The View from Two Wheels

About this time last year, I posted an article on a Red Wing Facebook page about “How to Build a City around Bicycles Fast,” with the intention of beginning a conversation about making this fading village attractive to 21st Century people. I introduced the video with the statement “If you want to attract skilled, innovative young adults to a small town, making it a bicycle transportation haven would be high on a lot of lists.” The generally hostile response to that surprised me, a little:

  • “We don’t want it here they don’t follow rules now so that would make it even worse.”
  • “If bikes followed the rules of the road, sure. But in my experience they don’t. They don’t stop at stop signs, don’t ride on the proper side of the road, and even ride on sidewalks. They’re vehicles, and are supposed to follow vehicle traffic rules.”

And so on. There were slightly over 30 negative comments about creating any sort of accommodation for bicycles in the city and exactly 3 bicyclists responding.

I have to admit, I love the cluelessness of cagers imagining that they “follow the rules.” As a lifelong bicyclist and a motorcyclist for the past 50 years, what I see from my unobstructed view of cagers is almost non-stop ignorance and arrogance when it comes to “the rules of the road.” Here are some examples of that behavior.

  1. At least half of the traffic on a two-lane road will be unaware of where their vehicle belongs. For the most part, rural drivers know we drive on the right side in the United States, but they don’t seem to know what the lines in the road indicate. Trucks, especially, wander from the middle of the road to the edge of pavement, well into the scrawny “bicycle lanes” and skirting the gravel and, eventually, the ditch. As a bicyclist, you have to keep a close eye on what’s in front and behind you with a readiness to hit the ditch or jump a curb when you see a vehicle barreling from behind taking up the bicycle lane.
  2. Pretty much no one in a cage or truck knows the rules for stop signs. {“If there is a stop sign with no pavement markings, stop near the intersection where you have a good view of approaching traffic. If there is a crosswalk without a stop line, stop at the nearest crosswalk line. If there is only a stop sign, stop at the stop line. If the crosswalk has a stop line, stop at the stop line.”] What actually happens is most drivers roll through the crosswalk, stopping with the nose of their vehicle well into on-coming traffic, if they slow down at all. If you are a bicyclist, you have to assume the majority of drivers will expect you to give up your right of way so that they don’t have to control their vehicle competently.
  3. Stopping at stop signs and lights is, apparently, optional. This isn’t just a rural thing because there is an intersection at 10th and Minnesota in St Paul where it is never safe to assume the vehicles heading northwest on Minnesota (a one-way street) will pay the slightest attention to the stop light. The police station used to be at that location and even that didn’t slow down the goofballs who commuted through the area. In rural areas, lights and signs are regularly ignored and there are known areas of high crash incident. As a bicyclist or motorcyclist, it is never safe to assume cagers are competent, sane and rational, or not homicidal. 
  4. Stop signs and lights pose another fatal attraction for two-wheeled folks: getting run over or rear-ended while stopped. Lane-splitting advocates argue that lane-splitting/sharing reduces motorcycles from being rear-ended at stops. My experience confirms that but any rational person should be nervous about anecdotal and hearsay evidence. I don’t buy those arguments for loud exhaust systems and you shouldn’t buy them for lane-splitting. However, it is a fact that drivers often run over bicycles and motorcycles at this interaction points and I will always opt for getting some serious mass between me and any on-coming vehicles when I’m forced to stop in traffic. On a bicycle, you are screwed no matter what you do: 1) stop in a vehicle lane and you’re likely to be run over, 2) stop in the bike lane and you are at risk both from cars that roll over you thinking the bike lane is a turn lane and you’ll also be at risk when a cager decides to turn in front or over you thinking a cage has the right-of-way when turning over a bicycle going straight.
  5. Residential streets are a free-for-all zone, no rules apply to locals. Seriously, “random motion” describes what you can expect from drivers in these areas.
  6. In the United States, noise pollution appears to be one of those “my rights override any other considerations” situations, like gun ownership. As a bicyclist, you should be wearing ear plugs for when you are passed by motorcycles, pickup trucks, and any other motorized vehicle driven by a noisy spoiled child. The country and most states have vehicle noise laws, but cops are too lazy to enforce them. You can, literally, suffer permanent hearing damage from being near some of these vehicles.
  7. Speed limits are less than a suggestion if there isn’t a cop in the immediate traffic mix. Worse, most rural drivers are not competent to walk on a crowded sidewalk, but in a motor vehicle these idiots are rolling assassins but they all imagine themselves to be NASCAR drivers (including the inability to turn right).
  8. “Bicycle lanes” are mostly considered to be fair game for parking, passing, and trash dumping. Not only that, but city workers often place obstacles in bike lanes that force bicyclists into clueless traffic.
  9. Unplanned, sudden right turns across traffic lanes and, especially, bicycle lanes are snafu. This is true in urban and rural areas, but more true where drivers are unsophisticated, unskilled, and unfamiliar with sharing the road with anyone else. When a rube visits the “big city,” which can be a pretty small place if the rube is a total goober, everything is a surprise and their reactions are often totally idiotic and unpredictable.
  10. Nothing about the “distracted driver” whining is in the least bit sincere. Occasional and random traffic citations for cell phone abuse is just a revenue generator. If society cared about the people, cell phones would be cut off when they are in a moving vehicle (easily done from either the phone or the cell provider). Drivers know nobody really cares if they are paying attention, so they don’t. From a bicycle viewpoint, I can tell you at least half of the drivers waiting at a stop light are staring at their phones or yakking way as if they were in their living room. When the light changes, that “100’ rope” that appears to tie each of the vehicles in the traffic-train of together is just the lag time between when the light changes or vehicle in front moves and the idiot behind looks up from his/her phone and resumes being a distracted driver. Autonomous cars can not come soon enough.
  11. Drivers are not aware or skilled enough to be “out to get you.” Honestly, if drivers were intentionally homicidal they’d be easier to predict. Random motion is exactly that: random. So, guessing what kind of idiot move a driver is going to make is an infinitely complicated calculation. When I taught motorcycle safety classes, I would politically incorrectly tell students, “If cagers had any skill, they wouldn’t need four wheels to balance themselves.” That is still my position and I’m stickin’ with it.

I’m still riding, so the odds are good that I’ll be making additions to this list. If you have any favorites, add them on the “Comments” below.

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