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A Unified Theory of New York Biking
September 8, 2010 10:41 AM   Subscribe

Felix Salmon formulates a theory regarding the interaction of cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians in New York City: "Cyclists get no respect as road users. Instead, tragically, they’re treated like pedestrians."
posted by mhum (147 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
And again, cyclists have the choice of knashing their teeth and whining, or accepting that there is a food chain out there on the street, adjust their behaviors and get on with life.

Not to say that some changes could not be made in NY, but even in a town like Portland, OR, arguably near the top in bike-friendlyness, you will hear the same gripes.
posted by Danf at 10:48 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is old news to anyone who has ridden a bike in a city or read Bike Snob NYC (cited in the blog). A good start would be getting some bike cops out there to ticket cyclists for poor behavior (I am a cyclist).
posted by ghharr at 10:50 AM on September 8, 2010 [13 favorites]


That was far more thoughtful and fair to than I expected; good read, thanks!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:50 AM on September 8, 2010


I know pedestrians who have been run over by bicyclists riding the wrong way down a one-way street when they look to cross the street, at a red light, and are watching for traffic in the way they expect it to be coming from. When bicyclists start obeying the same traffic rules as I do in my car -- this includes stopping at red lights, and going the right way on a one-way street -- maybe they'll get the respect they seek.
posted by crunchland at 10:53 AM on September 8, 2010 [32 favorites]


in a town like Portland, OR, arguably near the top in bike-friendlyness

Portland isn't bike-friendly, it just so happens to be a bit less unfriendly than most of the even shittier cities in the US. I'm not sure we have any bike-friendly cities.
posted by floam at 10:53 AM on September 8, 2010 [7 favorites]


I like this a lot. I think urban cycling is a great thing, but it really seems like a lot of cyclists feel like they can do no wrong on the road. Motorists are obviously not blameless, but it would really go a long way if cyclists took a bit more responsibility to follow the rules of the road.
posted by auto-correct at 10:53 AM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


one point in the article that needs to be added to the post is: "Cyclists get no respect as raod users. Instead, tragically, they're treated like pedestrians ... because many of them also act like pedestrians."

In my experience, honestly, riding my bike like I drive a car -- ie. signalling, taking the lane and acting predictably, has worked perfectly fine when commuting through Boston, notorious once as one of the worst bike cities in the US. Do I get some folks doing a right hook on me from time to time? yeah. Do I get into some awkward right-of-way issues when cars expect me to run a red light and get confused when I stop? Sure. But all of these issues and all of these moments are far, far outnumbered by the times that I have to make a left turn at 15 mph and get a car to slow down and give me the lane.

If you wanted to be treated as a vehicle: act like a vehicle. Don't engage in this 'have your cake and eat it too bs' of being like a vehicle except when it's inconvenient.
posted by bl1nk at 10:54 AM on September 8, 2010 [25 favorites]


I was riding down 44th Street recently and saw a guy wanting to cross the street mid-block. He looked at me, we made eye contact — and then he stepped out, right into my path! The point is, he was looking for cars, not for bikes. He saw me, but he didn’t think of me as a vehicle he shouldn’t step in front of; instead, he thought of me as a pedestrian who could get past him no problem.

Or maybe he was just (however jerkishly) asserting his right of way?

But yes, interesting piece.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:54 AM on September 8, 2010


Heh--bike salmon.

I appreciated the discussion of how pedestrians endanger cyclists for the same reason cars do--they regard them as fellow pedestrians. There have been a number of times when I've had to make fast, risky decisions based on the fact that a pedestrian had jaywalked right into my path (swerve left and risk getting hit by trailing car, or swerve right and hit gutter/curb?). Don't even get me started on joggers who use narrow in-road bike lanes to run on asphalt...against traffic (and into oncoming cyclists who, again, have to figure out how to avoid getting hit, or hitting the jogger, parked cars, curb, etc.).
posted by availablelight at 10:58 AM on September 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Cyclists get no respect as road users. Instead, tragically, they’re treated like pedestrians."

Treated like pedestrians, or act like pedestrians? The article seems to describe the latter and claim the former. When from a pedestrian point of a view, a bike is more like a car to me than a person, but from what I've witnessed, they follow some hybrid mix of the rules.

I am getting better about looking into the bike lane before walking into it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:00 AM on September 8, 2010


Or maybe he was just (however jerkishly) asserting his right of way?
I don't know about where you live, but in my city we have jaywalking laws. Pedestrians do not always have the right of way in my town.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:02 AM on September 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


to run on asphalt...against traffic

I was under the impression that, in the absence of sidewalks, pedestrians are supposed to walk or run on the side facing traffic (the opposite of bicyclists).
posted by aught at 11:03 AM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I agree with the article; a lack of defined expected behaviors is the cause of much of the problem.

As a motorist, I'm absolutely terrified of cyclists around here. I have no way of knowing what they'll do, what rules they will and will not obey. Lights? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe it will be the pedestrian walk lights instead of traffic signals. What's fastest? I had one ride across my lane a couple of months back, while my lane had the light and was moving. Neither a pedestrian nor a motorist would have the right of way here, but apparently the ability to dart across while counting on me fishtailing the car was license enough.

As a pedestrian, I am also absolutely terrified of cyclists around here. They'll bike through the walkways and have developed a habit of depending on pedestrians hearing that little krik! as the bike slows down and then us dodging out of the way. Watch this carefully, it's interesting, and I think it's also why they seem to be giving a wide berth to anyone wearing white earbuds.

As a Segway user, I am absolutely terrified of dying alone.
posted by adipocere at 11:04 AM on September 8, 2010 [21 favorites]


I know pedestrians who have been run over by bicyclists riding the wrong way down a one-way street when they look to cross the street, at a red light, and are watching for traffic in the way they expect it to be coming from. When bicyclists start obeying the same traffic rules as I do in my car -- this includes stopping at red lights, and going the right way on a one-way street -- maybe they'll get the respect they seek.
posted by crunchland at 6:53 PM on September 8


Add "...and staying the fuck off the sidewalk" and you have a thousand "amens".
posted by Decani at 11:05 AM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was under the impression that, in the absence of sidewalks, pedestrians are supposed to walk or run on the side facing traffic (the opposite of bicyclists).

True--but I'm talking about folks who ignore a perfectly wide and well-maintained sidewalk in favor of road running in a bike lane, when switching to trail running or the local high school track would save their knees AND avoid maiming/killing cyclists.
posted by availablelight at 11:06 AM on September 8, 2010


When bicyclists start obeying the same traffic rules as I do in my car -- this includes stopping at red lights, and going the right way on a one-way street -- maybe they'll get the respect they seek.

I hear this one a lot. I actually obey the rules on my bike (red lights, stop signs, no sidewalk riding - hell, I signal turns,) and I too see a lot of cyclist behavior that makes me cringe. But the self-righteousness of drivers is equally unjustified. I see a lot of drivers running roughshod all over traffic laws every single day - routinely breaking speed limits, reading "stop" as "slow ever so slightly," not signalling turns - almost always with the ever present cell glued to the side of their heads. And in NY at least, whether you think it's a stupid law or not, it's illegal. I'll start taking statements like the above seriously when drivers start obeying the same rules as I do.
posted by jmignault at 11:08 AM on September 8, 2010 [24 favorites]


I know pedestrians who have been run over by drivers marking a right on a red light when they look to cross the street, at a red light, and are watching for traffic in the way they expect it to be coming from. When drivers start obeying the same traffic rules as I do on my bike -- this includes stopping before turning at red lights, and stopping/parking only in legal spots -- maybe they'll get the respect they seek.
posted by anthill at 11:10 AM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have a theory that a certain percentage of people, whether they be motorists, cyclists or pedestrians, are dicks who think the rules don't apply to them and that everyone else needs to get out of their way. These people ruin it for their whole group.

This is my theory. It is mine.
posted by bondcliff at 11:11 AM on September 8, 2010 [26 favorites]


Bondcliff: a very good theory at that.

I saw a cyclist get annoyed the other day, and yell at a left-turning car who didn't stop give him the right of way... As he was *riding* his bike across the street, in the same direction as the car turning left, *in the crosswalk*. He continued to swear at the driver as he made his way further down the suburban street... On the sidewalk. And almost hit my neighbour's 5 year old child who was playing on the sidewalk in front of their house.
posted by antifuse at 11:15 AM on September 8, 2010


When bicyclists start obeying the same traffic rules as I do in my car

The problem with statements like this is that it only takes a small % of cyclists to break the rules for someone to justify treating all cyclists like shit.

Which is one of the reasons why cyclists that jump red lights and bike salmon bug the crap out of me.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:19 AM on September 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


As kind of a new cyclist (hadn't ridden in a city for years) it's other cyclists that annoy me. Cars are okay if you do all the hand signals and are clear about your intentions but cyclists have their own set of patterns, especially on established routes, where they think everyone should just know it by dint of owning a bike.

We have lots of bike lanes and stuff though, so that might make the cars easier to deal with.
posted by shinybaum at 11:19 AM on September 8, 2010


I started biking in NYC (I live waaaaay uptown, in Manhattan) last year. Not having biked here before, I thought most bikers were assholes what with all the complaining, until I turned into one.

I explain it to my non-biking friends that it is as though every person around me, pedestrians and car drivers, has their Imp of the Perverse all riled up on their shoulder, telling them the exact thing that could cause me the most harm. Most of the time they tell them "that guy on the bike, he's invisible, pay no attention!"

I try to obey the rules, I really do. Except that obeying the rules, most of the time, will end up with another fucking ghost bike on the corner in my honor.

What do you want us to do? Do cars ever park in the middle of car lanes or sidewalks? Do people routinely stand in the middle of the street when cars approach? People have figured out how cars and walkers interact most of the time; people are completely fucking ignorant of how cars and peds should interact with bikes.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 11:21 AM on September 8, 2010 [16 favorites]


Ah, jmignault, I think the problem is that you have misparsed the statement. It is not, "Obey the same traffic rules, as I do" so much as it is "Obey the same traffic rules as I do." There are traffic laws, which have a certain amount of adherence, depending on locale and stupidity of the law in question, and then there are the rules of the road, the common behavior. Behave like a motorist to be treated like one, not like the Platonic ideal motorist which emerges, wraithlike, from the fumes of a freshly-printed manual at the DMV, but rather like your average driver. The confusion and danger arises, at least partially, from the inability to predict behavior, not how well one might obey regulations, which are only partially related to real world behavior.

Also, cyclists, not to get too realpolitik about it, but you need the respect of motorists, while motorists do not need your respect; they have something much better: momentum and a hard shell.
posted by adipocere at 11:21 AM on September 8, 2010 [8 favorites]


But in stark contrast to motorists, nearly all of whom follow nearly all the rules...

