Thursday, August 10, 2006

Bike Editorial Okay Until the End

A Chicago Tribune editorial today encourages bicyclists and motorists to coexist on city streets. They make some good points, particularly that traffic laws are too often flouted by cyclists and that many drivers are ignorant of safe cycling practices. Of course this is nothing new; they could probably rerun the same editorial every summer.

For what it's worth, one reason I do not like riding in the city is my fellow cyclists' behavior. Not only do they make me look bad by association (which affects how drivers treat me), but nothing is more annoying than having to pass the same red light-running idiots over and over because I obey traffic signals and they don't. I am a firm believer in "equal rights, equal responsibilities," a mantra that says cyclists who want respect on the roads must obey the laws. So I can understand some of the complaints of motorists regarding bicyclist behavior (oddly enough, I find law-breaking cyclists much more irritating when I am on two wheels than when I am in a car).

On the other hand, when a motorist is riled up about having to "wait" behind a slower-moving cyclist, well, I have no sympathy whatsoever. I don't care if you're late for work; you're just a bully in a steel cage if you can't respect the rider's right to be there and accept that maybe you'll have to spend an extra 10-15 seconds driving to work. Studies show that for all the whining from motorists, they are rarely impeded by bikes for much longer than that. Besides, as soon as you aggressively swerve around that bicyclist and scare the hell out of him or her, you'll have to stop for another of Chicago's gazillion stoplights or stop signs anyway (I am only slightly exaggerating -- one local street has eight stop signs in one quarter of a mile, including four three-ways with block-long, dead-end streets).

The Tribune editorial strikes a sour note at the finish: "Let's try not to kill each other." That line would make as much sense in an editorial about wolves and sheep. When was the last time you heard about a cyclist killing a motorist? I suppose it has happened, but the Trib's statement implies a false equality. Motorists kill cyclists all the time; that's the reality. Most times it's accidental, but sometimes it's not. A car is a two-ton weapon in the hands of an impatient, road-raging driver. I suppose they thought it was a cute statement to write figuratively, but I've read about too many dead cyclists to ignore its literal sense.

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