 favorites]


Geez, I guess it's time to head over to Reddit for a little relief.
posted by mr. digits at 6:05 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


Standard responses. Oh, that's excessive. Oh, that's hyperbole. Oh, you're being silly. Oh, somebody hurt your feelings. No. I'm just telling it like it is.

Pay attention. I challenge you to observe an intersection carefully in La Jolla, in Pacific Beach, at UCSD, in Del Mar, anywhere in San Diego really. Watch what the cyclists do. They only do one thing. They do whatever they feel like.

As for motorists, they are not saints. Too many are morons and exhibit the same selfish, ignorant, wilful cluelessness that cyclists exhibit. There are plenty of bad motorists. Many, many run stop signs here. I witnessed one driver run two stop signs as I rounded the final turn a block away from home just minutes ago. Motorists increasingly run red lights even.

But stop signs, the majority of 'em stop. Especially the 4-way stop intersections. The cyclists approach a busy 4-way, with cars and trucks at all 4 points, and they slam on through. This is standard. operating. procedure. I am not making this up. Go watch. Seeing them charge through, cutting whoever had right-of-way off is a spectacle. It is amazing. Unfortunately it is commonplace.
posted by brianstorms at 6:07 PM on May 22


Breaking news: there are asshole cyclists in San Diego, therefore every single person in the entire world who uses a bicycle is some kind of Lance Armstrong-worshiping piece of shit. /hamburger
posted by evidenceofabsence at 6:09 PM on May 22 [9 favorites]


And so it goes. Nothing ever comes of these discussions. Words don't work. I'd like to see folks refute video footage. Prolly time to take on that project.
posted by brianstorms at 6:11 PM on May 22


I would LOVE to see unedited video footage of a given 15 minute segment, brianstorms. *love* to.
posted by KathrynT at 6:11 PM on May 22


Bullshit, dude. I've been watching this San Diego webcam ever since you posted, and haven't seen a single cyclist run a red light.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 6:17 PM on May 22 [8 favorites]


Words don't work.

It might help if you picked some slightly less incendiary words? Because you're not "just telling it like it is."

I'm sorry that you've had such negative experiences, but what's true for you in San Diego isn't going to be true for people for other people in other places.

Suggesting that anyone in the world who uses a bike is a terrible person is kind of nuts.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 6:20 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


I have been in at least two crashes that, had I not been wearing a helmet, would have resulted in much serious and potentially permanent injury (i.e., I had to replace the helmet I was wearing after each).

I've had several head injuries when I wasn't cycling and wasn't wearing a helmet, one of which required hospitalization and caused permanent retrograde amnesia spanning about 24 hours of my life. I also had one head injury where I was wearing protective gear and the mask broke when somebody fired a paintball into my forehead from 3 feet away. The retrograde amnesia only lasted about a half hour that time and the blood was pretty easy to clean up.

People get head injuries all the time when they aren't on bikes. There's no particular reason to believe biking is more dangerous for your head than many other activities which don't require helmets. Which is part of the point made in one of the links in the post.
posted by Justinian at 6:38 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


So far the only head injury I've ever had was while driving a car!
posted by Sara C. at 6:40 PM on May 22


But if you like your brain the way it is, and don't want waste time doing things like learning to use a fork and knife again, wear a helmet.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:55 PM on May 22 [6 favorites +] [!]

Eponysterical





This thing is pretty, yo! I got to protect it!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:41 PM on May 22


Now that I think of it, I've had a lot of head injuries. This explains so much.
posted by Justinian at 6:41 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Ham Sandwich:

Actually yes, here in Oregon at least, a yellow light means stop unless it is unsafe to do so (that is, unless stopping would leave you in the middle of the intersection). People do get ticketed for not stopping at yellow lights, it's just rare.

This is exactly my point: people are so used to the laws being disregarded that we don't even know what they are (and from a predictability means safety argument, following the law is more dangerous than breaking it is).
posted by idiopath at 7:04 PM on May 22


the thing is if a cyclist fucks up they're way less likely to kill somebody else that someone in a car

also because we live in a culture where cars are normal and you see a million of them all the time it's harder to make generalizations about them

though if you're gonna call cyclists "cheaters" based on one pro using performance enhancing drugs it's a bit unfair in comparison to drivers since using steroids to go faster on a self propelled vehicle seems way less cheaty than using a fossil fuel powered ton of metal and machinery that someone else built
posted by NoraReed at 7:16 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


a fossil fuel powered ton of metal and machinery that someone else built

You leave my jetpack out of this!
posted by evidenceofabsence at 7:27 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


Knock on wood, but I've been commuting for a couple of decades on a bike in an urban area that is mostly not set up for bikes and have never had an accident. My closest calls have come from potholes on our incredibly poorly maintained and unlit streets. I ride like a grandma. I usually have a helmet on, just to keep people from hassling me. Usually it's not buckled tightly enough to make any sort of difference because the way my neck and chin connect it makes me feel like I'm choking to death.

I work in a richer, very white, Boomer area and I live in a very poor, black & Hispanic neighborhood. There is a huge bike culture difference.

My work area is full of 50-70 year old guys wearing bike outfits who roam in packs and take up the whole road, stopping frequently at coffee shops. The rest of the people there are very casual bikers like me, who are just toodling to work or university. There are a lot of people biking their kids to school in trailers and a few bike delivery folks who drive quite sedately with big wheelbarrow things attached to the front of their bikes. The designated bike roads are WONDERFUL- they're regular roads so bicyclists who want to pass my grandma-style ass can do so, and I feel completely safe on them. Idaho stops already seem to be the rule though I've heard tell of people getting tickets for not putting a foot solidly on the ground at a stop sign. That seems dumb to me. I can stop on my big ol' cruiser long enough to wait for traffic without putting my foot down.

The bicyclists where I LIVE, on the other hand, are incredibly skilled. They don't ride very quickly, but they do ride their dirt bikes the wrong direction down major roads with no reflectors and no lights, obviously disregarding any traffic laws and signs, often carrying something absurd. I think the unskilled riders must have all been killed off because these guys (always men) are amazing at getting out of the way and getting to where they need to go (while riding with two car tires on each arm or whatever). As far as I'm concerned, they can run any sign or light they want- they never seem to cause problems. They're amazing. Ticketing them would be petty.

