‘You Would Just Love to Lob Something at Their Heads’

The troubled relationship between cars and bikes is an old topic, but that hasn’t stopped it from being a hot one on the Streetsblog Network and around the web in general this week. And it’s not going to go away any time soon.

315234532_8217647d81.jpgWhat it looks like when everyone tries to do the right thing. Photo by bicyclesonly via Flickr.

This week the hostility that is so often simmering beneath the surface came to an ugly boil in Detroit. Deminski & Doyle,
shock jocks on local radio station WCSX, broadcast a segment in which
they ridiculed a new law in Colorado requiring that drivers give
cyclists three feet of clearance on roadways.

They seem to have gotten the idea to talk about this from a USA Today article that mostly portrays cyclists in Boulder County as overprivileged recreational road hogs (bike commuters in this often bike-friendly part of the world get nary a mention).

We first heard about the Deminski & Doyle segment from Bike Portland‘s Twitter feed, which linked to this conversation
about the episode on the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition
Google group, which in turn links to plenty of related material,
including ways to contact station management to protest. If you want
your blood pressure to go up pretty rapidly, you can listen to the
radio piece here. If you’d like to spare yourself the stress, here’s a choice excerpt:

How many people have seen a bicyclist and you would just love
to lob something at their heads. Because — no, seriously, I’m not
condoning it, I’m not saying that we do it, but I’m just saying, hasn’t
the thought gone through your head? Because seriously, how selfishly do
some of these people ride their bikes?

One
of the DJs also refers to wanting to "go Grand Theft Auto" on cyclists,
quickly covering himself by saying that, of course you can’t do that.
Unless, of course, you do.

You
can just imagine the drivetime crowd listening to this stuff while
they’re stuck in traffic, pounding the wheel and shouting "Hell, yeah!"
Dangerous stuff. And it’s nothing new — Bike Portland fought this battle a couple of years back. The same hateful rhetoric springs up on newspaper websites every time a cyclist is killed by a motor vehicle.

But it points up the reality that all cyclists — recreational and commuter — are increasingly having to reckon with. We are getting more legal protections. Our numbers are growing — to the point that we can create our own traffic jams occasionally. The absurdity of a petition drive like the one in Iowa calling for the banning of cyclists on farm-to-market roads is more evident. And as our status as outlaws and weirdos slowly changes, as more bike infrastructure is built, our riding habits are coming under increasing scrutiny.

The
hate-filled spew of Delinski & Doyle and their ilk is truly
loathsome. But we have to face the reality that bicyclists who ride
with reckless disregard for the law only feed the beast.

  • Pat

    The hate is just another sign of cycling’s rising popularity, so it is not entirely negative. Though it is negative.

    I am pretty certain very few bicyclists have reckless disregard for the law and the people who run stop lights that I assume you are referring to do it with very good reason. Please dead the whole discussion about that issue.

  • r€nato

    Do some cyclists ride with reckless disregard for their safety and that of others? Sure.

    Do some motorists drive with reckless disregard for their safety and that of others? Absolutely.

    And I would wager a lot of money that the proportion of reckless motorists is far higher than that of reckless cyclists. Yet few motorists would think of going to the trouble of throwing objects at or assaulting reckless motorists.

    What this is really about, is that cyclists dress funny (“eurofag! get a real, AMERICAN sport!”), they are much more vulnerable than fat-assed, smug motorists sitting behind the wheel of a two-ton machine, and over 90% of motorists turn into raging assholes once they get behind the wheel and behave in ways they never would dream of, if they didn’t have the sensation of being ‘anonymous’ in their cars.

    In other words, it’s a lot easier to be a bully and pick on people when you perceive them as being much weaker than yourself and incapable of fighting back.

  • soylatte

    Hmm… Streetsblog now averages one these superficial “bike hate” posts per day. This is IMO unnecessary. I think it would benefit this site if it would take a more historic and analytical perspective on this issue instead of regurgitating the latest utterance of some shock jock. At least let’s channel our frustration towards some positive outcome and have posts like this discuss solutions or ways to find alternative routes / stay safe / handle conflicts etc.

