She swerved right, hopped the curb onto the sidewalk and quickly passed the cars waiting for the light to change. She reached the intersection and when she detected a break in traffic, she crossed Victory Drive in the crosswalk.
On the other side of the intersection, she crossed the centerline and traveled against traffic for two blocks before turning left onto 45th Street.
Clearly this person felt comfortable playing by her own rules and blurring the line between the pedestrian and vehicular realms.
That lack of focus, however, does not exist in Georgia state law, which is clear: If you are riding a bicycle, you are operating a vehicle.
There is no “pedestrian on a bike” category. In that sense, what I wrote above is incorrect.
The woman didn’t ride her bike on the sidewalk or in the crosswalk or on the wrong side of the street. She drove it there. In doing so, she not only endangered herself, but made things difficult for other cyclists.
The topic of less–than–law–abiding cyclists is a sensitive one in the bicycle advocacy community. Across the United States and right here in Savannah, proposed bicycle infrastructure or safety enhancements are often met with complaints that cyclists don’t follow the rules and that any new accommodations should be earned through good behavior.
That’s an expectation never placed on motorists. Was the latest phase of the Truman Parkway contingent on drivers’ promises that they wouldn’t speed on it? Of course not.
Speaking of speeding, there’s also a popular but false notion that cyclists are more likely than motorists to break the law.
Yet studies have found that anywhere between 70 and 90 percent of drivers admit to speeding, which brings us to another difference between cycling and motoring scofflaws: the amount of pain, suffering and death they can potentially inflict.
It can be easy to exaggerate the risk to others posed by cyclists, even though it is miniscule compared to the clear and ever present danger of distracted and aggressive motorists. It’s true that reckless cycling is a very real threat to pedestrians (children and senior citizens, in particular) and to other cyclists.
Still, to fixate on cyclists as a major traffic safety menace is a little like worrying about someone pointing a BB gun in your direction, while ignoring the guy standing next to him aiming an assault rifle at your face. Even a legion of cyclists ready to do their worst can’t match the destructive potential of a single inattentive or enraged motorist.
Finally, some cyclists question the wisdom of following regulations they perceive as codifying the dominance of motor vehicles and elevating motorists’ convenience over the safety of cyclists and pedestrians. If the game is rigged, they figure, why play by the rules?
For these and other reasons, some suggest too much emphasis on traffic regulation compliance lends credence to unrealistic expectations of cyclists, amounts to tacit approval of an inequitable hierarchy of road users, and distracts us from the real threats to road safety. It may be a compelling argument, but like it or not, many peoples’ opinions of cyclists are forged by seeing them engaging in risky activities – even if they don’t register motorist misbehavior in a similar fashion.
Witnessing these episodes erodes the idea of bicyclists as legitimate road users, especially among folks who seldom or never ride themselves.
Cyclists, who want safer and friendlier streets and more respect from motorists, are working against these goals when they operate their vehicles in unsafe and unlawful ways.
Although they didn’t ask for the job, every person on a bicycle is a de facto PR representative for cycling.
Unfair as this is, “that’s the breaks,” to quote the immortal words of Kurtis Blow. Refusing to recognize this situation won’t make it go away.
Fortunately, despite being unpaid and largely thankless, the position of compulsory ambassador from the world of bicycling does offer opportunity for advancement and an excellent medical benefits package.
That is to say, following the rules of the road makes cyclists safer and therefore more likely to advance in age and less likely to need medical treatment.
Proven practices for safe cycling flow from fact that cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles. The first part of that equation–acting as drivers of vehicles– is totally within cyclists’ control, even if they don’t always get the treatment they deserve.
John Bennett is vice chairman of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign (bicyclecampaign.org)
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