Bicycles Don’t Matter. No Really. They Don’t.

So then why do so many people get their panties in such a bunch about them?

But before going there… talk about Instant Karma: Yesterday I had the closest call I’ve ever had on my bike downtown. A Metro bus blew by me within inches, and when I confronted the driver about it at the next red light, he essentially admitted he was just “playing games” with me because he was annoyed that I had cut to the front of the line of traffic stopped at the previous light. Though some of you dear readers are no doubt brimming with glee over how I got what I deserved, I trust there are a few sane ones out there who recognize just how fucked up that bus driver’s response was. I annoyed him so he seriously threatened my life; sort of like if I called him a poopy head and he put a loaded gun to my head and pulled the trigger halfway. This person should have his driving privileges revoked. Period. (I filed a complaint with Metro — it will be interesting to see how it is handled.)

Back to the point: Bicycles have but the tiniest impact on most urbanites’ lives. But judging by the way some people spew the bile (google “slog” and “bikes”), you’d think bikes were holding the entire city hostage.

The impact that bikes have on traffic flow is negligible. The damage that bicycles do to people and property is negligible. The objective reality is that pretty much the worst bicycles do is that they annoy people.

Perspective all right: As I was writing this late last night I heard a volley of gunshots go off a couple blocks away from my house followed by three or four police cruisers screaming down 23rd Ave. That, and the social conditions that led to it, is something worth being concerned about.

I mean really people, are bicycles riding on sidewalks really that big of a source of anxiety in your lives? Does my riding up to the front of a line of cars stopped at a red light have any significant consequence, other than annoyance?

Meanwhile cars kill something like 40,000 people per year in the U.S. And maim who knows how many times more. And destroy a few bazillion dollars of property.

And while it’s no doubt true that people sometimes have annoying interactions with bicycles, the frequency with which it happens has got to be low in comparison to the onslaught of daily annoyances faced by the typical urbanite. There just aren’t that many bikes out there.

I am baffled by those who express the same level of contempt for cyclists that break the rules of the road as they do for drivers that break the rules of the road. In the latter instance, someone might end up crushed on the pavement, while in the former, perhaps someone might get, well, really annoyed.  It’s awfully curious how these folks (including many cyclists) suddenly become sticklers for the letter of the law when it comes to bikes. But you can be sure that all but the purest saints among them have either jaywalked, or smoked pot, or committed some other trivial victimless crime.

Which brings us to the “we’ll only earn their respect if we set a good example” argument. Yes, there is some truth in that, but here again I find it remarkable how so many cyclists seem to believe it’s so important for all cyclists to strictly adhere to this saintly standard. Did cyclists in Europe have to prove they were all perfectly behaved at all times before their governments invested in serious cycling infrastructure? No, I think not. That’s because the Europeans are smart enough to focus on what matters: the support of cycling for the overall health of their cities — not trivialities such as a bike rolling through a stop sign.

And what also repels me from the “respect” argument is that it is based on — and therefore helps to propagate — the twisted attitude that drivers are doing cyclists a huge favor by merely putting up with their presence on the roads.  In other words, you cyclists best be kissing our asses, and maybe we’ll be good enough not to mow you down.  First of all, as I already pointed out, bikes have a miniscule impact on cars and people in the city.  But more importantly, the truth is that every person who opts to travel by bike instead of by car is doing a favor for everyone in the city, including drivers.  Cue up the indignant cries that I am claiming cyclists are superior moral beings.  Whatever.  The fact that travel by bike is good for the planet is objective, verifiable, quantifiable truth. 

I would like to propose a new strategy:  Cyclists ought to break the rules of the road at every opportunity that doesn’t comprimise their, or others’ safety.  Then, over time, drivers would begin to get used to it, and ultimately they would realize that, hey, you know what, it really isn’t such a big deal when, for example, a bike runs a red light after stopping to verify there is no cross traffic.  And then we can all move on, agreeing that in terms of the multidude of problems facing the modern city, bikes are like flies buzzing around the head of Godzilla.  That is, they don’t matter.

Nobody out there has anything to say about all this, do they?

61 Responses to “Bicycles Don’t Matter. No Really. They Don’t.”

  1. Rottin' in Denmark

    As a Seattleite transplanted to Copenhagen, I can attest that bikes become *infinitely* less annoying when they have their own lanes and traffic lights and are not forced to share the road with cars.

    ‘Bikes are annoying!’ is actually a great argument for building bike lanes and giving bikers more assistance, not less. A biker will never cut you off in traffic or be in front of you at a stop light if he has his own ‘road’ next to yours.

    It’s amazing that no one in American cities seems to understand that everyone, deep down, wants the same thing.

  2. Phil Miller

    “It’s amazing that no one in American cities seems to understand that everyone, deep down, wants the same thing.”

