Slate Article on Cyclists Following (or not) the Rules of the Road

A reader thought you guys would enjoy this article from Slate titled, Stop Means Stop, How do we get bikers to obey traffic laws? One part of the article cites DC Code:

The D.C. Code recognizes the special status of bikes. Bikes shall follow all traffic laws, the code says, except for rules that “can have no reasonable application to a bicycle operator.” Presumably, this refers to laws governing highways, some sidewalks, and other non-bicycle-friendly turf. It doesn’t apply to the stop-sign scenario, even though some bicycle advocates argue that stop signs “have no reasonable application to a bicycle operator.”

Given all the discussions we’ve had on this issue and all the accidents we’ve heard about, it seems erring on the side of safety and following the rules of the road is probably the wisest action.

26 Comment

  • Good article… I was an avid hater of cyclists until I started riding my bike around the city – you don’t realize how nice (albeit scary at the same time) it is to ride a bike around here until you start doing it on a regular basis. Now I am much nicer to cyclists than I am to MD and VA drivers (learn to driiiiiivvvveeee) when I’m driving.

  • What an odd debate, vehicularists vs facilitators. The writer seems to ignore the fact that the car wins that debate every time when he turns you into road pizza. You take your life in your hands every time you put your bike on the same road as a car. I bike according the rules of self preservation, and those rules do not always align with traffic laws.

  • I am a resident of DC who has had a bike in the city for 10 years and a car for 2. It amazes me to see the number of people who are not just breaking the law, but being incredibly stupid riding bicycles. Just because you are on a bike does not give you a magic invisibility shield from being hit by a car. I see people ride out into intersections not looking, riding in the center left lane when no cars are in the left, jumping from curb to street to curb again with little regards for foot traffic or car traffic. And I am NOT speaking about the messengers. They don’t bother me so much as the person who decided to start riding their bike to work the last 6 months to be “eco-friendly.”

    People need to signal where they are going, not expect cars to always see them, especially if they are moving off the sidewalk into the turning lane, or just not staying to the side of the road. A lot of riders wont let other riders pass or they cut you off.

    Everyone complains about traffic in this city, but the bike riders are going to get hit as more people get on the road and I really think it will be riders fault.

  • Self-preservation is the name of the game. Yes, I will roll through stop lights and stop signs (note: roll through after checking opposing traffic and oncoming lanes, not barrel through at full speed). If it’s clear I will take the opportunity to get in front of the cars (in the right lane) waiting at a light; it’s the safest place to be on a bike and they are more likely to, you know, SEE me if I am in their line of vision and not riding along in a blind spot. Car drivers can hate on me all they want, but I’m not delaying their travel time one bit. Then again I appear to be one of the more courteous bikers in the this city. The amount of future Darwin Award winning behavior I see in the bike lanes is troubling.

  • while i am usually all for bikes, but that is related to bikes on streets. and that is where i think bikes belong. i don’t understand why there are so many people here in DC who think they need to ride their bikes on the sidewalk. just last night i walked down 11th street which has a clearly marked bike lane and a biker was speeding past me on the side walk. not only did this guy bike on the sidewalk but he did this at a completely unreasonable speed. and there have been a bunch of such incidence recently on 14th street and 13th street.

  • @carsten Sidewalk riding is dangerous and stupid, but it’s legal in DC outside of the central business district, which means if you were on 11th NW north of Mass Ave. (and since there was a bike lane, I’m assuming you were north of R), the cyclist wasn’t breaking the law. Being dangerous? Yep. Being stupid? You bet…but not breaking the law.

    I stop at lights, every time. For stop signs, I generally practice Idaho stops (yeah, not legal, but actually safer, and safe is pretty much all I give a damn about, since it’s my ass I’m looking out for when I ride).