Author then proceeds to demonstrate his point with a number of situations that actually involve motorists not following the rules: parking in a bike lane, overtaking in the same lane as a cyclist, opening a door without ensuring the lane is clear.

Certainly, more cyclists could follow traffic rules. Frankly, it's in their interest to be predictable and visible- it's their ass on the line. But blaming the shitty attitudes of motorists in North America on the behavior of some cyclists? That's simply the argument we hear from anti-bike types all the time, and bad behavior on the part of one group does not justify bad behavior on the part of another.

In short, concern troll is concerned.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:23 AM on September 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


THOGG LIKE CAR. TWO WHEEL MAN CONFUSE THOGG. THOGG THINK TWO WHEEL MAN ASSHOLE.
posted by 0xFCAF at 11:25 AM on September 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


I like the bondcliff theory. An interaction truth table:
********************************************************************
              [    Dick Cyclist  | Dick Motorist | Dick Pedestrian ]
[Cyclist]     |        Tie       | Dead Cyclist  |     Tie (1)
[Motorist]    |  Dead Cyclist(2) |    Tie (3)    | Dead Pedestrian
[Pedestrian]  |       Tie (1)    |Dead Pedestrian|    No harm

(1) Depending on age/frailty/reflexes
(2) Or scratched paint, depending on reflexes
(3) Depending on SUV size

********************************************************************

posted by anthill at 11:29 AM on September 8, 2010 [14 favorites]


Drivers in general are very good about always obeying posted speed limits and shoulder checking for cyclists. Any cyclist who tells you otherwise is a liar and a charlatan who just wants license to break the law by doing things like lane splitting or not coming to a complete stop at stop signs. You never see drivers rolling through stop signs, do you?
posted by [citation needed] at 11:31 AM on September 8, 2010 [6 favorites]


It's certainly true that both cyclists and and car drivers break rules of the road but drivers of cars generally do not do so in some of the quite suicidal ways that some cyclists do.

Examples:
- Proceeding through traffic-controlled intersections at full speed without stopping when there(I'm looking at you brakeless fixie riding hipsters)
- Riding on the wrong side of the road
- alternating between sidewalk and road as convenient, including entering crosswalks at bike-speed.
posted by ghharr at 11:31 AM on September 8, 2010


Another indictment of the problems with cycling having to do with cyclists? Another rant about how everything would be so much better if only cyclists "followed the rules of the road"?

The rules of the road were designed for cars. Bikes don't mix well with fast-moving cars and trucks that have poor visibility around them. One-way streets suck for cycling. The fact that motorists so often get no penalties for hitting a cyclist sucks for cycling. (Self-link to my post about the problems with vehicular cycling as a model for promoting cycling.)

Instead of vilifying cyclists (or praising them for that matter), what we should be doing is making it easier, safer, and more useful to cycle. Build the segregated bike paths along roads, paint bike boxes at intersections, time traffic lights to give cyclists a green wave, put in counterflow bike lanes, have raised street crossings for off-road paths, etc. Make it so that cyclists don't have to be problematically categorized either as pedestrians or as motorists, but given their own high quality infrastructure and street planning attention. Then, and only then, are you going to get the rates of cycling that Holland and Denmark are achieving.

Should cyclists be viewed as pedestrians or as motorists? Wrong question.
posted by parudox at 11:32 AM on September 8, 2010 [28 favorites]


doh, that should have read "Proceeding through traffic-controlled intersections at full speed without stopping when there is cross-traffic."
posted by ghharr at 11:33 AM on September 8, 2010


You see that mindset all the time, with cars — especially when it comes to blinking. They’ll indicate for the benefit of other cars, but never for the benefit of bicyclists....

Augh! The same thing happens to me as a pedestrian. And when I go ahead and cross because no one appears to be turning, some guy has to slam on his brakes and honk at me. Turn signals are not optional, dammit! You can be pulled over for not using them!

And turn your goddamn lights on when it's raining.
And the crosswalk is not some sort of second stop line.

posted by giraffe at 11:36 AM on September 8, 2010


The confusion and danger arises, at least partially, from the inability to predict behavior, not how well one might obey regulations, which are only partially related to real world behavior.

Aren't the regulations there to maximize predictability? I had no idea turning on your left blinker was an indicator of slavish conformity. I thought it signalled your intention to turn left, thus making the situation more predictable.

As for
Also, cyclists, not to get too realpolitik about it, but you need the respect of motorists, while motorists do not need your respect; they have something much better: momentum and a hard shell.

This is a thinly veiled threat, nothing more.
posted by jmignault at 11:37 AM on September 8, 2010


It's certainly true that both cyclists and and car drivers break rules of the road but drivers of bikes generally do not do so in some of the quite homicidal ways that some cars do.

Examples:
- Proceeding through traffic-controlled intersections at full speed without stopping when there
- Riding on the wrong side of the road
- alternating between bike path and road as convenient, including entering bike paths at car-speed.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 11:38 AM on September 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't know about where you live, but in my city we have jaywalking laws. Pedestrians do not always have the right of way in my town.

Out of curiosity, I looked it up. In Salt Lake City:

12.76.050 - Whatever the situation, drivers must take all precautions to avoid colliding with any pedestrian.

Which I concede is not the same as "pedestrians always have the right of way". But it seems to me that in the writer's scenario, the biker would be obligated to both: 1) yield to the pedestrian, and 2) be able to stop before colliding with him.

Which strikes me as tantamount to "pedestrians always have the right of way".

Tantamount, I call it!
posted by Joe Beese at 11:39 AM on September 8, 2010


What parudox said. Cyclists are a distinct class of road user, with their own cycling paths and traffic lights. Often, on roundabouts and other busy intersections of cars and cyclists, cyclists actually tend to have right of way (in the Netherlands, anyway) over cars.

This is what a busy road looks like. with segregated cycling paths.
posted by Harry at 11:44 AM on September 8, 2010


Bike lanes: In my not bike-unfriendly city, it seems like plows just push the snow into the bike lane, rendering it useless. I guess that means you're not supposed to ride a bike in the winter?
posted by giraffe at 11:44 AM on September 8, 2010


When bicyclists start obeying the same traffic rules as I do in my car -- this includes stopping at red lights, and going the right way on a one-way street -- maybe they'll get the respect they seek.

I am sure, crunchland, that you meant not to spout snark barely 10 minutes into the discussion of a very thoughtful take on this chaotic moment in North American street habits but rather to backhandedly underscore the essential point of the article. Surely. Because if you'd read the thing, you'd maybe have noticed the way the author actually explicitly addresses the many reasons why, in practice, it is very, very dangerous to act like a car when you're riding a bike. Most of that danger - and it is the same, in my experience, in a number of Canadian cities much smaller and less dense than Manhattan - comes from the fact that no amount of acting like a car serves to oblige motorists to treat you like one.

Which, as I said, gets to the article's essential point, which is that bikes are neither cars nor pedestrians, not just for obvious reasons of average speed relative to both but also and most importantly because they are given absolute jurisdiction over no territory whatsoever on North American streets (a stripe of paint or pictogram is not sufficient in and of itself) and treated as nonentities by both.

The upshot of this is that until cyclists grow in numbers to the point where infrastructure is better designed and built specifically for bikes (see: Copenhagen) and respected as such, and until their place in the social order of the street is commonly agreed upon and understood by all (whether or not codified into law), there will be considerable friction between cyclists and everyone else on the street. This friction extends to cyclists themselves, whose incoherence on this topic as evident in their chaotic behaviour is one of the most interesting aspects of the article.

Also, this seems like as good a place as any to point out that a recent NYCDOT study found that streets with bike lanes reduced pedestrian fatalities by 40 percent.
posted by gompa at 11:47 AM on September 8, 2010 [12 favorites]


The problem is that New York has several classes of "bikers," all of whom obey their own sets of customs and laws. Speaking as a driver *or* a pedestrian, bikers in NYC mostly ignore the signs, traffic flows, lights, and common courtesy.

The ones who really piss me off, though, are the ones who ride on the sidewalk. Fuck y'all.
posted by fourcheesemac at 11:50 AM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


There's a chicken-and-egg problem here. I think some motorists might say "I'll respect cyclists on the road when they start acting like they deserve to be on the road," and some cyclists might say "I'll start following the rules of the road when I perceive some benefit in doing so" (or perhaps some penalty for not doing so).

So who goes first? Well, nobody, because motorists and cyclists are not homogenous masses, they're a bunch of cussed individuals*. And as muffinman says above, "it only takes a small % of cyclists to break the rules for someone to justify treating all cyclists like shit." Likewise there is some number of motorists who will never tolerate cyclists on "their" roads with equanimity.

* I got into a verbal altercation with a motorist who was pissed off at cyclists, presumably because of some infractions he had witnessed some cyclists committing at some time. When I pointed out I had been riding legally, he resorted to saying "you people" always break the law to justify his vituperation against me. Clearly us people are perceived as a homogenous mass.
posted by adamrice at 11:53 AM on September 8, 2010


People driving cars absolutely cannot be trusted in any way. They hardly ever use their turn signals, and most of them are talking on the phone while they're pretending to watch the road. Disobeying the rules of the road for a bicyclist isn't something done for the sake of disobeying the rules. 100% of the time when I disobey the rules, it's in order not to get killed. If that looks crazy from the point of view of someone in a car, well, I guess I'm lucky they saw me at all.
posted by interrobang at 11:59 AM on September 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


Here in Los Angeles maniac drivers and maniac bikers both take a bake-seat on the crazy bus to maniac motorcyclists. They are fucking insane; I can't believe a one of them makes it to their 40th birthday.
posted by Bookhouse at 12:01 PM on September 8, 2010


I cannot second Threeway Handshake's statements enough: "I try to obey the rules, I really do. Except that obeying the rules, most of the time, will end up with another fucking ghost bike on the corner in my honor."

I live in a fairly small town (good!) that also happens to be home to about twenty thousand college students (sometimes bad!). Every spring, when the new students arrive, there's about a month of on-the-road training for the new pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers alike. The students come from places with differing rulesets for these interactions. Some come from places where they've never even seen a cyclist on the road. Some "get" it and learn the law and customs. Some never do, and those people are always a danger to pedestrians and/or cyclists. You learn to look out for them.

It is difficult to convey to the new students here that injuries due to bad or malicious drivers are not uncommon. The reason that so many cyclists are hostile about this whole topic is because they're tired of dealing with the scares, injuries, and deaths. I've had numerous friends injured through no fault of their own and one friend who was killed two years ago when an oncoming car illegally turned across his path. The driver of the car got his license suspended for six months, no jail time, a year of probation, and a $1500 fine. Whee.

