Day 215 and 216: MLwC and the secret bicyclist code of conduct

If I were to say, “Bicyclists have the same rights as car drivers on the road,” would you agree? And if you agreed, what would that mean? Does that mean, for example, that bicyclists have to signal before turning (not that all car drivers do, but by law they’re supposed to). Does it mean that bikes should watch the speed limit and maintain it at all times?

Anyway, do bikes have the same rights as cars on the road?

In lots of places they do. For example, there’s an online quiz out of Madison, WI to help you figure out your bike IQ and the first question lays it to rest: cyclists have the same rights as car drivers. The thing is, though, they are quite clear in stating that cyclists also have the same responsibilities as car drivers. And that’s where things might be a little dicey, it seems.

My neighbor Susan recently encountered a bicyclist on 3rd Ave W in Seattle. 3rd Ave W is a very steep hill in Seattle, heading up to the Queen Ann neighborhood which is high atop a hill overlooking the rest of Seattle. (Brian has corrected me on the Counterbalance issue–while 3rd W is steep indeed, it’s not as steep as the Counterbalance, and he as a cyclist living on Queen Ann, often takes 3rd W and finds it a path with all its own difficulties–it’s steep, it’s narrow, you’ll likely not go faster than 3 or 4 mph, and there’s not really room to pull over to the right for cars.  That said, from what Susan indicated, this cyclist didn’t even try and eventually managed to stop traffic in both directions.

So Susan is heading up this hill in her car when about halfway up she finds herself behind a cyclist who is riding in the center of the lane…and riding very slowly, as one might imagine. If I were riding up the counterbalance, I expect I would be doing about 4 miles an hour. Is it fair to expect the cars on this very busy street to do 4 miles an hour behind you, with the steep grade and traffic lining up? Of course not. And that’s where responsibilities comes in. But apparently this cyclist had other ideas….

When Susan tried to go around the cyclist, driving into the oncoming traffic, the cyclist lost it, dropped her bike in front of Susan’s car and began screaming at her that “she has the same rights as cars!” Same rights, perhaps, but same responsibilities, too.

So, I have no illusions that the cyclist Susan encountered will read this, but if she does, I personally want to thank her for doing damage to the tenuous relations between cyclists and cars.  (please read Brian’s forthcoming comments on this last bit, as he rides more than I do and has a LOT to say about the tenuous relationship between bikes and cars in traffic.)

Personally, I try to avoid cars as much as possible, and will zip here and there in my efforts to be as far from them as possible. I don’t assume I have more rights or anything else because truth be told, if a car hits you, all the rights in the world won’t protect you from harm. That said, I will note that Pemco Insurance wrangled full coverage for me the one time I was hit and made it clear to the other driver that indeed, I had the same rights as a car driver. Much appreciated, for sure, but I still won’t pit myself against a car.

My pal Brian is scrupulous about following the same traffic laws as cars and I admire him for that. He rides more than I do and I envy his approach. When I used to commute downtown on a daily basis, I found traffic made me cranky and nervous–even if you do follow the laws, that doesn’t guarantee you won’t get side-swiped or yelled at or all the other things that happen to cyclists on a regular basis.

Still, I love my bike and I love running around on it. Makes life easier lots of times, and more fun too. But you won’t ever, not ever, see me take on a car in traffic. I will zip through stops, ride on sidewalks, cross wherever I can–all to stay clear of cars and maintain my forward momentum.

Daily stats (Mon, Tue)
Car: 10 miles (6 tasks)
Bike: 0
Ped: 3+
Bus: 0

4 responses to “Day 215 and 216: MLwC and the secret bicyclist code of conduct

  1. I don’t want to seem like I’m trying to justify what the cyclist did–it is indeed pretty obnoxious–but I did want to point out that, for some urban cyclists/commuters with more political tendencies and who are more inclined to outrage at injustice than myself, the breaking point is not that far away, given the daily indignities most of us suffer merely because we want to bicycle on the roads that we have every right to share with cars. Doesn’t justify doing crazy, dangerous shit, but at least makes it more understandable, I think.

    As an avid cyclist myself living in an urban area (Seattle) and commuting to work by bike most of the time, I can understand where the cyclist might have been coming from and that your friend, through no fault of her own, became the focal point of an “I’m-fed-up-and-I’m-not-going-to-take-it-anymore” moment.

    Personally, I’ve been cut off by turning vehicles, cut in front of by cars, passed on narrow streets with inches to spare by cars that couldn’t slow down and wait an extra 10 seconds to pass a bit more widely, nearly hit by clueless u-turning taxis, nearly doored by clueless drivers opening their door wide open into traffic without looking behind them first, screamed at to get the hell out of the way, and had shit thrown at me, among other things. So I can definitely see where a cyclist could get pushed to the breaking point by someone she perceives to be an impatient driver who can’t seem to wait an extra minute or two on his way to do what must be Very Important Things indeed.

    (One of the issues with car and truck drivers is that the mentality of many drivers behind the wheel is that “everything on the road is an obstacle that is in the way of me getting to my desitination as fast as possible, so everyone and everything just get out of my fucking way now.” The physical structure of the car (which cuts you off from your environment) feeds into this mentality.)

    I’m not disagreeing that if cyclists want to exercise their rights to the road that they have responsibilities, too. But when there is no other safe choice available, I will not hesitate to ride out in what might be perceived by car drivers as the “middle of the street,” simply because that is the safest and most visible place to be at the moment. And as I’ve mentioned to you before, if it’s a choice between my safety and a car driver’s inconvenience, I know which one I’ll choose every time.

  2. Pingback: Day 217: MLwC and the Very Important Bike Conversation « What it’s like

  3. Well it’s a while since I commented here but this post pushes me to speak (here endeth the summer in Portugal, during which all intelligent thought is swamped by spectacular heat (it’s still quite warm but at 2 a.m things are a bit easier in spite of the Indian Summer we’re having (global warming?)))
    I was taught in my driving lessons leading up to my UK driving test (believe me Florida driving tests are child’s play in comparison) that bicycles should be given the same respect and width as small cars. That said, I am only too aware of how important the SUV is in the States and how this undermines the idea that a small car is to be respected on the road.
    That said, the attitude of any car driver that so much as pushes for a cyclist to move over is the same as a medieval horse rider expecting a lowly peasant to make way.
    When I ride my bike in Lisbon, Portugal (which has to be one of the most hazardous places to ride a bike) I am arrogant to point of people yelling at me. I will not move out of the way, nor will I break the law (by riding on pavements or pedestrian crossings) ( I even use roundabouts (sorry American readers I’m not sure what you call these) and go on the inside lane to turn left). Why? Because the more drivers who have to travel behind me, the more there are who HAVE to travel behind me. One day (I hope) they will put pressure on local authorities to build suitable bike paths for cyclists so they don’t have dive behind me. Pedestrians are never going to do this as cycling on their space is, at least in Europe, illegal.

  4. Hey Tom–good to hear from you! You and B2 share the same perspective here: that of viewing cycling not just as a form of transportation, but also as a way to change things…and I admire that. I don’t trust cars or drivers–maybe it’s growing up in Southern California but I fear cars and drivers, especially angry ones. Still, your point is well taken: the more cars behind you, the more chance a driver will consider the sanity of a real, useable bike lane/path/road. I would love to see that in every major city in the world.

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