Chicago’s Mayor Daley introduced an ordinance last month that would impose fines ranging from $150 to $500 on motorists who turn left or right in front of someone on a bicycle; pass with less than three feet of space between car and bike; and open a vehicle door into the path of a cyclist.
When the Chicago Tribune posted the story on their website in the form of a very short two-paragraph piece. I thought the comments from readers that followed were disappointing.
One would have thought cyclists would have welcomed this as good news; instead, cyclists commented with attacks on car drivers, and of course, drivers responded. It showed that prejudice and intolerance between people who drive cars and cyclists is alive and well in Chicago, as it is the world over.
The same old rhetoric on each side; each one canceling the other out. Nothing achieved. Just a whole lot of hatred stirred up on both sides. Cyclists recalling times they have been hit, and their many near misses. Auto drivers using the same old clichés like, “Cyclists are always running red lights and stop signs.”
Just as in racial prejudice, the actions of a few are used to tarnish the whole group, and give the bigots an excuse for their verbal attacks and behavior. To say all cyclists disregard the laws of the road is akin to saying that all people of a certain ethnic group are criminals.
As cyclists, we can be guilty of the same prejudice. There are many bad drivers out there, and we tend to focus on these and view all drivers as the same. However, I still believe in human decency and that the majority of drivers would not deliberately put another human being in harms way.
Bad drivers are careless and inattentive, but still I believe it is a tiny minority that are malicious. By focusing on this minority, cyclists are practicing the same prejudice as drivers who condemn us for the actions of a few.
I do not run red lights, even if I stop and there is no vehicle coming in the opposite direction; I wait for the light to change. Not out of fear of getting a ticket, that possibility is remote. My reasons are simple, I would not do it in my car, and therefore if I expect others to view my bike as a vehicle; I must behave as any other vehicle.
In addition, when drivers expect me to ride though it creates a good impression when I don’t. A driver seeing me do this is more likely to think favorably of me, and maybe will exercise caution when he passes me a short distance down the road. It is human nature to show consideration for those we see in a good light.
The only exception to stopping on red would be, early in the morning and there is not another car in sight. My bike will not trigger the light, and after stopping and looking all around I go on through. No one sees me, no harm, no foul, and I have not really broken the law. I may have to wait an unreasonable time for a car to come along and change the light.
The same with stop signs, if I am in a quiet neighborhood and there is not another vehicle in sight, I slow, and then ride through. If there is other traffic there, I come to a complete stop and wait my turn. One of the grievances drivers have with cyclists is that they are unpredictable. No one can say I am unpredictable if I obey the law as if I were in my car.
Cyclists who run red lights and stop signs argue that they do it in the interest of their own safety, to stay ahead of traffic. Only another cyclist could understand this logic, to everyone else they are breaking the law. And it pisses people off.
You never stay ahead of traffic entirely, eventually the driver you pissed off at the last light will catch up, and when he does, he is then expected to treat you with respect and consideration.
Cyclists who still run red lights and stop signs might ask themselves this, “Am I really doing this in the interest of my own safety, or am I doing it out of habit because I have been doing it for so long, and because I can get away with it.”
This is not the first time I have touched on this subject, and as before, it is not my place to tell others what to do. However, verbally attacking drivers achieves nothing except to stir up more conflict. It is far more difficult to change the behavior of others, easier to change our own.
If cyclists stopped running red lights and stop signs, if nothing else, there would be one less piece of useless rhetoric that can be used against us.