Bicyclists should obey traffic laws

Hey, kids: get off my lawn!!!

That’s to prepare you for this curmudgeonly post.

In the past two weeks I’ve nearly been hit twice by bicyclists in Hyde Park (the area in Chicago around the university). One, going through a stop sign, almost ran me down at high speed when I was crossing the street—legally, in the crosswalk. She was also carrying a large cake in a plastic container in one hand, so only one of her hands was on the handlebars.

But here in Chicago, as in most places, bicyclists simply ignore stop signs, stop lights, and zip through intersections.

Yesterday I was almost run down again by an adult riding her bike on the sidewalk, again at high speed—and again an act that’s illegal.

This has happened repeatedly over the years, and it’s dangerous for everyone. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve seen a bike run straight through a stop sign, making oncoming cars brake quickly. And woe betide you if, when stopping, you’re too close to the curb, for a bicyclist behind you, ignoring the sign, is likely to hit you.

In Chicago, bicycles are required to obey traffic laws. They don’t, and they should be ticketed when they do.  I’ve lived here 26 years, and have seen innumerable cars ticketed for traffic violations, but not a single bike.

Enforcement is, in fact, the policy in Davis, California, where I lived for three years. It’s a town famous for its bicycle commuters, has tons of bike lanes, and the cops enforce the traffic laws. If a bicyclist runs a stop sign, or doesn’t use a light at night, he gets a ticket (I know, because I got one for the latter).

The result is that everyone obeys the traffic laws, and the clash between bikes, cars, and pedestrians is largely avoided.

If you ride a bicycle, and flout traffic laws, you are a bad person. What makes you think you’re entitled to violate the law? Stop at stop signs and stoplights, use a light at night, don’t ride on the sidewalks, and, for your own safety, wear a helmet.

In fact, I’m curmudgeonly enough to call the University police and make an inquiry. I’ll report back later.

326 Comments

  1. drew
    Posted August 13, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5kOJ-DTD5c

  2. NoJoy
    Posted August 13, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    We’d all be a lot better off with laws that reflect the fact that bikes are neither cars nor pedestrians, and a spirit of cooperation and mutual consideration among drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians.

    I commute on my bike about three days a week, sometimes on roads with dedicated bike lanes, sometimes on roads with “sharrows” indicating explicit sharing of the lane, and sometimes on roads with no markings for cyclists.

    Here’s a typical experience for me on a road with no markings. If I “own the lane”, there is a sizable minority of drivers who don’t believe I have a right to be on the road. A vocal minority of those may honk or tell me to get on the sidewalk. If I ride along the curb in a “virtual bike lane”, there is a sizeable minority of drivers who think that sharing the lane means it is OK to crowd me and squeeze past at 40 mph, but who then yell at me if I squeeze past the line of cars waiting at the next light. If I ride on the sidewalk, which is legal in most places in my city, I have to deal with the sizable minority of drivers pulling in and out of driveways and parking lots without looking for cyclists and pedestrians, plus the sizeable minority of pedestrians who don’t think I should be on the sidewalk. There is no place I can ride such that everyone is happy, so I decide situationally which seems safest.

    Incidentally, I encourage people not to fall into the xkcd “girls suck at science” generalization fallacy when it comes to the behavior of individual drivers, cyclists, or pedestrians.

  3. Graham Martin-Royle
    Posted August 13, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Consider yourself lucky, here in the UK it’s cars on the pavements (sidewalks) that are the problem and the police don’t give a damn.

    • gbjames
      Posted August 13, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

      Well, to be fair, that’s pretty much because your streets are so narrow that there’s little choice.

      • teacupoftheapocalypse
        Posted August 13, 2013 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

        Actually, it’s usually because the car driver concerned is too damned lazy to park where it’s safe and walk an extra 50 yards to wherever they are going.

    • Gary W
      Posted August 13, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      I remember a news item about parking from when I was in the UK last year. There was a big outcry at the trend of homeowners paving over their “front gardens” to use them as parking space. A lot of houses there don’t even have a driveway, and street parking in residential areas is in short supply. Not surprising given how densely-populated the country is.

