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Cyclists Misbehaving

“There is nothing wrong with the world except for people misbehaving.”

Think about it. If people behaved themselves, there would be no crime, no wars. No need for armies or police.

There would be no need to lock our doors, and we could leave our car or bike anywhere unlocked.

Utopia of course, a fantasy world that will never happen.

Here is a comment on the bikes vs. cars situation in New York City from a Jack Brown, a former bike store owner no less.

I think his words sum up the situation probably as good as any I have read.

"Cyclists can be anywhere, at any time: on the sidewalk, riding the wrong way down the street, and you have no peace. The anarchy that has been allowed to prevail is astonishing.

According to butterfly theory, according to chaos theory, I am sure that the level of emotional and psychological damage wrought by the bicycle far exceeds the damage done by cars. The cumulative effect is equivalent to what happened on 9/11."

I think the comparison to 9/11 is a little strong, however, he is talking about “Emotional and Psychological” damage, not actual physical harm being done. The fact that cars have far more potential to do physical harm than bikes is not the issue here.

Pedestrians are not being mowed down in large numbers and killed or seriously injured by cyclists, but the fear that it could happen causes emotional stress, In the same way that living in a high crime area causes stress.

Like living in the constant fear that you could catch a stray bullet at any time, it the fear that is real, not the odds in your favor that you will never actually be shot.

The problem is being caused by a minority of cyclists, just as a minority of people misbehaving can turn a community into a high crime area. No one notices the dozens of cyclists riding in an orderly and proper manner along a street or bike lane.

It is the cyclist brushing past you on the sidewalk at 15 or 20 mph that you notice, or the one who blows through a red light and you don’t even see until he flashes past the hood of your car. It is not the fact that either encounter was not even that close, it is the emotional stress caused by the shock, the surprise.

The stress causes fear, a fear of what could have happened. Fear is then transformed into anger, it is the natural human way of coping. Pretty soon just the sight of a cyclist makes a person angry, and there is a loss of sympathy for the cyclist’s vulnerability. An attitude of, “If these maniacs don’t care for their own safety, why should I care?”

I don’t feel by writing here I can change the situation, anymore that I can stop wars or crime, all I can do is speak to those who do care. Half the battle is understanding the other person’s point of view and trying to understand why some pedestrians and motorists are angry with all of us.

Know that the fear and resulting stress caused by this anarchistic minority is all too real. Fear breeds anger, and anger breeds hate.

I refuse to live my life in fear, I will not ride my bike in fear. By not riding in fear, I am not riding in anger. Knowing that the motorist’s anger towards me is basically born out of a fear that he/she might hit me, is in a small way comforting.

And by riding in a responsible and courteous manner I am soothing the fear, thereby calming the anger. It is one of the few things a responsible cyclist can do.


Footnote: I wrote this piece in 2011. My question is, has the situation in New York City improved in the last eight years, or has everyone accepted this as normal behavior that is not going to change?

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Reader Comments (11)

Not gonna change. The perpetrators here in Denver are not Moulton blog readers. They are riding however and wherever they please and our disregard for their behavior is encouraging to them. They feed on it. It's worse here than it was in 2011 but by degree; the behaviors are the same. Pedestrians hate cyclists and no wonder. Drivers hate us and who can blame them? The sheer brass of young urban riders today is amazing. Until you realize that no one's ever told them that they were doing anything wrong.

June 24, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMaynard Hershon

I thought people up here in Boston are feisty but NYC is a different matter. It looks like slowing down for red or riding down a one-way street the right way are signs of weakness, a bit like using indicators when driving in Boston.

I got this very nice book recently (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/may/25/cyclogeography-review-jon-day-cycle-courier-london), here's a quote from the writer Iain Sinclair 'There are a few times I've been driving through London... surrounded by packs of sort of aggrieved respect-demanding cyclists.. It's like driving through wolves'

June 24, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDavid B

I will stop using a Stop sign as a Yield sign, shortly after motor vehicle owners stop driving like idiots who drive with their eyes closed.
Bike riders who ride on the sidewalk, or who blow through Red Lights, without slowing, are almost as bad as drivers who decide to "teach" bike riders a lesson.

