Bike Seconds, Car Minutes

May 21st, 2013 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

The widespread, irrational hostility toward bicycles continues. Despite the slowly growing number and percentage of Americans cycling — for fun, exercise, commuting, shopping — an astonishing clot of us have visceral, anecdotal reactions to two-wheelers.

happybikesIn fact, as a long-time marriage-equality blogger, I see clear parallels in attitudes. As surely as bicycling and same-sex marriage are the future in the world as well as this country, reactionaries hate those realities. They seem not to care whom they hurt in their process of protesting and impeding progress.

While not the time and place for marriage talk, yet another death of a Boston cyclist and in particular, a crackpot column in today’s Herald are apropos.  In our winger tabloid, Margery Egan builds from the false premise of her first sentence, “Boston’s streets aren’t wide enough for bikes and cars. It’s as simple as that.”

Of course that’s crap. Traffic studies by city, state, academicians and other repeatedly prove a little planning makes room for all, pedestrians included. The more than clever head of bike programs, Nicole Freeman, has judiciously added bike lanes, paths, racks and such where they don’t disrupt, as has her Cambridge counterpart, Cara Seiderman. Their successes are invisible to or ignored by bike haters.

The comments to Egan’s column are almost exclusively what one expects in the Herald. Some even literally wish death on cyclists, a.k.a. those who are reducing congestion by removing their cars from the road while they spin.

What’s most telling is how Egan and many comments use anecdotes and unprovable generalities to justify reckless driving and operating to endanger. You see, wrecks and even deaths are the cyclists fault because if a driver has to slow down, well, that’s what makes them go fast, buzz cyclists, and hit them.

In the real world though, those us who are multi-modal perceive differently. In particular, drivers are clearly irritated at having to wait behind a cyclist or even slow a little to pass safely. The same driver on the same roads at the same time invariably waits much, much longer behind other motor vehicles. They seem to accept waiting through one to four lights as a cost of driving, so long as it is a car or truck and not a bike ahead of them. What’s up with that?

For whatever good it does in no-blood-no-ticket Boston, such driver behavior is governed by state law, not local traffic regulation. That is on the side of the cyclists.

There is no legal justification for j-hooking or claiming, “I just didn’t see her.” Instead, read MA General Laws Chapter 90 and particularly Section 14. That includes plain command, “In approaching or passing a person on a bicycle the operator of a motor vehicle shall slow down and pass at a safe distance and at a reasonable and proper speed.”

There are no built-in excuses, like unless you’d have to slow down or except where the road gets narrow. The onus is entirely on the driver to pass safely. That’s that.

There again, what kind of denial or emotional pull makes drivers accept waiting behind cars but not slowing for a cyclist? Are they so identified with motor vehicles that they lose all reason and judgement?

There will be more cyclists on our roads. At a slower pace, there will be more enforcement, and not just at the Egans would it on what they see as crazed scofflaw bike types. It’s likely that as more drivers lose their licenses and pay big fines for hitting cyclists that they’ll catch a whiff of their responsibility.

It shouldn’t be so hard. If you were brought up right, you’d know not to put other people’s bodies and even lives in danger because you’re impatient or choose to be unobservant.

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2 Responses

  1. Harrumpher says:

    Solid. Yes, unless the state laws provide refinements (think Idaho), cyclists should always obey red lights and stop signs.

    Alas, it’s also true that cops as well as drivers need to stop pretending that all cyclists are scofflaws and all drivers obey every law. Sit at any intersection with a stop sign or traffic light and observe drivers. It’s very rare that you don’t see a combination of changing lanes without yielding, signaling or looking, turning without signaling or yielding to pedestrians, cyclists or other cars, blocking crosswalks, failing to yield to peds in crosswalks, running the light or sign, and on and on. Motor vehicle operators as a group are reckless.

    I’d love to see full enforcement of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. Each can stop pretending that their group is blameless.

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