To be honest though, some of these bike-haters have a point

A cyclist waits patiently for the light to change — something some drivers say they've never seen.

I admit it.

I spend a lot of time on here making fun of drivers.

Not all drivers, of course; after all, I’m one myself. Though these days, I find myself spending less and less time behind the wheel, and more on two wheels, two feet or even — gasp! — on a bus, which is how I made it to the last few meetings I attended at City Hall.

Not only did I survive, I actually enjoyed myself. And didn’t have to spend half an hour and the entire contents of my wallet to secure a parking space nearly as far from my destination as I was when I started out.

And not even most drivers. No, I’m talking about that relative handful of intellectual giants who’ll tell you that all cyclists run red lights, despite demonstrable evidence to the contrary at just about any signalized intersection in town.

Sure, stand there long enough, and you’ll see one or more death-defying kamikaze bike pilots blow through the light as if it, and the cars crisscrossing their path, weren’t there. But you’ll also see other riders who’ll wait patiently for the light to change.

Or the ones who complain about dangerous, unpredictable cyclists hogging the traffic lane, as they sit behind the wheel of their Hummers and Escalades applying their makeup and texting.

But they do have a point, up to a point.

I would argue there are more cyclists who safely share the road, observing traffic signals and right-of-way rules, than there are those who don’t. But you don’t have to spend a lot of time on the road to spot a few who seem to push the limits of safety and sanity.

Take the rider I saw this afternoon. Please.

There he was, blithely cruising through heavy traffic on a busy L.A. boulevard, headphones on and riding in the lane with no hands, a shopping bag dangling from one hand. Fortunately, most drivers were going out of their way to give him a wide berth.

Then again, most Angelenos try to avoid crazy people in the street.

Then there was the guy on the mountain bike who was making his way on the wrong side of the same street, like a salmon going upstream to spawn. And just as a salmon dies after spawning, I wouldn’t have wanted to lay odds on his chances of survival.

It’s one thing to take the lane. But seriously, you’re far better off going with the flow of traffic, instead of wondering why all those people are honking and swearing as they swerve around you.

Of course, I’ve seen worse.

Like the guy who took the lane on Santa Monica Boulevard as he rode through Century City awhile back, despite the presence of one of the city’s better bike lanes sitting clear and unobstructed just a few feet to his right — and a long line of unexpectedly patient drivers following behind. That is, until a cab driver tried to slide by him to get to the right turn lane, and had to endure a violent tirade from the rider for trying to pass him in the bike lane. And yes, that’s the same bike lane he had no interest in using himself.

Or there were the two guys I saw blow through a red light last summer, even though that meant worming their way through a crowded crosswalk, as people struggled to jump out of their path.

For anyone out there who may not be clear on the subject, pedestrians in the crosswalk have the right-of-way. Always.

Period.

I somehow managed to resist the temptation to chase them down and shove their bikes into the same orifice their heads seemed to occupy.

Yet, if you listen to the comments these drivers make, that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do. They expect us to assume responsibility for every law-breaking jerk on two-wheels.

We’re told that it’s up the bicycling community to make the outlaw cyclists straighten up and ride right. And that’s the only way we’ll earn the respect of drivers, and earn our place on the streets.

Which is absurd, of course.

While I would hope that everyone would learn to ride safely — and use a little common sense while they’re at it — our right to the road is already guaranteed by law. It’s not something that has to be earned, or a consideration given by those who share the road with us.

They’re obligated to share the road, safely, regardless of whether they think it’s safe, or smart. And whether they like it or not.

How someone else rides is no more your responsibility than those who speed, fail to signal or make illegal U-Turns are my responsibility when I’m behind the wheel, or that of any other driver on the road.

And until they get that, I don’t expect their respect.

And people like that shouldn’t expect ours.

