There are two things I know absolutely for certain: one is that the sun will come up tomorrow, and the other is that every time a bike project is debated publicly, it won’t be long before someone accuses cyclists of being a bunch of lawless, red-light-running rascals. So when a bike sharing program began to gain momentum in the last few weeks, I knew it wouldn’t be long until that phony argument came to light around it. Cue Amanda Fritz.
I’m excited about the prospect of a bike share coming to Portland. I find the success of Washington DC’s Capital Bikeshare tremendously impressive, and I think it could have similar benefits in Portland. By and large, I agree with Chris Smith’s wonderful take on the issue on the Portland Transport blog. But there are definitely some reasons not to be fully on board, the best of which is that a bikeshare would compete with other worthy projects for funding from the same too-small pot. This is ostensibly why Portland Commissioner Amanda Fritz has promised to vote against the proposed bikeshare, although Jonathon Maus at Bike Portland today reveals that, indeed, the “red-light runnin’ rascals” notion is also a big factor.
Maus quotes from an email Fritz sent to a constituent urging her support:
I may support a bike sharing program downtown when I see bike riders using downtown streets and sidewalks in a safe manner. Daily, I see cyclists in the Light rail and bus lanes in front of my office. I see cyclists riding on the sidewalks, endangering and harassing pedestrians. I see cyclists running red lights and making illegal turns off the bus mall. And these are presumably experienced cyclists. I believe a bike rental program downtown would only add to these unsafe behaviors. The behaviors are unsafe for cyclists as well as pedestrians and drivers. The cycling community seems to be doing little or nothing to educate riders or reduce these dangerous behaviors.
Here’s the thing though, and you may want to sit down for this one folks: It’s not just the bicyclists breaking the laws.
Indeed, as I dove out of the way of an SUV speeding through a yellow light downtown whilst its driver casually gabbed on his cell phone earlier today, I think I had an epiphany. Maybe, just maybe, drivers are doing some naughty things on the roads too.
Know those white signs with the word “speed” and a number on them? Well, bad news, sunshine–if your speedometer’s got a bigger number on it, you broke a law just like all them cyclists. And did you know that when you see a yellow light, you’re supposed to stop anytime you can do so safely? Of course you knew that, but you gun it on through the intersection every time you think you can without getting caught, don’t you?
It gets worse. It’s cute how so many of you pretend not to see me when I’m standing with my foot in a crosswalk, but you’re breaking a law whether you can successfully avoid eye contact with me or not. You break another law you’re every time you take a call without pulling over, even if it’s a really important call. And another one still when you turn on red despite a sign indicating you can’t, even if you don’t see the sign or have no idea why it’s there. One more every time you make a turn without putting on that blinky thing that prevents the rest of us from needing to brush up on our mind reading to predict your movements. The list goes on and on.
Here’s one that’s very important to me that you break a little less: Every time you pass me on my bike at an unsafe distance, you’re not only breaking a law but you’re putting my life at risk for the sake of saving a few seconds. Please, take a second to let that point register if you’ve ever been guilty of that particular transgression.
Commissioner Fritz really thinks that “cyclists running red lights and making illegal turns off the bus mall” is a problem, and I’ve certainly seen them doing that. But I’ve seen the same things from drivers far more often, and certainly peds are guilty of some illegal crossings here as well. I should add that I live two blocks from the transit mall and do a lot of walking, to and fro, along it and across it. I have a pretty big sample size here. In the end, I have had far too many close calls with non-compliant motorists, but I have never once had a near miss with a non-compliant bicyclist (or ped).
No matter their chosen mode of transportation, road users are regularly substituting their own best judgement for the letter of the law in the name of shaving a little time off of their trip. Let’s stop pretending that this is a problem unique to cyclists.