Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How To Ride Your Bike in Traffic

OR: I Hate Everybody On the Road, But I Still Obey Traffic Control Devices

I live in a fairly large city.  You've heard of it.  Somehow or another, it's made it onto a few "best of" and "most friendly" kinds of bike ranking lists, though it's most often listed as "up and coming" on those lists.  This translates as, "biking here still fucking sucks, though not as much as it did 5 years ago."  The city is full of aggressive, stupid, willfully ignorant, and most importantly, selfish drivers.  The kinds of drivers who will hold up 4 lanes of traffic in both directions so they can poorly execute a K-turn to nab a parking spot that ends up being too small for their fucking SUV anyway.  Like that.

Riding in the city is like Thunderdome.  There is nothing relaxing about it, you cannot let your guard down, and there is a source of aggravation at every single intersection and most stretches of road in between.  This is not a diatribe against drivers.  I own a car, I drive a car, and goddamit, sometimes, I even enjoy driving.

This is not a diatribe against cyclists, though in this city, they are at least as often a source of aggravation as the drivers.  But the fact is, it's much more difficult to seriously hurt somebody else when you're riding a bike as compared to if you're driving a car, and cyclists are my tribe.

I am also not going to regurgitate a bunch of sanctimonious shit about how noble is the bicycle and how relaxing is the commute by bike, and how you should do it because it will make you a better person.  Is all that true?  Well, yes.  Does saying that shit make you sound like an insufferable pedant?  Goddamned right it does.  And you know what is not likely to get more people riding bikes?  Insufferable pedants.

No, what I'm going to attempt to do is explain why I follow traffic control devices in this sea of anarchy, for reasons that are less often articulated by the insufferable pedants out there.

The last intersection I cross to get home is a big one, and because this is an Up And Coming Bike City, making a left through this intersection on a bike is fucking impossible unless you get on the sidewalk and use the crosswalk signal.  So I'm almost home, pull onto the sidewalk, and as I usually do, I swing my bike around the pole that has the walk signal button on it.  When I do this, I wind up pointing straight across the cross walk, so when I get the signal, I just let go of the pole and pedal off.  It also means that, as I'm swinging my bike into position, it looks like I may be darting into the intersection.  As I was making this maneuver the other day, I happened to make eye contact with the driver of a cement truck as it went past me.  I heard the tone of his gigantic engine change, heard the brakes, made eye contact, and I saw the absolute terror in his eyes.

Because he thought I was pulling out into the crosswalk.  He thought he was about to commit vehicular manslaughter. 

This is why I obey traffic control devices.  Because it's an attempt to meet a benchmark for predictability, and when you are predictable, you are safer.  The terror in the drivers eyes was because, if I had proceeded into the intersection, against the traffic control device, I would've been behaving in an unpredictable manner.  I would've taken him by surprise, so much so that he wouldn't have been able to do anything and he would've squashed me.

Let me reiterate this: When you are obeying traffic control devices, you are behaving in a predictable manner, and behaving in a predictable manner makes you safer.

It's like interacting with wild animals: no sudden movements.

Now, am I saying I've never rolled a red light?  Of course not, I'm not a fucking traffic angel.  But when I do, it's after I've stopped, surveyed the intersection, and ascertained that there are no cars around.  That's right.  If there are cars, even if they're half a block away, I stop.  Because that's what's expected.  Because that's predictable behavior.  Because, dare I say it, that is respectable behavior, and isn't that we bicycle martyrs are always harping about, being respected? 

Well how the fuck can we expect to be respected if we don't behave in a respectable manner?!

And this is why it drives me crazy when I see cyclists blowing stop signs.  You're fucking it up for everybody.  Drivers don't see individual cyclists misbehaving.  They see a culture of disrespect for the law, and it pisses them off because if they behaved like that, there would be consequences.  You do not earn respect by pissing people off.

So just ride your fucking bike, and for fuck's sake, stop at the fucking stop signs.

1 comment:

  1. Preach it!! Nice explanantion - it matches my 2 wheeled philosophy to a tee.