So sometimes it makes sense to break the law. I try like hell not to, but sometimes the choice is "legal but 1% chance of serious injury" vs. "illegal but 0.1% chance of serious injury." I'm sorry that my illegal choices make people mad; I understand that it may turn them "against" cyclists; I try to weigh those things in my choices about how and where I ride. I can only hope that they try to understand the context: I don't do it because it is convenient or fast, but because it is safer and the cost of not doing it can be so terribly, terribly high.
posted by introp at 12:03 PM on September 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


And the crosswalk is not some sort of second stop line.

A lifelong pedestrian, I take great pleasure in yelling that at cars that pull into/over the crosswalk and force us to walk into the intersection. The drivers either don't hear me or think I'm a loon, but it does make me feel quite a bit better.
posted by troika at 12:03 PM on September 8, 2010


Speaking as a driver *or* a pedestrian, bikers in NYC mostly ignore the signs, traffic flows, lights, and common courtesy.

I keep hearing this. I'll sum it up as best I can.

You first have to write off the general category of assholes. Say, basically, that 10% of all people, regardless of what they are or do, are assholes. Ignore them, you'll never solve that.

For the rest of us, our minor "law breakings" are so that we may remain among the living. I'm really sorry if you think that makes me an asshole, but hey, I think you driving a car in Manhattan makes you an asshole and a dumbass.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 12:03 PM on September 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


Here where I live with the exception of the downtown area it is LEGAL for bikers to use the sidewalk.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:05 PM on September 8, 2010


To clarify, my "you" isn't directed at *you* but rather at drivers of Manhattan, in general.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 12:07 PM on September 8, 2010


I am a resident of Prospect Park West, site of the contentious protected bike lane that has facebook groups for and against. I think the major problem in this instance is that Brooklyn is a city with a highly suburbanized mentality. Many PPW residents have cars that they barely use that take up parking on the street. God forbid they pay for it or are inconvenienced in any way. They just aren't used to it.
posted by melissam at 12:07 PM on September 8, 2010


And the crosswalk is not some sort of second stop line.

Thanks to right-on-red, it doesn't matter. You stop at the stop line, then pull forward to make the right turn, see traffic, wait, complete turn.

Right on red makes Stop Lines non-useful for protecting crosswalks.
posted by eriko at 12:08 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm afraid way more then 10% of NYC bike riders are assholes. And nearly every "law breaking" that occurs in intereacting with pedestrians is not a matter of safety, but rather convenience. WRT to interacting with cars you probably have a point. Bike riders in NYC also don't understand that in pissing off pedestrians - very few of whom are occasional car drivers, virtually none of whom are regular car drivers - they are antagonizing a group that should be their natural allies.
posted by JPD at 12:08 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks to right-on-red, it doesn't matter.

There are no rights on red in NYC.
By law. Of course, that stops no drivers when cops aren't around. I think I'll use this evidence to intentionally piss off all drivers in the future.

Am I doing this right?
posted by Threeway Handshake at 12:11 PM on September 8, 2010


I know pedestrians who have been run over by bicyclists riding the wrong way down a one-way street when they look to cross the street, at a red light, and are watching for traffic in the way they expect it to be coming from. When bicyclists start obeying the same traffic rules as I do in my car -- this includes stopping at red lights, and going the right way on a one-way street -- maybe they'll get the respect they seek.

I understand this sentiment, but there's no King of the cyclists to issue decree. A responsible bicycle owner is only responsible for him/herself, and should be treated as such. Or do we treat drivers, pedestrians, and all others according to the worst of their respective groups?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:16 PM on September 8, 2010


On a sidenote: As a North American, I can report with some confidence that if you ever get the chance to navigate a Copenhagen bike lane on two wheels - dedicated, separated, completely safe, densely trafficked - it'll take your breath away. It's like walking into a home you never dreamed you could afford in a future you'd been socialized to believe was impossible.

Here's a picture of one on the edge of one of Copenhagen's main squares that mrs gompa took last year. And here's the bike counter on the commuter artery where they've timed the lights so that bike commuters never hit a red.
posted by gompa at 12:17 PM on September 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


St. Alia: Here where I live with the exception of the downtown area it is LEGAL for bikers to use the sidewalk.

It's actually legal in most places for bikes to ride on the side walk. I've heard this referred to as "pedestrian-mode cycling." When it's legal, cyclists are obliged to dismount at all intersections and walk through them, and (I think) to ride at a speed compatible with pedestrians. The people who actually comply with these rules are usually under 13 years of age and are not a subject of this discussion.

Threeway handshake: 10% of all people, regardless of what they are or do, are assholes.

I'm afraid that where I live, way more than 10% of cyclists are gratuitously breaking the law. This usually takes the form of running a red because they can, not because there's some other threat they need to avoid. Then again, there are reds that I'll run because they're not on timers, they're triggered by induction coils in the pavement that respond only to cars.
posted by adamrice at 12:20 PM on September 8, 2010


I'm afraid that where I live, way more than 10% of cyclists are gratuitously breaking the law.

What percentage of car drivers there obey all laws at all times? I'm guessing ~0%?
posted by Threeway Handshake at 12:27 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dude, I'm a cyclist myself. I'm sure ~0% of motorists always obey the law, but I won't pretend that 90% of cyclists breaking the law are only doing so for self-preservation.
posted by adamrice at 12:30 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


If this is the general place where I can complain about people being dicks to me while I'm riding my bike in NYC, I would just like to put on the public record that I have been doored exactly once, and it was by a member of the NYPD, while I was riding in a bike lane. That is all.
posted by Greg Nog at 12:42 PM on September 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


You never see drivers rolling through stop signs, do you?

90% of drivers I see day to day stop at stop signs. 90% of cyclists I see day to day go through the stop sign without stopping. The fact that a tiny minority of car drivers are assholes who don't follow the rules of the road doesn't mean that the large majority of cyclists should emulate them.
posted by splice at 12:44 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, now I'm pissed. Again one of these discussions has devolved into who breaks the law more and what right that gives other parties with regard to their safety.

I am a safe, fast, damn good cyclist. I obey traffic laws. I stop at stop signs even when no one is looking. In the past month, drivers have tried to kill or seriously injure me twice. Once was clearly obliviousness, while the second time may have been in fact malicious. I'm sick of asshole drivers, and I'm sick of drivers who are too fucking lazy to look around, pay attention, and get off the god damn phone.

Fuck this shit.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:48 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Its kinda funny. It always works like this in these threads

Pedestrians --> Bikers ride like assholes, almost hit me
Bikers ---> Well yeah, but Cars suck and almost hit me all the time.

You guys are missing something. Us pedestrians aren't saying cars don't generally suck in a densely populated environment - we're saying bike riders also suck far more then they should.
posted by JPD at 12:54 PM on September 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


90% of drivers I see day to day stop at stop signs. 90% of cyclists I see day to day go through the stop sign without stopping.

The only reason to force cyclists to always come to a complete stop at intersections is if you want them to act as cars, regardless of whether it makes sense. See this animation for an explanation of how the Idaho/rolling bicycle stop works, and why it's a good idea. It doesn't make sense for cars, but it makes sense for bikes - which have better sight lines, can go more slowly, and are more difficult to get rolling again.
posted by parudox at 12:58 PM on September 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


The only reason to force cyclists to always come to a complete stop at intersections is if you want them to act as cars,

No this is not correct if you are in a dense highly pedestrianized environment. This is precisely the sort of environment the author of the piece lives and bikes in and where many of the commenters in this thread live.

It is akin to right-on-red.
posted by JPD at 1:02 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


This seems simple, in theory: people should follow the rules to maximize predictability and safety, break the rules when they contribute to the development of dangerous situation, and overall adopt an attitude of consideration to others on the road, no matter what you or they are driving.

In practice, though, we're a lot better at collapsing into our own perspective and turning things into issues of identity.

Carry on.
posted by weston at 1:03 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I live in a city with a lot of cyclists. I change lanes when I pass them, and I try to keep a particular eye on them because I don't want to hit them (or even startle them). My brothers and some of my friends are cyclists. And most of the cyclists here don't really behave in any memorable fashion -- the vast, vast majority behave in a predictable and rational fashion, even when they aren't exactly following traffic laws 100%.

But every one in a while, they scare the hell out of me, like the guy who came zooming down a hill, and turned left across traffic when he had a red light. And it's not "how dare you violate the law!" outrage -- it's "I don't want to run you over or see you get run over by someone else." I worry about one of my friends because she seems to think that cars will magically see her and that she shouldn't have to look for them -- for example, she won't watch for cars backing out of driveways. Yes, they should be looking for cyclists, but it terrifies me that she won't watch out for her own safety too.

As someone said above, "Also, cyclists, not to get too realpolitik about it, but you need the respect of motorists, while motorists do not need your respect; they have something much better: momentum and a hard shell." Another poster labeled this a threat, and I can see how it could be taken that way, but as a motorist who doesn't want to cyclists to get hit, I see it more as a "If it comes down to physics, the cyclist is going to lose badly regardless of who had the moral high ground in that instance, so please, please be careful."
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 1:08 PM on September 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


Part of the problem is that bicycles are neither fish nor fowl - absolutely not pedestrians, but clearly not a motorized vehicle either. Expecting a cyclist to act just like a very little, very slow car is suicidally stupid... and as a result, cyclists improvise, and often poorly, not taking pedestrians into account.

Example! What do you do at an automated stoplight? Your bike doesn't have enough steel to trigger the light, so it stays red for as long as there's no car going your way. I commute at 4:30 am to catch a 5:00 train. I could very well be sitting there for 10 mins or longer, and miss the train.

I break the law. I run a red light.

To remain law abiding, I'd have to dismount the bike, get up on the sidewalk, hit the signal button, and cross on foot, as a pedestrian. Which is stupid beyond bearing. It's more reasonable to break the law.

So the law is wrong, and should be changed - hence the push to legalize Idaho stops. The roads are not friendly to interactions between bikes and cars and people, so the roads should be changed - hence the push for bike lanes and bike paths. Barcelona, Spain, has an amazing system of bike paths and bike lanes, with their own signs and signals that works with the traffic system instead of being tacked onto it.

Traffic laws, roadways and cyclist/pedestrian/driver expectations need to be altered, as there are more and more cyclists, and it's unlikely to be reversed, as the days of cheap oil and cheap parking are finished, and public transit is unlikely ever to take up the slack.
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:11 PM on September 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


I've heard this referred to as "pedestrian-mode cycling."

Seattle allows bikes on sidewalks, but the law says you have to keep your speed close to that of the pedestrians you are passing, and that you must make an audible signal before passing a pedestrian from behind.

