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« Elsewhere | Main | Strategizing Summer »

June 30, 2008

Stop Signs for Thee, Not for Me

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I used to hear the train whistles occasionally when I was young. The sounds came from over the hill, near the shore of Seattle's Lake Washington where there was a railroad line that wasn't heavily used. Nowadays along the rail route you hear conversational voices of walkers along with the low swishing sounds of bicycle tires. That's because the tracks and ties were pulled up years ago, asphalt was laid, and the route renamed the Burke-Gilman Trail.

At a number of points the trail is pierced by arterial streets, two of which I drive frequently. Where a street and the trail cross, there are painted crosswalk stripes on the street. At the same point on the trail are regulation stop signs -- hexagonal shape, painted red with the word STOP in white.

From this evidence I glean that vehicle drivers are to be cautious when approaching the crosswalk and should stop when pedestrians or cyclists enter it. Pedestrians should exercise normal caution, halting at the street and crossing when traffic permits. Cyclists should come to a complete halt and then treat the crosswalk as a pedestrian would.

It doesn't always work this way.

Fairly often I see cyclists zipping across the street at high speed, ignoring the stop sign. My impression is that these particular cyclists are mostly the Tour de France wannabe type who wear spandex garb and peddle expensive bikes.

When I crank up all the empathy I can muster, my supposition is that these cyclists are frustrated at stopping every quarter mile or so and finally get a To Hell With It attitude.

On the other hand they are breaking the law and endangering themselves. They cross the streets in the paths of cars traveling 25 or 30 miles per hour. And, due to vegetation, buildings, terrain and other factors, cyclists cannot be seen (at the crossings I use most frequently) until they are less than 15 or so feet from the street. They seemingly appear out of nowhere.

Empathy aside, the non-stopping cyclists are jerks, pure and simple. If they get killed, they asked for it.



posted by Donald at June 30, 2008


I've trained, raced, commuted, toured, camped by bicycle for years...

And I agree with you, Donald. Cyclists are the pits. Irredeemably, the pits. Apart from some necessary (for us) peloton etiquette, there is little reason or courtesy to be found in our ranks.

And like all the worst people, cyclists have a deep sense of grievance and victimhood. When they're not snarling, they're whining.

Bicycles are fine things. We just need to cultivate the gentlemen and ladies to mount those fine things.

Posted by: Robert Townshend on June 30, 2008 4:21 PM

You've struck a nerve here. As a driver, I try to stay away from bicyclists because they never seem to know whether to behave as a pedestrian or a car. Since they don't know, neither, of course, do I.

Posted by: susan on June 30, 2008 4:23 PM

We have the same problem in Northern Virginia with the W&OD Trail. Unfortunately the many of the automobile drivers encourage cyclists to run the the stop signs by stopping whenever they see cyclists approaching.

Posted by: Mark on June 30, 2008 5:14 PM

That seems very odd. As a cyclist or pedestrian my attitude is generally defensive. My thoughts run "Even if I am completely in the right as far as traffic laws go, I have a lot more to lose in the event of an accident, so I'll be careful."

The only times I've ever actually run a red light/stop sign as a cyclist have been at those thrice-damned induction based traffic lights. There's one at a major intersection near my work. If I work late and don't leave for home until 10 pm or so, there's generally very little traffic on the road. My bike's too small to set off the sensors, so unless and until a car comes up on the branch I'm riding down to set off the sensor, I either have to get off my bike and walk over to press the pedestrian button for the light or cross an empty intersection across the light. I admit that several times when I've been exhausted and the area is totally deserted, I've taken the easy route and just rode across.

Posted by: Brett on June 30, 2008 5:19 PM

I recently took up cycling myself (to save on gas) and I generally walk my bike across the street.

Anyway, maybe one factor that influences some cyclists is "You're all burning petroleum, you sinners!" Cycling makes you morally superior, is the idea.

Posted by: Lester Hunt on June 30, 2008 10:37 PM

I suspect that it has more to do with the fact that a particular set of cyclists are damned if they're going to give up their momentum for anything, be it pedestrian, animal, or vehicle.

The behavior doesn't change a whole lot when driving city streets either. Stop signs and red lights are the enemy and are to be ignored unless there's no conceivable way for them to weave in amidst the moving obstacles.

Quite frankly, having seen one or two of them hit (luckily, none taking serious injury), I find them quite terrifying, both as a pedestrian and as a driver. Cycling should not be treated as a real life video game.

Posted by: Tom West on July 1, 2008 6:49 AM

As a regular cyclist, I agree with you lot. When I'm driving, I say "if they want to die under my wheels, let them". But my wise wife says "Oh no, think of the paperwork".

Posted by: dearieme on July 1, 2008 7:57 AM

I've been commuting to work by bike for three years and do sympathize with Donald's view. I also drive in town from time to time, and I get just as mad at bikers on the sidewalks and the wrong side of the road, etc., as anyone.