  • @carsten Sidewalk riding might be “stupid”, but it is (or at least feels) safer for the bicyclist than riding with traffic, either in a bike lane or on the street – at least if I hit a pedestrian, I have a pretty good chance of ending up alive. There was a recent article (referenced from GGW maybe?) on male versus female bicyclists; women in general strongly prefer (completely) off-street paths, including sidewalks, for this reason. Additionally, on two-lane roads, riding on the sidewalk has the added benefit of avoiding blocking a long line of cars.

    Like @EdTheRed, I stop at all lights, regardless of traffic, and practice Idaho stops.

  • I think it’s worthy to mention that there are times when riding on the sidewalk is the smarter decision–albeit not when you have a bike lane (no excuses there)–I used to bike up Connecticut Ave to Cleveland Park, and there are lots of places, including the bridge before Woodley Park, where it is much safer for me to be on the sidewalk. BUT–when I’m on the sidewalk, I slow down, I’m extra cautious around pedestrians, and when the sidewalk gets crowded, I get off and walk. It’s courteous, and much safer than trying to bike through crowds of people, who have no ‘traffic rules’ to abide by.

    There are a lot of dumb bikers out there. But there are also a lot of people who are generally good bikers that make the occasional bad decision. It happens to us in cars all the time–close calls, near misses. I can acknowledge that there have been a few times where I made a dumb move on my bike because I wasn’t paying attention and would have been creamed if someone else hadn’t been paying attention. But again–this happens all the time to people in cars, and I can’t help but wonder if bikers take more criticism because we already have a stigma.

  • can we at least get them to stay off the busy sidewalks of 14th street when they have clearly marked bike lanes on the street? and no, when pedestrians are listening to headphones we can’t hear you coming up from behind. my leg still hurts…

  • I try to ride in the bike lanes but esp on 14th St from U down to Thomas Circle, there are usually vehicles parked in the lanes.

    Now that the weather has gotten cooler maybe less people will bike, but during the summer the bike lanes were crowded and there would often be 6-7 bikes waiting at red lights. I started going down 16th St because there weren’t as many bikes.

  • As a pedestrian, here’s my scorecard in DC:

    Number of times hit by cars: 0
    Number of times hit by bikes: 2
    – Once by a sidewalk rider (black eye)
    – Once by a ‘critical mass’ type biker-mob that couldn’t be bothered to stop for a red light AND a pedestrian in the crosswalk (no injury – just grazed. But really pissed)

  • Pass the popcorn. This post is bound to bring out the worst in a-hole motorists and a-hole cyclists. News Flash: YOU BOTH SUCK! Now get the hell out of my way as I ride my fixed-gear unicycle to work.

  • A couple of years ago, a guy in Florida was arrested for rowing his rowing boat while drunk.

    I think most people would agree that this is pretty extreme, but I think that the rules need to be in proportion to the potential risk to society.

    Obviously a guy rowing a boat while drunk is pretty unlikely to do any harm (except to himself, which is his business). The same is largely true of bicycles. While they can hurt people, or cause road accidents, they are far less likely to cause harm than cars, ergo should be less restricted than cars.

    The only person likely to get hurt if a cyclist runs a stoplight is the cyclist (yeah, yeah, pedestrians and all – how many pedestrians are killed by cyclists every year?).

    There is the issue of the public cost (in ambulances, police, etcetera) of scraping a cyclist off the road, but that’s pretty minor in comparison to the cost to said cyclist.

    Most European countries have ‘dangerous driving’ laws – this is why you can’t just haul down the autobahn at 200 mph with impunity (actually, the reason you can’t do that is because you drive a ’98 Forester and it takes 1/2 an hour to get to 90, but y’know: theoretically).

    Anyway. Maybe the MPD should be given discretion to arrest people who are cycling dangerously, but feel free to ignore those running stop signs and finish their doughnuts.

    Aaaaaand flame:

  • While riding laps around Hains Pt this afternoon (a area considered to be a safehaven for cyclists) 2 guys were pulled over by the park police and told that cyclists were not allowed to ride more than one abreast. The officer insisted that cyclist must ride one behind the other in single file. Makes it a bit difficult to leisurely ride and talk to you fellow cyclist.

