Writing on the Double Yellow Line

Militant moderate, unwilling to concede any longer the terms of debate to the strident ideologues on the fringe. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, you're an ideologue. If you're a "moderate" who votes a nearly straight party-ticket, you're still an ideologue, but you at least have the decency to be ashamed of your ideology. ...and you're lying in the meantime.

Location: Illinois, United States

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Nothing Flat

Nothing Flat
© 2009 Ross Williams

My wife and I travel to Chicago several times a year. Most of our time there we’re in the neighborhoods. Those parts of the city cram-packed with three story brick walk-ups [condo or otherwise] among which small shops, corner bars, and restaurants are jammed.

In these parts of the city there are many, many people who ride bicycles. Bicycles are quicker point to point than walking, and you won’t lose your parking spot. And parking spots are a serious matter in Chicago. Arguments about parking spots have inspired fistfights, vandalism and a bizarre parking spot reservation ritual which, if you refused to follow the unwritten rules, resulted in further fistfights and vandalism[1].

So bikes are common. And with a growing awareness of The Environment® among the bicycling-effete[2], not to mention the growing awareness of high gas prices, bicycles are becoming more and more common every day. Frankly, this is a good thing. It makes sense for people who can avoid using cars to do so as often as possible.

But, honestly, most of the bike riders I’ve run across in Chicago are arrogant assholes. I’ve been involved in a few online discussions with people in the general public on bicycle versus automobile articles in the Chicago Tribune[3], and there are very few bicyclists I’ve talked with whom I can truthfully describe as not sitting on their own shoulders pretty much constantly[4].

Nearly all of them quote facile bumper-stickers and say such vacuous things as “Cars need to see bicycles.” Which is unequivocally true, of course, but it’s only a [small] portion of the total sharing the roadway equation. Bicyclists themselves need to follow traffic laws. And this is a significantly greater piece of the puzzle, to be blunt about it. Because no matter how often, how loudly, or how self-righteously anyone wishes to declare that automobiles do not follow traffic laws, the fact of the matter is that when car meets bike on the street, regardless of the legalities of how the two meet, bike loses – each time, without fail. And if the bicyclists would follow the traffic laws first, there’d be significantly fewer meetings.

Personally, I admire those who bike where ever they can. Also those who walk. Particularly when they are not trying to make me walk farther than I want to, or bike at all. When my wife wants me to go riding, I think “horse”. …for which our streets were originally designed, by the way; not for cars and certainly not for bicycles.

That, though, the “streets were made for bikes” argument, is one of the typical notions flung around like road apples whenever bicyclists get their pointy, helmeted heads involved in any of these discussions. And from this follows a predictable pattern of argument:

Bicyclist: The streets were made for bikes.

Rational Person: That’s incorrect. If the streets were made for bikes, they’d be significantly narrower and not have parking meters along them. The streets were made for cars; bicycles are simply allowed to use them at the same time … and are subject to the same traffic laws while doing so.

Bicyclist: But why should bicycles need to follow traffic laws when it’s clear that cars don’t?

Rational Person: Most drivers do follow traffic laws, rolling stops notwithstanding, and in any event, in any car-bike collision it’ll be the bicyclist who loses.

Bicyclist: …which is all the more reason for cars to be required to follow traffic laws even more than bicycles.

Rational Person: So what you’re saying then is that bicyclists are not, and cannot be, responsible for themselves or their own actions. It has always seemed like bicyclists were irresponsible; it’s just interesting to have one admit it…

And that’s how these discussions invariably unwind. Who follows traffic law the least and who is more immoral for doing so; and who should follow traffic law the most: cars for the sake of creating the uber-safety bicyclists demand, or bicyclists who presumably want to make it down the block without denting someone’s grille.

In attempt to add some methodology to the dogmatic madness, I announced a few years ago in one of these online discussions that on my next trip to Chicago I would pay strict attention to the bicyclists we encountered on the streets. As it happened, we went to Chicago just a few weeks later to see a weekend Cubs game. Our normal driving pattern for these events is to get off Lakeshore at Belmont where we turn right on [I forget] and go north two blocks to Roscoe [a one-way westbound]; turn left and cross Halstead through Boystown, past Clark, past Sheffield, to Kenmore [my wife’s old haunts] and find on-street parking there for the game. After the game, we’d come back on Church [one way eastbound]; to Halstead [maybe, I forget again – it’s by the Walgreens at any rate]; turn left onto Belmont and pick up Lakeshore. In all, this is maybe two miles where we can share the streets with bikes.

In these two miles on this one trip we encountered bicycles 5 times. Six bicycles total [one time was a two-fer]. It’s been two years, and I’ve lost track of the details, but this is what I recall:

Incident #1: driving west on the one-way Roscoe in Boystown, we encountered two bicyclists travelling eastbound, weaving in between parked cars to ride on both the street and the sidewalk as their self-important whims dictated. We saw them well ahead of time [light traffic] and slowed to avoid their King of the Road-ing.

