Get Off My Lawn!

Written by Two Wheeled Redhead on Apr 25

This is my first year of being a bike commuter and seeing the resurgence of riders come out as the weather improves.  It’s great to see, but it also brings up a lot of conflicted responses as I ride.

I’m a pretty law abiding rider. I stop at red lights, follow street flow of traffc, wear a helmet, and keep my bike well lit in bad weather conditions, which means not only at nighttime, but fog, rain, snow, etc. I’ll admit to going through a red light on occasion after coming to a stop at 2am coming home from the restaurant, but only after waiting long enough to realize that it was on a weight sensor.. and I was just not going to trigger it.(that is another rant for another day )

When fair weather cyclists come out, especially on nice days, I’m thrilled to see them, but I also now have another thing to watch out for aside from pedestrians and cars. I now have people riding down the street in the wrong directions, in my bike lane, I have people weaving across the bike lane as they get their bike legs back for the year, and coming out of side streets or between parked cars as another hazard. This all aside from the much debated red light running, no helmet, with/against traffic issues.

I don’t want to be rude, but most of the time I can do little more than bark a warning as I almost collide with, and avoid much of the above.  Are there classes out there to educate cyclists on proper bike practices when the weather gets nicer? (or would there just be a bloodbath over the finer points of the curriculum?) How do you deal with the surge of inexperienced riders? It’s hard to educate in 2 seconds or less of interaction, what do you do?

So far I’ve been trying to at least include the relevant data of why I am barking at them… “Red Light!”, “Traffic Flow”, “Please pick a side of the bike lane” was surely the most articulate I have gotten so far.  Does it get better as the weather improves? Or will I actually continue to miss my cold weather riding? (something I would never have told you would happen!!)


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Posted in Commuting, education, Questions | 39 Comments »


39 Responses to “Get Off My Lawn!”

  1. By Peter Smith on Apr 25, 2011 | Reply

    there are etiquette classes out there — to educate yourself to mind your own business.

    don’t worry about what other cyclists are doing — just ride and save the holier-than-thou attitude for your npr dial-in.

    if you absolutely, positively can’t keep your trap closed, then at least put it to good use by picking on the people who actually own and control things — the city. keep your council member and mayor on speed dial and call them up every time you have a simple interaction and tell them you’re sick and tired of dealing with inadequate bike facilities and you’re holding them responsible to get more and better done.

    it’s easy to pick on the little people — instead, do something that actually requires a little effort, something that might actually change things for the better.

  2. By Two Wheeled Redhead on Apr 25, 2011 | Reply

    Hi Peter,
    My point was definitely not to complain for the sake of complaining, but to voice my thoughts and concerns and question whether or not it’s acceptable to try to educate others with less riding experience. From what you are saying it’s not, and I should just let people learn from their own mistakes. That’s fine, but as someone who teaches others on a regular basis, I couldn’t help but ponder if proactive education was an option. I’ll save the NPR call ins for those who have time to sit home and listen to the radio, and contacting my city officials for business matters and reporting potholes in the bike lanes where I ride.

  3. By James on Apr 25, 2011 | Reply

    I try not to bark at careless riders because they tend to rationalize away any warnings & admonitions as the ramblings of a paranoid weirdo (it being a city, after all). They don’t mean to be as much of a menace as they actually are, so any verbal criticism appears to come out of left field (from their perspective).

    These moments are a chance to demonstrate the superiority of your bike handling and awareness to the unfortunate situation they have created. The key is that novice riders need to recognize that they have created the unsafe situation. If they notice your evasive manoeuvrings this is often enough of a lesson.

    Appearance matters more than being “right”– if you look like someone inexperienced/casual riders want to emulate (or respect) they will often follow your lead in observing the rules.

    I’ve been doing the commuting thing for a few years and am more into riding than advocacy. Just my $0.02

    Happy Spring!

  4. By Two Wheeled Redhead on Apr 25, 2011 | Reply

    Hi James, I definitely work to practice respectful riding that could serve as an example. You make a great point about rationalization, I bark because I really am concerned, and not just to hear myself :) I had written this post and submit it before this one on bike commuting classes got put up: http://bostonbiker.org/2011/04/22/intro-to-bicycle-commuting-free/ but this was exactly what I was talking about and I’m so glad the resource is out there! I may make a point to attend to see if there is anything I can pick up as I learned most of my riding etiquette from reading here or watching others.

