Bikers are a menace

The other day, I was hit by a biker while crossing the street. He came out from behind a bus, barrelling at full speed, even though he was approaching a red light. As he tried to stop, he flew over his handle bars, head-butting me in the side of his head with considerable force. I’m basically fine, though the side of my head is still sore.

As I often tend to do, I extrapolated from my own experience to the systemic issues at play: why is the solution to urban congestion to add even more individually-piloted vehicles, which are more unpredictable than cars and which put their riders in greater danger as well? Perhaps it would be better if there were more dedicated bike lanes, etc., but from my experience, bikers chafe at such restraint — indeed, many are arrogant, reckless, and entitled. They want to be treated like a car, at least until it inconveniences them.

I understand that biking is a superior option for many people. I know that urban congestion makes buses, which are often the only transit alternative given the inadequate rail infrastructure of even the most transit-friendly cities, intolerably slow in many cases. I confess that the main reason I don’t bike in Chicago is because I’m scared of biking in traffic. Etc., etc., etc. — basically, I’m not telling you to stop riding your bike, so please don’t respond as if I am.

What I am saying is that the negative side-effects of urban biking under the current transport regime are a case study in how individualized solutions (“You don’t like the bus and don’t want to drive? Ride a bike!”) are not solutions. The real solution would be for the roads to be completely emptied of cars, at which point the only vehicles on the road would be buses (piloted by professionals and generally more predictable) and there’d be plenty of room for devoted bike-lanes.

And of course, given that our elites are unimaginative and unresponsive, probably the only viable political strategy is to build up a grass-roots biking movement that will create pressure for such changes… Sigh — go ride your damn bikes, then.

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22 Responses to “Bikers are a menace”

  1. jonathan Says:

    I knew you’d come around in the end.

  2. Mikhail Emelianov Says:

    In central Vienna bike lanes are actual small roads next to normal roads (not lanes painted on the main road), they have their own signage and lights – they intersect with main roads, of course, but form its own infrastructure. Bikers are very disciplined in using them and a ton of people bike without danger of being hit by a car. Of course they also have subway and trams, and considerable investment in public transportation. But bike lanes are something too…

  3. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    The experience of places in Europe where cycling in uncongested bike lanes and cities suggests that you’re not correct here, whereas like London (much like the US cities) try to have it both ways ending in massive amounts of cyclists being injured. I have to admit that I am a bit offended by your blanket identification of cyclists as “tending” towards some stereotype, but you did just get in an accident with one so fair enough. I’d probably do the same. It is often difficult, at a physical level to deal with sharing a lane with a bus that keeps overtaking you and then cutting you off, but there are manarchist types who get real reckless with it. I don’t expect to be treated like a car. I expect to be treated like a bike. Meaning… at stop signs the cars need to stop because if I make a complete stop at each sign I’m going to end up killing myself physically, while the driver of the car … you know… presses down on a pedal. This is one of the biggest problems, the confusing and contradictory rules of the road imposed upon cyclists as if they are cars. I’ve given up cycling in Philly though. Very few cyclists appear to use lights here and they ride much the same way these east cost animals drive… like assholes. What we have here is a perfect storm of European-sized streets, with American cars, and total resistance to creating anything resembling a decent cycle system.

  4. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Building parallel infrastructure for bikes is not “slapping bikes on top of a system built for cars.” That would be an acceptable transitional demand.

  5. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I have edited the stereotyping sentence. I apologize.

  6. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    No need to apologize. Like I said, you just got in an accident with one of the assholes. I get it. Actually, it wasn’t even “you getting in an accident”. An asshole hit you with his bike by being an asshole bike rider. So, yeah, again, I get it.

  7. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I don’t know how to handle this — someone in a comment session is responding to me as though I’m a human being with natural emotional responses? I think this might be the first time it’s ever happened.

  8. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Ha!

    Well for the record, aside from the discussion of European systems that others noted, I wasn’t disagreeing with you. Only trying to fill out the picture a bit more. Clearer cycling laws that actually take into account what it means to ride a bike would be really useful (as it stands we have artificial expectations based off of bikes-as-cars logic). As it stands, we’re both inside and outside the law, with various cultures within cycling that set up their own customs. For instance, I’m guessing the guy who hit you was on a fixed gear, which has it’s own mythos around it (I’m convinced that many people who ride fixies are acting out an essentially masculinist fantasy of riding a motorcycle. Their bicycle is symbolically a motorcycle to them.] My own offense, which is really quite minor, is because as a cyclist my natural inclination is to be defensive too.

