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Monday, August 18, 2008

Wrong way cycling is evil

Image of wrong way bicyclist in New York City
From the New Orleans Times-Picayune, 08.18.08:

Taking it to the streets
What was the bicyclist thinking? What I do know is this: Before he had even untangled himself from my side-view mirror, he was calling me names and screaming that I should have looked both ways...

Had he been traveling in the correct direction along St. Claude Avenue, I might have been moved by his argument. But he was traveling in the wrong direction, against traffic.

"Do you want to die?" he shouted at me...There was no time for me to express to him my disgust that childishness has remained with him so long after his teen years...

My impression is that today's motorists, myself included, are not sufficiently aware of the presence of bicycles or the rights of bicyclists. Ours has become such a car-driven society that it seems as if the average teenager either owns or has access to a car. It's possible that even the youngest drivers on the road haven't been on a bicycle in years.

These impressions are on a collision course with the fact that more people are turning to bicycling as the price of gasoline keeps increasing, along with the value we place on maintaining physical fitness.

Certainly motorists should be increasingly vigilant, because an accident involving an automobile and a bicycle can easily prove fatal to the bicyclist, while not apt to cause even serious injury to the driver. But what of the responsibilities of the bicyclists? (Read more.)
Readers of this blog know I'm generally not effusive in sympathy for the plight of motorists. I can justify much bicyclist behavior that some motorists find objectionable, such as treating stop signs as yield signs (not entirely legal) and taking the traffic lane (entirely legal.) However, wrong way bicycling is just plain evil.

Bicycling against traffic is extremely dangerous to the miscreant rider, as motorists don't expect bicyclists coming the wrong way and make turns into the bike rider's path. But wrong way riding is also hazardous to other bicyclists. I work at the most cycling intensive university campus in the U.S., and the greatest danger I face comes from other bicycle riders (I won't call them "bicyclists", but rather young motorists temporarily bicycling for convenience.) UC Davis features an abundance of bicyclists riding without lights, failing to signal turns, and, of course, riding the wrong way.

And, wrong way bicycling absolutely infuriates motorists. They might not scream at bicyclists rolling through stop signs, since most motorists do this as well. But, as this column from New Orleans indicates, no cyclist behavior frosts motorists more than a bicyclist riding against traffic.

To be sure, much of the wrong way bicycling behavior occurs because of poor street design. For example, one way streets that don't facilitate bike travel to desired destinations. Or multi-lane roads with a long barrier divider, impeding bicycling in the desired direction. Better design of streets, Complete Streets, should be the goal of every community. Many cities have also found "sharrows" to be very effective at reducing the incidence of wrong way bicycling.

Wrong way bicycling is extremely dangerous and offensive. So don't. It ain't worth it.

Image: Web capture.
Visit: Wrong Way Cycling, Ken Kifer
Visit: Bicycling increases, so does injury rate, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Safe bicycling video from League of American Bicyclists, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site


Anonymous said...

To some of their defense (oh man, am I really going to *defend* this?), I think that, like a certain segment of sidewalk-riders, there really are people who feel that this is the correct way to ride. And this misconception comes from the fact that in the minds of many, bicycles are more pedestrians than vehicles.

Think of it - pedestrians are supposed to walk on the left side facing traffic, if a cyclist is a pedestrian then they must ride that way as well.

We obviously need a lot of education to make it clear to everyone that bikes are vehicles and cyclists should be treated (and act) like it.

Anonymous said...

If you don't know this you cant drive on the Indian roads..this is known as fun on roads.

Anonymous said...

A few comments on wrong-way cycling.

I agree with tyrtle that many bike riders do think it is appropriate to ride the same way they walk in traffic... against it. I think it was in my teens before I learned that it is correct to ride with traffic.

Also, in Pennsylvania, the law allows bicycling the wrong way down one way streets provided the bike is riding on the left side of the street. Unfortunately the law does not spell out which left side of the street, facing the right way or the wrong way. Facing the wrong way, you are riding against any bikes coming up the right side of the street from their perspective.

Nearly 2 decades ago I was a bike courier in Boston & reluctantly went the wrong way down one way streets. It took me a month of riding 8 hours a day, 5 days a week to learn how to ride from point A to point B in the main downtown area without riding the wrong way down one way streets. Remember that this is also a big tourist destination part of Boston as well & those visitors do not have the benefit of spending 160 hours trying to figure out the streets. It explained quickly to me why so many tourists get lost & hate driving in Boston.

Anonymous said...

I agree wrong way riding is wrong.

In NYC, the bike lanes are usually on the left on one-way streets (almost all of them). Wrong-way cyclists inevitably move right and try to force the right-way cyclists into traffic coming from behind. Of course the wrong way cyclists can see that traffic, but they don't want to ride into it.

IgorTheCat said...

“I can justify much bicyclist behavior that some motorists find objectionable, such as treating stop signs as yield signs (not entirely legal) and taking the traffic lane (entirely legal.) However, wrong way bicycling is just plain evil.”

I never ride on the side walk, except for the rare occasion that I do. I never ride opposing traffic, except for the rare occasions that I do. I always come to a full stop at stop signs, whenever someone else is at the intersection, and it is their turn.

