Wednesday, July 19, 2006

More Thoughts About Cars and Bikes

As a follow-up to the Ghost Bikes post from last week, I'm posting a column that appeared in the latest issue of Sustainable Times. It was written by Bob Allen, the same guy who wrote the Cargo Bikes article that appeared here and in the Sustainable Times back in April. He does a pretty darn good job of expressing what I'm sure a lot of cyclists are feeling, including me...

Cars Are Like Glass Houses

By Robert Allen

Bicycles are for transportation, not personal transformation. Riding a bicycle won’t turn a sinner into a saint.

But this doesn’t stop some motorists from expecting more than normal human behavior from every bicycle rider they see.

Anti-bicyclist letters to the editor in local papers are becoming drearily common, denouncing all who dare ride bicycles because of the antics of a rude and careless few. Of course, such letters are a benign and preferable form of backlash compared to the aggressive messages delivered along the road by some impatient motorists.

But I wonder why the letter writers, or anybody, would think bicyclists should be held to a higher standard than the rest of society.

Of course some bicyclists are rude and dangerous and they are wrong when they act selfishly and stupidly.

Riding a bicycle can help you shed pounds, save on gas and have more fun -- but it’s not going to change the content of your character. If you’re a rude and selfish jerk before you get on your bicycle, you’ll probably remain one no matter how many miles you ride.

People who focus their invective on bicyclists seem curiously complacent when it comes to dangerous and distracted motorists, who pose a much bigger threat to the health and welfare of any community.

Motorists are armed with tons of metal capable of much higher speed. The simple physics of the equation spells trouble. Add distractions like the scourge of cell phone addiction to this motorized mix and there are plenty of reasons for concern, if not a Sisyphusian stream of angry letters.

But there is something about the sight of a lone bicyclist blowing through a stop sign that sends the motoring public over the edge.

Perhaps it’s because bicyclers who ignore stop signs seem to be saying to the world that they think they’re above the law.

It’s a point well taken. Bicycles have an equal right to the road in Wisconsin, and with that right comes the responsibility to observe the same laws motorists occasionally observe.

But while I don’t condone it or recommend it, I know why bicycle riders are reluctant to scrub all the speed they’ve worked to build up at stop signs guarding empty intersections.

They aren’t doing it to thumb their noses at the world. They roll through intersections when the coast is clear because the cost of stopping for bicyclists is more directly felt than it is by drivers.

For a bicyclist, starting from a dead stop requires a considerable physical effort, much more exertion than simply maintaining pace. A driver who stops merely has to press down on the gas pedal a bit and, Bob’s your uncle, you’re back up to speed (never mind the extra blast of hydrocarbon emissions you’ve just delivered).

This isn’t an excuse, but maintaining hard-earned momentum is a compelling reality for the self-propelled.

A stop sign, however, means stop. It shouldn’t be treated like a yield sign.

I do my best to make a point of stopping fully, especially when being observed, not just because it’s the law; as a bicycling advocate, I try to be a decent ambassador out there on the road.

Not that my efforts to ride lawfully and courteously are going to change anybody’s mind. Courteous riders, like courteous drivers, are certainly in the majority. They just aren’t the ones anybody notices.

There are all kinds of people riding bicycles and driving cars. The next time one of them does something foolish, don’t hold it against the rest of us.

Allen is a commuting and recreational bicycler who lives in Middleton.

Thanks Bob.


Tex69 said...

Bob's commentary brings to mind a very recent TV news report titled "War of Wheels". You can imagine the gist. They first dabbled a bit with bad car behavior. They ended of course with loads of information of how culpable cyclists are for not following laws and for how rude they are on the roads. It's one of those "Cars are sorta bad BUT those damn bikers". It perfectly illustrates Bob's observations.

Mauricio Babilonia said...

Hey tex, where and when did you see that report?

Aaron said...

I liked the article. On my way to work I usually blow through the 4 way stops that are empty and feel guilty about it (to some degree try to slow down just in case). I have to admit I have used some poor judgement in the past but do stop when there is a 4 way stop and cars are present. Unfortunately your not given the same right-of-way as if you were in a car. Winona, MN doesn't have near the traffic as Madison so getting to work is pretty easy and I'm pretty sure I've never cut anybody off.