  5. By William Furr on Apr 26, 2011 | Reply

    Massbike offers a series of classes year round o bicycling safety and skills. They are reasonably priced and use the comprehensive League of American Bicyclists curriculum.

    I know how you feel when seeing others behave egregiously. I feel complicit in their behavior if I remain silent, but I don’t think yelling or even asking nicely on the road does much to educate people; just alienate or annoy them. I go back and forth. I have gotten some very interesting responses, especially yelling at red light runners, when they realize I am on a bike too.

    And folks like Peter need to retake their so-called etiquette classes and recognize civility isn’t just keeping silently when others engage in reckless

  6. By William Furr on Apr 26, 2011 | Reply

    (Cont.) Behavior, it is also for disagreeing without others in internet forums.

    James is on the money with the most effective thing you can do at the time, which is model better behavior. Sadly, most wont notice at all. Past that, spread the word on the available education resources and advocate for better required education for drivers and school children. The Dutch handle this by actually teaching cycling skills, including traffic skills, in primary school.

  7. By jthandle on Apr 26, 2011 | Reply

    Deep breaths. Lots of deep, deep breaths. One of my favorite situations when I’m stopped at a red light is when I hear from behind me, “Excuse me, May I get by.” Aww, how sweet. Polite red light running scofflaws!

  8. By cycler on Apr 26, 2011 | Reply

    @ Peter,
    Perhaps you need to take an etiquette class yourself.

    To the subject of the post, I do feel that societies need to be self-policing to some extent. You wouldn’t stand by if a parent were smacking their kid on the T, you would and should speak up. Maybe the guilty party would say mind your own business out of guilty hostility, but the protection of civic norms is to some extent all our business, whether that’s the protection of children, or obeying traffic laws.

    To me it’s even more important as a cyclist because I know that unfortunately drivers judge me based on the other experiences they’ve had with bicyclists, and when they think all bikers are scofflaws, they are more aggressive.

    So Red Head, I see no problem with a barked “Wrong Way” or “Red Light.” It’s peer pressure, and they need to know that you don’t think they’re doing the right thing. It won’t help in that individual interaction (they’re just as likely to flip you off) , but until we get a better system of rider education in schools and by parents teaching urban cycling to their kids, peer pressure is the only tool we have for establishing social norms.

  9. By bike nerd on Apr 26, 2011 | Reply

    I agree that being a good example is the best way to roll. There’s no instant gratification in it, but I like to think it’ll work best in the long run (I have to think that, or I’ll drive myself crazy…). I also agree that education would help the cycling situation here. You have no idea how many people I talk to who don’t know that it’s the law to stop for red lights. They see everyone else running them, so it must be the norm, right? Or how many drivers don’t know that it’s legal (and often safer) for a cyclist to take the lane.

    And it helps to focus on the positive encounters you have…This very morning I stopped for a couple in a crosswalk, who responded with a very cheerful “Thank you! Have a nice ride.”

  10. By Lisa on Apr 26, 2011 | Reply

    Hi RedHead,

    I’m with you completely on this. I think that by making your brief comments, you are probably helping educate some clueless cyclists. Some people seem to think that, for example, they really are supposed to ride facing the oncoming traffic, and they’re surprised to be informed otherwise.

    A few basic safe bicycling lessons could be taught routinely to kids in school (this used to happen back in the day). And a lesson on the road laws for bicycles should be included in Driver’s Ed courses — as something both drivers and cyclists should be aware of.

    – Lisa

  11. By Lovely Bicycle! on Apr 26, 2011 | Reply

    It can be annoying and dangerous when other cyclists don’t follow traffic rules, but I don’t understand why you include “not wearing a helmet” in the same category. It is not required by law, unlike the other things you list. And it in no way impacts you as a cyclist. While it is reasonable to expect others to follow traffic laws, it is not reasonable to complain about their personal choices. These are two separate issues that I don’t like to see confused.

  12. By Two Wheeled Redhead on Apr 26, 2011 | Reply

    Hi Lovely, while I do not speak out to people on helmet usage, as it is optional, I will mention it in my lists of concerns. It is a subject beaten to death at this point, but I feel safer wearing mine and better when those I love wear theirs!

  13. By Lovely Bicycle! on Apr 26, 2011 | Reply

    2-Wheeled Red – That is fine by me. Your phrasing in the post though grouped it together with all the law-braking behaviour and could be misleading.

