Thursday, August 6, 2009

Thursday Cycling Soapbox: Cyclist Courtesy Goes a Long Way

This week, I'm pleased to bring you an op-ed by my friend Shelley Guilfoos. Shelley lives in a rural area where she frequently has to pull a horse trailer and has a few words to say about the behavior of some of the cyclists in her neck of the woods.

Some of you may ask why I post an article like this. After all, isn't this a cycling blog? Aren't I always on the cyclists' side?

Well, to say it simply: no.

I am an advocate of vehicular cycling. I want cyclists to be treated as the drivers of vehicles, whether the vehicle burns gas or blood sugar. And as someone who wishes for a better transportation environment for everyone who wants to break away from the "need" to drive a car, it irks me to no end to see cyclists who flout the law because they don't want to be bothered with things like stopping at red lights, signalling to change lanes, riding on the correct side of the road, etc. In such ways, they're no better than drivers who do the same thing.

And I've often called for consistent enforcement by the police of ALL traffic laws, no matter who's breaking them. My philosophy can be simply summed up by the stickers that our instructor handed out to us at our LAB League Cycling Instructor seminar last weekend: Same Roads, Same Rights, Same Rules.

Now obviously this post is more about recreational cyclists than it is about commuter cyclists, but the same rules should apply to ALL cyclists, no matter if they're riding a $10,000 Cervelo or a rebuilt fixie. In my mind, we're all cyclists and we all should follow the rules.

So here's a post by someone who does not ride, but would - if not for a set of circumstances that makes her afraid to take to the road.

So please, welcome Shelley!


I hate spending a lot of money on gas. I make a lot of “quick” trips around the area within a few miles of my condo on the Northeast Side of Columbus, near New Albany, and hate using gas for those trips. I drive a 2000 Honda CRV, and although the gas mileage isn’t bad, it is still gas I am using. The easy solution would be to pull my bike off of the hooks in the garage and ride it on these trips instead. Fresh air, exercise, save money; sounds perfect. In town, such as around campus, it seems much more practical to be able to jump on your bike and go somewhere. I know that those who ride in town have their own problems and think how much easier it would be on the open road. We have hazards of our own out here, and one of the biggest hazards I fear on the three mile trip north on Harlem Road each day are recreational bicyclists.

Ahh, the recreational bicyclists in the New Albany area are the bane of my existence and a reason I feel it is not safe for me to make honest trips on my bicycle around the area to run my errands. How can you feel unsafe from other cyclists you might ask? Well, recreational cyclists have been a big fixture in this area for many years. We are close to the “city” and it is a pretty route that is kind of rural and close; easy to get back to town. Wednesday nights are a big deal for some reason and there are cyclists everywhere. All you have to do is be outside and see 20 go by and someone will say, “Oh yeah, it’s Wednesday.” So because the “locals” and motorists have had to deal with the rudeness and law breaking of these riders for so long, any cyclist is viewed as “bad” or a nuisance. (And no, I am really not trying to rewrite Breaking Away here.)

The stuff I see some cyclists pull on a regular basis is going to get more people killed. I know that a cyclist was killed around here recently and I am not saying that it wasn’t terrible tragedy; I am sure no motorist wants to go through life having killed someone on a bike. I do believe, however, that the actions of some cyclists have caused many accidents and cause motorists to be scared, leery, or even make mistakes based on not knowing what the cyclists are going to do, since laws are often broken.

One of my favorite “stunts” usually happens at the two four-way stops I cross through at least five times per day. Imagine being in your car at a stop sign with your right turn signal on and as you look in your rear view mirror to turn, six bicyclists come tearing up the right side of your car, blow the stop sign, and continue straight. After you pick your heart up out of your stomach realizing you could have hit all six, you get really pissed. If cyclists are on the road with cars, aren’t they supposed to follow street laws too? So take a neighborhood full of people that encounter this on a daily basis; it makes them a little jumpy. It is bad enough no one knows when to go at a four way stop, but now at the cyclists into the scenario and everyone gets really jumpy. The ONLY time I have seen a group of cyclists actually come to a halt at one of these stops was because they realized there was a sheriff sitting there watching. These cyclists know they are supposed to stop; they just DON’T. Now, every time I encounter recreational cyclists at one of these intersections, I have to guess what I think they are going to do. What should really happen is that I should know what they are going to do because they are obeying the law.