      • craigp
        Posted August 13, 2013 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

        Another problem here is that garages are so small that it’s barely possible to fit a medium-sized car in them. Most people use their garages for storage rooms so the car lives outside.

  4. BillyJoe
    Posted August 13, 2013 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    I’m a weekend cyclist. I cycle through the local hills on Sunday mornings and I can report that, no matter how strictly you abide by road laws and etiquette, car drivers are out to get you either through negligence or bloody mindedness.

    And, here, we don’t take out our frustrations on pedestrians. We just accept our lot and get on with enjoying the ride. I suggest you pedestrians do the same and quit yer complainin’

    We even donate to charity.
    This is my friend’s effort:
    http://ml13.conquercancer.org.au/site/TR/Events/Melbourne2013?px=1324360&pg=personal&fr_id=1111
    In case you are confused by the avatar, Chris is short for Christine.

  5. ikinone
    Posted August 13, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    This is quite a rant.

    The cyclists who are annoying you are the ones who are not only breaking traffic laws, but also cycling poorly [one hand on bars, carrying stuff, nearly hitting pedestrians].

    The problem is not that they break traffic laws, but that they cycle badly. The laws are completely irrelevant to the problem.

  6. Posted August 13, 2013 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    We share the same sentiment. I live in Vancouver and the cyclists here all bike as if they’re entitled to break the law. It’s ironic that they’re also demanding more bike lanes in the city too…

  7. mecwordpress
    Posted August 13, 2013 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    I saw this post while at work and could not comment on it until now. I figured by now the haters would have chimed in. I see I’m right. Anyway, I commute by bicycle and obey traffic laws except where they risk my life. While waiting at a light on my way home to make this comment 14 of 18 cars at the stop sign adjacent did not stop.

    Apropos

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 13, 2013 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

      I dunno, “haters” might be a bit strong. People usually have strong opinions and some confirmation bias with topics like these but I don’t think there were haters here. You should see how people behave in public forums like news stories. Those commenters deserve the “hater” moniker!

  8. mat'iibn
    Posted August 13, 2013 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    I am what you hate and I see it this way:

    If I on my bicycle collide with a pedestrian for whatever reason we will likely both survive, a few bumps and bruises maybe, perhaps an occasional serious injury. If I collide with a motor vehicle I am certain to be injured, possibly seriously or be dead. The same incidentally goes for you, the pedestrian.

    It makes sense for both of us therefore to stay as far away as possible from motor vehicles of all types. However you, the pedestrian, has available to you all manner of physical protection, sidewalks and curbs, paths, that you would deny me, the cyclist. I apparently have to stay on the road with behemoths that outweigh my bicycle and I by an order of magnitude or two, are capable of speeds far in excess of what I can do on a good day, and I have to like it or park it.

    I don’t and I won’t. I have as much right as you to move safely to my destination whether or not I choose to do so on a bicycle or not. Pretending that a bicycle is the same as a bus and has to operate by the same rules is a non-starter. If you want to talk about new rules I’m all ears.

    Until then on those occasions when we have to share a sidewalk I will do my best to do you no harm.

    • Brujo Feo
      Posted August 13, 2013 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

      +1

      Oh, stop making sense!

    • Posted August 13, 2013 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

      If you want to ride amongst pedestrians, you need to match their speed. Something tells me you don’t.

      And that makes you a serious hazard to pedestrians. All to save yourself a bit of convenience. You’re clearly not ashamed of yourself, though you damned well should be.

      b&

      • Brujo Feo
        Posted August 13, 2013 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

        “If you want to ride amongst pedestrians, you need to match their speed.”

        Define “match.” If you really mean that, then the answer is: “no, you don’t.” Any more than all cars on the freeway need to match speed, or all pedestrians on a sidewalk need to walk at the same speed. In both cases, the correct answer is that the speed differential should neither startle the slower nor overwhelm the reflexes of the faster when the unexpected arises. Verbal communication helps too, as does eye contact.

