Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Why it makes no sense to require bicyclists to wait at every light

There is hardly any group of population that irks auto-mobilists more than the spandex clad bicyclists in their pointy helmets, especially when they get places faster by breaking rules.  Vitriolic against bicyclists appears to be a largely American affair and probably has a lot to do with the fact that for a long time only a certain segment of the population could be found to ride a bike in the city and that segment, well, let's say it wasn't the most lovable cuddly group one could imagine. That group may mobilize feelings of inferiority or even hate in the face of the loud spandex, the clip on shoes, the pointy helmets and the wrap around sunglasses.
The bicyclist many drivers hate: Fit, detrmined, male and maybe even

By contrast who would actively dislike these families with kids on cargo bikes in Copenhagen, or the snazzy biking females in Paris or the office workers on their bikes from the last century? Especially if one sees any of those only while on vacation!

But back to the question, should bicyclists have to stop at every stop sign or wait for every light to turn?

 I can't really speak for others or any other city, but judging from my biking around downtown Baltimore my answer is an emphatic no! And I say this coming from a country where even pedestrians patiently wait at crosswalks until the red signal turns to "Go" and as someone who witnesses regular crashes stemming from red light running below my office window. I am a proponent of red light cameras and a proponent of a much more civil behavior on our streets than we currently see. So how could I argue for anything but bicyclists stopping at red lights?
the cyclist most would forgive almost anything,
la Parisienne

Well, to get this out of the way: I don't promote "blowing" through lights as if they don't even exist, nor would I recommend running a red light across multi-lane high volume roads like Franklin Street in front of my office, or MLK, Pratt or Light Streets, to name just a few where anything but waiting for the light to change would be suicidal. I also think bicyclists absolutely must be respectful to pedestrians at all times which may very well include waiting for a signal to turn. 

But then, there are hundreds of signals on street-corners where there is not much happening, especially not outside peak hours. Those lights along Park Avenue, Cathedral, even Charles, signals everywhere you look. I actually have promoted for a long time to take many of those down and save the energy cost. Many of those don't even have pedestrians signal heads, but I am digressing. 

So when you come to such a light on a bike, you are not wearing headphones and you are not riding in dense fog, you can pretty quickly assess if anyone is coming along the crossroad that has the green. If there is nobody in sight, why should you have to wait? With a bicycle it wont take more than a few seconds to clear the intersection and inside the city cars are usually not going much above 40mph, so they won't show up instantaneously. 

Who has an advantage from the cyclist waiting a minute or two or three only to then have to breathe the tailpipe fumes of the platoon of cars squeezing by and throttling it?  If the bicyclists proceeds across the red, instead, the block ahead is free of cars for them because the platoon of cars is be at bay possibly all the way until the next light comes up.
who would not want to yield to this family?

I think anybody who has ever ridden a bike knows what I am talking about. It is only those who know the world strictly from the perspective through the windshield who can't understand how it is to ride a bike and how unpleasant and dangerous intersections are when traversing them with the traffic! Thats when the "right hooks" occur, when drivers jostling for space don't keep the three foot side-distance  and trucks and buses spew their Diesel clouds right into your face.

I won't convince those who think that it it is my own fault that I pick a bike to ride if I can't stand the "heat in the kitchen". Fair enough. But if we come back to the concept of encouraging as many bicyclists as possible to use this non polluting, fast and efficient way of transport, we should not force everybody all the time to follow all the rules that
even a dork may get a pass
were ostensibly invented for cars, not for horses, bicyclists and let's face it, not for pedestrians either.

 In a city where cyclists are plenty, pedestrians everywhere and cars much fewer, we could dismantle a lot of all this regulatory stuff in favor of enjoying ourselves in those great public spaces we call streets without insisting on hard rules we would follow the concept of accommodation. "Complete Streets", if you will, and all of us would be better off. 

Klaus Philipsen

Why bicyclists blow through Red Lights
Should cyclists have to stop at Stop signs?

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