Of Red Lights, Helmets, and Bike Lanes

From Streetsblog San Francisco contributor Chris Carlsson: 

The Oregon Legislature has flushed an effort to bring the Idaho rolling stop
law to that state. It’s a bit of a surprise, given both the simple and
proven efficacy of allowing cyclists to make rolling stops, as well as
Oregon’s big reputation as a bastion of cycling sanity. I’ve been an
"outlaw bicyclist" for 30 years in San Francisco, running stop signs
and red lights routinely. The design of traffic laws and the
engineering of our roads are focused on automobile throughput,
parking-and-shopping, and not much else.

Those of us who have embarked on a generation-long effort to
reinhabit the urban environment, partly by daily cycling, have had to
refashion the streets through our own patterns and habits. Rather than
acquiescing to "the law" or to self-defeating rules, we’ve made safe
but creative use of the rights of way. When I come to a stop sign, it’s
always a yield, unless there is cross traffic there ahead of me, or if
there’s a cop waiting to nab me. (I’ve only been ticketed a couple of
times in 30 years, mostly because I never cause anyone danger or
inconvenience by my behavior.) If I come to a red light, depending on
how far I can see the cross traffic, I’ll either stop or pause, and
proceed if the coast is clear.

The safest place for me is
on the OTHER side of that red light, where the road is empty. Waiting
to start on the green with the automobiles is to remain shunted to the
unsafe corridor between parked cars and moving traffic, and often
enough, being threatened by a right-turning car. You’ll end up spending
most of your urban cycling time in hazardous narrow corridors anyway,
but whenever you can get into an open road without moving cars
alongside, you’re safer. It’s self-evident! It’s also helpful to be
pedaling ahead of traffic, keeping a healthy distance from the door
zone, where approaching motorists can see you clearly and make
adjustments to accommodate our presence on the road.

a decade ago, I wrote a flyer that I distributed at Critical Mass. It
was inspired by a frustrating conversation I had with a woman when we
found ourselves side by side on our way to a memorial at 24th and
Valencia where a cyclist had been hit by a bus some days earlier:

I was riding to the memorial for the woman killed at 24th and Valencia,
I got a dose of bicyclist moralism. (I have been riding my bike, mostly
as a commuter, in SF for the past 19 years, and I’ve only worn a helmet
a half dozen times at most. So far I’ve avoided any serious accidents.)
I turned to some unknown cyclists with me in the left turn lane from
Market to Valencia, and asked if they were heading to the memorial, and
a helmeted-woman immediately informed me in that tell-tale "tsk, tsk"
tone of voice, that the accident victim "hadn’t been wearing a helmet."
I took offense at this blaming of the victim, and said as much, leading
to an alienating and inconclusive exchange regarding the individual
responsibility to wear a helmet.

Most bicycle accidents cause
injury that a helmet cannot help, but still many cyclists share the
mass media bias that says "if you’re not wearing a helmet, you have
given up your rights to complain about an accident or the injuries you
may have received." I find this absurd and offensive.

It’s not a
moral imperative to buy a commodity that offers meager protection in
order to be critical of a ridiculously hostile road structure. You
don’t deserve to die, or even suffer injury, just because you refuse
the "common-sense Consumer Duty" to buy and wear a helmet. Road
engineering today guarantees serious accidents between bikes and cars,
and of course, cars and cars. You may survive a slightly higher
percentage of these predictable and designed "accidents" wearing a
helmet, but you are reproducing an insidious logic when you criticize
bare-headed cyclists. It is terribly false to place the onus for
traffic safety on the individual vehicle driver, whether car or bike.
The system is designed in such a way that it is entirely predictable
that many thousands of people will die in the "normal" course of events
on America’s roadways. Cyclists who ride without helmets do not thereby
deserve the fate handed out by the unforgiving streets of America.

is one example of a moralistic acquiescence to the status quo that
blocks some bicyclists from seeing the radical implications of
bicycling. Another example presents itself in the ongoing tussle
between advocates and opponents of bike lanes. Bicyclists against bike
lanes believe that the best way to improve conditions for bicycling is
by bicyclists becoming able to ride as an equal among cars on regular
streets. Rather than changing roads and rights-of-way, they hold
individual cyclists responsible, insisting they learn to behave as
cars, moving as fast as autos through normal city traffic. For a large
majority of real and potential bicyclists, this is physically
impossible and socially undesirable.