I used to keep a running count of the rare number of cyclists that actually bothered with the audible signal. Then I noticed that the majority of the cyclists seemed to be playing a game I like to call "reverse chicken". Even when the entire path is empty except for me, the passing cyclist will try to get as close to me as possible, often to the point of brushing my jacket. I point out that I walk all the way to the right edge of the path, so it's not like they didn't have plenty of room to give me the 3 feet they demand of cars. My guess is that they think it's some kind of game like chicken, where they 'win' if I flinch as they touch me. Part of me wants to start carrying an air-horn, and keeping it at the ready, so when one of these guys plays the game with me, I can immediately sound the horn and congratulate them. Or startle them into crashing. But two wrongs don't make a right.


This is a thinly veiled threat, nothing more.

I don't think it's a threat so much as a reminder of reality. Physics trumps righteousness every time. The car driver doesn't have to actively be trying to hit you to end your life. When I ride my scooter, and someone does something stupid in front of me, the sequence of response is brakes first, then horn, because I'd rather live to be cut-off again another day, than die just to be a footnote in an article.
posted by nomisxid at 1:12 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


One last thing.

I cycle, but I'm not a "cyclist". I walk, I drive, I take transit. Make it more useful and pleasant for me to take transit, and I'll do that. Put me out in the suburbs and I'll drive. Put me in Manhattan and I'll walk and take the subway. Put me in Amsterdam, and I will cycle.

And however convincing the dichotomy of people into cyclists and non-cyclists, the same thing is likely true for you as well.
posted by parudox at 1:14 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I tried to be more thoughtful and introspective about my recently joining the ranks of NYC cyclists in what I was writing here, but it rang hollow when I recalled nearly being run over twice in the past 24 hours by motorists flooring it to get around me, only then to hit the brakes and pull over in front of me IN A BIKE LANE. What I really want is a little holster on the tube to hold a ball-peen hammer with which I might smash their windshield before cheerfully salmoning up Bedford. Oh, and piss on all the pedestrians and cyclists who cannot figure out the bike/pedestrian lanes on the Williamsburg Bridge. That'd be nice to do, as well. Maybe some kind of water bottle adapter?
posted by bastionofsanity at 1:17 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


What do you want us to do? Do cars ever park in the middle of car lanes or sidewalks? Do people routinely stand in the middle of the street when cars approach?

Welcome to DC!
posted by FatherDagon at 1:22 PM on September 8, 2010


bastionofsanity,

I hear that a small u-lock fits very comfortably in the back pocket.

Of course, that wouldn't be very sane, would it?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:40 PM on September 8, 2010


I have ridden bicycles for 30+ years in southwest cities (Los Angeles, San Diego, Tucson and Las Vegas).

The sidewalk in these places can be considered de-facto bike lanes, simply because they are rarely used by pedestrians. And that big, fat curb is a much more serious impediment to vehicular transgressions than a line painted on the pavement.

I actually prefer the ambiguity of a bicycle. I follow these three general rules:

1) I am not a car. I stay as far away from cars as possible. Unless I'm crossing on a green light, I rarely pass in front of cars, even if I have made eye-contact with the driver. I ride a mountain bike with fat tires to hop curbs and ride far afield, if I have to, to avoid cars.

2) Pedestrians always have the right-of-way, no matter what!. I will slow to a crawl or get off my bike and walk to yield to pedestrians.

3) Parking lots are far more dangerous than streets.

The one thing that makes this style of bicycling enjoyable is that I ride with the attitude that I don't have to get anywhere in a hurry - even if I'm going to work. I think a lot of bicyclists (and motorists) get in trouble because they want to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible.
posted by mmrtnt at 1:49 PM on September 8, 2010


But in stark contrast to motorists, nearly all of whom follow nearly all the rules

This is a joke, right?

To begin with, there’s the old bike-free status quo

Uh, bikes were here before cars.
posted by nicwolff at 1:50 PM on September 8, 2010


I don't have too much respect for any non-emergency vehicle that disregards stop signs, darts through traffic, or drives on sidewalks.
posted by HyperBlue at 2:04 PM on September 8, 2010


Cyclists largely disobey traffic laws in my city (Montreal) because it often doesn't make sense to follow them. Roads are first optimised for cars, and secondly for pedestrians. Law-breaking cyclists are a symptom of streets that don't accommodate them.

Cycling is not like driving or walking. The consequences of biking through a red light or stop sign does not have the same consequences as a car doing so. I'm not talking about reckless zooming through intersections or riding the wrong way down a major street. It's highly unlikely anyone will be killed if a cyclist slowly proceeds across a street with no cars or pedestrians coming. The risk is almost 100% on the cyclist. It's basically an infraction just above jaywalking.

When proper infrastructure is put in place to treat cycling as a valid form of transport, separate from driving and walking, people will start to respect the laws. Cyclists will follow signals and use lanes because it's efficient and keeps them safe. Drivers and pedestrians will respect cyclists because they've been validated as another form of transport. Maybe this is just a utopian way of thinking, but we just need to look at Copenhagen to see what is possible.
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 2:09 PM on September 8, 2010 [6 favorites]


Example! What do you do at an automated stoplight? Your bike doesn't have enough steel to trigger the light, so it stays red for as long as there's no car going your way. I commute at 4:30 am to catch a 5:00 train. I could very well be sitting there for 10 mins or longer, and miss the train.

I break the law. I run a red light.


In some places this is legal for cyclists. Example, from Nashville's city code:

"Where a traffic signal is activated only be motor vehicles, a bicyclist who is faced with a red traffic signal may, after waiting a reasonable time to determine the signal will not change to green, proceed after yielding the right-of-way to all traffic lawfully proceeding through the intersection."
posted by ghharr at 2:10 PM on September 8, 2010


Seattle allows bikes on sidewalks, but the law says you have to keep your speed close to that of the pedestrians you are passing, and that you must make an audible signal before passing a pedestrian from behind.

Yeah, that's pretty rich. Times this has happened to me: 0. As a daily pedestrian, I've had a lot more close calls with asshole/clueless/phone-screwed-into-ear motorists than I've ever had with cyclists. But those fuckers who zip around on the sidewalks drive me insane.
posted by Skot at 2:18 PM on September 8, 2010


I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but every discourtesy that cyclists have to deal with on roads, they deal out on mixed-use pedestrian/cyclist trails like the one near my home. I can't tell you how many pedestrians I've seen get hit by cyclists, almost always some spandex-clad Lance Armstrong wannabe going WAY too fast for the often-crowed conditions near the trailheads.
posted by deadmessenger at 2:32 PM on September 8, 2010


Hmmm, unsurprisingly little progress since I last checked in.

How about this proposal, for NYC:
1. Build us Protected Bike Lanes
2. Stay out of our bike lanes unless you're on a bike

Just do this two things and we won't ever piss you off again. Easy, right? You might actually want to bike, too. It is fun. You get to ride around really quick with the wind in your face. No waiting for subways or looking for parking. Get in shape a bit, maybe. Trust me, it'll be great.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 2:34 PM on September 8, 2010


Why, why, why do bicyclists have to ride in the street at all? I'm serious. Riding in the street is TERRIFYING. Trucks and SUVs and buses and what-have-you are so high up they often don't see you. They're speeding along in their several tons of metal and sometimes you don't even have a bike lane. Truck driver decides to move a little to the right? You're dead.

If it weren't for these murderous laws that mandate otherwise, you could be riding on the sidewalk, where the worst that will actually happen is you'll inconvenience some pedestrians or have to walk your bike for a bit to avoid the ones too deaf or into their iPods to step to the side. And what happens if you hit one of them? They're almost certainly not dead. They probably won't even have to go the hospital. On that note, I have never, ever seen a bicyclist hit a pedestrian. And I mostly ride in suburbs where you're allowed to ride on the sidewalk.

I read an article a couple years back about a young woman, on her way to work, being struck and killed by a truck driver. She was wearing a helmet and was, according to friends, terrified about riding in the city streets. Reportedly the truck driver just didn't see her until it was too late. I'm sure this crap happens a lot and it just shouldn't be tolerated.

A sidenote, WHY ARE CONSUMER SUVS ALLOWED TO EXIST? I've been hit by TWO moron SUV drivers (at slow speed, so I'm alright) who just don't fucking look down. The first time, I was biking home from school (in the street, thanks) and this woman was backing out of her driveway. There were (seriously) ten-foot high walls on both sides of the end of her driveway so I couldn't see her until it was too late, and her stupid SUV was so high up that she couldn't see me through her rear-view mirror. She noticed her SUV had hit something and stopped. I was uninjured and had to comfort her through her incessant "OH MY GOD"ing that her reckless purchase and reckless driving wasn't actually going to cost her in the way of medical bills or litigation. Then I rode off, feeling rather shaken, but mostly pissed. Apparently giant dangerous SUVs aren't enough for suburbanites--they need to build grand isolating walls at the ends of their driveways so people can't see their giant dangerous SUVs backing out.

The other time, I was crossing the street on my bike (AT THE CROSSWALK) and this other woman just did not mind the stop sign. Yes I realize that asshole drivers blow through stop signs all the time but I think she would have been a bit less cavalier had the view from her windshield been low enough that I was easy to spot. Thankfully she was going at reasonably slow speed and stopped after she had hit me (I was alright). She, like the other woman, started up with the "OH MY GOD"ings and the self-involved fear disguised as compassion. She babbled on like she never expected anything like this to happen. I had a train to catch and just got back on the bike she had just minorly damaged and rode off, shouting back to her "It's fine, I'm OK" in several permutations. I swear to this day that she looked offended that I didn't stick around longer to hear about how sorry she was.

Both times, I was obeying the law. Both times, the only reason I got hit was because these incompetent, inconsiderate drivers were operating vehicles way too big and high up for their abilities. Both times, I was looking at the vehicles just before they hit me, thinking, "oh fuck... this is gonna happen", wondering how bad the damage was gonna be. Pretty regularly, when the SUVs are going faster, pedestrians and cyclists get KILLED like this. But society just accepts these risks and allows these monster vehicles to be driven by people who don't need them and aren't licensed to drive trucks... why? American-way-of-life or some garbage? Fuck that. Seriously. This shit must stop.
posted by randomname25 at 3:06 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Yeah, that's pretty rich. Times this has happened to me: 0. As a daily pedestrian, I've had a lot more close calls with asshole/clueless/phone-screwed-into-ear motorists than I've ever had with cyclists. But those fuckers who zip around on the sidewalks drive me insane."

Really? I'm pretty fastidious about "On your left!" out here (where bikes are allowed on sidewalks if there's no dedicated bike lane). Every now and then, I get frustrated by the number of people who hear "On your left" and think that means they should head to their left, but what can ya do?
posted by klangklangston at 3:10 PM on September 8, 2010


The data to anecdote ratio in this thread is pretty low but within tolerances for bike threads on the internet
posted by anthill at 3:29 PM on September 8, 2010


wait...lane spitting is wrong? i thought drivers wanted cyclists to lane split, that way, we're out of the way? I guarantee if i stopped lane splitting, and hogged a lane, i'd get yelled at for it. the law here says: as far to the right (or left) as prudent as a single cyclist.

there is nothing you can do as a cyclist that is 100% "correct." the laws are not written for you. and that is why cyclists exhibit such a wide range of behaviors. they are all wrong, all unstable equilibria.