Most of the people who bike where I live have no other form of transportation available, besides buses, which are not prolific or very cheap. Despite this, the bike lanes are all in the rich areas and the potholes are all in the areas where people MUST bike because they have no car (or license, not that that's an impediment to driving, from what I gather- there are used car lots all over with signs in Spanish saying "no license necessary!)

I am not sure what my points are except that 1) Biking cultures are really really different from place to place & 2) It always feels weird to me to see something like fancy bike line markers being installed in one place while the roads are nearly impassibly bad in another.
posted by small_ruminant at 7:29 PM on May 22 [6 favorites]


Um what no those people with no lights riding against traffic are basically going to die from doing that, no matter what race they are. Jesus christ I'm all for checking my privilege and shit, but no really the laws of physics really do apply to everyone and they absolutely SHOULD be ticketed. If for no other reason than that it could save their life one day.
posted by Sara C. at 7:39 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


And so it goes. Nothing ever comes of these discussions. Words don't work.

Not sure I'd go blaming the words if I were you, they seem to work OK for others.

However. These threads, I don't really comment in them because I'm usually too busy being baffled by the "but cyclists are stupid" and "hurf durf Darwin Award" nitwittery in them. It's the total lack of proportionality that gets to me. I don't bike much any more, mostly walk and sometimes drive, but I seriously can't understand what the militant CARS ROOL BIKES DROOL types are even getting at.

As a cyclist, you're at a substantial risk that a reckless, or momentarily inattentive, or perfectly-nice-but-just-a-shiity-driver person will, I don't know, MAIM OR KILL YOU.

As a driver, the risk you run from the most reckless, or spandex-wrapped, or adrenaline-addled, or messenger-looking,or just-a-shitty-cyclist person is... you have to pay more attention to the road than you'd prefer to? You have to hit your brakes? To avoid the possibility that they might SCRATCH YOUR FENDER ALL UP?

Does anyone who posts this kind of thing seriously think this is supposed to make sense?

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy being a dick about things that annoy me, as much as anyone, maybe more than most. But even I know I have to draw the line somewhere, and 'my momentary inconvenience' vs 'your death' is kind of a gimme.
posted by hap_hazard at 7:50 PM on May 22 [8 favorites]


Also a lot of the arguments about why cyclists shouldn't have to stop at an intersection apply to motor vehicles as well.

No they don't, primarily because of tonnage and inertia. Physics dictates that cars have a different performance than bikes. At equal speeds I can stop in a shorter distance on a bike than you can in a car. Also my overall speed range is much smaller. And if I fail to stop and do collide with someone the energy being transferred into them is much less.
posted by MrBobaFett at 7:53 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


Hoopo: Also a lot of the arguments about why cyclists shouldn't have to stop at an intersection apply to motor vehicles as well. If the driver looked around and saw no traffic, then why not?

If cars almost never traveled faster than 20 mph and usually less than 15 mph, and roads were so wide that six to eight of them could travel side by side, they would indeed not need to stop so often.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:16 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


"There is something about putting a person in control of a vehicle that, in some portion of the population, transforms an ordinarily harmless egoist into a menace to society."

Hah, SO true. Applies to everyone on wheels, really, but it does seem like if you are smaller and have a lot less protection in an accident, that you should be watching yourself even more for that reason. It's all that speed and power: makes you drunk with power muahahahahah!

I don't bike myself, but I live in the bike capital of America. You rarely see helmets on anyone because "I'm just riding to class!" People think of a bike like it's a car, just hop on and go without any thought. The only people that wear helmets are Serious Cyclers who wear the ugly Spandex outfits and the ugly bike shoes* and are doing it recreationally rather than as a commuter. Now, I get that a helmet's just going to be another bulky thing to carry around all day after you've arrived at your destination and that's a pain in the ass, sweaty head, etc. And you don't want that when you're just gonna ride for 10 minutes to class. But..... well, I'm biased.* Maybe what we need here is some kind of culture change in order to get this to improve. Have your bike helmet be as required as your bike permit and your bike lock around here. Or make them "cool" or something. Because right now it's socially acceptable to go without so you look less like a cyclist and more like your average person wandering down the street--but if you're riding in the vicinity of cars, that shit can get scary. On both sides, really.

* Disclaimer: my dad went through a rabid bike phase for a few years, had a bike accident and yay for his helmet. As I recall, the crash was made worse by his foot being stuck in the damn pedals because of those ugly bike shoes.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:18 PM on May 22


The thing is, if you're riding like 10 mph for a mile or less on quiet side streets or separated paths, a helmet is really no more necessary than it would be for walking.

The reason the hobbyists tend to need them is that they ride much faster, on busier roads, and yes, with clipped pedals they can't just bail (or even really control how they fall) as needed.
posted by Sara C. at 8:23 PM on May 22


I honestly wasn't expecting a MeFi discussion on this particular topic to go this badly. Come on people, we're better than this.
posted by flippant at 8:26 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one who really hates the whole 'anti-spandex cyclist' attitude? Look, all of that shit exists for very good reasons, nearly always involving comfort and avoidance of injury. Helmets, obviously, are even more important if you spend so much time on the bike and ride faster. The bike shorts are critical in avoiding the literal saddle-sores your seat will otherwise inflict, and preventing damage that can otherwise lead to impotence. The jerseys are important because regular shirts will ride up on you. They're obnoxious looking because it helps get you noticed (and therefore not run over). The shoes are special in that they're rigid, since regular shoes that bend will cause numbness and other problems over long rides. You clip in for extra power, but also so you don't accidentally fly off the pedals. Once you're over the initial practice period, it prevents more accidents than it causes. The gloves prevent numbness as well.

With all of that stuff, a racing bike is actually more comfortable to ride than a cruiser in normal clothing, and possibly the most comfortable setup there is for long rides. It bugs me that people think it's just to look like Lance Armstrong or whatever. Also, most cyclists don't care about the pros, but whatever.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:30 PM on May 22 [6 favorites]


hap_hazard, yes indeed, thank you - that very clearly makes the point I've been clumsily attempting and not succeeding at articulating.

also the uniquely bizarre and selfish attitude that maybe just a Colorado regional thing whereby if by chance some form of (frequently inferior, unsafe or less efficient) alternative means does exist to accommodate cyclists; e.g. a multi-use path running parallel the road, that we then somehow abrogate all right to use the surface street even though our state vehicle code clearly states we've a right to be there and furthermore, are allowed to take the lane if it's the safest option.

and yet somehow this perfectly legal assumption of our right to the road frequently enrages drivers to the point that they feel entitled to buzz, cut off, scream at, curse at, throw things at and occasionally even threaten cyclists at gunpoint. I wish I were making this up.