Bike lane opponents seem to think that everyone should be like them. Often these folks claim inspiration from the theory of "Effective Cycling"
(John Forester). They embrace cycling with a near-religious fervor and
feel passionate about its "natural" superiority as a mode of transit in
terms of energy and thermodynamics. Ten thousand hours of experience
qualifies you to claim the status of "effective cyclist," a status for
which rather few of today’s urban cyclists would qualify.

prefer the label "Republican Efficiency Freaks" (REFs) for this crowd,
who curiously seem to think that the only cyclists who are a worthy
political constituency are those who conform to their standards of
law-abiding behavior and thermodynamic efficiency. Arguing against bike
lanes out of some strange paranoia, they claim that bike lanes will
ghetto-ize cyclists into those areas only. Additionally they have
argued that with a system of separate bike lanes we will see MORE
bike-car accidents because of the confusion that exists at all
intersections of bikeways and car streets. (2009: All you can say to this is, "Copenhagenize It!")

will never be banished from city streets! There are too many of us
already, and after a new bikeway system, our numbers will quintuple
again. Bike-car accidents are already awful. We need a big public
education program about new patterns and priorities, accommodating
bicycles, wheelchairs and pedestrians, improving public transportation
performance, and so on. A network of bikeways is what will encourage
many more people to start riding. The most common reason people have
for not cycling is their legitimate fear of being killed on the streets
by cars.

The attempt to make individuals responsible for a
socially-imposed madness is not just foisted on us by our obvious
opponents. Unfortunately, those of us in the "bicycling community"
spend all too much time fending off the same kinds of blame-the-victim
mentalities from within our ranks. But this kind of petty moralism and
political self-defeat cripples our utopian imaginations. Oppose
political arguments that situate the crucial decisions of our
predicament at the point of shopping for a helmet, or in our ability
and willingness to act like a car when we’re riding our bikes. We want
to change life. Bicycling is an affirmative act toward that end.

— Chris Carlsson, Sept. 1998

I still, after all these years, yearn for a more comprehensive agenda
to remake the city for cycling. We’ve made some small progress, and
soon with the lifting of the injunction we’ll see a bunch more white
stripes and other modest improvements. But we have to go a great deal
further, and if we can generate a compelling vision of a citywide grid
of safe, separate, horticulturally designed and artistically adorned
cycling paths, we might finally have a goal worthy of the decades of
effort that have gotten us this far.

  • stevem

    If you really want to become a fully participating member of the transportation mix, and achieve some of the dreams that you talk about in your post, you need to leave behind your “outlaw” persona.

    Every time you run a stop sign or blow a red light or otherwise break the law, you are giving ammunition to those that say cyclists are scofflaws, dangerous and irresponsible, and hence unworthy of respect and that cycling is not a “serious” form of transportation. Quite simply your behavior is damaging to the cause of cycling as a viable form of transportation in the city.

    We cyclists have many goals: to get more folks to want to ride: to move public policy in a more cycling friendly direction; and to enlist drivers and cops as friends/supporters rather than hostile adversaries; to gain the respect and “place at the table” that we deserve. None of these goals are served by “outlaw” cycling.

    Your opinion that obeying the traffic laws somehow puts you at risk reeks of serious rationalization to me. I’m not claiming perfect behavior, but I think that obeying traffic laws while cycling makes me a safer rider because my actions are predictable: I stop for stop signs, red lights etc. I signal when turning, take the lane when required for safety, stay out of the turn lane if I’m not turning, and otherwise conform to the rules of the road.

  • Mad Park

    Thanks stevem – As adults we set examples for all who see us in whatever we do. Responsible cyclists are a valuable tool in de-emphasizing our auto fixation in our cities. Irresponsible cyclists re-inforce autophilia on the part of irresponsible and auto-fixated drivers. Cyclists: Please ride responsibly and carefully, especially when on sidewalks. You, too, will someday be walking rather than biking – I hope you don’t get mowed down by an irresponsible cyclist on a sidewalk or in a crosswalk.

  • The safest place for me is on the OTHER side of that red light, where the road is empty.

    How lovely to have this breath of fresh air and common-sense eloquence from livable streets practitioner (and so much more!) Chris Carlsson.

    Not a “bike advocate” per se, Chris has arguably done more to advance cycling in North America in the past 20 years than any other single human being. I’m proud to say that I ride pretty much as does Chris.

  • Greg

    Interesting post. I think its worth thinking about this business of “being an example”. There are two observations I’d like to make. One is that drivers don’t stop at stop signs either. A recent Portland study showed that while only 7% of cyclists made full stops at stop signs drivers didn’t have much to crow about: they stopped only 22% of the time.

    Second, there’s a nice piece where a physicist ran the numbers on what it really would mean to cyclists if they stopped at every stop sign (on a route with a lot of stop signs – something you see on many secondary streets). It turns out that it’s simply not practical for all but the strongest cyclists to stop fully – it represents too great a cost in output.

