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« Horse Play | Main | Some I remember »

Enforcement or Education

I clearly remember coming to the US in 1979 and within a week or so I was invited on a bike ride.

It was early one Sunday morning, as bike rides tend to be. There was not much traffic, and we had only ridden a couple of blocks when we came to a red traffic light. I stopped and everyone else kept going.

The reason I stopped, it was what I had done all my life. At a very young age I was taught the rules of the road in school. Especially the ones that applied to pedestrians and cyclists.

This was my rude introduction to cycling American style. Soon after I witnessed people riding bikes on sidewalks, on the wrong side of the road, red lights and stop signs were completely ignored. I was surprised, even shocked, because in England at that time I had never witnessed anyone else riding in this fashion, neither bike enthusiasts or the general public. (I understand it is different now.)

As I see it, when people get on a bicycle, they don’t see themselves as the driver of a vehicle, but rather they are simply a Pedestrian on a Bike. (POB) And just as pedestrians walk where ever they please, they ride a bike in the same manner.

The reason I come to this conclusion is because whenever I see someone riding with complete disregard for any rules of the road, I think, ‘These people probably own a car, or at least have driven a car at some point, and they would never drive a car in this fashion.’  They must believe that the rules of the road don’t apply to bicycles.

I still stop at red lights, stop signs too if there is someone waiting ahead of me. I never ride on the sidewalk or the wrong side of the road. Why? Not because I am a perfect law abiding citizen, but it is what I was taught as a child.

The reason the majority of people don’t kill each other, or steal each other’s property, is not because we fear law enforcement or prison, it is because our parents and teachers taught us moral standards. In other words, education.

On the other hand, give a child a bicycle and send him out with no guidance what so ever, and he will ride that bike where ever and in any way he pleases. He gets away with it as a kid, because he is just a kid, and no car driver wants to hit a child. But what he learns as a child he carries into adulthood.

He learns about momentum, and how stopping and starting again requires effort. I witness so many cyclists on arriving at a road junction will not stop. If there is no gap in traffic they will turn towards traffic, or turn onto the sidewalk if that is the direction they need to go. I have seen people on bikes ride in a circle at an intersection, rather than come to a complete stop and wait.

In large cities like Chicago there are now so many cyclists that it is becoming a problem. I quote from one article, “There are getting to be so many cyclists, and so many are being killed or injured, something has to be done.”

Law enforcement in Chicago has stepped up the issuing of tickets for cycling violations, and now there are cries of unfairness, because more tickets are being written in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods. Does anyone consider that low income African Americans and Latinos, are being forced to ride bikes for economic reasons?

Law enforcement is not the answer anyway, any more than incarceration is the only answer to the crime problem. Education is key. Start teaching cycling proficiency in schools, and when issuing tickets to offending cyclists, give them the option of a hefty fine, or attend cycling classes over several weekends.

That would be both a deterrent and more useful. Motorists "Dooring" cyclists and other infractions involing cyclists, should attend the same weekend courses on road safety as the cyclists.

Also in large cities speed limits should be lowered to 20 mph. and enforce that. It is not that cars and bicycles don’t mix, it is the difference in speed that is the issue. Cyclists, even one’s riding badly are not the main problem, it is simply one of too many people in too small a space. We can’t all have the luxury of driving cars at high speed.


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Reader Comments (11)

Its bloody common sense, You can NOT win, if you collide with a vehicle. I also am amazed at the very same thing. Laws are laws but life and death is more important.

March 28, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterjohn crump

A guy in my area just ended up with broken neck vertebrae and smashed face when a dog on one of those reel-out leashes veered in front of him. You can talk all you want about the idiotic dog owner, but the bike rider is the one with the mountain of medical bills and lost weeks from work. As John Crump says, running red lights and thinking the cars will stop is a foolish proposition. These days, every other driver seems to be looking down at a cell phone.
One thing I wonder these days is whether there's also a "Strava Effect." That GPS eye in the sky tracks your speed and puts it out for public consumption; how many riders are becoming even more reckless in pursuit of some segment PR. Where I ride, I feel as if I'm seeing more riders bolting in front of oncoming cars with very close calls.

March 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEd

Hi Dave, When I was in elementary school ( about 4th or 5th grade) we had bicycle safety classes for the whole school ( it was a public school). But today, the "Entitlement " people feel it's their "right" to ride any way they choose. Also, some people just plain don't Give a Shit!

March 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

What you've observed here is the irony of our "nation of laws" being generally lawless. Americans love to tell people what to do, but hate being told what to do. We have a Nation of Malcontents- almost everyone who came to this country were unhappy where they came from and remained unhappy here.

The overriding attitude of entitlement to pursue happiness by any means necessary is manifest many ways. Just look around at the behaviour of most motorists for example: who obeys speed limits? Of course this attitude is evident among many cyclists as well. One could add politicians and business moguls to that list. The roads are a Wild West Show. The myth of the frontier is alive and well in the name of "liberty'" and "freedom." It's a game to see how much one can get away with- it's the American Way.

March 29, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermike w.

"Treat others as you would have them treat you", has, more or less, become but a "Golden Oldie".

March 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTonyP

This is a reader’s letter to a Buffalo newspaper:

Perhaps you know that cycling is coming back in Buffalo to its former standing. With riding a bicycle on our city streets there is great danger connected. Many motorists when they see a youth on a bicycle think that he has no right of way and shoot in front of him without regard for life or limb. This is only one of the very common discourtesies extended to bicyclists by motorists.

