national bike-related anger week

19 July 2006, 11:46 am

a. “Don’t call me; I won’t call you.”

cell phone that's been run over

On Main Street, near the Medford/Winchester line, my cell phone slipped out of my pocket. I knew what had happened the instant I heard it hit. I screeched to a stop and slewed around. At the instant the truck’s tire hit the phone I was waving my arms with equal wildness and futility.

Partly this made me angry because replacing the phone is an expensive inconvenience. But it also made me angry because there are tons of kids in the neighborhood. A child chasing a ball into the street is substantially bigger and easier to see than a phone. But at the speed the truck was going, I don’t think it would have made any difference.

The driver killed my cellphone, but in mind, he could just as easily have killed a child.

b. Risk imbalance

It’s no news that there’s considerable mutual hostility between cyclists and drivers, but I don’t think most drivers understand how unbalanced it is. Once, as a driver, before I even learned how to ride a bike, I nearly hit a cyclist who I thought was in the wrong. I couldn’t say if I was more angry or more frightened; I remember I had to pull off the road and wait several minutes to stop shaking. Both the cyclist and I knew that the cyclist had had a close call.

But I don’t think drivers are always aware of what looks like a close call from a cyclist’s perspective — or, more accurately, how many situations are heartbeats from being a close call.

If I’m riding straight through an intersection on a green light, and traffic from the other direction starts turning left across my path, I have no way of knowing if the driver sees me and intends to complete the turn after I’m out of the way, or if the driver is about to splat me. It angers me, for the same reason, when drivers do the same thing to me when I’m in a car, but the stakes are much higher when I’m on a bike. I don’t think drivers get just how visceral the threat of injury is for cyclists. I don’t make a practical distinction between behavior that’s “merely” callous and behavior that’s actively menacing, because I’m at the same risk either way.

For the past few months I’ve been biking about 8 miles to work. It’s a reverse commute, and it’s been great. I’d say on average, I experience an incident that spikes my adrenaline maybe once or twice a day (compared to my time commuting in DC, that’s nothing). Most of those are automobile failures-to-yield like I described, and they’re comparatively straightforward to deal with. Many people have been notably nice at the intersections where I think it’s safest to dismount and walk the bike through a crosswalk.

Twice in the past week I’ve tried my putative new commute, which would be much shorter, but in substantially heavier traffic. Both times I’ve been much more adrenalized. Not only have there been lots of vehicles turning across my path, but I had many more issues with vehicles who swerved into the bike lane to (illegally) pass cars turning left.

c. @#$%!!^&*! Cyclists!!

On my current commute, I typically see 2 or 3 other bikers. Mostly they’re also on long hauls and they seem careful and courteous. The new ride has far more bike traffic, and, as mad as I was at some of the cars, I was even angrier with the majority of the cyclists. They sailed through stop lights and signs. They rode on the wrong side of the street. They wove in and out of traffic without signalling. And many of them didn’t wear helmets.

This sort of behavior just makes it more likely for drivers to see bikes as “hazards” rather than as “vehicles.”

The biggest problem I’ve had with bicycle commuting overall is that I accumulate all this anger that has no socially acceptable outlet. I strive to demonstrate, by example, that low-car-use living is feasible, and I feel like I often do a terrible job, because it’s often hard to hide the shoulder-chip I’m ferrying around. It’s clear to me that if I’m offered (and accept) this job, I’m going to need some new anger management strategies. Hence the piece that you’re reading now, which is in part an attempt to blow off a little steam. (A photogallery-of-shame of light-running cyclists is also a distinct possibility.)

d. On a lighter note

Spotted in curlicue-dripping white caps across a big black tailgate:

NO LIMITS — NO LAWS
FASTER THAN A SPEEDING TICKET

The tailgate in question was, perhaps not surprisingly, moving too fast for me to provide photographic evidence.

First reaction: I really wish I could see the driver trying to talk his way out of a moving violation.

Second reaction: What is the speed of a ticket, anyway? Is it even limited by general relativity? Or does it take effect instantly throughout the universe? Information about the ticket can only move at the speed of light, but the ticketee doesn’t need to know about the ticket in order to be ticketed, does he?

14 comments on “national bike-related anger week”

  1. Ezra

    “Faster than a speeding ticket” is the point at which it stops being just a speeding ticket and starts being resisting arrest, reckless endangerment, etc…

    So, I have taken a couple of trial runs of biking to work, and your putative commute is not unlike my actual commute via bike. It’s really hellish, even though some of the streets have actual bike paths. I am not a really confident biker, and it really seemed not worth the trouble. It’s almost as big a pain as driving would be.