This entire discussion brings to mind the contentious and ultimately abandoned study that was done a few years back on Boulder County open space at the behest of hikers to demonstrate what scofflaws these fool cyclists be... all except the cronies at BCPOS forgot to hire their buddies to collect data and instead wound up outsourcing it to a CU grad program to send a bunch of kids out in the field to observe behaviors and... whoops, turns out mountain bikers aren't actually the antichrist after all; seems it's hikers and runners who by nearly an order of magnitude more commonly break all the various rules of the trail (littering, going off-trail, going around instead of through muddy areas and creating 8' wide hog wallows as a result, bothering wildlife, removing plants, leaving dog shit bags everywhere, letting their dogs haze livestock or endanger other users, etc...). The raw data is still out there and I've seen it and a couple of presentations that made use of it, but ultimately the Sierra Club didn't bother to publish their paper on "the dangers of multi use" or whatever bullshit theory they were attempting to push because reality didn't actually fit their perceptions.

The same can easily be said for perceptions of drivers. Let's face it. How many times have you noticed bikes going along in traffic doing nothing out of the ordinary? Let me clue you: we are everywhere, and we're virtually invisible and furthermore you'd better believe WE KNOW THAT so we take steps to ensure you never have to concern yourself with us because we're all happier that way. What you're perceiving is the edge cases; the "sore thumb" outliers. And because those are negative experiences and because of the unique way human psychology works like that, it's all you can remember. There's some term for that but I'll be damned if I can be arsed to recall it.

The truth is, drivers and more importantly automobiles and the entire fetishistic enabling culture that surrounds them in the USA are the problem. Not pedestrians, not bikes. Sticking your hands over your ears and yelling louder doesn't change that.
posted by lonefrontranger at 8:33 PM on May 22 [8 favorites]


With all of that stuff, a racing bike is actually more comfortable to ride than a cruiser in normal clothing

For 100 miles, sure. I wouldn't do a long haul ride without that stuff. And modern technical road bikes are build with the assumption that you ride with all that stuff, so no need to build comfort or ease of use into the design of the bike.

But for commuting, no, really, all that stuff is just a bunch of expensive gear you don't need. Get a bike with geometry vaguely proportional to how real humans are really built, and ride it at slow speeds in your regular clothes.

I'll agree with you about one thing, though -- cruisers are the worst. That's my other least favorite thing about LA bike culture. Beach cruisers. Shudder.
posted by Sara C. at 8:39 PM on May 22


I think that's why these discussions never go well.

Because even within the categories of drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, etc. you've got all these little micro-subcultures. Everybody's got a pet hate, whether it's beach cruisers or people who text while walking or SUVs or what.
posted by Sara C. at 8:40 PM on May 22


Get a bike with geometry vaguely proportional to how real humans are really built, and ride it at slow speeds in your regular clothes.

Given that the weather in Seattle would probably require my husband to change clothes after a 2 mile ride most of the year, never mind his 12 mile commute, what exactly does he gain by riding in the rain in khakis and a button-down shirt?
posted by KathrynT at 8:48 PM on May 22


Um what no those people with no lights riding against traffic are basically going to die from doing that, no matter what race they are.

Actually, no, they don't die, because there are no more defensive bikers than these folks. That is my point. They are incredibly aware of and responsive to their surroundings, and they never EVER assume they have the right of way.

To be clear, I am not those people. I have slower reflexes, wearing glasses means my peripheral vision is shit, and wearing my stupid helmet means I can't locate sound sources as well. Also, I'm plain ol' not as coordinated.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:50 PM on May 22


I really, really hope separated lanes become commonplace. Painted bike lanes just aren't good enough, in my opinion. With a separated lane, a helmet isn't necessary, and cyclists can follow their own traffic signals. I've ridden this way in places like Copenhagen and it's a completely different experience than dealing with cars in the cities I've lived in the U.S. I find both cycling and driving stressful when cars and bikes are sharing the same lanes (near where I live in Oakland now, they've painted lanes down the middle of one of the main traffic lanes, rather than at the side, and my experience has been that's even worse than the typical painted lane). I know way too many people who've been hit by cars on a bike. Changing the way people stop isn't an answer. The infrastructure is the problem.
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:58 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


Cyclists are horrible people.

That's it. I'm going for the nuclear option: climate change.

Drivers are burning down the future for the sake of their comfort and convenience. Ruining our cities wasn't enough for you, was it?
posted by [expletive deleted] at 9:03 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


I honestly wasn't expecting a MeFi discussion on this particular topic to go this badly. Come on people, we're better than this.
No we're not.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:05 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


Yeah if you think this is bad I don't know which mefi cycling threads you've read before. They're all the same. I'd like to see them outright discouraged, same as anything else we suck at.

(I'm a cyclist, a driver, a pedestrian, AND a motorcyclist which thankfully has barely been mentioned in here at all!)
posted by RustyBrooks at 9:11 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Rusty: I'm also a motorcyclist. It seems to me that motorcyclists are considered an Other, like bicyclists are, but we're a scary and powerful other, respected and even feared a little, instead of being disregarded and even mocked like bicyclists. We're taking pretty much the same risks as bicyclists are; we're just as exposed, and just as squishy. We go a hell of a lot faster, which puts us at more risk, but they only have their legs as a powerplant, so they can't just rocket out of the way, which puts them at more risk. Perhaps it balances out? In any case, I think that motorcyclists in general get extra, undeserved respect because of the outsized cultural footprint created by the Hells Angels and motorcycle gangs in general. People stereotype bikers as tough, not to be messed with.