  9. beatrice marovich Says:

    As much as I support urban biking politically (Transportation Alternatives does good advocacy in New York), I have to say that the whole citi bike thing scares me a little. The other day I, similarly, was almost hit by a biker as I was crossing the street. I was in mid-town Manhattan, on 7th Ave, which is maybe four or fives lanes of one-way traffic. Really, really, thick and busy traffic. Tons of taxis picking people up at Penn Station. A really unpleasant place to be alive, let alone to be a pedestrian or even a driver. So I start walking across the street and, all of the sudden, almost out of nowhere, a guy on a citi bike came barreling through the red light, swerving sharply to miss hitting me, and the 20 other pedestrians who were about to cross the street. He actually looked surprised to see us: like someone who’s never ridden a bike down 7th Ave. in Manhattan. And, of course, he wasn’t wearing a helmet. I don’t think I’ve seen one person, on a citi bike, actually wearing a helmet (though there are no reported deaths from citi bikes and apparently only like three injuries since the program started in the summer). I suspect that this guy was in a super big hurry to travel 20 blocks or so, didn’t want to waste time waiting underground for a train, and didn’t want to waste time trying to catch a cab. So he grabbed a citi bike and made a helmetless mad dash uptown. I like the idea behind citi bike. But I feel like in reality it’s doing a lot to add to the “getthefuckoutofmyway” aggressive traffic pattern that dominates both the roads and sidewalks in New York. Ironically, though, the absolute worst place to be a walker in NYC is near Penn Station, around 5:15 p.m. on a weekday, when a bunch of guys in suits are running (yes, running) like madmen to catch the next train (mass transit!) back to Jersey or Long Island. Talk about aggressive traffic. One of those guys is definitely going to knock me over, one day. And I already know that, whoever it is, will definitely not stop to ask if I’m OK. Because then, he might miss his train.

  10. Hill Says:

    You can force a bunch of assholes into full communism, but they’ll still be assholes.

  11. Hill Says:

    APS, your analysis of fixies is dead on.

  12. dbarber Says:

    “the way these east cost animals drive.” nice.

  13. Matt in Toledo Says:

    I used to bike to work here in Toledo, where bicyclists are much less frequent than Chicago. I was supposed to right on the right side of the right lane, but after a few close calls, I started riding on the ride side of left turn lanes. I found myself to be much more visible there. Of course, this also meant I was more visible to people yelling colorful things like, “Get off the road, fag!” One time, a car pulled up alongside me and said, “Get off the road.” I was about to give my usual GFY response when I looked over and saw it was a cop. A cop in a car was telling me to get off the road when Toledo forbids bicycling on the sidewalk. So I get where a bit of the bicyclists’ defensiveness comes from. People being assholes to you doesn’t excuse being an asshole, but I get where the adversarial arrangement between drivers and bicyclists comes from.

    I’d be curious to hear the width of the rights-of-way in the European communities where car lanes and bike lanes have entirely separate infrastructure. Is it wider? That could present a problem since current infrastructure is arranged completely around cars. Not just the width of the road, but the easements for utilities situated right next to the road. This is especially problematic in urban settings with zero lot lines and very little room for change.

    One thing I’ve noticed is a lack of research that supports change. What I see in Toledo is bicyclists are rare enough that they get away with doing whatever they want. If there were more of them, we’d have more success implementing biking into driver’s ed and familiarizing everybody with how things should work. Then bikers (and pedestrians) would be safer and we could maybe co-exist a little easier. But without much research going on – or at least research not being successfully publicized – I’m not sure people know the benefits of biking or facilitating biking.

    I’m sorry, I have a lot of thoughts on this and am therefore all over the place. I’ll just stop here.