Not long after that incident, I was heading North on my usual trip to the barn and noticed a group of cyclists ahead. It appeared to be three men wearing all of their gear. As I checked the other lane and moved over the center line to pass them, they began horsing around as if I wasn’t even there. One guy pushed one of the other guys and he took a big swerve, almost into my car. I swerved and almost peed my pants. They started laughing and kept going. I wanted to stop and ask how that was funny.

So as someone who just wants to use her bicycle to not be such a gas guzzler and to be kinder to the environment, how do I cope with this? How do I ride with these cyclists who piss off all of the drivers then go back and get in their Escalades? (Because really, I feel like a schmuck making these easy trip and admire those of you who spare the environment on your bicycles each day.) Because I will tell you what, as a motorist, they sure as hell piss me off…and when I am on my bike I don’t want to be near them breaking laws and causing accidents; it scares the crap out of me.

I realize that motorists are often at fault, but I know that some of the problems come from the cyclists as well. The communication between motorists and cyclists is tarnished. No one knows what the other will do on the road and are quick to point fingers at each other. I really want these lines of communication opened back up so I can ride my bike. I don’t want to see this crap continue so every motorists cringes in fear when they see any cyclist. So how do we do this? Enforce the street laws more on bicyclists? Make more information available so motorists know what is expected from them and a cyclist when they encounter one on the street?

In the meantime, I will keep driving. With these groups of recreational cyclists out each day running stop signs, I just don’t think the time is right. It really stinks too. The weather has been amazing and I could be doing a lot of good by using my bike.

People, not speed.

6 comments:

  1. I think she should get out there and provide a good example of law-abiding bicycling. If we leave it to the loonies, then it is easier for folks to dismiss it as a fringe activity.

    Part of it is around cycling-as-sport vs. cycling-as-transportation. The more of the latter we can show people outside of the city, the better.

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  2. Agreed with "Anonymous." Get on the bike and set a good example. (Take the LAB BikeED class that Jamie recommended earlier this week if you need a little more confidence).

    Another plus: You're in a much better position to critique other riders when you too are on a bike. No yelling, just a quick, mellow reminder that they shouldn't blow through stop signs or whatever.

    My favorite: "Dude, stop sign!"

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  3. shelly,

    I don't understand your point. Yes there are cyclist who don't obey the laws. Yes there are cyclists that may ride in an unsafe manner. But, are they you. Are you saying that you would feel pressure to blow through stop signs and ignore vehicles turning in front of you because others do it?

    You can ride in a straight line and can stop at stop signs and stop lights and all the proper ways of riding a bike. The end result is you will be safe.

    I'm willing to bet that there are plenty of cars in your metro area that roll through stop signs, drive over the speed limit and think it's ok. There are drivers who drive distracted and under the influence of alcohol and see no problem with it. Yet, you have no problem getting behind the wheel of an automobile.

    I can't reconcile your willingness to drive with the sinners but use cyclists misbehavior as reason you don't want to take your bike of the hook in the garage.

    Sounds like you are rationallize your use of fossil fuels to me.

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  4. Jamie,
    I'm curious about your opinion on the Idaho stop law.

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  5. To a certain extent, I agree with Gazer and our Anonymous friend. Just getting out there and doing it right is an awesome way to go.

    But not everyone is experienced enough to just get out there and ride. And I'm sure we can all agree that there's a certain period of getting used to riding among cars. Shelley obviously feels that the cyclists in her neighborhood have created an environment that she's not comfortable cycling in. Not everyone is ready to be the example and not everyone has advocacy in mind when they ride. Some folks just want to get around.

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  6. John - I'm torn on the Idaho stop law. As I understand it, bikes don't have to come to a full stop at a Stop Sign in Idaho, they can treat it as a yield. And they can treat Stop Lights as Stop Signs elsewhere - come to a full stop and then go when it's clear.

    Functionally, it makes a lot of sense. Cyclists rely more on momentum than cars to get places quickly. And why slow them down any more than we have to? If a road is clear, then a rolling-stop should be fine.

    However, as an advocate, I'm not in favor of it. I think that such laws don't do much for making motorists feel that cyclists are equal to them - they probably see it as someone trying to set cyclists over them. And though I agree that cyclists should get the first benefits of using the roads and motorists the last (simply for environmental and safety reasons), that's not going to fly with most motorists. I think such laws are counterproductive if the goal is to get drivers to be more accepting and courteous around cyclists.

    So maybe down the road, when more people are cycling, less are driving, and the climate on the road isn't so contentious, then yes, enact such a law here. But right now I think it's too early.

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