• Pot Calling the Kettle Black

    by  • October 19, 2011 • Legal, Traffic Control • 10 Comments

    There’s a tendency to talk about people who ride bikes as though they’re a wanton bunch of scofflaws. You’re with a group of non-cycling friends, or at work, or somewhere else in public wearing bicycle attire, and suddenly find yourself on the defensive. It doesn’t matter if you are a John Forrester fan and idealize vehicular cycling to the letter of the law. Someone saw a cyclist run a red light, and well now, you’re one of them.

    The videos below are refreshing, in showing that our inquisitors are not just equally guilty, but in fact, much more so given the death and destruction their vehicles incur, to the tune of 40+ thousand who die in crashes each year in the US (never mind the environmental and health implications, at least doubling that figure).

    Could it be that bicyclists (and pedestrians, i.e. jaywalking) are often times responding to a transportation environment that’s an epic multi-modal failure? Think about it; if you do find a driver sold on the concept of bike lanes, the likely reason is the extra space it offers, the convenience, and keeping the speed up; if you’re riding a bike, it’s a matter of being seen and staying alive – especially at intersections. It’s hardly a system that the vast majority would feel safe mixing it up in, especially when from behind ‘accidents’ are becoming a regular news item – this one on Streetsblog – and appear to mirror the surge in distracted driving.

    Stand at any intersection in Delaware and observe what drivers are really doing behind the wheel. How many are either blabbing on a cell phone or looking down as they text or dial? Some are even shaving, putting on makeup, reading a map, or stuffing their face with a triple cheeseburger.

    Do facilities help? No surprise here. In a recent survey of Delaware bicyclists, a clear majority indicated a stronger willingness to observe traffic laws when they are designed into the system.

    One might think recent legislation in Delaware would have some positive influence, but without PSAs and enforcement, such behavior remains rampant – even to the point of being acceptable to the police. Throughout most of the US still, a simple “I didn’t see him or her” is a virtual get off the hook free card. Failure to require police to check cell phone records certainly doesn’t help.

    Most bicyclists run red lights not out of wanton disrespect for the world’s moral order. More likely, it’s because they’re riding in a sea of cars occupied by too many people who either don’t notice (distracted), don’t care, don’t think bicycles belong, or harbor anti-bicyclist anger/resentment. They feel safer getting as far ahead as possible, and out of the way, especially when confronted with the choice to stop in front of a car or pickup truck. Worse yet is blocking a right turn-only lane that was formerly shoulder. Another reason bicyclists run red lights (and stop signs) is, simply put, they can without fear of penalty. Just the same as routinely driving 10+ mph over the speed limit, talking and texting, removing/modifying exhaust systems, failure to signal, and yes, as these videos poignantly show, running stop signs.

    What bicyclists really need is an Idaho Stop law, currently under consideration in several states.


    “115.86 Americans die each day in car accidents vs. 000.17 Americans who die each day from terrorist attacks. Why don’t we have a war against aggressive and careless motorists?”  ~ Author Unknown

    10 Responses to Pot Calling the Kettle Black

    1. Mary Matzek
      October 20, 2011 at 8:45 am

      Some really good stuff here. Good job. I’ll post your website for the benefit of what I’m calling “the movement”. Hope it becomes a National Movement to change perception of bicyclers and promote safety and tolerance.

    2. Pingback: BICYCLING AMERICA « On The Road With Jim And Mary

    3. Pingback: Streetsblog.net » Look Out Below: One in Nine Bridges Structurally Deficient, Reports T4A

    4. October 20, 2011 at 11:29 am

      I disagree cyclists run lights primarily because of fear. Take an isolated intersection, visibility for a mile in each direction, not a bike, car, or pedestrian in sight. Do you wait for the light? Probably not, nor would most people. People don’t value the law per se, but the goals of the law, which are that traffic be predictable, safe, and courteous. If all of these requirements are satisfied, the law is viewed as a tool, not itself the goal. People go through lights when they see no disadvantage to doing so not for increased safety, but because they have better things to do with their time than sit at an intersection. The real “solution” to rampant red light running is an Idaho stop law (allowing cyclists to treat red lights as stop signs), which places the onus on cyclists who violate right of way, and not those who fail to adhere to the letter of what is a law clearly designed to the limitations of and risks presented by car drivers.

      • Frank Warnock
        October 20, 2011 at 1:19 pm

        Points well taken, Dan. The post was written based on riding higher speed, busy arterial type roads. These do in fact introduce the fear factor, and often times, running a light is (or perceived) safer. There are, of course, many different factors that influence our handling of intersections; rural vs suburban, Sunday morning vs peak, etc.

        I added a link to a post we did on the Idaho stop law at the bottom. Excellent point. Thanks.

    5. Pingback: Look Out Below: One in Nine Bridges Structurally Deficient, Reports T4A | Body Local

    6. Jay
      October 20, 2011 at 5:35 pm

      I bike to work every morning on the 15th street cycle track in DC, and bicyclists stop at every light. Even when there are no cars. Which is annoying.

    7. Clutch J
      October 20, 2011 at 7:13 pm

      Regarding the second video, would the flashing yellow light supercede the stop sign? At a mininum, it contaminates the experiment. When we see a flashing yellow, we think “use caution,” not “stop.”

      Both it and the first video point to the larger traffic management mistake of too many stop signs. Motorists, too, have a pretty good stop-as-yield argument. Our local street systems would do well to transition many stops to yields for all users.

      Bicyclists do suffer disproportionately from all the unnecessary stops.

      • Frank Warnock
        October 20, 2011 at 9:02 pm

        I’m nearly certain that’s a flashing red; the video quality clouds it a bit. A flashing yellow at a stop sign would be out of compliance with the MUTCD.

    8. David Welch
      October 21, 2011 at 12:12 pm

      I’ve long maintained that the incidence of law-breaking by motorists is about the same as that by cyclists. But they are perceived differently for two reasons:
      The first is that the two most common forms of law-breaking by cyclists – riding against traffic and running stop signs/lights at full speed – are just more visible than the most common forms of law-breaking by motorists – speeding, rolling through stop signs at a reduced speed and going through a red light just after it has changed.
      The other is a more complex aspect of psychology. When we see a person who is part of a dominant group or part of a group with which we identify do something bad, we ascribe the bad behavior to the individual and particularize it: “Look, that idiot just ran a red light”.
      When we see a member of a minority group or a group we see as “other” behave badly, we tend to ascribe the behavior to the group and to generalize it: “Those cyclists are always running red lights”
      A line of motorists waiting for light to change who see a cyclist roll past them and blow through the light will react by believing all cyclists are law-breakers, notwithstanding that as soon as the light changes that whole line of motorists will be driving 40 in a 25 zone.

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