        • Posted August 14, 2013 at 9:03 am | Permalink

          It should be obvious. On a sparsely populated sidewalk or other pedestrian or shared-use path, your speed should be no more than 10-12 MPH — a good running pace. (Remember: 15 MPH is a four-minute mile, a speed that only a select few elite athletes can sustain for any rate of time.) That speed should decrease with pedestrian volume, and you should dismount and walk your bike when the average distance between pedestrians is on the order of ten feet or less.

          And, yes. I know. Most amateur cyclists like to cruise at speeds almost twice as fast as that. Some commuters will cruise well over twice as fast, and sprint three times as fast. And those on the racing circuit are faster still.

          Tough shit. If you want to ride that fast, do it on the street or in a bike lane or on a dedicated bike path. Don’t do it where grandmothers are taking their grandkids for a walk, or where soccer moms are walking from the store with an arm full of groceries and yakking on the phone. They’re the ones who’ve got the right-of-way on sidewalks and park paths; you’re the invader in their space.

          b&

          • Brujo Feo
            Posted August 14, 2013 at 11:57 am | Permalink

            “It should be obvious. On a sparsely populated sidewalk or other pedestrian or shared-use path, your speed should be no more than 10-12 MPH — a good running pace. (Remember: 15 MPH is a four-minute mile, a speed that only a select few elite athletes can sustain for any rate of time.) That speed should decrease with pedestrian volume, and you should dismount and walk your bike when the average distance between pedestrians is on the order of ten feet or less.”

            Yes, Ben, this IS obvious. As obvious as your misuse of the word “match,” as explained in my post to which you are responding.

            “And, yes. I know. Most amateur cyclists like to cruise at speeds almost twice as fast as that. Some commuters will cruise well over twice as fast, and sprint three times as fast. And those on the racing circuit are faster still.”

            This is just off the deep end. No, cyclists are NOT that fast (even assuming that we limit ourselves to the “10-12,” and not the “15.” Read about it here: http://www.bicycling.com/news/2011-tour-de-france/tour-features/you-versus-peloton.

            It makes me wonder if you’ve ever even ridden a bicycle. But to suggest (as you are clearly doing) that these baby-eating monsters are riding these speeds on the sidewalk, knocking over pedestrians like bowling pins, is way beyond a “straw-man” argument. It’s ludicrous, and you know it.

            My response to your third paragraph I’ll leave to my response to your next.

            • Posted August 14, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

              You’re not very good at math, are you?

              I wrote, “most amateur cyclists like to cruise a speeds almost twice as fast (as 10-12 MPH).” Twice as fast as 10-12 MPH is 20-24 MPH; your link (reasonably) gives a typical amateur cruising speed as 17-18 MPH, which is about 85% of 20-24 MPH, practically the textbook definition of “almost.”

              And, when I was in shape, I would regularly sprint to over 30 MPH, which is three times 10 MPH. There are hills in the area (especially South Mountain Park) where you have to ride the breaks to stay below 40 MPH or else you’ll fly off a cliff. On certain extended downhill stretches (such as the back side of Pinnacle Peak) where I’ve maxed out at over 50 MPH.

              So, yeah. I’ll stand by everything I wrote. Especially the bit that, if you’re biking on a walkway as fast as a world-class sprinter (15 MPH), you’re recklessly endangering people on foot. And anything over that should probably get you felony endangerment charges.

              Cheers,

              b&

      • mat'iibn
        Posted August 14, 2013 at 5:28 am | Permalink

        Ben,

        Perhaps I should reiterate

        “…when we have to share a sidewalk
        I will do my best to do you no harm.”

        I say that because I truly feel that pedestrians and cyclists share a commonality in that both groups are not cars. Facilities that serve pedestrians can safely serve cyclists and visa versa.

        The outlier in the current conflict between transportation modes is the motor vehicle and because of size and speed not to mention infrastructure costs which incidentally outpace pedestrian and cycling facilities by more than a couple of orders of magnitude. I once mentioned to a civil engineering acquaintance that I had heard that seven kilometres of freeway costs as much as a high school. He assured me that it was more like three. Would that we could have that level of funding for walking or cycling. Sharing those sidewalks would be a lot easier.