    Given these two observations, it’s hard to say that anything short of an Idaho stop is going to solve the “scofflaw” issue.

    Even then motorists will probably find something else to complain about (like the perennial “you don’t pay for the road” nonsense. )

  • GreenSub

    stevem hit it out of the park.

    Your complaints about helmet moralism ring hypocritical juxtaposed with your shrillness about the safety of the road for cyclists, combined with your admitted disdain for traffic laws. I’ve got news for you, making the road safe for cyclists doesn’t start with drivers or with the city council; it starts with YOU.

    And before you start getting defensive, this has nothing to do with helmets. It’s the fact that when you are so self-righteous that you can’t be bothered to follow the laws of the road–the reasons for which they were conceived are beside the point–you help to create an image of cyclists and expectation for their behavior that makes it more dangerous for all of us. That is one the main reasons many drivers hate us, because that type of behavior has created an expectation that we’ll all be self-righteous militants who don’t realize that “Share the Road” cuts both ways.

  • eliot

    Chris’s article seems a reasonable starting point for discussion.

    Question to Streetsbloggers: are New York’s recent innovations changing your riding behavior? I’ve found myself obeying the rules — even the ones I can rationalize breaking — much more in the last year or two.

    Three years ago my commute from Brooklyn to Manhattan was entirely devoid of bike lanes. Now I’ve got brand-new lanes for about 80% of my daily ride. I go a little out of my way to ride in the new 8th Avenue & Grand Street lanes.

    When I first started riding in the city I developed a me-against-the-world mentality on the streets. Now the world (or at least the DOT) are on my side.

    We’re winning and need all the friends we can get. I’m pretty conscious to not let my behavior give bystanders a bad impression of cyclists or an excuse to naysay at Community Board meetings….

  • Tom

    This article is very interesting and informative. The new rule is the need of the time.

  • GreenSub

    Another thing: you aren’t helping anyone by politicizing this issue. Hopping on a bike doesn’t make me a culture warrior; it makes me a guy trying to get to work. Even though my personal politics lean heavily to the left, it rankles me that I’m going to get labeled that way because certain people have the misguided view that making cycling a leftist cause is in any way helpful. It’s divisive, confrontational, and only serves to further stigmatize cyclists as wingnuts. Getting rid of all the unnecessary ideological baggage will go a long way towards a bike-friendly transportation environment.

    “Second, there’s a nice piece where a physicist ran the numbers on what it really would mean to cyclists if they stopped at every stop sign (on a route with a lot of stop signs – something you see on many secondary streets). It turns out that it’s simply not practical for all but the strongest cyclists to stop fully – it represents too great a cost in output.”

    This is, pardon me, horseshit. God forbid we should have to exert any effort! Measuring the amount of energy necessary to stop and start an arbitrary amount of times, then saying “Hey look, this exceeds an arbitrary standard I’ve just invented!” proves nothing. Unfortunately, though, some people will fall hook, line, and sinker for anything done in a lab, without considering how the data is interpreted.

    Imagine how much we’d save in fuel if cars didn’t stop either! We’re all trying to save the environment, right? So really, to be consistent, we should be arguing that cars shouldn’t stop at stop signs. They energy THEY’RE saving is energy that doesn’t contribute to carbon emissions, whereas all I’m saving by not stopping as a granola bar or two. Look, normally I’m not a fan of deontological ethics, but the road is one domain where it works very well. Follow out the consequences of what would happen if EVERYONE–cars, bikes, pedestrians, etc–did what you’re doing and see where it gets you.

    Rules are there for a reason. I agree that not all of them are ideal, but the way to respond to that isn’t by ignoring them and adopting an attitude of moral superiority. Cyclists have to show they’re capable of coexisting. Step back and look at the practical reality of the situation: Cyclists are trying to impose themselves into an infrastructure that was not designed for them. Standing up and shouting “I’M GOING TO IGNORE YOUR STUPID RULES UNTIL YOU MAKE THEM WORK FOR ME!” is petulant, naïve, arrogant, and ineffectual. And you wonder why people hate cyclists.

    Have a bit of humility. Recognize that getting on a bike does not make you morally superior to anyone else. It does not entitle you to special treatment. Most of all, it does not give you carte blanche to ignore the laws you find inconvenient.