In my town, many older working people still ride the wrong way. This demographic may constitute the majority of cyclists in new orleans. i don't yell at them, because that's what they were taught to do the last time they had cycling education--ride against traffic. and they usually look pretty tired. really, i can deal with the traffic--it's going to take a lot more than 1% ridership to make it a problem, in my view.
posted by eustatic at 3:32 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


It basically has to be all of us working together or nothing. Pedestrians (including myself) don't think anything of crossing against the light as soon as the last car in sight has passed. As a cyclist there is nothing worse than seeing the peds swarm the crosswalk up ahead as soon as the cars are through, forcing me to slow or stop in the middle of an intersection even though I have the right of way.

Practically all of the ugly incidents I've experienced between bikes and peds (from either side) have been at moments when the pedestrian was blithely breaking the rules -- which is EXTREMELY commonplace behavior in NYC. Sure, I have witnessed cyclists breaking the rules countless times, but I've rarely seen anyone actually get hurt or get in a fight over it. And cops here will totally ticket you for riding on the sidewalk, so when I see someone doing it I am pretty confident they'll get schooled sooner or later.
posted by hermitosis at 3:39 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am a safe, fast, damn good cyclist. I obey traffic laws.

The three cyclists I know who have been killed by cars can claim this as well. Your skills are not going to protect you. The sad truth is that in the US the fatality rate per mile for cycling is 3 times the rate for automobiles. It's as much a basic perceptual problem as it is anyone being an asshole. When you're in a large, ton(ne)-plus vehicle, your biggest threat is other such vehicles, so your self-preservation instincts direct you to adjust your automated perceptual systems to these threats. It takes a constant act of will to also direct those perceptual systems to smaller, more vulnerable objects like pedestrians and cyclists. Fortunately, the interactions with the latter two are less frequent than they are with the former, so the number of bad outcomes is smaller than you would expect.

This hard fact won't change until we have the level of cycling that is seen in places like Copenhagen and Amsterdam, with the attendant infrastructure. Until that time, you need to consider yourself a vanguard who are sacrificing their safety for the future riders in the US.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:43 PM on September 8, 2010 [6 favorites]


A sidenote, WHY ARE CONSUMER SUVS ALLOWED TO EXIST? I've been hit by TWO moron SUV drivers (at slow speed, so I'm alright) who just don't fucking look down.

SUV drivers can be classified into two basic subtypes: the incompetent & timid drivers who use SUVs because it makes them feel safer; and the aggressive asshole drivers who want to throw their weight around. Each type is as dangerous as the other.

Just last night I was cycling home & witnessed the latter kind. A young female cyclist right in front of me was almost flattened by a SUV driver who decided to do the old rolling-through-the-stop-sign routine across a road that is very clearly & heavily painted, marked & signposted as a bicycle route, the fact of which nobody could possibly claim to not notice* and when she yelled (without any obscenities) "Hey, watch what you're doing!" he gave her the finger & sped off - again, right across her path.

To me, his reaction says it all. In what world does nearly knocking somebody over in a ton or two of metal warrant the reaction of "yeah, fuck you, up yours!"?!?? A normal person (or a person not in a SUV) would be expected to think "Oh, shit! I almost killed somebody! Just because I wanted to get to the next red light half a second earlier! I'd better re-evaluate my priorities & start respecting other peoples' physical integrity over my infantile desire to go faster just because I can!"

(yeah, I still maintain hope)

But that's about all I feel like adding to this thread. We've been over the whole car v bike v pedestrian thing so many times, with the exact same point on all sides, that we might as well just Markov-generate the entire thread each time.

* amongst other things, it's painted green, with bicycle symbols all over it. The crossroad that he came from is signposted with big LOOK OUT FOR BICYCLES signs.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:10 PM on September 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


As far as cycling on the sidewalk goes, I really hate to do it, but sometimes it's the safest option. What else are you going to do on a road with a high speed limit, heavy traffic, and no shoulder? I try to avoid them if I can, but sometimes it's the only way to get where you're going (particularly if it's a bridge.)
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:11 PM on September 8, 2010


Michael Bluejay: How to Not Get Hit By Cars. Describes ten common types of collisions and how to avoid them.

I've been commuting to and from work by bike (about half an hour each way) for the last couple months. Vancouver has pretty good bike routes (typically side streets). The only time I've felt unsafe while on a bike route was riding downtown, on one of the major streets (Burrard), where there's a bike lane, but no physical separation from cars.
posted by russilwvong at 4:12 PM on September 8, 2010


Oh, and it'd really help if the road system didn't feel like it was intentionally designed to be bike-hostile. Things that particularly annoy me:

1. Unless it's a mountain switchback or there's another good reason not to do it, every road needs a shoulder. Idaho, as bike friendly as it is otherwise, is absolutely terrible about making narrow 55 mph roads without shoulders that are the only way to get places.

2. Stop building residential neighborhoods without a cross-street. One of the best things you can do to be safe on a bike is to stay off the main drags, but you can't do that if it's the only way through! It's stupid anyway - it slows down emergency vehicles and prevents detours in the case of the main road becoming blocked.

3. You can't have a bike lane and parking on the same side of the road. The bike lane will be square in the door zone, rendering it dangerously useless. Either drop the parking or drop the bike lane (yes, it's better without it, the drivers won't expect me to be in it if there isn't one and they won't be as pissed when I take the lane.)

4. Either find a way to fix the damn induction coils or start using cameras or something. The law might allow me to run a red light if it won't change, but that doesn't help me if the intersection has heavy cross-traffic, does it?
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:37 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why, why, why do bicyclists have to ride in the street at all?

Because the sidewalk is for pedestrians walking, not someplace we need to watch out for traffic coming from in front of or behind us.

People have been killed by bike riders who decided they were too good for the street. Mostly winding up not dead isn't good enough.

There's a reasonable expectation that you shouldn't have to worry that someone is going to zoom up behind you and hit you. There's an insane amount of people riding on the sidewalks, especially here in Brooklyn, and it's a huge safety risk. I wish there were more tickets being issued for this.

People don't come with rearview mirrors.
posted by cmgonzalez at 4:56 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Pedestrian killed in bicycle accident in Clearwater
Bicycle Hits, Kills Man Crossing NW Street

Just from a quick search.

And it's usually from head injuries, because in addition to people not coming with rearview mirrors, we don't generally wear helmets either.

And despite what you think, a bicycle at high speed is not going to be minor. And since the cyclist goes out with a helmet (in many cases), any collision with a pedestrian is going to come out way better for the cyclist. You're prepared - pedestrians are not.

Stay off the sidewalk.
posted by cmgonzalez at 5:01 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Once again, I love living (and riding) in Fort Worth. We fly under the radar compared to other cities, but bike culture here is really blossoming. City riding is a blast and even when we do a Critical Mass ride, there is a friendly banter between cyclists and motorists.
posted by Doohickie at 5:13 PM on September 8, 2010


What else are you going to do on a road with a high speed limit, heavy traffic, and no shoulder?

Walk your bike until you get to a place where it's safe to ride it again?
posted by Lazlo at 5:21 PM on September 8, 2010


SUV drivers can be classified into two basic subtypes: the incompetent & timid drivers who use SUVs because it makes them feel safer; and the aggressive asshole drivers who want to throw their weight around. Each type is as dangerous as the other.

I can do you one better and put them all into one subtype: normal people with varying reasons for choosing their vehicle that I can't begin to guess at and aren't really any of my business.
posted by ghharr at 5:27 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


SUV drivers can be classified into two basic subtypes:

DF in BT: Dumb fucks in big trucks.
posted by Mental Wimp at 5:42 PM on September 8, 2010


I've been trying to bike around Montreal, and a lot of the desire to break road rules comes from a lack of protection. for example I biked to class today, helmet firmly attached under my chin, obeying road signs and staying only in my designated bike lane. However this didn't stop the following:

A guy in a walker using the bike lane, two cars idling in the middle of the bike lane waiting for parking (forcing you to merge with heavy traffic, a third car turning onto the bike lane without checking, a truck waiting for the light to change with it's nose blocking all of the bike lane, pedestrians milling into the bike lane and using it as a sidewalk. That was on one 15 minute ride. Behaving like a car did nothing for me.

My partner, an avid cyclist who can be easily recognized by bright flashy lights and frantic arm signals, routinely runs red lights because of the lovely habit of cars to turn onto you at intersections. Oncoming traffic usually looks for people crossing, but those rounding a corner never do.

Me, while I'm annoyed by cyclists avoiding a perfectly good bike lane in favour of the sidewalk, I have sympathy even for the one who nearly clipped me getting off the bus. The big heavy trucks and fast cars hurling under the overpass near by said that while he should have been paying more attention, neither was he in the wrong to take his unprotected body out of harm's way.
posted by Phalene at 5:54 PM on September 8, 2010


I can do you one better and put them all into one subtype: normal people with varying reasons for choosing their vehicle that I can't begin to guess at and aren't really any of my business.

They're on the same road that I'm forced to ride on and their inability to see me puts my life in danger. I'd say it's my business.

There's a reasonable expectation that you shouldn't have to worry that someone is going to zoom up behind you and hit you.

I agree with that, but a lot of roads are extremely dangerous for cyclists. I know that when I'm riding on the sidewalk I'm very careful about pedestrians--if someone doesn't move when I shout, I get on the parkway if there is one, or I get off my bike to pass them. The fact that there are some dangerous cyclists doesn't mean I should have to put my safety at the mercy of reckless people driving death machines.

Metal Wimp said, you need to consider yourself a vanguard who are sacrificing their safety for the future riders in the US. But why should I have to sacrifice my safety? It's like people consider cycling some frivolous alternative to driving or walking--if a cyclist dies, that's unfortunate, let's hope the environmentalists get bike lanes installed eventually. But if I, as a cyclist, want to, you know, AVOID getting killed by a fucking car/SUV, and I ride on the sidewalk to do that, people think I deserve a ticket. Um... no.
posted by randomname25 at 5:59 PM on September 8, 2010


Oh and by the way a lot of the time, even roads that have bike lanes are super dangerous. What about a special sidewalk for bikes instead of a special section of the road?
posted by randomname25 at 6:09 PM on September 8, 2010


I can do you one better and put them all into one subtype: normal people with varying reasons for choosing their vehicle that I can't begin to guess at and aren't really any of my business.

