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A Commuter’s Confession

by RL Policar

So there I was thinking…

If I expect motorists to acknowledge me as an equal on the road. Then I should be obeying the laws just as much as I would expect a motorist to do the same.

Speaking for myself, I know that I’ve played the victim mentality when it comes to commuting. What I mean is that I when a car nearly hits me, I get indignant of what that person did. But what about when I weave through traffic, jump on the sidewalk and roll through stop signs. Doesn’t that make me just as guilty as bad driver?

 
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8 Responses to “A Commuter’s Confession”

  1. Nick says:

    I don’t get worked up anymore when I’m not given berth by cars – I expect that. I am pleasantly surprised when a driver chooses to slow down for me or give me the right of way.

    But, in answer to your question, RL, no, I don’t think it makes you as guilty as a bad driver. There’s a difference between putting your own life at risk and taking the same risks with everyone else’s. And I don’t think any of that makes you a “bad biker.”

  2. Jay says:

    While I agree with Nick in that there is a difference between putting yourself at risk vs. putting others at risk via bad driving, the problem comes in that society views cyclists as punks that have never grown up and therefore do not take them seriously nor view the bicycle as a viable form of transportation. All those videos of bike messengers look all cool, but seriously..what are they trying to prove, that riding a bike in major city requires a lack of normal brain capacity? When I obey traffic laws when biking, cars give me more respect…it is as simple as that. Obey traffic laws, assert yourself, take up your fair share of space and you’ll get the respect you desire. Running lights/stop signs, jumping curbs and other stupid stuff just gives society a reason to resist bicycle advocacy.

  3. Nick says:

    I think it’s very dangerous to obey all traffic laws on a bike in a city, mostly because it means starting and stopping constantly in rush hour traffic in the middle of the street. All it takes is one distracted driver to crush you into the car in front of you. Not to mention that the laws themselves are inherently contradictory, requiring that we obey all the same laws cars do, but that we must ride to the right hand side or in the bike lane. Technically, it is illegal to take the lane on a bike.

    This is New York; you’re not going to get respect from drivers no matter what you do. Not on a bike, not on a motorcycle, not in a car, not in a semi, whether you break every law or follow them to a tee. The safest thing is to is get out of their way as quickly as possible, and that means weaving through traffic or jumping onto the sidewalk. I also do things that are dangerous and put myself at risk, but most of the time, it’s about getting myself out of a potentially dangerous situation.

  4. Jay says:

    Call me corn fed, midwestern, old fashioned, whatever…but it sounds like you’re saying it is pretty much too dangerous to ride a bicycle in NYC period. Which begs the question…why do you ride, Nick? Is it the adrenaline rush? I used to be a skydiver, so I can relate to the joys of massive amounts of adrenaline coarsing through your veins. I guess in the absence of mountain biking trails your form of city riding might be a good (albeit dangerous) substitute.

  5. Thomas says:

    As a Seattle resident, I routinely blow through stop signs or lights (with no cross traffic) for two reasons: gearing and momentum. Or at least that’s the reason I tell myself. If the stop sign is on the way up a hill, it’s a pain to shift back down, stop, and start building momentum all over again. You all know the typical response for a driver on the opposite side of the 4-way in those situations: hands of dismay, out comes the finger or the horn. To him or her, I’m not one biker, I’m ALL bikers.

    As for weaving, I have to admit there’s a rush, even though I know it’s bad. As I get older, I definitely have stopped acting as eratically, but man was it fun.

    A driver’s frustration with one biker’s bad behavior usually translates into a vote against all bikers when bike-related initiatives hit the ballot. So while it’s ok to bob and weave for safety in certain situations (read: Nick’s NYC), we all know deep down that we shouldn’t do it all the time. I do think there are times, however, when drivers recognize my need to do that for safety. No all drivers, but some (or at least the ones with two wheels hanging in their garages).

    Now if I can just practice what I preach…!

  6. Nick says:

    Jay: I do it because I love it, and I don’t think it’s dangerous. You just have to learn how to ride in serious traffic, and part of that is taking advantages of a bike’s size and dexterity, regardless of what the laws tell you you’re permitted to do. My fixed is super skinny – the 38cm bullhorns are about twice as wide as the rest of the bike, which gives me much more room in tight traffic situations.

    I also know that bikes barely register to most drivers out there. I’ve been in only a couple situations where I had a driver who was aggressive towards me. Most of the time, they don’t even notice you, which is why you have to be careful. Ride as if you’re invisible, and never assume that someone will slow down or give you room. I’ve never been honked at for going through a 4-way stop, or for any other times where I’m breaking the law. I have been honked at for taking to long to get moving from a red light, and just for being in front of a cab while traffic was at a standstill. That’s the thing to understand: the cabbie would rather I weave through traffic and get out of his way than that I take the lane and slow him down.

  7. Chris says:

    There are definitely some conflicting statements made on these forums. On one hand, on the 15th, Moe said, “You are going the wrong way and bikes belong on the street, you dumbass!” This implies, to me, that it would be illegal and unsafe to ride on the sidewalks, and I agree. But when you’re in the street, there are comments made that imply that the law shouldn’t apply to a cyclist because drivers are awful.

    I say go with what the law says. Ride in the street, obey all signs, and take your part of the road. Where I am, I have every right to the entire lane if I want it, but it is advised to stay to the right as much as you can. So that’s what I do and I haven’t had a problem.

    If you feel that it is unsafe or inconvenient to ride in a law-abiding manner, either don’t ride your bike or accept it when you get ticketed/cursed/hit. At the same time, accept it when voters make cycling less acceptable in your area, as you are part of the reason they vote the way they do.

  8. Alberto says:

    Obviously, any law may be broken in order to save your life, whether you’re on a car on a bike or a train, whether the law itself allows it or not. That’s not the same as breaking the law as a matter of course, for convenience, alleged survival, etc. Drivers in big cities act in the same manner. The attitude is downright prehistoric: you are either eaten or eat someone. Cyclists can and should do better than that, but I notice that there is no difference – none – between a selfish car driver and a selfish bicycle driver. (I presume that if they change places they are the same; the aggressive, honking driver and the aggressive yelling cycler.) They all want to have their cake an eat it to; they all want a nice and fast and easy commute. Never mind others. And if commuting by bike means I have to break the law, yell at drivers every day and feel that I’m in survival situations every ten minutes, then it will be time to hang up the bike and treat it like the toy most of society wants to see it as. All the rest is evangelizing bullshit. Are we the only illumined ones?

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