Hello, criminal!

A Trib blog post (by Gary Washburn) about Da Mayor’s proposal to increase fines for drivers who break the law and endanger cyclists brought out the usual blame-the-cyclist crowd in the comments. I couldn’t resist snarking.

Hello, sanctimoniously angelic, devoutly law-abiding drivers! Ever gone 31 MPH on Ashland, 46 MPH on LSD, or 21 MPH in a school zone or on a side street?* Criminal! Ever crept one inch over the stop line — much less into the crosswalk — while waiting at a stop? Criminal! Ever crept one inch into the sidewalk while waiting for a break in traffic as you exited an alley or driveway? Criminal! Ever made a turn, or even changed lanes, without engaging the turn signal 100′ beforehand? Criminal! Ever made a left turn after that yellow light changed? Criminal! Ever made a right turn on red (even from an off-ramp) without first watching that speedometer hit zero or letting *all* pedestrians pass? Criminal! Ever double parked for two seconds, for instance at a valet stand? Criminal! Ever pulled into a bus stop to let someone out? Criminal! Ever turned right in front of a bus? Criminal! Ever honked a horn while stopped? Criminal! Ever driven right over a crosswalk without even looking to see if a pedestrian was waiting, much less stopping for same — even at the countless crosswalks that aren’t at stop signs or lights? Criminal!

These are just the traffic law violations that I see every time I walk two blocks to the “L.” Many of these crimes endanger cyclist or pedestrian lives. Your car is a lethal weapon; cars kill more Americans than guns do. That’s why we license drivers — but not bicycles, which kill fewer Americans each year than beds do. Yes, beds.

Oh yeah, and the cost of roads? Wear & tear on a road is proportional to the fourth power of a vehicle’s weight. Since an SUV pays $120 a year for a city sticker, that means that a fair price for my city sticker would be… $0.00005. Yup, one penny every 200 years. After 1,600 years, my payments would be worth the paper they’re printed on!

Yours truly,
A bicyclist who obeys most of the rules, and certainly all the rules necessary to ensure everyone’s safety.

* A 2005 study found that 80% of drivers on Chicago’s major streets speed in school zones! Think of the children!

Obviously, as someone who looks at sleeping cats with unabiding envy, my favorite bit is about beds. Here’s the truth about the vicious, deadly, hungry monster that lurks beneath you every single night! In 2004, 843 “pedalcyclists” were killed in the USA — most of them [about 90%, by some estimates and studies], we can surmise, were actually killed by cars, but a bicycle was still involved. That same year, 774 Americans were killed in falls “involving bed, chair, other furniture” and 596 from “accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed.” Attributing even 32% of the falls to beds (those instruments of terror are, after all, listed ahead of those wretched chairs) results in more deaths from beds than bikes. Meanwhile, cars kill more than 50% more Americans every year than guns do.

[A prior post about traffic laws’ ultimate origin, and why bicycles can follow the intent but violate the letter of the law.]

All this brouhaha, of course, relates to car drivers’ feeling that the world revolves around them, and that bicycles are toys and not vehicles — a notion that Alan Durning refers to as “car-head.” He gives a nice example of a car parked in a bike lane, but I can go one better: Mark Counselman’s wife opened her car door one day, only to have it blown away by a passing dump truck. Now, no one would argue who should pay for that smashed door. On the other hand, I once hit a car door and wrecked a fork and wheel; the driver first asserted that damage was my fault (of course, she was squealing about the damage to her new car long before she got around to asking if I was alright), and relented only after the insurance adjuster gave her a talking-to.

Durning writes:

[A]t some level, we do not consider bicycles real vehicles, and we do not consider bicycle lanes real roads. How could we, when we’ve been assimilated to the Car-head? [W]e don’t enforce traffic laws in ways that hold drivers accountable for the risks they impose on cyclists and pedestrians…

The presumption… seems to be that public roads are for cars, not bikers or pedestrians. You can test this yourself… by stepping up to any street corner… By law, every street corner has a cross walk (unless it’s specifically marked otherwise). The cross walk is there whether it’s painted on the asphalt or not. And any pedestrian standing in or at the entry to such a crosswalk has the first right to proceed (unless the intersection is regulated by a traffic light, in which case pedestrians must wait for the signal). As a pedestrian, all you should have to do to cross any street in Cascadia is go to the corner and stand at the curb. To a driver, the sight of you there should be, legally, the same as a red light. Drivers should halt immediately and wait until you’re on the opposite curb. If they don’t, any police officer who witnesses the act should write them a fine.

Instead, stopping for pedestrians is considered courteous, polite—not obligatory, not something to do or face punishment. Consequently, to cross many Cascadian streets is to run a gauntlet, and tickets for not stopping at crosswalks are rare… The lack of crosswalk enforcement—and the absence of outrage over that lack — is a manifestation of the same condition that prevents outrage over parking in bike lanes.

11 thoughts on “Hello, criminal!

  1. The crosswalk one just kills me. Here in Milwaukee we’ve taken to putting these collapsible signs in the middle of crosswalks to clue drivers in that they need to stop, but as a pedestrian you still need to jump into the intersection to get their attention.

  2. You mean signs like this? I should ask my alderman for some of those. Or just buy some already.

    Mr. Coca-Cola, it showed up on the web site. Didn’t submit it to “Voice of the People,” since as far as I can tell, Washburn’s original story didn’t make it into print.

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  4. TheWashCycle has a great post on this topic. “Hello? Kettle? You’re Black!” First off, drivers’ compliance with stop signs is less than 50%. Then there’s this story: “As a college professor told it to me, ‘On a campus, campus planners laid out the sidewalk to a building in the shape of an L. Students ignored the sidewalk to walk along the hypotenuse wearing a path in the grass. The school planted hedges to “guide” them. Students cut a rut through them. The school put up a fence. Students climbed over it until the fence broke. Fed up, the school got an architect to design a fix. She tore up the old sidewalk and laid another new one along the path. Problem solved.’ […] The way to end jaybiking violations is to decriminalize them.”

    Here’s Lee Watkins’ succinct way of summing up the history of traffic laws: “The purpose of all the traffic lights, signs, and lines – is to prevent CARS from running into everything else.”

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  7. Of course more people sleep in beds than ride bicycles, so just looking at the total number of deaths doesn’t adequately compare the risks. It is funny though.

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