• Ethics, exhaust, and other reasons to break traffic laws while bicycling

    by  • August 6, 2012 • Health, Legal and Enforcement, No Digest, Traffic Control • 1 Comment

     

    Cross-posted from Bike Portland –

    by Jonathan Maus (photo above courtesy of Caroline Honse)

    rollingstop2The bike world is buzzing today after a Sunday New York Times opinion piece by Randy Cohen laid out his personal, ethical case for riding illegally. In, If Kant Were a New York Cyclist, Cohen, formerly “The Ethicist” columnist at the paper, wrote:

    “I treat red lights and stop signs as if they were yield signs. A fundamental concern of ethics is the effect of our actions on others. My actions harm no one. This moral reasoning may not sway the police officer writing me a ticket, but it would pass the test of Kant’s categorical imperative: I think all cyclists could — and should — ride like me.”

    Not surprisingly, Cohen’s piece has spurred lots of reaction from both sides of the debate. Reuters’ Felix Salmon offered a thoughtful rebuttal to Cohen, writing that, “If Cohen wants to agitate for a change in the rules, I’ll join him and support him. But I’m not going to pretend that it’s OK to break the rules just because you think the rules should be changed.”

    Interestingly, my mind was already on this topic (even more than usual) because of a letter to the editor published in The Oregonian on Friday. The letter, From a bicyclist: Why I still run red lights and stop signs, was written by a man who said he used to obey all traffic laws until he got tired of breathing toxic exhaust from cars and trucks while waiting at lights and stop signs:

    I_Err“Time after time, sitting at a light or stop sign, the signal to go is marked by the car next to me stepping on the gas and blowing a cloud of burnt gasoline in my face. It didn’t happen once or twice, but at every intersection, in every instance. Burnt gasoline, burnt diesel oil, from big cars, little cars, from cars, trucks and buses, I was being gassed at every opportunity. After a week, I resumed my scofflaw ways.”

    I can relate to both reasons for not always obeying these traffic laws; but I err on the side of advocating for the laws to change rather than to encourage others to break them.  [Continued …]

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    One Response to Ethics, exhaust, and other reasons to break traffic laws while bicycling

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