Comment of the Day: The Plea of the Anonymous Bicyclist

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE PLEA OF THE ANONYMOUS BICYCLIST “To all the anti-bike crew, I see some cyclists pull some pretty stupid maneuvers and I apologize that y’all have to put up with that. I mean, I see folks pull some really stupid stuff. Running signals without even checking for oncoming traffic, cutting people off, riding right down the middle of gaddang West Richmond at 5mph . . . On behalf of the majority of cyclists who don’t ride like jackasses please accept my condolences. They give all of us a bad name. But please, let’s realize two very important things in this situation: 1) Just as some cyclists pull stupid crap on the road, so do folks in cars. It’s not all drivers, of course not! But dang, Some folks are just straight-up dangerous. Running signals without even checking for oncoming traffic, cutting people off, driving down gaddang residential streets at 45mph . . . I mean, all those wrecks on 59 I keep hearing out my window at 7AM certainly weren’t caused by bikes. 2) We live in a city, y’all. . . . Part of living in a city means people getting in each other’s way, like ALL the time. It sucks, it does. . . . Just look at the traffic on the freeways! At 5PM you’d get through Midtown faster going 15mph stuck behind my slowa** on Fannin than parking on 288. Being inconvenienced by the existence of other humans is part of living in a big city. . . . If you can’t take the heat, get outta the kitchen. Just don’t blame it on bikes if your commute sucks. So, here’s what I propose: I’ll do my best to stay out of y’alls way. I’m not a spokesperson for cyclists or anything but I’ll encourage my friends to do the same. Believe me, I don’t like holding up traffic and I do my best to avoid it. In return, all I ask is not to be treated like some insidious pain in the arse that is intentionally destroying Houston — and especially your life — because I cost you an extra 13 seconds on the trip to Randall’s. I’m just some dude who’s trying to get to work so I can pay rent and taxes and buy groceries and beer. Please cut me a break if I’m taking up the right lane and going all slow because there’s a headwind. Drop it into 3rd and write off that few seconds you’ll be delayed, or, I dunno, go around if there’s another lane. Just be nice. Getting angry over minor things will give ya heart disease or something. Truce?” [dangdang, commenting on Ordinance Now Protects the Vulnerable from Passing Cars, Projectiles]

43 Comment

  • Just ride a motorcycle and get the worst of both worlds from all parties.

  • Right on, dangdang. In fact, I’ll go farther than that. Drivers always cite “bicyclists running stop signs and red lights” like it’s some kind of big public health emergency or proof of their disdain for road safety or traffic laws. I’ve driven thousands of miles and ridden hundreds of miles in Houston. Have I ever been seriously inconvenienced or scared by a bicyclist blowing a stop sign? No. Like it or not, momentum matters and consistency of movement matters, especially when cycling for exercise. That cyclist who doesn’t even slow down for a four-way stop when you’re a half block away isn’t all that worried about being hit by your car. There is one really dangerous thing that cyclists do, which is to pull up at a stop to the right of a car turning right and try to go straight. In the bike world that’s called a “right hook.” Don’t do that. Here’s my proposal. If I’m coming to a four way in my car, I’ll make eye contact, smile, and wave you through. I’ll get through the intersection faster than if I had to wait for you to stop and start again. Your part of the deal is to use lights at night and never pull up beside a car signaling a right turn. Deal?

  • Why don’t you do what Texas commonsense tells you. Get a CHL and protect yourself against those criminals that would attempt to kill you. Seriously.

  • Well said, its all about etiquette plain and simple, and Texans are chock full of it, the rest of you fern’rs need to learn to relax and play nice out there, life’s short.

  • Very well said. Don’t forget to breathe and enjoy life either in the air conditioned comfort of your car or with the wind in your hair on your bike.

  • Marmer – How about we all just abide by the rules of the road??? How hard is that?

  • Bernard: because whatever “the rules of the road” are for cars, they often apply poorly to bikes. Especially the idea of the sanctity of stop signs and stop lights _in the absence of traffic_.

  • Re: clueless bikers riding without lights at night or in dangerous ways.
    You ppl should be thrilled that they are biking and not driving a 2-ton vehicle.

  • I can live with bicycles on the road, until they pull up on my right, bypassing 10 cars, so I don’t see them coming as I’m making a right turn on RED. Not nice for either of us. Seriously.