    For instance, “the hate” is nothing new. Few people realize that others wanted to (and did) hurl bottles at our heads long before there were cars. Bikes are freedom and at some point they were a display of the wealth of the new leisure classes, at another an important tool for emancipating women, and such displays of freedom (running unnecessary stop signs is just another manifestation of this freedom) will always be much to the dismay of certain segments of the population. This issue goes way back to the very beginning of biking and exploring the history of it is extremely helpful at understanding and dealing with it – at least I find it is. Robert Hurst offers a good summary of this in his “Cyclist’s Manifesto”. Please, I would love to see more intelligent posts on this topic!

  • SPG

    Here in Seattle we just had a couple cyclists hit by 4″ blowdarts while commuting.

    http://www.myballard.com/2009/07/21/bicyclist-hit-by-blow-dart-on-ballard-bridge/

  • Peter Smith

    But we have to face the reality that bicyclists who ride with reckless disregard for the law only feed the beast.

    or we could create reasonable laws, and face the reality that those who continue to blame bicyclists for disregarding unjust laws are putting bicyclists in danger.

  • q`Tzal

    With the unemployment as high as it is in Detroit, an Michigan in general, and for as long as it has been so high (I vividly remember my tour of dead factories in 1983) it’s not surprising that citizens are emigrating at an alarming rate.

    So when we combine:
    >large road capacity
    >fewer drivers
    >much less income
    will it be a big surprise, to anyone other than these schlock jocks, that Detroit becomes a major bike town.

    As their local economy continues in to it’s black hole the scale of the lack of cash flow will further drag down median incomes. At some point the price of auto ownership will be too much and some will turn to bikes.

  • benj

    I do ride with reckless disregard for certain laws — why shouldn’t I?
    After all, a great many laws, such as the law mandating stops at red lights/stop signs and the law mandating driving as directed down one-way streets make a great deal of sense for cars but no sense whatever for bikes.

    What I do not do is ride with reckless disregard for my safety: who does? that would be clearly insane! While incompetent bicyclists might wrongly assume that I do, they have no idea of what it is to ride with expertise, so their assumptions are unwarranted. Only the crudest paternalism would mandate that my cycling style be that which would be safe for a novice.

    Nor do I ride with reckless disregard for anyone else’s safety: how could I? Bikers are the most vulnerable creatures on the road: in any crash with anyone, pedestrian or car, I lose. So to ride with reckless disregard for anyone else’s safety would be to ride with reckless disregard for my own safety, which as stated I do not do, nor does anyone else.

  • pedestrian

    “Bikers are the most vulnerable creatures on the road: in any crash with anyone, pedestrian or car, I lose.”

    You can’t seriously be telling me that the pedestrian comes out better when it gets hit by a cyclist. The one time I was mowed down by a reckless speeding cyclist who was using a pedestrian path, I got the worse end of it, including getting flipped in the air and injuring my back. He rode off with a scraped knee.

    Cyclists, with their mandatory helmets, are not the most vulnerable creatures on the road. Pedestrians, slow-moving and unprotected, are the most vulerable, and cyclists would do well to remember that.

    A lot of the laws you seem so proud to flaunt are in fact designed not just to protect cars and cyclists, but pedestrians as well. Red lights and stop signs? They’re as much for the foot traffic as they are for the vehicle traffic. Think about that the next time you blow through one.

  • “I do ride with reckless disregard for certain laws — why shouldn’t I?”

    I guess you’re the asshole these shock jocks were talking about, then.

  • “You can’t seriously be telling me that the pedestrian comes out better when it gets hit by a cyclist.”

    Better wear a helmet and pads when benj is barreling down the street.

  • K.

    Car drivers consistently fail to realize that they are potentially lethal to anyone else in public at any given second.

