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« The Times they are a Changin’ | Main | My Brooks Saddle: Butchered but not Blocked »

What’s wrong with this picture?

The above picture is from an article in the New York Times titled “Moving Targets.”

The piece focuses on the turf war on our roads and city streets between cyclists and motorists. Negative stuff, which I hate; however, the negativity is not all biased towards one side or the other.

As they say in show business, any publicity is good publicity; at least the press is giving considerable space to the subject and possibly, if we get enough of it, people will begin to see how ludicrous the whole “Us vs. Them” situation is. We are all just people trying to get somewhere or other.

With high gas prices, we are seeing more bikes on the road, which is a good thing. Or it would be, except we now have a bunch of people in the mix who often don’t have a clue. Look at the guy in the above picture.

The traffic light in the background is about to turn red, which means this person on a bike was trying to get across the intersection while the light was against him. His near side pedal is at the bottom, not up where it should be, ready to push off when there is a gap in traffic.

And look what he has on his feet, flip-flops. In the midst of his scramble to get across the street, he is likely to stub his toe or lose his footwear altogether.

(On a totally irrelevant side note, I’m curious, don’t young guys get in fights anymore? You can’t kick someone’s ass wearing flip-flops. You can’t back up, and you can’t run away; you are screwed all around.)

Behind the cyclist, a lady in red is down on her haunches taking a picture, in the middle of the crosswalk just as the light is about to turn green and the yellow car waiting is about to run her over.

Of course she is a pedestrian and they don’t follow to many rules, but when people get on a bike and act with the mentality and lack of responsibly of a pedestrian, they are a menace to themselves and everyone else on the road.

This is what we are seeing, just pump the tires up and off you go.

“You can’t ride a bike in the city as an adult the way you did as a 10-year-old in a suburban cul-de-sac,” he said. “I see people riding like children on a sidewalk, or going the wrong way down a street.” (Cyclists should ride with traffic, not against it.) Bike Snob NYC

Or they ride their bike as they drive their car, in other words paying little attention to what is going on around them.

“They pull out without looking at traffic,” she said. “They don’t signal.”

Well of course they do, this is how they drive a car.

A pandemic of obliviousness, ear buds, texting, further ramps up the tension. Recently, Steve Diamond, ride coordinator for the Morris Area Freewheelers, a New Jersey cycling club, saw what he called a trisect of irresponsible cycling: “A guy riding his bike without a helmet, talking on his cell phone, with his kid in the bike attachment behind him.”

Is there anything those of us who a serious about our cycling do, amongst all this craziness?  We could lead by example, and start by watching our own behavior.

"The ability of drivers and cyclists to trash talk and then disappear into the anonymity of traffic further poisons the atmosphere."

“Share the road” means just that. We all learned about sharing as a kid, if we are not prepared to share, how can we expect others to share with us?

I was out riding alone last weekend on a busy two-lane highway, with a shoulder. I dislike habitually riding on the shoulder; too many drivers have their wheels over the edge, while driving too close the vehicle in front. I was out in the lane where drivers can see me, and where they have to make a conscious effort to go around me.

However, at one point I could see traffic coming toward me, and was aware of a vehicle slowing behind me. I moved over on to the shoulder to let him pass; he was towing a large boat, and gave a friendly little “Beep-beep” as a thank you.

He had recognized that I had made an effort to accommodate him, and just maybe here is one driver who will see cyclists in a different light in future.

We none of us have control over how others behave on the road, be they cyclist, or motorist. However, as individuals we all have control over our own behavior. I always find I can be assertive as I ride, but still show respect for other road users. By showing respect, I get respect.

I am appealing at least for this time, that any comments on this post be positive. There was enough negativity in the NYT article, and we all have stories of how some Bozo in an SUV tried to run us down. The bike blogosphere is full of such stories.

What have you seen, or done lately that sheds a more positive light on this whole crazy situation? What ideas do you have to improve things? I don’t know about you, but I am growing weary of reading stories of cyclists being run down, attacked, etc. etc, etc.   

Reader Comments (30)

Let's see,
1) No Helmet or eye protection
2) 'Flip-flops' where shoes or sneakers belong
3) Attempting to cross an occupied, busy street ahead of nearby traffic light
Depicted individual is BAD for positive bicycling relations GLOBALLY!

August 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam Walling

Excellent post, and I couldn't agree more. There is far too much focus on negativity, which will only breed further negativity.

I had a recent encounter with a motorist at an intersection. I was in the center lane going straight, and he pulled up in a huge F450 to my right for a right turn. He looked over and said "You're crazy to be out here in this heat!" The heat index was 105°F that day. I could tell he wasn't mean-spirited, so there were no hackles to raise. We chatted for a while, and I told him that the weather didn't matter, I rode for exercise and to save money. He allowed as to how he could never do it, in spite of spending over $500 a month on gas, and really needing the exercise. I replied simply "If you really want to, you'll find a way." He nodded thoughtfully as the light changed and we went our separate ways.

