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The I’s don’t have it

July 31, 2009
By Bob Seidenstein,

Lately the Enterprise has hosted an ongoing debate about bicycle/vehicle etiquette or the lack thereof.

The causes of the conflict are simple, since they're the causes of all conflict. They are the trinity of human dysfunction, "The Three I's" - ignorance, inconsideration and idiocy.

The Three I's are universally distributed. Maybe Thomas Jefferson didn't mention them in the Declaration of Independence, but we've all been endowed by the Creator with them as much as with our unalienable rights.

Let's start with ignorance.

It seems almost no one knows that bicycles are legally defined as vehicles, and therefore have the same rights as all vehicles. That's why cars have no right to travel in bike lanes but if bike lanes are un-navigable or nonexistent, bikes have the right to travel on the roads.

Another example: At a four-way stop, the first vehicle to arrive has the right-of-way to proceed. So if a bike pulls up to the stop first and is going straight, while opposite him is a car that pulled up later and is making a left-hand turn, legally the bike can go straight through the intersection and the car must wait for him.

But due to ignorance, all too often these things happen only in law books, not in reality. Cars routinely cut off bikers at intersections, and bikers will ride on the most chopped-up, slopped-up shoulders rather than chance riding on the theoretically safer road. Not that it might ultimately matter: Last week I saw a driver take a blind curve completely in the bike lane. Something else - I've been cut off at intersections when I've had the right of way too many times to count.

Because bikes have the same rights as other vehicles, they also have the same responsibilities - something bikers frequently disregard. So we have bikers paying no heed to traffic lights and stop signs, riding against traffic flow, and just generally making a hash of the rules that could protect them.

As for the second I - inconsideration? Take your pick. Cars skimming bike lanes, horns a'blowing, hostility quotient punched to the max. Bikers riding four abreast in the road, when the shoulders are in fine condition. Cars on bikes' tails in town; bikers not stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks, and on and on and on.

When it comes to idiocy, the list is endless. The most recent and egregious example is the bikers on Placid's River Road who refused to pull over for a fire truck on its way to a house fire. And then those ubershmucks wonder why the rest of us are victims of road rage.

One of my all-time favorites was the woman who plowed into me on her way into the Radio Shack plaza. When she got out of her car and I told her about it, she blithely said, "And how do I know you didn't run into me?" OK, granted she wasn't the hottest habanero in the patch, still I would've thought the fact her obliviousness could've killed someone might've have counted for something. Obviously it didn't.


Message to bikers

The painful truth is riding a bike in the U.S. is both a dangerous business and an unmitigated mess. Ultimately, too few bikers know what they're doing wrong, too few drivers care and no one in control is doing anything to improve the situation (provided there really is anyone in control).

You want examples? How about the letter to the editor where a woman mentioned bikers cutting her off in a crosswalk and then cursing her as they cruised by? Despicable behavior for sure, and illegal behavior besides. But hardly confined to bikers: How many motorists cut off pedestrians in crosswalks and then blow their horn and flash the Hawaiian peace sign as well?

Pedestrians have right-of-way in crosswalks but no one enforces it. And why not? You tell me.

How about bikers riding on sidewalks? Also illegal, also dangerous, also not enforced. In fact, a few years ago I wrote about it, warning that someone was going to hit. And a year or so later, that's exactly what happened to a woman coming out of Post Office Pharmacy. There followed the usual hue and cry that "something must be done about it," but from what I can see with bikers still riding all over the sidewalks, nothin's been done.

Most logically, since it's a legal issue, I'd expect our local cops should enforce it. And they've got the perfect means to do it: The village has cops' bikes, and it also has bike cops. But apparently the twain do not meet.

Another mess - bike lanes. Take the one that starts at Riverside Park, heading toward Lake Placid please. It's a good wide lane at its start, but it completely disappears by the turn at the NBT bank. This means, without warning, bikers are suddenly in the vehicle lane. Then, after the curve, the bike lane appears and is marked but it also has all kinds of obstructions on it, among them cars in front of the ice cream stand and the tennis courts, signs (including at times the cops' radar speed check sign), cracks, rocks, recessed storm drains and detritus galore. To me, this all sends an obvious message to bikers, which is, "Tough noogies."


Hope for the future?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not blaming the cops, the D.O.T. or anyone else. This is a problem caused by our whole society, so our whole society is to blame.

But the real issue with problems shouldn't be placing blame for them; it should be solving them. The car/bike problem can be solved but only if everyone involved - bikers, drivers, cops, road planners, pedestrians - does their share.

In countries where bikes are considered valid transportation, not merely toys for kids or exercise freaks, it's safe and sensible to ride a bike.

Go to Amsterdam, where there seem to be more bikes than people. Every day tens of thousands of bikers ride smoothly and safely, never leaving bike lanes; cars stay in the vehicle lanes, and pedestrians know where they belong, and stay there - other than American tourists, who are confused by traffic systems that actually work.

So will safe and sensible biking ever come to the U.Sor even to My Home Town? It sure should, especially in light of America being the petroleum-and-calorie-consuming capital of the globe. Sadly, though, I've got my doubts.

But one thing I don't doubt: Until such a time arrives, whenever I ride my bike, I'll trust motor vehicles and their drivers as much as I always have, which is as far as I can throw them.



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