To the best of our ability, bicyclists need to follow the rules of the road.
And I believe that many cyclists do follow the rules, as best they can. But I think there are some folks who have decided that anything goes. It’s possible that this is the result of decades without any bicycle education in the schools and zero, or very little, bicycle education during drivers ed. But I suspect this mentality is also derived from the way local governments have treated cyclists in the past, and still continue to treat cyclists today.
Bicycles were around long before automobiles. But during our biggest building boom ever in the history of the world we built for cars, not bikes. And that haunts America. Not only do we see the results in the increasing levels of gridlock, traffic, injury and death, but we also see it in the struggle to build out and take hold of alternative forms of transportation. Our sense of what it means to be American has been reshaped — with the car right up there alongside baseball and apple pie as a foundational element. And God-Bless-America! we’re not about to let go!
The major bummer is not just that the car has been embedded into our psyches, but it’s been embedded into our infrastructure in a way that makes alternatives seem like half-witted, imbecilic, annoying interruptions to our ability to drive around town. Buses, bicyclists, skateboarders, even pedestrians, seem to exist for the sole purpose of making us late to wherever it is we’re headed. And, of course, the people operating these contraptions are always making stupid decisions, disobeying the laws, blocking traffic, and acting like arrogant turds. Right?!
Sometimes I think you have to walk for a day in another person’s shoes before you have any clue why they do what they do. (Or perhaps it’s that we need to ride for a day using another person’s transportation?)
There’s a reason the cyclist’s behavior doesn’t always make sense to the motorist. And there’s reasons cyclists sometimes take risks, do things we don’t expect, and seem to follow no rules. Part of the blame lies in the lack of education surrounding the rules of the road for bicyclists. Many cyclists just don’t know them. But motorists don’t either. I have been yelled at, buzzed, and honked at many a time because I’m doing exactly what the traffic law for the state of Colorado tells me to be doing. Improved education across the board would go a long way towards improving relations between motorists and cyclists. But there’s also an infrastructure problem.
Despite the fact that we live in a Platinum Level Bicycling Community according to the League of American Bicyclists, and despite the fact that we’re thinking more and more as a City about how to best integrate pedestrian, bicycling, and transit needs into new projects that are going up around town, we still hang on tightly to our car-loving addiction. We still have holdover infrastructure that makes cycling an erratic activity. But we also do things, even today in this “enlightened” time, that essentially throw a wrench at the cyclist, causing a mentality among cyclists of, “Do what you gotta do because the way is certainly not gonna be paved for you.”
The motorist generally has to worry about anything that might enter the street (kids, dogs, other cars) and they have to be aware of traffic signals. The bicyclist also has to worry about kids, dogs, cars, and signals, but they might also encounter a bike lane that suddenly disappears, only to reappear again several yards down the road. (Is the bicyclist expected to teleport between those two points?!) They might encounter a car parked in the bike lane. Or better yet, they might encounter a city road sign taking up the full width of the bicycle lane. In other words, the cyclist doesn’t just have to be aware of conditions on and around the road, the cyclist has to deal with half-witted infrastructure that disappears, that puts the cyclist right into danger’s way, or that otherwise is an affront to safe cycling.
It’s no wonder that sometimes cyclist behavior seems non-sensical when they deal with infrastructure that’s intermittent, interrupted, and incomplete. Sometimes the cyclist still does their best to obey the laws, to the best of their ability, despite the serious deficiencies in the infrastructure. But others, especially young cyclists, see this incomplete, non-sensical system for them to traverse as a license to ride just as non-sensically as the infrastructure they’re attempting to navigate.
Let me be clear here. I’m not saying that’s the right response. I’m just explaining that it is a response to a deficient system.
If we want cyclists to learn and model consistent, appropriate riding behavior, then we need to build out a consistent, appropriate infrastructure to be ridden upon. If we want cyclists to ride in bike lanes, then we shouldn’t allow parking in them; we shouldn’t set up construction signs in them; we shouldn’t paint them into dangerous door zones; and we shouldn’t have them drop out only to reappear further down the road. All of those things speak louder than words about how the City feels about providing a safe and consistent means of travel for cyclists.
I know that building out a safe, consistent infrastructure takes time and money. I know we have to dig ourselves out of the pit that we dug ourselves into as we traveled through the car era. But, to the best of our ability, as we rebuild, restripe, redo our streets, we’ve got to eliminate the inconsistencies. We’ve got to make clear decisions about whether we’re going to make safe streets or not. If we’re not, then lets be clear about that. Don’t stripe for a bike lane in a door zone. Don’t stripe for a bike lane, then allow (even encourage) parking in that same lane. Don’t stripe for a bike lane, then park a ginormous construction zone sign right smack in the middle of the lane.
None of this is, by any means, an excuse to disobedience. But I do think it is instructive. Bicyclists who are acting erratically may be dealing with infrastructure issues that you don’t see (because you’re in a vehicle that America has been building roads for for almost 100 years). But spend a day on a bicyclist’s infrastructure, and you’ll get it. Though we have some very, very nice improvements here and there, many of us have a daily commute that’s a joke. Disappearing lanes, construction signs to dodge, cars parked in our lane, and motorists who blame cyclists when improved infrastructure would go a long way towards changing behavior.
So if you see a cyclist that’s not following the rules of the road, first of all, check those rules. Maybe they’re doing the exact right thing and you just don’t know it. But remember, sometimes cyclists ride like crazy idiots because we’ve had that mentality drummed into us by the crazy infrastructure we’re forced to contend with. So instead of getting upset with the cyclist, contact the city or county and tell them that you’d like to see infrastructure for cycling improved so that everyone will ride more safely on our roads.