A Kinder, Gentler, “10 Rules”

A Pleasant Commute

[This topic was vigorously discussed at both Commute by Bike and Let’s Go Ride a Bike. It isn’t my intention to “beat the dead horse” by bringing it up again, but I thought my readers who missed the original discussion might find it interesting and useful. —Alan]

A couple of weeks ago, Commute by Bike published a guest article by Josh King of Single Speed Seattle titled, 10 Rules for Urban Commuting. The article caused a bit of a stir and even triggered a response from our friends over at Let’s Go Ride a Bike. Josh gives some very good advice in the article and, perhaps, some not-so-good advice, suggesting such things as running red lights, rolling through stop signs, etc. In my opinion, the overall tone of the article implies that bike commuting is more daunting and difficult than it actually is, and for those of us who are working hard to get more people on bikes, anything that paints an unrealistic picture of bike commuting as extreme sport comes across as counter-productive. On the other hand, anything that gets people talking and thinking about these issues is a good thing, and we thank Josh for that.

As a friendly, and partially tongue-in-cheek, response to Josh’s original list, I thought I’d create my own “Kinder, Gentler, 10 Rules” list. Each item in my list is a response to the corresponding item in his list; in other words, the list items don’t accurately represent what would be included in my list if I was to put one together on my own. In fact, and even though I’ve attempted such things in the past, I’m a bit skeptical when it comes to definitive how-to’s on riding technique — urban, rural, or otherwise; there are simply too many variables at play to codify into a short list what will work for everyone in every situation.

If you’d like to view Josh’s original article, open it in a new window by clicking here (for some reason, the original article has been pulled from Commute by Bike, so this link is to another copy hosted at Baltimore Spokes). This will allow you to compare and contrast my list with the original. Here are my “Kinder, Gentler, 10 Rules”:

  1. The rules of the road are there to foster predictability and communication between road users; do your best to adhere to them.
  2. Chart a route that matches your comfort and skill level. If that means going out of your way to ride only on separated bike paths, bike lanes, and quiet back streets, that’s fine; you have nothing to prove.
  3. Make eye contact with other road users and ride with an attitude of caution and cooperation. Bicycling is inherently a relatively safe activity, but a bicyclist will never win a physical altercation with a motorist.
  4. Bike buses are a good way for commuters to make their presence known on the road. Work to organize group commutes in your neighborhood to increase safety while sharing the joys of bike commuting.
  5. Personal motivation is key to long-term bike commuting. When it becomes all too easy to sleep in for an extra hour and take the car, consider changing up your route to add a little spice to your commute. Perhaps plan a stop along the way for a pastry and coffee at your favorite coffee shop.
  6. Familiarize yourself with the hand signals commonly used in your area, and always strive to make your intentions known to other road users. Communication is an important component of safe riding.
  7. Know the rules of the road and the laws that govern your local jurisdiction. Only by understanding our rights and responsibilities as bicyclists can we effectively exercise our right to be on the road.
  8. Educate yourself regarding the important distinction between vehicular and infrastructure based safe-cycling. Each rider has a different comfort level; some will be comfortable taking a lane, while others will choose to ride in bike lanes or on alternate routes.
  9. Educate yourself regarding lane placement and be aware of motorists’ blind spots. At intersections, place yourself in a position that prevents motorists from turning right into your path.
  10. Make intelligent and informed choices regarding safety equipment. As statistics have shown, bicycling is relatively safe when looked at in comparison to other common activities. Educate yourself, and decide what type of safety equipment is appropriate and reasonable for where and how you ride.

How do you feel about urban bike commuting? Does it warrant an aggressive approach? Do you feel we’re doomed to be perpetually at odds with motorists, or is there a reasonable middle ground that is both safe and lawful?

54 Responses to “A Kinder, Gentler, “10 Rules””

  • trailsnet says:

    rule 11: For the ultimate in safety, stick to trails. No cars = no car collisions. (See rule #3: …a bicyclist will never win a physical altercation with a motorist.)

  • Richard Masoner says:

    Great list!

    I like the 2nd half of rule 3; the first half (“make eye contact”) is unlikely / unrealistic in heavy urban traffic and especially unrealistic for the evening commute now, and mostly unnecessary given rule 1.

  • Bliss Chick says:

    How downright reasonable, Alan! I don’t know how you’re going to increase your readership without controversy. ;) Thanks for your calm, common-sense approach to biking defensively–er, kindly and gently. I’ll definitely be passing this along!

  • Alan says:

    @Bliss Chick

    Hey, thanks. I guess I don’t get the “commuting as extreme sport” thing. I’ve done plenty of urban commuting and in comparison to things like motocross racing and skydiving it seems downright tranquil.

    Alan

  • Tom says:

    @trailsnet – I prefer to stick to trails whenever possible, but one of the most dangerous spots is where these trails cross roads. In my area you’re much more likely to be hit by a car if you use a sidetrail that has 3-4 road crossings over several miles compared to just riding on the road with traffic.