  • I figure that no matter how good a driver is, they will make mistakes on occasion. Mistakes are made more easily around cyclists — even responsible cyclists — because people driving cars are conditioned to look for cars and things that behave like cars.

    So, in order to drive, a driver must accept the possibility of an accident in which they either have liability or in which the liability will be unfairly disputed. When they drive in pure auto traffic, the risk of an accident is lower than in mixed traffic.

    But worse still, if there is a car-on-bike accident then the amount of damage to human life and limb that is likely to be inflicted is quite a bit more severe than in the event of a car-on-car accident.

    I think that it can be fairly said that both cyclists and drivers impose externalities upon one another, however that the externality in terms of the risk of liability is far more severe for the car driver.

    I think that that may explain why some drivers seem to be rude and dismissive toward cyclists, because driving around them induces stress.

    It’s not just that, however. Most cyclists (aside from kids that mostly just ride around near schools and residential streets at low speeds and in fairly predictable fashion) that induce stress are people that are otherwise physically and financially capable of owning and driving a car — which would impose less of a liability on other car drivers — and voluntarily choose not to drive for reasons that are mostly recreational in scope.

    And then there’s the speed issue. Yeah, its true that congestion is a part of urban life; however, less congestion is preferable to more congestion. If one car driver drove down the street at the speed of a bicycle, other drivers would be frustrated at that. It may only impose a 15 or 30 second delay, but on a major thoroughfare it will be imposed many times in the course of the cyclists trip upon many car drivers. It adds up, and yeah it can be fairly asinine.

    So to review: 1) cyclists are easier to hit than auto traffic, 2) hitting cyclists results in more damage than hitting auto traffic, 3) cyclists delay auto traffic, 4) the offending variety of cyclist usually volunteers to cycle even though they have other options, and 5) for better or worse, the American city is built to accommodate a high majority of automotive users and cannot conveniently be un-built and re-built.

    In the scope of all that, I think that it is not in the public interest to encourage and facilitate cycling on public streets, especially on major thoroughfares. And I think that most cyclists need to understand that they’re being dicks to people just by being cyclists, and accept criticism accordingly.

  • Oh, and I might add that I’d become an avid recreational cyclist just before leaving Houston. I had spent a lot of time on major thoroughfares, even at night. And now, where I am, I drive a motorcycle.

    I impose numerous externalities on other people, and I accept that. I am being a dick to people and I do not care…but I do understand their frustration. And I don’t think that behavior like mine should be actively encouraged or even that it should be politely excused.

  • TheNiche’s points are a fairly reasoned defense of the status quo (with an odd mix of self loathing), but don’t really address the practical and legal reality that bicycles are a permissible and reasonable part of the urban transportation landscape. If they weren’t practical, why are they used by couriers, cops, and food deliverymen? If they aren’t legal, why are they permitted by state and local law?

  • Riding a bike down San Felipe during rush hour is stupid no matter how careful the rider is. I see the same guy doing this every morning.

  • Why is it that anti bike people seem to think that there is only one possible way to get around this city? Bikes are completely plausible means of transportation. Just because some people who are perfectly capable of driving choose to ride bikes doesn’t make them stupid or selfish — did you ever think that you are perfectly capable of riding a bike, yet you choose to drive?

    Biking is a perfectly legitimate option. I’m with dangdang. Be patient, calm down. You will get to where you’re going. It’s better for your blood pressure.

  • 2) hitting cyclists results in more damage than hitting auto traffic

    In most accidents with vehicles and cyclists, the cyclist walks away with some road rash and not much more. Unless the vehicle hits the cyclist at a high rate of speed, knocking a cyclist off their bike is not usually a catastrophic event for the cyclist.

    3) cyclists delay auto traffic

    Most of the delay is the result of drivers not being courteous and allowing the driver in the other lane to merge and pass the cyclist. If people would take turns and be courteous, the delay would be minimal.

    4) the offending variety of cyclist usually volunteers to cycle even though they have other options

    People taking up extra room on the roads by driving SUVs and trucks instead of Honda civics are also volunteers.

    5) for better or worse, the American city is built to accommodate a high majority of automotive users and cannot conveniently be un-built and re-built.

