Opinion Your Views — 07 August 2014
We must stop the ‘cycling anarchy’

By B. Marquis, Alexandria
(File Photo)

To the editor:

Regarding the issues that surround bicycling in Alexandria — particularly with creating bike lanes and providing additional accommodations for bicyclists — I feel compelled to report my observations from a recent weekend.

On a Sunday afternoon not long ago, I had to drop off and later pick up someone by the Torpedo Factory Art Center. On both occasions I got a waiting spot on Union Street by the intersection with Cameron Street. As I sat in my car for about 20 minutes each time, I watched the many bicyclists coming through that part of Old Town.

I estimate I saw about 50 or 60 cyclists come and go while I waited. I counted only two that actually stopped at the stop signs. The vast majority completely ignored them. Not only did they not even slow down, they pedaled right through the intersection at full speed.

I saw about a dozen near misses with pedestrians. People trying to cross in the crosswalks had to jump back or wait to avoid being hit by cyclists running the sign. There also were several close calls with cars. A vehicle that stopped at the sign and then continued almost hit a cyclist who was cruising right through the intersection without stopping.

When I came down Duke Street and turned onto Union Street I was almost hit by cyclists that blew through the stop sign there. I watched additional cyclists go right through the stop signs at King and Union streets.

Something has to be done about this cycling anarchy, which has seemingly spurred a complete disregard for basic traffic laws among a large number of cyclists. With more and more being done to encourage and accommodate cycling, we should — as a community — demand greater compliance with traffic laws.

There is no excuse for that level of disregard, not to mention the conduct that was extremely unsafe for everyone. What I witnessed in Old Town that day was appalling and should not be tolerated.

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(9) Readers Comments

  1. No, this is completely ridiculous. The bottom line is that drivers have normalized law-breaking and thus do not see violations of traffic law as actual infractions worthy of notice or scorn. Any idea that cyclists break the law at higher rates than drivers is patently absurd, and here is how you can tell:

    Go to any three- or four-way stop sign intersection in Old Town and watch how many drivers roll through the stop sign or fail to signal. Like many cyclists, most of those that actually come to a complete stop are those forced to by a queue or pedestrians. As hard as it is for drivers to accept, a car failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign and a cyclist doing the same thing are exactly equivalent breaches of the law. Next, go over to Washington Street and measure speeds, noting how many cars are exceeding the 25mph speed limit. Despite ingrained driver behavior to speed being considered safe within reason, each driver exceeding 25mph is actually breaking the law.

    With bicycles making up no more than 2-5% of traffic, this then means that the net violations by drivers, assuming drivers and cyclists break the law at the same rate, is 20-50 times the number of net violations by cyclists.

    As a final note, drivers in the US kill (yes, kill) 4400 pedestrians a year. While some number of pedestrians is also killed by cyclists, the numbers are so low as there not to be a reliable stat I can find. Best guess is two orders of magnitude less at best, possibly three.

    Drivers should examine their own behaviors before classifying cyclists as a rogue out-group. Adherence to the letter of traffic law is something not considered a virtue by the general population in this country, and cyclists are not unique in this regard.

    • Let’s stay on topic please. We’re talking about Old Town, not the Beltway. Drivers in Old Town do pay attention to stop signs and traffic signals. Cyclists do not even when there are other road users at the intersection. I notice you did not dispute any of the actual comments from the original letter-writer.

      You guys need to wake up to the fact that you are your own worst enemy here. If cyclists actually behaved respectfully to other road users, they would get more respect in return. This current state of anarchy benefits no one.

      • The idea that cyclists break the law more than any other group in the road is an offensive stereotype. It has no basis in fact. Cyclists are not their “own worst enemy”, drivers who are paying attention to their phones instead of the road are.

        In reality, studies show that cyclists react to the perceived danger of cycling (another myth–cycling is about as dangerous as driving) by being more cautious, not less cautions than others on the road. The book City Cycling, ed by Pucher and Buehler, has a great chapter on safety that explains these results.

      • Drivers are such saints in Old Town that while it was permissible, the city installed cameras at several area intersections (eg Gibbons and Patrick).

        Give me a break. I watch an equal number of motorists and cyclists flout traffic devices everyday. The difference is that the cyclists I observe doing so generally look both directions. Whereas the drivers seem to generally perform a rolling stop and only observe one direction of traffic. And Jeff, I have seen one of your beloved drivers actually hit a pedestrian on Union.

        If you really want to have some fun, watch people drive around the school bus in the morning. The total paradigm of safety.

  2. This sort of letter could probably be produced with a rubber stamp. There’s always a breed of motorist that sees cyclists as wild-eyed anarchists. Well, I ride some 40 miles a week on my daily commute, and my observation is that this sort of thing is a massive overstatement of a minor problem. If you really care that much about public safety, B, where are your letters complaining of speeding drivers? Speed limits are so commonly ignored that you can’t drive in the left lane of the freeway unless you’re doing at least 10 mph over. You want to dign dangerous behavior? There it is. Go nuts.

  3. And don’t get me started on those kids with their damn wheelie-boards!!

  4. Here comes the Bike Mafia with the usual defenses. Let’s face it, anyone with two eyes can see that bikers are completely out of control in the DC area, to include Old Town. They are a selfish and self-righteous group of individuals who believe that they get a pass for what? Exercising? Being better people than the rest of us because they wear tight pants? I have no idea.

    Putting my personal opinion aside on whether bikers are generally scofflaws, this issue is very simple to solve. Just have APD enforce the law. If this is all the imagination of non-bikers, then it is not a problem. If you comply with the law, then you have nothing to worry about. But the bottom line is that bicyclists are required to obey the law, to include stopping at stop signs. Let APD set up on a Saturday at Cameron and Union with 6 officers and let them write tickets all day. They can write tickets too for motorists who break the law; I certainly don’t disagree that there is lax enforcement of traffic laws for motorists too.

    A couple weeks ago was walking through Ford’s Landing where the signs clearly state that you must dismount and a herd of 5 or six bikers came through. When they passed, I heard the one say to the other, “we’re not suppose to ride through here.” The other said, “I know, but it is nicer.”

    Thanks also to our city council (and the Bike Mafia) who lifted the restriction on riding on the sidewalk in the city, to include Old Town. My dogs and I almost came to an early end one quiet evening (yes, at night) where someone decided to ride up Cameron Street on the wrong side of the road on the sidewalk. There was no traffic out, but why bother to ride in the street when you can ride on the narrow brick 18th century sidewalk. Eco City!

    • Anyone that truly believes cyclists are unique among road users in their disregard for traffic law is really lacking in self-awareness.

      And yes, I would welcome more enforcement on the streets, as long as it is even-handed. An enforcement scheme that targets cyclists but ignores drivers rolling through stop signs is just as unfair as the reverse.

    • Scot, are you upset that they’re on the roads or sidewalks? You seem to be upset by both. Accusing the cyclists of being self-absorbed. Yet it’s all about you. What you observed. What impacts your dog walking. The clothing you think they all wear. Maybe a closer examination in the mirror would be helpful?

      PS- I hope your dog doesn’t get hit by a car. I watched a driver bump into a dog on a leash in OT a few years back. Obviously leashes ahead of the owner are the issue. Not the inattentive driver.

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