Commentary on the Rise of the Citizen Cyclist

Sarah Goodyear writes in The Atlantic Cities about equitable traffic law enforcement for bicyclists and cars, an effort I fully support. When the full bike-share program is rolled out in NYC, there will be an additional 10,000 bicycles on the streets. If you’ve biked on the West Side Highway or the Brooklyn Bridge on a weekend lately, you’ve dealt with serious high volume, bordering on actual bike traffic jams. Even major car artery streets like 8th Avenue in Manhattan see a lot of bike traffic. The volume leaves little doubt that bicycles are becoming mainstream transit options for a majority of New Yorkers, which is, in bike parlance, totally rad.

And as Ms. Goodyear points out, it also means that cyclists need to step up into their found citizenry. Just as citizenship in the US means equality, free speech, and the right to bear arms, it also means paying taxes, educating yourself on civic issues, and voting. You reap many benefits from the work you put in. So it goes with cycling.

On crowded streets and greenways, we should all observe the rules of the road: stopping at traffic lights and stop signs, yielding to pedestrians, and riding at speeds safe enough to allow us to navigate around unexpected blockages in our paths—darting children, wandering tourists, and daydreaming or rushed drivers.

As citizens on the road, we should also expect our police force to be equitable in their law enforcement, meaning, as again Ms. Goodyear points out, reckless drivers should be ticketed when they cause accidents with cyclists and pedestrians. Drivers should also be ticketed for blocking bike lanes, and creeping into crosswalks or jumping the gun on red lights.

Pedestrians too should be ticketed for jaywalking and walking in greenway areas that are specifically set aside for bicyclists, such as the West Side Highway between 42nd Street and the Financial District.

And finally, I’d like to encourage New York State (or just the city) to adopt traffic laws that specifically address cyclists. As an experienced rider, and one who enjoys high speeds, adrenaline, and a good downhill, I do sometimes bristle when I have to stop for a red light at an empty intersection, or in Central Park when no pedestrians are afoot. I suggest New York give serious consideration to rules like the Idaho Stop for cyclists, which permits cyclists to treat stop signs and red lights as yields. For example, when approaching an intersection, a cyclist would slow down, look for traffic in the intersection, and, if all was clear, proceed through the intersection without making a full stop. If the intersection was busy, or if the cyclist could properly assess the intersection because of an obscured view, the cyclist would come to a full stop. If the intersection became safe before a greenlight, they would be able to proceed; otherwise, the cyclist would wait for the greenlight and proceed with the rest of traffic.

Read more, or watch this video for more explanation:

This is how I currently ride in New York and elsewhere, and it is extremely safe. And, I’m a nice girl. It is also how most cyclists in New York typically ride. I read somewhere (maybe here, but I could have sworn the article I read specifically related to biking) that there is a 15% asshole factor for every population, cyclists, pedestrians and drivers included. Let’s have the police target those who, either by intention, carelessness, or recklessness, endanger others, rather than those who might break the law every so often, but do it with intelligence and care.