Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Lane-blockers or trail-blazers?

Had a somewhat conflicted moment when driving to my daughter's school today.

Two rather charming-looking young women (attractive, wearing normal/chic clothes) were ambling down the road toward me on their humble citizen-cycles (upright, chainguard, basket, you get the picture). They were not going very fast, very leisurely.

They weren't riding single file, they were riding next to each other so they could chat as they went along, basically blocked the single lane of traffic. It was a residential street (5th Street southbound, north of Grant Circle) in a fairly quiet neighborhood (Petworth) but there is some through-traffic along there.

I had a double-reaction. First thought, as their comrade in the Chainguard Revolution - 'hey, cool, that's my kind of cyclists'.

Followed quickly by 'you know girls, you're going to piss someone off blocking the road like that, and make a bad name for cyclists'. Right on cue, as I got closer, a stressed-out looking woman in her SUV gave them a wide berth with a distinctly irritated look on her face.

I felt a little ashamed chastising the bikers like that, albeit internally. I guess when driving it's hard not to think like a driver.

What do you think, were they inconsiderate or perfectly within their rights? Somewhere in between? Were they creating a positive model of biking, and was the driver just another negative example of North American car-centrism? Or, given the narrow road with no bike lane, should the bikers have made room for cars? Was this a case of citizen cyclists paradoxically claiming the vehicular cycling mantra of 'claim your lane'? How would drivers' reactions (including my own) to them differed in certain bike-friendly European cities? Was I being the ass I strive to oppose, or just being realistic?


  1. You know, that would probably annoy me as a biker or a driver. When I bike, though I don't always stop at signs or signals, my rule of thumb is I don't do anything to make drivers behave any differently because of me (within reason and safety. I certainly split lanes to the head of traffic at lights and take the lane for safety, so it's not always true.) But if I see a car pulling up to a 4-way stop just ahead of me, for example, I won't go ahead and skate through forcing him to stop longer than he should. I'll coast up and let him go and then ride through after. So if I'm not always obeying the rules, I try to make sure that my disobedience never affects a driver with the right of way. That sort of thing.

    My wife and I are always out biking together and often biking side by side. But only on lightly trafficked streets and whenever we see/hear a car coming behind, one of us slows down and scoots over. Just a courtesy. Same thing I'd want two bikers to do if I happened to be in a car that day. So I don't think you're being unreasonable at all. It's those sorts of things that really drive people crazy behind the wheel. Mostly because it's unnecessary and feels like thumbing their nose at drivers when it's not needed.

  2. If you do chastise them out loud, make sure to call them "girls"... female cyclists really love it when men our age scold us like we're children.

  3. Prickly, Anonymous. 'Guys' is probably the actual word from my thought bubble. Better?

  4. You sound really reasonable here, whereas, you assed it all up on my blog. :)

  5. Well, I guess pique doesn't bring out our better natures. I should know better than to write when feeling irked. Though that last one wasn't meant for public consumption and anyway is probably the kind that's better off written but not sent :).

  6. The assumed right to walk/run/cycle [insert number in your party here] abreast is pretty annoying, whether on sidewalks, trails or roads.

  7. In "bike friendly european cities" someone in the planning department would have done some strategic thinking and built a bicycle track so they could cycle and not piss off a motorist. This still leaves the issue of them blocking the way for other cyclists - cue Copenhagen making its bike lanes even wider so that "conversational cycling" can take place![2]

    [1]Second principle of the dutch Sustainable Safety approach is homogeneity of mass, speed and direction: http://www.swov.nl/uk/research/kennisbank/inhoud/05_duurzaam/the_five_sustainable_safety_principles.htm
    [2]Andreas Røhl at the 2011 Wisconsin Bike Summit. Relevant section at 17min30sec in the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nFrjojKtP8