It's safe to guess that they're almost never bought for the off-road driving that they're ostensibly intended for. Unless we're talking about the off-road driving that only exists in frustrated suburban fantasies of freedom, as exploited & encouraged by advertisers.

But from a cyclist's perspective, it is very useful to assume that every SUV is driven by either a clueless dipstick or a macho wanker. And the nature of the vehicles only seems to intensify the cluelessness and/or aggressiveness of the drivers.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:32 PM on September 8, 2010


I biked back across the Manhattan bridge tonight during rush hour. There were probably about 8 or 10 bikers getting off the bridge in Brooklyn at the same time as me. Jay Street off the bridge has bike lanes, but is really busy. One car was pulled over in the bike lane after a big intersection, and the whole pack of us had to swerve around him. It messed with the whole flow of traffic next to us, as some of us tried to weave to the right of the parked car and some to the left, into the middle of the lane. It was dangerous as hell. True story.
posted by lunit at 7:14 PM on September 8, 2010


Lazlo: Walk your bike until you get to a place where it's safe to ride it again?

Really? It might be miles and the sidewalk is often totally empty.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:17 PM on September 8, 2010


From the pedestrian point of view:

The fact that there are some dangerous cyclists drivers doesn't mean I should have to put my safety at the mercy of reckless people driving death machines on the sidewalk.

And yes, you do deserve a ticket, because your excuses don't stand. Sorry, but endangering pedestrians (maybe you're careful, everyone always believes him/herself to be the exception, but plenty of people are not) isn't your right or option.

I'm sympathetic toward cyclists when it comes to danger from cars, but that's the risk you are obligated to take on when you choose to ride that bike. It belongs in the street.

There are no excuses to ride on the sidewalk.
posted by cmgonzalez at 7:22 PM on September 8, 2010


viz. bikes on the sidewalk, that's also a good way to get hit by a car, because no one turning right at an intersection is expecting to see a bicycle come flying into the crosswalk. (That's actually collision #6 in the "How Not To Get Hit By Cars" link someone posted earlier.)

Oh and by the way a lot of the time, even roads that have bike lanes are super dangerous. What about a special sidewalk for bikes instead of a special section of the road?

I couldn't find it on Streetsblog but this is what New York City wants to do with Broadway, as far as I remember--basically a separate lane in the road for bikes, separated from the cars/buses/etc by a planter. I'm not from there, though, so it might be a different street or I might be completely making this up. Someone should correct me if I'm wrong.
posted by jackflaps at 7:28 PM on September 8, 2010


There are no excuses to ride on the sidewalk.

How about here?
posted by parudox at 7:28 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


cmgonzalez: There are no excuses to ride on the sidewalk.

Sure there are. For example, you need to ride up the following road. The speed limit is 45, there are five lanes with heavy traffic, few side roads except for at intersections, and there isn't a shoulder or a bike lane on either side. The sidewalk is separated by a wide grass strip and there isn't anyone on it for at least a mile ahead. There is no alternate route that doesn't involve adding 5-6 miles to the trip, and the other roads aren't any better anyway.

Oh, and this exercise takes place in a state where riding on the sidewalk is legal.

Are you really going to tell me, with a straight face, that the sidewalk isn't the best option in that circumstance?
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:29 PM on September 8, 2010


Speaking as a driver *or* a pedestrian, bikers in NYC mostly ignore the signs, traffic flows, lights, and common courtesy.

And that is why I, a New York City biker, am one day going to make myself a t-shirt with a message printed on the front AND the back:

"This Biker Actually Stops For Red Lights."

Because I do.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:30 PM on September 8, 2010


It's interesting that you think I'm obligated to take a risk by riding a bike, but pedestrians aren't obligated to take a risk by walking on the sidewalk. Again, it's like people think riding a bike is some fun-eco-alternative whatever while walking and driving are REAL forms of transportation used by REAL people whose safety matters.

I am careful. I'm not saying I'm some singular exception; I think most cyclists aren't so incompetent that they mow over pedestrians. As a cyclist, I can actually see things I would otherwise hit, and avoid them. That's more than people driving SUVs and such can say.

You can say you're sympathetic to cyclists, but if you think I'm obligated to take the substantial risk of getting killed by a car instead of riding on the sidewalk, your lip service means nothing to me. Condemning me to the street because you think the comparatively tiny chance that I'll kill a pedestrian outweighs the substantial chance that an automobile will kill me is not YOUR right or option.
posted by randomname25 at 7:41 PM on September 8, 2010


"This Biker Actually Stops For Red Lights." Because I do.

My t-shirt would also quote the road rule that allows me to pass between all the stopped cars & take my legal place at the head of the queue, and also take up an entire lane if I choose.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:42 PM on September 8, 2010


"You" being cmgonzalez
posted by randomname25 at 7:44 PM on September 8, 2010


randomname25: Just so you know, riding on sidewalks is much more likely to get you into a car vs bike accident than riding on the street. Something like 6x as likely, IIRC.

The problem is this: naive riders are disproportionately concerned about "overtaking collisions," that is, where a car hits you as it passes you. In fact, this is a relatively uncommon mode of car vs bike collision, but it explains the riding on sidewalks and riding against traffic. When a bike is approaching a car from an unexpected angle at an intersection—like, from a crosswalk instead of a travel lane, or coming the wrong way—collisions are much more likely.

There's also the fact that a bike can go a good fraction of the posted limit on a city street. Streets are designed for vehicles going 20 mph, or 35, or whatever. Sidewalks are not.

You may feel safer riding on the sidewalk but you're not. You're at much greater risk (I know, you think you're special, you're extra careful and observant. Statistics don't think you're special). The fact that you feel safer when your not, coupled with risk compensation, could amplify your danger even more.
posted by adamrice at 7:44 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'd be curious if anyone's collected statistics on pedestrian injuries/deaths by bicycle collision. How often does it really happen?

Pedestrian death by car in 2003 came to about 1.5/100,000 people (per year?). Injuries seem to happen 15 times more often.

Sure, riding a bicycle on the sidewalk is rude, and can be dumb. But is it a serious problem, or just another bellyache of city life?
posted by anthill at 7:48 PM on September 8, 2010


The thing about these discussions is that most pedestrians in North America are found in high-density center cities, whereas a much bigger proportion of cycling is done in lower-density cities and post-war suburban areas, because cycling can still get you somewhere in those places. So you have pedestrians from Manhattan telling cyclists in a place like Mississauga that they should get off the sidewalk and ride in the road.
posted by parudox at 7:49 PM on September 8, 2010


You can say you're sympathetic to cyclists, but if you think I'm obligated to take the substantial risk of getting killed by a car instead of riding on the sidewalk, your lip service means nothing to me. Condemning me to the street because you think the comparatively tiny chance that I'll kill a pedestrian outweighs the substantial chance that an automobile will kill me is not YOUR right or option.

By the same token, though --

If you think you're obligated to leave pedestrians without anywhere at ALL to walk, because of the comparatively small chance that you actually really WOULD get killed, then you appear to be one of the cyclists that makes my life difficult.

Look, I hear you -- I too sometimes don't want to go in the road because some drivers are nuts. But that's why I walk my bike on the sidewalk sometimes, through hairy intersections.

Because side WALKS are for WALKING. It's right there in the name. They're not "sidebikes". You may swear that you wouldn't hit someone -- but I bet the guy driving the SUV you're concerned about is swearing he wouldn't hit you, either. Does his confidence reassure you? No? Well, your confidence doesn't reassure pedestrians.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:55 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


adamrice: Yeah, I accept that it's safer to ride in the street some of the time, which is why I do it some of the time. In cases where there's no bike lane and no shoulder (or a really tiny one) and a lot of traffic and an empty or nearly empty sidewalk... I'm gonna choose the sidewalk. And I don't think I deserve a ticket for that.

Of course statistics don't think I'm special--unless I'm part of their dataset, they don't think about me at all. But I digress.
posted by randomname25 at 8:00 PM on September 8, 2010


EmpressCallipygos: again, I can see the pedestrian whereas SUV drivers often can't see me. Look, I'm sometimes a pedestrian. I understand that passing bicycles are annoying. But it's not like I'm left nowhere to walk--I just sometimes have to step to the side to let a bike through. It's not really the end of the world. Why are sidewalks sacred while the roads can be as dangerous as they want and I'm still obligated to ride there?
posted by randomname25 at 8:07 PM on September 8, 2010


adamrice: randomname25: Just so you know, riding on sidewalks is much more likely to get you into a car vs bike accident than riding on the street. Something like 6x as likely, IIRC.

Just because it's true most of the time doesn't mean there aren't exceptions. I do agree that you're safer on the road 90% of the time, but I do believe there are scenarios where you are much safer on the sidewalk. The example I gave above (high speed, multiple lanes, few side roads, no shoulder) is one, and I think you're better off on the sidewalk at night in low traffic areas as well (you can't trust cars to see you, not even if you have lights.)

However, you should always act like you're invisible while on the sidewalk. Check ahead and behind before crossing side streets for turning vehicles, don't ride in front of stopped cars, and cross intersections slowly and as a pedestrian. Riding on the sidewalk is a dangerous mode of transport that should only be used when absolutely necessary.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:11 PM on September 8, 2010


You may swear that you wouldn't hit someone -- but I bet the guy driving the SUV you're concerned about is swearing he wouldn't hit you, either. Does his confidence reassure you? No? Well, your confidence doesn't reassure pedestrians.

You're really not comparing apples with apples there.

The SUV driver is far more likely to be fiddling with the radio or watching their GPS, talking on the phone or applying makeup, lighting a cigarette or eating fast food, all from the relative safety of a hermetically sealed bubble.

Cyclists, on the other hand, are far more aware of what's happening around them, because they need to be, and because they are physically connected via senses to their environment to a far greater degree than drivers.

If a cyclist hits a pedestrian, they both stand about the same chance of being injured to the same degree. Or in fact, helmet aside, the cyclist is probably more likely to be hurt worse, because they'll fall harder & faster & from a greater height, with less ability to use reflexes to soften the fall, because the bike itself gets in the way, and can even contribute to an injury - eg by spiking you in the ribs with the handlebars. Ever fallen off a bike? It's quite scary, the lack of control you have. And if your reflexes do kick in at all, you'll most likely end up with a broken wrist.

Cyclists want to avoid that kind of contingency as much as pedestrians do. The SUV driver couldn't give two shits, as long as he doesn't run into a semi trailer, and his attention to what's going on around him is entirely proportional to the risk that he himself faces.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:28 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think it comes down to: It doesn't matter if you're a bicyclist or motorist...People just behave badly.
posted by samsara at 8:41 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think it comes down to: If you're a cyclist or a straphanger in NYC, Robert Moses made your life miserable.

