A few weeks ago, a friend had stopped her car at a 4-way stop sign in Capitol Hill, and drove forward to proceed through the intersection just as a young woman riding a bicycle rolled up to the stop sign to her right. As my friend rolled through the intersection, the cyclist ran the stop sign into the path of her car, and my friend stepped on the brake as the cyclist rode in front of her.
The young woman on the bike, offended that someone in a car wouldn’t stop and wait for her to run a 4-way stop, scoffed at my friend and yelled, “Uh, okaaaay!” as she rode off.
I have commuted everywhere in Denver by bicycle for the past five years, and sometimes, I can’t stand cyclists.
I had a guy try to run me over with his truck at a stoplight once, because I had pedaled up next to him on a street where there was no bike lane. I caught up to him at the next intersection and rode up to his driver’s-side window to have a little chat with him, remind him that I was actually a human being, not a target. He was so mad, he was spitting when he started screaming at me about “you cyclists.” Then he floored it and drove off.Â It was pretty clear that the problem wasn’t really me — he’d had enough of everyone who rode a bicycle. All those little slights, cyclists cutting in front of him at stoplights, getting in his way, running stoplights, had added up and his top finally popped off.
Everyone has their own reasons why they ride the way they do — maybe you ride on the busiest streets in your city because they’re the best-lit at night, and you don’t care how it affects vehicle traffic. Maybe there’s no better route. Maybe you run stoplights, but only when no one’s around. Maybe you run all stoplights and stop signs because you feel entitled to, because you’re saving the earth by riding a bike, and anyone who objects can kiss your ass. Maybe you ride as if you’re in a bike lane on every street, and you never take the lane, because it feels safer over to the side. Maybe you ride the wrong way on one-way streets because you’re an anarchist. Maybe you ride on the sidewalk, even if it’s illegal and where accidents occur, because it separates you from traffic.
The shitty thing about all those choices you make is that other people are watching you. Every time you slight some driver, or really piss them off, they remember it and file it in the anti-cycling part of their brain. And that affects other cyclists.
I’m not saying all drivers obey traffic laws — they obviously don’t — but drivers are seen as normal. Cyclists are special in most American cities, under a microscope. Drivers see one cyclist run a stop sign or a red light, then another, and maybe one more, and they’ve formed their opinion of all of us, however many thousands of us there are. A co-worker, who had never seen me on my bicycle aside from when I rolled it into the office, once scolded me at a work meeting for all cyclists’ collective sins.
“You cyclists think you’re above the law,” she said. “You always run red lights and stop signs like they don’t apply to you.” It didn’t matter that actually, no, I don’t do either of those things, and I’m the guy who no one wants to ride with, because I stop at all stop signs, even the ones inside Cheesman Park, even at 11 p.m. when no one is around to see me if I were to run right through it.
A few years ago, Bill Strickland wrote a blog for Bicycling.com about how cyclists should confront — as nicely as possible — drivers when they honk, yell, or otherwise harass us in traffic. It was an interesting idea, with a ridiculous flaw in logic: In his story, the entire pack of cyclists he was riding with had run a stop sign in front of a truck. The truck driver screeched to a halt, flung open his door and yelled at the cyclists. Huh. Did they really wonder why the truck driver was angry, or did they think the driver was supposed to know the secret rule that a bunch of guys riding bikes don’t have to stop at stop signs?
Strickland rode over and apologized to the driver, which he seemed to think made everything just fine. OK, but imagine a different scenario in which you do something completely wrong, and try to make it OK by apologizing: Try cutting into the front of the line at a busy airline ticket counter on Christmas Eve, but just apologize to the dozens of people behind you after you do it.
When you ride, you’re not just one invisible person on a bike. You represent a minority. When a U.S. Senator calls transportation bill spending on bike paths “frivolous,” where do you think he gets that idea? When a driver intentionally hits a cyclist and no charges are pressed because a law doesn’t exist to prosecute the act as an assault, why is that? Bikes aren’t exactly a priority for about 95 percent of the U.S. population, even though thousands of people are working to get us better laws, safer bike travel options, and more rights.
If you treat your bike like a toy, the rest of the world is going to see you as an unruly, unpredictable child. If you treat your bike like a vehicle, maybe we can get somewhere.