    It’s amazing to me that anyone thinks for a moment that Americans – much less those in cities – want the same anything….or should be expected to.

    Seattle is not Copenhagen – better we recognize that sooner than later. It is not the fault of bicyclists that our urban form is sprawled (blame old streetcars as well as cars). Our trips on bikes are longer, the amount of time we can budget to transportation is finite. If my commute were 2km long instead of 20, I might (MIGHT) be persuaded to travel at the Danish 12kph pace. Unfortunately, that is neither reasonable or practical.

    Both the Danes and the Dutch have a couple of things going in their favor for their cycle track systems – mainly, the cities are small, and they are most certainly FLAT. Neither situation exists here.

    In my perfect world, we start removing motorized traffic from streets and reclaim that with wider, better connected on-street facilities that don’t threaten pedestrians (and this is a huge issue in both Denmark and the Netherlands)and gets me from A to B at a more reasonable clip. Yes to more density to shorten trips for those who choose that lifestyle, but don’t penalize those who live in rural Fremont (for in beloved Copenhagen, Fremont would be a rural suburb) by making cycling clumsy and inconvenient.

    Let’s design for OUR city, not someone else’s.

  3. Matt the Engineer

    [Phil] That’s the second time this week I’ve heard that streetcars created sprawl. That’s just silly – houses in the old streetcar neighborhoods have 30′ lot widths. That’s density, not sprawl.

    You don’t get sprawl until you get a good 5 miles from downtown. Exactly one thing creates sprawl: cars.

  4. Sabina Pade

    The streetcars of old were small, heavy and slow. Through most of the 19th century, in Europe as in America, they were horse-drawn. Definitely not progenitors of sprawl, unless we include fatigued animals collapsed in the street in our definition of it.

  5. Rottin' in Denmark

    [phil] I’m not saying that Seattle is Copenhagen. My only point up there is that bikes and cars don’t antagonize each other when each has its own designated, separated space. There would be a lot less aggrivation (and danger) for everybody if Seattle made the investment in some separated lanes, curbs, road paint, etc.

    Look, 35 percent of people bike to work in Copenhagen. In Seattle it’s something like 2 percent. Surely there are a few numbers in between that Seattle can strive for. Just because CPH’s circumstances are different (and they are, in even more ways than you pointed out) doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to learn from it. Both Berlin and Paris are huge, it’s worth pointing out, and both have great bike infrastructure. No, they didn’t do it exactly the same as CPH, nor could they. But they took Denmark’s example and applied it to their own context. Even London, for Christ’s sake, is investing in bike infrastructure to an unprecedented degree, and that city has even bigger challenges than Seattle (tiny streets, insane density, huge size).

    I’m from Seattle, by the way, and have been living here in Denmark for three years. It’s frustrating to see how little effort it would take on the city’s part to make a huge difference in emissions, health and quality of life, and how there are always naysayers pointing out why it will never work. Why not *try*, man, geez.

  6. Zack

    Not having read all the comments this may have very well been touched upon ad nauseum, but between cyclists, motorists and pedestrians there are a lot of people out there with an ever so swollen sense of entitlement.

    Here’s a life-enhancing/saving tip: You’re entitled to nothing.

    Drivers: Watch the fuck out. You are operating a machine capable of killing just about anybody, keep pthat in mind.

    Cyclists: Watch the fuck out. Pad yourself up as much as you like you are still vulnerable. Quit riding around without a care in the world as though everyone will be looking out for you. Be the better person.

    Pedestrians: That goes triple for you.

    The world owes us nothing, let’s all just do our damndest to keep ourselves nice and alive.

    Thanks.

  7. Doug

    Dan, I had the EXACT same experience with a Metro driver downtown in the summer of 2008. Spooky. I confronted him at the next light and had pretty much the same conversation (4th and Pine)… I suggested his actions could very likely cause a fatality next time and reported him to Metro… unbelievable…

    I just noticed the date of this post, I suppose there’s a very slight chance it was the same driver. let’s hope he/they’re off the streets.

  8. Ellery

    ugh. please be careful on those streets.

  9. Kathryn

    Seems like every (numerically insigficant, but everytime) time I go west on Pine and get ready to turn right ‘on red’ just past the Paramount … signal on, creeping out someone on a bicycle blasts past me on the right, slows a tad to be sure no one is coming through their green, and merrily goes through the red light. I figure at some point I will hit one of them just because the car will be in forward motion. I’m already emotionally prepared to get over it.

  10. sir bike a lot

    What the f*ck. This problem has nothing to do with being a biker or a driver. The problem is with people expecting certain behavior out of other people. Relax all you passive aggressive people. Life’s not worth the time to get angry on a blog over these little issues. Join a task force or another group to go out and educate drivers and bikers alike. Take action not attitude.

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