  • Daniel

    When I ride my bike I bike on highways I get off the road and on the sidewalk. Yet there are innumerable morons riding their bikes on extremely busy narrow roads with speed limits ranging from 35 – 50 mph causing huge traffic jams and causing moron auto drivers to nearly hit them.

    Hey cyclists! Listen! You do not have the right to drive on the road on a highway! Get on the sidewalk!

    Do you people ever think how horrible I would feel if I accidentally hit a cyclist and killed them? When you aren’t on a highway feel free to use the road, but you need to follow the rules whether you are in a car or a bike.

    And I will always do my best to make sure I never hit a cyclist.

  • K.

    “Bikers are the most vulnerable creatures on the road: in any crash with anyone, pedestrian or car, I lose.”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/03/AR2007020301735.html

  • benj

    @pedestrian&K: your stance is self-undermining. My position is that because of my concern for my own safety, I take special care to avoid menacing pedestrians (hence “blowing through” intersections and riding on ped-ways is of course no part of what I recommend). But now thanks to you I am unburdened of this constraint: pedestrians watch out!

    @daniel: in most states bikes are vehicles and consequently do have a right to drive on many roads — those with lower limits on legal speed: mostly freeways, which no one would want to ride on anyway.

    @spokker: who is the bigger asshole, the guy on the tiny non-polluting 25 pound vehicle or the guy in the 4000 pound steel fortress spewing exhaust in my lungs? Also, you are doubtless aware that the point of those radio shows is for guys who feel a lot of resentment to get a safe frisson of bullying on. Yeah, you can kill me with your vehicle, that makes you less of a punk.

    @atrios (who made an implicit reference to this thread): I’m behind this idea that urban traffic laws should be rewritten to force people to be cautious.

  • benj

    oops, left out “excepting” in @daniel

  • @ Daniel –

    35 miles an hour does not constitute a highway – nor, often, does a 50 mph road. Also, in most states and/or cities, it is not only legal for bicycles to share the road with cars, regardless of 50 mph status, it’s mandatory. While I’m sure you’d love to drive on a 35 mph road without all those “innumerable morons”, it’s usually illegal for us to be on the sidewalk, and a whole lot less safe for everyone involved. I’m sure you’d be pleased as punch if a cyclist came flying at you when you were trying to walk on the sidewalk.

    You may be interested in the Bike Coalition’s page on cyclists not belonging on sidewalks; they’ve done a good job on it. http://www.sfbike.org/?sidewalks

    You might also be interested in the DMV’s website on bike laws here: http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/vc/tocd11c1a4.htm

  • pedestrian

    “@pedestrian&K: your stance is self-undermining. My position is that because of my concern for my own safety, I take special care to avoid menacing pedestrians (hence “blowing through” intersections and riding on ped-ways is of course no part of what I recommend). But now thanks to you I am unburdened of this constraint: pedestrians watch out!”

    My stance is that pedestrians are more vulnerable than cyclists. I don’t see how I undermined that. Whatever you personally do when you ride your bike, however careful you may be, has no bearing at all on the question of how vulnerable a pedestrian is relative to a cyclist. Cyclists have the bike frame and usually a helmet, at least, to protect them from collisions, whereas a pedestrian has…its clothing, maybe an umbrella or bag of some sort. There’s no comparison. It’s not even close.

    The laws regulating traffic are there to protect everyone, not just cyclists, not just motorists, and those laws should be obeyed by everyone, regardless of how careful a bike rider you think you are.

  • “Yeah, you can kill me with your vehicle, that makes you less of a punk.”

    I have no intent of killing you with my vehicle. My intent is to drive safely with respect to pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers. You undermine my ability to do that by riding with reckless disregard for certain laws, as you say. Because of your “expertise,” you feel justified in your actions. I would suggest that you don’t know what it is to drive with expertise. I would even wager a bet that I am far safer on the road as a driver than you are as a cyclist.