    The alternate plan I was using for a while was just using the bike to get to the Davis Square T, which is relatively pleasant, even though it’s all downhill in the morning and all uphill at night. I have also thought of just leaving a cheap bike in the bike room at work, and use it to broaden my lunch options.

  2. summervillain

    So, I have taken a couple of trial runs of biking to work, and your putative commute is not unlike my actual commute via bike.

    Yours is certainly longer, but there’s probably substantial overlap. My comments refer to Beacon/Hampshire, which would be very direct for me. I could also go via Mass Ave.. That route’s more complicated (and I haven’t done it in morning rush hour) but I haven’t had much trouble biking to the TTs, The Middle East, etc. Presumably there should be some (Cambridge) Broadway option, too - I might even be able to cut through Harvard Yard.

    I also haven’t tried the Beacon/Hampshire commute in the morning when I’d really be doing it, but pm rush hour traffic seems roughly even in both directions. Maybe if I left early enough it wouldn’t be too bad.

  3. Ezra

    Beacon/Hampshire is what I was referring to. Beacon is not so bad, but when it turns into Hampshire– whoa, I’m clenching up just thinking about it. And the 5+ way intersection at Inman– gah. Pretty wrenching, even in a car.

    Oxford St. to Broadway is a better alternative, I think. Broadway is actually not too bad. Mostly because it is indeed significantly broader than Hampshire. And I like Oxford St as a Beacon alternative; even though it’s narrow, everything moves pretty slow on it.

    The thing about Mass Ave is the busses and their frequently psychopathic drivers.

  4. loudfan

    Two bicyclists have been killed here in the past week, and in both cases it was because the bicyclists (and one was very experienced, on a racing team) did not obey traffic laws. This drives me CRAZY. I swear for every bicyclist around here who stops at a stop sign, there are 9 who coast right through. I hope these prominent fatalities make some bicyclists realize we’ll all be safer if they obey the rules of the road.

  5. 2fs

    Yep: I almost ran into a bicyclist the other day. Why? Actually, it’s better to ask why I was able to avoid her: because I was paying attention, and saw her. But I easily could have hit her…because after turning left (the same thing I was doing) from the leftmost side of traffic, she blindly rode across the traffic lane to get to the right side of traffic. That is, she cut right in front of the path I was on, doing my own left turn. Because I’d seen maneuvers like that before, I was ready for it, and executed the turn itself very slowly (low traffic luckily) and was able to quickly stop when our oblivious cyclist cut across my lane. What irks me about too many bicyclists is that while they insist on their rights in traffic (which they do have, of course), they too often obey only those traffic laws that are convenient to them and ignore those that aren’t. (Rather like Bush’s use of the UN…but I digress.) And law aside: if your vehicle cannot go the prevailing speed, but it can allow vehicles to pass by using smaller spaces than those vehicles, common sense and courtesy say you should use those spaces. In other words, you shouldn’t park yourself in the middle of the driving lane going 20 mph when traffic’s going 30, and you shouldn’t ride two or three abreast on a narrow street without a marked bike lane. (And of course, cars should not pretend bike lanes are just underutilized passing lanes, or that bicyclists are pesky intruders on what is properly their space, etc. etc.)

  6. summervillain

    2fs:

    What irks me about too many bicyclists is that while they insist on their rights in traffic (which they do have, of course), they too often obey only those traffic laws that are convenient to them and ignore those that aren’t.

    Very succintly put. I saw that behavior among the DC courier community, but those folks had an insane macho deathwish ethos. I guess up here I’ve seen a smattering of bad cyclists around Harvard, but nothing like the concentration I saw on the commuter route. It’s really disheartening to see signs that cyclists en masse might be every bit as jerky as motorists can be en masse.

    Anyway, it’s easier for me to see the motorists’ perspective than it has been for years. I guess that can’t be all a bad thing.

    I also have to own up to a certain hypocrisy (as we’ve discussed offline) — I have not historically been a 100% law-abiding cyclist anymore than I’ve been a 100% law-abiding pedestrian or driver. In my own defense, I will say that in all 3 modes, I’m much more likely to obey the letter of the law as traffic density increases*. If traffic is neglible, I’ll walk across the road any ol’ place; if it’s a steady flow, I’m much more likely to use a crosswalk. But I’m going to try to do even better across the board, because someone has to set a better example.

    * except exceeding the posted speed limit, which is a special case.

  7. Editrix

    Sad to say, I can’t recall a cyclist ever yielding to me when I cross at a crosswalk, even when motor vehicles have already done so (as required and posted prominently). And it’s a rare event when I see a cyclist stop at a red light if there’s no (or light) cross-traffic.