        Until then I’ll not be a sidewalk bully if you’ll not be a tree with attitude.

        • Posted August 14, 2013 at 9:10 am | Permalink

          If by, “do your best to do no harm,” you mean never riding more than a jogging pace, slowing down as it gets more crowded, and dismounting and walking when people are about ten feet apart, then that’s cool. But, again, I really doubt that that’s what you do.

          Just because city planners have designed the roads in such a way that cyclists are endangered through too-close contact with motor vehicles doesn’t mean that you’ve got any sort of right to similarly endanger pedestrians.

          Pedestrians meander, stop without warning, all that sort of stuff. And the right and proper place for them to do that is on the sidewalk. It’s where they’ve been since time immemorial. You have no more right to recklessly operate a bicycle in a pedestrian space because it’s convenient for you to do so than you do to recklessly operate any other vehicle in a pedestrian space.

          The one thing you have is that you can operate your bicycle in a pedestrian-like manner. And if you do so when you’re amongst pedestrians, fine. But you’re still in their space and subject to their rules. Deal with it or get the fuck away.

          And don’t you dare suggest that pedestrians need to stop behaving like pedestrians just so you can have the convenience of riding too fast in their midst.

          b&

          • mat'iibn
            Posted August 14, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink

            Ben,

            I have apparently misled you into thinking that I seek out opportunities to speed recklessly through crowds of pedestrians. I do not.

            • Posted August 14, 2013 at 11:52 am | Permalink

              It’s your comments like this:

              Until then I’ll not be a sidewalk bully if you’ll not be a tree with attitude.

              that have given me that impression.

              Pedestrians are “trees with attitude.” That’s practically the very definition of a pedestrian, and the whole point of being a pedestrian.

              If you’re annoyed by pedestrians being pedestrians, especially to the point that you deliberately endanger them, then you have no business going near pedestrians.

              If you want to ride your bike in the walkway, that means riding your bike like a pedestrian: slowly, not in a straight line, with lots of stops and starts. If you don’t want to ride your bike like a pedestrian, stay away from the walkways. You’ve got roadways where you’re welcome to ride fast in a straight line — but even there you still have to obey traffic regulations and you probably shouldn’t do so unless you can at least come close to keeping up with the flow of traffic. If you’re feeling lazy and don’t want to ride that hard, then it’s back to the walkway — at that far more sedate pace. Or maybe you’re lucky and there’s a nearby bikeway, but you’ve got to add a mile to your route to get onto and off of it.

              It’s that simple.

              Part of being an adult is understanding that you can’t have it all, that you have to accept inconveniences, that nothing is perfect. I really don’t think you’ve learned that lesson yet — and that’s based on your most recent posts.

              b&

        • gbjames
          Posted August 14, 2013 at 9:14 am | Permalink

          I say that because I truly feel that pedestrians and cyclists share a commonality in that both groups are not cars.

          Do you feel the same way about motorcycles? How about a Harley with a sidecar attached? They aren’t cars, either.

          • mat'iibn
            Posted August 14, 2013 at 11:05 am | Permalink

            gb,

            Neither are buses cars nor are semis or dump trucks. The point here is that when you and your bicycle are substantially outweighed by something that can move substantially faster than you simple physics would indicate that it is not a heaven made match. Yet we find that in most jurisdictions bicycles must conform to regulations written for motorized vehicles.

            • gbjames
              Posted August 14, 2013 at 11:17 am | Permalink

              Actually, I think the point is that you are lumping bicycle riders with pedestrians because it is convenient for you as a biker to impose on the walkers.

              Your “if you’ll not be a tree with attitude” demand gives you away, suggesting that it is unreasonable for pedestrians to stop on a sidewalk because it imposes on your ride. But you’re the one imposing on people who have no reason to change their walking habits just because you don’t like to ride on the street.

