May 11, 2007

Tentative solidarity

Ahhh...spring! Dawn is early, the sun beginning to light the air as early as 5:30am nowadays. With warm pre-dawn temps and pristine skies, joggers, dog-walkers and cyclists are out enmasse, making my morning commute a little less empty.

YEP, that's right - surprise - it's rant-mode time.

Yeah, I can't control everything. I know that. It's not any one man's place to control everything -- and without delving into politicism, I'll leave it at that.
However, there is indeed an individual responsibility to do good, do right, and help to improve the societies within we each live and work -- in other words, act locally. If you DO want the world to be a better place, you must take the first step. That's part of this whole movement, this commuting to work by bicycle thing that I push and pump and preach. I can't MAKE anyone do it - but by simply doing it MYSELF, I can hopefully lead by example and others might follow. That's all I can do. I can't go around stealing car keys.

When hard work gets undermined, it hits home. Sometimes doing the right thing is a losing battle. Take driving, and one of my problems with it around here: while change must begin with the individual, and one must try to do right and lead by example, there is sometimes a force, a regime, an incumbent behavior that is SO rampant you will probably get run over - and the fact that you're doing right is actually frowned upon, to the point where it inspires anger. Try driving the speed limit on any local highway, for example. It's hard to obey the law, and there are no longer enough people doing it to make the ones that choose NOT to throw up their arms and simply give in to the posted limit. Let's not get started on how few seconds one actually saves by driving 15 MPH over the posted limit IN TOWN during a 15 mile trip. The logic doesn't seem to sit well.

When you reduce the odds, however, and look at things in terms of bicycles - this is also one of those battles. There are really SO FEW of us out there using bicycles as transportation, and SO many cars, that it becomes increasingly important to do things right, if for no other reason as to benefit our fellow cyclists. For example, if you are placed in an environment where only ONE PERSON on the highway is speeding, the rest of the drivers will get annoyed, angry, and will point fingers. If placed in an environment where EVERYONE is doing it, suddenly it becomes okay.
Becasue there is SO much of that happening, it actually HAS become okay -- it's only a problem if you happen to get caught doing it. Back to cyclists, there are, again, so FEW of us out there, that the pressure to set the right example HAS to be higher. Motorists interface with so few of us, that the precedent of example becomes far more important. For EVERY car that passes me, and sees me doing things correctly, perhaps that will fare better the NEXT cyclist they pass on the road, as the laws of assumption would dictate that "if the last guy did this, then I can expect the next guy to ALSO do this". Conversely, if a cyclist or a group of cyclists runs a red light, a stop sign, rides four abreast, doesn't yield, flips the bird, rides the wrong way in traffic, doesn't signal, rides all the way up the right side of cars to be first in line at the light, etc., it sets a poor precedent that can and usually IS taken out on the NEXT cyclist that the affected motorists encounter.

So, I have to ask - the morning recreational cyclists this morning that I saw, at two different locations at two different times, that both ran red lights - and even for the rider that I saw last weekend that did the same thing at 10:30AM at busy 87th Street and Renner, turning left onto northbound Renner against traffic on a red signal in front of me and Badger (sitting at the light waiting for our green) and all the cars there that witnessed it - I have to ask of all of you, what are you assuming or thinking?

Is it the mentality of the group ride? Is the the inability to unclip? Ignorance of the laws that apply to automobiles AND bicycles, both vehicles on the road? Uncaring nose-thumbing? One has to wonder. When we are all up-in-arms in advocacy efforts with regards to issues like 127th Street's improvements, complaining that cities don't provide enough bicycle lanes, and wondering why cars give us a hard time - one has to wonder if there simply is no connection between behavior and expected outcome. Since there are so few of us, why is there this constant pressure to do as the group does? Why not just stop, wait for the light, signal, stay to the right as practicable, ditch the headphones, listen for cars, and generally use common sense? This notion that doing the right thing is somehow "uncool" or will be somehow frowned upon by others in the cycling community is a notion that should have been ditched after high-school. Do *I* do everything right? HELL no. Yeah, these always have the potential to come across kinda preachy, but dammit - what do you get on Sunday mornings, and how quickly do you forget it? I'm not infallable, and I don't pretend to be - but there are mistakes, and then there are repeated offenses. I'm asking for those that have rights to the roadways to simply obey the rules at least long enough to make it easier for the ones that already do.

