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I just want you to close your eyes, and imagine a parakeet, sitting on its branch and eating seeds—wearing a tiny little collar with the cutest little tag hanging from it…

The Atlantic Cities is producing a lot of thinking points on new ways to think about urbanization. I seldom agree with them—I find their picture to be not nearly big enough—but they are definitely heading in the right direction. I was happy to see the article Why We Should Never Fine Cyclists, as it revolves around a topic I have wanted to write about for a long time—so I commented on the post and wanted to flesh out the comment here.

But first, let’s give Three Cheers for the Idaho Stop!! This law allows cyclists, when it is safe to do so, to yield at stop signs instead of stopping.

Driver’s rants about how cyclists should obey the laws so clearly come from a frustrated place where people don’t feel heard, feel they have no control over their lives, and truly hate being stuck in traffic. That is clear, because they obviously don’t want blanket laws applied to them—and in three minutes, we could figure out a pile of laws which, if applied “fairly”, would make their lives worse.

Road laws are solely designed to reduce the carnage caused by 2,000 lb. bullets hurtling around at high speeds. And that is all the laws should be applied to.

We have laws for pig farmers. Should tomato farmers have to build giant manure management systems?

We have laws for dog licensing. Should parakeets have to wear a little collar with a tiny tag?

We have laws for new drivers. Should experienced drivers be forbidden from carrying passengers or driving on the highway?

My favourite bit of hilarity though: Imagine if we applied road laws to everyone who was commuting. Should pedestrians walking down the sidewalk shoulder check twice, extend their arm to signal the direction they intend to walk, then sharply turn?

It is ridiculous to imagine that pedestrians should stop at every corner and look both ways before proceeding. It is ridiculous because pedestrians move slow enough to look both ways while still walking forward. Cars move too fast to do this safely, and the consequences of driving without caution are too grim.

Laws are designed to address specific issues. Laws are designed to be unfair, in order to balance an existing unfairness. There are so many laws regulating cars because cars kill and maim a truly horrific number of people every year.

As a driver, by virtue of guiding your missile through the streets, you agree to assume the duty of care of everyone else. You are bigger, harder and faster, and so you are responsible to everyone else, and especially those that are smaller, softer and slower—the pedestrians, cyclists, kids on skateboards and people in electric scooters.

So, calls for cyclists to obey car laws are as misguided as suggesting cars should obey bike laws, or that parakeets should obey dog laws.

 

 

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yellow curb

Victoria, B.C. is a lovely town to bike in; it is fairly flat, gets quite a bit less rain than nearby Vancouver, and is a fairly compact little city. You can access most services you need on most days, even if you are not an Olympic cyclist—no thanks to the City engineers or the automobile drivers.

The infrastructure is abysmal—what few bike lanes there are have a habit of just ending; ejecting you onto the busiest streets, or forcing you to cross lanes of cars that want to turn. And there are none of those little signal buttons placed within reach of cyclists, as Vancouver has done such a good job with.

It is really the drivers, though, that make me yearn for Vancouver. Let me repeat that. Rush Rush Vancouver with its Busy Busy Traffic has a culture of drivers that feels safer for me as a cyclist.

Starting with the worst, today a ‘Stale, Pale, Male’ swore at me from the intersection and then again as he passed me. He was doing that thing of oozing through his stop sign in a way that makes me feel unsure if he has seen me, or if he is going to stop. Since he has 2000 pounds of steel, and I have 20, I feel quite outgunned in these situations.

So I held up my hand, and said in a loud, but moderate tone of voice, “Stop.” He started spewing curses and yelling he was just trying to see. As he passed me, he rolled down his passenger window to favour me with more curses.

Now, since I was on a bike, and he was in a car, I was only ten seconds behind him at the next red light. So I pulled up beside him, waited through his bluster—part of which was “I am a cyclist too, so I know.” I responded that I was sure he could understand, then, that having a car rolling towards me is terrifying, which shut him up—and I beat him off the light.

A while later, riding on one of the major streets, two cars were parked in the bike lane while the drivers had a chat in the sunshine. I was forced out into high-speed traffic. Bike Lane. Bike. Lane. Bike Lane. I am trying to find a way of saying this that makes sense why cars are parked in it.

And then, I had what I call a smear—a very common maneuver in Victoria. They didn’t actually hit me—just passed me, then pulled in so close in front of me I practically had to bunny hop onto the sidewalk. These smears are inevitably because they are trying to pass me in the half-block before the stop sign. You know what? We are both going to be there in ten seconds. Just show a little patience and grace and maybe I will get home to my family tonight. I can never figure out how, in sleepy little Victoria, the drivers can be in a bigger rush than in Vancouver.

So, I was fuming, and reflecting on the rights and responsibilities of drivers. Drivers can go sit in their own car in their own driveway to their heart’s content. But they have no rights on the road, only responsibilities. They must obey speed limits and parking regulations and stop signals. They have to stay between the lines and not talk on their mobile phone. There is a very confining set of regulations they must stay within, and that is because they are driving a crazy dangerous murder machine—the single most deadly device in North America.

Drivers, by virtue of piloting a great weight at high speed, have a duty of care for everyone else. You must take care of the health and well-being of every other person on the road, and especially the soft-shelled ones—the pedestrians, cyclists, skateboarders and people in electric scooters. That is your responsibilty. That is the covenant of getting behind the wheel.

If you don’t like it, walk.

 

 

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