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« Find another route | Main | Can a 10 year old ride to school? »

At what point does bicycle friendly become unfriendly?

When one thinks of countries like Germany, Holland or Demark we hold them up as being the epitome of bicycle friendliness.

However, in this lengthy article in the German publication Spiegel apparently they have the same cyclist behavioral problems as anywhere else. Cyclists making their own rules, riding where ever they please. Ignoring red lights, riding on the sidewalk, or the wrong way on the street, etc., etc.

Cyclists are becoming more aggressive as they grow in numbers. One cyclist in Munich tried to stop another riding towards him on the wrong side of the road. Instead of stopping he punched the 43 year old on the arm and kept on going. The cyclist who thought he was doing the right thing was left with a bone fracture.

A typical experience from a car driver’s perspective is described as stopping at a red light and have cyclists pass on either side, some ride straight through the red light, others stop and block the way for both cars moving forward and pedestrians in the crosswalk.

Civility has gone and there is an attitude of every person for themselves. The writer suggests there is a sense of anonymity whilst in traffic that applies equally to cyclists; it is no longer necessary to be encased in steel and glass.

There is a “Me” attitude that can switch elegancies according to the mode of transport. A person will curse out the cyclist who gets in their way driving to work, and then the next day the same person on a bicycle will berate the driver who cuts him off, or the pedestrian who steps out in front of him.

That evening while strolling though the city he will become enraged at the cyclist who buzzes by on the sidewalk.  And at any time this same person is likely to engage in any one of these behaviors himself.

Even in Denmark, a country always looked upon as a cyclist’s haven; they are not without their problems according to this article. Some cyclists ride too fast, ignore traffic lights, and so on and so on.

I’m not sure what the answer is. I feel it is not a just traffic planner’s problem, one of more bike lanes, and enforcement of the rules. It is a social issue of everybody getting along with everyone else.

Every time I watch one of those nature programs on Public Television, and I see the behavior of primates in the rain forest. I realize as far as the human species may have come technologically, it doesn’t take much for us to switch back to those primal instincts.



Reader Comments (10)

I wonder if it is not so much a problem with the cyclists as it is a problem created by an ever increasing car culture in places where it was historically absent.

September 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTodd S.

I'm cycling a lot in Paris now, and I have noticed that car drivers, including taxi drivers, are a lot more tolerant of cyclists than they were a few years ago. My observations are unsystematic and anecdotal, but they suggest that the increase in cyclists that has occurred here recently (including the four-year-old VĂ©lib' bike sharing program) has made drivers more aware of cyclists and more willing to deal with them politely.

And that's not because cyclists behave well. They do all sorts of dumb things. But the motor scooter riders are worse, so perhaps they're the focus of car drivers' ire! (I'm only half joking about that. On my last taxi ride in Paris I was appalled by how poorly motor scooter drivers tended to behave.)

What I have noticed on sidewalks is that pedestrians seem a lot less willing to make room for one another than they used to be. Everyone seems wrapped in his or her own little bubble, often aided by earbuds.

But cyclists? I don't see any significant signs of this car vs. cycle tension that is supposedly building in European cities.

September 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Ogilvie

All laws require public buy in to a large degree. Vehicle restrictions are no different. Motorists generally speed, but at a 'safe' rate because they believe they are good drivers and can handle the speed and there is lax enforcement. Cyclists violate a number of laws out of ignorance and the issue of anonymity and lack of enforcement. They must also feel that some one will look out for them. We can't put a cop on every corner to enforce laws. There needs to be some social pressure for people to behave in a civil manner.

I'm not sure what the full answer is but education has to play a part and rigorous enforcement of laws regarding dangerous practices should help.

September 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRalph
September 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Graves

RE Robert Graves post. 4 Denver police officers fired for excesive force, had jobs reinstated with back pay by there union! JUSTICE HUH! Be a cop and break the law it seems no problem. Untill laws are changed and penalties stiffened this WILL go on. Sad sorry state of affairs.

September 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGRUMPY Crump

Fascinating article. The accompanying photographs are instructive.

One does wonder:

Of the 12,500 cyclists stopped by the Munich police this summer, 60 percent had violated traffic rules.
why the Munich police stopped the other 5,000 riders (40%).

Got to love the imaginative strategies of the German automakers as they seek ways to maintain the supremacy of cars on the roads. I don't think the idea of a transponder in our expanding national security state is going to be particularly welcome by cyclists, however.


The more numerous they [bicyclists] become, the more they come to resemble the vilified motorists, as they face some of the same problems of tight parking, congestion and inconsiderate speeders.
is insightful. People are people, everywhere they go, in everything they do, everywhere in the world. And, that really is the point, isn't it? Whether behind the wheel of a car, on a bike, or on foot, individually we contribute to the collective experience we share. As infrastructure struggles to keep up with/accommodate growing populations - particularly - in urban settings, the sense of being further crowded really does not bring out the best in us. While tit for tat is the oldest, and most effective of the game theory strategies, it has some genuinely perverse qualities as the size of the group in which it is played expands.

September 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbystander

The old DARE, Mocho I can do anything better than you can. Every day I have riders pass me like I am standing still (Maybe I am) But it seems like a challenge to ride a bike. The same applies when driving a car, My car is faster and better than yours, I paid more than you, I have often wondered why the costly fast cars have blacked out window? Seems to me you would WANT to be seen! Why Oh Why do cyclist think they are above the law? Do they think they will just vanish or out run the police? Maybe when they are in the ambulance OR hearse they will see how stupid they are. P.S Dave and all I am taking a vacation for a few years good luck to you all

September 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGRUMPY Crump

I find the whole 'reckless cyclists' cant tiresome from drivers, who don't know better, and from cyclists, who should. You perceive them as more reckless than I do, but never mind that; there are likely a similar proportion of personality types on bikes as behind steering wheels. Me, I'd rather be hit by a bike, thanks.,

September 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMr.S.

Sad but I believe like Todd that offensive-uncivil behavior became a broader problem with the incredible growth of the car culture and the emphasis on faster muscle cars. With mass transit replaced with higher horsepower and the anonymous status of driver with the "power of the pedal", sidewalk-personal civility was replaced with incivility which spread like a virus on our public pathways.

As explained by Enrique Penalosa, "the essence of the conflict is between car and people,... we can have a city that is friendly to cars or friendly to people, we can't have both" http://www.streetfilms.org/interview-with-enrique-penalosa-long/

The cyclist-pedestrian problem should be solved by a better trained front line of law enforcement which needs to address these issues with a better balance of financing priorities.

A culture that has vulnerability and face-to-face interaction between street travelers will help reverse these ugly trends. Understandably we can never replace jerks and the ME attitude with saints but it will be easier to eliminate anti-social behavior with more social interaction.

September 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJack

Yes, it is people that are jerks, not "drivers" or "cyclists" per se. That said, the only story of an injury in your post is one from a punch (already a crime). I'll take a jerk on a bike any day over a jerk in 2 tons of steel.

September 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMaxUtil

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