Recently while cycling in Toronto for one week I was quick to realize what a polite motorist is. I was extended several courtesies which put the motorist to discomfort. Also, I noticed how polite the cyclists (of whom there are a great many in Toronto) were to the motorist as an individual. When making a turn they would extend their hands and when a red signal was approached, wait for it to change and not proceed through as they do in our fair city.

The catch is, this is from 1935.

Things are the same. And as for this whole Bicycle Movement trend, it is interesting that a synonym of Altruism is Liberalism, the result of which governments’ “promoting cycling” has made things worse.

After all, American’s attitudes haven’t changed in 80 years.
When Trump said “America isn’t so innocent”, he was right.

March 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

I also began cycling in the UK in the 1950s and was shocked how bike riders in North America ignored simple traffic laws. Perhaps it's because they weren't enforced. One glaring example is lights at night. In the UK a headlight andn taillight were mandatory and the cops even got after you if your taillight was attached to your saddlebag instead of solidly to the frame. In Canada I think only reflectors are required and that's not enforced. As for stopping, I'm a big advocate of the track stand and feel the "Idaho Stop" is even better.

March 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

My employer gave out cycling jerseys with a big bold company logo to employees in the cycling club, but informed us very clearly, when we are riding with the company logo on our backs, we must scrupulously obey all traffic laws.

I am (I think) very good about obeying traffic laws and improving public opinion of cyclists; my one big exception is coming to a stoplight at a 3-way intersection with no road on the right. In that case I'll roll straight through as there is no risk, and I imagine drivers in cars don't feel put out. If I ever get ticketed for that, that would change my behavior. So far I've never done it (knowingly) in view of a police car.

March 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRubeRad

I think this comes down (in part) to bicycles being regarded in the USA as a toy.

To grow up American means to suffer until you get your first car. When you're little, you learn to walk, then ride a tricycle and finally a bicycle.....which is a toy you can use to go places (If you like), but you're really waiting for when you're about 16 and can get your license and drive. Then you're in a *real* vehicle.

Some of these people then switch to cycling for the exercise it offers, but it's still a toy to them. They want to ride fast and not stop for any reason, and why should they stop? It's a toy, it's not a mode of transportation and is not subject to traffic laws.

Even the people who use bikes to get around because they cannot afford cars or have had their license revoked still probably consider it a toy that they have to use because they have no other choice.

The minority who voluntarily choose to commute and get around on bikes make the effort to learn how to safely do so on the roads. For most people that means following the same laws as cars. They try to make sure that car drivers know what they (the cyclists) are going to do, with hand signals, etc. They also make sure it is easy for the drivers to see them.

These are the people who have moved from considering a bike a toy to thinking of it as a genuine mode of transportation.

This may also explain why things were different in England before you left and have changed now. If I'm correct, at that time in the UK cars had not entered the social psyche like they had in the US. Most people used bikes as vehicles and got around on them - treating them like any other vehicle. Now, people in the UK are more focused on their cars and the bike is slowly being relegated to the status of a toy, giving rise to people riding around with scant regard for the road laws.

March 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterYohann

I feel the need to respectfully disagree with this point. I too cycle in the UK but being 27 years old I didn't have the luxury of experiencing roads with a vastly reduced number of cars and traffic lights.
I try to treat red lights on a situation by situation basis this means I end up going through about half of all red lights I encounter. I believe this is entirely safe and improves traffic flow. These conclusions, I think, are borne out by the few examples of this behavior being written into law, namely in Idaho and in Paris.
Its safer because it allows the cyclist to keep moving and not have to take off while cars are passing at tight junctions and it allows free space for cross traffic maneuvers shortly after lights.
Jan Heine has an article about attempting the Idaho Stop in Oregon and comes to the conclusion that it can be entirely safe.
With regard to efficiency I view the roads as analogous a jar full of golf balls. No more balls can be added but there is plenty of space for sand, cyclists are the sand, cars the golf balls. Expecting cyclists to behave like cars makes traffic worse on roads that are already saturated. The best example of this I can think of is the protest on "the wiggle" in San Francisco where riders brought the city to a standstill simply by obeying the law.
With respect to one way streets, every one way in Brussels and Paris has the sign "Sauf Biciclette" (except cycles). This just works.
You imply cycles are vehicles but think of themselves as pedestrians on bikes. I don't think either is true, They (we) are neither pedestrians nor vehicles. We have the mobility, field of view and size of pedestrians and the speed of urban traffic. The laws in the UK and US don't consider cycles as it's own class of vehicle. I think it should and I think my behaviour is safe and I think it's a safe and desirable practice as shown by the admittedly small amount of evidence available. There are ways to courteously run red lights.

April 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterConor

I agree with Conor. Also, Dave, I would like to point out that most cyclists who behave stupidly on the road are likely to be newbies. Cycling has been gaining in popularity and trendiness in recent years -- as I'm sure you have noticed -- and so tons of adults are out on bikes who 1. began riding regularly as adults, and 2. have not been doing so for very long.

It takes a little while to figure out how to do things intelligently. I learned how to ride a bicycle intelligently in urban areas, through experience. Not through "rules of the road" or any sort of bicycle-related moral education. I think it's useful to point out, as Conor mentions, that there does not exist a single set of "rules of the road". There are many such sets of rules, and in many places there might not be any agreement on what they are, or what they should be.

April 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterWill

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