Why all the hate on cyclists?

Posted by kdow on Jan 15, 2015 11:30:58 AM

Dublin’s cycling scene is beginning to blossom. In fact, a very helpful infographic recently surfaced with the apt title “How Bikes Took Over Dublin.”

It talks specifically about Dublin Bikes, a scheme to get people in the city to cycle using publicly-maintained bikes provided at various stations around the area of Dublin. The scheme has been hailed as a wild success for the city, and is due to expand aggressively in 2015.

Moreover, the “Bike2Work” scheme, which affords people a hefty discount on bikes & equipment has helped get people into cycling in an affordable manner.

But somehow, blog posts like this one on Lovin’ Dublin (which loves Dublin with a lot of caveats) keep cropping up. The site purports the need to make Dublin more like other European cities — most of which value and champion bicycling culture.

So, I thought I would be a major pedant and address the points in the post one-by-one. Mostly because these points appear in most “I hate cyclists, harumph” type posts.

Breaking the lights

I’ve heard this so many times as an argument by drivers angered at cyclists. Typically, from the motorists perspective, all cyclists breaking lights in a junction are going to die. But let me run a scenario by you:

You’re a cyclist in a normal junction. You’re at the red light. Everyone has the red light, except pedestrians crossing the road. There are no pedestrians crossing in front of you. There are no emergency vehicles nearby. Why wait, when you can go, safely, and react quickly if someone was to appear (bikes don’t accelerate like cars, so can avoid pedestrians easily).

In most scenarios, anyone cycling would go. It makes no sense to sit there because there’s no immediate danger to you or anyone else. Someone driving a car (or motorbike) is a much bigger issue because that vehicle can kill someone. So it should wait at the light.

I’m not justifying a cyclist breaking the law & breaking a red light. I am providing a scenario in which most reasoned people would abuse the red light rule. I think this happens a lot (I’ve certainly done it) in safe environments, and drivers — rather than assessing the situation & assuming this is just one of those things — simply see someone beating them in the commute & get angry.

It’s also important to point out that any other scenario here is the cyclists’ bad. If the cyclist poses a danger to themselves or anyone else, then they’re idiots. Hell, even if the cyclist decides to weave in-and-out of crossing pedestrians, then the cyclist is an idiot. But not all scenarios are one & the same.

Where’s your helmet?

First thing’s first, everyone recommends you wear a helmet. And these days I see most cyclists commuting in/out of the city wearing a helmet. Especially when they’re on a serious bike that was bought from a bike store.

People commuting in the city from one Dublin Bikes station to another don’t get provided a helmet by the scheme. Most journeys are incredibly short, and most are in areas of the city center where a bike lane is provided.

That’s all anecdotal, but there’s real science suggesting helmets aren’t as useful as you might think. This debate even raged on in 1999, and again, research suggested that a helmet isn’t going to save your life in an accident. It’s a debate that’ll rage on forever, but there’s enough evidence to suggest a helment won’t save your life. The thing that will save your life is sticking to a dedicated bicycle lane and not having a car crash into you.

Within that heading, the blog post talks about visibility. During daytime hours a driver should be able to see all road users, but during night a cyclist not wearing hi-vis or at least having appropriate lighting on the bike is asking for trouble.

What about pedestrians?

Cyclists who disrespect pedestrians are a huge irritant on the city. I rarely see cyclists using footpaths in the city center, but in suburban areas I’ve seen it a lot. And it’s irritating. However, in areas like Phibsboro or Ranelagh, which are ‘commuter-belt suburbs’, the cyclists often end up on pedestrian zones.

This is really bad for pedestrians. It’s easy to walk out of a shop into the path of a cyclist — and the cyclist is in the wrong here. No one’s going to argue this point.

However, one argument I will make is that it’s hard to cycle on tight roads in the city when cars are parked on the bike lane. This is incredibly common in these suburban areas. Hell, it’s common in the city center. There needs to be more enforcement for drivers parking in these areas to, at the very least, not give cyclists an excuse for using the pedestrian walkways.

Road rage

The driver is the one in the death-dealing heavy vehicle. Not the cyclist. If a driver starts to veer into the cycle lane, turn suddenly or do anything that’s not possible to pre-empt by a cyclist, then the safest thing to do is knock on the window or kick the car beside you.

If a cyclist feels in danger because a driver is acting erratically, then the cyclist needs to warn the driver. It’s the driver’s job to be aware of cyclists, but that doesn’t always happen. The bike isn’t going to kill the driver.

City center cycling is not for kids

Cyclists are vulnerable, as the blog points out. But they’re vulnerable because drivers are often unpredictable. The city is for everyone. Even kids. Even cyclists. Even kids who are cyclists. As long as they’re accompanied by their parents and capable of cycling in the appropriate zone (and are easily visible to drivers, etc.), they are totally welcome to use the city to cycle.

I’m not sure what this point is about. Is the city not a resource for everyone? It sounds like the author’s dream life is a life filled with wide roads where only people drove in and out of the city. That dream has been realised in rural America. So the author is welcome to move. In Europe’s tight, ancient streets, cycling is by far the most efficient mode of transport. Kids, parents and everyone should do it.