The best thing that could happen to cyclists--commuter cyclists at any rate--in New York is to get the congestion tax passed. It would reduce the amount of traffic in Midtown, making it safer to ride there, and it would probably decrease traffic approaching the bridges, making it safer to ride around downtown Brooklyn.

But of course that will never happen. Because Robert Moses made it so that cars have preference in New York. And made it so rail is not an option over the Verrazano. So ... boo to that.

Slow approaching a stop before treating it like a yield, including yielding to any approaching pedestrians; stop at red lights before proceeding if safe; never ride on sidewalks except the twenty feet from the block's edge to my door; and never ride contraflow except that one terrifying time I crossed Houston only to find a one-way street on the other side.
posted by thecaddy at 8:55 PM on September 8, 2010


I am very surprised, that in this otherwise rehashed thread, CELL PHONES have not yet been mentioned. It was twelve years ago, when beginning to bike to work, that I noticed the complete obliviousness to reality exhibited by phone-using motorists. As we know, cyclists are the equivalent of incredibly defensive drivers. We have to be mind readers. When a driver does not use her turn signal or is totally into his phone conversation, believe me, we notice.

Otherwise, I have noticed that the vast majority of drivers (in my home town of Denver, where the drivers are a lot worse that, say, L.A., where I drove last week), are incredibly polite to us bicycle riders. They realize that it is a lot easier for us cyclists to disobey the letter of the law and instead coast through four-way stop signs, so they generously wave us through.

Things are getting "better, better, better...all the time." Assholes are outliers in the human race.
posted by kozad at 9:27 PM on September 8, 2010


If a cyclist hits a pedestrian, they both stand about the same chance of being injured to the same degree.

That is frankly, ridiculous.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:30 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


That is frankly, ridiculous.

You really think a cyclist is gonna hit someone at high speed and NOT fall? Or you think they'll fall and be uninjured? UbuRoivas explained his/her argument really well and declaring it "frankly, ridiculous" is not a counterpoint.
posted by randomname25 at 9:36 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


You can say you're sympathetic to cyclists, but if you think I'm obligated to take the substantial risk of getting killed by a car instead of riding on the sidewalk, your lip service means nothing to me. Condemning me to the street because you think the comparatively tiny chance that I'll kill a pedestrian outweighs the substantial chance that an automobile will kill me is not YOUR right or option.

In NYC, it's illegal to ride on the sidewalk if you're over the age of 14. I'm presuming you are. Therefore, it is not your right nor option to ride on the sidewalk. At all. Your whining about how it's not fair that there are crappy car drivers so you instead ride where you're less safe and furthermore, not allowed to, potentially endangering pedestrians, is a crock.

I'm a very careful pedestrian too, but that hasn't stopped people on bikes from grazing me or nearly so when they ride up fast from behind me. When people walk, they don't always keep to a straight line, or they move for whatever reason. When someone comes zooming by making a food delivery or just traveling, and you cannot see them, it s dangerous.

Just because you feel safer on the sidewalk, that's not my or other pedestrians' problem. It's you, the driver of your two-wheeled vehicle who signed up for the responsibility of riding in the street. Take it or leave it. But your excuses are invalid.

You seem to like putting words in my mouth or claiming I'm paying lip service, but when you choose to operate a vehicle, you do it where vehicles are permitted - in the street. The sidewalks are for walking, and pedestrians don't come with rearview mirrors or helmets. Everyone takes a risk when they step outside.

However, the risk comes with a reasonable expectation that there will NOT be vehicles on the sidewalk.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:38 PM on September 8, 2010


cmgonzalez: "In NYC, it's illegal to ride on the sidewalk if you're over the age of 14. I'm presuming you are. Therefore, it is not your right nor option to ride on the sidewalk. Your whining about how it's not fair that there are crappy car drivers so you instead ride where you're less safe and furthermore, not allowed to, potentially endangering pedestrians, is a crock."

randomname25: "And I mostly ride in suburbs where you're allowed to ride on the sidewalk."

Just as I noted above, here we have an NYC pedestrian valiantly defending the empty suburban sidewalks from terrified suburban cyclists.

Try cycling on a 6 or 8 lane road with cars and transport trucks going 80 km/h or more, and you'll soon find yourself either with your own car, or riding on the empty sidewalk (if there even is one).
posted by parudox at 9:54 PM on September 8, 2010


There are asshole pedestrians and cyclists and motorists. My observation as a law abiding pedestrian is that cyclists, of the three groups, break the law the most frequently. In fact, I'd say that it's exceedingly rare for me to observe a cyclist following the law. Last time a cyclist yielded right of way to me in a crosswalk I thanked them, as it was such a rare occurrence.

And, my 0.02 on the article, it was fabulous. It really captured the dynamic between the three groups.
posted by e40 at 9:56 PM on September 8, 2010


If a cyclist hits a pedestrian, they both stand about the same chance of being injured to the same degree.

Was hit twice by cyclists. Minor in both cases, but I assure you that the pain caused to me was far greater than the pain experienced by the cyclists (in this case, none). In one case, I had to run after the cyclist and grab their bike to stop them. You know, to demand an apology. Silly me.
posted by e40 at 10:01 PM on September 8, 2010


I guess I was thinking of "collisions" in the sense of slamming right into somebody at medium-high speed, not some kind of handlebar sideswipe that doesn't even cause a fall, and allows the victim to chase after & run down the wrongdoer.

Maybe a rephrase, then: if there's a collision between a cyclist & a pedestrian that's serious enough that either of them has to even visit a doctor about it, chances are that both parties would be equally badly hurt.

I've got no data to back that up; it's just the way it seems to me, which is why I generally avoid riding on footpaths. That, and great big yuppie prams. Sidewalks are for walking, dammit, not perambulating!
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:33 PM on September 8, 2010


I am very surprised, that in this otherwise rehashed thread, CELL PHONES have not yet been mentioned

I can't stress my following observation enough to fellow cyclists.

If I have right of way, I'll start slowing and yield to the vehicle that is required to stop until I can establish eye contact or have complete assurance that they are slowing because they are aware of my presence and readying to stop.

If the driver appears to be slowing and you've locked eyes, you need to ensure that they aren't talking into a phone. If they are, it's very likely that their eyes have registered you but that message to their brain is queued behind whatever discussion is taking place. Stop and watch them continue into and over the path of your alternate reality self that assumed you were more important to them than their phone call.
posted by Tuatara at 10:46 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


e40: There are asshole pedestrians and cyclists and motorists. My observation as a law abiding pedestrian is that cyclists, of the three groups, break the law the most frequently.

Seriously? In my experience, nearly all motorists on the majority of roads are speeding pretty much any time they had time to get up to speed. That would overwhelmingly win the lawbreaking competition.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:58 PM on September 8, 2010


Seriously? In my experience, nearly all motorists on the majority of roads are speeding pretty much any time they had time to get up to speed. That would overwhelmingly win the lawbreaking competition.

If you are going with the flow of traffic, in other words if everyone is speeding at more or less the same rate, it's technically safer than slowing down and is usually not something you'll get cited for.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:03 AM on September 9, 2010


Cyclists, on the other hand, are far more aware of what's happening around them, because they need to be, and because they are physically connected via senses to their environment to a far greater degree than drivers.

I've seen cyclists talking on cell phones while they ride. Not every cyclist is as "aware of their surroundings" as you imply.

If a cyclist hits a pedestrian, they both stand about the same chance of being injured to the same degree. Or in fact, helmet aside, the cyclist is probably more likely to be hurt worse, because they'll fall harder & faster & from a greater height, with less ability to use reflexes to soften the fall, because the bike itself gets in the way, and can even contribute to an injury - eg by spiking you in the ribs with the handlebars. Ever fallen off a bike? It's quite scary, the lack of control you have. And if your reflexes do kick in at all, you'll most likely end up with a broken wrist.

So, I suppose the person I know who was killed because she was a pedestrian who was hit by a cyclist riding on the sidewalk, and who fell over and smacked her head on the curb and broke her skull, was just all my head?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:26 AM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've seen cyclists talking on cell phones while they ride.

I have too, about once or twice in around six years of daily cycle commuting. Every now & then I also see somebody riding with ipod earphones, and I feel like giving them a bit of a lecture. There are occasional idiots in any sample of the population, but there's a few orders of magnitude of difference between cyclists listening to loud music or talking on phones versus motorists, and a similar difference in their capacity to injure or kill others through such inattentiveness.

So, I suppose the person I know who was killed because she was a pedestrian who was hit by a cyclist riding on the sidewalk, and who fell over and smacked her head on the curb and broke her skull, was just all my head?

I'm saddened to hear about your friend, but what is in your head is a fallacy of misleading vividness.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:41 AM on September 9, 2010


There are asshole pedestrians and cyclists and motorists. My observation as a law abiding pedestrian is that cyclists, of the three groups, break the law the most frequently.
My experience in NYC specifically is that a pedestrian who follows all the traffic laws is a tourist. Generally, he or she is a tourist who has not been in the city for more than a couple of days and therefore doesn't realize that stopping at "don't walk" signs is not the done thing. I think that's actually kind of the point of the article: that NY cyclists obey the unofficial rules for pedestrians, which condone ignoring traffic laws, rather than the unofficial ones for vehicles, which say that you generally should follow traffic laws.

I don't have to time to post everything I have to say about this, but I'll say this. My impression, as a daily bike commuter, is that non-bike-riders don't have a good sense of what is legal for bikes to do in a given municipality, and they really don't have a good sense of what's safe to do. I recently listened to two co-workers ranting about the "unsafe bike riders" in my area, and several of the things they complained about were things that I do *to be safe.* I ride out in the middle of the lane because it is safer. There have been a number of recent articles about how most of the bike fatalities in London are women, even though women make up a pretty small minority of bike riders in that city. The current consensus is that women want to be nice and polite, and so they ride all the way over to the side of the road and they stop at stoplights. And that puts them right into the blind spots of turning trucks, who turn right into the nice, polite women cyclists and kill them. And I'll be damned if that's going to happen to me. So yeah, I stop at stoplights, but I ride right in the middle of the lane. And I understand that sometimes that prevents you from turning on red, which might be annoying. But sorry. It's not dangerous. "Annoying to drivers" is not the same as "dangerous.

It's also my sense that a lot of pedestrians don't realize that the mixed use path is a mixed use path, rather than a sidewalk. It's marked as a bike path on the maps that the city gives to cyclists, but there's nothing on the actual path to indicate that it's meant for bikes as well as pedestrians. I slow down and call out "on you left" when I overtake pedestrians, and usually that works ok. Sometimes I get really dirty looks, though, and I honestly think it's because pedestrians are thinking "get off the sidewalk," which would be valid if I were on a sidewalk. I also really wish that people would keep their iPods at a volume where they could hear me and would be conscious of not blocking the path with their dog leashes. But I think that a lot of this could be fixed by installing some proper signage, so that everyone realized that we were supposed to share the path. And in general, I have a lot fewer problems with pedestrians than with cars.
posted by craichead at 5:06 AM on September 9, 2010


"Pedestrian–bicycle collisions are relatively rare and the injuries are usually minor. In heavy accidents, it is usually the pedestrian who is severely injured."

