Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sidewalk terrorists...

It's Wednesday, Bike to Work Day. As I walked through the parking garage under our building this morning, I waved at another resident, a nice guy I see every week or so. He knows I'm a writer; he evidently thinks I wield that "mightier than the sword" influence.

He asked me to stop for a moment, to tell me that he thinks that bicycles and their riders are positives for the community and the city. But, he said, he's been scared twice just this week by riders who've passed him suddenly and without warning on the sidewalk, where he had previously felt pretty safe. Walking.

Have you noticed, he asked me, more cyclists than ever riding on the sidewalks?

And y'know, I have. I’ve been scared twice myself, startled is a better word, by cyclists who suddenly appeared on the sidewalk from the street, missing me by millimeters. Both riders appeared to be sure of themselves and of their right to be wherever they wanted. Oh-kay...

Those guys, guys who dart onto the sidewalk or ride on the bike path no-handed or take the right lane on a busy, fast street even when there's a bike path next to the street - those guys aren't reading my blog. Maybe no one reading my blog even knows one of those guys.

Had I felt like arguing with my neighbor, I guess I could have asked him if he turns in dangerous drivers via some hotline. Does he say anything to people he sees doing stupid things in their cars, people he follows coincidentally to our building's parking garage? Does he police HIS peers? If he doesn’t, what would he suggest I do?

Are those sidewalk terrorist cyclists any better than aggressive drivers? They are not. Are they aware that there are other people in the world? Or are they just as self-absorbed as our driver friends?

Evidently they are every bit as self-absorbed and just as quick to take advantage.

I don't know those guys. Neither, I'm pretty sure, do you. Know them or not, they have upset my neighbor. He’s not an angry guy, or never has shown a sign of it. He's angry now though - because of a few scofflaw, do as they please, dudes on bicycles.

My neighbor, not a student of cycling sociology, cannot differentiate among classes or types of cyclists. He lumps us all together, I'm sorry to say.

He said that he assumed that the laws for cyclists were the same as those for drivers, but he sees cyclists who stop next to him at the light, then take off without waiting for the green. He has to pass them a half a block or a block down the street, traffic approaching and traffic behind him.

I said very little to my neighbor. Certainly I did not defend the bicyclists he sees flaunting their disrespect for the laws and other traffic. What can I say?

I hate like hell blaming the victim. I’d like to think that our cycling makes us all family, sortof, and that we have so much in common that we share a certain mindset.

I don’t ever scare people. I treat people further down the traffic food chain with respect, just as I’d like drivers to treat me. I wouldn't be surprised if you do the same.

There have always been irresponsible cyclists, I guess. I always figured they were guys who were riding because they had to; they’d lost their licenses or cars or whatever. There are more of those scofflaw cyclists than ever though, these days. Havin’ fun, scaring the seniors. Acting exempt from the law. Peeing in the pool.

Cool, huh?


Chris said...

Well, I must make a confession - though I'm not a sidewalk terrorist, I do bend some laws while on my bike. For example, on my commute to work, I go through a residential area with three lights in a row. When I hit one red, I check both ways and then proceed through if the coast is clear. Sure, I know I shouldn't, but I figure, hey, who am I hurting? I'm surely doing less damage than the guy beside me waiting at the light idling his Cadillac Escalade, right? Or is this just me rationalizing my criminal tendencies?

Khal said...

Well, yesterday while riding home from work I was passed simultaniously by two cars running side by side, one on my side of the road and one across the double line. Drag race, perhaps? I got off my 54 year old butt and sprinted down the street and caught one of them and asked what the hell that was all about and got a blank stare and some mumbled rationalization in return.

This morning I watched a red BMW 3-series (red, convertible) flagrantly blow a red light through a crosswalk. Sure, cyclists do it, but cyclists are not behind 3500 lbs. of steel.

I dressed down a cyclist for blowing by a ped at speed on a narrow sidewalk--told him he was riding like an idiot. Another dumb stare in return.

As the County Transportation Board Chair in Los Alamos and a League of American Bicyclists Cycling Instructor, sometimes I do that sort of thing--challenge people to explain why they are acting like goof balls. I figure safety is part of our duty as a Board.

Someone tell me why is it any better to ride like an idiot than to drive like an idiot. The basic problem is, after all, idiocy. Someone fill me in, especially since many of us ride the sidewalks to avoid the roadway terrorists. Please, fill me in.

Maynard said...

Well, Chris...
I do the same thing. I do not proceed if anyone will see me. Maybe that's what you mean by "the coast is clear."

Neither of us has anything to prove about how fearless we are or how masterfully in control of the bike we are...or how little we care about others.

I guess I'm making a pretty fine distinction here - between careful cyclists who don't always follow the letter of the law, and outlaws who're proud of their carelessness and happy to offend.

Thanks for writing, Chris

Maynard said...

As you can see from the post and my comment, Khal, I don't have the answer either. I hate thinking that things are getting worse...

Khal said...

I'm not sure they are getting worse, Maynard. I think we are getting more critical.

The sad part for me? My wife is terrified by the idea of me getting a motorcycle. I am pining away for a big BMW twin or a 750 triple, one of the bikes I always wanted when I was riding my CX-500. That's the real tragedy of it all. Fear.

sda said...

Nice post Maynard, as always.

I tend to see this (riding on sidewalks, specifically) as a problem in urban areas with a premium on public space. Pedestrians have to be there (no place else for them to go) and some cyclists prefer to be there (away from the roadway terrorists). Add in sidewalk cafes and you have a bunch of contested space. Riding a bicycle on an urban sidewalk? Some degree of conflict is unavoidable. Myself I won't do it, but I'm comfortable in traffic. I wouldn't want a 10 year old riding in the same traffic.

From dealing with this issue a ton when I was working as a local planner I'll say that in my opinion the behavior isn't getting worse per se. I think its the frequency of events that is changing and the general acceptance of rude behavior in our society. I don't know what the answer is. The engineer in me thinks wider sidewalks ... but that would only address the physical part of this issue.

So, with my tongue firmly in cheek - I'll blame it on the urban hipster fixie revolution. I mean, those guys don't even care if their drawers are falling down .... rebels!!

John said...

Hello Maynard,
I recently found you blog. I've enjoyed reading your work for a long time now. I have always liked the insight you add to events surrounding the cyclist's life and rides. We spoke many years ago. I'm John from Blairsville, PA. We talked about one of the stories that got you into writing on cycling like you do. Anyway, I'm happy to fine out you're still at it.