In the sad aftermath of Alice Swanson‘s death, blogs left and right have been awash in comments about the great urban biking vs. urban driving debate, which inevitably drills down to versions of the following claim (from Megan McArdle‘s Atlantic blog): “if bicyclists want to be respected like other vehicles, they have to obey the same rules.”
Allow me to voice the unspoken secret of urban bicycling: No, we don’t. The whole fun and profit of riding your bike in the city is breaking the rules when safe and possible. That’s why I can get from my office in Adams Morgan down to city hall in 10 minutes or less during even the worst times of day traffic-wise. It’s what makes riding a bike around this city worthwhile.
I ride pretty much everywhere I need to go in the city, averaging about 50 miles a week, not counting any recreational/fitness rides. I also own a car, which I drive an average of twice a week. I’ve been in exactly one bike accident in nine years in town, when a driver made an illegal U-turn in front of me mid-block.
That said, I thought I’d share my “sensible scofflaw” strategies:
1. Running stop signs. My usual MO is this: As I approach a four-way stop, I assess traffic and slow down so that I take my turn while still rolling. If I can piggyback on a car moving through the intersection, I do. Actually stopping would mean wasting a considerable amount of energy getting back up to speed, especially seeing as I rarely downshift as I approach. Pet peeve: Fairly often, drivers will stop and wave me through at four-way stops. I can’t tell you how much I hate this: Do not make exceptions for me. When drivers make exceptions to the rules of the road, that’s when accidents happen. Take your turn, I’ll take mine.
2. Running traffic lights. I generally don’t do it when there’s heavy traffic or at complicated intersections with multiple protected left turns. But, when traffic is light, I’ll jump the gun after looking left-right-left and watching closely to see if any cars stopped with me are signaling or contemplating turns. Another thing I tend to do is wait to cross in the middle of the lane, edged almost into the intersection, where I can be easily seen.
3. Going the wrong way down one-way streets. Try to avoid it, with one big exception. I live on the 1400 block of W Street NW, which is one way heading east. Every day I have to head west to work, so I generally ride west on the sidewalk to the intersection with 15th Street and Florida Avenue, ride through the intersection (after going through it four or more times a day for more than a year, I’ve got the signal timing down), then continue across the 1500 block of W/Florida, still going the wrong way. If I didn’t do this, I’d have to detour east and south to V Street NW, which would just be stupid.
4. Sliding past cars stopped at intersections. Don’t know if this is even illegal, but this is the whole reason why you ride your bike around town! In fact, I dare a driver to cite a time they saw a cyclist actually wait in line with traffic. The secret to doing this safely and successfully is to be defensive. Generally, as I approach the intersection, I’ll slide to the inside of the waiting cars to avoid the right hook, then while waiting for the light, ride in front of the right-most lane to the outside, making eye contact with the driver. If the light changes while I approach the intersection, I slow down, allow a car to pass and slip in just behind.
Any other cyclists out there care to share their own sensible-scofflaw strategies?