The solution, then? A genre of exploitation films featuring bicycle gangs. Maybe some high-profile busts and trials for the leaders of outlaw bicycle gangs. A TV series dramatizing the soap-opera exploits of a multigenerational bicycle gang family. A major bicycle manufacturer should start a knockoff "owner's group", complete with vests and patches, so that people who don't actually want to break the law can feel cool by being part of a club.
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:33 PM on May 22 [5 favorites]


Oh, I can help with that! My behavior at stop lights when I'm next to a motorcyclist is to cover my ears preemptively, because I'm usually gonna get blasted. Ow.
posted by asperity at 9:37 PM on May 22


First question people in Toronto who don't ride bikes ask when they learn you cycle a lot in traffic: Do you wear a helmet? (I don't, for reasons probably mentioned up thread and in the linked article.) The next question is some variation on: Aren't you afraid of being hurt?; Isn't that dangerous? I think most people have this backwards. They fear riding a bike because an automobile might hit them, seem to think that it's almost an inevitable outcome of riding a bike, but they give little recognition to the other half of that equation - that climbing behind the wheel of an automobile greatly magnifies your power to hurt someone else. Yes, if I chose a bike over a car there might be some additional risk that I individually might be injured. But if I chose a bike that means one less car on the road, and the overall likelihood that anyone, myself or someone else, might be injured has lessened. I much prefer operating a bike rather than a car in dense urban environments, because I'm so much more able to see what's happening around me, and I'm not operating at speed or force or size that challenges my ability to react or control my impact. On a bike I have the ability to just step away from traffic when it becomes too hectic, while in a car I'm constantly being squeezed by the impatience of fellow motorists when trying to give other users like pedestrians proper consideration. When I chose to take the bike (trying to the best of my ability to follow rules and responsibly share the space) instead of the car everyone becomes a little more safe.
posted by TimTypeZed at 9:37 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


yea I've pretty much decided that helmets are for all intents and purposes a Dumbo's Feather type of solution. I wear mine most of the time these days anyhow because racing and regulations and busybodies, but I don't kid myself that it's actually doing all that much frankly.
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:45 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


I don't support helmet laws because I believe they are used as an excuse to harass poor and minority cyclists who are just trying to get to work. And I don't think you really need a helmet on a big, heavy comfort-style bike where you're sitting practically upright and can't go very fast anyway.

That said, I think riding without a helmet on a 2014-standard mountain bike or road bike is a good way to get serious brain trauma. You're high up and wobbly and moving too fast to prepare for a fall. Don't do it for yourself, do it for your relatives who would have to spend the rest of their lives taking care of you.

I saw a catastrophic bike-on-bike accident where both riders were on tiny aluminum road bikes, going way too fast for weather conditions, and wearing earphones. They were going down a narrow path in opposite directions and their handlebars smacked in to each other and got hooked. Both bikes were seriously bent and the riders were thrown to the ground head first at high speed. Admittedly those dudes were both idiots, but helmets probably saved at least one life.
posted by miyabo at 10:04 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


A genre of exploitation films featuring bicycle gangs.

Opens Final Draft and gets to work.
posted by Sara C. at 10:19 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Man Who Got Ticketed for NOT Riding His Bike In the Bike Lane Films Self Crashing Into Things Blocking The Bike Lane
posted by carsonb at 11:39 PM on May 22 [7 favorites]


Man Who Got Ticketed for NOT Riding His Bike In the Bike Lane Films Self Crashing Into Things Blocking The Bike Lane yt

Some of those falls looked like they probably hurt. Ouch.

Regarding the rolling stop issue, my house fronts on a weird corner with two stop signs and a hill. Just from idly watching from my porch, I'd say that no more than one in twenty cars, and probably a lot less, comes to a complete stop at either stop sign, even though visibility of cross traffic is limited. Bicyclists stop more often than cars, because of feeling vulnerable to that same visibility issue I think. Skateboarders in the downhill direction almost never stop and I've seen some very close calls; it's a matter of time before one of them gets squished. Pedestrians wander through at odd angles but that's fine because speeds are low and they can easily see traffic in all directions.

I have been considering setting up a video camera for a couple of hours as a way to pressure the city to install some traffic calming measures -- I don't really care if the cars come to a complete stop or not, as long as all of the speeds are really low, especially on the cross street. But I suspect that what will actually happen is that they'll send out a patrol car and they'll just ticket the bicycles and the jaywalking pedestrians.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:23 AM on May 23


Maybe some high-profile busts and trials for the leaders of outlaw bicycle gangs.

Wearing a Lance-era USPS jersey ought to be the cycling equivalent of 3-piece MC club colors.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:49 AM on May 23


"i've nearly hit cyclists who were riding on the sidewalk in a way that was unsafe and unpredictable

i've nearly hit cyclists who went straight through stop signs

funny thing is, i've never almost hit a cyclist who was riding on the road and obeying the rules
"

I've been followed for four blocks by an SUV inches from my back tire while some couple of assholes honked and yelled at me to ride on the sidewalk because roads belong to cars.

It's rare that I don't have to yell at somebody on my commute, and handily I tend to catch up with them at red lights (I ride mostly on a designated bike route — Fountain — which a lot of assholes use as a shortcut). If you think I'm an asshole on MeFi, you should see me when I'm next to someone who's just honked at me and told me to ride on the sidewalk despite all the fucking sharrows and signs. A couple weeks ago, some dick in a Lexus with dealer plates was threatening to get out of the car and kick my ass for riding in the street — again, on Fountain, which is a bike route — and I was already planning to take his keys and chuck them down a gutter when the light changed and he roared off trying to hit me with his car.

I always hesitate to talk about shit like this because LA already has a reputation as being dangerous to ride in, though per mile my understanding is that biking is still safer. I'll also say that there's a totally weird sexist dichotomy in how women cyclists get treated: Either six feet more clearance than they need, or weirdly aggressive attempts to force them off the road.

(I've gotten to the point where I've tried to come up with some sort of three-foot clearance [the law for passing bikes] handlebar-mounted marker or spray can that would mark people who passed without giving enough room.)
posted by klangklangston at 9:05 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


yeah klang, being female on a bike adds a whole new epic dimension of weirdness in; I didn't even bother to mention it because for starters it adds even more rage on behalf of both drivers and (this is awesome) OTHER CYCLISTS wtf if you have the balls to, oh idk, actually be fast and competent.
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:22 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


(not to mention all the harassment and slut-shaming I've dealt with over the years for daring to appear in public in spandex)
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:24 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


(I've gotten to the point where I've tried to come up with some sort of three-foot clearance [the law for passing bikes] handlebar-mounted marker or spray can that would mark people who passed without giving enough room.)