            • Posted August 14, 2013 at 11:30 am | Permalink

              Bicycles operated on roadways are vehicles required to act as such. Pedestrians aren’t permitted on roadways except in specific narrowly-constrained circumstances. If you want to ride your bike on a roadway, you must do so as a vehicle, not as a pedestrian.

              Similarly, if you want to ride your bike on a walkway, you must do so as a pedestrian, not a vehicle.

              What would be ideal but is, sadly, rare, would be a space as dedicated to bicycles as roadways are to vehicles and walkways are to pedestrians. You can actually do quite a lot to bring such facilities to your municipality, but it takes politics and time and taxpayer money.

              Without such facilities, your choices are to operate your bicycle as a vehicle on a roadway or as a pedestrian on a walkway. Anything else is illegal, dangerous, idiotic, selfish, and generally uncivilized.

              b&

    • Hempenstein
      Posted August 13, 2013 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

      Thank you. When I was @ the U of Richmond for a short while, I’d ride my bike across a fairly long bridge over the James River. There was a prominent sign, No Bicycles on Sidewalk. But there were never any pedestrians on the sidewalk. Guess where I rode?

      Also when I was a kid, I rode increasingly long distances on the edges of roads or shoulders, as appropriate to the conditions & traffic (in places where there were no sidewalks, and always looked out for my own ass. It worked out fine. Now the attitude of many cyclists seems to be, “You (the motorist) better watch out for my ass, since I don’t think I should have to.”

  9. Posted August 14, 2013 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    And, yet, Jerry’s post that kicked this all off, has this line in it:

    Yesterday I was almost run down again by an adult riding her bike on the sidewalk, again at high speedand again an act thats illegal.

    And other posters on this thread have all but admitted to similar behavior — riding bicycles at high speed through crowded pedestrian areas.

    Are you seriously suggesting that Jerry is lying about what happened to him yesterday, or that it’s not a common occurrence?

    b&

  10. Posted August 14, 2013 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    amen, Dr. Coyne. I am so sick of hearing bicyclists insist that they are vehicles and be treated as such and then watch them flout every traffic law. Out of the hundreds of bicyclist I have encountered, the vast minority are those who have earned my respect by acting responsible.

    Does this excuse idiot motorists? No, idiocy on both sides of the road doesn’t excuse either.

  11. Brujo Feo
    Posted August 14, 2013 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    “And other posters on this thread have all but admitted to similar behavior — riding bicycles at high speed through crowded pedestrian areas.”

    I’ve been following this thread since the beginning. I’ve seen nothing to even suggest such an “all but” admission. Here in California, there are plenty of paths where there is a clearly-marked pedestrian lane right next to an undivided bike lane. But cyclists still have to be wary of wandering pedestrians–and they do.

    “Are you seriously suggesting that Jerry is lying about what happened to him yesterday, or that it’s not a common occurrence?”

    In my very post, I accepted Jerry’s account, and I would have no factual basis to dispute it, let alone accuse him of “lying.”

    Note that the first incident did not involve a sidewalk. As to the second, I am absolutely suggesting that it isn’t a “common occurrence.” Maybe people in Chicago are maniacs. Maybe it’s a college campus issue. I have no knowledge about that. What I do know is that I’ve lived and cycled all over the world, and cyclists knocking over pedestrians is something that I’ve seen as a “common occurrence”–or even “at all”–only on television. In any case, consider the content AND tone of your recent posts. Your hostility against these miscreants is carrying over into heated accusations against those of us who have been following the rules that you yourself suggested. Take a deep breath and take it down a notch.

    • Posted August 14, 2013 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      Your experiences would seem to be atypical, as evidenced by the general bad reputation cyclists suffer.

      And it’s the cyclists such as those on this thread who refer to pedestrians as “trees with attitude” who’re happy to do whatever it takes to minimize their own inconveniences at the cost to everybody else who give those of us who ride responsibly a bad name.

      Assholes like that deserve to get slapped down, and the only hope for cyclists to regain a good reputation is for the policing to come from within the cycling community.

      Which is exactly what I’m attempting to do here.

