Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on February 15th, 2007 at 11:30 am
This is the second of two posts offering different perspectives on whether or not we should work to change existing stop sign laws.
In the first post in this series the author claimed that allowing bicycles to treat some stop signs as yields is a much safer and sensible alternative to existing laws that were “written for cars and pedestrians.”
A new perspective is offered below by soon-to-be lawyer Rick Bernardi, who was the chief antagonist in the initial post where he commented under the name “rixtir.”
It may be a bit long, but it’s definitely worth reading:
- “I have mixed feelings about arguing against the proposal. On the one hand, I think that the implications of both the current practice of disobeying the law, and the current proposal to change the law, haven’t been thoroughly thought out. On the other hand, I think that many supporters have offered reasonable arguments in favor of the proposed law.
“We don’t cycle in a vacuum; we cycle in the context of a larger non-cycling public, upon whom we rely for the goodwill to both pass, and more importantly, respect cycling-friendly legislation.”
That said, in my view, cycling advocacy is, among other things, about creating a safe environment for cycling, as well as about creating human-scaled, environmentally sustainable communities. Portland is exciting because it’s both one of the most cycling-friendly cities in the U.S.—although there’s a lot more we could do to make this a true cycling utopia—and because of the vibrant bike culture here.
On the other hand, cycling advocacy isn’t about advocating for anything that any cyclist anywhere might do, just because s/he is on a bike. The dysfunctional cycling behavior I see here everyday—reckless cyclists running red lights, buzzing pedestrians, cutting off other vehicles, gesturing or shouting rudely if anybody dares to complain—is anti-social, and poisons the cycling environment and cycling advocacy.
We don’t cycle in a vacuum; we cycle in the context of a larger non-cycling public, upon whom we rely for the goodwill to both pass, and more importantly, respect cycling-friendly legislation. Anti-social riding behavior threatens our ability to create the better cycling environment we all say we want.
I believe we’re now reaping what we’ve sown; the widespread disregard of the law by cyclists who regard their law-breaking habits as “safe” has created the space needed for more dangerous anti-social behavior to flourish. And in turn, that anti-social behavior breeds resentment of cyclists, because motorists see a range of cycling behaviors—from red light running, to stop-as-yield, to legally riding in the lane—and they begin to believe that all cyclists are breaking the law all the time, and are ill-mannered about it to boot.
In short, even when law-breaking behavior is “safe,” it is the source of much of the resentment of cyclists, and is also inevitably linked with the more reckless law-breaking behavior that creates less safe road conditions for us all; this opens up the possibility of resistance to cycling-friendly legislation by a public that is at best indifferent, and at worst, hostile to cycling.
Well, the answer then might be to legalize the “safe” but illegal behavior, thus removing one source of motorist frustration with cyclists, while also making cycling less difficult in a city that’s built on a smaller-block plan and seems to have a stop sign at every corner.
However, in my view, any advocacy that seeks to legalize currently illegal and widespread behavior, especially if it is being promoted as “safe” behavior, must take pains to differentiate itself from dangerous behavior that will remain illegal. And that can’t be done when the proposal has the effect of reducing the opportunity cost of dangerous behavior. Under the law, we’re all accountable to everybody else for our actions.
“In short, even when law-breaking behavior is “safe,” it is the source of much of the resentment of cyclists…that creates less safe road conditions for us all.”
We all know that some cyclists—even cyclists who currently practice “stop-as-yield”—are otherwise responsible people, with jobs, and assets, and insurance. If they make a mistake at an intersection, they can be held accountable for their behavior, and so, they modify their own behavior because they know they can be held accountable. We also all know that some cyclists have no assets, and no insurance, and if they make a mistake at an intersection, they can’t be held accountable—they’re what lawyers call “judgment-proof, because even if you sue them for the injury they cause, they have no means of paying.
The only effective means society has of discouraging reckless behavior for the judgment-proof cyclist is through traffic fines.
By focusing on legalizing safe-but-illegal behavior, the proposal has the potential to drastically reduce the opportunity costs for anti-social behavior, and therefore, to create less safe road conditions for all of us, including “safe” cyclists. Proposals to reduce traffic fines for cyclists only exacerbate the problem.
The obvious solution, if this proposal is really about “safety” and creating a better cycling environment, would be to legalize “stop-as-yield” and “stop-and-go,” while simultaneously heavily penalizing red light running and failure to yield violations.
Anything less sends the message that, in the final analysis, we cyclists really are just the scofflaws the rest of society believes us to be, and that we’re not really concerned with safety here, but only with selfish-interest legislation.”
Thanks to both contributors for their perspectives.
What do you think?