  • Adam says:

    Thanks for being a voice of reason. I saw the article when it was originally published and turned away. I hope that isn’t the new direction of Commute by Bike…

  • Helton says:

    I am very familiar with the logic present in the linked article, because it is part of the logic I use myself. Now that I am getting older, your proposed alternative look much more right, of course.

    BUT, depending on WHERE YOU LIVE, the logic of ‘the world that we would like to have’ versus the logic of ‘the world we [unfortunately] actually have’, regarding traffic, forces one to veer into the aggressive side of bike riding.

    I tend to balance the opposite viewpoints depending on the current conditions of the neighbourhood I’m in, but unfortunately I have to argue that, on my current home-to-work way, it’s safer to ride aggressively, even if you end up breaking some rules. I wish it changes in the future, but I’m a bit skeptical (not totally).

    Excellent post.

  • doug in seattle. says:

    1. Pay attention. That car not going as fast as cars usually go on this particular stretch of road? That car is going to do something strange. Slow down, and then watch that car turn right without warning, across your line, with a minimum of fuss or danger.

    That’s the only rule I keep in my mind as I cruise around Seattle. While I follow the laws rather judiciously, in no way do I conflate that with “riding safely.” Riding safely and rule following are not related in my mind.

    @trailsnet
    I think you are being a little disingenuous there. Sticking to trails in no way eliminates car/bike contact, at least in a busy city. Here in Seattle, the most dangerous intersection for car/bike collisions in the entire city just happens to be exactly where the Burke-Gilman trail crosses a busy street. Perhaps riding on a peaceful trail engenders a sense of complacency that inoculates one against the very real dangers that occur when the trail crosses a street. One will note that my rule, applied in this situation, would significantly reduce the chance of a collision even at this hyper-dangerous intersection.

  • doug in seattle. says:

    By the way, it appears that CbB has removed the offending post from their site. The links lead to a blank page. I would like to read that article.

  • Alan says:

    @Doug

    You can view a copy of the article here:

    http://www.baltimorespokes.org/article.php?story=2010102811425814

  • Pete says:

    I applaud the effort to bring more reasonableness to any discussion. That being said, most of us don’t commute through Mr Roger’s Neighborhood, and maybe there’s a bit TOO much cardigan-and-slippers in the tone of the EcoVelo list! :-)
    Josh’s post is probably not intended to get reluctant cyclists off the couch and onto the streets – I get the sense that it’s motivated by the same combination of frustration and resignation that most bike commuters feel, at least part of the time. His tone is clearly provocative, and he has apparently successfully provoked!
    Not that the world needs yet another top 10 list – but I’d like to offer a (perhaps overly) boiled-down re-statement of the rules that might help the discussion:

    1) Traffic rules apply to bikes as much as cars. Note that cars rarely obey all traffic rules.
    2) Don’t assume that people who built or maintain the road had your interests in mind.
    3) Be predictable. Note that most other road users predict you will be assertive.
    4) Don’t ride too close to other bikes, other vehicles, people or fixed objects.
    5) Eliminate surprises on your route. There are fewer surprises the more often you ride the same route.
    6) Keeping control of your bike is your highest priority.
    7) Don’t be stubborn. Physics wins every time.
    8) Don’t be intimidated. Let’ em honk.
    9) Bikes can be many places in the lane, unlike cars. Be where you want to be in the lane for maximum safety. Hint: it’s not always at the curb.
    10) Never let vanity trump safety. Being a good-looking corpse is overrated.

    [Alan- if this is going in a direction you don't want it to go feel free to kill it. I don't want to be "one of those" commenters! - Pete]

  • Dalton says:

    I saw it when they published and wasn’t a fan. I agree that in some circumstances you have to be aggressive, but I don’t think that is ALWAYS the case. I try to do my best NOT to make people angry because I’ve seen some pretty serious cases of road rage and some people do some very extreme things that endanger the lives of the other cars on the road…. think about how bad it could be if it was a bike and not another car.

    I just try to keep my temper in check and ride in a way that will anger the fewest number of cars and will keep me safest. Sure, I still make people angry, but that’s in them and not intentional on my part.

    I agree with Alan, there are no hard and fast rules to ride by. I think you have ride in a way you identify as the safest/smartest way to ride. Stay safe out there everyone.

  • JonP says:

    A much better list than the original. I read that one on Commute By Bike and was really taken aback, because it was written from such a confrontational point of view.

    Doug in Seattle is spot-on when he says “safety and rule-following are not related.” I would add courteousness. We should endeavor to right safely and in a way that doesn’t piss off others. I wish more of my fellow bikers would.

