Friday, November 18, 2011

Stop the bike vs car wars - we're all at fault

No matter what mode of transportation you name: cars, bikes, feet, bus, trains, airplanes, or rollerblade, someone is going to gripe about people that use that form of transportation. With a background in bicycle advocacy, I have heard more than my share of gripes about the way bicyclists and motorists operate.

Instead of arguing who's right or wrong, or what road users break the law more often, I try to diffuse the tension and give people a little perspective with a couple of thoughts.

First, my personal opinion is that all road users should obey all traffic laws all the time. That includes signalling turns, not speeding, yielding to pedestrians, not going through an "orange" light, full stop at stop signs, etc. But we all know that everyone breaks at least some laws every time they take to the road. Yes, even you. Let's try to concentrate on stopping people from doing things that are going to endanger other people.

And before all my biking friends jump down my throat, and if anyone else is interested in a perspective on why bicyclists blow stop signs, here's a little article from Toronto to give the other side.

My second approach, to try to get people off the "who's worse" train, is that it's not the vehicle that causes bad behavior. It's the person using the vehicle. And most bicyclists are also drivers. They are probably scofflaws when they drive as well. You may see them, or only pay attention when they are on their bikes, but they probably get behind the wheel and break the law there too. If someone is in a hurry or is reckless when riding their bike, then they are likely in a  hurry and reckless in a car as well.

And finally, people ask me what they can do to improve the driving (or biking) of others. As an elected official, people constantly asked me how to get people to stop speeding, or how to get people to yield to pedestrians. Well, it's not easy, and we all have a part. We have to speak up, and it may be speaking up to those we love.

How often do each of us ride in a car with someone else, and notice that person speeding, blowing a red, not coming to a full stop before making a turn, or not yielding to a pedestrians? And how many of us say something to our spouse, friend, co-worker, neighbor, parent or sibling? If we see our neighbor blow the stop sign at the end of the block every day, and don't say anything about it, how can we expect anyone else to get through to that person?

So yes, the police can run around ticketing people for every little thing, but that is going to cost you, the taxpayer a ton of money. Contrary to what some people think, it costs the city money to enforce those laws. The time required to stop someone, do a license check, write the ticket, file the paperwork, and then possibly go to court when the person contests the ticket, is far more in staff time and resources than the money coming in from that ticket. That's not to say that we shouldn't enforce traffic laws, but we are never going to get perfect compliance by using law enforcement only.

Why do people yield to pedestrians in California and many other parts of the US? Because that's just the way things are done, and you learn that from the time you start to walk. It's cultural, like being stoic about cold weather in Wisconsin. (Or a more negative cultural tradition, drunk driving.)

We all have to start being responsible for our own behavior and also speaking up when we get the chance. Don't sit silent if you see someone speeding, and you are sitting in the car next to him. Say something. And let's all watch our own behavior as well. none of us is perfect, regardless of whether we walk, bike, drive, roll, or run.

We can make the streets safer for everyone, but we all have to be part of that change.

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