    My least favourite behaviour to experience from other cyclists is when they pass me on the right… within the bike lane, between me and the cars’ doors. The frightening thing is that many of them do not look like new cyclists, but like seasoned commuters. Sometimes they even yell at me that I should be more to the right. I (as politely as can possibly be done when shouting) reply: “Door zone!” but don’t know whether it does any good.

  14. By Two Wheeled Redhead on Apr 26, 2011 | Reply

    Entirely understood! And eek! I can see how you would dislike that quite a bit. That bike lane is a tricky territory to negotiate at best.

  15. By Marianna on Apr 26, 2011 | Reply

    First off, I never run red lights, and I wish others wouldn’t either, but I don’t think that’s worth yelling at people for, because 99% of people do it, and I think you might be losing ears if you really emphasize that.

    Second, I think barking at people is a particularly tough case because you usually have about 2 seconds and no chance you explain yourself. I never do it because I feel like it just gets brushed off. I have even overheard people on the street going “Yeah, this guy yelled at me in the bike lane ‘you’re going the wrong way’, no shit, dumbass, I know that!”

    I just go “whoa! shit!” when someone almost hits me on their bike. I think it at least makes them think about it without being confrontational.

    I just wish people would stop passing me without warning while I’m slowing/stopping at red lights – sometimes on both sides at once!

  16. By Josh/HW on Apr 26, 2011 | Reply

    I guess I would be considered a new rider, I understand stopping at signs/red lights, but if its clear to go, why not?

    also its harder for me to let go of some sidewalk riding (when clear), since where I grew up (Fall River) bike riding was not something you did in the street with the cars (who wanted to kill me).

  17. By mass biker on Apr 26, 2011 | Reply

    Josh/HW-

    Do you drive a car through a red light if the way is clear?

  18. By Chris on Apr 26, 2011 | Reply

    Rolling through a red light on a bicycle is legal in many places. Sadly, Boston is not one of them. (You can only go through after a full stop, and only if the way is clear).

    But – pick a side of the bike lane? Seriously? The lane is only what, two feet wide, maybe three? Wide enough for one bike, basically. If you want to pass, pull out of the lane and go around.

  19. By Mark on Apr 26, 2011 | Reply

    Wow! What a refreshing post! I’m sure I haven’t met you on the road as the last time I saw a biker following the rules was back in the 70′s; but it’s nice to know there are some out there.

    There’s one problem with the tone of the post though. It’s naive to think that all of these bikers that are not following the rules of the road are novices. In fact, I’m sure they’ve logged more miles than I have in most instances. The problem is a sense of entitlement by these ‘scofflaws’. It’s so bad in Portland OR (my old hometown) that the bikers are petitioning to make it law that they do not have to stop at stop signs, stop lights, etc….that the cars they share the road with must abide by. In addition to this the city council has already created ‘green areas’ at stop lights in downtown that allows bikers to move in front of cars at red lights. (I’m not sure why there’s a need for them especially if they don’t feel the need to obey the red lights anyway.)

    In short, no amount of ‘education’ will motivate most bikers to follow the rules of the road unfortunately.

  20. By Two Wheeled Redhead on Apr 26, 2011 | Reply

    Most bike lanes in Somerville are 1.5m (4 feet, 11 inches) and at their narrowest, 4 feet, 1 inch. I think that is more than enough width to account for two people, in fact, I frequently see 2 people riding side by side. I do not doubt there are more narrow lanes, and to keep out of the “door zone” you really may have only about 2 feet in a highly trafficked area. That said, weaving back and forth across the lane to it’s width on a street like Somerville Ave is not save to other cyclists, and makes it hard to pass.

  21. By Two Wheeled Redhead on Apr 26, 2011 | Reply

    Thanks to everyone that has commented with comments, feedback, and your own experiences. I agree that I should not have put the helmet wearing in the lawful offenses. I wear one, and as this is an opinion piece, placed it there, but it is true, it is not required. Seeing people not wearing one does make me nervous, even more so when I see them doing unlawful things like running red lights. One possible unlawful that I am not sure of as it’s unlawful while driving now, is it illegal to ride a bike and text? Because I’ve seen it done, and it really freaks me out :)