  • trailsnet says:

    Both Tom & Doug have good points. Trail/road crossings can be dangerous. That just reinforces the credo that bikes & cars don’t mix. So my solution:
    - Push for all trail/road crossings to be above or below grade (This can happen w/ long range planning that requires all road construction to consider present & future trails and to set a goal of installing trail underpasses & overpasses whenever there is road construction @ major trail intersections.)
    - Stick to trails that have no/minimal road crossings.
    I know that isn’t always feasible, but I’d say about 75 % of the trails I ride have either no road crossings or the trail only crosses (at grade) very minor roads.

  • Fergie348 says:

    Thanks Alan: I see the merit in both lists – if you think about it, it really just boils down to the following:

    1. Be visible.
    2. Be predictable.
    3. Be respectful, especially of pedestrians and cyclists slower and/or less experienced than you.
    4. Last but certainly not least, be safe. There is an inherent risk in cycling. Minimize it.

    The rest is just gravy, really.

  • Nick says:

    I’m interested in that Rule #3, make eye contact bit. I used to try to do that and I thought it helped. Now I try to avoid it because it seems like the drivers just want to give me directions. Often they’re directing me to pull out in front of them. What, pull out in front of a driver who has the right of way?! I feel a lot safer if both of us drive our vehicle according to the rules (predictably that is).

  • Janice in GA says:

    +1

  • 300 Pound Gorilla says:

    I commute in San Diego – the 8th most populated city in the US. I don’t have a very aggressive approach. I wear a shirt and tie during the day. I don’t feel like changing clothes all the time, so I commute in a shirt and tie. I have noticed an amazing improvement in the behavior of drivers since I started riding in more formal clothes. Apparently, I’m not the only one who has had this experience.

    http://bicyclingsd.blogspot.com/2010/11/advocacy-tips-for-happy-riding.html

  • Molly says:

    I had a discussion about making eye contact with vehicles with a motorcyclist friend of mine. I was on the ‘make eye contact’ side of the discussion, my logic being “I see you, you see me.” My friend said when he’s on his motorcycle he doesn’t make eye contact with vehicles because he thinks it’s equivalent to the motorist thinking ‘you see me? Good, then I’m going to go and cut you off.’ I don’t make eye contact with motorists anymore. Plus making eye contact can result in that split second of distraction that results in an accident.
    I bike in a city, and to be honest I don’t find that my commute is inherently safe. I stick to bike lanes, wear a helmet, have reflective clothing and lights, and every day something happens that freaks me out.

  • Royal says:

    Riding in NYC is like driving in NYC, aggressive, everyone feels like they have the right of way, All The Time. The good (sometimes) mayor of NYC has been awesome enough to install more bike lanes than I ever thought possible. I love them, I wish they were available on every single street. the problem with the bike lanes is that no one not on a bike seems to think it is there for them as well. When you have to maneuver out of the bike lane onto the side walk or into traffic because either a pedestrian or a driver believes they are a bicycle you are the donkey butt, you are being reckless, you are the problem, not the solution to congestion and air pollution. I think your 10 bike commandments make sense, and I will do my best to follow them all. But in the apple its a free for all, so wear your helmet, ride smart, ride fast, and at the end of the day rule #3 on the list is the ultimate. Because here, if you are a commuter you cannot avoid the vehicles, so we learn to ride with them, if you can’t do that move, or the subway works just fine if you can stand the smell.

    ~Royal-J~ Brooklyn’s Flyest

  • Billi says:

    Yesterday I had to go to the grocery store on the way home and the route without riding half way around the city puts me into congested traffic afternoon traffic, with some frustrated motorists. I have to get from a side street midblock, past an overpass interchange, and then into the left lane to turn. There is a sidewalk, but I would be uncomfortable riding there. I’m wearing my work clothes, (which like 300lb noted, does make people friendlier), blue dickies pants and a company shirt with an actual blue collar. I enjoy the ride when I do it, all hard sprints from stop light to stop light, trying to keep up with cars, yesterday I hit 28 mph mid block, and at the light I had a conversation with a guy in a pickup truck, he asked me about commuting, and I gave him a few suggestions, including info on the local bike org and the monthly mass commute. Would not have happened if I rode the sidewalk, or dressed in lycra, (which I do wear on weekend rides), or taken the roundabout route.

  • Garth Madison says:

    Unfortunately, bike commuting for me tends more towards war than peacetime. I think it boils down to where you live. There is effectively zero bike infrastructure here. The roads are motor vehicle-centric, and the motorists are already aggressively self-centered. Everybody drives, so you’re dealing with the general public, and you don’t have to be particularly misanthropic to admit that there are a lot of aggressive idiots out there. And as mentioned, mixing a motor vehicle with a bicycle ends very badly for the cyclist.