    I invite you to watch videos by a guy who calls himself cambridgecyclist on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=cambridgecyclist&view=videos). He records his commute and posts the results online. He spares no one, not drivers, other cyclists or pedestrians.

    His videos have been poorly rated by those who feel slighted by his evidence of bad behavior by all. If a driver did wrong, then drivers vote him down. If a cyclist did wrong, then cyclists vote him down. Everybody is fucking up out there, no matter what their mode of transportation is.

    Personally, I would rather be out of the road completely and on a train…

  • Deminski & Doyle talked about cycling again this week and had on Paul Alman of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition.

    http://dd.wcsx.com/?p=4324

  • benj

    The general issue here is that current traffic law was designed primarily with the *convenience* of the *driver* in mind. Various ad hoc modifications have been bolted on to this skeleton that contribute to the *safety* of the *driver*, and the *safety* of the *pedestrian* and the *biker*; and now, at long last, in some cases, to the *convenience* of the *pedestrian*.

    But there is no paradigm in traffic law that accommodates the *convenience* of the *biker* — that recognizes and accommodates such facts as that slowing down and stopping, then shifting back through gears while accelerating, is a big pain in the ass for the biker; that proceeding cautiously through intersections is almost always harmless; that bikes are dextrous in ways cars are not; that bikers suffer more from the exhaust, noise, and heat of cars than drivers; that bikers are much more aware of their surroundings than drivers; that bikers are threatened by car doors; that bike traffic on residential streets does not disrupt peace and quiet; etc.

    I don’t claim to know how to change the law to accommodate these facts. (Although the Idaho stop and easing residential one-way laws for bikes would be a good start.) But that they are facts, and that the law does not accommodate them, seem hard to dispute; and to the extent that the law is not to be discriminatory against bikers as a class and on behalf of drivers, surely the law should be changed to accommodate them.

    @pedestrian — not really sure what the relevance of this issue is, aside perhaps from the status of a (rather tangential) factual question: my desire to avoid injuring myself is sufficiently strong that the benefit of possibly offing a pedestrian doesn’t make me any less careful (joke). In any event, fatal collisions of this sort are so rare that I haven’t been able to find any statistics on the proportion of fatalities for the pedestrian or the cyclist or both.

    Next, pedestrians have a dedicated right of way zone — it’s called the sidewalk. Bikes do not.

    Finally, whether the law is “designed” to do x needs to be carefully distinguished from (a) whether it succeeds in doing x (b) whether some other law could do x better (c) whether some other law could do x while causing fewer negative collateral impacts. My view is that current traffic law imposes inappropriate burdens on cyclists with no gains in safety. Indeed, there are *costs* in safety: if I run a red light, this means that I will not be run over by a car turning right — a serious threat, by the way; if I engage in lane sharing it means I will not sit around sucking tailpipe exhaust, and that I will get ahead of traffic snarls (with attendant benefits to the convenience of drivers whom I would otherwise be slowing down).

    @spokker — I find it utterly opaque how my ignoring a red light when doing so is obviously safe has any bearing at all on what you can or can’t succeed in.

    You have no idea whether you are better at driving than I am at biking; nor do I. Nor do I even know what this apples-and-oranges comparison could mean (unless you mean that you never drive).

    I’m glad you like trains — great for commuting, not so great for popping around running errands (or getting out moving in the sun).

  • “But there is no paradigm in traffic law that accommodates the *convenience* of the *biker*”

    You are entitled to take the lane when you deem it necessary and drivers are supposed to pass when it is safe to do so. Is that isn’t convenience I don’t know what is.

  • benj

    @atrios — my thoughts exactly

    @spokker — the Effective Cycling paradigm is an improvement on the Segregated Cycling paradigm that preceded it. But giving cyclists exactly the rights and responsibilities of motorists is not a matter of accommodating the convenience of cyclists. Rather, it is a way of forcing cyclists into a paradigm built around the safety and convenience of motorists.

    Feel free to reread the extensive list of examples I provided.

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