………

One of the few things I’ve never experienced on a bike — two flats at the same time, from the same pothole. Creek Freak notes improvements to the Elysian Valley Bike Path. The issue isn’t why more men support vehicular cycling, but why so few women ride. Riding Miami’s life-risking Rickenbaker Causeway, two weeks after another rider is killed. Are bikes expensive toys or serious transportation? A Kiwi Olympian is injured in crossing collision in bike-unfriendly Christchurch. In Copenhagen, even manhole covers are bike friendly. Finally, a reminder that people can’t be put back together after an accident.

22 comments

  1. Randy says:

    I’d like to see a discussion of proper lane positioning at lights. In the picture accompanying this post, for instance, the cyclist should be situated in the center of the thru lane, and waiting behind the stop line, rather than blocking the crosswalk, in the no-man’s land between lanes…

  2. Paul Johnson says:

    Too bad the bike pictured is still doing it wrong: PICK A LANE!!

  3. Paul Johnson says:

    Randy, given that bicycles are governed by the same rules of the road as motorists, the proper position is centered in the lane, outside of the crosswalk with everyone else.

    • bikinginla says:

      You’re right. Funny, I took that picture and I’ve looked at that picture a hundred times and never saw that.

      In a situation like this, where I’m the first one at the front of the intersection, I would position myself in the lane behind the crosswalk. However, in situations where there are other vehicles already waiting at the intersection, I usually move to the front and pull partway into the crosswalk. That ensures I can be clearly seen from every angle, and it’s an easy matter to roll back a little if a pedestrian is crossing.

      Granted, I could be ticketed for that, but I believe safety is more important than strict adherence to the law. Besides, I’ve stopped in that exact position next to a police car countless times and haven’t gotten a ticket yet; maybe they’re just glad I stopped at all.

      • Paul Johnson says:

        It’s better not to pass motorists or other cyclists on the right, especially if there’s not a lane there. Don’t make people going faster have to pass you twice. You’re pretty visible in the middle of the lane, especially if you’re wearing a construction vest and have your lights on (even in the bright sun).

  4. alex says:

    I used to make it a point to stop at every red light while cycling in an effort to win over the hearts and minds of drivers. Then, after too many flipped birds, harsh words, and even soda cans, I realized there are just too many who will not be won over.

    The truth is, it is not unsafe for a cyclist to run a red light because a bicycle has no blind spot and is far less likely to inflict damage. At the same time, it can be a considerable time handicap to stop at those lights: my commute to work is 25-33% longer with the stops. It is unfortunate that our roads have become an intractable war of attrition, but until drivers are willing to show some basic respect, I am unwilling to make the purely symbolic gesture of stopping at red lights.

  5. Paul Johnson says:

    alex, the same could be said about motorcycles. Granted, California isn’t the best place to find intelligent road users (or people, for that matter), but understand that it’s not a purely symbolic move, it’s the law. It demonstrates that you have no consideration for the safety and welfare of yourself or other road users.

  6. jlyle says:

    Great commentary, it should be required reading by all cyclists and motorists.

    I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut when I see cyclists are doing stupid things, such as riding the wrong way, running red lights, not using the adjacent bike lane, etc. People don’t take criticism well, even when they are obviously wrong. Bike riders can be just as rude as motorists. I can only ride my bike in a safe and legal manner as an example to everyone. [I must confess to rolling stops at stop signs, so I’m as guilty as they are.]

    • bikinginla says:

      Yeah, I’ve tried to talk to a few cyclists myself when I see them making stupid mistakes, but the usual response has ranged from a rude gesture or “F*** you!” to an invitation to fight on the spot. So at most, I’ll usually just say something briefly as I pass.

      As for stop signs, I used to roll them myself until I went through one just as a little kid pointed at and told his father “I want to be just like him!” And I realized I’d just taught a small child to run stop signs.

  7. faboomama says:

    I commend my friends brave enough to commute daily on their bikes. But just like there’s crappy drivers, there *are* crappy bike riders. I’ve never seen biker riders here (in Los Angeles) stop at red lights, unless they’re riding in packs or beach cruisers on the Westside. On a given day, I can see at least 5 almost crashes just based on that alone. I almost hit two bike riders this morning, because I had a green and they went through their red light. One guy yelled at me.