This guy put a safety flag on his bike, sticking out sideways.
posted by ambrosia at 9:33 AM on May 23


MrBobaFett: the reason you don't wear one while walking is because you are moving at around 2 mph as opposed to 15-25 mph on a bike

Hold on, if you are going 15-25mph on a bike in a city you either have no one on the road or have the best bike lane ever. I know of only a few places in Portland (the Springwater Corridor being my top pick) where I can kick up to 15-20 mph without feeling unsafe (and that's only at certain hours). On a bike you're most likely going 5-8 mph average.

resurrexit: This excellent comment from seanmpuckett still rings true:
Helmet laws and riding restrictions really have been a stunning success as a way of reducing the demand for casual cycling facilites such as segregated lanes, dedicated pathways and even bike racks.

Cycling enthusiasts themselves have, with what few legal recourses for cycling available to them, done a further great job alienating both casual riders, pedestrians and drivers with outlandish, unsafe behaviour as well as their clown-like attire and bizarro equipment fetishes.

Who the hell wants to just "get on your bikes and ride" when the pervasive mental image of a bicyclist these days is some spandex-clad jackass with a face-hugger on his head riding at 40 klicks down the edge of a road inches from being crushed between a bus and the opening door of a parked car and always half a second from simply plowing over someone's grandma with her arms full of groceries.

Everyone hates cyclists & no one wants to "be that guy" because he's a tool, and either you wear the gear to be "safe" or more likely in compliance with the law and now you have branded yourself a cyclist and people hate you, or you don't wear the gear and people yell at you that you're not being safe and you should have a helmet on.

It requires an investment of ego to ride a bike now, you have to Be A Cyclist.

You can't just be a person on a bicycle.

Once upon a time, people just rode bikes to get around or fuck around. It was easy and accessible and moderately safe, and streets had people walking and cycling and driving and that was okay.

It would be nice to have that again.


I both disagree and agree with the comment that was quoted here. First of all, there is no "bizarro equipment fetish" with cyclists (okay, maybe with some cyclists). The fact of the matter is wearing cycling attire is utilitarian. I wear my cycling tights in the winter so that I don't get wet from the rain, so I am not too cold, and so I don't overheat when I do manage to warm up. It's so much more comfortable to ride that way rather than showing up to work dripping wet in jeans and being chafed from riding in soaked underwear. In the summer I wear cycling bibs and a jersey so that my body sweat is wicked away from my body and so that the air can hit me properly, which helps keep me cool. Cycling clothes are extremely utilitarian and are not some elite thing reserved for "tools". I do agree it'd be nice to just be able to jump on a bike and ride without having to worry about wearing a helmet.

In regards to the conversation about about cyclists being an oppressed class, white people wanting to feel oppressed, etc. I think there are some legitimate arguments to be had as to whether cyclists are disenfranchised or not. Anyone of any race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. is subjected to the same issues as a cyclist, but I wouldn't be surprised if a black kid on a BMX bike was subjected more harshly to the laws than me, a white guy on his road bike. It's not fair at all, but that is a whole different discussion. On the other hand, that same black kid on his BMX bike does have to deal with the same stupid road issues that I do, and maybe even to a worse extent. Unpaved roads, unsafe bike lanes, badly designed intersections, etc. affect both of us equally.

America's Best Cycling City. I love this blog because it shows really dumb situations cyclists have to figure out everyday, nearly all of them involving bike lanes. Even if you wanted to use the bike lanes and be legal there are hazards in the middle of them that constantly force you into the road, or swerving dangerously around these hazards.

Cycling in the U.S. from a Dutch perspective is an awesome video that brings up the hilarious tragedy that is the States' various cycling infrastructure (or lack of). It mentions people riding with spandex, people riding with helmets (the guy is actually bewildered by this), bike lanes being shitty, and more. It's an effective take-down of things we typically champion here, especially people in these threads who believe the solution is more bike lanes.

The problem is that the U.S. grew up as a predominantly car-friendly culture and that most likely is not going to change anytime soon. It's vehemently aggressive and violent, especially in red states. I remember growing up in Phoenix and having a guy throw a glass bottle at me while I rode my bike, screaming "get a car, faggot". That's what cyclists are to a lot of people, even ones who are obeying the laws.
posted by gucci mane at 9:52 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


On a bike you're most likely going 5-8 mph average.

lol no
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 9:57 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


5-8 mph is pretty slow, but if you're riding 25mph in city traffic, i am both impressed by and terrified for you. probably 12mph is reasonable, 15 if you've got a bike lane and no one parking in it/threatening to door you?
posted by misskaz at 10:00 AM on May 23


The speed limit on the Burke Gilman / Sammamish River Trail (big, separated, heavily used walk/run/skate/bike trail in Seattle) is 15 mph. In the summer, when it's more heavily used, my husband takes surface streets because his speed regularly exceeds the limits -- it's safer for him to share the road with 25-30mph cars than to share the trail with 3-5mph walkers, runners, off-leash dogs and children, etc.
posted by KathrynT at 10:06 AM on May 23


Yeah, biking is a spectrum and I'm not fond of some of the pseudo-authoritative tones some people here decided to take. It's just bikesplaining, pure and simple.

Also, I am completely awesome on my bikes.
posted by planetesimal at 10:06 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


(Don't be a bikesplainer!)
posted by planetesimal at 10:17 AM on May 23


Piedmont man charged after viral video threatening cyclists.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:19 AM on May 23


But KathrynT, you also mentioned that your husband has a 12 mile commute in each direction, which means he's likely on a techy road bike with clipped pedals, spandex, and the whole thing. That style of sport cyclist does frequently reach speeds in the 20-30 mph range, which is why helmets are so vital within that culture.

Me riding my vintage mixte three miles on quiet streets to pick for records at the flea market? I'm doing 10 mph, tops. A helmet really is just a giant sign that says BIKES ARE DANGEROUS OMG THIS IS A BAD IDEA.
posted by Sara C. at 10:26 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


Also do not even get me STARTED on the road warriors in the spandex doing 30 mph on shared bike lanes and/or in parks. Dude srsly you wanna ride agressively, go fight it out with the cars. Leave me and the joggers and the kids on training wheels out of it.
posted by Sara C. at 10:27 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


But KathrynT, you also mentioned that your husband has a 12 mile commute in each direction, which means he's likely on a techy road bike with clipped pedals, spandex, and the whole thing. That style of sport cyclist does frequently reach speeds in the 20-30 mph range, which is why helmets are so vital within that culture.

