Friday, August 14, 2009

New Virus Causes Loss Of Self-Preservation Instinct, Apparently Affects Only Cyclists.

I've posted three facebook updates in the last week complaining about reckless cyclists. Then, probably not coincidentally, POP posted about cyclists being ticketed for running red lights. 147 comments and counting. And so this blog post was born.

I drive to work most days, and I walk around my neighborhood a great deal. I have always tried to be courteous and respectful to cyclists when I am driving, if for no other reason, than because I am also a cyclist, and I strongly believe that biking is good for the environment and should be a bigger part of the city's transportation infrastructure.

There have always been vendettas between drivers and cyclists. Some drivers are complete jerks and can't stand having to wait 30 seconds until it's safe to pass someone on a bike. Then there's the infamous bike couriers downtown - few have spent much time around K street without having the crap scared out of them as a courier blows by them without warning, inches away from a trip to the emergency room. But these are generally the exceptions. I've rarely felt like it's really unsafe to bike in the city, and most drivers, while maybe not as courteous as they could be, are reasonably cautious around cyclists.

But something is changing around here and I'm not sure why. I have noticed more and more cyclists completely ignoring the law, and beyond that, acting in a manner that is hazardous to themselves and to others on the road. This used to be the exception. Now it is becoming commonplace. It is one thing for a cyclist to go through a red light when no cars are coming, or ride up ahead of a line of stopped cars. I am not taking a hard line that people on bikes should sit there like cars, even though it's the law. I mean, as pedestrians we do the same thing. It is illegal, but if there are no cars coming, it's reasonably safe.

I'm not talking about technical violations of the law when the coast is clear. I'm talking about absolutely reckless, selfish, arrogant, aggressive riding. Lately, a day has not gone by that I haven't witnessed one or more incidents where a cyclist seriously endagered his or her own life, as well as the safety of others on the road.

This week alone I saw the following on my very brief 15-minute drive to work:

Biker riding the wrong way on my narrow, one way street. This happens all the time, and I understand it, because when you drive, you have to go two blocks north to enter the right way. But if you must break the law then get your ass out of the middle of the road when a car is coming! And when you turn the corner onto a one-way street, going the wrong way, where no vehicle should ever be, please have the courtesy to stop and at least wait a second to see if a car is coming before you turn the corner. Believe me, while I am not looking forward to getting a close look at your face on my windshield any more than you are, in that game of chicken YOU WILL LOSE.

Biker crossing a complex light-controlled intersection (14th and Arkansas) against the light in heavy traffic. Here's the thing about running red lights. I really can't see you if you enter an intersection from a diagonal road, at 7 o'clock behind me, when you have a red light and nobody should be coming from there. You didn't seem to notice how close to death you came when I had to slam on my brakes to avoid hitting your stupid ass. Believe me, I noticed. Yes, those are my skidmarks on 14th Street that saved your life.

Tailgating. It's not just for drivers anymore! 9:30 AM Sunday morning. Me: In my pickup truck on Columbia Road between 11th and 14th. You: In my blind spot. I barely noticed you because you were 8 inches behind my rear bumper on the right, pacing me exactly. Believe me, some small part of me thought about slamming on the brakes. I am not that guy, though. I didn't do it. But if I hadn't noticed you, I could easily have done that in reaction to traffic or for any other reason. Result from this hypothetical scenario? You, in the bed of my pickup truck. Me, driving you directly to Howard University Hospital.

Failing to yield to pedestrians. I am pretty good about stopping when I see someone trying to cross the street at a crosswalk. Traffic during rush hour on 13th, 14th and 16th Streets is very heavy and I know how they feel. On 16th Street or Georgia Avenue, I'll even straddle the lanes so some jackass behind me can't blow around me while you are crossing. So when I saw this petrified looking old man trying to cross 14th Street this morning, I stopped and gave him the nod to go ahead - I would wait for him. Too bad the bicyclist didn't show him the same courtesy. The cars behind me were perfectly content to wait while he crossed. The cyclist, on the other hand, ensured that this guy had to change his underpants when he got home. He whizzed right past the stopped cars (apparently, it didn't occur to him that there was a reason we were all stopped) and came within inches of the poor pedestrian.

16th Street. I know it's allowed. I know you can ride on any road you want. But are you f*?@king stupid? Why on earth would anyone, ever, ride a bike on 16th Street north of Arkansas? It's a bleeding highway. The traffic in rush hour is insane. And there are many, many alternatives that are not out of your way at all. Hello? 14th Street with bike lane? 13th Street? Beach Drive? The fricking bike trail in Rock Creek Park? How about the 10-foot wide sidewalk on 16th street if you just have to be there? Jesus. Seriously. There is just no good excuse to ride a bicycle in the road on 16th Street during rush hour. Trust me: you WILL DIE if you do this on any regular basis. And while it may not technically be your fault, you will be just as dead. Just give it up and use one of the many, many safer routes.

