Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Bicycling Against Traffic

"If riding with the traffic is like playing Russian roulette (quite an exaggeration), then riding against traffic is like playing Russian roulette with five bullets in the chambers."
- Ken Kifer

One of the nice things about "off-season" bicycling is... I am rarely disrupted by other cyclists, since I'm almost alone out there. (Other than thousands of motor vehicles, of course.)

Once the weather starts getting nice, they're back.

Who are they?

The against-traffic cyclists, riding straight toward me on a "chicken" collision course.

They come in all sizes and ages.

Evidently they learned that pedestrians fare best when they can see oncoming traffic, and assume the same is true for bicyclists.


You are far more likely to have an accident when riding against traffic, than you are to be rear-ended.

Think about it. You are an accident-waiting-to-happen at every intersection, where motorists aren't expecting you, or looking for you. You're approaching oncoming traffic way faster than if you're moving in the same direction as traffic, giving both yourself and the oncoming driver less time to react. Since you're obviously not concerned about the rules of the road, or the established order of things, you're unpredictable. (Squirrely.)

I'm rarely as exasperated by motorist behavior, as I am by an against-traffic bonehead cyclist, approaching straight toward me on a busy road, and intending to occupy the same space as I am (legally) occupying.

Where will they go when we converge? Where should I go?


Against-traffic cycling is illegal in all 50 states.

Idaho: "Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway ..." (49-717 - there are some exceptions for one-way streets, passing, etc., but none of the exceptions permit riding against traffic.)

If you're in an accident while riding against traffic... you're the guilty party. Case closed.

Unfortunately, the behavior perpetuates itself, because adults who ride against traffic teach their kids to ride against traffic. And at least in this jurisdiction, there is nobody "officially" teaching otherwise. If you're riding against traffic and a cop happens by... there's almost a 0% chance you'll get hassled by The Man. Pathetic!

Imagine if cops ignored drivers headed down the street the wrong way!

I've called and emailed the police on numerous occasions to complain... usually after I have a scary near-miss with somebody. The standard reply is... "It's against the law, but it's not a priority violation." (In other words, they'll give it some attention when a bike fatality is involved, at least until the victim is scraped off the road. I just hope it's not me they're scraping.)

If I try to correct somebody's against-traffic riding, the kids ignore me, and the "adults" [I use the term loosely] curse at me. I imagine the law-enforcement community could command a bit more respect. If cops were on bikes, dealing with cyclists coming straight toward 'em (an almost-daily occurrance for me, for 5 or 6 months of the year), I'm thinkin' it might get the cop's attention!

Further reading:
Street Smarts
Ken Kifer


db said...

Right on. Those folks are as much a nuisance/hazard as a motor vehicle.

And let's give a special round of applause to those who take it one step further by riding on the SIDEWALK on the left-hand side of the road. You're gonna need that helmet, Hoss....

Clancy said...

Riding safely on a bike takes some education but mostly just common sense. I do believe in survival of the fittest, so these unsafe bikers will eventually be taken care of.

Anonymous said...

Good on ya Bikeboy. But what are we to do when we see the transgressors?

danielo said...

Here's where I differ from, most likely, every other Cyclista reading.

You will spot me riding on the sidewalk, against traffic, near my work, for short distances.

My alternate options are (1) crossing busy traffic TWICE to get to where I want to go, or (2) going with traffic around an entire block to get to a street a quarter mile away. The first option is less safe, and the second is impractical and silly.

When I'm sidewalk riding, I yield to everything -- pedestrians, cars at intersections, even dogs. Actually, I do that wherever I'm riding, even when I take a lane of traffic.

I find that in every case of "I can't believe that cyclist is doing that," the problem isn't where they're riding, or which direction they're travelling, or what they are/aren't wearing. The problem is that they are ASSUMING anyone else is going to keep them safe.

I'm invisible when I'm on a bike, and I act that way.

Granted, I also have a rather exaggerated (some might even say chronic) "F you I'll do what I want" element to my attitude.... :)

Apertome said...

I've started seeing this kind of thing around here, too, and it's always disconcerting. I don't even know how to deal with those cyclists. Clancy makes a good point, except that they aren't just a danger to themselves, they're endangering everyone on the road.

Bikeboy said...

Danielo is verbalizing almost EXACTLY the response I get from most adults who I say "wrong way!" to, after having them just about take me out. Too bad.

(Danielo, although it may seem otherwise, legal/visible/defensive/assertive ON-STREET riding is statistically much safer than sidewalk riding. Although I'll occasionally take a "sidewalk shortcut," I feel much more comfortable on the road.)

"Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles." - John Forester

Another downside of against-traffic cyclists is the black eye they give ALL cyclists. Motorists see them (and red-light runners, traffic-weavers, etc.) and tend to stereotype all cyclists as brainless morons.

danielo said...

Here's another take: statistics compile the results of cause and effect interactions of the populace (as included in the study group). If I am smarter than the average statistical pool member, my actions, and the result of them, will differ from the statistical results.

So, just how narcissistic am I? Am I smarter than the people Bikeboy stops, who claim they're safer by riding against traffic (which, for the record, I rarely defend, though sidewalk riding WITH traffic is a different story)? Well...

I can accept statistics, but I have a hard time making the leap to actually TRUSTING drivers, which is, ultimately, the last step in this. That mental step is nearly, and possibly completely, impossible for me. I do ride on the road, often, and it's mental torture. Every car that passes a foot away from me (i.e. every other car) adds to the stress of not knowing what's going on behind me. When there's a curb between the cars and me, I have at least a physically barrier to driver stupidity.

It is -- statistically -- extremely unlikely, that I will ever find myself in an argument with the type of person that would defend his stance by shooting me in the head. However, I still go out of my way to avoid arguments, just in case I do meet that statistically improbable person one day. I ultimately trust myself more than statistics. I accept the judgment of conceited, if that seems to fit. I'm also open to being proven wrong on this, but so far, trusting statistics isn't convincing me.

danielo said...

Oh, and this is important: I do NOT think I'm smarter than the excellent cyclists commenting here. However, I am fairly sure I am FAR more cynical, and FAR less trusting than the rest.

Smudgemo said...

I don't run into this kind of stuff, but I think I'd probably speed up as much as I could and merge into traffic until the other person passes. Seriously. I might even shout "Wrong way!" as I go by, but I'm not sure about that part. Of course, it depends on the type of motorists you are likely to run into (pun intended.) In my area I wouldn't think twice about it unless the road speeds were very high and I was going up a grade. Just throw your left arm out pointing to where you intend to go and see if someone lets you in. I'm pretty comfortable in traffic, so take it for what its worth.