Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Public Responds: Letters to the Editor

And forthwith we read expanded variations upon two themes:
Get on the f**king sidewalk,
Some of y'all don't stop at stop signs, so f**k all y'all.

It's not the motorists
I feel sorry for bicyclists who are injured on the road, but the simple fact is the highways are for motorized vehicles. I have seen kids on bikes who have more sense than these semi-professionals who are getting in the way of cars.
When I was a kid, I was told to ride on the sidewalk and to get off my bike and walk past pedestrians. Even when there was no sidewalk, I had enough sense to ride my bike facing oncoming traffic.
I often get angry when I almost have to sideswipe a car coming my way because a helmeted character on a bike is forcing me to swing out around him. In most cases, there is a big, wide, unused sidewalk he could be on. There are times when they seem to try and find the narrowest streets, slowing traffic behind them to a standstill.
Until they start using their brains and staying on the sidewalk, or ride facing traffic, there will be more wrecks. And motorists should not be blamed.
Hal Arthur, Norfolk

Gosh, where to start, Hal? In just one letter to the editor you've managed to betray an ignorance of the law, a disdain for helmets, an advocacy of illegal and unsafe cycling, and a disregard for your fellow citizens.

When you were a kid, Hal, it probably was legal to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk. However, it's now illegal to do so in both Norfolk and Virginia Beach. Not only is it illegal to ride on the sidewalk in many areas, but it's also more dangerous. Studies have shown that there are more accidents when cyclists ride on the sidewalks. When cyclists take the right lane of a road, overtaking drivers see them, as do drivers turning onto the street from driveways and parking lots. Riding on the sidewalk may have been a safe option 50 years ago when you were a kid, Hal, but today it's a really good way to find yourself sliding across the hood of a car. And the cop who shows up will tell you that as a cyclist, you're at fault: it's illegal to ride on the sidewalk.

As for riding against traffic (riding on the left side of the road), it's not only illegal to do so (see the Virginia Code), but stupid: studies show that there are more accidents when cyclists ride against traffic than with traffic. I'm not going to waste my time hyperlinking to the studies, as I did so in an earlier post on this blog.

Then, Hal, you speak derisively of a "helmeted character on a bike." I suppose you also ridicule drivers who wear seatbelts.

By law, Hal, you have to share the road, or most roads, with cyclists. Some roads, like I-64, are not open to cyclists. If you don't like sharing the roads with us, maybe you should stick to the interstates. If you really like sharing the road with us, then start lobbying your goverment for change. The next time you're stuck behind a cyclist on a narrow road, you could use your time more productively by calling your delagate to complain about us.

Signs of trouble
Wes Cheney writes that "bicyclists ahve come to expect that they are second-class citizens." Nothing could be further from the truth, at least in the North End.
We have feeder roads, all with the appropriate signs denoting intersections. These are heavily used by cyclists, many of whom do not understand or just ignore the traffic signs. As I have had it explained to me, "We have lived here for (fill in blank), so the laws do not apply to us." Just before writing this letter, I saw three cyclists sail through the stop sign at 55th Street. It happens daily along Atlantic Avenue, and now that summer is approaching and school will be out, the possibility of another fatality or injury loms.
I just hope at least one cyclist who reads about the tragic death of Dan Hersh decides to exercise a little more caution.
Roger Hughes, Virginia Beach

First off, Roger, you quoted me out of context: the full sentence was:

"In Virginia Beach and neighboring cities, bicyclists have come to expect that they are second-class citizens, at least in the eyes of those sworn to 'protect and serve.'”

My point was that bicyclists feel that, in the absence of alcohol or excessive speed, non-fatal accidents are not taken seriously by the police.

Roger, not every driver does 85mph on I-264. And not every cyclist blows through stop signs. To quote myself, "we do not prejudge all for the misdeeds of a few." There is a school of thought that holds that since cyclists are exponentially less likely to inflict injury than to be injured, they should be allowed to treat a Stop Sign as a Yield Sign. I'm not going to debate the point here, but merely acknowledge that one western state (Wyoming?) has already enshrined that theory in law.