Incident #2: having failed to find a parking spot on Kenmore on the first pass, we turned right on Belmont, went one block farther west, turned right on [whatever it is] in order to circle back around and find a parking spot on Kenmore near my wife’s old apartment. At one of the all-way stops in fairly heavy traffic on this circle-back was a bicycle in our traffic lane directly in front of us. He was waiting his turn to proceed through the intersection – itself a rare occurrence; it came to his turn and the cross traffic and oncoming traffic stopped. He proceeded through, straight, and once he got through the intersection, two things happened at once:

1. The oncoming car, on its turn, started to proceed through the intersection;
2. The bicyclist suddenly realized that he didn’t really want to go straight after all, and he quickly hooked a left turn and cut in front of the car which was proceeding – legally – through the all-way stop.

The driver slammed on his brakes, missing the bike by maybe a half a foot, and yelled and glowered at the bicyclist who turned, yelled a very audible profanity at the driver [as if anything was his fault] while simultaneously flipping him off.

Incident #3: Another all-way stop but with far less traffic, a bicyclist coming from the wrong direction on a one-way side street proceeded to enter and pass through the intersection without stopping. Also, without even slowing down[5]. And it actually looked like the guy didn’t even dart his eyes around to see if he was going to encounter any vehicles.

Incident #4: I forget, but it involved another exceptionally unsafe bicyclist action.

Incident #5: This was the only incident occurring after the game, and it was on a very busy Belmont travelling east toward Lakeshore where a Latino-looking gentleman was riding his one-speed bike – common in Mexico, by the way, not that I’m insinuating anything. He stopped at the stop light and even though no cars were using the intersection he waited along with the rest of us for the green light. We passed him in the next block and left Chicago’s side streets with the last memory of bicyclists being a good one. The only good one.

But 4 out of the 5 incidents we encountered in roughly two miles of Chicago’s side streets involved phenomenally foolish and suicidal actions on the part of the bicyclists – who often wish to blame automobiles and their drivers for every entanglement because cars frequently do rolling stops at stop signs. When reminded that bicyclists rarely even do that much, the bicyclists’ common response is to claim that it’s hard to start up from a dead stop – boo hoo.

…which it probably is. I’d imagine it’s even harder to start from a dead stop when you’re lying dead in a crumpled heap in front of a face-dented fender, though. And not to suggest that it is always a choice between those two things, in certain cases it is as the earlier link to the Chicago Tribune article indicates.

It’s incredibly easy to blame automobiles and drivers because when bicyclists do phenomenally stupid things in front of cars, the driver’s natural impulse is to get angry at the bicyclist for scaring the wits out of the driver. This driver’s anger indicates – to self-centered bicyclists – that drivers are outraged at having to share the streets with bicycles and actually wish them harm … as many, many, many bicyclists have claimed during their irrational renditions of discourse on the Chicago Tribune’s public comment pages.

Not meaning to intentionally inflict ill will upon the family of the dead bicyclist cited in this article, but understanding that I probably will, 16 year-old Tess, sister of the deceased bicyclist in question, does pretty much that exact thing. She claims: “…nothing will change unless drivers start to wake up and realize that they are not alone on the road, and that they are not entitled to it any more than cyclists."

Um, Tess? Dear, sweet, ignorant, lashing-out-in-anger Tess? The issue in general, and the issue specific to your dead brother is the opposite of how you characterize it: it was your brother’s own actions which caused his death. If he had been following traffic law he would not have turned his 15 pound bicycle in front of the 15-hundred pound car who ran him flat. It can reasonably be said that your brother assumed that it was he who was entitled to the roads more than automobiles are.

But at least Mom has her head on her shoulders; she says, “We refuse as a family to have his legacy be that he died on that corner. His legacy will be one of change." Good for you, Mom!

And let the change be this: bicyclists either follow the traffic laws or they get the hell off the streets. Now, because bicycling is a good idea, and the more bicycling we have the better it will be for everyone, how about bicyclists simply follow traffic laws.

That can be a change some people can live with.

[1] A person leaving an on-street parking spot they wished to use several hours later when they returned would have a lawn chair or other such object of private possession weighted down in it; it was “understood” that only the owner of said lawn chair could remove it. This, of course, is about as mature as licking every cookie on the plate to ensure that no one else will take any, and it was particularly the habit in winter when a person who spent 45 minutes digging his car out of the snow would not want to have some schlub come in and vulture the spot he’d labored over. The city has formally announced that such reservation schemes are illegal and will subject the owner of the lawn chair to, effectively, getting a parking ticket.
[2] These Cycling Chicagoans are aware of the environment in general, which is to say in theory. They have heard of places which have not been paved to within an inch of its life, but otherwise have little to no concept of what occurs outside the cozy confines of their cloistered 6-block neighborhood. Which is the reason they – like many other modern troglodytes – continue to pretentiously scold rural folks for not taking the non-existent public transportation to work, or riding bikes for 30 miles one-way.
[3] Such as this one: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chicago/chi-cycling_awarenessapr17,0,563844.story
[4] Or other such terms as indicates they have their heads up their own asses.
[5] This is not the first time I’d seen this specific form of arrogant disregard for traffic law, personal safety and the emotional well-being of the poor schlemiel who might kiss this ass-wipe with the front of his car.


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