It may not be the most poignant of stories, but it does highlight that if given a chance, we're all just people and are looking for connections, no matter where. Also, it shows that not everyone in huge pick up trucks has it out for us.

August 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDave

New York, New York, What a wonderful town. . . My rule is to simply pretend him a vehicle and behave appropriately. Stop for stop signs, red lights, yield when able, watch out for pedestrians. Wave at motorists (I always wave -- frequently astonished they sometimes wave back). Smile at old folks using walkers. Use a rear view mirror (very, very important).

Don't be saddened that many people don't obey traffic laws or seem to care about their fellow motorists / road sharing buddies. Just think how nice a world it would be if everyone picked up just ONE piece of trash. Trash? What trash? It would all be gone!

So don't fuss and just SET an example. Eventually somebody will decide to follow in your footsteps and soon . . . the entire world will follow.

August 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJames Thurber

I find that "assertive courtesy" works pretty well. You demonstrated that in your scenario - moving over to let someone pass. I'll often make the room, then wave the vehicle forward. That's assertive - I'm taking control of the situation and putting the motor vehicle where, and when, I want it. It's courteous - I can safely let the other driver pass me, so they can reach their destination a little more quickly, so I do. I maintain the control over the situation that I need to be safe, and the other person feels that I recognized them and valued their time. For me that's a win-win.

August 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Hopkins

Although he's wearing flip-flops and his cranks aren't positioned to take off, I think there may be some logic to the position of his bike when the photo was taken. Personally, when I approach an intersection with a red signal light, and I'm at the 'front of the line', I stop in or nearly past the crosswalk (if there's a crosswalk at all). I do this to give myself some room between me and the approaching cars behind me. Too many cars are slowing strictly based on the visual cue of the light, and won't see the bike stopped in the lane, and I don't want to get hit. It's technically a traffic violation, but I think it's safer.

August 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter331miles

Now that I'm out of London (where that sort of behaviour gets you locked up) I wave or say hi to everyone on my bike. Other cyclists, pedestrians, drivers, the odd startled cow or sheep, I don't care. I also pull over if that's the only way to let someone pass (and I find that people do the same for me), although I'll take the lane if it's not safe. And I always, always, always stopped for red lights in London, even when I was the only bloody cyclist who did. I even signed the stop at red pledge to make a public commitment - it's a UK initiative, but may there's a US equivalent?

Personally, I think that there needs to be more enforcement of traffic laws for both sides, rather as they did for drink driving - make it unacceptable not to stop at red (or to park in a bike lane). The laws are there, after all, it's just that they're being ignored. And it would make me feel like less of a twit, waiting at an empty pedestrian crossing with every other cyclist whizzing past me...

August 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commentertown mouse

The yellow car is also stopped in the crosswalk.

August 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGrump

> The yellow car is also stopped in the crosswalk.

True, but that doesn't make the cyclist's actions any more correct. Plus, it could be that the yellow car (looks to be a cab) is trying to make a right-on-red turn.

August 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterHal Render

I try to obey all traffic laws both while driving and while riding. It is suprisingly hard to do so, particularly while driving. I live and work in Cleveland and it almost seems that the people obeying traffic laws are the exception. How many people actually drive the speed limit or heaven forbid 1-2 mph below the posted speed limit? I know that I am not a perfect driver and that it is probably an impossible goal to attain, but I think it is very beneficial to try my best. Yes, it sucks when I'm doing the posted 50mph speed limit in a stretch on I-90, and it seems like everyone is zooming around me at 60mph or more. But it's really not entirely the case, I don't observe the people who are driving the speed limit, because they aren't catching up to me or flying around me.

I really try hard to obey all traffic laws when I'm cycling. I do a great job of it while I'm riding alone, but as soon as I'm with a group of riders on a training ride, stop signs suddenly become optional. I have to do more to address this, whether it's setting a stronger example within the group or just not riding with them anymore.

August 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercyclonecross

Check out the Honor The Stop campaign and wristbands:


"Honor the Stop is a not-for-profit community-driven campaign promoting safe, courteous and respectful use of roadways. Through a personal pledge to obey all roadway laws, the Honor the Stop initiative encourages honor and respect for those killed or suffering serious injury. No one group or individual is more or less important than any other. It is a simple non-divisive and non-partisan message for all, regardless of how they use the roads."

August 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterU.B.

oh, we still like to get in fights. it's just that with this knife and gun culture, you have to pick them a lot more carefully. for the record, i do not wear flip-flops outside the shower.

