Monday, June 6, 2011

Dr Gridlock chat (6-6-11)

As a public service, below are bicycle-related comments / questions issued to Robert Thomson on his Monday midday Dr. Gridlock chat on the Washington Post website, unedited.

This week, several comments about rolling through stop signs, improvements to the humpback bridge for bicyclists and pedestrians, and drawing a correlation between allegedly reckless Zipcar drivers and allegedly reckless Capital Bikeshare users.

"At least they slow down"

Q.  Dr. Gridlock, several times in the last few months you've written that "drivers run stop signs too, but at least they slow down" as though that is a sign of greater virtue. But isn't different behavior by different modes just a result of the technology, not the virtue of the operators? Drivers slow down because they're going faster to start with, they can't see or hear as well as cyclists, and they aren't as maneuverable. In short, they slow down because they have to to avoid a crash. The prevelance of other illegal behavior seems to negate any claim to higher virtue. Would you not agree that cyclists, drivers and pedestrians do what they feel they can get away with without getting caught or being in a crash. So no group is more virtuous than other, right? 
-June 06, 2011 9:39 AM

A. Robert Thomson:
My point exactly: Travelers generally comply with traffic law when they think there's a reasonable chance they'll get caught for a violation. Drivers complain about cyclists. Cyclists complain about drivers. But I don't see any class of travelers having the moral high ground on complying with the law. 

As in: The law doesn't say "slow down" for a stop sign. It' says "stop."
– June 06, 2011 12:01 PM

Capitol Bikeshare / Zipcar

Q. Dr. G- Do you think the Capitol Bikeshare, in some way, may put negative strain on the transpo system? I've noticed that many (I'd say most, but it would not be statistical) do not wear helmets and pads. They seem to be even more cavalier than most people on bikes as far as obeying the traffic laws. In other words, it introduces novice people on bikes that are unfamiliar with the rules-of-the-road (or where they are going) as it relates to bikes and traffic. I feel the same is true about people driving Zipcars. They tend to be unfamiliar with the car they are driving (e.g., where the windshield wipers are in a down pour) and are often unfamiliar with the driving rules or where they're going. I try to avoid being near a Zipcar for fear of sudden, unexpected movements.
– June 06, 2011 9:09 AM

A. Robert Thomson:
I think Capital Bikeshare -- or something like it -- is here to stay and believe that's a good thing. I was pleased to see how much of the traffic on the 15th Street cycle track is made up of these rented bikes.
I do wish they'd all wear helmets, though.

I'm not sure -- not denying it, just not sure -- that Bikeshare riders or Zipcar drivers are any less skilled than the average street user. (I don't have a high opinion of the average street user's skills.)

If a Bikeshare rider or a Zipcar driver does something dumb, it stands out and you tend to remember it. You may be seeing just as many dumb things done by other cyclists or drivers in rental cars not as clearly marked as the Zipcars are.
– June 06, 2011 12:32 PM


Q.As a cyclist and a runner, I can already see the improvements to the trail that uses the bridge. By widening it and eliminating two very steep climbs and drops, it will be safer for all. Still trying to see what it will do for traffic though. 
– June 06, 2011 12:13 PM

A. Robert Thomson:
In a way, it's the same thing. Driving over the bridge won't be quite the circus ride it used to be. One of the problems with the old design was that cars would be speeding along and, because of the hump, they wouldn't see the red tail lights ahead of them till it was too late.
– June 06, 2011 12:47 PM 

Alexandria, VA

Q. OK, as a driver, I admit to being occasionally prone to the "I totally paused" stop-sign behavior. (TM: the movie "Clueless) However, what I don't see from drivers is regular and deliberate running of red lights in heavy traffic, which I not only see from cyclists on a daily basis, but I hear the behavior defended on forums like this one. "Stopping makes me lose momentum!" they say. Hey, you know what else makes you lose momentum? Getting hit by a bus. Or mowing down a pedestrian. 
–June 06, 2011 12:11 PM

A. Robert Thomson:
Exactly: Drivers think there's a chance they'll get a ticket for running a red light. They think that's much less likely if they slide through a stop sign, though it's also illegal.

Of course, when it comes to making a right on red, many drivers will simply slow down for that turn. Maybe they're afraid of losing momentum?
– June 06, 2011 12:49 PM

The law doesn't say "slow down" for a stop sign.

Q. It does in Idaho. Cyclists in Idaho can treat stop signs as yield signs. Can we make that the law here? (DC/MD/VA) It makes a lot of sense.
– June 06, 2011 12:18 PM
A. Robert Thomson:
I know many cyclists would prefer to ignore those bothersome stop signs, but I'm not sure what works for Idaho would work in DC.
– June 06, 2011 12:50 PM 

The law doesn't say "slow down" for a stop sign. It' says "stop."

Q. But the legality isn't really why drivers complain. The problem is, bicyclists are the only operators of slow vehicles who blow through stops. Operators of other slow vehicles, such as construction equipment or buses, stop at the stops. What bothers drivers is when bicyclists ignore stops and then are slow afterwards. If bicyclists understood this it would help everyone use the road together
– June 06, 2011 12:11 PM
A. Robert Thomson:
I can see why that would bother many drivers. What bothers this driver is that cyclists blow through stops signs and create a hazard for themselves and others.

I think what the cyclists would say is that it's more of a hazard for them to come to a full stop, and then try to regain speed. On a city street, the difference in speed between them and motorists is most apparent when the cyclists and the motorists are accelerating from a stop.
– June 06, 2011 1:04 PM