    I try to avoid as much traffic as possible, but as there is no bike infrastructure, that is impossible to do in this city for the entirety of any route. So I venture forth on the roads, and by necessity consider myself a warrior on a battlefield. After all, I’ve been bloodied multiple times. Sadly, this suggests that I am losing the war, since I have not been correspondingly blooded. To me, the dynamic is similar to an analysis of negotiation strategies. The best mutual result is obtained when both parties engage in a cooperative strategy. Unfortunately, a selfish competitive strategy tends to achieve the best result for the individual employing it, when the other individual is cooperating. Thus, a cooperative individual, when confronted with a competitive individual, will generally also employ a competitive strategy. That’s why we see so little cooperative strategy in negotiations, even though it would achieve better overall results. To me, the autocentric infrastructure in our cities, and the inevitability of encountering aggressive, selfish motorists on every bike trip, skews the field towards the competitive or aggressive end of the spectrum. I would prefer to cooperate, but am faced with 3 options: 1) be aggressive to protect myself, 2) abandon cycling, or 3) move to Portland :) So I trudge on, a sad warrior fighting losing battles, but too stubborn to surrender the war.

    Sorry, Alan, I know you dislike such pessimism :) Hopefully nobody will read this who isn’t already committed! I do have hopes that things will improve eventually – there are some projects in the works in this city, and I advocate as much as I can. There are just so many lifetimes of work ahead.

    Garth-

  • Ted says:

    Alan,

    I’m one of the editors of Commute By Bike. The reaction to Josh King’s “10 Rules” guest post took us by surprise–but it was a pleasant surprise.

    It’s been a revealing lesson that Tone is in the mind of the reader. When I first read the article, I found the tone to be direct–refreshing even. I wouldn’t have used the words “macho”, “confrontational”, or any of several negative adjectives used to portray the post. Even you picked up the “extreme sport” framing that I just don’t feel when I read and reread the article.

    We had a technical glitch (with WordPress) today, and the article was unavailable for a couple of hours. So, @doug, be assured that the article was not removed because we or anyone else found it offending. The article can be found here: http://www.commutebybike.com/2010/10/27/10-rules-for-urban-commuting/

    Interestingly, while the post was unavailable, one of our commenters attempted to paraphrase the article as recommending that cyclists never slow down or stop for lights. What the article actually says is, “slow down, look carefully and keep moving if the way is clear.” That reader seems to have made up his mind that the tone of the article was reckless. Consequently, he changed the meaning entirely. King doesn’t say it explicitly, but it seems obvious to me that the corollary idea is, If the lane is not clear, by all means stop!

    I had a similar idea to @Pete, which was to strip the 10 rules of King’s personality. (All though my rewriting was kinder and gentler to the point of sarcasm, so I let the idea go.)

    King has responded to the post on Let’s Go Ride A Bike, and it’s worth a read: http://singlespeedseattle.com/2010/11/09/more-commentary-on-my-10-rules-for-urban-commuting/

    Like you, we appreciate the discussion that he has sparked, and are happy to be one of the Web sites that is facilitating it.

    We’ve created a Twitter trend hash tag so that we can follow the discussion wherever it occurs: http://twitter.com/search?q=%2310RulesUrbanCycling

    Thanks for your post!

  • Alistair says:

    On the “live/cycle with the world you have” front, we also know that our actions are part of that world too, we co-make it along with everyone else. So whatever any list says it also announces “today, this is the world I chose to make, for myself and others, with my actions on my commute.”

    And on that front there is no answer becuase we aren’t all trying to make the same type of world. Who would want NYC and PDX to be the same, or have your 40s be like your 20s?

    Cheers, Alistair

    P.S. Garth, come to Portland where the wars are receeding and years of injury free commutes are commonplace.

  • chuckAZ says:

    I caught this over at LGRAB. My commute is 13_m each way to work, twice a week. The well thought out route is mostly bike lane, low-traf residential, only a couple of short of open road with 40mph traffic but off peak times. Darkness early and busier roads late. Been rec cycling a long time.

    I view the aggressive (i.e. extreme) cycling stance the same way I view aggressive motorists (we have big 4wd pickups, always floored, always weaving)- ‘Get AWAY!’ My experience is that most drivers are either benign or outright accommodating of cyclists, and the ones who are not, we maybe can change. So for those motorists who want to get along, we cyclists have to actively help this relationship through courtesy and respect. I for one don’t want to debate an aggressive driver in the middle of the roadway, so I just get away from them, go behind them, let them pass, but never challenge them to an altercation, either verbal of riding/driving cat and mouse. I sure don’t consider myself timid, as I take a lane at some lights, get out front to be seen at turns, give hand signals with eye contact at stops, merge into the line at red lights, ride wide and not clinging to the siding. I make sure to give a ‘thanks’ wave where deserved. I follow traffic rules almost all the time even when nobody’s on the road in the a.m., and -always- in the p.m. because traffic’s heavier. This generally works fine and the commute is usually relaxing and fun.

    As to the extreme cyclists, those who disobey laws flagrantly, flip off drivers, or otherwise ride in a provocative fashion, do us all harm by 1) proving to those who think cyclists are crazy or ‘shouldn’t be out there’ are correct, or 2) causing dismay to those who might like to coexist with us on the roadway or 3) reinforce those who view cycling as child’s play and a bike as a toy. When I read the aggressive manifesto I was a little aghast but it is congruent with some behaviors I’ve seen. Big lack of maturity.