This is all in the last 7 days. One day I counted five different "busy intersection red light" offenders of the sort I described above. So what the hell is going on? It's really gotten to the point where I am starting to instictively go on high alert every time I so much as see a cyclist, because I am fully expecting them to do something mind-bogglingly stupid. And while I have no problem with stupid people killing themselves, generally, I really would prefer not to waste a half-day with cops and insurance companies if I run over a biker who crossed against the light in front of me. Okay - that's a little harsh, but I am trying to make a point here. I will say it again, bikers. In this game of chicken you will always lose. Please - for your own safety, the safety of pedestrians, and for the sanity of people like me who are having their nerves jangled daily by this idiocy, start acting a little more responsibly.


lacochran said...

In the world of natural law, rock beats scissors and car beats bike because car is a heavier, faster force. That's not my rule, it's nature's. You can fight nature, yeah. Good luck with that.

Jamie said...

@lacochran: indeed. Reminds me of something I had meant to mention in the post. You often hear from cyclists that they are only putting themselves at risk when they run a red light, so we shouldn't get up in arms about it.

I call total BS on that. I can't even count the number of times I have slammed on brakes or swerved to avoid a bike. I could easily have hit something else while doing this. When you do something stupid, people REACT and there can be collateral damage. You can cause an accident without even being a part of it.

Anonymous said...

What, no complaint about all the bikers on sidewalks in CH? I generally refuse to yield when walking so they can whiz by on a way too crowded and size constrained space. Why DC only bans bikes on sidewalks in downtown makes no sense to me. Once you add more bike lanes, bike lane specific signage/signals and ban all bikes from sidewalks will it be easier and safer to bike in this city. As someone who bikes, and aggressively at times, I've had people honk, yell, curse, and come ridiculously close to me while biking. They think it's THEIR road, and it can't be shared.
Another point, you have a big shiny truck with seat belts and perhaps airbags and big steel beams to save you, we have a piece of styrofoam on our head (if that).
Often, it's safer to run the red light so you can get ahead and not crowd the crossing traffic of cars and piss them off and push you to the curb.
Some bikers are punks, but plenty more drivers are, plain and simple. This bitching about bikers is tiresome and further defends the right of drivers to roads. Without proper discourse and implementation of bike lanes, it's just worthless back and forth.

Jamie said...

I entirely agree with your point about what we have protecting us. You are much safer in a car than on a bike.

Which is why I am so stunned that so many cyclists seem to care so little about their own safety by doing the really dangerous things I have described above.

You have no control over when a car will do something to endanger your life. But you certainly do have control over how you choose to ride - and when you break laws and make unpredictable moves, that is nobody's fault but your own.

Like I said, I don't really care if you run stop signs or red lights when it's clearly safe. I did not complain about that here. I'm talking about cutting off drivers and that's just stupid.

I have had farm more close calls with cyclists than I have ever had with cars. I can think of one time I had to slam on my brakes for a car in the last year. I can think of six cyclist incidents in the last two weeks.

Yes, there are bad, aggressive drivers, but there is no denying that there are a LOT of bad cyclists. And the difference, as you note, is that a cyclist is much more likely to pay for that type of riding with their life, than a driver is.

That is the point of my post. When I am on a bike or on foot I assume everyone around me is stupid. I slow down when riding in a bike lane and there's a car to my left before an intersection, because he might not see me and turn into me. I don't step into a street when I have the light before checking to see that nobody's coming. This is basic survival, yet many cyclists seem to not have that down.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your much more reasoned response than the crap I'm still reading on PoP.
The other thing I've noticed in the past while riding in DC, is the "right" of churches to allow cars to double park into bike lanes on Sundays (I've noticed this on both busy 14th st around R st and quiet Kansas just south of Sherman circle). This compounded with numerous delivery vehicles on 14th (I can't blame them, just complain), just makes biking in this city tough. The bike/bus lanes on 9th and 7th downtown are usually disregarded by cabs/cars.
If you're looking for something a bit more humored (should you not already read the blog), check out this post on BikeSnobNYC

Jamie said...

Great post on that blog you referred me to. I read a lot of blogs (too many :) already but even though it's not local I may just add that one.

Church parking definitely sucks. But that (like delivery vehicles, etc.) is kind of a fact of life. At least I can't think of any good solution. The church problem is very political. The delivery one is practical. To the extent that many streets aren't configured in a way that there's any alternative, like potholes, we just have to live with it.

There are people who've put a lot more thought into better solutions Like greatergreaterwashington. Though as much as the writers there are obviously smart and spend much time thinking about this, it is very bike-centric and I think sometimes can tend to ignore the reality that cars won't go away just because you want them to. But that's another discussion...

My position has always been that we should work to make things better and safer for all. But in the meantime "it is what it is." Every day, your actions to ensure your own safety and the safety of others need to be within that framework, regardless of how imperfect it is for now. Aggressive and dangerous riding only hurts the cause as the vast majority of the people on the roads (cars and peds) develop a bad taste when it comes up so much.

Dan said...

Jamie, I guess I'll reveal my identity from the previous two posts only in an effort to pimp my local blog as well. But, it's strictly beer and home brewing related. Thanks for your insight.

Jamie said...

Nice to meet you Dan. As it happens... I like beer.