We know that people on bicycles do not violate the laws in any greater numbers than people who drive cars. Yet, no matter how many times we say that, no matter how many innocent law abiding victims are killed, despite all the traffic engineering and crash studies that prove otherwise, many people still believe statements like the headline above.
Newspaper reports about the proposed vulnerable user legislation people were pushing at the Bike Summit on Tuesday have resulted in some expected commentary from the online trolls and others who get angry when they see people on bicycles run red lights or ride on the sidewalk. The comment below appeared on our blog and expresses the anti-bicycle sentiment pretty succinctly. I responded here, but I thought it was worth highlighting and perhaps a separate discussion, so I have pasted my response below as well.
Not that long ago I wrote a very detailed blog post that included data from those engineering and crash studies that proved people on bicycles do not break the laws any more frequently than people in cars. You can go back and read it here, but for some reason those facts don’t seem to get much traction in the mainstream media. I wonder how it is that so many in our society are so angry that they cannot see any value in trying to protect innocent, law abiding people from harm.
The Bike Fed WisDOT funded Share and Be Aware Program messages have reached more than a million people, yet these misconceptions about scofflaw cyclists continue. Share and Be Aware Ambassadors and media messages will go out again this spring and hopefully reach even more people this year. Do you think those messages will change the minds of people like Kevin (below) or those who commented under Tom Held’s Off the Counch post about the VU legislation? Do you think those messages or our education can get more bicyclsts to obey all laws? Or are some people just bent on going through life angry, blind and deaf to the facts?
Kevin wrote- “You want harsher penalties for motor vehicles causing bicycle death and injury. Fine. But do motorists then get a pass when the bike they hit is some arrogant spandexed clipped-in a**hole who cannot or rather will not to obey rules of the road? Blowing through stop signs and lights like the jerk on the double high custom frame on the east side of Milwaukee because he is seated 5 feet off the ground? The ones who race down sidewalks slaloming through pedestrians then dart into the street via the crosswalks to circumvent traffic rules? The one who ride in packs obstructing motor traffic? In a world of incivility, bicyclists are some of the most self centered, inconsiderate, reckelss people on the roads, on a par with cell phone users. Clean up your own house first.”
I responded with the following:
Yes, people driving motor vehicles do get a pass when they hit some arrogant spandexed clipped-in a**hole, a jerk on a tall bike and even jaywalkers if that person is violating the laws, even if they kill that person, even after the VU law passes. Our proposed legislation will not change that. The problem this legislation is trying to address is that people driving motor vehicles currently get a pass if they kill a perfectly innocent someone on a bike or walking who is obeying the laws. Kill a kid in a crosswalk, get a ticket for failure to yield to a pedestrian. Kill a bicyclists legally going through an intersection, get a ticket for failure to yield under current laws. Our legislation also increases penalties for a person riding a bicycle who might kill a person, another bicyclist or a pedestrian. That has never happened in our state to my knowledge, but it is part of the proposed law.
Are some people who ride bicycles inconsiderate? Absolutely, but the facts (not anecdotal observations) show that people on bicycles do not break laws any more frequently than people in motor vehicles. They just break different laws. In fact, WisDOT studies and City of Milwaukee studies show that the majority of crashes between motor vehicles and adults on bicycles are the fault of the motorist violating the law by a small margin. City of Milwaukee bicycle counts at mid-block locations show the vast majority of people on bikes riding legally in the street. People who ride on the sidewalk or against the flow of traffic do so because they are afraid of riding in the street. The statistics varied between 23% and 48% of bicycles made illegal maneuvers in those studies. Fewer people ride on the sidewalk or the wrong way when you give them convenient safe places to ride (trails and bike lanes). The City bike counts at signalized intersections showed a significant percentage, but still a minority, of people on bicycles ran red lights. So the fact is that the majority of people on bicycles are generally law abiding.
Further, as the person who used to manage the neighborhood traffic safety program for the City of Milwaukee, I had hundreds of meetings with people because they had complaints about motor vehicles speeding, failing to stop for stop signs, and failing to yield to pedestrians. For those complaints, the city traffic engineer assigned engineering interns to do speed studies and crosswalk studies in every neighborhood across Milwaukee. The City also used unobtrusive radar units (not speed boards) that count every vehicle and measure the speed of every vehicle. In the vast majority (but not all) of those studies, on average, 65% of motor vehicles drove above the speed limit in a bell curve with most driving 5 or so mph above, but some driving as much as 25mph above the posted limit and between 77% and 100% of motor vehicles failed to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk, even when a police officer was present. So the fact is that the majority of people driving motor vehicles are not law abiding.
Finally, it is no more illegal for people on bicycles to ride in groups than it is for people in cars to ride in groups. SUVs and trucks obscure the vision of someone in a smaller vehicle, but it is not illegal. People on bicycles are required to ride no more than two abreast unless they are passing a slower moving group. As long as they are obeying that law, they are not obstructing traffic, they are traffic. Many group rides certainly violate the laws and the Bike Fed is opposed to that, but try to drive the speed limit in the left lane on I94 between Milwaukee and Madison (that is the law after all) and let me know how much civility you see in the other drivers and how many thumbs up you get for obeying the law.
For that matter, try to drive the speed limit in the right lane and count how many cars you pass vs. how many cars pass you. I have done that and typically stop counting when I get to 250 cars near Johnson Creek. Is everyone who passes me an arrogant steel-clad a**hole who will not obey the rules of the road? No, they are just following our societies’ current driving norms in which it is expected that motorists will break the law to get where they want to go faster if they can get away with it. Most people driving motor vehicles know they can drive 7mph above the speed limit and ignore pedestrians trying to cross the street, rather than stop, so they break those laws to get where they are going faster. Current culture for people who ride bicycles is similar. Many people who ride bikes, but studies show not the majority as it is with cars, run red lights because they know they can get away with it and it gets them where they are going faster.
Those are the facts from traffic studies and crash studies done by unbiased traffic engineers, not anecdotal observations.
As to cleaning up our own house, if you look at our programs, the Bike Fed teaches tens of thousands of children and adults how to ride legally and safely every year. The Bike Fed’s Share and Be Aware encouragement campaign works to get all road users to obey all laws and our messages reach millions. Those messages include getting pedestrians to wait for walk signals and bicyclists to stop for red lights and stop signs.
Perhaps you yourself ride a bicycle - the majority of people in Wisconsin do. When you are on your bike, do you feel like you get respect from people in motor vehicles, even though you obey the laws and are civil to other road users? Do you always feel safe and comfortable on the road? I would bet the answers are “no” to both questions. If you don’t ride a bicycle, perhaps your children or nieces or nephews do. Would you advise those kids that they are safe to ride their bicycles on any street in Milwaukee as long as they obey the laws? I would guess you would not give that advice.
The Bicycle Federation is working to make it safe, convenient and pleasant for anyone, from 8 to 80 to get on a bike and ride if they want to. We are working to get more bicyclists to ride, to understand and obey the law, to increase safety, to improve health, to save people some money, and to help salvage what is left of our environment. We believe that by putting more butts on bikes we can put smiles on more faces, even yours.