    I’m still a commuting newbie compared to most of the readers/contributors here, but I’m getting the idea that the Golden Rule applies to cycling just as it does elsewhere. Sure there are incidents that scare the hell out of me, and you, but those are hopefully rare. The rest of the time, realizing that ‘share the road’ means us as well as them, will go a long way to ensuring that eventually most motorists will be able to get along with us on the roadways.

    Thanks for listening.

  • D'Arcy says:

    I drive defensively when I’m in my car and I really defensively when I’m cycling. Presume every car will make a bad move (especially if you’re in their blind spot).

    Be nice, not aggressive when riding. I ride to work or to shops almost every day, all year. If we are to be treated fairly when trying to get more bike lanes and urban bike facilities, we have to earn peoples respect. When I come to a four way stop on my bike I’ll stop and wave a car through. I figure it will encourage one more motorist to think cyclists are decent types. Running a stop sign or red light in front of motor traffic is not only dangerous, but it also makes cyclists look bad.

  • Alan says:

    @chuckAZ

    Well said!

    Your comment triggered the thought that there’s a big difference between riding “aggressively” and riding “confidently”. These two approaches are often mistaken for one another, but they couldn’t be more different in intent and outcome. The former is lacking in maturity (as you stated) and leads to conflict. The latter uses mutual respect and courtesy to foster cooperation, which makes the roads safer for bicyclists who come after us.

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Alan says:

    @Ted

    Thanks for dropping in. I’m glad you were able to get the article back up on your site.

    To reiterate, in my opinion the article overstates the challenges and risks associated with urban bike commuting; it’s just not that treacherous compared to many other things we take for granted everyday. Interestingly, I actually lived and commuted in the same neighborhood as Josh (Capitol Hill to Downtown Seattle), though it’s been some years ago. It was more challenging than cruising the bike trails in the suburbs, but not by that much. I guess it shows, just like tone is in the mind of the reader, the challenges of bike commuting are at least partially in the mind of the rider.

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Doug R. says:

    @Pete! Great rewrite! I however, would rewrite Alan’s #6 as ” Flip Finger” as main signal as often as possible! LOL!

  • jamesmallon says:

    New list is gutless; old list is accurate. I want to live, get to work on time and enjoy myself, and realize drivers despise me by either list and I am in as much danger either way: old list for me!

  • Slo Joe Keenan says:

    At the risk of starting a war along the lines of yes/no helmet, I’d have a rule for lights on even during the day and wearing a mirror. With a mirror you can see cars, long before you hear them and you can also watch the approaching car to “see” if those wheels are going in the “around you” direction.

    No empirical evidence, but I do believe wearing a mirror can prevent a fatality or serious accident.

  • RDW says:

    I like the original list and Alan’s but really like the short list that Fergie348 posted in the comment’s above (except that I would add “Be Aware” to her four rules) but then again I’m not negotiating an urban jungle full of angry petrovores. It’s always interesting for me reading about people’s experiences cycling in large urban environments; my riding ranges between rural and semi-suburban and even with virtually no cycling specific infrastructure I’ve had very little negative interaction with drivers. One incident in the past six months and that was an old guy in a pick-up who looked like he hated the other drivers on the road as much he hated me.

  • Cassi says:

    Thanks for being a voice of reason. I read both articles, and the thing that impresses me most about your new and revised list is your underlying “tone” of communication between cyclist and driver. I become so weary of “us vs. them” when it comes to bike commuting … we need more “we”, more dialogue and conversation between motorist and cycling community, better education on co-existing on the roadways. When we can approach the conversation with a tone of reason rather than combativeness, I think we can accomplish more. Well done.

  • Will says:

    For what it’s worth, a number of well-respected safety advocates are in agreement with Josh King’s #2 (don’t pay attention to bike lanes) and #8 (take the lane). The advocate I know best is John Schubert, technical editor of Adventure Cycling, who just posted this on Facebook: http://sf.streetsblog.org/2010/11/08/commentary-why-are-we-building-bikes-lanes-that-are-hurting-people

  • Alan says:

    @Will

    The separated facilities versus vehicular debate is alive-and-well (and long running):

    http://www.ecovelo.info/2009/07/09/one-foot-in-each-camp/

    There are experts in both camps. Here’s Dr. John Pucher on the subject:

    http://policy.rutgers.edu/faculty/pucher/Pucher_Dill_Handy10.pdf

    http://policy.rutgers.edu/faculty/pucher/Irresistible.pdf

    And more here:

    http://policy.rutgers.edu/faculty/pucher/

    In my opinion it’s a complicated question that can’t be answered in a sound bite (or single item in a 10 Rules list).