Remember, I oppose mandatory helmet laws. And yeah, he's got a $3K bike with a custom fit and the Pearl Izumi spandex pants and the clip shoes and the whole thing. I totally agree that none of those things are necessary to be a regular cyclist, even a commuter cyclist, but they don't just exist to be worn by tools, they're real advantages with the weather and the friction over any kind of distance.

I think at his top condition (when he was not only commuting daily but also training for the STP) he averaged 18mph over the length of his commute, including the massive hill at the end of his commute in. (Marymoor Hill, for those who know Seattle's East side.) These days it's probably more like 15-16mph. But he's not some sort of uber-slick athlete; when he started, he weighed 250 pounds, and now he has autoimmune arthritis and is also 45. He is a regular guy who eats a lot of Doritos and plays a lot of video games and sits down for a living, and he commutes by bicycle because he'd rather ride in the rain than drive in rush hour traffic in the rain.
posted by KathrynT at 10:45 AM on May 23


Just so people are aware, Tour de France riders average 25-28 mph on flat terrain. No average hobby/recreational/transportation cyclist is going 25-30mph, except with a strong tailwind or on a downhill. None.
posted by misskaz at 10:51 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]


FWIW, my fabulous tank of a bike and the stuff I carry on it weigh a third of my body weight. I'm not in especially great biking shape since I take the bus more than I bike for most of the year. I can still do 15-25 easily if the road quality's good and the slope's not working against me. All I need is a long enough stretch without any reasons to slow or stop (stop signs, pothole avoidance maneuvers, nearby pedestrians, cars being all slow in front of me, etc.) My average is lower than that because hills, but even on a pretty slow ride I'll be going fast for some of it.

Not interested in riding slower without a good reason, since that means I'm late to work or I miss the first inning of the baseball game or whatever. I don't even have patience for the otherwise-speedy roadies without fenders who get all shy of puddles when it rains and slow me down when I could be barreling through them and shouting WHEEEEE

I forget where I'm going with this, but a) not in favor of mandatory helmet laws and b) always wear mine because I intend to make sure I have the best tort case possible. And also it holds my mirror and keeps the bugs out of my hair.
posted by asperity at 10:53 AM on May 23


A helmet really is just a giant sign that says BIKES ARE DANGEROUS OMG THIS IS A BAD IDEA.

Seeing someone wearing a helmet is not the thing that makes me think this way. The fact I would be sharing the road with large vehicles that could squish me in an instant is the thing that makes me think that way. Helmet or no, I would not be comfortable on a bike on a busy street because it seems dangerous to me. An acquaintance of mine who was a friend of my wife's was crushed under a city bus while riding and was dragged to her death a few years back. The driver didn't even know she was there.

In terms of the more leisurely bike ride on trails and stuff, I mean if it's not the law then knock yourself out, don't wear a helmet. But the thing is any little pothole/sinkhole or obstacle can be the one that catches you off guard, or the one where you have to brake hard and fast. My daughter will be wearing one when she's old enough to ride a bike, and I'm not the least bit convinced that there should be no law simply because some people feel it scares people off biking.
posted by Hoopo at 11:10 AM on May 23


The fact I would be sharing the road with large vehicles that could squish me in an instant is the thing that makes me think that way

I think this is sort of the mark of someone who's never actually cycled as an adult, on streets/outside of parks, though. I was really afraid of cars squishing me when I first started. Then I got on my bike and into the street and discovered that, no, cars aren't going to squish you. Drivers can see you. The vast, vast, VAST majority of them do not actively want to hit you. And obeying the laws and behaving predictably is a huge help in making sure no driver ever accidentally hits you.

Think about when you're driving a car, and you see a cyclist. Do you immediately think, "MUST KILL"? No, you don't. You think "Pardon me, miss, as I gingerly pass you." As a driver, even when I'm feeling rushed and annoyed at someone's bad cycling skills and maybe a little road ragey, the thought of trying to hit somebody has never entered my mind. I've had one close call with a cyclist, someone who came flying off the sidewalk against traffic trying to do some kind of baroque running-start bike mounting maneuver. And even then, I didn't hit them, I was just really irritated by their obvious death wish.

When law-abiding cyclists riding casually at slow speeds on quiet streets feel compelled to suit up to avoid the nonexistent danger, that really does communicate to non-cyclists that their fears are founded in some kind of reality. The truth, though, is that it's really not as dangerous as non-cyclists think.
posted by Sara C. at 11:22 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


"5-8 mph is pretty slow, but if you're riding 25mph in city traffic, i am both impressed by and terrified for you. probably 12mph is reasonable, 15 if you've got a bike lane and no one parking in it/threatening to door you?"

So, because I take about the same route with my car as I do with my bike, and I just did a modicum of math, I know that I average about 10mph on a bike commuting, and about 12 mph in a car commuting. Obviously, the acceleration curves look wildly different, and more importantly force multiplies with both acceleration and mass, meaning that the energy in a collision is exponentially higher from a car than a bike.

(I also oppose mandatory helmet laws but wear one myself because I had a nasty spill a couple years ago where I wasn't wearing a helmet and avoided serious brain damage by millimeters.)
posted by klangklangston at 11:30 AM on May 23


I remember reading a study a few years ago done in New York City where it turned out the average speed of a bike was actually higher than the average speed of a car, in urban NYC.

When I bike commuted from Brooklyn to Manhattan, I actually made better time on my bike than I would have on the subway.
posted by Sara C. at 11:33 AM on May 23


I ride a Bakfiets with my kids. It's 100 pounds empty, and with both kids in it add another 80 pounds. If I break 10mph on that thing I'll eat my hat. But plenty of times I wind up at the stoplight waiting with the same bunch of cars that I saw at the previous stoplight, so I'm at least keeping pace with car traffic.
posted by ambrosia at 11:33 AM on May 23 [4 favorites]


Twenty-year bike commuter in NYC here. It's been interesting to watch the change from my being the only one who bicycled to work in the mid-90s to now where it seems most people in my apartment building ride at least occasionally, whether to work or for leisure. To echo what mathowie said above, my traffic-riding style has matured. In many regards, I don't take as many stupid risks, but I am more aggressive about putting myself fully into a lane if I feel it's necessary. It's a tricky balance between being aggressive and being aware of what's going on around you. I see too many cyclists sporting white earbuds, and that to me is arguably the dumbest thing you could do while navigating traffic. At my previous job, I was riding from upper Manhattan to Brooklyn, and that was one of many varieties of stupidity I saw on the Williamsburg Bridge.

