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Gear Prudence: Something happened and I feel bad about it. The other day I was riding through the city and I decided that since no one was coming, I had waited at the red light long enough and I ran it. The girl on the bike behind me saw that I was going and decided to follow. Before she made it across the intersection, a car came. The driver slammed on the brakes (thankfully, he didn’t hit her) and got out of the car and started yelling at her! She started crying. I had already made it to the other side of the intersection and I was never really in any danger of being hit or even slowing anyone down, but I can’t help but feel bad if I lured another cyclist into a bad situation. How guilty should I feel? —Genuinely Upset, I Luckily Traversed
Dear GUILT: Before GP gets into the question of how guilty you should feel, let’s first go through the usual caveats. Bicyclists are expected to follow traffic laws, which means waiting until lights turn green, irrespective of whether the intersection is clear or whether you can make it across without getting hit. That’s the law and it’s not changing. If you don’t care about being on the good side of the law and are willing to risk a ticket, be sure that you’re only risking a ticket and that the right of way is really, really, really empty. Most of the time, waiting for the green is going to be your safest bet.
To what extent do cyclists have a moral obligation to their biking compatriots vis-à-vis safety? It’s not totally clear. On the one hand, you want to be decent person. For example, if you see a wild emu blocking the roadway ahead, maybe turn around and say, “Hey, emu up there. Heads up.” Same with potholes or any other traffic obstruction. Really, if there’s anything you see that you would’ve liked someone to tell you about, try to share it. Pointing things out to fellow cyclists is completely innocuous and costs very little time or effort. Unconstrained by giant metal boxes, cycling affords the opportunity for some degree of conviviality, so you might as well.
Ultimately, though, everyone is alone out there and responsible for making their own decisions. While your call to run the red might have affected her thinking, the cyclist behind you chose to do the same illegal thing you did. While you got away with it with minimal impact, she didn’t. Close calls and getting yelled at aren’t fun, but everyone is lucky it wasn’t worse. Don’t feel guilty. Do, however, use this experience as a reminder that the choices you make, on a bike and otherwise, have consequences. —GP
Gear Prudence is Brian McEntee, who tweets @sharrowsDC. Got a question about bicycling? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.