I've been out with the flu for a few days (no, I'm not oinking), and I missed this surprising post from Jeff Stephens of Consider Biking back on October 9th. Suffice to say that Jeff took some time to sit back and watch the behavior of our city's cyclists, and was dismayed at what he saw.
I'm in complete agreement with Jeff on this issue. Simply too many Columbus cyclists do not obey the law. But let's look at the reasons that Jeff proposed in his commentary:
Why are you riding this way? Are you so self-absorbed, that the world revolves around you? Are you just opportunistic since the bicycle gives you the opportunity to cheat traffic? Are you “expressing yourself” with your nonchalant coolness, hipness, whatever? Or, do you just not know any better? Do you just follow the example of the guy/gal in front of you because you’re new to urban bicycling? (I think it’s the latter.)
Jeff's statement breaks the possible reasons for this behavior down into two extremes:
1. Those who know the law and don't follow it.
2. Those who don't know the law.
And there are probably groups of people who fall into both categories.
The very first thing I did when I started this blog was a rather thorough discussion of what the law is as pertains to cyclists in the city of Columbus. Links for those posts are below.
- Passengers, Hands on the handlebars.
- Attaching things to your bike, riding two abreast.
- Signal devices, lights and reflectors
- Stay to the right, obey traffic laws, give pedestrians the right of way
- Keep your bike under control.
- Sidewalks, bike lanes, bike paths, and parking.
- Impounding bikes, trail crossings.
- Motorized bikes.
I wanted to know what exactly was expected of me as I commuted by bike, and what I could expect from the people around me. And a quick look at the law was the easiest way to do this.
But the topic here is WHY? To quote Jeff again:
And don’t give me the “loss of momentum” or “it’s safe because there are no cars” or “cars break the law too” arguments. I’d heard them all ad nauseum. We ought to be better than that. Hold ourselves to a higher standard.
All of the reasons above are nothing but excuses, excuses that aren't going to hold water if you ever actually are stopped. And excuses aren't going to keep you safe when you miss seeing that oncoming truck as you blow through a red light.
So what if you're going to lose momentum? So what if there are no cars? So what if cars are breaking the law, too? The point is that the law exists, and it doesn't exist to try to keep you down, or anything like that. The point is that traffic law is created to keep people safe. If there's one point that I've been hammering on since the day that this blog began, it's this:
The current traffic code in Columbus, if enforced and followed, is more than adequate for ensuring the safety and proper operation of bicycles in this city.
Now, whether the city's police are doing what they should to enforce the law is an entirely different matter, one that I've also tried to get across since starting this blog. But that's neither here nor there in this case. Proper, legal riding has gotten me to a point in my daily riding where I don't fear for my safety because I know that I'm doing what drivers expect and they're doing what I expect. I'm predictable, assertive, and know my place on the road. Most of the time, safety concerns don't even come to mind.
But ignorance of the law is another issue. Sure, you may never have been taught the law as it pertains to bikes. In our car-obsessed culture, that's a fair thing to say. I can't recall ever having been taught bicycle law when I was growing up, either, other than "keep to the right" and "don't ride on the sidewalk downtown" (I didn't grow up in Columbus - that was the law where I grew up).
But even if you've never been told the law as it pertains to bicycles, you can't honestly (key word: HONESTLY) get on your bike and think that the law doesn't apply to you. Somewhere in that head of yours, you know that there are laws that pertain to bicyclists.
But it's your own fault if you don't look it up and use that law to your advantage. Did you know that people getting out of parked cars are responsible for making sure they don't award you the door prize? Did you know that you only have to stay as close to the right side of the road as is practicable? Did you know that there is no "minimum" speed limit that would prohibit a bike from operating on anything except an expressway in Ohio?
So ignorance of the law is no excuse, either. If you're on the road without knowing the law, you're negligent. So either you're negligent or you're a knowing lawbreaker. There's no middle ground, other than you may be both (knowing only some of the law but breaking it anyway).
So perhaps it's most proper to say that there's really only one reason that people have for their scofflaw cycling habits: willful disregard of the law. Either you know it and disregard it, or you don't know it, and you disregard the need to find out what it is.
Either way, you're a menace on the road: a menace to your own safety, and a menace to those who do follow the law and have to deal with the repercussions of your behavior.
People, not speed.