City traffic is full of annoyances for a bicycle commuter. Running the gauntlet of gridlocked intersections, double parked cars, angry drivers, and noxious exhaust fumes is enough to dampen anyone’s mood. One of the most irritating sights a cyclist can see, however, is another cyclist breaking the law. It is far too common to see cyclists riding on the sidewalk, cutting off cars, wearing headphones, or running stop lights. A law abiding cyclist sees this behavior and flinches, knowing that angry motorists will judge the entire cycling community by the actions of a few. Cyclists who disregard traffic laws damage community relations and provoke violence. To regain the respect of the community and protect themselves from road rage, cyclists need to educate each other to be more law abiding.
By law, bicyclists have “the same rights and responsibilities as automobile drivers.” (California Department of Motor Vehicles [CDMV], 2009, p. 47). A cyclist has the right to occupy the road, use turning lanes, and move within their lane to avoid hazards such as parked cars and debris (CDMV, 2009, p. 48). However, the cyclist also has the responsibilities of signaling turns and lane changes, riding in the same direction as traffic, and obeying all traffic lights and stop signs. In cities such as Los Angeles that allow cyclists to ride on sidewalks, bicycles are usually required to move at a walking speed and yield to pedestrians (Pool, 2008). Unfortunately, while most cyclists are quick to demand their rights under the law, they are slow to remember their responsibilities. Cyclists clamor for the public to take bicycles seriously, but the public has difficulty seeing bicycles as a serious adult form of transportation when the riders’ actions are so juvenile. Until cyclists begin obeying traffic laws and showing courtesy and common sense, their relations with the motoring community will continue to degrade.
Many motorists see bicycles as a nuisance. Packs of bicycles two and three abreast block whole lanes. Other bicycles fly on and off sidewalks in front of cars, causing near misses. Bicycles on the wrong side of the road cut off left turns. Too many cyclists ignore traffic laws, courtesy, and common sense. One man, quoted in a Los Angeles Times editorial, summarizes motorists’ view of cyclists: “Adults on bikes ride with an attitude and commonly perform endless illegal actions… I see them as accidents looking for a place to happen.“ (O’Dell, 2001).
A growing number of motorists feel that bicycles have no place on the street at all. Anger between motorists and cyclists can flare into road rage. Some incidents are almost surreal in their violence. In Denver in 2000 a man named James Hall drew a handgun and shot a cyclist to death for cutting him off at an intersection (Pankatz, 2000). Last year in Los Angeles, a man named Christopher Thomson became infuriated because the cyclists in front of him were not riding single file (Groves & Winton, 2008). He deliberately swerved the his car in from of them and slammed on the brakes. Cyclist Ron Peterson, hit the car at 30 miles per hour and flew through the rear window. His companion Chris Stoer attempted to avoid the car but caught a wheel and crashed, sustaining a separated shoulder. Both men, while seriously injured, survived the attack. Other assaults stop short of attempted murder yet still injure or humiliate cyclists. It is common for bicycle commuters to be abused with profanity, pelted with garbage, and forced into the gutter (Stein, 2007).
The best way for cyclists to avoid such violent scenes is to educate their irresponsible fellows. A cyclist is much more likely to listen to common sense advice when it comes from another cyclist. The good cyclists need to be proactive. They need to not only set an example, but to engage in an active dialog about safety, courtesy, and traffic law. In Los Angeles, one of the more dangerous bicycling cities, a non-profit group called Cyclists Inciting Change through Live Exchange (CICLE) is doing just that (Stein, 2007). CICLE uses group rides, free repair clinics, and other events as venues to educate new cyclists. Their official Internet site is full of tips on how to ride safely and avoid confrontations with drivers (Cyclists Inciting Change Through Live Exchange, n.d.). CICLE, and similar groups in other cities, provide hope for bicycle education.
By educating each other cyclists can protect themselves and their lifestyle. Cyclists who habitually break traffic laws infuriate motorists and create a backlash against the entire bicycling community. Law abiding cyclists need to educate the scofflaws by setting an example, joining cycling education groups, or even just offering friendly advice. Better cyclist behavior will make the streets safer for everyone.