Australian PSA. Photo by Gui v R on Flickr.
From time to time, readers email in with perspectives about issues in our region. Sometimes these get worked into articles, but at other times they don’t. Therefore, we’re starting a new feature, printing letters from readers. We might or might not not agree with what they say, but any we print will present a thoughtful perspective on an issue.
Today’s letter is from Adam Irish, who wrote the recent “streetcars are preservationist” op-ed. Do you have a letter you’d like printed? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Riding my bike home from work the other day, I was almost killed. This is not an unusual circumstance for the DC cyclist, who is endangered daily by aggressive drivers and unfriendly roads. But this time it wasn’t the absence of a bike lane or a driver’s carelessness: it was a reckless bicyclist.
Many Washington bicyclists fail to respect even the most basic traffic laws. By neglecting the rules of the road, errant cyclists not only endanger their own safety, but the safety of drivers, pedestrians, and above all, other bicyclists.
I was at the intersection of G and 12th NW, pedaling through a green light in the bike lane, when the car next to me swerved into the bike lane and slammed on its brakes. Luckily the vehicle was a few feet in front of me and I was able to brake before plowing into his back windshield, but the difference of a foot or two saved me from an ambulance.
Why had this car nearly killed me? No fault of the driver. An oblivious bicyclist was slowly navigating across the intersection, through heavy traffic and a red light. A moron. The problem is, morons on two wheels abound in this city. I’d say at least a third of my scary encounters on the road involve reckless fellow cyclists. I’d go farther and say that a good portion of the road rage we endure is the product of unsafe and disrespectful bicycling.
The bicycling community these days is rather prickly when it comes to criticism, and for good reason. As a regular bike commuter, I know the disrespect from automobiles and infrastructure inequalities firsthand. Bicyclists have a right to be on the road. They deserve dedicated lanes and signals. They deserve respect from drivers and pedestrians.
They also deserve to receive tickets, pay fines and attend court dates just as motorists do when they fail to obey the rules of the road. “When traveling on city streets, cyclists should follow the same rules of the road as motorized vehicles,” says the DC Metropolitan Police Department website. “This means stopping at stop signs; obeying traffic signals and lane markings; and using hand signals to let others know your intention to stop or turn.”
This should be a revelation to many DC cyclists, who seem to feel entitled to break as many traffic laws as possible. Almost every day I witness two-wheeled commuters clustered at a red light jockeying with one another to cross an intersection and dodge oncoming traffic. Sometimes I wonder if such public feats of rush-hour derring-do inspire some people to bike to work in the first place.
If bicyclists want to be treated equally on the road, they need to be treated equally in the eyes of the law. A biker running a stop sign should be just as likely to get a ticket as a motorist doing the same. This is certainly not the case in the status quo. Until then, DC bicyclists need to take the initiative to obey traffic laws without enforcement for the sake of safety and courtesy. After all, they go hand in hand — just ask an infuriated driver or a cyclist who has met one.