    Montreal, Seattle, Portland, are a few cities that come to mind that have retrofitted their transportation grids very nicely to accomodated cyclists with a fraction of the cost of what it takes to build new highways.

  • My understanding is that a bicycle is considered a vehicle and is therefore required to follow the rules of the road. Too bad if it’s inconvenient, or that the rules apply poorly to bikes. You chose to ride the bike. Rules are put in place for a reason. As a driver of a car, I should be able to assume that the driver of a bicycle , like any other vehicle, is going to behave in a predictable manner (i.e. stopping at stop signs, not passing 6 cars stopped at a red light to get to the front, signaling when turning, etc). Since I rarely see bicyclists following the rules, though, I’m left to assume that they will all break the rules and that I can’t be sure of anything around them (defensive driving 101). I have seen some do crazy stuff and have almost hit one as a result. As such, bicyclists make me quite nervous. I try to get around and away from them (following the 3 foot ordinance now in place) as quickly as possible.
    I recognize that drivers of cars don’t always follow the rules either, but cars come with brake lights and blinkers and an expectation that if they’re caught breaking the rules, they’ll get a ticket. The same can’t be said for bicyclists. Also the drivers of cars are strapped in with a seat belt and surrounded by a metal cage and air bags. The risk of damage to the driver of a bike hit by a car at 20 mph is exponentially higher than the risk to the driver of a car hit at the same speed.

  • OldSchool nailed it…

    “3) cyclists delay auto traffic

    Most of the delay is the result of drivers not being courteous and allowing the driver in the other lane to merge and pass the cyclist. If people would take turns and be courteous, the delay would be minimal.”

  • Same thing when a cop has a speeder pulled over on side of road, move over and let others do the same

  • @ Old School: If my grandmother had a dick, she’d be my grandfather.

  • I drive my car 20 miles out of the city to my work everyday. It sucks. I’d rather have a job that I could bike to as an option. So when I come home I like to ride my bike around the Museum Park, Montrose, Midtown and Downtown areas. Its rather nice, you don’t have to look for parking and get to enjoy and see things you normally don’t when you’re driving. So for all you bike haters out there, go try it before getting all butt hurt about people biking in the city.

  • if houston drivers weren’t such selfish pricks (me included many times perhaps, just like the rest of us) you could easily be given proper right-of-ways when using signals to easily pass cyclists or avoid them and etc. instead you end up with a bunch of irritated folks driving their cars down the road with battle axes and god forbid anyone that tries to get in THEIR lane, even if you’re just trying to give a cyclist a safe passing zone.

  • This discussion reminded me of something that I had seen previously, a particular lecture from MIT’s Open Courseware that discusses historical legacy as an impediment to rapid change. It hits on a lot of issues that we frequently discuss on Swamplot (and that I used to discuss on HAIF prior to my inexplicable banishment from that site). I think that y’all will see how its relevant if you watch the video:

  • No one is “butthurt”, Paul. *rolling eyes* We just expect bicycle riders to obey all of the traffic laws if they want to be taken seriously about being equals on the road. No blowing through stop signs. No skipping to the front at red lights. Signaling turns. Do not impede traffic. etc etc

  • Some of y’all would just LOVE parts of Pennsylvania and southern Missouri, where it is not at all unusual to round a blind curve and/or crest a hill only to be presented with a black horse drawn carriage moving waaaaaay slower than any bicycle, and taking up more room, too. Quite thrilling.

  • I don’t think you would be having to deal with Amish people in the city though. You know the lone biker is not really a problem it’s groups of them which can be annoying. Have you ever been held back because of critical mass! Ugh that is probably one of the most annoying things!

  • We need more bike lanes. I don’t think there’s any other solution aside from a general sense of getting along and following rules, and some general “common sense” stuff (which varies from person to person, yes). If you bike, you have a right to be the street, but observe lights and stop signs, otherwise, you will be injured or killed, and I don’t have any sympathy for you. Try not to ride down Montrose during rush hours indignantly going 10mph in the middle of a lane, please. If you drive, give bikers room. Don’t yell stuff out the window like a dumb*** just because someone’s riding the street and you had to go around them.