Recently a student was injured seriously on his bike on our campus. It's not the first time. In all the cases I've known, the kids were biking on the sidewalks and through the crosswalks, full speed.

The way to stay safe on a bike in traffic is to behave like a car. And be visible---reflectors, lights, hand signals, bright colors, the works.

Of course, "share the road" with a drunk driver and you're toast. It's probably just a matter of time.

Posted by: Matt Mullenix on July 1, 2008 7:59 AM

Just had to detour around an accident in our neighborhood in Ann Arbor, in which a bicyclist ran a red light at high speed and was struck by (legal) cross-traffic. The worst effects of a few illegal bike-riding are amplified as gas prices go up and more people decide to try to bike to work here in town. You might think that as novices they'd be more careful and conservative, but it seems as if the "new" bikers are the ones risking their lives more often.

Posted by: Bill Tozier on July 1, 2008 8:53 AM

Bill you are right. BUt the reason is not some new paradigm in ballsy biking. It's just ignorance of a new class of novice bike commuters. This thing take practice and education. Took me a year to get it right. Our bike club gives commuting workshops now to others on campus. An hour workshop with someone who bikes regularly can save your life for certain--not to mention make your commute a lot more fun and comfortable.

Posted by: Matt Mullenix on July 1, 2008 11:00 AM

Ah, fun with grammar! Some people peddle expensive bikes, some pedal expensive bikes; some do both!

Posted by: Kent on July 1, 2008 11:08 AM

I ride my bike like I've got a bulleye on my back; to do any different is to invite tragedy!

Posted by: Brutus on July 1, 2008 12:55 PM

I live in an area of Atlanta known as Virginia-Highlands, or more precisely, that part of "Vi-Hi" called "Poncey-Highlands" because of its proximity to "fabled" Ponce De Leon Avenue. (The main Ponce fable seems to be "The Bum and the Crack Whore Meet the Yuppie and the Frat Boy.") It's a mainly residential nighborhood, middle-class touching some downscale-getting-gentrified areas. It has a couple of heavily trafficked roads, Ponce and North Hightland, but also has a lot of pedestrians who go to neighborhood shops and restaurants.

For the past two months, every Friday evening, a horde of bicyclists--I would estimate at least a couple of hundred in a column stretching maybe a mile from one end to the other--ride along North Highland, never stopping for traffic lights, even crossing Ponce against a red light despite all the pedestrians and cars. If you're trying to cross N. Highland on foot, the organizers of this weekly event (apparently called "Happy Friday" because that's what the bicyclists shout at pedestrians--and how precious is that?) as well as their legions expect you to wait on the sidewalk while they pass by. I tried crossing with the light once, expecting they'd slow down--because theoretically the pedestrians have the right of way--and no one did. I just stood my ground in the middle, silently daring them to run into m,e and getting ready to kick the front tire out from under whoever got near enough to do me harm.

Most of these numbskulls are young, and I suspect a lot of frat-boys, fratchicks, and Future Yuppies of America from near-by Emory University. They have that solipsistic sense of entitlement. I wonder if they did crash into me, would I be considered at fault if I were crossing with the light?

Posted by: Bilwick1 on July 1, 2008 1:45 PM

Similar "events" happen in New York every week or so, organized by a group called Critical Mass. Quite a bit of controversy has developed because the police routinely arrest dozens or even hundreds of riders each time. The riders claim they're only expressing their First Amendment rights, while the city claims that they're a risk to safety and are engaging in parades/demonstrations without permits.

Posted by: Peter on July 1, 2008 3:00 PM

Bicyclists generally don't go fast enough to be a problem for others, unless it's one of those pedestrians edging out into the street against the light. The only cyclists that bug me are those chatting on cell phones, though lacking any hard data I guess that's no different from talking to the cyclists next to them.

Posted by: James M. on July 1, 2008 7:05 PM

I think it's appalling that more roads aren't built with cyclists and pedestrians as much in mind as car-drivers. That said ... Good lord but some cyclists are bad citizens. Wrong way on one-way streets, up on the sidewalks, zooming thru lights ... I don't think it's quite right to say they're a menace only to themselves. My mother-in-law was once struck by a cyclist, and it was a painful mess. A bike traveling at 20 miles an hour has a lot of force, and those metal parts can hurt.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 2, 2008 2:55 AM

Thanks for the heads-up on Critical Mass, Peter. I did a little web-surfing to find out more about them and their activities in my hometown, NYC. It's hard to believe New York pedestrians--who don't consider themselves second-class citizens as they are in Atlanta--would put up with that kind of guff. As one of those Atlanta pedestrians who are frequently put at hazard by thoughtless motorists--and as someone who tried riding a bike in Atlanta only to find it more hazardous than walking--I sympathize with the goal of making motorists more cognizant of bicyclists and pedestrians, and to share the road. But these "Happy Friday!" bozos (always uttered with what I detect is a patronizing undertone of superiority and contempt) are acting with the same solipsistic sense of entitlement that the motorists do.

Posted by: Bilwick1 on July 2, 2008 2:39 PM

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