(Also, for this commute, I wore street clothes and a helmet--no lycra. I averaged 55 minutes for 11 miles, not blazing fast, but hard enough to work up a good sweat. The subway worked out to be about the same time. The one time I did get hit by a car, I landed right on my face, so the helmet didn't really do much to protect me there.)
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 11:58 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


it feels to me like people in this thread are partially succumbing to the temptation to pigeonhole and project based on theirs or their partners' experiences and while you're only the sum of your own experience, painting with the "all cyclists" or "I wish they would" is kind of missing the fact that many cyclists, do, in fact, operate in multiple modes depending.

I commute to work. I frequently wear the spandex kit that I already own six sets of because I'm also a bike racer and I do this because heat, sweat, rain, snow, muddy paths or whatever and I work in a profession that requires business casual. When I worked as a messenger or landscaping service jack-of-all-trades? No, not so much, I wore whatever rags to commute that I worked in.

On any given day, when on my bike in traffic, I might be commuting, proceeding to or through a 3 hour training / interval session, riding to a bike race, riding to the pump track or the local cross-country trails on one of my 2 MTBs, going to pick up groceries on the cargo bike, or riding downtown or to the bus on my step-thru cruiser in a skirt and heels AND NO HELMET (because updo) to go out for cocktails. Or any one of a million other things I do by bike in this town.

What I don't appreciate is people projecting for me that I'm some kind of trendy asshole roadie Lance wannabee based strictly on my kit and clipless pedals (unsafe? really? have you ever gone over the guardrail in old-skool cages or torn up your shins because you slipped off a platform pedal? I've done both. Clipless pedals release like ski bindings, safely and reliably when you part ways with the bike, because they're designed to do so).

What I also don't appreciate is people assuming that in the event I am on the bike path in my roadie spandex, that I'm acting like an asshole on the basis of my looks, because no, we have a 15mph speed limit and I adhere to it. If I need to get somewhere faster, I use the surface streets because strollers, etc. And furthermore I **truly** don't appreciate the drivers who use the simple fact that a bike path exists to threaten and harass me when I don't use it.

tl;dr: cyclists are a diverse group. Don't succumb to tribalist mentality, we are all in this together.
posted by lonefrontranger at 12:02 PM on May 23 [5 favorites]


Clipless pedals elevate humans past the Singularity. It's like you have a magical flywheel implanted near your vital organs that gives ever more momentum.

But people should be able to pedal one legged from a standing start to get clipped in and going rather than this horse mounting maneuver I see some people do.
posted by planetesimal at 12:32 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]


planetesimal are you referring to a cyclocross running mount or to that weird multi-kick skateboard start that recreational riders who don't understand physics and leverage do?
posted by lonefrontranger at 12:37 PM on May 23


The latter, yeah. It's like, man, just pull up with the one pedal.
posted by planetesimal at 12:42 PM on May 23


I really, really hope separated lanes become commonplace.

I welcome about any good infrastructure investment and I'm sure these are helpful, but the part I'm uncomfortable with is that creating a "my lane -- your lane" design puts the cyclist at a disadvantage every where else. It sort of cedes the most productive viewpoint, which is that it is "our lane" and that it can be shared with a modicum of civility. I tend to prefer less markings on roads and simply making lanes a bit wider so everyone can more easily use them together. All the same, I see separate lanes work in some places and it is likely a net positive. I just think we can likely lobby for wider lanes more easily.
posted by dgran at 12:42 PM on May 23


I don't care whether it's correct according to physics or not, if you can't stop and wait at a light, you're doing it wrong and need to learn to ride a bicycle properly before going out and buying fancy toys.

(That's the general you, lonefrontranger, not you specifically. As someone who actually abides by speed limits on multi-use paths, you're clearly doing it right.)
posted by Sara C. at 12:45 PM on May 23


"Pull up with the one pedal"
More so than that, learn how crankset leverage actually works to your advantage so that you don't necessarily have to. Your starting pedal for your power (launch) stroke should be at 10:00, not 6, so that you get a full crank's worth of momentum on your launch stroke. Then you have a few seconds worth of forward speed with which to fumble for the offside pedal.

You learn this really fast doing hill starts in technical terrain on MTBs, or conversely riding fixed in traffic where there's no margin for error.

One of my hardest fought for skills has been the balance and leg strength to start a 29er MTB (so, loads of wheel inertia) on a steep technical climb by getting both feet clipped in from a trackstand / dead stall without having to resort to ape hanging from trees and such.
posted by lonefrontranger at 12:57 PM on May 23


dgran, the problem with wider lanes is that it encourages drivers to go faster. It does not tend to encourage people to share the road.

Obviously opinions vary, but I'm of two minds:

1. Narrow shared roads, and get cycling up to a critical mass where drivers are used to seeing cyclists and everyone has the education they need to use the roads properly. This works very well in Manhattan and "brownstone Brooklyn". I'll use a painted lane if it's there, because, sure, whatever, but even on traffic-calmed streets that lack them, it's fine. People just go around you, and even with the narrow Manhattan side-streets, there's plenty of room for that.

2. Separated lanes and other street architecture that optimizes cycling (bike boxes, special signage and traffic signals, etc). This is brilliant for being a cyclist and moving quickly through urban traffic without having to even think about cars at all. It just works. Period.

Wider roads aren't going to work, they're just an invitation for drivers to be jerks. Urging cyclists to just be aggressive and act like cars isn't going to work unless you assume there will always only be a very tiny minority of hardcore road warriors doing 20+ mph, and don't really want anyone else "sharing" the road. If the road is for everyone, make roads that can actually be used by everyone.

For Los Angeles, I would really love to see a separated lane on Fountain in Hollywood, though I know that'll never happen. Even the sharrows make drivers psychotic.
posted by Sara C. at 12:58 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]


(just while we're all on the "all cyclists are different" kick - I do the weird awkward skateboard like start thing because I have some residual stiffness in my joints and some balance problems from a childhood illness plus a trick hip, and it's much much easier for me in terms of moving my legs.)
posted by Frowner at 1:02 PM on May 23


Oh Jesus sharrows. We have a bunch in our town, and I swear most people don't understand what they mean and are supposed to indicate.

