Sunday, May 2, 2010

Bicyclist says it's hard to obey traffic laws

From the NY Times:

Perhaps looking for a new challenge, I’ve been attempting something unexpected in New York City bike-riding behavior: I stop for red lights.

The reasons for this are not as obvious as you might think. While it is true that my running of red lights in the past has led to one big traffic ticket and one court summons, fear of retribution is not the main thing.

Nor is concern for my own safety the primary reason. My legal record notwithstanding, I’ve never been a hell-bent rider. Certainly, I didn’t want to hit anyone. And, yes, I believe a bike-friendly city deserves friendlier bikers — but these, too, are ancillary reasons.

No, for me, the real reason for stopping at red lights — seriously, not even right on red! — is simply to see if it can be done.

Frankly, it is not easy. In the old days, reds meant merely coasting for a second, looking left or right and charging through. If I lingered even a moment too long waiting for the Midtown traffic to clear, I was sure to receive the scorn of New York’s bike messengers. One even gleefully shouted, as he passed me by, “Amateur!”

Now, forget about it — I might as well be an alien. First of all, I am the only one. I have never seen another bicyclist waiting at a red light simply because it was red. Children ride past me and snicker. Bankers, with their suit-legs neatly clipped, pedal by on their folding bikes and cast silent derision my way. Even gray-haired matrons whiz past me, the sprockets of their three-speeds clicking out a steady refrain — an accusation, really: chump chump chumpety chump chump chumpety chump chump.

Still, there are compensations. Cab drivers roll down their windows to chat, inevitably remarking, “You are the only one, the only one.” Moms with strollers seem to like me, and sometimes tell me so. The sight of police officers no longer makes me wince. Relaxed on my saddle, one foot on the curb, arms folded across my chest, I can enjoy just being still for a moment. I can appreciate angles of buildings never noticed before, or vistas down avenues like dreamscapes.

Photo from Wired


Anonymous said...

I bike to work from Bayside to Jamaica Estates all the time. I stop at red lights. Losing your momentum is a pain, but somehow getting slammed by a car that's (hopefully) traveling the speed limit seems like it would hurt more. I think it just has to do with an attitude that's permeating the country lately - "those rules don't apply to me". Whether its yammering on your cellphone while driving, running reds when no one is looking there has been a change in the society.
When my uncle came to visit America from "the old country" years ago I remember him just laughing incredulously that people actually waited at a red light when there was no oncoming or cross-traffic. He thought it was silly, but probably what also made our country great. Used to be calling a fellow American a liar was an insult too, nowadays it's damn short of a badge of honor to be able to lie and get away with it.

Anonymous said...

what the hell is exactly so hard here ?

Kevin Walsh said...

Part of my objection to the Bloomberg bike paths has been that he is catering to people who will not obey traffic regs. I walked down Broadway from Greeley Sq to 23rd, which has a dedicated bike path, complete with a separated island; nearly every cyclist I saw blew through red lights and made me wait,even though I had the green.

Adam807 said...

This is exactly why I hate city bikers. I get nearly run down in Midtown at least once a week. Often they're running a red light and on their cell phone. And on the very rare occasions when I drive, I live in fear of hitting them. If this is the attitude maybe I won't worry about it so much.

Anonymous said...

When i was a cop,i loved banging out the cyclists for blowing red lights as much as the asshole livery drivers.It became one my priorities when a spandex wearing fool hit my neighbors dog,and never stopped.The dog died a week later,and my neighbor was never the same.Rot in hell you selfish scumbag!

Anonymous said...

i dont believe a bike messenger said that, just a stereotypical trope. absurd. the main issue is all the space cars take from our lives. a few feet of bike lane is not the issue. cars, parking, roads, craziness. enough of the bike complaints, it is ludicrous.

Queens Crapper said...

See I don't understand that last comment: "the main issue is all the space cars take from our lives."

Pedestrians walk on sidewalks. Cars and bikes use the street. The problems happen at the crosswalks. More often, cars have to wait while a never ending line of pedestrians cross the street. In my opinion, we need more turn arrows so everyone knows when it's their turn to go. Not that bikers will pay attention to those.

Queens Crapper said...

A bicyclist hit Miss Heather's husband yesterday.

Lino said...

"More often, cars have to wait while a never ending line of pedestrians cross the street. "

Well, why not just run 'em down.

Cars are holy you know.

Queens Crapper said...

Kind of like bikes hitting pedestrians on the Pulaski Bridge.

No one said cars are holy. But being around them would be less dangerous if we had more turn signals.

Anonymous said...

I have deliberately stood in the way of these pissant miscreants. Tuck your left foot down and put your shoulder up and watch them fly. A good 6 or 7 feet. For the cyclists that obey the law - thank you. For those that dont - be a traffic 'regulator.' Not recommended if not physically able.

Anonymous said...

"I have deliberately stood in the way of these pissant miscreants. Tuck your left foot down and put your shoulder up and watch them fly. A good 6 or 7 feet. For the cyclists that obey the law - thank you. For those that dont - be a traffic 'regulator.' Not recommended if not physically able."

Just get one of those collapsible batons and entend it into the spokes.

Anonymous said...

Bicyle encounters: walking on the crowded sidewalk, a guy about 25 or 30 on a kiddie-sized bike having all of fun of a kid half his age weaving in and out of people on the sidewalk.

In my car at 1am, I have my turn signal on, and I'm making a right turn, some guy about 60 on a bike keeps rolling on from behind me. No lights, dressed in black from his neck to his shoes. I nearly hit him and he's wondering what just happened.

Anonymous said...

We don't need more "turn arrows", we need more drivers using their damn turn signals. And we need bikers to be more considerate. I was walking along Ocean Parkway (sidewalk) yesterday, which has a long-established bike path, and had to dodge bike riders who were riding down the middle of the street on the "local" car lane. What more do the bike riders want???

Anonymous said...

If you stick an object in someones spokes,you'll probably get locked up for assaul2,is it worth it?2

Anonymous said...

As said before on NYC its a me me me city where cars run red lights every minute at Nassau and McGunnis as well as many other busy areas, and bike couriers ride like complete idiots. Believe it or not you would never see cars or bikers get away with this behaviour in L.A.
Cars stop at lights and bikers do to otherwise the tickets start flying and the offense goes up from there. NYC has always been a mess and every individual never thinks they do any wrong traffic violations.

Erik Baard said...

I generally stop at red lights. There's a pretty strong element of self-preservation to that behavior. On quieter outer borough streets I can't say I am Puritanical about it. I rarely ride at breakneck speeds, and always recognize that pedestrians are the highest in order of vulnerability and therefore deference.

Red lights serves multiple purposes. The three greatest are 1) keeping intersections clear and safe, and 2) preventing an upward acceleration of cars, and 3) preventing drivers from "zoning out." Biking speeds generally plateau pretty quickly, and on the downhill most bikers brake to avoid putting themselves at risk. Bikers also don't glaze over as much as drivers (and I condemn iPod wearing while biking).

With only one applicable right light function (clearing intersections), bikers can reasonably treat red lights like stop or yield signs, and in some places that is the law. We have much less mass and acceleration than cars, and therefore less force of impact. That said, there is no excuse for recklessly weaving among pedestrians, even when so often they cross against lights, treat bike lanes like sidewalk extensions, or or jay walk.

Education is needed all around, as well as enforcement of laws that fit reality.

Erik Baard