    As for the bike lanes in the city they are ineffective since they do not protect cyclists from cars, buses or door prizes. I do not endorse riding on sidewalks, but from the perspective of unaware beginners on 2 wheels, it is often safer than riding in the street. As for cyclists riding the wrong way on 1 way streets, the intersection at Conn and Calvert (for example) for those heading down Conn is a deathtrap and requires crossing 3 lanes to turn left whereas going the wrong way down Woodley is much safer.

  • So Pip — you think if an auto hits a bike rider because the bike rider was doing something stupid, the driver of the auto is not “harmed”? You’re kidding right?

  • If talking to your fellow cyclists is an issue, then maybe you should purchase a hands-free device and call your fellow cyclist on his cell phone. If he doesn’t answer, then maybe he was mostly interested in riding his bike and didn’t really want to talk to you in the first place. Get an iPod and listen to it. Ride around listening to your NPR podcasts or the latest rock or rap albums instead. Peace out.

  • I have not hit a cyclist with my car yet…but that is not from their lack of trying.

  • Ocoee, if you kill me while I’m on my bike, please go to my funeral and explain to my son where daddy is. You’re not funny.

  • Urban cycling has a shallow and long learning curve. It’s easy to get out there, and you’ll be mostly ok because of statistics, but it takes a while to realize how to bike well. Beginners don’t recognize their own recklessness and danger when they go through red lights that messengers go through with ease. Messengers tend to be insane too, but they’re on a “do not try this at home” level.

    Beginners ride the sidewalks too much and too fast because they’re afraid of the road. Sometimes the sidewalk makes sense, but only rarely and only when going NO FASTER THAN SURROUNDING PEDESTRIANS. Sidewalk cyclists are at their most vulnerable when they use the sidewalks crosswalk at a sidestreet. They are going too fast and in an unpredictable location which adds up to bad right hooks by autos. Sidwealk cycling is measurably more dangerous than riding in the street because of these cross street events.

    After 15 years bike commuting, my office moved so now I’m mixing with the 14th Street Clan (yes, cyclists on different routes have different tendencies; it’s very clannish). The 14th Street Clan is full of beginners who are oblivious to some pretty fundamental bike skills and have alot to learn.

  • Bike Riding in the City: Two Principles that I have observed.

    Having ridden a bike (and roller-bladed) in DC for many years I have two theorys about commuting. The first theory of commuting: The laws of physics will always win. Specifically the relations of mass, velocity, and energy; Metal being much more resistant to damage than flesh. My second theory of commuting is: Assume that vehicle drivers do not see you. You relinquish control of any given situation if you make your actions dependent on the behavior of others.

    The Laws of Physics:
    1) Momentum = Mass x Velocity
    1b) resultant momentum from two bodies colliding m1v1 + m2v2
    IN this example: lets assume M1 is a car at 2000lbs at v1 30mph, and m2 is a biker at 200lbs at v2=0MPH could be standing around, or crossing a cross street and having a relative speed of 0MPH relative to the car: The resultant momentum is 2200lbs at a speed of just under 30MPH, AKA the biker bites it.

    2) Newtons Second Law and Conservation of energy:
    Newtons Second law: Force = mass x acceleration:
    Conservation of energy: Unless you apply force to an object in a steady state: the object will stay in that state.
    2b) If you stop for a stop sign, you have to burn energy to start back up again.

    – Continued from work later.

  • I don’t understand the attitude some bikers have that there are NO rules that apply to them.

    There are rules for cars.
    There are rules for pedestrians.
    So why wouldn’t there be rules for bicyclists?

    Sure there are people who don’t obey traffic rules but those rules are there for everyone’s safety and so that everyone knows the responsibility of the other groups. Humans aren’t mind readers.