  8. Terri

    Good point, Editrix. I recall being nearly mowed down one time by a cyclist as I was crossing Broadway at Teele Square. I found myself apologizing, but afterwards I realized that the cyclist really owed me an apology.

  9. Ezra

    I remember that day, Terri; *I* was shaking after it. He was going *really fast* on a little racing bike right through a red light at a crosswalk, which *beeps* when the pedestrians have the walk light.

    The rest of the walk, I kept having visions about knocking him off his bike and repeatedly pounding his face into the road; I think it’s about as close as I’ve come to road rage.

  10. 2fs

    S-villain: “I also have to own up to a certain hypocrisy (as we’ve discussed offline) — I have not historically been a 100% law-abiding cyclist anymore than I’ve been a 100% law-abiding pedestrian or driver.”

    That raises an interesting point: generally, I’m not one to argue that laws should be obeyed solely *because* they’re laws. One can always imagine countervailing requirements that outweigh the law. And certainly, I’ll jaywalk with impunity if there’s no risk to myself or annoyance to drivers or cyclists (I hate it when jaywalkers amble out on a path that - they’re sure - will place them safely behind my car as I’m passing but which looks to me like they’re walking right in front of me). But with traffic laws (except, as you say, speed limits - because safety dictates going with the flow of traffic, generally), I tend to obey them regardless. Do I stop at a red light and, if there’s no traffic around, go through it? No. Do I signal a turn even if I can see there’s no one to see my signal? Generally, yes. Perhaps it’s my by-and-large punctilious attitude toward traffic regulations that steam me when some bicyclists blithely roll through stopsigns… And I do understand why they do it: it takes far more effort to restart a bike than to keep going. (That’s why former railroad ROWs - with their relatively gentle curves and inclines - make great bike paths.) It would be interesting to see what a city designed from scratch to truly accommodate bikes would look like - realistically, they should have their own ways (just as sidewalks are for pedestrians) rather than share roadways that are designed for automotive traffic.

  11. summervillain

    Editrix and Ezra on cyclists in crosswalks

    Sad to say, I can’t recall a cyclist ever yielding to me when I cross at a crosswalk

    I kept having visions about knocking him off his bike and repeatedly pounding his face into the road

    I kept track yesterday afternoon - I stopped for 7 pedestrians (and one German shepherd) in crosswalks, and guilted a car into yielding for two of them that I don’t think would have otherwise done so.

    2fs:

    Perhaps it’s my by-and-large punctilious attitude toward traffic regulations that steam me when some bicyclists blithely roll through stopsigns. . . And I do understand why they do it: it takes far more effort to restart a bike than to keep going.

    That one (failure to stop where required) really steams me, too. I’m on the bike in the first place, at least in part, because I want some exercise. I guess sometimes I cheat a little bit but if I don’t always come to a dead stop, I come very close. Historically I’ve often ignored “no turn on red” signs. I’ve also been guilty of proceeding through an intersection after stopping for a light, particularly if it’s a “T” with traffic entering from the left, or if it’s very late at night and traffic is light.

  12. Ezra

    To be clear, I’m not a violent guy, but this guy blazed through the crosswalk at probably 15-20mph– not even attempting to slow down– and then acted peeved at Terri, who was only about two feet in front of me. It was a very primal rage.

    I’m not even really a big stickler about bikers bending the traffic laws a little, because I really think those laws are written without a thought for them. The fact is, you can see way more on a bike, you’re not going as fast as you are in a car, it’s lighter, so you can stop faster. But, on a bike you are harder to see, both by cars (because they’re bigger and insulated from the outside), and by pedestrians, because you’re quiet and faster-moving.

    I honestly think the thing that makes the most sense is the suggestion for bike-only routes. One of the reasons I liked Amsterdam so much when I was there were the wide, separated-from-automobile-lane bike lanes, populated mostly by one-speeds.

  13. Ezra

    A timely story via Universal Hub. (And I feel compelled to say that linking to this is not a tacit endorsement of his point about Rudy Giuliani).

  14. summervillain

    While we’re doling out bike bookmarks…

    • Here’s a great Bike Commuting Tips site. The guy’s a bit of a gearhound, but most of this advice is excellent.
    • The Google Maps-based Bikely looks interesting; time will tell if it gets enough routes to be helpful or not. I promise to add the safest Porter-Kendall route, as soon as I figure it out.
    • And it’s not specifically bike-y, but I have used Map My Run (another Google Maps tool) for mapping bike rides.

    (I’m not quite sure, but I think I found all of these links via LifeHacker.)

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