Cyclists Are Special, and They Should Have Their Own Rules

There’s a line of reasoning advanced by the media, angry motorists and, sometimes, cyclists, that goes something like: Since some cyclists don’t follow the rules, cyclists don’t deserve respect.

There is a double standard when cyclists are expected to "earn" their right to the road, while motorist misbehavior is accepted as the norm. Image: Likecool.com

A version of this axiom was repeated yesterday by Sarah Goodyear at Atlantic Cities, in an article titled “Cyclists Aren’t ‘Special,’ and They Shouldn’t Play by Their Own Rules.” Goodyear argues that cyclists need to clean up their behavior in order to legitimize themselves in the eyes of others. A crackdown on rule breakers is needed, she says, to advance the cause of cycling.

Blogger David C. at Greater Greater Washington says that’s baloney:

Goodyear is asking cyclists to become footdroppers and thinks that more enforcement of cycling laws is what is needed for cycling to “get to the next level.” I disagree which is easy to do since Goodyear offers no evidence, no data and no defense of her position. It appears to be 100% emotion-based opinion.

When I look at great cycling cities in Europe it doesn’t appear to me that there is some point where increased enforcement is needed to keep growth going. Growth is fueled by better designed streets, laws that protect cyclists, and increasing the costs of driving. If anything, what I’ve read about Amsterdam and Copenhagen is that they don’t tolerate the kinds of bad driving that are considered normal here. I don’t read about ticketing blitzes.

She makes the point that many cyclists are rude or ride dangerously and that she’d like to see such behavior ticketed. I have no problem with ticketing dangerous behavior — though if we’re really going to focus on the MOST dangerous behavior, that will rarely mean ticketing cyclists. And if law enforcement were to blitz cyclists, it would likely not be for their most dangerous behavior (riding at night without lights or too fast on the sidewalk or against traffic) but rather not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign during a charity ride or at some out-of-the way intersection.

Bike lawyer Brendan Kevenides wrote in Urban Velo last year that “the way you ride is probably a crime,” saying that in many cases cyclists have logical reasons for breaking the rules, often for their own safety. He wrote that lawmaking bodies across the country are starting to recognize ways in which cyclists behave differently from motorists, and are making appropriate accommodations. In other words, lawmaking bodies are recognizing that cyclists are special, in that they are not the same as cars, and that they should have their own rules.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Kansas City’s gudthoughts blog considers whether crowd-funding is a viable way to improve that region’s transit infrastructure. Systemic Failure says Amtrak’s strict “no pets” policy is unnecessary and puts the quasi-public transportation provider at a competitive disadvantage with other modes. And People for Bikes asks cyclists to send pro-bike letters to their local newspapers in honor of Bike to Work Week.