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Keep your bicycle off the road: On the Contrary [BEST OF FaN]

I don’t want to belabor this point, but after witnessing a hipster cyclist run into a nice (I assume) Mexican family on a Burbank sidewalk, I feel my cry for sanity in keeping these crazed pedaling freaks off our streets and sidewalks has gone unheeded. I choose to reprint it here not for myself, but for the sake of the children.

Originally published on o5/04/11

Let’s get this straight from the start. I do not have a problem with bicycles. I think they’re great fun, good exercise, good for the environment, and wonderfully clever machines. I spent most of my early childhood summers perched on the back of one, and have nothing but fond memories of racing it up and down Long’s Road to the homes of various neighbor kids. When I first saw PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE, I didn’t find anything strange about the main character going to such lengths to recover his beloved bike. I felt the same attachment to mine.

Then I grew up, and discovered an even better invention—the automobile. Between my own two feet and a car, I found little need for a bike to get me to where I was going. If it was close enough to ride to, it was probably close enough to walk to, and if not, it was just better to drive. Really, a bicycle fits into a very niche distance—over a mile or two it makes sense, but over 4 or 5 miles it would seem a car (or public transportation) would be the better conveyance. My getting away from the bike didn’t change my feeling about it—I just didn’t have any use for one any more. It wasn’t until I moved to the city for college that my antipathy for the bicycle began.

No, that’s not quite right. It’s not the bikes. It’s the people on them. I recently got into a discussion with some friends—some of whom were cyclists and some who were not—and found that it quickly turned into a rather contentious debate about who are the biggest victims on the road. Cyclists must share the road with absent-minded and/or aggressive drivers piloting several-ton hulks of metal at high speeds. Drivers have to deal with hard-to-see cyclists who cannot travel at the speed of traffic yet still feel entitled to cut across it and possess the right-of-way of a sedan. And pedestrians have to watch out for people from either camp.

I’m on the driver’s side. I have been ever since I started city driving. And this is because no matter what laws you make, or how well they are observed, bicycles and cars simply do not belong on the same road, just as pedestrians do not belong in a lane of traffic. Nor do bikes belong on the sidewalk. They belong in bike lanes, and until such a lane becomes standard in every city street I will continue to believe that cyclists have no place on the road.

For the sake of argument, let’s imagine a perfect world, where both cyclist and drivers obey all traffic laws to the letter and drive defensively and conscientiously. Obviously this is a fantasy world that could never exist, just as unregulated capitalism could never provide the utopia free market advocates seem to suggest. Humans are just too flawed, and we’ll inevitably muck it up. But putting that aside, assuming that everyone did follow the traffic laws exactly, I would still say that bikes don’t belong on the roads. They can’t really keep up safely with the flow of most traffic patterns, and to drive around them only allows a few feet of clearance. Too much can go wrong—an unsteady road surface, a blown tire, etcetera—and then that bike could be falling into the lane of traffic with no one legally at fault but a squished cyclist still the result.

Now let’s get to reality. I think anyone who has ever driven or ridden in a car knows that there are plenty of bad drivers out there. I think this is documented enough that I don’t have to go into it. But there are an equal number of terrible cyclists out there who seem to want the best of both worlds. They want the right-of-way in traffic, while feeling free to cut through red lights and ride on the sidewalks. In the same day, I have had someone on a bike suddenly cut out in front of me in my car and later nearly run me over when I was walking to the store. It wasn’t the same rider, but it didn’t speak well for the cyclist community.

There is a self-satisfied entitlement to many cyclists that is incredibly annoying. I hate that when I drive around someone on a bike I often get dirty looks or nasty mouthed words as though I am doing something wrong. Maybe it’s my imagination, but I get the sense that people on bikes are mad at me simply for driving my car where I’m supposed to drive it.

The world would be a better place if we had more bike lanes. If they were everywhere, I’d probably get my own two-wheeler to pedal around town, though I think I would still prefer my own two feet (it just feels more human). But until we redesign our urban landscape, cyclists will always be the odd man out, and a healthy dose of humility and deference to the motorized vehicles that dominate the roadways could save lives and improve the image of pedaling hipsters everywhere.

featured image credit: George Ferris