Thursday, May 14, 2009

Stops, Starts, and the Dangers of Hesitation

Warning! Snarky Post Below

In honor of Bike to Work Day, I must register the following complaint about cyclist - motorist relations. And no, I do not wish to address the infamous Hummer v. Cyclist incident (check this for LAPD's horrifying response at a recent City Council meeting). Rather, I want to discuss something much more fundamental.

You know you have seen them. You are stopped at an intersection and just within eyeshot you see a cyclist riding in tiny circles just behind the limit line. If you are a driver, you probably tried to ignore this strange behavior. After all, who in their right mind would ride in tiny circles in the middle of a busy intersection? Better yet, you may remember that cyclist with clipless pedals frantically trying to keep from falling with quick jerks, tiny slides forward, or what have you (what I call "a failed track stand").

Fixed-gear cyclists and wannabe track racers listen up: it's ok to put your foot down when you are stopped at a major intersection. In fact, it's probably a much safer option than riding in tiny circles. I've seen this ridiculous behavior more and more on my daily rides through town, and it is almost completely exclusive to commuters who don't wear helmets (itself a sign of the wisdom of the rider). At it's worst, those "circle riders" (is that a good name for them?) selfishly endanger other cyclists by hogging the most visible area of an intersection. It also inconveniences pedestrians (you know, the people who ALWAYS have the right of way?) by not allowing them to cross the street. As someone who can't do a track stand, I respect those cyclists who can effectively come to a complete stop, balance, and restart without putting their foot down. But the circles? Please. You aren't that cool and you look like a fool and only irritate everyone else around you.

Another problem I've recently noticed on my rides around town are the overly courteous drivers. You know who they are. They obviously have the right of way, yet they don't take it because they see a bicycle and assume the cyclist will do something unpredictable and stupid. The whole chain of events is incredibly disruptive to the flow of traffic and only aggravates everyone involved. When I signal that I will make a left turn, I normally stop to yield to oncoming traffic. Once my foot is down, that's it. Any excessive courtesy doesn't help me because I have to restart from a stop anyway. I've gotten to the point lately where I have to signal to oncoming traffic to please, for the love of god, take your right of way! I fully realize that some of my less well-mannered fellow cyclists might be perpetuating this behavior, but I really wish social norms were much more clearly established. However, it should not be so difficult for me to negotiate a left-turn into campus...

I'm a person who likes ambiguities. I am a humanities scholar after all. But in social contexts like traffic, hesitation and ambiguity only cause problems. People fail driver's exams for not being decisive. This is why all drivers have to pass tests about the rules. Simple things like stops, starts, and yielding to oncoming traffic should not be difficult negotiations. C'mon people. There are bigger things to worry about. So let's get out there and ride safely and predictably.

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