Sunday, April 26, 2009

Punks on bikes 1


One of the ongoing PR problems for the city's bike people is the obnoxious behavior of many cyclists on city streets. Early on the great, planet-saving bike movement was heavily influenced by a rebel ethos exemplified by bike messengers downtown, famous for their scruffy outlaw style and scofflaw behavior in traffic. It's not simply a matter of many city cyclists ignoring stoplights and stop signs; it's the intimidation of pedestrians in crosswalks, riding on sidewalks, flipping off motorists, and the contempt for anyone not on a bike. And of course there's Critical Mass, which combines all that behavior in a monthly demonstration that deliberately snarls city traffic for several hours on the last Friday of every month. Now one of the founders of Critical Mass, Chris Carlsson, is surprised that Oregon didn't pass a "rolling stop" law for cyclists:

The Oregon Legislature has flushed an effort to bring the Idaho rolling stop law to that state. It's a bit of a surprise, given both the simple and proven efficacy of allowing cyclists to make rolling stops, as well as Oregon's big reputation as a bastion of cycling sanity. I've been an "outlaw bicyclist" for 30 years in San Francisco, running stop signs and red lights routinely. The design of traffic laws and the engineering of our roads are focused on automobile throughput, parking-and-shopping, and not much else. Those of us who have embarked on a generation-long effort to reinhabit the urban environment, partly by daily cycling, have had to refashion the streets through our own patterns and habits. Rather than acquiescing to "the law" or to self-defeating rules, we've made safe but creative use of the rights of way. When I come to a stop sign, it's always a yield, unless there is cross traffic there ahead of me, or if there's a cop waiting to nab me. (I've only been ticketed a couple of times in 30 years, mostly because I never cause anyone danger or inconvenience by my behavior.) If I come to a red light, depending on how far I can see the cross traffic, I'll either stop or pause, and proceed if the coast is clear.

Oh yes, we bike people are so "creative" we don't have to obey the same laws as everyone else! Carlsson may in fact "never cause anyone danger or inconvenience" by his behavior---with the exception, presumably, of Critical Mass itself---but the same can't be said of many punks on bikes here in Progressive Land. The problem is that every young jerk in the country still working out his Mommy and Daddy issues parachutes into SF to act them out on our streets.

Phil Bronstein got a shit-storm of mostly negative comments when he wrote about the "rolling stop" proposal last year.

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