I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride it where I like

Dear everyone –

I’m sorry I have disappeared. I think that moving is a mild, mild insight into what it must be like to have a baby: it’s your one priority, you lose track of what day it is, and you don’t call your friends except to say, “Come see my new ____,” (fill in “baby” or “house”) or “Can you come over and help with ______?” (fill in “holding the baby so I can shower,” or “holding up this fixture so I can repair the shower”). Anyway, the rest of the world has pretty much disappeared since my vision has narrowed and all I can see is our apartment and all of the boxes.

As you might imagine, wedding stuff and/or planning anything that doesn’t involved cleaning, painting, or sorting boxes feels quite overwhelming, so I will deviate from my usual wedding discussion and talk about something else I feel very passionately about:

Bicycles.

Here are two recent updates from facebook friends of mine:

(oops, I spelled Acquaintance wrong, sorry)

(but I did not spell “hardcore” or “friend” wrong! stupid computer.)

Please excuse my crappy screenshots.

Here are my thoughts:

First, Acquaintance who I’m not still in touch with enough to say this to for real (sorry!): I “liked” your status because I was really, really happy that you got a ticket for breaking the law.  Yes, it may have seemed harmless to you, and in a lot of cases it probably is harmless to just roll on through a red light.  In fact, in a lot of cases it would be harmless for cars to roll through a red light – but you wouldn’t be nearly as surprised or angry about getting a ticket running a light in a car as you would on your bicycle.  And that is frustrating to me.

I am a bicyclist, and I stop at red lights.

I have been riding the streets of Boston for almost three years, and I have ridden most parts of Boston and several surrounding towns.  I have been nearly hit by many cars, and even hit one car myself when it turned left and stopped suddenly in front of me while I was riding at a nice clip down the street in the bicycle lane.  She did not look down the bicycle lane before making the turn.  Anyway, one time that I got in a fight of sorts with a driver was when he pulled into the bicycle lane, cutting me off.  “HEY!” I yelled – this is often the most clever thing I can think of to yell when some giant metal machine nearly runs into me – “WATCH OUT!”

To which he responded, “Well, you run stop signs and red lights, why should I watch out for you?!”

And here’s the thing – I get his point.  If I’m not going to follow the rules, why should he?

But here’s the other thing. I do follow the rules.  It’s you, Facebook Friend/Acquaintance of mine, who don’t follow the rules, and it’s people like you that friendly Guy Who Almost Ran Into Me sees every day when he is out driving his car, and it is seeing people blatantly ignore the laws that makes him feel okay about more subtly ignoring other laws, like the one where drivers should not stop in the bicycle lane.

I used to consider starting a blog just to rant about bicycling in Boston.  Thank you, Acquaintance, for reminding me to finally talk about this.

I used to say to myself that bicycling on the road is like falling in love: you try to keep your eyes open for whatever might jump out at you, but you pretty much just have to take a deep breath and trust that you won’t get hurt.

And sometimes you will.  Sometimes it will be a driver who doesn’t look when they open their door, and then your face looks like this:

photo by ellie leonardsmith

even though normally it should look like this:

photo by ellie leonardsmith

Sometimes it will be a pothole that throws you off of your bicycle, and then you look like Hardcore Friend up there.

But look, people: until bicyclists start following the rules, drivers are going to feel like they have as much of a right to ignore/disrespect bicyclists as the bicyclists feel they have a right to ignore the rules.

Stopping at a stoplight takes about thirty seconds.  Really, and often it takes less than that.  You can still break ahead of those cars after waiting, and not only do you lessen your chance of getting hit, you way lessen your chance of someone seeing you and instantly hating you.  And while I would never honestly wish pain on anyone, I do find myself thinking, “maybe a car will come screeching out and really scare that bicyclist who’s running the red light that I am stopped at.” Inevitably, this does not happen.  But the light changes, and I ride on, and I almost always pass the rider who ran the light.  Seriously, guys, you’re not saving yourselves much time.

If you are riding in Boston, and you run a light, and someone yells, “Bicyclists have a red light, too,” it might be me.  When I started riding around here, I ran lights for about a week after I’d seen lots of other riders do it, and I thought, “It can’t be that bad, everyone’s doing it.” And then I almost hit some little girl (who should have been using the crosswalk, but wasn’t – but it still would have been my fault) when she was crossing the street with her mother and passed through some cars stopped at the light.  And her mother said, “You had a red light! Bicycles have red lights, too.” And I have not run a single light since then. That one sentence changed the way I ride.  Do you want to hit some little girl in front of her mother?  Gosh, that would ruin your day. Not to mention hers.

Tell me what you think.  Do you ride? Are you afraid to ride? I could say a whole lot more about this, and maybe I will.  Do you drive and hate bicyclists?  Will you join me in reminding them that there are laws they should follow, too?  And is anyone interested in hearing more about this, or about how I have pulled over and had a conversation with every driver who has hit me?  Tell me, please.

me being way hardcore at my first bicycle race

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride it where I like

  1. your fiancee

    my only comment is that i now find myself yelling at bicyclists who break the rules…and i’m not a bicyclist, *at all*. thanks?