  • I guess it never occurred to Mr. Carlsson that some of us bicyclists aren’t remotely interested in whatever he sees as “the radical implications of bicycling.” He sounds like the kind of cyclist I encounter all too often here in Portland, on streets and multi-use paths, one who interprets “Share the Road” as “Get out of my way!” Since I’ve never owned a car, my dim view of cyclists like Mr. Carlsson and his cronies, ever so concerned with their street-warrior scoff-law radicalism, comes mostly from my experiences as a pedestrian, supplemented by experiences as a cyclist. The truth of the matter is that I just don’t trust cyclists to stop for, yield to, or be polite and respectful of others users of public spaces, even though most of us do and are. There are simply too many of us with selfish, arrogant, hypocritical mindsets like Mr. Carlsson’s.

  • That’s a rather narrow interpretation of ‘radical’, a word that can simply mean ‘big changes’ as it would appear to in this case. There’s been a disappointing effort in the twin threads of these posts to discount the author’s argument by calling him a scofflaw, a radical, and (most lamely) a childish person. Mr. Carlsson wrote and reasoned this out like an adult—ten years ago at that—which is more than can be said for those that respond by calling him names.

    The only thing I have to add to the largely unassailed points Carlsson made is that it may be helpful for some people to try turning their arguments against different groups and see if they still sound righteous. Such as, What must all those pedestrians do to be a “fully participating member of the transportation mix”? Nothing, obviously. Only the most windsheilded would suggest otherwise. Pedestrians are just people, they don’t need to worry about being good representatives of the cause of ‘walking’ everywhere they go. That’s not to say that there isn’t a great need for pedestrian infrastructure improvements all over this country—there certainly is and that’s much of what Streetsblog is about. And yet, no one spouts off endless demands that all pedestrians must meet before ‘they’ deserve to be accommodated and protected while walking around the city.

    The radical implications of cycling are simply that a majority of center-city populations could get around safely and with zero emissions on a bicycle, with a few relatively simple changes to our legal system and street designs. For example, the difference between Copenhagen and San Francisco is ‘radical’, and that does not mean they are bunch of dope-smoking tattoo artists over there.

  • GreenSub

    Oh, don’t be coy. It’s very clear what Carlsson means by “the radical implications of cycling”. If you don’t believe me, just look at his own website, where his résumé includes writings in publications such as Affinities: A Journal of Radical Theory, Culture, and Action, Journal of Aesthetics & Protest, The Political Edge, and Globalize Liberation: How to Uproot the System and Build a Better World. Any claim that he means radical in a more general sense is either disingenuous or naïve.

    To your claim that Carlsson’s points remain unassailed, I can only say you haven’t read closely enough. This is evidenced by your point about pedestrians, which exposes a fundamental lack of understanding: The reason they don’t need to be scrupulous in their behavior as members of the group is the very fact that there are no shrill pedestrians in the vein of Carlsson purporting to speak for all of of them. Everyone recognizes pedestrians as a heterogeneous group, and no one stakes their identity in pedstrianism as people do with cycling.

    That’s the core of the difficulty. People like Carlsson, in single-minded, myopic pursuit of a cause have the effect of portraying cyclists as a monolithic bloc, as evidenced by his platitudinous “radical implications of cycling” crap. That is what offends those of us who disagree with his counterproductive tactics and his overwrought rhetoric; that we’ll be lumped with outliers like him, who unfortunately become the face everyone identifies with people who want cycling to be safer and better accommodated.

    An analogy would be someone like Richard Dawkins. I agree with many of the things he wants to say, but his excessive, you’re-stupid-or-crazy-if-you-disagree-with-me attitude undermines his cause. Sure, he can preach to the choir, but he’s not going to win anyone over, and he only makes people who share part of his belief system look bad in the progress.

    Carlsson makes ME look bad, just by getting on a bike, because his arrogance angers so many people. I would go so far as to say that Carlsson himself, by opening his fat trap one too many times, has made my commute more dangerous, because he has made too many people my enemy just because I ride a bike. Very few people hate pedestrians as a whole. MANY people hate bicyclists as a whole, and they do because of people like Carlsson–because he is so contemptible, and because of what he’s done to aid the perception of cyclists as a homogeneous group.

  • glrrrp

    Idaho – waaay ahead of its time. The West is the best. Right Charlie K?

  • “The reason they don’t need to be scrupulous in their behavior as members of the group is the very fact that there are no shrill pedestrians in the vein of Carlsson purporting to speak for all of of them.”

    The author makes it clear that there are range of views on how to improve bicycling, some of which he’s opposed to. How can an argument among cyclists purport to speak for all of them? And even if it could, one person’s stance does not fundamentally change the social interaction for an entire group. I am a pedestrian, and if I decide to call for better sidewalks and light timings to reduce the number of pedestrians being being hit and injured or killed by cars, you might call me shrill and accuse me as trying to speak for the group, but it doesn’t change the absurdity of a demand that all pedestrians clean up their acts before they deserve any accommodation.

