This post, originally shared on Facebook, answers some of the questions posed to urban cyclists.
As a bicycle commuter who enjoys riding everywhere from country trails to urban roads I get questions from non-cyclists who are confused or angered by my presence on the roads. Some questions are posed online, and some are shouted from moving cars as they pass by. I’d like to answer some of them as best as I can.
1) “Why aren’t you on the sidewalk?”
Bicycles are required by law to use the roads and to stay off of the sidewalks. This is for the safety of the cyclists as well as pedestrians, especially in retail areas where store doors can open up unexpectedly in front of a cyclist. Also, a cyclist can be seen sooner and from further away by a motorist if the cyclist is riding in the road than if she rides on a sidewalk. Every state grants the right to ride on most roads other than freeways.
2) “Why do you run stop signs and red lights?”
To those who don’t ride regularly, it might sound counter-intuitive but it is often safer for us to enter the intersection before the light turns green, provided that the cross road is clear of traffic. By getting in front of the cars accumulating behind the red light and starting before they do, cyclists are more likely to be seen and less likely to be literally run over by the mass of traffic. Some states have legalized what has become known as the “Idaho Stop”, which allows cyclists to treat stop signs and red lights a yield signs. In other places where this is not the law, many cyclists will gladly choose to pay a ticket than to place himself in unnecessary danger. To put it another way, we’re more concerned with our safety than in the feelings of the drivers around us who might be annoyed.
3) “Why is this cyclist to the left of my car at the intersection instead of way off to the right near the sidewalk?”
Most experienced cyclists will position themselves in between the right-hand turn lane and the thru lane or left-hand turn lane when waiting at a red light. This is to allow cars behind them to complete a right-on-red without getting in the way. This is legal. They will also place themselves in the left-hand land in order to more safely turn left. This is all legal. Refer to the link under point #1.
4) “Why should cyclists have access to the road if they don’t pay taxes?”
We do pay taxes. I pay federal, state and city taxes. I pay a state sales tax on the bikes I buy. Most cyclists also own cars and pay registration fees.
5) “Shouldn’t cyclists ride on the left side of the road?”
Absolutely not. This confuses drivers, particularly at intersections and when pulling out of driveways and parking lots when they expect to see traffic coming from the left and not the right. If you’re confused check the painted bike path symbols painted in the road. The arrows point in the same direction as all of the other traffic.
6) “There’s a nice bike trail over there. Why don’t you stay on that?”
There’s a nice freeway over there. Why don’t you keep your car on that? Oh, you say you don’t work, live or play near the freeway? Well, the bike trail doesn’t go where I’m headed today either.
7) “Cycling is so dangerous. It shouldn’t be legal and you shouldn’t be in the road.”
Even if I grant your premise, lots of things are dangerous and we don’t outlaw those practices, especially if they don’t endanger bystanders. Some people mountain climb and skydive. Some smoke, some eat nothing but junkfood and spend all of their free time watching tv. Some people forget to buy their wives birthday presents. None of those things are illegal and all of these things can be fatal. Personally I’d rather have fun than sit around living in fear.
8) “Why should government pay for bike lanes and bike trails?”
Several studies have shown that bike trails and bike lanes increase property values, increase traffic to local businesses and lower health costs to those nearby.The benefits of bicycle infrastructure greatly outweigh the costs.
9) “New bike lanes slow down car traffic and reduce the number of parking spaces.”
This isn’t necessarily so. New York City increased the number of miles of pedestrian and bike space, all while decreasing the amount of time needed to cross town by car.
10) “Don’t you know that those bike shorts look ridiculous?”
Yes. Yes, I do.
11) “I am going to ignore all of these valid points because I am the kind of person who goes out of the way to misunderstand people so I can continue to have the arguments I had my heart set on having.”
You sound fun to be around. Do you know what I find fun? Commuting to and from work every day is one of my favorite activities. Seeing communities and nature as it passes by at 15-20 mph allows me to experience and notice things that I normally wouldn’t see. The cycling community is a vibrant, thriving subculture in the city of Detroit populated by exciting and interesting people I might not have met otherwise. Cycling has changed my life in great ways.
If you’d like to join us, many cycling groups are easy to find on Facebook, each catering to different skill levels and different riding interests. If you choose to continue to be an angry, misinformed hater, that’s more a problem for yourself than it is for us because we’re not going anywhere.
TL;DR: some of the things that cyclists do that confuse or irritate motorists are done because they are more concerned with their own safety than they are with a few drivers’ feelings. Cyclists often have good reasons for what they do even if you don’t agree.