Bikes are subject to the same laws as cars, but bikes are not cars. Out of a healthy respect for my own neck, I obey all traffic laws “when practical”, and make exceptions, when necessary, and safe.

My commute is fairly short, two miles of flat streets in El Cajon, about fifteen miles east of San Diego. This is a pretty “Red” community in an otherwise “Blue” state. Until recently, pick up trucks with trailers for “bikes” (the noisy, smelly kind) were the rule. The number of bicycle shops per capita seems low by my Google assisted observation. The area is nationally known as a Mecca for motorized off-road enthusiasts. I have seen reported that there is a large per-capita number of “bike shops” (the other kind).

I have been doing this commute for almost two years, and have not experienced undue hostility, but in the last two months have seen a large increase in the number of bicycles along my daily commute. Most are dual-suspension big-box specials. If they are on the street, they are ridden the wrong way. Not a big problem, since most are on the sidewalk.

There are bike lanes, but unlike those in other communities I have seen, there are no painted arrows showing the correct direction of travel. This would be a little helpful, but I have seen numerous riders going the wrong way on the coast highway bike lanes, which are properly marked and packed with large groups of spandex clad roadies going the right way.

Improvements are needed to the infrastructure in El. Cajon, and some ticket writing in the coast cities would not be a bad thing either.

Anonymous said...

It is difficult, if not impossible, to defend chuckle heads like this person. Riding against traffic is just plain stupid.

While I occasionally ride on the sidewalk, but only when it is free of pedestrians, to whom I always pay deference, I would never ride against traffic.

I just fail to see how anyone would think that this is a good idea?

Anonymous said...

...not to mention the all black outfit on what appears to be a rainy evening.

Anonymous said...

Hey Vince, I too live in El Cajon. FYI we now have a city bike coordinator and they are working on a bike plan this fall.
As far as the existing bike lanes go (in El Cajon), they are fine if you want to make a loop around the city. If you want to shop or really go somewhere, you are out-of-luck. None intersect the city.
I too have seen more bicyclist in this car-crazed city. The free concert-in-the=park this past Friday had several bikes locked up on park benches and several more riders came and went. They missed a great shoe by Bill McGee Blues Band.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to say but I see way too much of this.

Anonymous said...

I agree that wrong way cycling is evil. I actually have felt the urge to hit bicyclists riding the wrong way...when I'm on my bike. It's just dangerous.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Igor. I bike commuted through college (five years) before my bike was stolen (that's another story.) It would drive me crazy to no end that other bikers coast through red lights/stop signs. Actually, calling it a "yield" was generous.

As primarily a motorist (until recently; hooray commuter biking!), I've seen bikes dart through intersections without even looking (cars too). Bicyclists put so much into the argument that they are traffic (and they are.) So act like traffic and stop and the dumb stop sign/red light. Yeesh.

And of COURSE this doesn't let drivers off the hook who do the same thing. Two wrongs don't make a right.

Matt said...

While I agree it is completely wrong to bicycle against traffic, I can see why some people would feel more comfortable doing it, namely because you can see the traffic and what they are doing, and theoretically get out of the way of a stupid driver if they approach you, whereas if they were riding with traffic, you can't see if a person is going to hit you.

Of course if you have an accident when going against traffic, it's going to be that much worse...

On the stop sign/light thing, with stop signs, I do go through them, but I always make sure that there is no one else there before me with the right of way, although interestingly enough in a lot of my bicycling, the car will yield the right of way even when they have it. On lights I only run those in smaller intersections (after making sure it's clear), or when I light isn't responding to me being there (or I know it won't respond from past experience), in which case I believe it is legal (although technically I believe you are supposed to have waiting a certain number of cycles first).

Anonymous said...

Ironically enough, this is where we can appeal for help from our motorist friends. In New York it's easy to find bicyclists who ride the wrong way, without a helmet, at night without lights. It's effectively legal to run such people over - they will be deemed automatically at fault. In fact, the motorist can expect have standing to recover for damage to the car.

So drivers, make our streets safer by taking the bad bicyclists off our streets for good. This decent, law-abiding bicyclist will thank you.

Anonymous said...

I was a firm adherer, believer in always riding with traffic, including one-way streets. Then I became an NYC bike messenger. While on duty, I learned to ride in the manner that would get me there more quickly, as long as it put no one else in danger or took away their right of way. I would ride the wrong way on all one way streets and avenues. Of course the goal was to ride in the wrong direction for one block only so as not to have to go around the block, but that wasn't always possible. Sometimes I had to ride several blocks in the wrong direction in order to make the package pickups that were given to me in reverse order from my current location. If another rider was coming in my direction, I would pull over and stop, or I would go out into traffic so that he wouldn't have to worry that someone was going to hit him from behind. When motor traffic was stopped at a red light, I was able to ride the wrong direction without taking anyones right of way, but I still had to yield to pedestrians who were jaywalking and didn't see me. Wrong way cycling will never end in NYC as long as there is messenger work. Riders become too skilled at wrong way cycling. The key is that our society must put pressure on people to always give the right of way and not take the right of way.