August 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commentertofu

When a car-driver does me a courtesy like yielding the right of way or properly signaling an intention to make a turn, I give 'em a little "thumbs-up" signal as I pass. It's a simple little thing, but it's a positive gesture and it acknowledges the respect and effective communication.

August 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjim g

Hal, there's no right on red in New York City.

Dave, today I rode my bike to the subway on my way to work. It was the best part of my day, so far.

August 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJim N

Nice post (again) Dave! I always TRY to be a goodwill ambassador on 2 wheels, whether on my road or mt bike. There are enough TWITS out there on both that give all cyclists a bad name. But I usually find my blatant acts of kindness are well recieved. Like you, I first off need to be safe when road riding on the shoulder. But I do try to remain aware of cars behind me, and do my best to give them as much room as possible, and always give a friendly wave when they in return give ME a nice safety zone while passing.

On the Mt bike, I routinely see equestrians (and hikers) on the trails I ride, and I ALWAYS stop well before they are to me and let them by (if they are coming towards me. If they are going my direction, I talk to them from behind...more so that the horse (or hiker) knows it's a person they hear, and don't usually get spooked that way). I find they are almost always appreciate of my efforts, and will also stop to let ME by, and I will often stop and chat briefly if they seem so inclined. A little goodwill goes a long ways in my book.

However I'm not a city dweller, so I can't imagine the anger that seems to prevail in that environment. I think a lot of the hostility on both sides is so entrenched that it's more of an education effort for the next generation. It's very hard to change long-standing attitudes and opinions, but it sure can't hurt to TRY!

I also try not to be so quick to run a red light or stop sign on the bike...ESPECIALLY if there are cars around, but usually my rides don't have much of either thankfully. I can surely understand both sides of that argument (it does seem silly to stop your bike for a red light if you are the only one there, but it also REALLY annoys the cars to see bikes fly thru when they are obligated to stop).

August 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

Hi Dave, I agree with you to show respect/manners for other road users. My commute starts at 4:30am and returns at 2:30pm. In the morning the road in West Los Angeles is wide open. I "could" get away with anything, but I don't. I dilengently ride as if I were in the afternoon jam. In returning home in the afternoon, I always signal and yield the right-of-way to others regardless if they are right or wrong. By projecting a safe and courteous mannerism on my bike I am sometimes rewarded with drivers "waving" me through situations which they clearly are in the right. Some even make an effort to move over and give me a little more space when they pass. When the "reward" is given I always respond with a friendly wave. Just the other day a man was stopped next to me at a light and asked how far I commuted. He told me he sees me all the time on my route and said he wishes other bike riders would ride like me. This was quite a compliment to me as I feel I'm just trying to be safe and courteous to others whether on the bike or in the car. "Treat others as you wish to be treated." It goes a long way and may even save lives. Brian

August 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLA Bike commuter

Yeah, I agree on the need for a balance of assertiveness and respect. As the previous commenter said, it's plain old manners. It's amazing the effect that a small wave of thanks and acknowledgment has--even if someone is doing something they should be doing anyway.

Your analysis of the photo is spot-on, but I couldn't find too much to complain about in the NYT article--I certainly didn't find it overly negative.

August 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTreadly and Me

...i find a certain delight coming up to a crosswalk all kitted up for a serious ride & there is some little old lady w/ a cane who wants to cross & she indicates that i should go ahead & i realize the cosmos has just given me the opportunity to make someone feel good about their day..."please, after you" is my usual response & you know, that little smile & look i usually get, in turn makes me feel good that i made such a simple but meaningful gesture...

...that being said, if it's some young clown on a cell phone who's not paying attention & lollygagging as they cross, i'm a different kinda guy...

...angel on one shoulder, devil on the other...story of my life...

August 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterbikesgonewild

Count the traffic offenses you make the next time you ride. When you become embarrassed, it is time to change the way you ride.

This of course requires that you find out all the rules that apply to bicycles. It is a good start.

August 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAuthor

There can never be enough enforcement of laws as they apply to motorists, cyclists and pedestrians, or any other laws for that matter. It would be impossible, even in a police state. A civil society has always depended on a shared standard of community and behaviour among people. Walk, drive or cycle enough in any major city and you can't help but conclude that this shared standard has largely broken down. It's every man and woman for him/herself. I've said it before, but as a long-time cyclist, I'm more afraid of other cyclists than I am of motorists at this point. I find that most motorists act reasonably if I do and if I signal my intentions. As for cyclists though, there is no basis to expect any kind of reasonable, predictable behaviour. At least it's possible to report bad motorist behaviour if it's bad enough, but not so with bicyclists. They quickly disappear into the urban fabric and they are always anonymous.