    On the public misperception of cyclists as a monolithic block, you seem to be a little conflicted. If Americans on bicycles were more heterogenous and were perceived that way, you wouldn’t have to fret about Carlsson ruining your reputation. But in lecturing this group on how to behave, you’re enhancing the monolithic perception of it—and you must vainly hope, its actual behavior. Which is it you want, to just be a person on a bicycle or to be a member of an elite, virtuous, muscular, and highly impossible society?

    As for radicalism, I don’t care to speak for anything but the posted text. If that makes you reach for the umlaut key-combination a third time, so be it.

  • GreenSub

    You are, again, blithely reading around Carlsson’s more repugnant claims. I don’t see how you’re missing fact that the “we don’t need to obey the laws that don’t suit us” message is a normative one. Carlsson is saying that cyclists should pick and choose which rules apply to them, and that by doing so they’re in the right. That is purporting to speak for all. It’s claiming that your group, at the expense of others has a monopoly on interpreting the rules of the road. Acknowledging that people disagree is irrelevant, as it has nothing to do with that claim.

    Let’s recast your pedestrian example to make it more applicable to the issue at hand. You’re a pedestrian, and being a pedestrian is a big part of your identity. You call yourself a “walkist”, you have a lot of ideas about what it means to be a “walkist”, such as the political causes it naturally implies. You also think walking isn’t safe enough for your liking. Your way to combat that is to decide you’re going to toss the existing laws out the window and walk how you damn well please. Rather than just call for a system better suited to your needs, you’re also going to recruit all your friends to toss out the laws with you, while staking your cause to a political ideology, and claiming moral superiority over all those assholes on bikes who are endangering you with their reckless, inconsiderate riding.

    In that case, yes, I’d call you shrill, obnoxious, and accuse you of trying to speak for the group. I’d tell you that if you want to bring people over to your side, you’d have to stop acting like a jerk, see things from the cyclists’ perspective, drop the political idealism, think pragmatically, and do something constructive towards a solution.

    Next: The actual diversity within America’s population of bicyclists has nothing to do with what I’m talking about. It has to do with the fact that when cyclists run lights, or when hundreds of spandex-clad troglodytes decide they’re going to block traffic for a day to make a point, it pisses a lot of people off. That’s what gets the press, and that’s what comes to mind when people see cyclists. Nothing I’m saying here is influencing public perception, and it’s a bit laughable that you would suggest so. I also don’t have any illusions about influencing anyone’s behavior. Carlsson’s the one with the evangelical streak and the utopian vision. I’m just calling him out for being putz.

    As for radicalism, naturally, you would discard any evidence not in your favor. Carlsson has a clear agenda. It’s important to know that to fully understand what he’s trying to say.

  • Greensub, did Carlsson pee in your cornflakes this morning? Your anger seems out of proportion to his message.

    Also, the word “shrill” contributes nothing to the discussion other than conveying your contempt for whoever you’re calling “shrill.”

  • GreenSub

    Fair point. I’m probably stating things a little more strongly than I need to.

    I don’t deny that I’ve been somewhat contemptuous (and if you want to argue that contempt isn’t constructive, you’re probably right), but I mean more than just contempt by “shrill”. I’m implying that the call-to-arms mentality, characterized by drawing sharp political divisions between competing viewpoints, is destructive.

    So I actually meant something substantive by shrill. I was being contemptuous when I said “putz”.

  • Thanks, Greensub. So when is a call to arms appropriate?

  • GreenSub

    When facing something like the violation of human rights, or other grave injustice when avenues of action within the established system are not viable options, and when pursuing some form of disobedience is not going to be counter to your aims. You know, major shit. Some notable examples might be things like Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the woman’s suffrage movement. Situations where the impetus provided by a two dimensional idealism is necessary to force an issue.

    Yes, the fact that cycling is more dangerous than it should be is a problem, but it’s a problem that is out there and that is being addressed through conventional, deliberative means, and as such the call-to-arms mentality represents a setback. Yes, you can make an argument that something like global warming represents something that requires that sort of imperative, but trying to manifest that imperative through convincing more people to bike is going to accomplish bugger-all. Having to stop at a red light is certainly not such an issue.

    Activism is not the answer to every problem. Change is more frequently motivated through mutual understanding than it is through idealistic stands.