      Pedestrians need protection from cyclists as much as cyclists need protection from motorists. Until cyclists as a whole get that on an instinctual, visceral level, we’re going to be reviled — and rightly so.

      b&

      • Brujo Feo
        Posted August 14, 2013 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

        I don’t disagree with you about this last post…but I have to tell you that as a lawyer, a libertarian, an atheist, a skeptic, a “radical evolutionist,” and a biker (as opposed to cyclist), I’m not exactly sure what the words “good reputation” mean.

        Nor do I expect to find out any time soon…

  12. gbjames
    Posted August 14, 2013 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    I can’t wait until Jerry posts about skateboarders!

  13. kazdragon
    Posted August 21, 2013 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    Bicyclists should indeed obey traffic laws. However, traffic laws should also be adapted to cyclists. The problem is not social; it’s infrastructural.

    As an cyclist (I don’t own a driver’s licence) and an Englishman who moved to the Netherlands last year, I have had had experience with two distinctly different schools of thought over how cyclists should be treated.

    In the UK, where 8/10 cyclists fear for their life when on the road (rightly so!), London and Cambridge excepted, there is little to no provision for cyclists. If there is, it usually involves a puddle-soaked pothole-and-drain-filled mess of leaves and trash on angled, drooping concrete they call a bicycle lane. These are habitually ignored by all drivers, who consider it a normal part of the road. Except for the ones that use it as a parking space, that is. Drivers *are* vindictive towards cyclists. Searching for the recent Twitter “#bloodycyclists” controversy should show that.

    Now, in the Netherlands, cycle lanes are only part of the road in low-speed areas (under 30kph/18mph — speeds at which even car-cycle collisions are not fatal), and are strictly segregated in higher speed areas. Cycle lanes are nearly everywhere. I cycled from Hilversum to Arnhem (~80km) last weekend and had less than two kilometers on the road. There are also pro-cycle traffic measures. For example, many of the roundabouts here have outer-ring cycle lanes which have priority over other traffic.

    Having experienced both, I can quite confidently say that the Dutch model is better. Not just for cyclists, but for *everyone*. Every cyclist on the road (or cycle lane, for that matter) is one less car on the road. And that is good for other car drivers too.

    • kazdragon
      Posted August 21, 2013 at 6:04 am | Permalink

      Just as support for what I mean about how the UK treats cyclists, here is a Street View of a road down which I used to cycle:

      http://tinyurl.com/m9bq5t2

      Note the arrangement of the cars: the two nearest are driving with their wing mirrors in the cycle lane. This is because they are swinging left in order to allow oncoming traffic to pass by the cards parked in the in-road parking bay. It’s an instinctive maneuver, because you can actually see from the snapshot that the nearest oncoming traffic is quite a distance away.

      It gets a little worse later on, because anyone turning across traffic into Avondale Road will nearly always swing fully into the cycle lane and sit there waiting for traffic to abate. Given that this particular road has a slight decline, it’s quite easy to keep up with the pace of the traffic. Having a car swerve into your lane when indicating the opposite direction is most perturbing, I can tell you.

      Now, I could be a bit annoying and say, “cars shouldn’t be in cycle lanes, and drivers should follow the law!” but that doesn’t get us anywhere in this obviously infrastructural issue: there is more than enough room to cut away some pavement near those shops and have the parking bays off-road, just as there is more than enough room to cut away and increase the width of the cycle lane — or to segregate it completely — on the other side.

      Incidentally, one thing I used to enjoy about travelling the opposite direction down this section of road was how the cycle lane suddendly vanishes just before the parking bays and reappears the other side, as if bicycles are completely immaterial and can pass straight through ordinary matter.

    • kazdragon
      Posted November 11, 2013 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      That first link is disgraceful. Ride on the roads, get shouted at to get on the bike paths. Ride on the bike paths, get assaulted by pedestrians.

      The second link, however, I actually support. Having lights on your bike in the UK (where “darkness” starts at about 3pm in winter) is absolutely important, and those £50 fixed penalties (which are post-fact avoidable if you go and get yourself some lights instead) may well save lives.


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