Friday, April 22, 2011

Recent encounter shows barriers to biker/driver peaceful coexistence

At about 3:30 Thursday afternoon, a group of boys, older teenagers, on bicycles road swooped down Cambridge Street toward Charles Circle in Boston. Rather than riding single file in one lane, they simply rode ten abreast with little care about the danger they presented, both to drivers and especially to themselves. Note, I said, ten abreast. They were feeling their oats and obviously took pleasure in controlling the street, which as usual was heavily trafficked. There was no way around them, and no way through them.

Most drivers held back and refrained from honking, thinking these crazy kids must soon come to their senses and move over.

But one frustrated driver tried to exploit a gap in the middle of the pack and go through it. It didn’t work out too well. The white car sideswiped a weaving cyclist, who flew in one direction, his bike in the other. The car never stopped or pulled over. Fortunately, the bicycle rider picked himself up, retrieved his bike and his helmet and, somewhat shakily, rode to rejoin the other riders in the pack, who had stopped not far from the Liberty Hotel.

At the very same time, our car radio was reporting the Mayor’s announcement of a bike sharing plan for Boston, putting 600 rentable bikes at 61 stations across the city. It’s to be sort of a two-wheeled Zipcar system, with reasonably priced memberships that, according to City Hall, may generate 100,000 trips a year. Trips under 30 minutes will be free. I’ve seen a bike-sharing plan work effectively in Miami Beach. Other Greater Boston communities have plans similar to Hubway, and they’re a great idea, great for mobility, health, and the environment.

Yesterday afternoon, in a surreal moment, as the bike gang temporarily took over Cambridge Street, Menino’s voice came over the radio in a surreal declaration “the car is no longer king.” Well, maybe so, but the car is still 2000-3000 pounds of steel and a couple of hundred horsepower, and the bike rider, no matter how oblivious or delusional, is a poor match for that. By riding irresponsibly, an errant biker can wreak havoc to himself and others.

Who’s out there teaching bikers that they have to follow the same laws as cars do? Who’s going to enforce the requirement that bikers have to stop at red lights, signal when they’re taking turns and otherwise obey the rules of the road? When was the last time you saw a police officer pulling over a bike rider for an infraction? Do we need licensure tests to make sure that cyclists demonstrate they even know the rules?  I hope not. We need Bikers and drivers to co-exist. The only way that will happen is if they both show their respect for each other by abiding by the law.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.


  1. As an avid city-biker who *has* been hit by a car (who did not stop, btw) and a driving commuter, I agree completely.

    There are too many bikers who don't ride responsibly and too many cars who seem to have a vendetta against their 2-wheeled neighbors. I've seen other cities where we co-exist and it's a wonderful thing.

  2. I drive and bike. I obey the laws and am extra, extra self-aware and cautious when I'm on a bike. I don't trust anyone but myself! I also don't trust bikers when I'm driving - often unpredictable, unfortunately.

  3. Exactly what danger did they present to drivers? Really. I want to know exactly how one of those kids on a bike represented a DANGER to the DRIVER.

    Also, let me get this straight: a driver tries a dangerous, illegal pass THROUGH a pack of cyclists and hits a child...doesn't stop...and your reaction is: "Who’s out there teaching bikers that they have to follow the same laws as cars do?"

    Is today reverso-day, whereby a minor infraction (not allowing other vehicles to pass) is a capital offense?

  4. Hey, nice job stealing those images off the web! Who's following the law, hmm?

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  6. Blah-blah-blah "it's all the cyclists' faults" blah blah blah "no respect for road rules." It's the same old mantra that's been repeated over the TV and airwaves since the Mayor's Office named a Bike Czar a few years ago and has since tried to make Boston a more bike-friendly city through implementing bike lanes and markings, sponsoring and/or supporting numerous cycling events and working extensively to make the bike sharing program happen.

    And it is a more bike-friendly city. What it isn't a city that has evolved past the holier-than-thou mentality that permeates the roadways on a regular basis, especially stemming from suburban and rural drivers less likely to live in areas with bike lanes and FAR less likely to have friends and neighbors who ride bikes regularly. In other words, less likely to have respect for cyclists.