  2. i don’t disagree with you, but:

    To which he responded, “Well, you run stop signs and red lights, why should I watch out for you?!”

    this is a REALLY EASY question to answer, and the answer is: because if i hit you, you maybe get a dent in your car; if you hit me, i maybe die. just like it’s your and other cyclists’ responsibility to look out for and not run into little girls and other pedestrians, i believe it’s drivers’ responsibility to look out for more vulnerable road users–cyclists and pedestrians. (similarly, if you drive a bus or a big truck, you better be looking out for smaller cars, too.)

    obviously cyclists should take as much responsibility as they can for their own safety, and we need to be aware that our actions affect drivers’ images of cyclists in general, but i think we also need to question and be aware of some other things:

    1) there are idiot drivers out there, drunk drivers, careless drivers, drivers who run red lights, drivers who don’t signal or make illegal turns, etc, and no one makes statements like “those damn drivers, they don’t follow the law.” in the sentence from your entry that i quoted above, the driver told YOU that YOU run red lights… hello, that is false, insulting, and unfair!

    2) american road infrastructure is totally designed for cars. even bike lanes are designed for cars (they get those annoying bikers out of the way, you know? but, imho, they do not make roads much safer for cyclists). in some situations, i am willing to believe that running a red light is safer than waiting at an intersection.

    to answer your questions,
    i ride my bike for transportation every day and am planning a tour across the country this summer; i have been in one somewhat serious collision with a car (ambulance, broken bone, several months of physical therapy); i have since educated myself as much as possible about how to stay safe on my bike and i have a lot of Opinions about this stuff; i am not very likely to take bike safety advice from someone in a car; and i am always interested in more conversation about urban cycling.

  3. Some of my comments from a discussion with RoughIt today:

    I totally understand what you’re saying about bicyclists who should follow the rules. At the same time, it makes me really uncomfortable when Boston roles out an initiative to educate bicyclists without also doing something equally big to educate drivers and/or make the biking environment better. Because it feels too close to blaming the victim (i.e. here I’m talking about the victims of bicycle accidents, injuries, and deaths).

    It’s just… a touchy subject. On the one hand, I think it’s really important to educate our fellow cyclists, and I’ve felt the same frustration you have. On the other hand, sometimes it makes me uncomfortable to channel all that anger towards other cyclists, cause it’s like, We’re all on the same team! And, yes, they should be following the rules to help out our team, but… I don’t know, I guess it just makes me feel defensive for some reason.

  4. AG

    I’m afraid to bike on the road in cities. It’s scary enough driving around Boston sometimes! It also really bothers me when I see bikers who run red lights and who don’t wear helmets. I think that regardless of what you’re riding/driving, if you’re in the road then you should obey the traffic laws. As a driver it’s frustrating to have bikers in my lane since, obviously, they’re generally going slower than I can go in my car. I do, however, try to be aware of people biking, give as much space as I can when passing them, etc. I wish that the roads in this country were set up better for people to be able to ride their bikes. Maybe then I wouldn’t get as frustrated as a driver, and wouldn’t be as afraid to bike myself.

  5. Lisa

    Bravo! I totally agree with you! In addition to all of the compelling reasons you give above, I think everyone has an obligation to oneself to protect one’s own life, regardless of what the law says. I think about this every time a pedestrian walks out into the street without looking. Yes, he may have the right of way, but if I’m in my car (or on my bike for that matter) and I don’t see him and I hit him and he dies, well what good did his “right of way” do him??

    I rode twice this weekend (yippee!), and on both outings I was nervous the entire time, whether I was on the road with cars or on a dedicated path with runners, strollers, dogs, rollerbladers, etc. What scared me more than people who blatantly disobeyed traffic laws was the people who were totally oblivious to their surroundings. You never know who may dart out in front of you, so it’s up to you to ride as defensively as you can.

    Thanks for writing this!

  6. For the past couple of years I was a sporadic Boston biker, I went less than a mile along a route where I didn’t see too many other cyclists and it was infrequent for there to be a red light without scary traffic coming the other way, so I had NO IDEA what dangerous craziness passes for normal behavior until the past month when I started a daily Back Bay station to Cambridge trek.

    YIKES. Boston has huge issues with cars, bikes and pedestrians. It’s not going to get better until everyone knows the rules and they are enforced. Neither drivers nor cyclists know where they are supposed to be and when. Pedestrians just plain don’t follow any laws ever. I would guess that in terms of percentage of traffic laws followed Boston looks like this: cars>bikes>pedestrian, but everyone should be getting an F. If there is a break in cross traffic, I am almost always the only biker who waits for the red to change. So while it’s not fair for a car to assume I or you individual don’t follow the law, it’s pretty understandable when 90+% of fellow bikers consistently break them.

    Yeah, it’s super offensive that cars would try to give bikes advice, when the vast majority of drivers don’t have a clue. Even police don’t know, I’ve now on multiple occasions seen bike-mounted Boston police riding the wrong way down a one way. ACK! It’s clearly a problem that has to be tackled from all angles.

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