If you spend any time at all cruising blogs like this one or follow news related to cycling you have likely run across debates concerning cyclists and traffic laws. Articles on the topic always seem to garner a massive number of comments. The commenters can most often be divided into two categories.
Category 1: Cyclists who believe traffic laws meant for cars cannot be logically applied to cyclists - and that cars/drivers are evil incarnate.
Category 2: Everyone else who owns or car, or while walking has either almost been hit or has been hit by a cyclist, who believes cyclists should be ticketed for breaking traffic laws - and as a bonus drawn and quartered on live TV.
Venom comes from each side and in the end nothing of substance really comes out of the conversation - in other words, just like how the U.S. Government operates.
The debate has recently made its way to my neighborhood in a real way. The following is taken from the Wall Street Journal:
The Police Department has a message for bicycle riders in Central Park: Traffic rules do, indeed, apply.
Officers so far this year have handed out 123 tickets to bikers for traffic infractions in the park, mostly for running red lights on the East and West drives, which are closed to cars on weekends and during most weekday hours.
That figure, which includes tickets given out through last Sunday, is more than a tenfold increase from all of 2010, when the NYPD issued 11 such tickets in Central Park.
My first reaction is that no one in the NYPD has gone to business school or possesses any economic sense at all whatsoever. If the NYPD was smart, they would roll out this policy on the first warm, cloudless day in early spring when everyone and their brother has dusted off their bike that has been sitting in a corner all winter and excitedly pedals to Central Park.
I'm proof positive that if the NYPD took this strategy the budget crisis the city is facing could be solved immediately as thousands of unsuspecting cyclists fueled by both winter fatigue and callous regard for any traffic laws would be easy prey for NYPD Blue.
On the larger topic of laws and ticketing, my opinion has always been that being a jerk is not specific to an object, but rather specific to a person. If a person drives like a jerk, they are a jerk and would be the same jerk if they were on a bike an vice versa. I love cycling and commute every day, but I come across a lot of jerks on bikes.
I have have walked, driven (a total of like 10 miles), been a passenger in a cab or bus, and ridden my bike in NYC for years and am of the opinion that pedestrians are the biggest jerks of all. I guess it's just the law of averages. Pedestrians far outnumber cylclists and drivers combined. Pedestrians are often more aloof than jerks, so my statement might not be entirely fair.
Okay, so I a rambling and seem to be going nowhere so I guess I will get to the point, if I have one. Last week I was following a car on my bike and the driver was swerving and nailed a traffic cone in a construction zone and did not even notice it. He kept driving like normal, even though the cone looked like it was shot out of a cannon and flew into the side of a van and made quite a loud noise.
I continued to follow the car and when it came to a red light I pulled up to the driver side window. The window was down and I had a short "conversation" with the driver. It started with a question I posed to the driver, in what I thought was a non-threatening tone . . .
Me: Are you alright?
Driver: Yeah, why?
Me: Well, I don't know if you noticed it but you just ran over a cone in that construction zone and did not slow down.
Driver: Go fuck yourself.
Me: Excuse me?
Driver: I said go fuck yourself.
Me: Wow, do you talk to your mother like that?
Driver: No, you are not my mother asshole.
Me: Wow, um well, I was concerned because you were swerving and hit a cone and well, I'm on a bike and you could have hit me.
Driver: Well I didn't.
Me: Okay then, I hope you know that your car can be a weapon so it would be great if you paid attention while you drive.
Driver: (Shrugs and drives away)
I am old enough to have been through several different stages in my life and at one point in time not so many years ago I probably would have responded with equal or greater venom than the driver displayed. In other words, I would have acted like a jerk.
However a few years ago I came to the realization that I did not want to get riled up or angry at people I did not know. After all, what good was it going to do for me to yell at someone I do not know and more than likely will never see again?
So I guess the moral of the story, or my hope, is that people will be civil to one another - venom does no one any good. Being a jerk also does no one any good and if you do make a mistake, own it, or at least be open to the premise that a person you might have riled up or angered might have a point that is worth listening to.
I admit it, I break traffic laws all of the time on my bike, but I do try to be extremely aware of what is going on around me when I do so. For example, if I come to a red light and there are no cars or pedestrians in sight 90% of the time I will roll through it. If I get ticketed or hurt, it's my fault and I deserve it.
If I was in a car I would stop 100% of the time at a red light. I guess I am guilty of situational vehicle ethics. I do know one thing, I never want to be guilty of intentionally being a jerk.
Okay, I'm done with my rant - feel free to comment . . . . the less venom the better =)