Editor’s Note: Toronto cyclist Emma Woolley recently posted an open letter to her fellow cyclists on her Tumblr. Spring’s here, we’ve seen some bad biking on the streets (and off the streets) of Toronto, so perhaps a little reminder. Photo by Canoe too.
[Note: Most people who read this will already be aware of these things. I’ll probably be preaching to the choir. But I had to get it out anyway. And I don’t care if it sounds like a lecture. You know how it is.]
This morning was like any other. I sat stopped at a red light while cyclist after cyclist blew past me. I reminded each one of them that the light was red. Some told me they knew, others shrugged, one girl gave me the thumbs-up, and another girl gave me the finger. I asked a woman who had informed me that she knew the light was red (quite indignantly, might I add), if she knew what she was supposed to do at a red light. “Of course I fucking know. Who are you, the bike police?” She sped up.
I wish I could say that cyclists who break the rules of the road are in the minority, but I really don’t think they are. Maybe the split is 50/50. But in my experience, more cyclists carelessly zoom through intersections, and fail to signal or pass properly, than those who do not. I have never seen people travel with such reckless abandon (aside from a good chunk of pedestrians, and excessive speeding). This is something I am constantly Hulking out over and complaining about. By the time I get to work I am so incensed by the carelessness of others that my days are always off to a bad start. Why do cyclists feel that they’re above the law in almost every single situation? Why the sense of entitlement and “because I can?” There’s a widespread attitude that we don’t have to follow the rules simply because we’re not in a car. It’s unsafe and quite frankly, stupid.
It’d be easier not to care. I’m reminded of this every time I mention a bike jerk incident and someone says something like: “Well, to each their own” or “If they break the rules, it’ll be their fault when they get hurt.” Well, duh. But disregarding rules of the road and overall safety affects everyone, drivers included, and in two main ways: Safety and image.
It’s funny for me to talk about safety, someone who has been hit by cars more often than a person a should. But I was always doing everything right: crossing when I should, keeping an eye out for doors, et cetera. But things happen. We can’t always avoid them, but we can do our best.
I don’t care what anyone says: Road rules exist for very important reasons. Everyone knows them. Whether we’re driving or cycling, we depend on others to follow them so that we can move along efficiently and avoid accidents. We expect cars to signal when they’re turning right so that we can either make our presence known or pass them on the left. Cars expect us to signal so that they know where we’re going and you know, not hit us. Whether you like it or not, safety on the road isn’t just about you, it’s the actions of others. That’s how it works. And many cyclists seem to just not give a shit.
Answer me this: If you are a cyclist who goes through reds, streetcar stops, and stop signs, why do you do it? If you are so committed to the more physically active way of getting around, why are you so opposed to stopping and having to start up again? Is it that you’re in a rush? Because stopping for a minute at a light or sign isn’t going to set you back very far.
I’m of the mind that everyone should stop at red lights. Period. All it takes is one pedestrian, or a fast car, or another unseen cyclist, to result in disaster. For stop signs, I would actually advocate for them being used as yield signs for cyclists, but until then, I implore you to at least slow down and look both ways. I have watched cyclists not do this and narrowly avoid being hit by cars. I have watched cyclists do this and collide with one another. Use your brain.
Paying fucking attention
Listen, you have to look left when you’re turning right. Just because you’re entering a bike lane, it doesn’t mean you can just ride onto it because SOMEONE ELSE MIGHT BE COMING and hey, maybe they can’t hit the brakes fast enough. And if they can, maybe they’ll end up with a broken face and it’ll be your fault. Not that you’d care, I guess. (Can you tell that I’m feeling particularly vitriolic about this one?)
Music. If you are listening to it, you better be even more aware than cyclists who are not. You can’t hear warning bells. You can’t hear people saying “on your left.” You can’t hear vehicles approaching. Get some mirrors and/or look around all the time. Or listen on a low volume. Whatevs.
(I saw a hipster cyclist on his fixie with an earbud in one ear and his phone in the other. He was also smoking a cigarette. I’m not going to lie, I was kind of impressed until he started having steering issues.)
If you are swerving to avoid the various potholes and debris we cyclists are often forced to ride in on the sides of these lovely city roads, LOOK AROUND YOU FIRST. Don’t assume that there’s no one there.
Signalling and miscellany
Not signalling makes you at jerk. It also makes you a prime candidate for getting hit by a car or another cyclist. As I said above, riding and driving safely depends on anticipating the actions of others.
If you are going to spit, please make sure you are far enough away from other cyclists. (I was hit by a nice gob before. And the dude responsible yelled at ME. Ayup.)
If you cannot steer a bicycle, do not ride one until you can.
Stay off the fucking sidewalks. Seriously.
When streetcar doors are open, it means you stop. You don’t inch forward or weave around people. Don’t be a jackass.
Drunk? You probably shouldn’t ride. Consider walking.
On the cyclist image
Many of the infractions I’ve touched on above put tremendous stress on everyone on the road. It makes me despise my fellow cyclists (when really I truly love you all, in a way). They contribute to the negative stereotype that cyclists are just assholes who think they and they alone own the road (which actually seems kind of true for many of us).
I can’t stress how bad this is for driver-cyclist relations. It’s unfortunate enough that there is an us-vs-them mentality on both sides, let alone that many of us are fueling attitudes that encourage it. Sure, some drivers hate us simply for being on the road and being “in their way.” But many I’ve talked to are bitter that so many cyclists disregard the rules that everyone else has to follow. Sometime last week I was stopped at a red and had a nice conversation with a woman in a mini van, which started with her saying: “I’m surprised you actually stopped.” Another cyclist rolled up and joined in. (Faith!)
In order for everyone to get along better and respect cyclists as road travellers, we have to “play their game.” And to you know, do our best to stay alive and uninjured.
We all have to share the roads. We have to be considerate whether in lanes or bike lanes. Otherwise, I really don’t think anything gets better. So please, please please please, stop being such jerks.