    Alan

  • Richard Masoner says:

    WRT @trailsnet suggestion to stick to trails: there’s an active discussion now on the CABO list about a proposal for real “bike only” facilities — cycleways — prompted by a recent article at Grist on the Katy Trail fatality.

    Begin with the name “trail” — this implies dirt and recreation. A real bike facility for real bike transportation would be something like a bike highway, and not like the so called bicycle superhighways around London that are just glorified bike lanes with blue paint and corporate sponsorship. We’re talking grade separation @ intersections, clear signage, and adequate width to accommodate different speeds and directions of cyclists.

    Most “bike paths” are shared use, and it’s unreasonable to expect walkers and joggers on a shared use trail to act like vehicles and follow any rules of the road (stay right, etc). True cycleways are reserved for the use of cyclists only. Portions of the Cherry Creek Trail in Denver are like this — see http://www.flickr.com/photos/bike/71961037/ . The Golden Gate Bridge sidewalks are also divided between walker-only and cyclist-only during certain hours of the day.

    A true cycleway would also be designed to reduce hazards for cyclists besides such conflicts with other traffic (pedestrian and vehicular). I rode the Guadalupe River Trail in San Jose / Santa Clara yesterday and had to give up on it and elected to use the SJC airport road instead — the gravel is just too dangerous, especially after rain. Things that are forbidden in road construction are commonplace on bike facilities: ridiculous metal bollards and chicanes at path entries, “walk your bike” signs, extremely sharp turns, unmaintained paths resulting in obstructions (branches, storm debris, etc can take weeks to get cleared), etc.

  • 10 Rules for Rural Commuting « Town Mouse says:

    [...] over in the US bike blogs about the best approach for urban commuting. Eco Velo has their kinder, gentler take on the subject here, but it got me thinking about what the equivalent rural rules might be for [...]

  • Garth Madison says:

    In our local paper there have been two letters to the editor in the past couple years that essentially said “I hate cyclists and want to run them all over.” I have at least one car a week intentionally mess with me, e.g., by trying to crowd me towards the shoulder and honking as it passes, apparently to try to make me fall. I tried reporting one to a cop who happened to be around the next turn, since our state had just passed a new “Share the Road” law making such conduct a misdemeanor, and was told by the cop that he couldn’t do anything, even though I gave him the license plate of the car. I’m all for gentler kinder rules, and cooperating to build a better world together, but I’m in the extreme minority here. How’s the Portland job market looking, anyway? :)

    The drivers who are considerate often don’t help matters, by, e.g., sitting at a four way stop when they have the right of way. Most are simply unaware, like the two pickup trucks that caused the two collisions I had last summer alone, including one that occurred when I was in one of the handful of bike lanes in town.

    Like I said, the city is a battlefield, and I’m just trying to survive it. It’s not paranoia, or an aggressive “us vs. them” mentality, when they really are after you!

    Garth-

  • Alan says:

    @Garth

    “Like I said, the city is a battlefield, and I’m just trying to survive it. It’s not paranoia, or an aggressive “us vs. them” mentality, when they really are after you!”

    Wow, I’m sorry to hear bike commuting is such a negative experience for you. May I ask where you live? I’ve ridden in major urban areas in California and Washington state and never experienced anything close to what you’re describing.

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Richard Masoner says:

    I’m curious about Garth’s location too. Most of my riding is copacetic and relaxed, but I do get the very occasional butthole. Earlier this week it was a driver in a little white VW Jetta (with a Cervelo bike on a hatch rack!) who started to merge right into me where I took the lane in Menlo Park CA, though I think in that instance it was just stupidity and impatience rather than anything belligerent.

    I have had drivers deliberately assault me with their vehicles in Santa Cruz a couple of times.

    I’ve biked in several states — Texas, Florida, Oregon, California (south and north), Illinois. The absolutely worst by far as far as motorist-cyclist interaction was Illinois. Texas is mostly okay (contrary to what many people expect I think), though Austinites get *really* uptight when you take the lane on narrow roads.

  • Pete says:

    I think that geography has a lot to do with this discussion, perhaps so much so that you really can’t understand a particular POV without knowing where that person rides. It’s probably safe to assume that places where the weather and infrastructure are conducive to cycling have a disproportionate number of bike commuters, and are probably over represented on blogs and in comments. Yeah, that’s right, I’m talking about all you left coast folks! :)
    I’m not sure that someone who commutes on bike paths and through the residential streets of Santa Barbara, and someone who rides the frozen pot-holed streets of Trenton, NJ are really speaking the same language

  • SB Tim says:

    I live in Santa Barbara and commute by bike every day. While there are many residential areas in SB, I work downtown so my 8 mile round trip consists of a 45 mph road, urban/residential streets, commercial streets, and zero separated bike paths. I chart the safest practical route and stick to low volume streets or streets with bike lanes when I can but sometimes unsafe sections are unavoidable. The bike infrastructure is pretty nice, consisting mostly of bike lanes painted on the streets and the roads are pretty well maintained. I’m sure I have it much nicer here than people in other cities do, but I still feel like my bike commute is more dangerous than most sports. I have more close calls with motorists than I would like.

