Wednesday, November 02, 2005

All Sidewalks of Life

You’re not a car, you’re not a pedestrian, and it’s silly to pretend you are either.

When it comes to traffic laws for cycling, three groups vie for attention. In one camp you’ve got your Rule Kittens, in the other you’ve got your Wild Cats. In between, you’ve got the rest of us – just a bunch of people trying to get somewhere.

The Wild Cats are in too much of a hurry to participate in the discussion – and just like in the rest of life, the people that refuse to discuss themselves are of necessity the ones most discussed by others. Others must find ways to work around these unthinking ones and figure out how to guard against the public consequences of their reckless actions.

Let’s briefly describe the Wild Cats, shall we? They would love to be called Wild Cats, and were I less refined a person I might select a more fitting term such as Stupid-Ass Idiots. They ride like fire, they weave and swerve among cars, from lane to lane, hurtling past pedestrians and other cyclists and in front of drivers without a thought to how many heart attacks they trigger. They are the Ones Who Can’t be Killed. As for the age or gender of most of them, I decline to specify lest anyone think I would be so bigoted as to vilify a particular set of human beings. Each observer can arrive at their own conclusions. The main point is to notice that these so-called Wild Cats are not the only bicyclists on the prairie – and that in fact they represent a minority of the total.

The Rule Kittens, on the other hand, believe that we should follow exactly the same rules as cars do in spite of the fact that we comprise a negligible fraction of their tonnage, size, and horsepower. The Rule Kittens are generally not people who ever favor resorting to common sense judgement. No, they are a special breed who champion a rulebook for every occasion. If they could pull out a manual for every situation they encounter in life, these people would know true happiness.

The rest of us – just a bunch of people trying to get somewhere – recognize that bikes are different from cars. Bicycles enjoy some distinct advantages over cars, which is precisely why bikes are appealing. If we remove these advantages, there will be little reason to chose a bike over a car.

Do I think it’s ok for cyclists to streak down heavily used sidewalks, running over customers as they step out of shops and forcing pedestrians to leap out of their path? No. But if I cannot transfer to the sidewalk in order to travel the opposite direction on a one-way street, or to avoid a too narrow street, or to protect myself in darkness or low-visibility weather, then what’s the point?

Do I think it’s ok for a cyclist to zip through a red light, skyrocketing the stress level of everyone in the area? No. But a bike crossing through a red light after stopping and looking very carefully is another story. If there are no moving cars for miles around, I for one am not going to sit there and inhale exhaust fumes while I wait, just so that I can ride alongside the cars who may very likely in the next moment cut me off with a right turn across the bike lane.

I’m for keeping bike legislation to a minimum and raising awareness of both drivers and cyclists. If each of us would work on not behaving like an idiot, together we could make up for the few that are destined to be idiots for life. Those few will always be with us, and all we can hope for is to do is keep their numbers small. Let’s not burden our sensible lives with cumbersome rules written for the few that will break them anyway.


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