(ScienceDirect link, not sure if it's restricted access)
posted by jackflaps at 6:20 AM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Another poster labeled this a threat, and I can see how it could be taken that way, but as a motorist who doesn't want to cyclists to get hit, I see it more as a "If it comes down to physics, the cyclist is going to lose badly regardless of who had the moral high ground in that instance, so please, please be careful."

Look, I would always rather be alive than right. I constantly assume that I could be hit at any time, and I don't yell at drivers. I spend my daily commute constantly monitoring cars and traffic for turns, being hooked, doored, or any of the nine million other ways a car could seriously injure me. It's relaxing, in an odd way, because I can't really think about anything else when I am riding. So I am well aware that in car vs bike, bike is going to lose, and possibly very badly.

I reason I see this as a thinly veiled threat is the exculpatory assumption behind the statement. I would think that awareness of the physics of the situation would make the driver even more attentive and careful, that they should take this imbalance even more seriously than I do, since they could kill me, but instead I should be even more attentive, while drivers should just continue following "common practice," since they could kill me, and how dare I actually compel them to pay attention while they're trying to talk on their cell phones! Don't I understand the physics of it?

I understand it very well.
posted by jmignault at 6:43 AM on September 9, 2010


"90% of drivers I see day to day stop at stop signs. 90% of cyclists I see day to day go through the stop sign without stopping."

Have you entertained the idea you might be observing under a selection or confirmation bias.
posted by Mitheral at 9:21 AM on September 9, 2010


Thinking of this thread, and having a little time to kill, I spent the morning sitting at a table on the corner of 19th and M in DC. Both of these are one-way streets.

During the hours of 10 to 11 am, I observed 64 cyclists traversing the intersection, paying attention to the condition of the traffic light, and their direction.

Of the 64 cyclists, 18 were traveling in the direction opposite of the proper flow of traffic, and 52 of them appeared to have ignored the traffic signals.

During that time, I noted that two cars ran the red light on M street, though I did not bother to count the number of cars that traversed the intersection.

I also noted that pedestrians (which I also did not bother to count) consistently ignored the crosswalk signs, and would cross depending on the flow of traffic.

During the hour, I also witnessed two near accidents between a pedestrian and a bicyclist.
posted by crunchland at 10:24 AM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Pedestrian–bicycle collisions are relatively rare and the injuries are usually minor. In heavy accidents, it is usually the pedestrian who is severely injured."

Thanks for finding that, although I don't think that particular article falsifies my claim.

For a start, it's based on only three reconstructed cases of cyclist-pedestrian fatalities, which the article admits are relatively rare. As you'd expect with fatal collisions, head injuries were to blame, and I did originally say that helmets aside a cyclist would be likely to be injured as badly as a pedestrian, if not worse. I still maintain that it's the cyclist who is more likely to end up with a broken collarbone, shoulder, elbow, arm, ribs or hip.

The article also states "the cyclists involved are mainly younger persons on fashionable bicycles (here: mountain bikes); in the great majority of cases, the injured pedestrians are frail, elderly people with a lower tolerance of trauma" - this is a classic case of selection bias. The deceased did not die because they were pedestrians, per se, but because they were frail & elderly & involved in an accident.

Here's where the selection bias kicks in: the frail & elderly are almost certainly not going to be riding bicycles, so what the results say to me is that in a collision between a frail, elderly person & a fit young person, the frail & elderly person will come off worse. And especially if they're not wearing a helmet. Well, duh. If those frail & elderly people had been the ones riding the bikes, the conclusion would've been the exact opposite: "it is ususally the cyclist who is severely injured". They're about a million times more likely to die from slipping over in the bathroom, though.

Going back to basic physics can help. Force = mass x acceleration (where A is the deceleration of the vehicle/cyclist caused by hitting a pedestrian, and also the acceleration of the pedestrian as a result of the collision). For bodies of roughly equal mass, they will each experience the force of the impact almost exactly the same, so the impact of the collision itself will be roughly equal, only a pedestrian will have a greater use of their legs to steady themselves, whereas a cyclist's legs are basically tied up in the frame, so they'll almost always hit the deck - again, from a greater height, with less possibility of control, and at speed.

(technically, a car will also experience the same force as a human in a collision, but the difference in mass becomes significant then, in accelerating the person to about a 10x greater degree than the vehicle is decelerated, assuming a 100kg person & a 1 tonne car. The car also has specifically engineered crumple zones & bumpers to absorb the force of the impact).
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:40 PM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


UbuRoivas, not only does the accompaniment of a fairly large metal object combined with considerable momentum give the biker a bit of an advantage, but the very hard pieces of that bike (relative to flesh and bone) at speed can do considerable damage before any other factors come into play. After that, yes, maybe the impacts are fairly equal in probability.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:39 PM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


When bike hits a ped (or a ped walks into a bike) the pedestrian may fall down, and may hit their head, or they may not fall down; the cyclist may go flying, or hit or be hit by something else, or may not. The different cases have different outcomes, and since we have no useful statistics on the relative frequency of these, let's just not generalize, OK?
posted by nicwolff at 4:04 PM on September 9, 2010


In California, if there is no bike lane, you are to share the road with cars. I have a light and reflectors for this purpose. I also ride nearer the middle of the lane, where cars would expect someone to be. If there going 40mph and want to pass me while Im doing 25, they can pass on the left, like they would if I were a motorcycle or another car.
posted by subaruwrx at 4:23 PM on September 9, 2010


The different cases have different outcomes, and since we have no useful statistics on the relative frequency of these, let's just not generalize, OK?

That's very true, especially about the various outcomes that may happen. I'm just interested in thinking this through from a physics perspective, and countering some questionable reasoning, for example:

the accompaniment of a fairly large metal object combined with considerable momentum give the biker a bit of an advantage

OK, so from the point of view of momentum, it makes no difference to the force of the impact if you're the moving party or the stationary party. For every action, there is an equal & opposite reaction. You don't get off lightly just because you're the one that's moving. Each party gets hit just as hard.

As for the bike, I think a really good racer might weigh in around 5kg, and a regular kind of bike about 10kg. A bike + rider is therefore in the same general range of mass as a person on foot, so there's little or no difference there. If the pedestrian is big & heavy, and the cyclist small, then the bike + rider can easily have a lesser mass. So let's factor the mass of the bike out for now.

Thinking about what would happen in a collision (and backed up by the article above), here's what I see happening:

- Cycle tire hits pedestrian's leg. A bit ouchy, sure, but that's a bruise at worst.
- Front wheel stops moving or slows rapidly. Effectively, it stops.
- Cyclist's centre of gravity is up high - at handlebar level or higher. Momentum makes cyclist fly over handlebars, rear of bike follows. You can see this all the time road cycling accidents - high centre of gravity over a low fulcrum.
- Cyclist flies into pedestrian *crunch*, equal on both sides. The handlebars / rest of bike make little or no contact. This is also backed up by the article.
- The rest is the pedestrian staggering from the impact & hopefully using their legs reflexively to stop their fall. Cyclist cannot use legs in this manner, and falls however they will. In cases of heads hitting the ground, the cyclist's helmet will protect them better.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:16 PM on September 9, 2010


If there going 40mph and want to pass me while Im doing 25, they can pass on the left, like they would if I were a motorcycle or another car.

In Minnesota, the bike rider is required to move to the right to allow the car to pass.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:38 PM on September 10, 2010


here's what I see happening:

You ignored:

- Cycle crashes into pedestian, jamming metal parts like brake levers, axles, and handlebars into pedestrian's body piercing flesh and breaking various bones, while rider flies over handlebars landing on fallen pedestrian, thereby breaking rider's fall;

and various other scenarios not consistent with your bizarrely specific contention, but too tedious to detail.

Not that I think you've cherry-picked your scenarios to support your rapidly failing dug-in position.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:43 PM on September 10, 2010


Sorry, an axle is in the centre of a wheel. How on earth is that getting anywhere even remotely close to piercing anybody's flesh or breaking bones? That's so straight out of bizarro world that I suspect you don't know what a bike even looks like.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:10 AM on September 11, 2010


Sorry, an axle is in the centre of a wheel. How on earth is that getting anywhere even remotely close to piercing anybody's flesh or breaking bones? That's so straight out of bizarro world that I suspect you don't know what a bike even looks like.

Way to cherry-pick. Again.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:27 PM on September 11, 2010


Hey, at least I'm using SCIENCE! which is more than I see you doing.

Try thinking about what happens if a handlebar hits somebody, while you're at it. Again, SCIENCE! will show you why that brake lever is not puncturing flesh or breaking bones. This is also backed up by the observed forensic facts mentioned in the only academic article we have on the topic so far:

a characteristic wound on the lower leg of the pedestrian that reveals the initial impact between the front wheel and the leg is crucial not because of its seriousness, but because of its external morphology; the injuries that can be expected by the following impact between body and handlebar are unspecific and only minor; the most severe injuries to the pedestrian as a result of the accident are caused secondarily by falling and hitting the head on the road
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:39 PM on September 11, 2010


....I can't help but notice, Ubu, that the quote you posted above (as your SCIENCE! proof that "bike-pedestrian collisions ain't no thang") says something fairly significant:

"the most severe injuries to the pedestrian as a result of the accident are caused secondarily by falling and hitting the head on the road"

...That sounds like a not insignificant danger. Especially since pedestrians aren't in the habit of wearing helmets, since...there isn't supposed to be any danger of anyone on a bike running into then and knocking them over.

And I DO know someone personally who was KILLED by that very thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:17 PM on September 11, 2010


True. The article was about fatalities specifically, so what it's saying is that where fatalities occur - very rarely, according to the article again - it's because of head injuries.

We got into a bit of a derail about who was most likely to be hurt worse, but my original point was that cyclists generally take care to avoid such accidents, because they know that they stand a good chance of being badly injured themselves.

I still maintain that in a non-fatal accident, a cyclist is more likely to receive a shitty & painful injury like a broken collarbone or ribs. I've personally had three sets of broken ribs (once from trying to avoid a taxi that pulled out in front of me; the others from martial arts) and it's a fucked-up injury, with nothing you can do to alleviate the pain for the next 6-8 weeks. It hurts to breathe, and god forbid you'd ever sneeze or get hiccups. Nobody wants to go through that.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:33 PM on September 11, 2010


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