  • I’m with Chris and Charlie. One major problem their critics have is confounding law-abidingness, on the one hand, with safety and mutual respect on the other. There is only a coincidental overlap. Fair point that bicyclists will not win the respect they deserve unless they show mutual respect for the safety and rights of others (including both pedestrians and motorists), but obeying the law to the letter is not a recipe for doing so. Often the opposite. The best approach is lots of communication, including eye contact and head and hand gestures. Slow down as you come to a red light and beckon the waiting pedestrians through the crosswalk. Let them know you are going to yield to them. After they get through, push off and roll through the intersection ahead of the green when the intersection is clear, and accelerate reasonably quickly so that you are up to speed by the time the motor vehicles behind you get the green. They will have less of a delay as a result following behind you, or an easier time merging around you if they wish to proceed more quickly. And most importantly of all, take the time to explain to people who don’t understand why bicyclists have a right to the road.

    In my view, ,these are the “extra steps” that bicyclists must take, not obeying every law to the letter. No one else obeys every law to the letter, why should bicyclists?

    As for helmets, in my jurisdiction (NYC) it’s a personal choice for those over 14. When it’s daylight and fine weather and I’m not bicycling with my kids, I may forego the helmet and ride more slowly (maybe 10%-15% of the time I ride). Consistent with some research published in the UK, I find that I have an easier time negotiating with pedestrians and motorists when the helmet is off. I think I may read more as a “person” to them than as a “thing.” It is that much easier to establish eye contact and to communicate by nodding or shaking my head. This is not a recommendation against helmets, nor agreement that I “get what I deserve” if someone else injures me while I am bareheaded. Just an observation that helmets may have safety disadvantages as well.

  • Fair point that bicyclists will not win the respect they deserve unless they show mutual respect for the safety and rights of others (including both pedestrians and motorists), but obeying the law to the letter is not a recipe for doing so.

    Thank you, Bicyclesonly, for putting your finger on what was bothering me about Stevem and Greensub’s comments. I really don’t give a shit about what Chris Carlsson does three thousand miles away. I want to know what -if anything- can help eliminate the anti-cyclist hatred I hear and read. I don’t think it’s really about shrillness, and I’m not convinced that obeying the letter of the law – when nobody else is – will really help cyclists in this area.

  • beng722

    Since I heard (5 years ago and second-hand) of a cyclist hitting his head on the concrete of the 59th st bridge after colliding with another cyclist, I always wear a helmet. A severe result from head trauma is all I’m trying to avoid. It looks awful, is hot in summer, and, yes, does lessen my ability (but very slightly) to make eye contact w/ others.

    One other point: pedestrians can be very shrill out there – especially joggers. It will become more and more apparent as it continues to get warmer, especially on the Brooklyn Bridge and on the new protected bike lanes in Manhattan.

    I wonder if others have noticed a growing number of pedestrians who, yes, sometimes shrilly or rudely, simply refuse to get out of the bike lanes to allow for passing bikes. And i have used all manner of means to convey that I am simply requesting that they move three feet over and cross the line that clearly separates the space for bikes and runners and walkers. The new protected bike lanes in particular are a setting for sometimes shrill responses from pedestrians who assume that the bike lane is for them to walk in.

    It will be fascinating to see how this plays out in the upcoming car-free span of Broadway around Times Square. I worry that the upshot on the Brooklyn bridge will just be the elimination of bikes altogether.

    In many midtown locations now (around Madison Park and Broadway below 42nd street for two examples) pedestrians need to cross the bike lane (sometimes with their just acquired lunches) to get to the new tables and chairs that are beyond the bike lane. The set up in these locations demand a necessary awareness (and very slow going) for cyclists…this is not the pedestrians fault, of course, but is an unfortunate part of the design that can lead to shrillness on both sides of the encounter…and may also lead to a serious injury with or without helmets.

  • I worry that the upshot on the Brooklyn bridge will just be the elimination of bikes altogether.

    Beng and all the others who worry, I invite you to join the Brooklyn Bridge Cycle Track Advocates Livable Streets group.

  • This comment thread is a really well-contemplated discourse. Maybe a little emotional at time, but a credit to both sides – or all sides. Or something.

    One consideration that really bears strongly on this issue is environment. What works in some cases might not work in others. If you are in a suburban environment your riding style could – and probably should – be a lot different than riding up Sixth Ave. through Midtown Manhattan at 5pm. Rolling through stops (clearly signaling that you intend to cede right of way to any crossing pedestrians or vehicles) is just fine in some cases, but weaving through throngs of pedestrians, knocking a few off their feet, is not. Ever. Unless you’re about to give birth and trying to make it to the hospital.