    When the bike sharing program came up on WRKO the other day, several callers and the DJ said the same thing, "Bikers need to respect that cars are bigger." No kidding. But were roads built strictly for cars--um, no. Were tracks built strictly for trains? Yes. Then why is there a train-versus car accident an average of EVERY TWELVE MINUTES in this country because of an impatient driver?

    Yes, cyclists can be just as impatient, but 99% of the time cyclists spend their time steering CLEAR of danger. And while riding ten abreast can hardly be argued as riding safely, most defensive maneuvers that cyclists make are quickly construed by motorists as aggressive. Cyclists don't want to be doored. Drivers don't like running over potholes/glass/nails/runners; guess what--cyclists don't either! And cyclists shouldn't be honked at just because they want to use 1/10 of a travel lane to pass a slower cyclist in a shoulder or bike lane.

    The cyclists were certainly in the wrong for riding ten-across over a busy thoroughfare. But to suggest that the cyclist that got hit had it coming because the bicycle is smaller and much lighter and that "all" cyclists are on an evil, automobile-hating mission is ludicrous. Clearly all of the other vehicles on the road were able to exercise patience; what was this one driver's issue. The car clearly "won out" against the bike this time. But what about next time when the car goes up against a train?

    [sorry, minor corrections to original post]

  7. As year round city commuter I actually agree with the conclusion that we do need to have enforcement and training of bicycle laws (perhaps the graduated licensing system: Bike license, car license, heavy truck license- each being a prerequisite for the next).

    However I 100% with Bob Smith that I'm baffled that this was your takeaway from the incident described. These teenagers were being teenagers- bratty and entitled as many of us were when we were that age, and for this the white car's driver decided that he'd punish them by risking their lives making a very dangerous and illegal pass. And the result is that you are complaining about bicycle training?

    Additionally, I find it interesting that several of the sentences in your post could just as easily read as follows.

    "Who’s going to enforce the requirement that cars have to stop at red lights (saw 2 cars enter an intersection after the light was full red this morning right in front of me) , signal when they’re taking turns (massholes never do this) and otherwise obey the rules of the road? (like safe passing for example?)"

    "When was the last time you saw a police officer pulling over a car driver for an infraction?" (It's pretty infrequent- the police have other priorities.)

  8. I am not anti-cyclist and was surely not condemning all bikers. And I was definitely not condoning the action of the white car, who behaved dangerously and didn't bother to stop. I rest with my last sentence: co-existence is possibly only when both driver and cyclist respect each other and obey the law.

  9. Wow. You witnessed a violent crime, and your response is not to report it to the police, but to go home and criticize the victim in your blog?

    I really wish that, between your statements about how cyclists need to follow the rules of the road, you had included a sentence pointing out that striking someone with your car and then driving away is actually a rather sociopathic response to being inconvenienced, but it's not clear to me that you believe that.

    I'm sorry to say that knowing that I have to share public roads with people with your worldview makes me fear for my physical safety.

  10. I was walking down the street last night and I saw a woman in front of me. Rather than wear a burka, she was dressed in heels, a skirt, and a tight top, with little care about the danger she was in, both to rapists and especially to herself. Note, I said heels, skirt, and tight top. She was really feeling her oats and obviously took pleasure in tempting the minds of the men around her.

    Most men held back and refrained from raping her, thinking that crazy woman will soon come to her senses.

    But one frustrated guy in front of me started talking to her and tried to hug her and kiss her, and then as I watched, he punched her and dragged her off and raped her in the bushes, then ran away. Fortunately, the woman picked himself up, retrieved her purse, somewhat shakily, walked to the T station.

    As this woman was raped, Menino's voice came over the radio in a surreal declaration that "sexual assault is not tolerated in our city." Well, maybe so, but men are still 200lb and really strong, and the woman, no matter how oblivious or delusional, is a poor match for that. By dressing irresponsibly, an errant woman can wreak havoc to herself and others.

    Who's out there teaching women that they shouldn't dress slutty? Who's going to enforce the public decency code, not allow women to walk unescorted, not go out at night, and otherwise not make themselves a target? When was the last time you saw a police officer stopping a woman for showing too much leg? Do we need sharia? I hope not. We need rape victims and sexual predators to co-exist. The only way that will happen is if they both show their respect for each other by abiding by the law.

    Oh, by the way, I'm not anti-woman, and I was not talking about how all women deserve to be raped. Just the ones who ask for it by dressing like sluts.