Proficient cyclists are more than just efficient and athletic, they are safe cyclists (California cycling fatalities have decreased in recent years). Cocky cyclists are hospitalized. I have a right to talk about this topic. Not. As you may have read in other articles, I take safety very seriously. I never ride without my helmet; I always wear gloves; I signal religiously; and I point out obstacles to riders behind me even when they are oblivious. What I do do, though is run red lights and stop signs. Not every one, and only when I deem it to be safe, but under prime circumstances, I won’t wait.
I’ve rationalized this practice. I tell myself that hanging out in an intersection makes me vulnerable and reduces my mobility. California law contradicts this sentiment:
Image credit Threadless Tees
Bicyclists must obey STOP signs and red signal lights. It’s a good idea to stop for yellow lights too–rushing through a yellow light may not leave you enough time to make it across the intersection before the light changes.
California bicycle regulations are available on the DMV website (do a Google search to find your state or country’s regulations).
The law specifically provides that, apart from the listed regulations, bicycles are subject to the same laws as motor vehicles under the Vehicle Code. That means cyclists must stop at red lights and stop signs. I begrudgingly agree with that I’m in the wrong with respect to them. (I do take exception to the suggestion that cyclists stop at yellow lights. As a general practice, that is not going to make you friends with surrounding motorists.)
This was all a set up to the point of my article: You got to own your place on the road. Own up to being a cyclist. Encourage others to bicycle.
That was the point of a recent Slate article about the inherent conflict and out-of-proportion fear and loathing drivers have about cyclists:
Every time another bicyclist pulls some dickish stunt, [drivers’ negative view of cyclists is reinforced]. The same isn’t true in reverse: The conviction that bicyclists are erratically moving hazards is not diminished by the repeated observance of safe and respectful riding. … [But, once] a person becomes aware of her biases, she is more able to engage rational thought processes to overcome the affect heuristic and dispel her inaccurate conclusions. So, study those stats bike haters!
The unfounded, negative attitude toward cyclists revealed its ugly head a couple months ago when a driver in a fancy convertible pulled up to me and said, “Stay in the bike lane asshole.” Being that he was in a car, I should have flashed him my patented smile and given him a thumbs up. I hadn’t been doing anything wrong!
It was a narrow two lane road, crowded with parked cars. I was, as is my habit, riding the white line to stay away from opening car doors — a perfectly valid habit under the California code and one that has saved me from collision. But of course, how could I convey that message best in the split second as he passed? “Fuck you, asshole.” That pretty much summed up the substance of my comments, even as he slowed down to tell me how I was maligning cyclists in the eyes of motorists.
As if I care. Actually, I’m a motorist too, albeit only rarely. I do care. I don’t want to care, but I do and I know I should. Owning my cycling means being safe, obeying the law, and leaving righteous indignation where it belongs — in blog posts infrequently read. As Jim Saksa said in the Slate article I quoted earlier: “So, let me say this to drivers, pedestrians, and my fellow riders alike: I’m sorry. See, aren’t cyclists the nicest, most polite people in the whole world?”