A very odd choice of title for this post if only because it is actually a quote from a quote from the article we are excerpting! The title of the original piece is “The Ethics of Breaking Traffic Laws” by Eben Weiss, his April 11, 2018 on-line column for Outside. Many of you already know of this fine gentleman through his nom-de-plume, “the Bike Snob”, and if you’ve read much of his work you might also know why we are only posting a section of his article. It is however, worth reading the whole piece and we’ve posted a link to it below. The title ‘Mr. Snob’ chose for his column is admittedly, “controversial” for us at BSF given we run multiple bicycling training classes on how to ride both safely and legally. On the other hand, most all of us have seen foolish and dangerous riders whizzing about our city. The difference in what Mr. Weiss wrote about and what we see at times is that of years of survivalist lessons learned on the streets and plain and simple ignorance. Experienced riders have by definition had to ‘read’ dangerous situations and made decisions on how best to navigate them… either within the letter of the laws or… not. Preaching to the choir it may be but the last sentence of our excerpt of Eben’s original article says what all of us want our politicians and fellow road users to understand.
First though, a quick bit of legal hand waving and/or washing: we have asked Mr. Weiss and through him, Outside, to let us run this excerpt, with full crediting (see above!) and have not yet heard back from either. However, we do believe the issues raised are worth getting before as many eyes as possible. And, sadly, an especially timely topic in our city where we have so recently seen the results of driver(s) whose vision seems to cloud over with “red-mist” whenever they encounter those who would deign to try and ride a bike on roads that clearly belong only to motorized vehicles. So, here goes…
“Cyclists have been forced into the gutter by drivers for the past hundred years, so of course anyone who’s riding bikes in this country for any amount of time has been forced to devise his or her own framework in order to survive and thrive. If it makes you feel any better, rest assured it’s not so much a sense of intellectual elitism as it is a survivalist one. Cyclists simply know more about how the streets work than drivers do in the same way that subway rats are more attuned to the workings of the transit system than the typical straphanger.
It’s also important to note that governments are coming around to the necessity of this behavior. The “Idaho Stop,” which allows cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights as stop signs, has been legal in its eponymous state since 1982. And this year New York City introduced a pilot program allowing cyclists to follow the pedestrian signal instead of the traffic light at certain intersections in an acknowledgement that doing so can reduce the potential for driver/cyclist conflict.
Reetta Keisanen, cycling coordinator of Helsinki, sums it us thusly with regard to cyclist behavior:
“Cities get the cyclists they deserve. If you have good infrastructure, you will get good cyclists. It’s the same with drivers and pedestrians.”
To put it another way: if you want cyclists to follow the law, you’ve got to make it possible for them to do so without dying.”