Sunday, July 1, 2007

Crime and perception

Accident on Route 46
Originally uploaded by leonfu
I believe cyclists should generally follow the rules of the road. One of my hot button issues, though, is the idea that cyclists who break the law are such a public danger that they require special enforcement attention and cyclists should be held to a higher standard than motorists.

While I'm ranting, this idea that I'm personally responsible for the actions of some idiot in San Francisco or Berkeley or NYC or London is just plain weird. CycleDog left a comment somewhere (I think at Masi Guy but I can't find it) about the secret instant cyclist internet that's built into every bike. We're jacked into it the minute we connect seat to saddle -- perhaps through a bionic USB connection? I don't automatically think my motoring friends are somehow to blame when I read of or personally witness one of the 340 traffic fatalities that occur annually in the San Francisco Bay Area, not to mention the countless insane wrecks that occur daily.

But enough ranting. Let's move on to facts and reasoned argument. Treadly and Me reports on some interesting statistics from Australia on running red lights. It turns out more than half of surveyed motorists admit to running red lights. I see it every single day on my commute in Menlo Park where Willow Road meets Bayshore Expressway. I was well into the intersection on a solid green last week, looked right and watched a truck coming at me at 50 mph with no indication that the driver intended to slow. I waited at the median as he flew by before I continued. One driver behind me even honked as I stopped, and no doubt felt like a moron she saw the reason I stopped. I probably saved her life, but I've learned to watch for light-running traffic at this intersection.

Back to Treadly, who writes:
And here is something that sticks in my craw: motorists who complain about the behavior of cyclists are expecting a higher standard of conduct from cyclists as a group than they are prepared to apply to their own group. Too often we hear the all inclusive complaint that bloody cyclists jump red lights, but when it comes to the in excess of one hundred thousand drivers who run red lights, well that’s just a few ratbag individuals. The vast majority of drivers are pure as the driven snow when it comes to red light running.

This all reminds me of an excellent article from Paul Dorn last week, who wrote in Vehicular Crime and Perceptions:
[Motorists] console themselves with the thought that...bicyclists are outlaws, and can't be permitted into civilized society. I set out to document the ridiculous nature of this claim on May 4th, during the height of the Critical Mass hatemongering by the Chronicle. On a single 30-minute walk home I photographed so many traffic violations by motorists that I ran out of storage on my camera.

For decades government policy has privileged driving and encouraged anti-social behavior by motorists. Drivers routinely roll through stop signs, drive at excessive speed, run red lights, fail to yield to pedestrians, block fire hydrants, double park in bike lanes, drive under the influence, and use horns excessively. Only a fraction of this vehicular crime is punished. Each and every year motorists kill more than 42,000 people, hospitalize hundreds of thousands more, and cause billions of dollars of property damage. Motorist endangerment is so ubiquitous that even the Vatican has issued 10 commandments for drivers. And yet the perception in the U.S. is that bicyclists are the greater miscreants?

My best advice to any bicyclist encountering such bias is to vigorously push back. Bicyclist behavior is entirely consistent with traffic behavior in general. Which transportation mode poses the greatest danger? Which mode offers the greatest social benefit?
So I arm myself with the fact and what I hope are persuasive arguments and vigorously push back. It seems like CycleDog wrote something about that also recently, but I can't find it. Help me out, Ed...


  1. I'll look through the files, Fritz. I know I did an informal count of motor vehicles stopping/not stopping in front of the library one afternoon. But I won't have it until this evening, at least.

  2. "My best advice to any bicyclist encountering such bias is to vigorously push back. Bicyclist behavior is entirely consistent with traffic behavior in general. Which transportation mode poses the greatest danger? Which mode offers the greatest social benefit?"


  3. Hmmm... which direction to "push back?" Global ferocious enforcement for all the violators, or global ferocious focus on the benefits?

  4. +1. Plus the effects of my errant biking are far less...

  5. No Kidding. I bike to work every day, and it amazes me how many motorists seem to think I shouldn't be on the road, and push by with little to no room left for myself, occasionally causing me to run off the road. Our city by-law says to ride in the middle of the lane if you feel you don't have enough room. Maybe I should try that...

  6. We've still got these folks that, I believe, in-your-face confrontation isn't going to help:
    this guy ... I'm not sure what will get this guy out of "roads are made for cars." I mean, otherwise sensible people honestly believed for years that "women just can't... (fill in the blank)" or believed in spontaneous generation, for that matter.