  • There are plenty of hateful people out there that yell and throw things at bikers. I’ve been yelled at when biking on Taft. I don’t think that street is a busy thoroughfare but several times I’ve been almost run off the road. And I agree that there are bikers that don’t follow the traffic laws in Houston, but there are definitely more drivers that break the law. I see it everyday on 59 and inside the loop since I do drive more than bike.

  • I like to ride my bike, and support anyone’s desire to ride their bike anywhere safely. There is, however, one singular thing that the average road biker seems to do that is of the utmost infuriation to me:

    After waiting for the next lane over (usually for a minute or more) to let me pass a cyclist, we come to a stoplight. Rather than the cyclist remain in their position in the queue, they ride the gutter all the way back up to the front, causing all of us that had to pass them, yet again wait for clearance to do so. Suddenly an otherwise easy 5 minute, 5-block drive in traffic becomes a 20-minute cursing experience. Once you’ve been passed, accept your position in the queue, or pass on the left – as the law requires.

  • In the case of a line of stopped cars waiting at a red light, I’m guessing that a bike rider hurries up the queue in that gutter WITHOUT observing a 3 foot safety space.

    Doesn’t the 3 foot leeway apply to bike riders or only to automobile drivers?

    And, I do not understand why bicycles are afforded all the rights of driving on public roadways yet they do not contribute anything financially toward the construction of or maintenance of those roadways. They do not have to be registered nor is a license required in order to operate one. And not everyone who rides a bicycle is a taxpayer.

  • @ PYEWACKET2: Up until 2008, it was actually a traffic crime in Houston to be an un-registered cyclist. Registration was accomplished at fire stations for $1. The fine was $5, however the requirement was unpublicized and unenforced. Neither HPD or HFD were even trained or equipped to process a registration request. So…rather than revamp it, they just outright eliminated it.

  • Like.

    … but who drives to Randall’s (aka Safeway) anymore?

  • #23
    Your videos are so long…
    So: when you’re on a path you’re ever more likely to stay on that path – even if it’s an inferior one – with only incremental changes, absent an ultra-compelling reason to deviate or a “disruptive event.”
    (Then, no, she wasn’t particularly likely to be your grandfather at all.)
    Thus Americans are locked into automobile and air travel, employer-provided health insurance, and carbon.
    Re the carbon: there’s a good chance we are facing the mother of disruptive events.
    Re the automobile-centrism: are you saying that because of the huge infrastructure built specifically for cars, and the concentration of know-how and investment in the gravel and asphalt and roadbuilding industry, and the employment of so many people in the business of servicing cars, or taxing them at the DMV, and the powerful advertising equating cars with freedom and luxury, etc., we can do things like expand our freeways from four to 26 lanes but have lost the ready ability to retrofit our cities with … bike paths?
    I’m starting to see what Peter Thiel means when he says Americans have become obsessed with gadgets but lost faith in the future. And I am far from a sci-fi fan.

  • So, on Friday I got my karmic payback for my modest proposal that maybe bicyclists needn’t stop at every stop sign and red light in the absence of traffic. Some spandex-clad jock on a road bike rode smack in the middle of Rice Boulevard at a reasonably impressive 20 mph, but there was zero way to pass safely. There are lots of places where the right side of the road is a mess, but this wasn’t one. He was being a jerk, probably enabled by the new law.
    And why all this insistence that bicycles are _vehicles_? Human-powered, on wheels, balance-dependent, generally much slower than cars except in extreme circumstances… sounds like closer to skaters than cars, and no one tries to make the case that skaters aren’t pedestrians.

  • @ Luciaphile: Dear penpal: First of all, let me say that I’m sorry for not sending an update. As previously mentioned, I’ve been banned from HAIF. Actually, following my protest, they banned an entire nation and not a tiny nation in order to ban me. It was very bizarre. They ignore my inquiries as to their rationale. I’ll also say that I had an opportunity to discover that I’m not a total dick with regard to women, as you had suggested…but it did take me some experimentation to figure that out. I’m still where I told you I was and still with whom I told you that I was with; I haven’t been dishonest with that person. Things are great. Life is good.

    I’ve been watching the entire series of lectures regarding energy systems and its really fascinating (to me). If it were me, I’d spend a lot more money on certain things and a whole lot less money on other things. There would be changes that neither side of the political spectrum are prepared to make. I’d be accused of anarchism, fascism, and communism in the same inane populist breath, however I’d give up on global warming if only due to diplomatic constraints and prepare to adapt to the new normal.

