Last week I wrote this thing, and I wasn’t completely honest in it. Reader Alan said in comments, something that struck me as entirely true, which is to say I do NOT always follow the rules of traffic. Sure, I follow them a lot more closely now than I did in the ’90s, but that’s like saying Chuck Manson does a lot less murders now than he did in 1969 (the dude is dead now).
Back then, I was a rebel without a clue, a scofflaw, an urban ne’er-do-well, but it only takes getting hit (finally) by a couple of cars to make you more circumspect about your adherence to the rules of the road, not to mention the having of children, which makes staying alive more of an obligation than a good idea.
So I slowed down and started putting my foot down at lights.
But as Alan pointed out in his comment, huddling there on the white line with a bunch of cars and trucks seething behind you isn’t always the safest spot on the road, and like him, I sometimes jump the light, after looking carefully in all directions, to get some daylight between me and the megatons of glass and steel ready to burst off the line.
Oh, if there’s a bike lane, a clear path between this side of the intersection and that one, I’m not too fussed. I’ll wait. But if it looks like I’ll be competing for space on the other side of the light, forget the rules, and forget whatever grudging respect those drivers might have more me for following the rules. I’m out.
You should never ride on a sidewalk, unless it’s safer to ride on a sidewalk.
So the truth is, I follow a lot of the rules, and that’s as true in the car as it is on the bike. There is a good, logical position that suggest the rules are the rules, and that breaking them is always wrong. I’d argue that the person(s) who made the rules might not have been a cyclist, made of flesh and bone, with an innate drive to survive. And so, I do my best.
This week’s TCI Friday wonders how you approach this thorny topic of obeisance to the law and dedication to arriving alive. Are you an absolutist, or is your approach more adaptable to time, place and circumstance?
I’m more of a rule follower now than I was 15-20 years ago (most of the time I’m just not in as much of a hurry at this point in my life) but I take the “safer” option even if it means breaking rules. When I’m on a route with few traffic lights and I get caught at a red one, I now prefer to find a location where I can safely let the cars go by and then proceed through the green light. I don’t need to be ahead of them to be safe. That might mean pulling up onto a curb, sitting at the back of the line-up, etc. Overall, my priorities have shifted more toward arriving home safely and away from trying to get there as fast as I can.
I’ve always tried to abide by the rules of the road, or as John Forester would say, “Bicyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.” Also, since for the last close to thirty years I’ve been on various Mayor’s Committees to Ignore Bicycling (pardon the cynicism), Transportation Advisory Boards, and an LCI, I have to act the part. That usually works but in cases where it doesn’t, I try to do what makes sense; e.g., we have some of those stupid traffic-actuated lights in Santa Fe that just don’t see a bicyclist and the city knows it and doesn’t do shit about it. So I treat it like a broken traffic light, i.e., a stop and proceed when it is safe to do so.
To paraphrase Dirty Harry in Magnum Force, a bicyclist has to know his limitations. But that doesn’t mean you let the system beat you down.
Traffic laws and a lot of traffic infrastructure were designed around motor vehicles. Usually it works for bicycles, but if it doesn’t, one has to make adjustments. Those adjustments should be safe adjustments, but they need to be made.
I still abide by N.W.A’s admonition to “F*ck Tha Police”. Kidding (sort of) aside, my recklessness and criminal behavior has waned along with my youth. Nevertheless, when I am on the street I still ride offensively to protect myself which may mean flouting traffic laws that never have had cyclists in mind. That said, I simply stay off road most of the time so my opportunities for traffic mayhem are much lower than they were.
Thanks for the shoutout. I have to admit, as others have said, that I was once THAT cyclist. But into my 4th riding decade, “I am who I am and I know what I know” is kind of my mantra. I believe I’ve found the balance where I truly Share the Road while preserving my safety. Of course, I could be proven tragically wrong tomorrow, so Just Ride, right John? 😁
Rule follower here except when enhancing the rule is (a) safer and/or (b) not likely to upset drivers. Rolling a stop sign in a rural/semi-rural area when visibility is good and no one is about—all good. Doing the same at a stoplight in the city when drivers are about—I’m stopping and waiting.
Not exactly on topic, but I try to go out of my way to wave drivers on who are waiting for me, and to exaggeratingly wave/smile at drivers who do me a solid. And I try REALLY hard, and almost always succeed, at NOT reacting negatively to a driver who does me wrong.
Funny thing about rules concerning cyclists and autos. We will be following the laws to the letter and drivers who are not enlightened as to said laws will get very bent. Alas, I too, like Robot, follow the rules except for when it is safer to not. Construction zones in spring create rule enhancement for me nearly every ride. There is also the what I do when no one is around (falling tree etc) such as those stop signs where no one in their right mind would erect one. Otherwise, I like to be a good ambassador.