Can’t Peddle 55

Megan McArdle argues that drivers who exceed the speed limit in their cars have no right to get angry at bikers who run stop signs and red lights, weave in and out of traffic, and otherwise ignore traffic laws.  Plus, because bikes are smaller and slower, they’re not going to cause any harm:

The reason cops don’t ticket bikers when they fail to observe stop signs at uncrowded intersections, etc, for the same reason that they don’t ticket people going 5 mph over the speed limit–those people do not cause many accidents. That’s because a bike going down a one-way street does not crash into cars. A bike passing through an intersection has neither the mass nor the velocity to hurt a car. A bike running a stop sign is maintaining a speed too slow to kill a pedestrian. Moreover, the fact that bike/pedestrian or bike/car crashes are at least as likely to hurt or kill the rider makes bike riders much more cautious than car drivers are likely to be.

Of course, cars that roll through stop signs at uncrowded intersections generally don’t cause accidents, either. Conversely, a biker who rolls out in front of a car illegally can not only severely damage the car but get himself seriously injured, to boot.

And guess who’s likely to get ticketed and have to pay the medical bills?  Why, the person operating a licensed motor vehicle for which he’s carrying insurance.  The numskull on the bike will inevitably be seen as the tragic victim that the driver of the heavy automobile should have been looking out for.

Making my exit from DC during the early part of rush hour, I frequently encounter bicyclists weaving in and out of very heavy traffic (southbound on 14th or 15th street) and running through red lights.  Cars are constantly forced to brake and have near misses with said bicyclists.   Why?  Because we’re expecting that those we’re sharing the road with will conform to certain norms.  If I’m changing lanes, I’m looking out for other vehicles (generally inching along on clogged roads) that are using the normal traffic lanes, not bicyclists who suddenly emerge in a lane that they’ve invented.

Even worse are the morons riding their bikes or Segways on the sidewalk who want to alternately be pedestrians or motor vehicles, depending on which is convenient at the moment.  These yahoos will come flying down the sidewalk and then cross the road at an intersection.   Again, drivers of vehicles are looking for 1) other motor vehicles in normal traffic lanes and 2) pedestrians who are walking at a snail’s pace.  So, when some yahoo comes flying across the road from the sidewalk at 25 miles an hour, we’re not expecting you.

Bicycling is a convenient, environmentally friendly mode of transportation and we should do a better job of creating bike paths and otherwise making it safe.  But driving on busy metropolitan streets isn’t like peddling along in a suburban neighborhood.   If you’re going to use the road, you’ve got to observe the norms that everyone else is expecting or you put everyone in danger.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    Megan McArdle argues that drivers who exceed the speed limit in their cars have no right to get angry at bikers who run stop signs and red lights, weave in and out of traffic, and otherwise ignore traffic laws

    Someone doing 5 or even 10 over isn’t nearly the flow blockage that one bike can be, particularly when they’re behaving in the manner you suggest.

  2. John Burgess says:

    The ‘invented lane’ is a real problem. It’s not just the middle of the road, of course, but also on the right. I was in a taxi in DC that had pulled up to let me out. It wasn’t on the curb, though, and a bicyclist thought there was enough room to pass on the right, not realizing I was about to get out.

    Well, the open door met the bike; bicyclist hit the road; door was seriously sprung. Good thing I wasn’t quicker getting out or I’d have been on my way to the emergency room.

    I’m happy to accord bikes all the protection they’re granted by law, even when it means I’m driving at 15 mph down Beach Drive in the wake of a bike or two. But this is predicated on their obeying traffic laws as well.

  3. Brian J. says:

    Hipsters ride bikes; they’re special and deserve special rules. BECAUSE OF THE COOLNESS!

  4. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Bike rides on road. Car rides on road. Bike moves in front of car. Car fails to stop. Ooops.

  5. Steve Plunk says:

    Norms. Courtesy. Common sense. These are all needed by cyclists if they want a place on the road.

    Now I’m a bike rider. Not a commuter. A rider who puts on the spandex, helmet, and cool shades. I get down to business and get my miles in. I roll through stop signs, run the reds when they won’t turn for me, and take a full lane when safety demands it. I also respect cars, get out of the way when possible, and mind pedestrians. I signal my turns, talk to drivers politely, and nod appreciatively.

    The fact is there are jerks on bikes and jerks in cars. Every time you turn around you read about one or the other causing problems. In Portland the other day it was a cyclist using his bike to bash the motorist’s car. Nice. He was also a transportation planner for the city, and drunk. Most importantly he was a jerk. Just try being nice and you will see it works pretty well.

    Common sense.

  6. LaurenceB says:

    I am an occasional bike commuter and I readily admit to rolling through stop signs, sometimes even a red light, etc. I shouldn’t do it. Agreed.

    But here’s the thing:

    In all the time I’ve been commuting, no one has ever had to jump out of the way to keep me from running them down. Never. Meanwhile, I have “near misses” on roughly a weekly basis. Careless drivers, who don’t understand bicycles on the road are a constant menace. Constantly.