If you don't want rights on the road, and are not going to benefit the situation, there are lots of well-maintained bicycle paths available now, metro-wide. Please use them, because after much debate THAT is what your city governments, after public pressure and voting, have decided is best for what is deemed "a cyclist" by the general public. Your actions on the road directly affect that definition, and it's creating an environment where the people that DO follow the rules might as well just give up and do what everyone else is doing - because it's just easier than ranting on a blog, or choosing not to return a wave to someone that isn't even AWARE that what they are doing is foolish, unsafe, illegal, and detrimental to the general culture of bicycling.

Next time you run a red light or a 4-way stop, ask yourself:
Would you have done that in a car?
Would you want your wife doing it?
Would you want your KIDS doing it?
What would your mom think? Seriously? Would she be proud, assuming you still value her opinion?

The answer should dictate your behavior - and if it does as I hope it does, we can FINALLY all - as a cycling collective - begin to reap the benefits of a governmental system and a general non-cycling public that appreciates and respects our presence on the roadways.

Please be safe out there - for ALL our benefits.


Steve Mohr said...


I'm a light-runner. I go against traffic. I ride on the sidewalks when convenient. I don't share the lane (that's insane in my book). I do signal when I have a free hand which is most of the time. I am well lighted and reflected at night. I wear the skid-lid. The way I see it the sooner I get from here to there the less time there is for cars to hit me from their lack of attention. I'm not looking for the laws to change. I've never been protected when a bike is stolen. I've been mugged while riding, they took the bike. I'm on the wrong side of the law and I'll stay there.

kG said...

Ahhhh.... but you lived in DC, where it was already too late! ;)

Steve Mohr said...

I think the big advantage here is that the cars are expecting you. There is a huge bicycle contingent here. We're everywhere including the suburbs. Did I send you the link to the video of the interview with the former mayor of Bogota Colombia? The link is on this page:

I'm trying to share this with as many people as possible. I HIGHLY recommend the interview and the Parking Spot squat.

O. T. said...

I would second 'dudes view point. You have to keep fighting on the "right" side until all hope is lost. Then result to the gorilla tactics.

It is extremely hard to change a bad perception once created. There is a LOT of truth in the old saying, "you never get a second chance to make a first impression".

Besides that, I live in REDNECK CENTRAL. Don't get me started on how easy it is for teens to get a license in Texas. I could start my own blog with that one.

P.S. I enjoyed the link/interview.

Scott said...

Wow that hit home. Im a struggling commuter in Ga and I have found myself doing things the wrong way from time to time. When you live in Atlanta its WHITE NUCKLE TIME all the time. But you are right, you have to do things the right way to change the situation for cyclist for the better.
I see very few Commuters here in Ga. Mainly Recreational Bikers doing group rides on the weekends and sometimes the occasional lunch time biker. But like you say. Lead by example.

I Love the blogg and I hit it every week. Good luck on the 600K

Noah said...


Right-the-heck ON!

Seriously, I've been kind of on this advocacy kick for a while. It grates on me to see adult cyclists in the dark riding on sidewalks, the wrong way, dressed like ninjas thinking that their tiny DOT-approved reflector will save their pathetic corpse-to-be. It also cheeses me off to no end when I'm with a group of people that absolutely refuses to quit socializing for 10 seconds, drop into single file, and let a car pass when they're on a stretch of road that's far too narrow to be shared with cars while riding three abreast.

People who say their bike can't trigger a stop light must be using full carbon tri-bikes, because my aluminum road bike has never had a problem tripping a signal if I park on the tar lines where the sensors were embedded. Yes, it's annoying to have to wait. Slowing down, taking it easy, and not being in a hurry are some of the things to LIKE about bicycling. Quit taking a motorist approach to life while on your bike. Slow down. Take a break and hydrate while the light is red. Your blood pressure will thank you.

At a recent Olathe city countil meeting, I watched as an ignorant council member described cyclists. It's plain to see that some of the scofflaw cyclists have caused nearly irreparable harm to his image of bicycles as a method of transportation. If you are going to be irresponsible and childish on a bicycle, people will continue to view bicycles as childish toys, ridden only by weekend group-ride hobbiests.

Thanks for the rant, 'Dude. I couldn't agree more.

Steve Mohr said...

I just don't believe that laws will protect us from peoples carelessness. When there are bad motorists they don't consider banning cars. I have biked for 40 years in traffic. I'm not speaking from inexperience. Until motorists respect our right to the road we have to ride by "whatever means necessary" to stay alive. I don't break every law all the time, but honestly I try to get from point A to point B in the smallest amount of time. I don't do it for lack of time and planning or to prove something, I feel, from my experience it's safer that way. This is a good discussion. Thanks for hosting!