    That being said, I do wish more motorists put themselves in the shoes of the cyclists. Just think. This morning, I watched a DWP worker purposely open his driver side door just as a cyclist was upon him. The cyclist had to swerve into traffic as the DWP worker laughed. There’s no excuse for that sort of behavior.

  8. Nancy says:

    Bad drivers, bad cyclists, bad pedestrians. They are everywhere. But focusing on any particular group makes it to easy to justify things when accidents happen, and place the fault on the other party: “He was riding on the wrong side of the road!” or “She was crossing the street when the pedestrian signal said it was not safe to do so!”).

    In many countries, it’s accepted that the bigger vehicle yields to the smaller one. There’s not much arguing about the semantics like who’s obeying the law of the land the most.

  9. I wonder if that part of town you’re driving/riding in has anything to do with the number and type of violations you’ll see.

    In my part of town, what I see most often is salmoning and riding without lights at night, but rarely do I see cyclists running red lights (although most do a slow roll through stop signs). This is in K-town. I do believe in the Idaho stop, but it’s not law here, so I know if I choose to do that, I could get a ticket, and it would be earned.

    I also don’t see cyclists riding so many abreast in this area. Maybe that’s a Malibu/beach areas thing? I’m just curious if the types of violations have to do with the kind of cyclist or area of LA that might be known for a certain kind of cyclist.

    Of course I whole-heartedly agree that we should ignore the blind hate comments. All you can do is obey the law and hope that motorists learn from watching you do so that each cyclist has the right to the road.

    • Paul Johnson says:

      Given that we’re talking LA… everywhere, all the time. Complete lack of traffic enforcement except for the most egregious speeders tends to ensure nobody knows how to drive, bike or walk along the roadway properly.

    • bikinginla says:

      I imagine you’re right, it probably does have a lot to do with where you are. I usually don’t see a lot of salmons here on the Westside; instead, jumping the light seems to be more common. But I think the ninja cyclist phenomenon — dark clothes and no lights at night — is pretty common everywhere.

      I hear drivers complain about cyclists riding two or more abreast all the time, but I seldom see it on the streets I ride or drive. In fact, last time I saw someone do it, it was me — and even then, we both stayed inside the comfy confines of the bike lane.

  10. Brent says:

    @danceralamode

    Yeah…I wish I knew where the violations mostly occur. My riding is usually on the weekends (in West LA, including Brentwood & Santa Monica), but even then, with the lighter traffic, the greater majority of my fellow riders stop at lights, and at least slow for stop signs. I see some riders who blow through lights, but that’s not unique to cyclists, as I see the occasional car do the same thing.

  11. TheTricksterNZ says:

    Its not often I defend Christchurch after all it is for the most part a dead flat (except the Port Hills to the south-east) place barren of all semblance of ‘normal’ human life (except for Godfrey, Vink, and a couple of friends I have from there), and is home to these guys:

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/crime/3044700/House-of-Horrors-guilty-plea
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyle_Chapman

    Its also the city that every country has (e.g. Adelaide in Australia) where all the really weird and bizarre crimes happen.

    However, its not THAT bad really in terms of motorists/cyclists. It has either the highest or among the highest amount of cycle commuters in the country and has a pretty strong riding scene. Unfortunately there are also copious amounts of bogans down there too.

  12. BB says:

    Its a scam. I must use my own judgment when to ride to the right next to a gutter, but I can’t use my own judgment to cross a street?

    Considering the consequences I face, and the judgment which would be handed out, even if I was in the right of way?
    my point of view commute clips
    http://www.youtube.com/user/bodybait

  13. steve says:

    I think one of the issues is the most people start riding bikes as kids or teenagers, before they really learn the rules of the road to get a drivers license. Even after they get a drivers licence, old habits don’t go away when they get back on two wheels.

    Is there any rules of the road education available before driving age?

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