Several of the Most Sincere Apologies in Advance

…for beating this deceased-and-decaying-horse cycling issue a little longer with the following three riffs:

1.) Field Report: Today on my two-mile ride to work downtown, I encountered three cars not using turn signals. Then on my way home, I saw three bikes run a red light at 4th and Pike. Which behavior is more cause for concern?

2.) My “bicycles don’t matter” rant has received more comments than any other hugeasscity post, which is a telling demonstration of the the post’s main premise. But oblivious was I to the rich flamefest that ensued over at SLOG when Erica Barnett posted an excerpt. Oh my, such language! Comment number two is my all time favorite. Thank you esteemed SLOG commenters for doing such a smashing job of proving my original point about how people get absurdly riled up over something so innocuous as bicycles.

3.) Did anyone see the August PI opinion piece on why cyclists should never ever break any traffic law? I may be suffering from delusions of grandeur, but I couldn’t help wondering if the author was responding to something he read on hugeasscity. So I fired off a letter to the editor at the PI, but alack, it didn’t make the cut. At the risk of becoming even more of a pariah among the cycling community, here is the text of the letter:

The most revealing aspect of John Bealaurier’s contention that “running that red light on your bike is not a victimless crime” is his rationalization for it. It’s not that the action itself is directly responsible for any harm. Rather, it is because the action could annoy drivers, provoking them to drive unlawfully and harm cyclists. Got that? It’s sort of like claiming that marching in a pro-choice rally is not victimless because it might provoke some nutcase to go off and assasinate a doctor. And drivers that intentionally endanger the lives of others with their cars are exactly that: nutcases. There is absolutely no excuse for playing irresponsibly with a lethal weapon.

When people preach that cyclists must obey every traffic law or else expect to face the wrath of homicidal drivers, I would argue that in the long run, they are actually doing cyclists a disservice. Because through this aquiescence, they are in effect accepting sociopathic drivers as a fact of life, and are thereby perpetuating the norm in which too many drivers are allowed to get away with being lawless in their handling of a deadly machine.

And this isn’t just about cars and bikes. This is about a society in which there is a massive disconnect between the risk imposed by cars, and the lack of seriousness with which we take their operation. I respect the work and goals of the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board, but I would encourage them to worry less about cyclists bending traffic laws, and more about how to repair that disconnect. And in the mean time, I’ll follow Bealaurier’s logic and only run red lights while no mentally unstable drivers are looking.

13 Responses to “Several of the Most Sincere Apologies in Advance”

  1. Rottin' in Denmark

    I agree with your larger point, Dan, but as a strategic consideration, it’s probably not all that useful to Fight For Your Right to run red lights.

    Bicyclists often beseech cars, ‘Don’t pass too close, just wait for me. What’s the big hurry?’ etc. Bikers should be held to the same standard, no? If the only reason to run a red light is because it will get you to your destination 20 seconds faster, then it’s probably not worth making a political fight over.

    Is there another reason to run red lights? I’m genuinely curious here. With cars and bikes sharing the road, does it make sense to have the bikes go out first? I haven’t seen how this works in Seattle, only in cities where it’s all separated.

  2. Matt the Engineer

    //Bikers should be held to the same standard, no?// I think you’re falling into the same trap. The difference Dan is pointing out between the two cases is that cars are by nature large, heavy, deadly objects. There’s more ethical weight behind every action, as every action could be a deadly one. The bicyclist risks only his own life. Therefore no, they shouldn’t be held to the same standard.

  3. BrianM

    Not sure I agree with “rotten,” either. As dan has pointed out elsewhere, I believe, it’s not merely a matter of saving 20 seconds worth of time. It’s all about momentum! It’s a pain-in-the-neck to come to a complete stop on a local street with four way stops every block. At least here in the blighted south, the law says you literally must take your feet out of the pedals and put them on the ground. Plus-not all intersections have bicycle-tripped sensors. So…I guess we are supposed to somehow reach the pedestrian crossing buttons?

    Have to admit I don’t usually run signalized intersections. If I lived in central San Francisco, I might.

  4. justin

    How is it that IDAHO of all places has the best bike laws? If we had them here it would make most of the ‘illegal’ things people complain about legal.

  5. Rottin' in Denmark

    Yeah, doesn’t Idaho have the law where bikers stop at red lights and then can go? And yield to stop signs? That seems like really sane policy to me. Car drivers may still find it smug, though.

    No offense, Brian, but ‘it’s a pain in the neck’ isn’t going to win bikers any friends. It’s a pain to lose momentum in a car, too, but we expect people to do it because it’s the law and it doesn’t make sense to simply allow people to go through an intersection when they think it’s prudent. Unless bikers want to lobby to change the laws, I agree with giving out tickets for jay-biking, or whatever it’s called. Being bikers doesn’t give us license to break the law.

    I’m really not trying to be strident here. I just think this debate (in seattle, at least) often gets dragged down into ‘but bikers run red lights all the time!’ and ‘cars pass me going too fast!’, neither of which really advance anything. It would be more productive to hash out the changes in policy and infrastructure so that bikes and cars can coexist.

  6. BrianM

    No…I’m sorry. Losing momentum in a car has no costs other than impatience. None. You push your foot down a little bit on a pedal. I know I’m being strident, but that is not a pain in the neck.

    Can’t disagree with your last paragraph.

  7. wes

    My favorite comment:

    last friday, i experimented: i obeyed every traffic law, light, & rule of etiquette on my way to work. 50 minutes.

    yesterday, i broke every traffic law i could, rode on the sidewalk, rode to the front at traffic lights. 40 minutes.

    the roads & the rules are made for cars. i can’t tell you how many red lights i sat at because they changed just as i got to them. i can tell you how much time that adds, though. 10 minutes.

    time is money, bitches.”

    The last part is the best.

  8. Dan Staley

    Yes: laws for thee but not for me.

    That works well with most of the population, I suspect. You guys run with that, and use that tag line on me, no charge. Good luck with that.

  9. michael

    Rottin in Denmark

    A major reason why many bicyclists might be seen running red lights is the fact that there are no bicycle detectors to trigger a green light if a bicyclists is waiting at a red light, therefore you either wait until a car comes along to trigger the light or you run the light. This is my reason. I typically do not run red lights when there are cars already waiting at the red light.

    One way to get bicycles out in front of cars is using bicycle boxes. These are being heavily used in NYC and Portland. They allow bicycles to get out front so they are visible and can get across the intersection before cars.

  10. wes

    Have been and will do DS. Been having great luck with it, thanks.

  11. old timer

    ” the action could annoy drivers, provoking them to drive unlawfully and harm cyclists”

    Isn’t that thinking from the same page as
    ‘She was askin’ for it with that dress she was wearin'”?

  12. dan bertolet

    But DanS, the laws will likely be changing:

    What do we do when the laws aren’t keeping up with a changing world? We ignore those laws when we think we can get away with it.

    Yes, michael, bike boxes would be great. It’s exactly why I often split lanes and go to the front of a line of cars stopped at an intersection.

    Y’all: I think the reason people run stops and red lights on bikes is the same reason they jaywalk: they’re human, they’ve got places to go, and it goes against human nature to sit there waiting like a zombie when there’s no good reason to.

  13. Hinchee

    When they furthered their own agenda by voting down the initial bill, they stated quite clearly what their stance was and will be for the future far and wide. Vimax Pill

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