Bicyclists, pick a ruleset. Or get off my lawn. Seriously. This has bothered me for the decade and a half that I’ve lived in San Francisco, and until now I’ve been resigned to joke that it’s the one thing that makes me slightly conservative in San Francisco. What’s going on? It’s simply that bicyclists just don’t follow traffic rules. They don’t stop at stop signs. They act as if they have the immunity of pedestrians, but the access of cars. They dart in and around traffic when they’re riding in regular traffic lanes. They slow cars down when the regular flow of traffic is at the posted speed limit and a bicyclist suddenly appears trudging along at 10mph. Bicycles sometimes wiggle on start, causing cars to dart to avoid them, causing an oncoming traffic hazard. And bicyclists act with extreme indignation if you honk at them. Factor in the monthly Critical Mass event, in which bicyclists deliberately swarm Market Street and spread out, violating traffic rules, in order to disrupt commuter traffic, and we have a real-life conservative slippery slope scenario. But things have become decidedly un-funny since March 29, when a bicyclist hit and killed a pedestrian.
The bicyclist posted his rationale online, saying, “I was already way too committed to stop. The light turned red as I was cruising through the middle of the intersection.” He continued, ”I couldn’t stop, so I laid it down and just plowed through the crowded crosswalk in the least-populated place I could find.” This explanation carries within it the tacit acceptance that bicyclists don’t or can’t follow traffic laws as a matter of course. Look, if your vehicle can’t brake in time, you can’t run yellow lights. Interestingly, the SF Critical Mass website rationalizes this death by saying it’s statistically insignificant. Hmmm.
This Critical Mass affect and the chronic problem of bicyclists come up repeatedly in conversation in San Francisco. One of my colleagues simply won’t drive on Valencia. “Bicyclists blaze through stop signs and hop up on sidewalks when it suits them,” said a friend. Another colleague does actually commute on his bicycle, and does actually follow traffic rules, but joined the criticism, saying that when driving, he just doesn’t trust bicyclists.
While I am a driver myself, I also had a month back in my GDC days, in which I bicycled from my home in the Mission to the SoMa headquarters of CMP. It’s pretty treacherous to ride with cars swiping by, and honking at you. What’s worse is that I spent half the time looking down, to make sure my front wheel wouldn’t catch in the vertical cracks in the bicycle lane of the road. This puts bicyclists in a difficult bind, making riding a bicycle in San Francisco an unnecessarily dangerous activity to start with.
My bicycling colleague, ever the rational one, suggested a two-fold action as a solution. The city should on the one hand actually enforce traffic rules fully, and at the same time, repair all the roads. I instantly saw the logic here, everyone gets relief from feeling shortchanged. It would be something I would allocate 5% of my income taxes to. The government has a responsibility to maintain the infrastructure after all.
Perhaps my response to all this underscores my own priorities. For me, consistency is a virtue. And if we’re going to live in a city together, we need to be consistent in how we apply, enforce, and follow rules. If any group gets special treatment and is permitted to disregard the rules, why should anyone follow them? Let’s keep it civil and fix this.
SF: Sorry for the delay — off the radar at a conference without easy access to the interwebs. Gonna be honest, bicyclists just don’t bother me as a species. They make me nervous occasionally, but it’s much the same way I feel when I see a snail on the path by a garden: “Hey there little guy, be careful. There’s danger about.” I don’t expect the snail to abide the warning and I feel the same way about folks on bikes. They’re unpredictable, but if they’re okay with running the risk of a cracked shell, then what am I to do about it? The story about the bicyclist taking out a commuter is pretty disturbing, but I feel like it’s a pretty rare occurrence to be making policy on.