And yes, wider streets simply encourage cars to drive faster. This is pretty well-understood by traffic engineers, who sometimes will simply re-stripe roads to make them feel narrower as a way of slowing down traffic.
posted by ambrosia at 1:05 PM on May 23


Thanks for the clarification on wider avenues and speed. Now that I think about it more, I see how that would happen.
posted by dgran at 1:18 PM on May 23


It sort of cedes the most productive viewpoint, which is that it is "our lane" and that it can be shared with a modicum of civility.

That viewpoint was ceded in the 1920s when cars got big enough, fast enough, and heavy enough to kill anyone they came into contact with, and any hope of having speed governors put on cars to keep them below killing speed on local roads was eliminated.

A bicyclist and a car sharing the same lane are a wolf and a sheep arguing about dinner.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:24 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]


But they really don't have to be, at all.

I drive, and I see cyclists every day. I simply navigate my vehicle around them and go on with my life. It is really, really not difficult at all. Even the narrowest street here in Los Angeles is plenty wide enough for a car to get around a cyclist traveling at slow speeds.

The main problems from a driver perspective seems to be that drivers aren't used to seeing cyclists, and they freak out, to one of two extremes:

- Can't face the idea of getting around them, idle slowly behind them and beanplate about wtf to even do.

- Get angry at this DIFFERENT THING in the road and go all road ragey, honk, rev their engine, flip cyclists off, and maybe even get threatening/violent.

Of course most drivers don't do either of these things, they just drive around the cyclist and move on with their lives. But those seem to be the trouble spots.
posted by Sara C. at 1:34 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]


Apropos of something, a funny new Norwegian PSA about driver/cyclist interactions.

Others, with a Google translation of the premise:
Many motorists believe they have sole rights to the road (I don't know what he's saying, but I could guess.)
27% of motorists have experienced cyclists actively preventing them in passing
20% of riders have been pushed into the ditch by motorists
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 1:39 PM on May 23


We have a bunch in our town, and I swear most people don't understand what they mean and are supposed to indicate.

I think it was two years after sharrows appeared on Seattle streets that I found out they were supposed to mean "share the road" and not "there is a sort of weird semi-overlapping bike lane on the right here, so cars should hug the left edge of the lane". And really, what's the point? Isn't "share the road" supposed to be the rule on all the roads? Just build more cycle tracks already.
posted by Mars Saxman at 3:14 PM on May 23


Isn't "share the road" supposed to be the rule on all the roads?

A lot of drivers apparently forget this unless it's literally printed on the road every fifty feet.
posted by KathrynT at 3:16 PM on May 23 [3 favorites]


In my experience a lot of drivers seem to interpret "Share the Road" as "bicyclists get out of the way." I much prefer the slightly wordier "Bikes May Use Full Lane."
posted by ambrosia at 3:21 PM on May 23 [5 favorites]


The fact I would be sharing the road with large vehicles that could squish me in an instant is the thing that makes me think that way

I think this is sort of the mark of someone who's never actually cycled as an adult, on streets/outside of parks, though. I was really afraid of cars squishing me when I first started. Then I got on my bike and into the street and discovered that, no, cars aren't going to squish you. Drivers can see you. The vast, vast, VAST majority of them do not actively want to hit you. And obeying the laws and behaving predictably is a huge help in making sure no driver ever accidentally hits you.




No, I don`t think that drivers are actively trying to hit me. I think a number of them are passively trying to hit me. I think Toronto may have some of the laziest, most oblivious drivers I have ever seen, and this is a cause of both cyclist and pedestrian deaths. I never cut inside on a truck, even though the law says it is perfectly within my right to do so, because I don`t know if they are going to suddenly decide to turn without looking or signalling. A perfectly nice young woman was killed in my neighborhood two years ago for exactly this reason. I go by that spot almost every day, and there are still flowers there.

I don`t see the issue with clipless pedals. I use both road and mtb pedals on my various bikes, and I`ve never had a problem. Clip in, clip out- they actually give me more control while I`m riding.



Piedmont man charged after viral video threatening cyclists.



I normally try not to indulge in violent thinking, but I seriously want to shoot that guy in the face.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:44 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]


As a driver, the risk you run from the most reckless, or spandex-wrapped, or adrenaline-addled, or messenger-looking,or just-a-shitty-cyclist person is... you have to pay more attention to the road than you'd prefer to? You have to hit your brakes? To avoid the possibility that they might SCRATCH YOUR FENDER ALL UP?

As a driver: my fears are more the possibility that I might HIT AND KILL a road user that pulls a reckless maneuver that I can't evade; or that in taking emergency evasive action I might HIT AND KILL a third party; or that I might HIT something solid and KILL myself.

Although my experience is that it's far more often other drivers that behave unpredictably, not cyclists.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 10:14 AM on May 24


spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints: lol no
misskaz: 5-8 mph is pretty slow, but if you're riding 25mph in city traffic, i am both impressed by and terrified for you. probably 12mph is reasonable, 15 if you've got a bike lane and no one parking in it/threatening to door you?

A lot of people in the city are not going very fast on their bikes, and 5-8 mph (let's put it up to 5-10 mph) is actually entirely reasonable for the majority of commuters I see. Keep in mind these aren't people with the latest carbon fiber frame and electronic groupset, these are people with bikes that get them where they need to go. These people aren't trying to mash as fast as possible, they're trying to get from point A to point B. I use Strava to map my rides and when I am commuting casually I average about 12 mph, and I am on an aluminum 1999 Specialized Allez Comp with an Ultegra 6500 groupset. People who are not on a bike like this are definitely averaging a slower speed than me. Even on my fixed gear and riding casually I am not going much faster than 10 mph. I'd definitely say 5-10 mph is a good average speed for the majority of commuters out there that I witness. There's no way I am going 15-25 mph in the city, that's reserved for when I am doing specific rides on specific roads that have barely any traffic. There's one major commuting corridor (that I mentioned earlier) that I can average a solid 20 mph on, and even doing that is sketchy sometimes.
posted by gucci mane at 10:02 PM on May 24


Average speed isn't what's at issue here.
posted by asperity at 10:22 PM on May 24


Bicyclist Deaths Explained: Driver error, rear-end collisions most responsible for fatalities
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:20 PM on May 28


In my experience a lot of drivers seem to interpret "Share the Road" as "bicyclists get out of the way." I much prefer the slightly wordier "Bikes May Use Full Lane."

Delaware agrees with you. "Share the Road" is crap.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:29 PM on May 29 [5 favorites]


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