    Just last week someone driving an SUV at 40mph merged into the bike lane to cut a right hand curve in the road and came within inches of my handlebar mirror. I caught up to the SUV at the next intersection and knocked on the passenger window to let the driver know how I felt about it, but the driver wouldn’t open the window. Five years ago I was struck by a motorist as she tried to squeeze between me on the right and oncoming traffic on the left. I luckily got away without injury and she gave me $20 for my flat tire. In retrospect, I should have taken the lane. Most drivers here are very accommodating to cyclists, but if I get passed by 200 vehicles a day, the bad 1% of drivers means two bad interactions a day. That 1% really changes my outlook on the safety of cycling.

    It is the side squeezes and dangers from behind that worry me. I know that statistically they are the least common cause of injury, but in my case they make up the overwhelming majority of the dangerous close calls (I have many stories). I’m good about staying out of the door zone and avoiding potential collisions in front of me, so right hooks and people pulling out don’t seem as dangerous when I’m poised to easily avoid them.

    Oh, and four way stop signs, I treat them as yield signs and have never had any dangerous encounters at any of them. If there is nobody else at the intersection, I don’t stop. I watch cars roll through four ways all the time at about the same speed that I roll through them on my bike. It was long ago coined the “California Stop” to describe cars, not bikes. At 7:40 am some traffic lights stay red for a long time with no vehicles in sight on the one-way cross streets. I treat these as stop signs, just as I do when I am walking. I feel like a robot if I wait for the green just for the sake of following the law when my safety is not compromised. Other than than that, I follow the road rules, which actually give cyclists a lot of freedom of movement to avoid unsafe conditions in front of them.

  • Bif says:

    Pete, great comments above.

    Alan, your rules are interesting. Here’s my take on them if its OK:

    1. “rules of the road are there to foster predictability”. Unfortunately humans are irrational and unpredictable creatures and always will be.

    2. “…that means going out of your way to ride only on separated bike paths, bike lanes, and quiet back streets, that’s fine”. Fine when you can get it. Many of us don’t have this option, and if we do it typically exists in a few segments of the commute.

    3. “Make eye contact with other road users…” Excellent advice, I look for it too. Doesn’t address Josh’s #3 point though, which provided the basis for most of his 10 rules. Josh’s #3 rule provided a link to an article about the London DOT study that investigated cycling deaths in intersections over a period of years. The study found patterns of over-cautious behavior as being unsafe and suggested assertive riders who took responsibility for their own safety, rather than meekly adhering to traffic laws, tended to better avoid death trap situations. Mind you this is a DOT saying this.

    Here is the link he cites re the London issue:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8296971.stm

    4. Organized group commutes. OK. Not sure about the additional benefits of safety because of group commutes. That could cut both ways, but could be fun though.

    5. “…changing up your route to add a little spice to your commute.” I share this philosophy, but also recognize that from a safety standpoint sticking to a standard route means you’re dealing with more known hazards and generally fewer surprises.

    6. “hand signals…always strive to make your intentions known to other road users. Yeah, Josh got a little carried away on that one. I say do your best to signal your intensions, but negotiating hazards and maintaining control of the bike remain top priority.

    7. “Know the rules of the road and the laws…understanding our rights”. OK, but don’t go too far in seeking refuge here. Many law abiding people get run over by cell phone talkers, trucks and busses that can’t see, and various forms of human poor judgment and error. Even some police aren’t clear on laws and/or allow a certain amount of “behavior” by motorists. Know the laws but take some responsibility for protecting yourself.

    8. “the important distinction between vehicular and infrastructure based safe-cycling.” What important distinction? It’s best to not mix safety and religion.

    9. Understand lane positions and blind spots, etc. I agree.

    10. Wear a helmet or not. I agree. I choose to wear when commuting.

  • Josh King says:

    Alan, thanks for the reaction to my list. And while I disagree with many of your blissed-out, tongue-in-cheek suggestions, it’s a great discussion. We all need to be critical and careful out there.

    And I agree that bike lanes are always a situation-dependent issue. I love having a bike lane coming up Pine Street; I despise the bike lane going downhill on the same street. It’s completely unsafe for anyone to use – and I cringe when I see those less-than-confident commuters clinging to it when they’d be so much safer just taking the lane.

  • L.A. City Council unanimously approves drafting proposed anti-harassment ordinance « BikingInLA says:

    [...] Velo offers 10 kinder, gentler rules for urban bike commuting; Town Mouse responds with 10 rules for rural commuting from the Scottish [...]

  • Alan says:

    @Bif

    Nice counterpoint; thanks for that. This one totally cracked me up… :-)

    “What important distinction? It’s best to not mix safety and religion.”