  14. Ruth Marshall Says:

    My take on bikers in Toronto (no, it’s not about crack-smoking) is that what Adam’s described isn’t simply a matter of very poor policy and inadequate infrastructure for bikers, coupled with hopelessly inadequate public transport. It’s also the ways in which this situation of biker vs car leads to a biker ethos, which I have to say (as a biker) is agressively self-righteous (yeah, I know that’s a canadian thing too) and often coupled with a sense of impunity. As someone who bikes often (but not when it’s minus 10 and there’s 2 feet of snow, cos that’s just stupid. buy some skis.) but is also a taxi-driving single mom for whom a car is actually necessary to her sanity and children’s well-being, I’ve seen it from both sides. Agressively trying to take back the streets while occupying the moral high-ground in a context where the car is king and traffic is congested and dangerously oblivious of the biker (which is why I won’t let my kids ride bikes to school or dance or soccer), is totally understandable, and I’ve done a lot of screaming myself at cars who ignore bike lanes etc. But on many occasions it’s used justify all kinds of dangerous, if not suicidal biking behaviour, like biking at night the wrong way up a one-way street without a light or helmet, and then screaming invective at the terrified car driver who dares to challenge you because your life just flashed before her eyes and her bumper. I’d like to say these are isolated occurances, but they’re not at all. For many bikers, people who drive cars are strangers you can justifiably lecture about their morally reprehensible and irresponsible behaviour, while being yourself unbound by basic traffic rules, like red lights and street directions, never mind your instincts for basic self-preservation. Aside from really, really annoying sympathetic biker-drivers like myself, it’s grist for the mill for bike-hating populists like our crack-head mayor and his supporters who rail about the latte-drinking bike-riding downtown crowd, whilst removing the few bike lanes we have.

  15. Kara Says:

    I am a cyclist, and I know a lot of cyclists, and I’ve never heard of bike lanes being described as “restraint”, or cyclists complaining about too many bike lanes. There are people who ride bicycles recklessly. There are people who drive cars into three year old children crossing in a designated pedestrian zone at a stop sign (this happened last year? in Chicago). I don’t think it’s fair to call cyclists a “menace” without calling in those who drive vehicles, too. Bike lanes are the “real” solution, and most cyclists are grateful for those that exist. Most cyclists are also careful to signal clearly and respect drivers and pedestrians on the road, but when constantly threatened with 2,000 pounds of metal vehicles must necessarily ride defensively – or get hit. Running a blind red light, however, is stupid for anyone regardless of what method of transport they’re using to do so.

  16. Saturday Link Encyclopedia and Self-Promotion | Clarissa's Blog Says:

    […] “The negative side-effects of urban biking under the current transport regime are a case study in h….” I agree completely. Urban bikers are an enormous problem in big cities. […]

  17. Larry Bierman Says:

    I live in central Norman, near the University of Oklahoma. The older part of town has the advantage of alleys. With garage apartments on the alley, most of the alleyways are paved making a natural system for bicycles.

    I live four blocks from the courthouse where I work and have biked to work every day for years. At 67 the little exercise this gives me is wonderful.

    The city has painted designated bike lanes, but I find them crazy because they do not take into consideration the storm sewer drains, which are like traps for bike tires, or other road edge hazards. Bike paths along the highway through the polo fields are marked by signs (thanks to the bike lobby) but the roadway is narrow, cars frequently exceed the posted speed limit and the shoulder consists of a boggy bar ditch.

    As a cyclist I am careful to the extreme, though I do not wear a helmet. The literature on helmets is not conclusive. For short trips on slow streets it is probably just as well not to be encumbered by a bulky headwear.

    Sorry about your encounter with an “asshole”. Be thankful you were not run over by a bus.

  18. Christopher Rodkey Says:

    This doesn’t really contribute, but I’ll share anyway. I almost ran over the then-dean of the U of Chicago Divinity School, Richard Rosengarden, with my 1996 Pontiac Sunfire, on 58th between Kimbark and Kenwood, back when I was a student there. The Jovial Fellow was going the wrong way down a one way street like some kind of idiot. I am not sure he realized that it even happened.

  19. ambzone Says:

    Seeing as pro-car anti-biking sentiments whipped by the media made it possible to elect a bike-hating right-wing crack-smoking nutjob as the mayor of Toronto, in what world are bikers not allowed sweet unadulterated moral superiority.

  20. Ruth Marshall Says:

    yes, i was saying that i give them the moral superiority, and as i biker, i also take it. but it doesn’t mean i’m a bad person because i have to drive my kid to soccer, nor does it give me license to ignore the basic rules of the road when i’m on my bike. if i run a red light when i’m in my car, i deserve to get a huge fine or even have my right to drive revoked. riding wherever and however you like may be taking back the streets, but it’s a stupid and dangerous way to make the point.

  21. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Kara, Yes, cars are infinitely worse, and in an ideal world, private cars simply would not be allowed in urban areas.

  22. Chris Bonner Says:

    That’s cyclist, thanks. Bikers are guys who wear leather pants.


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