Touring a city on a rental bicycle is a great way to see its sights. Using them, sightseers can move quickly from place to place with little hassle and expense, and have a great view of everything in between.
In Paris, Amsterdam and many other cities in Europe, renting a bicycle is a breeze, and riding a bike in Europe is generally safe and easy. Bicyclists and motorists there have mutual respect. Renting a bicycle in many US cities, such as Philadelphia and New York, is also easy, but riding a bicycle in them can be dangerous. In the US, the tension between bicyclists and motorists seems to be palpable.
While traveling in Amsterdam and Paris, in particular, I have seen how bicyclists, motorists and pedestrians interact. They have respect for the law and the rules of the road — and for each other. That doesn’t mean that hurried cyclists never run a red light and no delivery trucks are ever parked in a bike lane.
It does mean, for the most part, that cyclists ride in the direction of traffic, stop at red lights and use bicycle paths, if available. They also stay off sidewalks. It means that most cars and trucks stop at red lights, yield for bicycles and pedestrians when they have the right of way and don’t drive in bicycle lanes. It means that pedestrians don’t walk in bike lanes when the sidewalks are busy and they wait for the light to change before crossing.
Unfortunately, I don’t see much of the same in many US cities.
Last week, while driving toward an intersection with a steady green light in my direction, I almost killed a man on a bicycle who blew through his red light, crossing in front of me. I left rubber on the road to avoid him.
A few years ago, while riding on the right on my 10–speed, a speeding motorist literally ran me off the road into a parked car and sped off.
Unfortunately, these aren’t isolated events. They’re every day occurrences, in my opinion and that of many others. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2012, the last year for which statistics are currently available, 726 cyclists were killed and an additional 49,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes, with 69 percent of those crashes occurring in urban areas.
During my travel in the US, I’ve observed bicyclists, motorists and pedestrians regularly ignoring the rules of the road and the laws which govern them.
On US city streets and sidewalks, far too many cyclists, motorists and pedestrians show a lack of respect for the other groups; they show they’re each only interested in themselves.
By personal observance, I note the following about road behavior in the US:
• Most bicyclists ride in the direction of traffic, but too many go the wrong way on one-way streets.
• Far too many bicyclists go through red lights and don’t bother to slow down at stop signs.
• Too many cyclists don’t use bike lanes when available, and instead ride in traffic.
• Too many cyclists ride on sidewalks when travel on roads slows.
• Too many cyclists weave in and out in traffic.
• Too many motorists drive in well-marked bike lanes.
• Too many cars and delivery trucks park temporarily in bike lanes rather than take a few extra minutes to find a legitimate parking or loading place.
• Too many motorists don’t stop and look for bicyclists and pedestrians when turning, especially when it’s a turn on red.
• Too many motorists drive too close to cyclists, even when there is plenty of room to give them a wide berth.
• Too many pedestrians stand in bike lanes while waiting for traffic lights to change, blocking the bikes from using the bike lane.
• Too many pedestrians cross the street virtually anywhere, walking directly in the path of oncoming vehicles and bikes.
• Too many cyclists, motorists and pedestrians see each other as traffic enemies, lack respect for each other on the street and refuse to cooperate.
I agree with automobile and trucker associations, bicycle coalitions and those representing pedestrians in the US, that education of all is essential. But that will take considerable time. A solution is needed today. Too many are being injured and killed on America’s roads.
A solution already exists which can begin immediately to curb the problems of bicycles, motor vehicles and pedestrians sharing the road. Local police departments in the US need to work out a way to enforce traffic regulations for everyone, particularly cyclists and motorists, and pedestrians can’t be left out of the picture entirely. While it may be difficult to enforce traffic regulations for cyclists, it can’t be used as an excuse to not try.
If enforcement is lax, and as more and more bicycles share the road with motor vehicles, the problem will only get worse.