    Take care,
    Alan

  • Alan says:

    @Josh

    Hey Josh,

    Thanks for stopping by. I too think it’s a great discussion we’re having! And to everyone who has taken part so far, I appreciate the fact that we’ve managed to express differing viewpoints without getting heated and derailing the discussion. Many thanks!

    Alan

  • Garth Madison says:

    Interesting that Richard mentioned Illinois as being the worst, as that’s where I commute, in Peoria (113k population, 372k in the metro area). I’m not suggesting that the majority of interactions are bad – a small percent of drivers are actively asses, a decent percent are bad drivers, and the majority just aren’t accustomed to dealing with cyclists on the roads, which often aren’t well designed for cars, let alone bikes. As Tim points out, on average that adds up to a bad experience about once a trip if you encounter enough vehicles – this morning it was a FedEx driver who seemed to look right at me as I was approaching the intersection with his side street, but cut me off by turning into my path anyway. That was just poor driving. I only encounter intentional aggression about once a week.

    Of course, I encounter such nonsense driving too (though with less frequency since I’m a more familiar obstacle), I just feel it more keenly when I’m in a vulnerable position on a bike. I only ride because I can minimize my exposure to traffic, and because I’m generally stubborn! I agree, it is usually the cars approaching me from behind that I worry the most about, though that’s the least likely collision. I guess we feel most vulnerable to an approach from behind.

    Of course, there are good interactions too. In one residential neighborhood I ride through, the kids often say hello and compliment my bike. The little kids, at least – I will once in a while have some older kids do something stupid like threaten to take my bike, but they’re no real trouble, no more so than the occasional barking dog. Sorry, there I go painting a less than rosy picture again!

    Garth-

  • 300 Pound Gorilla says:

    Whoa. It’s a global epidemic.

    http://www.copenhagenize.com/2010/11/crime-riding-check-it-out.html

    LOL

  • Bomber says:

    If I have just a few seconds to convince an “outlaw cyclist” to change his/her ways I will just say this.

    Whatever you do, do the right things at intersections because there you are highly visible and everyone sees you blow the light/sign, then complain and/or vote against cycling infrastructure. This is the one place to get it right. The drivers lump us all together be it commuter on an old mountain bike or the “Lance Wannabe” on the $3000 carbon fiber. To the non-cyclist, we are all the same.

    BTW if Josh King’s real priority is safety then he needs to sell his bike and buy a bus pass, because if being a safe cyclist means following his rules, then I’ll walk thanks. -Bomber

  • Bif says:

    300 lb gorilla: thanks for the link.

    Interesting about the survey result of cyclists in Copenhagen:

    51.6% said they always obeyed the traffic laws.
    46% said that they did most of the time
    2.3% said that they never do.

    So much for the idealism, at least they’re honest. Adds up to 99.9 though, so I’m guessing 0.1% answered “what laws?’ Don’t be fooled by the bike lanes, these people are descended from the Vikings. They invade. They conquer. Honestly though I was there last fall and don’t remember any instance of rampant law breaking, and the motor vehicles have been so tamed and made second class compared to US. They’re probably fessing up to a lot of minor law breaking stuff in the survey, like failure to wear heels. What struck me was how many people during rush hour could ride in close quarters so competantly.

  • Garth Madison says:

    There are more egregious and visible violations than running stop lights. Here well over 50% of the few cyclists I encounter are riding against traffic. Drives me crazy. That’s not being aggressive, that’s just being stupid or oblivious.

    I had to shout at one just this morning, and he still passed me in my lane. I had to move toward the curb just to get by, and he looked at me like he didn’t understand what I was saying. Ridiculous.

    Garth-

  • Bomber says:

    I understand Garth’s frustrations, I feel too there there is significant anti-cycling bias in my home territory, Northern Vermont and can relate to much of what he says. It can be hard to remain positive, but I believe that we must contually try. One guy almost hit me in the crosswalk of a bicycle rec path and he proceed to yell at me and call me names that I will not repeat on EcoVelo. Then the cops said that inorder to site him they’d have to site me too for “riding in a crosswalk” even though it was a bike lane cross walk.

    I also believe that outlaw cyclists need to be confronted at least by social pressure, not sure the yelling helps, but if talking to the person is possible, then I encourage it. The police are too busy with more serious crime. If your are interested in the cycling climate in my area, below is a link to one of the op-ed letters to the paper, the comment section is also a mix of debate.

    http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20101020/OPINION02/10200324/My-Turn-Arrogant-naive-bicyclists-dangerous-on-roads
    -Bomber

  • Alan says:

    @Bomber

    Sorry to hear about the altercation and the police officer’s refusal to deal with it. This seems like a perfect argument for the type of civil anti-harassment law that is being proposed in Los Angeles. If enacted, the ordinance will give bicyclists the ability to pursue civil damages without the involvement of law enforcement. If you missed the post, you can view it here:

    http://www.ecovelo.info/2010/11/11/l-a-close-to-bicyclists-anti-harassment-law/

    Alan

 
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