You're right, Roger: those three cyclists should have stopped for the stop sign. And with the approach of summer, we should be concerned about a rise in motor vehicle-bicycle accidents. You will not, however, need to worry about the serenity of the North End being destroyed by screaming ambulances: Pacific Avenue is actually the most dangerous road for cyclists. During tourist season, novice, unhelmeted cyclists and distracted drivers overcrowd the streets along the boardwalk. The result is quite predictable: accidents, injuries, fatalities.

And please don't suggest that the bicycle trail paralleling the Boardwalk is an appropriate corridor for bicycle traffic: the bike trail is a tourist attraction, filled with sand, iPod-wearing rollerbladers and careening 4-seat bicycles. Few cyclists seriously riding for either fitness or utility would consider the Boardwalk bike path to be a rational route.

I enjoyed Wes Cheney's piece about bicycle safety. I am also saddened for the family of Daniel Hersh and the driver in the accident that claimed his life.
As for a "cultural shift" taking place, it occurred decased ago when the number of motorists dwarded the number of bicyclists. My suggestion for bicyclists is to avoid heavily trafficked roads and highways. When they are used, stay on the shoulder.
Al DeMatteo, Kitty Hawk

Al, your suggestion of riding on the shoulder is a great one. It's too bad, though, that there are few decent road shoulders south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

I've ridden my bike up and down the Atlantic coast, from Prince Edward Island to Alabama (not all at once, mind you). Up north, most secondary highways, comparable to Shore Drive or Atlantic Avenue, have a decent 3-foot wide shoulder. Larger rural highways, comparable to US 13 or 460, have 5-foot shoulders. Up north cyclists can ride safely on the shoulder.

But down in Dixie, the shoulders are nonexistent or narrow. I don't consider a muddy rut to be a shoulder- it only counts as a shoulder if it's actually paved. When there are shoulders, there's often less than 12 inches of pavement to the right of the white line. And the shoulder is immediately bordered by a precipitous drop into a kudzu-infested ditch.

More often than not, the shoulders are taken up with rumble strips, recessed reflectors, roadkill, and broken bottles. Riding a foot or two to the left of the white line is actually safer than riding in the shoulder, but suddenly swerving left to avoid a ripe, dead, possum.

You suggest, Al, that cyclists should "avoid heavily trafficked roads and highways." Trust me Al, if I could ride to the Outer Banks without venturing onto Route 158, I would. But there are locations where the highway is the only option. For instance, it's not possible to ride west out of Portsmouth without resorting to Route 58 or 460: there is simply no other paved route past the Great Dismal Swamp.

There will come a time, Al, when you can no longer afford to drive your automobile: there's a finite life to the massive utilization to the petroleum-powered internal combustion engine. When that day comes, Al, I hope there are some wide shoulders for you to bike upon.


David K.B. said...

I started to read some of the comments on Dan's article and had to stop after only one or two. A human being who was obeying the law was killed in an accident and people are talking about taxes and the inconvenience of having to wait thirty seconds to pass a cyclist. Just too angering.

As for the Western state that allows stop signs to be treated like yield signs and stop lights to be treated like stop signs, look no further than my home state of Idaho, who has had the law in effect since 1982 (the year I was born!)

Apparently Portland may be adopting this law as well. here is a sweet little animation over at Urban Velo that explains why the Idaho Stop Law is safe and handy.

Alfred said...

I read the response to my "Outnumbered" article.
I have to say that the person who responded is either very naive or extremely idealistic. To suggest that bicycles will be the only future alternative for people using the road is backward thinking at best.
Here's what I suggest for bicyclists who want parity on the road with vehicles much larger and faster than they are...Be required by each state to purchase insurance for your "vehicle" and be required to become duly licensed to operate your vehicle, same as motorized vehicles.
I've seen more than just a few bicyclists operating their vehicles in an unsafe and reckless manner, same as motor vehicles. It makes absolutely no sense that they should be treated as pedestrians if they want to SHARE the road.