    The most basic rule should be civility. That goes equally for cyclists and pedestrians (and to a lesser extent, drivers, though because of their personal shield, they have less ability to do so and therefore should just wait for the green light, no matter what). It’s something that is expected in those European cities that we like to use as a model, and seems to be sadly lacking from all parties on these shores.

  • What I find most troubling about this article is the blithe assertion “Most bicycle accidents cause injury that a helmet cannot help.” That is harmfully misleading at best. When it comes to serious injuries, it is entirely wrong.

    The fact of the matter is, two-thirds of cycling deaths are from traumatic brain injury, and a very high percentage of cyclists’ brain injuries can be prevented by a helmet, estimated at anywhere from 45 to 88 per cent.

    So the author is wrong on this point and spreading harmful misinformation. Wearing a helmut might not jibe with his adolescent “radicalism,” but that’s no reason to try to talk anyone out of wearing one with careless distortions.

  • Greg, there’s a difference between the percentage of cycling accidents (crashes, if you prefer) and the percentage of deaths. I don’t know if Carlsson’s information is true or not, but your assertion doesn’t have any bearing on it.

  • Chris in Sacramento

    Charlie K. is right to credit Chris Carlsson for his historic contributions to bicycling via his leadership in starting SF Critical Mass. For that alone, Chris C. deserves our thanks forever.

    This post is certainly stimulating.

    My gripe with it is the political dichotomy Carlsson posits, namely those who wish to “Copenhagenize” and the hardcore vehicular cyclists. I’d suggest there is a third way, via traffic calming, that encourages bicyclists to act more as do operators of vehicles by slowing motor vehicles such that increased cooperation and communication between various users is possible.

    The most bothersome (and revealing) portion of the essay is this:

    “Waiting to start on the green with the automobiles is to remain shunted to the unsafe corridor between parked cars and moving traffic”

    With this statement, Carlsson shows himself as unwilling or unable to execute a fundamental traffic cycling maneuver, namely, the move to the left prior to reaching an intersection in order to align oneself with other traffic (and thus avoid being trapped to the right).

    However, Carlsson’s statement is especially important, in that if someone as passionate about cycling as he can’t/won’t do this, then how practical is a pure vehicular-cycling strategy? Not very!

    In the end, I favor the third way– emphasizing traffic calming over segregated bicycling facilities– because by slowing vehicles we minimize the harm they do, and better cyclists are not punished by being forced to ride in slow, inconvenient separate facilities ala Amsterdam.

    It’s good to have some of those facilities, however, because certain people won’t ride at all without them. So let’s experiment with new bicycling facilities while stressing anti-car policies. It’s those anti-car policies– high taxes, limited parking, criminal penalties, strict and costly driver training requirements, narrow/slow streets, etc– and not the bike facilities per se that make Amsterdam a safe, fun place to bicycle (The Rembrandts and coffee houses don’t hurt, either).

  • Cap’n Transit, my assertion does have bearing on it. Obviously not all accidents involve deaths. But to say “Most bicycle accidents cause injury that a helmet cannot help” without also mentioning that most life-threatening injuries are indeed helped by helmets is very misleading, especially since he mentioned it in the context of a fatality.

  • .PreReq.

    Before addressing an important issue at hand, I’d like to applaud all of you thread posters for taking the time to contribute your well-developed ideas to this discussion. I agree w/ Ian Dutton; the discourse here is well-contemplated.

    However, I’ve seen an issue/claim repeatedly cited by GreenSubs, which I’d like to open up for further discussion. This claim seems to be the crux of your argument, GS.

    Based on your posts, GreenSubs, I’ve noticed that you’re obsessed w/ trying ride in a way which prevents motorists from ‘hating’ cyclists. You’ve repeatedly addressed this issue.

    You’ve claimed the following:

    ‘MANY people hate bicyclists as a whole, and they do because of people like Carlsson…

    Standing up and shouting “I’M GOING TO IGNORE YOUR STUPID RULES UNTIL YOU MAKE THEM WORK FOR ME!” is petulant, naïve, arrogant, and ineffectual. And you wonder why people hate cyclists.’

    GreenSubs, do you have any research which supports this claim?

    GreenSubs, I think you’re over-estimating the hate which motorists have for cyclists.
    I encounter a lot of rude and violent motorists on the road, but I think very few, if any, hate me for simply being a cyclist. To those motorists that act as if they hate me (either by honking, harassing, intimidating, or threatening me), I do not believe that these aggressive motorists – at least as many as you seem to suggest – act aggressively due to built-up, past-experiences w/ the cycling ride style which you’ve referred to as ‘outlaw’ or Carlsson-ist.