    When I am driving I don’t like jaywalkers who just feel they can do whatever. I don’t like cars that roll though stop signs and run red lights when I walk home from work. I don’t like bikers to who nearly run me over on the sidewalk or who feel like red lights don’t apply to them when they are in the streets.

  • Hey Pip, you note:
    “The only person likely to get hurt if a cyclist runs a stoplight is the cyclist (yeah, yeah, pedestrians and all – how many pedestrians are killed by cyclists every year?).”

    What about the trauma the driver who kills the cyclist feels? Or, less extreme, the massive damage to the car? Your statement is just ridiculous. That’s like saying those who commit suicide by Metro train only hurt themselves.

  • people who are jerks are going to drive their cars or ride their bikes like jerks. The problem with DC (ask anyone who has ever ridden in any other major city in the country- NYC, LA, SanFran, Seattle, Chicago, etc, etc, ettttttc) is that drivers here are completely unpredictable. Cars might as well not have turn signals here since people refuse to use them. I’ve seen cars run red lights, turn left on red in a no-left turn lane, and purposely drive in a manner that serves to threaten whatever vehicle is in front of them (car, bike, bus).

    While unpredictable drivers live in every city, in DC they seem to be much more abundant. I’ve been grazed by cars who won’t yield to me when they turn left on green, hit by doors of cars parked in the bike lane despite the fact that DC law requires you to make sure there is no oncoming traffic when you open your door (btw if you park your car here whether or not you have your hazards on, are running into the restaurant for take out, picking up your kids from school– doesn’t matter! it’s illegal to have your car in a bike lane in DC and it’s dangerous for bikers who legally use the bike lane), people cutting me off in the right lane even after they see me. Don’t get me started on taxis (the rumors you hear about their “point” system for hitting cyclists while may seem absurd is more often than not believable when you’re riding in the same lane as one). Maybe it’s a mix of having people here who live in 3 different jurisdictions (MD, VA, DC) and think you have to be aggressive while driving. Up until 4 months ago I had a car in this city and experienced bikers who biked like a-holes (and yeah it is frustrating but not enough for me to be ok with the fact that if I hit them I could kill them) but more often than not I experienced drivers who drove irresponsibly, illegally, and unsafely.

    Don’t assume everyone on a bike is a jerk but *definitely* assume that if you hit them, whether you think they deserve it or not, even if they have a helmet on, you will most likely kill them.

  • Be careful with your car, I’ll sue ya!

  • 2 principles: cont. Assume that others do not see you & have a escape plan if they do something stupid.

    This one I took to heart after rolling down Conn ave (south of Columbia rd, on the steep hill with rolleblades.): I was going about 20-25, and saw a cab driver appearing to look directly at me for about 30 seconds. Then he pulled out directly in front of me and stopped. It was the first time I balanced on nothing but brake.

    Always be aware of everyone else & have a way to avoid them if need be. Even if they do something really *stupid*. It’s primarily your own job to be certain that you are safe.

    PS: ET 8:55AM. Pedestrians don’t really have any laws to follow, aside from don’t interrupt traffic flow & don’t cross against a red light. There is nothing to say they can’t cross in the middle of the block to avoid the light. (other than highways, where peds are not allowed.) When a pedestrian hits a stop sign, they don’t have to come to a full stop – just look: They are presumed to be going slow enough to already be at a stop.
    -> Bikers (generalizing to adult bikers) usually are going slow enough to see if it’s safe to go, especially as they have their heads above car height and can see down the street at an angle. Most bikers pull the equivalent of a California stop: Slow down marginally so you can check that it’s safe – then start speeding up again.

  • Ditto to Ocoee.

    Few nights ago, I was walking across the street in the crosswalk (light was green for me). This butch looking lady on a bike flew threw a red light at Irving and SHerman and almost ran me over. I said “Don’t you stop for red lights?” and she said “nope” — obviously didn’t give a $%^&^&

    When driving, I see the cyclists trying to cut me off. Like they’re trying to be hit! Agree with Ocoee and ET on this one.

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