August 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPierre

Dave, you're not being a paragon of love and light yourself. I think the sentence starting "And look what he has on his feet" demonstrates your frustration a little more than necessary. Isn't there a better way for you to discuss suitable footwear while riding?

With bikes becoming a common form of daily transportation, it's no longer going to be just for people with a special interest in being the best cyclist. You can berate people for running red lights in busy intersections, but as 331miles points out, the cyclist in the photo might just be making his own little "bike box" like they have in Portland and other places.

August 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterErik Sandblom

..."Dave, you're not being a paragon of love and light yourself. I think the sentence starting "And look what he has on his feet" demonstrates your frustration a little more than necessary. Isn't there a better way for you to discuss suitable footwear while riding?...

...good god, man...if that was mr moulton's main concern, he wouldn't be worth the perpetually worthwhile "read" he is...& personally, i think that kind of footwear is less than appropriate on a bicycle, also...but it doesn't seem to stop millions of asians...

August 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterbikesgonewild

Bikesgonewild, Dave wrote "I am appealing at least for this time, that any comments on this post be positive. There was enough negativity in the NYT article" etc.

So that's why I pointed out that he's not above complaining himself.

Agreed, if nobody is allowed to complain there won't be much of a discussion.

August 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterErik Sandblom

Great post Dave but I have to disagree about not being able to kick someones ass in flip-flops. Mixed Martial Arts fighters wear only shorts in the cage and any one of those guys could kill the average person on the street with his bare hands.

August 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJason

Is anyone else puzzled by this article being published in the "Fashion & Style" section of the paper and not "Sports" or "Health" or "NY/Region"?

August 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNick Brown

I've noticed that I've become much more polite when wearing a Fat Cyclist jersey. I wouldn't want to do something that sends someone over to FC's site thinking anyone who wears an FC jersey must be a jerk.

The politeness carries over even when I'm not wearing an FC jersey. (But then again, I don't have a Rock Racing kit to test my limits. Honestly, If I paid over $200 for a jersey with an electric green skull on it, I might be pretty angry.)

I wave thanks at cabs that don't cut me off. I make eye contact with and say thanks to pedestrians who stop mid jay-walk when I come by.

I've figured that this is the easiest way to thwart pedestrians playing the "if I ignore the bike I can step in front of it" game.

I remind myself that on a summer evening you have to expect that your climb up the Brooklyn Bridge will involve a tourist or two in the bike lane breaking your momentum. There are other -- much better -- places to climb. And besides, the Brooklyn Bridge couldn't possibly count as a climb anyway.

Do I obey all traffic laws? Well, err, most. I stop at red lights, but if after stopping, there is no one around, I might go through. Will I ride on a sidewalk? No way. That's not riding. Do I dismount on bike paths if a signs say to? Probably not if I know the path, but if there's any bike or foot traffic, I'll certainly clip out and slow to a walk with a foot down.

In short, I'm trying to internalize that what goes around comes around. I'm not perfect at it, but I'm working on it.

And anyway, after a long hard ride, it just takes too much energy to get angry.

August 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterleroy

Here in Montreal quebec canada I am on a mission to use more "civisme" which is sort of a combo of manners and civic pride. I use a bike bell instead of obscenities, but do use the blood curdling scream when on the bike path and a doe-eyed and no-brained pedestrian is either blocking it or crossing against the light and risking my life. It seems to amuse the bystanders.

I have always 1) not blocked the intersection and 2) respected the general traffic laws/flow of traffic. That makes me in the minority.

August 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commentersid

...erik s...i think if you refer back to the exceptional vitriol that was aroused in response to the ny times article, you'll find that everything here, no matter the point made, is still handled w/ 'kid gloves'...

...just sayin'...

August 16, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterbikesgonewild

"You can’t kick someone’s ass wearing flip-flops. "

That is the funniest thing I've read all week.

August 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDan

Great post... I totally agree with promoting the positivity. I'm also writing about my biking adventures: Living Car Free. Don't judge me too much... I am still learning the ways of the bike world :-)

August 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNik

I was almost home from my commute, I was climbing the last hill when an older white van slowed down right next to me and matched my speed. I looked over and saw six Mexicans in it, the passenger window went down and I braced myself, got my hands over the brakes and was ready for something bad to happen. The passenger yelled “hey” at me, I ignored them just looking ahead hoping they would go away. They stayed right next to me and yelled “hey” again. I decided I better respond so I could at least look over and see what was coming, so I looked over. She then asked if I had come by the library in Bellevue (about 13 miles from where we were now) and I said “yes”. They all instantly broke out in laughter.
They explained that they saw me when they were leaving from the library and that they could not believe that I had actually made it all of this way before them.
It was a great exchange and I came away feeling really good about the fact that people do notice what we are doing.

August 22, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGordon
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