Pothole C (2)

A Note to Drivers from an “Aggressive Cyclist”

Really, KIRO7?  An investigation of “aggressive” cyclists?

Must be troll week.  But I’ll play along.

Apparently, “aggressive” cyclists are out flipping off drivers, running red lights and riding too close to pedestrians.

Guilty as charged.

But I think the nitwits at KIRO7 – who no doubt have never spent a day riding in the city, let alone commuting every day – need a little education in why “aggressive” cyclists do what they do.

  • The Bird!.  Me, I’m more partial to the “ass-slap”, as the times when I most want to flip the bird are when some impatient driver honks at me for taking the lane.  Is it rude?  Yes.  It it earned?  Yes.  If you’re a driver, and you get flipped off by a cyclist, there’s a 95% chance that you did something stupid, dangerous or rude to deserve it.  Just own it and try to be a better driver.

  • Running Red Lights.  Drivers need to get in touch with their passive-aggressive tendencies here.  Is it really such a problem that a cyclist just ran through a red light?  Does it affect you in any way, other than to offend your sense of law-and-order?   (Seattle pedestrians, cowed by generations of overly-hyper jaywalking enforcement, are complicit in this view)  Yes, cyclists occasionally run lights in dangerous ways.  But the vast majority of the time, what I see (and often what I do myself) is cyclists running through red lights when it’s safe to do so.  You see, traffic lights are designed for cars.  They’re not designed for bikes.  When you’re stopped on a bike in traffic, you are at your most vulnerable.  Red lights expose you to unaware right turners and red light runners in 4000 pound cars – all sorts of evil.  While there are plenty of situations where it’s safer to wait for the light, there are also many where it is better to ride through it.  Once you’ve ridden in the city for a while, you realize – as drivers and occasional cyclists don’t – that safety dictates taking what the philosophers call a critical view of traffic laws.

  • Pedestrians.  One critical element to riding in the city is to be predictable and visible.  Seattle’s pedestrians are neither; they dress in black and think nothing of scurrying into traffic after loitering pensively on street corners.  They also need to realize that cyclists need only 20 inches of space to get by them – which is, by the way, a lot less than a car.  We also want to preserve momentum; it’s what keeps us safe.  So we’ll ride in front of you, or ride behind you.  Just please keep walking in a predictable way.  And don’t expect us to stop for you, unless you’re in a large group.  Just keep walking.  You’ll be fine.

  • Bike Lanes.  Look, I know you think I should be riding in the bike lane.  But Seattle’s bike lanes suck.  They put riders right in the “door zone” of parked cars.  They’re often littered with debris, clogged with double-parked cars, or abruptly shut off for construction.  My daily commute includes less than 1.5 miles each way on 12th Ave, which has bike lanes in both directions.  And most days you’d need two hands, each way, to count the number of times I have to leave the bike lane for double-parked cars.  Riding in the bike lane also makes it hard for traffic turning into the bike-laned street to see you.  The downhill portion of 12th from Cherry to Yesler is –  much like the downhill lane on Pine – completely unusable without taking your life in your hands.  In short, Seattle’s bike lanes are unreliable and dangerous.  Sure, I’ll use them for climbing, when door zone issues and reaction time don’t loom so large.  And I’ll happily ride in them in other places where it’s safe to do so.  But drivers need to be prepared for cyclists to abandon the bike lane, and take the whole lane, whenever the bike lane fails us.  Which brings us to . . .

  • Taking the Lane.  For whatever reason, this seems to outrage drivers, even though in many places in the city we’re barely slowing you down.  I take the lane because it’s the safest place to ride.  It gives me the most options to avoid obstructions or one of Seattle’s famously-obtuse pedestrians darting into the street.  And I really don’t want you to try and “squeeze by.”  When you do, you radically reduce the bailout options, and increase the danger.  Riders have to be more aware, because we are constantly in danger of being crushed.  And drivers increase that danger when they squeeze by, or think we should ride right in the door zone – where we’re much less visible to car passengers, pedestrians and crossing traffic – to allow you to get ahead of us.  So hang back.  In the city, it’s not going to be for more than a few blocks.

  • Riding on the Sidewalk.  I’ll admit,  I don’t like riding on the sidewalk.  It feels wrong – even though it’s legal to do so in Seattle.  The thing is, it’s dangerous when done at speed, because of the lack of predictability and the overall cluelessness of Seattle pedestrians.  But it’s sometimes preferable to ride on the sidewalk for a block or so, in order to avoid construction or dangerous road conditions.  Or to execute a “Copenhagen left”, which is both safer and better for traffic flow in dense areas.  So don’t be offended at riders on the sidewalk – although it’s fair to expect that they ride slowly and courteously.

  • Sharrows.  Many drivers think cyclists need to ride in the middle of the “sharrows” found on Seattle streets.  But that would be wrong, because to do so would – again – put the rider right in the “door zone” of parked cars.  There’s also some unique quirk to Seattle roads that positions a pavement crack right in the middle of the sharrows.  Note to drivers: pavement cracks are bad when you’re riding a bike.  BTW, while some think “sharrows” is brief for “sharing arrows”, it’s actually short for “shitty arrows:” a way for the city to claim tons of “bike infrastructure” for the cost of a little paint.  Ultimately, sharrows are just a reminder that there will be bikes in the road.  Possibly taking the lane.  Nothing more.

  • Signaling.  I’ll signal when it’s safe to do so, and I think it’s useful to drivers, pedestrians or other cyclists.  But have you seen the state of Seattle’s streets?  It’s rarely a good idea to take a hand off the grips.

As with drivers, sometimes cyclists ride in rude or dangerous ways.  But a lot of what non-cyclists consider “aggressive” is just what’s required to navigate automotive infrastructure on a bicycle.  Ride a few miles on our pedals and perhaps you’ll have a clearer view.


2 thoughts on “A Note to Drivers from an “Aggressive Cyclist””

  1. If the Seattle area is insistent on ‘getting everyone on a bike’, then they need to teach people that when you use a bike for transportation, you need to learn to ‘obey’ the rules of the road, just as motor vehicle drivers. It is not like you are taking a leisurely ride on a bike path or trail. A bike is a moving vehicle, just like a car or truck, albeit slower. So they need to obey the same driving rules as a motor vehicle when sharing the road, even when in a ‘bike lane’. They also need to respect pedestrians, which have the right of way in Seattle. I have been a cyclist for many years, and learned early that when you are on the road and on your bike, other motor vehicles do not have to yield for you, like you were a pedestrian – you are not a pedestrian unless you are walking your bike on the sidewalk. Also, as a moving vehicle, you should not be ‘riding’ your bike on the sidewalk with other pedestrians. I have encountered numerous cyclists going to catch the bus, driving on the sidewalk and telling pedestrians to ‘get out of the way’. When I’ve told several of them that they should be in the street if riding their bike, they comment ‘there’s no bike land’. Tough! If a car drove down a sidewalk with pedestrians, they’d be arrested. If the goal is to get everyone on a bike, then they need to learn how to ride. I think licensing is a good idea because it has gotten out of hand, they have been coddled too long, and they are a danger on the road for themselves, drivers and pedestrians.

    1. I don’t think you read my post.

      And licensing? Please. In addition to cycling, this blog is about business, policy and the law. And as I’ve pointed out before, bike registration laws are bad business, and bad policy. The only people pushing for them are butthurt drivers who feel vindictiveness toward cycling should outweigh the policy negatives.

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