  22. By Two Wheeled Redhead on Apr 26, 2011 | Reply

    Hi Mike,
    I guess my situation is that my experience riding started at the beginning of winter. During the winter months I didn’t run into many riders not obeying traffic laws, then when the weather got warmer, it got a bit wild. So that is where my assumption comes from. I can’t think of any way of saying this that doesn’t sound preachy but I would hope that more experienced riders would be paving the way and showing my example how we can ride correctly, and faultlessly to merit our right to the road and get along better with motorists. I know there were always be outliers on both sides, but I do my best to contribute in a positive way. I’ll wave if I see you on the road, you’ll know it’s me, I’ll be stopped at a red light ;)

  23. By Paul on Apr 27, 2011 | Reply

    First year cycle commuting. I think Lovely Bicycle says she has been at it a couple of years. I know the minute I write that I have been commuting 60+ years someone will write in and say they have been for 80+ years. Here’s the thing I remember; fifty years ago there was no debate over how you ride a bike on the road. Motorists would just shout, “Get on the sidewalk with that thing where you belong.”

  24. By gear on Apr 27, 2011 | Reply

    The only comment I make to other cyclists when they are breaking the law is to yell “Are you British?” when they come at me when they are on the wrong side of the street.

  25. By becoming on Apr 27, 2011 | Reply

    I don’t say anything unless they are riding the wrong way. In that case, I smile real big and helpful, and cheerfully say: “Wrong way!”

    Also: http://bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com/2009/05/smoked-salmon-lock-your-bike-dont-lox.html

  26. By Lisa on Apr 27, 2011 | Reply

    Paul,

    Actually, I’ve been commuting by bike since the mid 60′s ;) My first “commute” was riding to elementary school. Many kids rode to school and there was a big bike rack out front.

    My school had bicycle safety lectures (by the local police) and/or filmstrips (similar to this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1QEKTZyQmwk) at least once a year in the school auditorium. So no, we didn’t have motorists shouting at us to “get on the sidewalk”. In fact, the crossing guards would scold any kid on a bike who rode on the sidewalk or didn’t stop for the stop signs. However, it’s true that I can hardly remember seeing any adults on bikes back then.

    I’m really astonished at how little new riders know about traffic law for cyclists. I suppose it’s because kids get driven to school in cars these days, instead of riding their bikes, and bike safety lectures are no longer offered in schools.

  27. By Linda on Apr 27, 2011 | Reply

    Here’s my beef. People riding bikes side-by-side down the road, whether a car comes along or not. As if their conversation were more important than the rules of the road. “Share the road” does not mean that cyclists should grab their half and never let go. Nothing like giving drivers one more reason to be rude to us cyclists.

  28. By JonT on Apr 27, 2011 | Reply

    Re. the sensors: I don’t think there are any weight sensors in the Boston area, though there are plenty of sensors that work via an electromagnetic effect. You can recognize them via the wires that are embedded in the asphalt in a rectangular pattern. I can usually trigger them on my bike (aluminum frame) by standing on (or even riding over) the right or left edge of the rectangle.

  29. By JJJ on Apr 28, 2011 | Reply

    Jon is right, the traffic light sensors use induction, not weight. Try positioning your bike directly over the lines.

    Linda, lets do some math.

    Say a lane is 10 feet wide (most common here in mass). A bike requires around 3 feet of space. Safe passing requires 3 feet of space. A car uses 8 feet of space.

    Thats 14 feet.

    It is IMPOSSIBLE to safely pass a cyclist within the same lane. Thus, the car MUST change lanes to do so.

    If the car will change lanes anyway, who cares if there is one or two cyclists in the right lane?

    Just pretend the 2 cyclists are a tractor, or other large slow device. Do you complain that the backhoe is too wide?

  30. By RainyDayInterns on Apr 28, 2011 | Reply

    We say…just run into them. Then there will be an opportunity for a longer discourse.

  31. By Two Wheeled Redhead on Apr 28, 2011 | Reply

    Hey JonT and JJJ, This is the new intersection at Elm and Somerville Ave, there’s nothing that looks like the imbedded wires you described, and if I ride down the divider between the lanes the light changes immediately, if I am in either lane nothing happens, same for cars. I think it is a weight sensor (or an unmarked induction sensor) and it’s really badly placed.. thanks so much for your advice, at least I knew what to look for!

  32. By Two Wheeled Redhead on Apr 28, 2011 | Reply

    And hey Rainy Day crew! I know you from a very different life =)And yes, running into would give opportunity for further discussion, though they’d already be on the defensive at that point (ba dum da!)

