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In defense of reckless bicyclists

Posted: April 10th, 2015 | Columns, Featured, The Spoken Word | 2 Comments

By Hutton Marshall | The Spoken Word

We all know the types: those shaggy-haired 20-somethings flying down the street the wrong way — helmet-less, of course — pedaling straight through stop signs with no care for the safety of themselves or others. We can argue about how representative this biker is of the larger bicycling community, but there’s no use denying the existence of this stereotype. This person exists.

I’ll go ahead and confess: When I’m biking, I’ll roll through stop signs when it feels safe to do so. I don’t wear a helmet when I’m traveling short distances. Sometimes, I’ll casually swerve into the opposite traffic lane and see which cars want to play chicken. That last one’s a joke, but you get the point: Sometimes, I’m the type of person drivers shake their fists at.

(Photo by Hutton Marshall; design by Vince Meehan)

(Photo by Hutton Marshall; design by Vince Meehan)

Before I delve further, it’s worth addressing the cause of bicycle collisions with vehicles. I’ve heard drivers allege that cyclists are at fault in most bicycle-car collisions, and I’ve probably heard cyclists allege the exact opposite just as often. NPR did an interesting segment in 2011, “When Cars and Bikes Collide, Who’s More Likely To Be At Fault” (Thanks for doing the legwork on this one, NPR.)

The article cited three different studies. The two most recent studies found bikes and automobiles at fault roughly the same percentage of time. A study performed in Hawaii during the late ’80s found motorists at fault in approximately 84 percent of the incidents.

There isn’t a clear consensus drawn here. Thus, in what will be perceived as a slap in the face to everyone, I’m going to declare assertions of this a moot point on both sides of the argument. My guess is that the truth lies somewhere in between.

So what don’t we like about reckless bikers?

I’m one of those lofty we’re-all-good-on-the-inside softies, so I think a large part of the anger comes from a place of concern. Drivers don’t want to be minding their own business, obeying the law and out of nowhere, maim a cyclist breaking a traffic law. The experience would no doubt traumatize the driver.

Logic for requiring seatbelts is comparable. Sure, when a driver or passenger chooses to not wear a seatbelt, it’s themselves they’re endangering, but it’s also a law because it affects public safety. Say I rear-end a car where the other driver isn’t wearing seatbelt. Sure, it’s my fault, but what could have been a fender bender turns into a fatal accident because the other person flew out of their window partly at my doing.

Drivers, in a similar vein, want bicyclists to obey the law, because they don’t want to be involved in a potentially scarring accident out of the blue.

Despite what some construe as reckless behavior on two wheels, I’m going to put forth that I’m generally as concerned about the safety and wellbeing of others and myself as much as the average driver who’s upset about us reckless cyclists. The thought of getting hit by a car makes my two-wheeled Mission Valley commute tough to stomach some days. When I do get behind the wheel, I’ve heard I drive like a grandma, which I take as a point of pride.

When I’m on a bike, I run stop signs when there’s no one around, or when it seems clear that it would unnecessarily slow myself or the traffic around me down, because at the end of the day, these stop signs and traffic lights were designed for automobiles, not bicyclists. Cyclists are forced to adapt to ill-fitting, often arbitrary road rules, so I think it’s hasty to condemn us for resisting them.

Those who’ve read my previous columns probably know where I’m headed with this. We need road infrastructure that caters to both drivers and cyclists. Until that happens, everybody on the road will keep suffering the consequences

Since this column is the most personal part of the newspaper for me, I figure this is a fine place tell those of you who have suffered to the end of this column that this will be my last issue running Uptown News. It’s been a lot of fun, but I’m excited to move on to new, slightly more terrifying things. Those wishing to reach me after I depart can reach me at jhuttonmarshall@gmail.com.

—Contact Hutton Marshall (until April 17!) at hutton@sdcnn.com.

2 Comments

  1. Bikes Are Not Cars: Why California Needs an “Idaho Stop” Law:

    http://sf.streetsblog.org/2012/07/20/bikes-are-not-cars-why-california-needs-an-idaho-stop-law/

    A study conducted after the law was passed in Idaho found that bicycle injuries declined 14.5% the year after adoption of the law:

    http://www.bclu.org/jmeggs-TRB-IDAHO-AUG10.pdf

  2. […] “In defense of reckless bicyclists” (San Diego Uptown News) […]

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