  • @marmer
    Bicycles are defined by Texas state law to be “vehicles.” Section 551: “bicycle” means a nonmotorized vehicle propelled by human power.
    The Houston Bicyle Club lays out the Texas Transportation Code and Houston City Ordinances pertaining to bicycles here:

  • Driver,

    Yes. There are laws. I never said there weren’t. The fact that the Texas state legislature defined a bicycle as a vehicle some time ago isn’t in question. My argument is that it’s time to re-think that assumption. Bicycles don’t function like cars; it’s time to quit blaming cyclists for that. Maybe the answer lies more towards the pedestrian end of the legislative spectrum. Ride facing traffic, not with it. Ride on sidewalks wherever possible. Cross at crosswalks rather than intersections. Yes, before everyone’s chain gets all wrapped around their crank, I know that this is contrary to current law and common practice. Might it possibly be safer and less frustrating to incorporate some of that?

  • Riding facing traffic is the epitome of stupidity, and will result in more accidents and injuries.

  • @ Marmer – Yikes.

    Moving bikes to the sidewalks and crosswalks just moves the injuries to a different place in the food chain, since cycling cyclists are larger, faster, and less maneuverable than non pedaling, footing it along humanoids.

  • The Niche: Given the general tenor on HAIF, I can’t imagine how you ever came to be ejected, but does it matter? You’re doing your “Eat Pray Love” thing, and let’s face it, internet forums are mostly “Drink Type Hate.” Especially for those of us with, uh, a little bit of an arrogance management problem. I’m glad you continue happy abroad, enjoying the gift of time to do what you like.
    I watched your MIT lecture simultaneously with a movie about a guy who goes back in time to assassinate himself — my time is not that valuable. (Yes, his own self! It’s possible!) I talked over crucial parts of both. But I can now throw around the term “path dependence,” which I plan to do freely and carelessly.

  • I would oppose the idea of going against traffic on the opposite side of the street, however not the idea of riding on sidewalks wherever possible. If cyclists would impose a danger to pedestrians then perhaps the cycling cyclist should slow down and be more courteous…you know, just like they’re presently demanding from the drivers of automobiles that comprise such a vastly greater numbers of travelers.

  • Riding facing traffic always seems to make drivers angry, again because they are expecting car-like behavior from so-called “vehicles” which don’t behave like cars. When pedestrians must walk on the street, usually in the absence of sidewalks, they are encouraged if not required to walk facing traffic so that they can see an oncoming car and dodge if necessary. How is this not just as important for bicycles? You may not know what’s coming up behind you without turning your head, and that can cause either a balance issue or simply hitting something you didn’t see. Also, if bicyclists rode facing traffic, the “right hook” turn hazard would go away. I’m not just pulling stuff out of the air here — I have participated in several Houston Bicycle Club rides and I work in an area where there are lots and lots of bicyles on the road all the time. I’m just saying that maybe the expected behavior of bicycles isn’t the safest way to go.

  • Marmer,

    I think that having cyclists ride opposing traffic would be a terribly dangerous proposition.

    If a pedestrian is forced to the road, they are typically going no more than 5 mph, and they can easily hop up onto the curb to avoid a car coming at them.

    When I’m cycling, I’m typically doing 17-23 mph. If I have a good tailwind I’m doing closer to 30 mph. That means I’d be trying to dodge oncoming cars at a closing speed in excess of 50 mph (since they’re typically doing at least 30 mph). While I can hop curbs when perpendicular to them, I’m not good enough at cycling to hop curbs while parallel to them (bunny hopping the whole bike sideways while going forwards at 20 mph, making sure to hop high enough to clear the curb so I don’t kill myself). There’s just no way I could avoid the oncoming cars.

    Also, it would have all the dangers to the cyclists of riding on the sidewalk on the opposite side of traffic — namely, that cars pulling out of driveways to turn right are not looking to their right so they wouldn’t expect to see anything coming at them. That’s as bad as the “right hook” that you are trying to avoid — and the right hook can be avoided by just taking the lane at intersections rather than riding to the right of traffic.

    What you are proposing would just result in the deaths of many cyclists.