My “10 Rules” post at Commute by Bike continues to elicit strong reactions – this one, by Dottie at Let’s Go Ride a Bike, takes issue with my “macho” tone and the potential it has to turn people off from taking up bike commuting. The numerous comments to the post largely agree that I’m not very nice.
However, other than anti-helmet rationalizers or those reacting to a strawman version of my “10 Rules” (“he says always break the law, and never signal!!”), most of the comments are simply taking issue with my “tone.” I’ve never thought of my tone as “macho” – more like “direct.” I’ll plead guilty to not being one for sugarcoating.
But I wanted to address and clarify a few specific points raised by Dottie and the commentators:
Encouraging more riders. I’m all for more people riding, but the genesis of my 10 Rules post was the number of riders I see who fail to adapt to riding in the city. You need to ride differently than on a path or in the ‘burbs, for your own safety. Every day I see riders who scrupulously honor the traffic rules while doing dangerous things. I don’t want to see more riders like that.
Rules for Enjoyable City Riding. Some commentators proposed writing these. Not a bad idea, but they’re going to be very different for US cities than, say, Copenhagen (where most of my 10 Rules would not apply). But if they don’t incorporate the safety basics of I’m harping on, it’s not going to be very enjoyable.
Riding on Side Streets Rather than Arterials. A good idea; I do it for the first mile or so of my commute, but after that I have no choice but to take the main roads. But – riding on side streets has its own issues. In my neighborhood, as in urban areas across the US, the side streets are narrow, lined with cars and have uncontrolled intersections, many with poor visibility. Taking the lane on these streets is imperative for safety, but I’ve been honked at more than once for so doing.
On Bike Infrastructure. I love bike infrastructure. If I could ride on a car-free path to work, I’d do so in heartbeat. But that’s not going to happen any time soon. What I don’t love is DUMB bike infrastructure, like downhill bike lanes. They’re unsafe to ride in, but when you take the lane drivers get frustrated that you’re not in “your” lane. Seattle is starting to see the light on this – some recent repaving at the top of Capitol hill resulted to a two-block stretch of Pine Street having bike lanes uphill and sharrows downhill. That’s some well-thought-out bike infrastructure.
Riding aggressively. Maybe I should have said “assertively.” The UK study I cited (“Are Women Cyclists in More Danger than Men?“) – and my own observations from years of daily riding and driving amidst bicycles – is that being too meek is dangerous. But I see it all too often. This is the message that all of the “Rules” are trying to reinforce: riding in the city requires thinking about your own safety first. That doesn’t have to be scary or offputting, but it does mean being willing to take the lane and be critical of traffic rules that aren’t optimized for your safety.
Helmets. There’s no “heated debate” about whether it’s a good idea to wear a helmet. Anyone who chooses not to wear one should fess up that they are making a conscious choice to add to the risk they take. And that’s fine; I’m no advocate of laws requiring helmet usage. But it’s disingenuous for those already riding to argue that wearing a helmet does NOT increase their safety.
Spandex in the City. Good lord, no.