  33. By experienced on Apr 28, 2011 | Reply

    two wheeled red head –

    you are not experienced after commuting for one winter, there are many situations that you have not seen and you have a lot to learn, promise! i think that it is great that you are riding and welcome to the team. my advice to you is to mind your own business.

  34. By Two Wheeled Redhead on Apr 28, 2011 | Reply

    Experienced, I definitely have a lot to learn, and I look to the more experienced cyclists around me and communities like this to teach me more. As for your other comment, I politely agree to disagree. If I am seeing things that are obviously illegal after less than a year of serious riding, I am not going to idly sit by and watch these riders create an even greater chasm of misunderstanding between cyclists and motorists. But thank you for your feedback and suggestion.

  35. By DLo on Apr 28, 2011 | Reply

    This is about more than just etiquette–this is a serious safety issue. I’ve seen bikers dart out from between cars without looking both ways only to hit the side of a moving car. I’ve seen pedestrians knocked to the ground by bikers in crosswalks and even on sidewalks. And nearly every summer we hear about a biker getting hit by a Green line trolley. I’m happy to see bikes have become a more popular form of transportation, but riders who don’t follow the rules are a danger to themselves and everyone around them.

  36. By tone on Apr 29, 2011 | Reply

    I would like to know if you bark “Jaywalking” at pedestrians or “Slow Down” to drivers? If you’re not yelling at everyone, I have to question the reasoning behind only picking on cyclists. If you’re going to be the world police then at least be consistent.

    Personally, I think the state laws for bicycling go against the laws of inertia and physics, which is why so many don’t follow them to the letter. It’s not the people, it’s the fact that the laws go against the laws of nature. People go through red lights/stop signs because it is instinctual to continue momentum if possible.

    Wouldn’t your time be better spent lobbying to change the state cycling laws than harassing other cyclists? Thankfully, I probably won’t hear your harassment over the music I’m listening to.

  37. By Two Wheeled Redhead on Apr 29, 2011 | Reply

    Hey tone, next time the MBTA Bus almost hits me going down Broadway I’ll remember that it’s against physics and nature for him to stop gravity and hit the brakes. Truly, that is a an argument for all things on wheels. I hope you also tell that to any cyclists or pedestrians you almost hit while communing with gravity. I do in fact say something to jaywalkers, especially if I am in danger of hitting them “I have the light” or motorists, typically, “excuse me!” I have no problem with the laws, only those who ignore them. If you like them so little I hope you’ll take off your headphones, stop ignoring the rest of the world, and go lobby for change yourself.

  38. By tone on Apr 29, 2011 | Reply

    TWR, there must be some miscommunication, as I’m not saying all vehicles shoudn’t stop for stop signs. I’m saying that I think the “same roads/same rules” policy is a bad one for cylists because it runs counter to human nature and efficency. Here’s a video that does a good job explaining what I’m talking about. http://vimeo.com/4140910?ab

    Like most people when I ride a bike I use common sense and judgement for my safety and those around me. I don’t really take the law into consideration that much. Should we all follow the rules of the road? Probably, but let’s face it as a society we don’t follow all the laws of the road. What I don’t do is yell at others, unless they are putting me in immediate danger, thinking I’m educating someone.

    This whole article seems to be about how you don’t like to share to the road with “less experienced” cyclists after your one year of commuting and trying to get advice on how to better yell at people. When I see another cyclist running a red or doing something crazy, I’m more apt to think something like. “Gee maybe that guy’s wife is having a baby and he’s trying to get to the hospital asap.” Because I have no real idea what they are going through and like to give my fellow humans the benefit of doubt. I also have no idea if a rider I see on the street is more or less experience than me and who am I to tell them how to live their life. Sure if someone puts me in danger I’ll let them know about it, but I don’t believe harassing others because they aren’t following the laws as close as you’d like is worth it.

  39. By Nick on May 2, 2011 | Reply

    Going through an intersection after seeing that it’s clear is a gray area and if someone yelled at me for doing it I would definitely not take it kindly. Yes, cars do actually do the same thing–ever notice how many drivers don’t pay attention to no turn on red signs if they can see that nobody’s coming?

    Jaywalking is a fact of life here. If you want to sit there during a walk light with no pedestrians in sight, feel free, but I surely won’t.

    What makes me mad are the cyclists who feel that they never have to stop for pedestrians as they consider it fine to zoom by within six inches. That is dangerous and justifiably pisses off people crossing the street.

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