June 24, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBill K

Hi Dave,
I agree with the other commenters and you as well. Here in LA I feel the big problem is people staring at their phones ( electronic leashes) and not paying attention to where they are going whether its's driving, cycling, walking or any other activity that involves movement and others. And it's not age, gender or race specific. Everyone is guilty if they do it. The worst offenders are the ones who knowingly break the law and don't seem to care. I was riding home the other day on a residential street and a young woman stepped out from behind the front of a parked van right in front of me and guess what? She was looking at her phone and not looking to the left for oncoming traffic ( me). I just missed her as I was already half way past the van and I couldn't see her because the van blocked my view. I honestly think she needed to check he underwear as I was moving about 22 mph in a tailwind. She screamed in fright and I slowed up, turned around and went back and said to watch for traffic instead of her phone ! This is more common than one might think. The other big issue I see more of is drivers literally not stopping ( not even slowing) for stop signs !!! I took a local bus awhile back and the bus stop was at a stop sign. I started counting the percentage of drivers actually stopping for the stop sign. My estimate is 2 in 10 drivers ( 20%) slow and roll or actuall come to a full stop. Sad !!!!

June 24, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

Dave, I take the opposite view. Just as motorists have done, cyclists need to normalise the expectation that at any time you might be hit by a cyclist.

People have become habituated to "every road is a toll road" since motorists kill so many people with such great abandon, and it's rare to find someone who's much bothered by that. Sure, there are activist groups whining about the death toll not just from direct kills but from pollution and "wah wah geez get over it already" is the response. The idea of reducing the toll is treated very seriously, but actual action is in short supply. What there is mostly focuses on making it harder for motorists to kill, rather than stopping the killers from motoring. It's like addressing mass shootings by making bulletproof vests mandatory.

Cyclists need to do the same. Quit frightening people, get out there and maim the ones you don't kill. Soon we'll live in a happy world where it's widely accepted that cycling is indeed dangerous... to others.

June 24, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMoz in Aus

I've never been to NYC so I can't say. Being from Minneapolis we have the misbehaving cyclist too. I remember even honking at one and he got all mad at me (I cycle a lot). I felt I needed to because I respect the rules for the most part. I run a stop sign if there are no cars and if I have a clear view of the intersection. Is that grey area or would you stop at a stop sign when no one is around? Thanks.

June 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJames Lantz

@Bill K: what does the "Stop sign as yield" have to do with motorists driving as idiots? I can assure you that even if you stopped at each stop sign drivers will still drive like idiots. You can't control what others do; you can control only what you do, and I'd rather follow the traffic rules than act as though the rules don't apply to me as a cyclist. Unless of course the laws in your area specifically allow cyclists to use the Stop sign as a yield; they don't in my area.

June 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMike M

The law is the law, no matter who you are or what you are riding or driving or walking running taking the dog for a walk, Matters not Obey it. My best advice to any cyclist IS ride on bike paths IF possible and NOT on the bloody roads. Cars now are almost fully automatic now, with all the safety devices, we are no longer needed to pay attention when driving one, Just listen for the beep beep beep when you are about to hit something.

June 27, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterjohn crump

Car drivers always session me out.
Yclists, only a little.

July 9, 2019 | Unregistered Commenteryo yo

I don't know New York, but I have been listening to the new podcast 'The War On Cars' done by 3 NYC cycling advocates. One episode in particular (#18 'Breaking the Law') discusses cyclist behavior, with one side advocating scrupulously obeying laws for public safety and goodwill towards the cycling community, and another leaning towards breaking laws sometimes having a purpose of showing where bike infrastructure is needed.

Personally, I obey traffic laws fairly well (compared to a lot of cyclists, I think). Stop signs in residential neighborhoods I treat like yields; if visibility is good and no cars are around I'll just roll them. If a car is around I will conspicuously stop to demonstrate I just want to share the road and take my legal turn like any other vehicle.

Red lights I always stop, except 3-way intersections with no road to the right.

Sidewalks I avoid, except for a few situations where it makes a big difference; and when I'm on them, I roll at a calm 5-10mph, never pass a pedestrian from behind (so few pedestrians in CA anyways), and slow to 3mph to go past pedestrians that see me coming.

July 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRubeRad

the situation in NYC is that these days cyclists fall into 3 broad categories: 1) people riding the "citibike" bike share bikes, many of whom are tourists, riding on the sidewalks, wrong way down one way streets, turning and weaving randomly, and generally not behaving week, through either ignorance or deliberation.
2) food delivery bikers, doing all of the above, just on silent electric bikes at 20-30 mph
3) regular a-hole bikers who seem to view themselves as above the law, or at least the traffic laws.
there are a ton more bieks on the streets in NYC now than in 2011, and between bike sharing, technological speed increases and sheer density, have increased the jerk quotient to intolerable levels.
and don't even get me started on the pedestrians!

July 17, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterdave a

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