    I believe that those motorists who do act hateful towards me have a simple objective —for me to get out of their way. The motorists who subscribe to the Culture of Immediacy school-of-thought, which places their immediate-“I’m late!”-priorities far above the livelihood and well-being of others, are most likely to ‘hate’ you/me for riding vehicularly in the lane, safely out of the door zone.

    Or more simply put, motorists don’t hate cyclists for rolling stop signs. I believe they’re more likely to ‘hate’ you for riding in the middle of the lane (outside of the door zone) because, from their ill-informed perspective, you’re simply ‘blocking’ traffic (i.e. them).

    I don’t want to get into what sociologists call a ‘me-ology,’ but since I haven’t seen any research on this, I will have to cite my personal experiences as well as my personally witnessed experiences of other motorist/cyclist interactions:

    Motorists very rarely, if ever, publicly demonstrate ‘hate’ towards me for rolling a stop sign (when done safely, after communication, recognition, and eye contact, which is the way I do it when motorists are around). On the other hand, motorists regularly (approximately 1 out of every 10) publicly demonstrate ‘hate’ towards me (via honking, unnecessary engine revving to demonstrate their hegemonic position over me, verbal harassment, unnecessary and intentionally close passing) when I ride in the middle of the lane to avoid the door zone, when cars are parked.

    Does that mean I’m going to stop riding out of the door zone just because motorists will stop hating me for doing so? No. I ride in a way which I feel is safest. I live in San Diego, CA an extremely hilly city w/ roads paved in and throughout canyons. It is an inefficient, dis-incentive to stop at every single sign. But I always yield and only proceed when safe to do so and after communication between myself and a present motorist.

    I support the Idaho law. And I think it’s an innovative way to increase the incentive for people to pick-up bike commuting. The Idaho law increases efficiency of cycling trips. Hilly San Diego would benefit from it.

    Is there any research on crash statistics in Idaho since the law went into effect? When did it go into effect?

    W/ the Idaho law in effect, my bet is that motorists are more likely to yield and drive slower around cyclists knowing that they have the right to yield at signs and stop-and-go at lights (the Idaho law does grant that, does it not?)

    With that said, I agree w/ Chris in Sacramento: I believe in a third-way, via traffic calming.

    People simply drive too fast. We need to reduce the deadliness of their speed of travel. This ties into Carlsson’s idea of a big public education campaign. Many motorists simply do not know about the risks of riding in a door zone; so they harass me and ‘hate’ me as a result.

    In San Diego, frequently cited as one of the healthiest cities in America, people are afraid to bike commute. Only .5% (that’s POINT five, not five) of commuters are bike commuters. That is unacceptable.

    More of the same is not enough. We need innovative ideas. And, if we’re serious about global warming and climate solutions, we need to keep researching/exploring/implementing/moving forward w/ ideas w/ proven success.

    That is essentially the crux of CA’s relatively new Complete Streets Act. As a society, we can no longer afford/sustain the consequences of our current auto-centric urban system. Infrastructure must be improved so that calmed automobile traffic can be attained and that potential bike-commuters will become new bike-commuters.

    And, I believe, that it’s very possible that the Idaho law would have this (traffic calming) effect.

  • Anon

    I’ll catch heck for posting this but my answer as to why i roll thru red lights and stop signs follows. It’s a rare ride that I do not encounter: double or triple parked cars often opening passenger doors and often parked over bike lanes, runners in the road often running against traffic, jaywalkers confident in their right of way, jaywalkers on cellphones walking against traffic, pedestrians waiting to cross 6 or more feet from the sidewalk or in the bike lane, etc. Forget using the 8th Ave bike lane around the P Authority in rush hour. In bike lanes: families walking 6+ members wide, people parked to take pictures of a cruise ships, a stroller left in the middle of the lane while the mother and child play off to the side, unleashed dogs more than 3 feet from their owners, joggers jogging against traffic, joggers stretching, joggers U turning w/o looking, street meat carts, taxis dropping off passengers, etc.

  • AnthemBoy7

    I don’t like wearing a helmet, if my brains end up on the road, that’s my bad. This article said good things.

  • dporpentine

    About helmets: last year a coworker and I had almost identical bike accidents. Similar circumstances, similar fall, and similar injuries. Except this: she got a concussion, but I didn’t have so much as a headache.

    Does telling that story constitute research? No. Does it prove that wearing a helmet should be a categorical imperative? No. But does it convince me that not wearing a helmet is unwise. Feel free in return to think me unwise! But don’t claim that people who wear helmets are the consumerist clones. I have no choice but to buy a helmet! The ones I make at home out of hemp never fit right!

    And about rolling through stop signs and blowing lights: you have the gratitude of all the people who get to kill bikers with impunity.

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