• All Bicyclists Agree That Bike Salmon Are A Huge Problem

    by  • May 28, 2011 • Traffic Control • 1 Comment

    ~ Except For The Ones Who Don’t Agree ~

    Sign mounted on the rear of another sign for bike "salmon".

    Sign mounted on the rear of another sign for bike “salmon”.

    What do cyclists think of bike “salmon”ing (cycling in the opposite direction from motor vehicle traffic)? Let’s listen:


    “When I see a salmon… coming toward me, either in a bike lane or in the “doorspace” of an unlaned street, I put on my Mean Face and repeatedly, vigorously jab my pointed finger to the left to indicate the side of the street the moron is SUPPOSED to be on.

    “Aside from blowing through red lights, salmoning is the single stupidest thing people on bicycles do……”


    I’m a proud “bike salmon,” but would gladly reconsider if cars were two-wheeled, people-powered vehicles instead of rolling death machines made of steel and glass. In fact, I would be more sympathetic to the idea that you should ride your bike like you drive your car…if the two were anything at all alike……”


    “As both a cyclist and a driver…the “salmon” endanger all cyclists by enraging drivers – who then might take it out on the rest of us. “And there really is no excuse. I’m a 60+ year old guy who manages to bike 7 miles to work each way, stopping fully at every stop sign and obeying all the traffic lights. (Full gamut from dirt country road through suburban intersections and then downtown traffic.) If I can do it, anyone can, everything else is just childish excuses…….”


    People salmon because sometimes going upstream looks like the easier and more intuitive choice. For example, coming off the Brooklyn Bridge I usually ride on Tillary to Cadman Plaza West and then take that for one block to Clark and then Clark to Henry. Now, I live on Henry and it would be much quicker to go the wrong way down Clinton and go over on Montague or Joralemon but I won’t do it because it’s dangerous for me and anyone else in the bike lane. But other people do it regularly. The solution to this problem is to improve the bike network and calm traffic such that you can ride your bike on ANY street(with traffic) and feel comfortable. “Also, I feel stupid making a huge circle in my bike, stopping at at least two lights, just to avoid riding one block the wrong way. I’m sure a lot of people regard that situation as being crazy and just decide to ride the wrong way rather than practice typical car/driver behavior……”


    “Traffic laws …[are] a fairly fragile system that allows everybody, everybody to coordinate their movements across the city together. One person breaking the rules, whether it’s a pedestrian wandering in the street, a cyclist going the wrong way, or a motorist who turns without looking for bike or foot traffic, can throw off the whole system……”


    “Don’t we realize that one-way streets are only, and would ever only, be necessary for motor vehicles? I argue that there needs to be safe, two-way access for bikes on all streets… whether that requires bi-directional bike paths on one side or one direction on each, or simply legal allowance on small streets permitted space is available for a bike + car.”

    “…. the main reason for salmoning is that people on bikes don’t feel that these massively-scaled streets apply to them because they were built essentially without their existence in mind. It really is about (in)convenience – why should those who aren’t moving around in a huge hunk of metal have to operate over such unnecessary distances?……”


    “[P]eople think that you “ride” bikes; you’re not supposed to “drive” them. It seems to me that the issue is getting people (cyclists and motorists alike) to understand that bikes=vehicles and that they should be used as such, i.e., like cars or scooters…While it doesn’t feel natural, perhaps we should differentiate how we use our bikes in everyday speech by saying that we “drive” ours vs “ride” them……”


    Riding with traffic requires a leap of faith that drivers you can not see really and truly can see you and will not sideswipe or crash into you from behind. This leap is even harder to make if you tend to feel “invisible” to privileged members of society. People who salmon for convenience or laziness do it for short stretches. Those who feel safer salmoning due to lack of trust in others are the ones who salmon all the time…

    “I would argue that if the lane is wide enough, riding facing traffic on a one way street, along the curb, on the right, with full deference to pedestrians is quite safe and should not be forbidden. Bicycles are like other vehicles except when they are not……”


    Salmoning is risky activity! But I’ll admit I’ve done it too, or something like it. I live near a bunch of freeway interchanges in San Jose, and sometimes the choice is between a short distance on a sidewalk and a long diversion on streets that take a meandering route around the freeways. If the sidewalk looks empty, I’ll ride it – even the wrong way! My only defense is that I do this rarely, briefly, and with highly focused attention……”


    I live in a city (Frankfurt, Germany) in which bicyclists are allowed to drive both ways on one-way streets.

    “This was introduced a few years ago, first as an experiment, then as a widespread measure. It was found that accidents involving bikes were actually reduced after this measure was introduced.

    “The reasons: car drivers became more alert; bikers now stay off the main roads; the travel speed for bikers increased, thus more people bike = car drivers are more accustomed to seeing bikers.

    “I used to drive through town by Vespa but now, having found that bicycling is generally quicker and more convenient, will probably sell the scooter.

    “The general rule is: the more convenient it is to bike, the more people will bike, and the safer biking becomes……”



    Phew! At least this is one bicycling controversy that is well and truly settled!


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    James Wilson is the executive director of Bike Delaware. He is a member of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (by whom he was named the 2014 Professional of the Year, Nonprofit Sector), the Institute of Transportation Engineers and the Delaware Bicycle Council. He serves on the board of directors of Delaware Greenways and the Delaware Valley Smart Growth Alliance and as the co-chair of the policy committee of the Advisory Council on Walkability and Pedestrian Awareness. He holds engineering degrees from Yale University and the University of Texas at Austin and is the only registered lobbyist for cycling and walking in Delaware. He helped create, and continues to lead Bike Delaware's participation in, the Walkable Bikeable Delaware campaign. During his tenure as Bike Delaware's executive director, Delaware advanced in the national Bicycle Friendly State rankings for five years in a row, farther and faster than any other state, ever.

    One Response to All Bicyclists Agree That Bike Salmon Are A Huge Problem

    1. TwowheelinTim
      May 29, 2011 at 4:50 pm

      Dear Salmon,

      You do realize you're exponentially raising your chances of getting hit right?

      Consider this: a motorist pulling out of a blind driveway and getting ready to turn right. The immediate threat of getting hit by an oncoming vehicle or otherwise will be coming from which direction? Yup, you guessed it, the left. So, which way do you suppose this motorist is looking when approaching the cross street? You guessed correctly if you said "left". Most motorists never even bother looking right, right? From which way are you approaching this motorist? You're pretty smart, that's right, the RIGHT! EXACTLY the direction said motorist is NOT looking. BAM! There you have it. Somehow I doubt you're convinced. Maybe some motorist one day will do you the favor of only maiming you instead of killing you because he or she did not look right.

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