Emerson Must Have Been Correct

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Another Instance of More Heat Than Light

So BentRiderOnline.com got another “lock down”. Their thread on Roger Cohen’s theme of unlawful but ethical riding eventually became less informative and more personal. What is always interesting in these kinds of threads is the rational being used by anyone who feels that unlawful behavior is “not that big a deal”.

The first few responses were:

SabreMan 08-04-2012 04:09 PM

Breaking the Law while being ethical.

There is an interesting opinion piece by Randy Cohen in the New York Times Sunday Review opinion pages: If Kant Were a New York Cyclist.

He discusses what he will and will not do as he cycles in NYC. While I understand his position, I think some of his actions would only serve to antagonize auto drivers and pedestrians, making life more difficult for all of us.

What do you think?

Glenn in Omaha

jimali 08-04-2012 04:18 PM

An opinion piece based on intelligent, individual thought.

Bummels 08-04-2012 08:49 PM

I like the article. An ethical law breaker makes sense to me.

Thanks for posting.

yakmurph 08-05-2012 08:36 AM


Thanks for sharing this thoughtful, provocative article.

I agree with, “riding ethically” (but breaking the law).

My two cents:

(I’m not an urban rider: all my rides are on rural roads.)

I try to limit my lawbreaking behaviour to those times
when there are no witnesses around to see me breaking laws.

In my experience, intersections are incredibly
dangerous places to be in.
Blowing through both stop signs and red lights minimises
my exposure in intersections, especially when there are no witnesses.

Keeping a sharp eye out for potential witnesses to my lawbreaking
behaviour keeps me safer.

That’s my opinion, anyway.

Again, great article and thank you for sharing it!

Joao 08-05-2012 10:50 AM

The big difference between urban and rural environments is in the number of intersections.

On a rural setting, one can ride for miles without the need to stop. So the occasional stop every now and then is no big deal.

My commute is 6 miles. Of these 6 miles, 2 are on the Manhattan Bridge bike path. In the remaining 4 miles, I cross 63 intersections. If I was to come to a full stop at every red light and waited for it to turn green, it would take me hours to get to work. Instead I slow down, look to see if I’m clear, and if so, I continue. If I’m not clear to go, then I come to a full stop, and once there is plenty of space, I continue. The only times I come to a full stop and wait for the light are when crossing wider multi-lane roads, or when there are a lot of pedestrians crossing the road.

Kudzu 08-05-2012 11:16 AM

Originally Posted by Joao (Post 971336)
If I was to come to a full stop at every red light and waited for it to turn green, it would take me hours to get to work.
Too bad.

I am well aware that sounds mean but it’s exactly what came to mind. If I didn’t have to stop with my car my driving commute could be cut by 30%. Perhaps I shouldn’t bother to stop? What effect with that have on the cyclists who choose a rolling stop? Would there at some point be a collision? The odds would certainly increase. If we expect motorist to observe those signals & at the same time treat us, cyclists, as real vehicles with a right to the road then we need to observe the signals as well.

If, on the other hand, you don’t mind the motorists rolling through signals then have at it. Just don’t whine when one runs a stop sign or signal & forces you to stop or causes a near collision.

Gads, this is an issue that really pushes my buttons. Am sorry for the rant but not sorry enough to refrain from hitting the “Submit Reply” button. Carry on. Carry on. Nothing to read here.

Nothing More To Read Here

As with the ChainLink crowd there is a subtle subtext that runs a bit like this:

  • My forum is reserved for sharing those “bad things” done to me by motorists:
    • A cabbie parked illegally in the bike lane on my way to work
    • A motorist threw a “right hook” which nearly caused a collision
    • A cop honked loudly at me because I was appropriating the entire lane while I was riding my child on a cargo bike
    • A motorist “doored” me a few minutes ago
    • A woman cyclist hits an ice cream truck broadside and dies, but the book should be thrown at the truck driver for having a suspended license
    • The city is placing stop signs and the bottom of steep downhills which I find inconvenient because of having to stop and regain momentum
    • Motorists in my area are constantly doing “rolling stops” rather than complete ones
    • I find it easier to simply ignore red lights and proceed through intersections on the theory that the longer I am at an intersection the more likely I will be struck from the rear by motorist who fails to stop at the light
  • My scofflaw attitude hurts no one but perhaps me:
    • I have skin in the game because should I miscalculate I am the one who will be hurt
    • When a cyclist hits and kills a pedestrian in California its such a rarity that bringing up the fact means that you are a troll
    • Rolling through stop signs is what everyone does anyway, including motorists
    • We need to understand the mores of the cycling community and then enact laws that suit its members
    • Cars are inherently polluters and thus have no moral high ground in any debate about laws
    • If you live outside of an urban area you have no right to criticize urban cyclist behaviors

Eventually these sorts of arguments become personal and everyone starts tossing in the “kitchen sink” to make their point. So is there a way to view this probably of ethical behavior despite law breaking from a broader perspective?

Yes. You can argue that none of us in the transportation mix should have to obey laws which are contrary to our groups mores.

Motorists would probably argue that:

  • 25 MPH on side streets is much too slow. You should always be able to travel as fast as you safely can.
  • Stop lights in the dead of night should most certainly be treated as YIELD signals, in daylight you should be able to ignore them after having checked both ways before entering the intersection.
  • Cyclists should be responsible for dooring incidents because they are the only ones facing forward at the moment of impact. Motorists are often surprised by a fast moving cyclist who may have been riding in their “blind spot”.

Pedestrians would probably argue that:

  • Everyone crosses between intersections. It makes sense to cross in the middle of the block if the food vendor you are seeking is right across the street.
  • No one really obeys stop lights. If a pedestrian is in the crosswalk at a corner they should be “golden” despite crossing on a red light.

Cyclists would probably argue that:

  • Asking a cyclist to lose precious time during their daily commute is unfair. Waiting at lights and coming to full stops at stop signs is silly and unnecessary. We can be responsible for our actions we don’t need to be told how to ride.
  • Give us more protected bike lanes and keep automobiles from violating that space by parking and driving in them.
  • Dooring issues are always the fault of the driver, period. He should have looked to see if I was coming up from behind.
  • Stop lights and signs at the bottom of steep hills should be optional for cyclists in a hurry.

Being Consistent Means…

If I want to be free to break the law without being unethical I suppose that means that:

  • I give up the right to even complain about a cabbie who is illegally occupying the bike lane.
  • I suppose as a cyclist I have to take responsibility for avoiding drivers exiting their vehicles into my bike lane.
  • If as a pedestrian I am struck by a motor vehicle while crossing between intersections
  • I give up might right to be “golden” since I am doing the unexpected.
  • If as a cyclist I don’t feel the need to obey speed limits, stop signs or stop lights then I will not expect any different behavior from motorists.
  • If it is repressive to ask cyclists to have licenses that prove they have undergone testing, then surely drivers do not need them either.
  • Like motorcyclists bicycle riders should be exempt from any law requiring a helmet.

Smells Like Anarchy To Me


So perhaps the best thing for our politicians to do in driving home the need for lawful behavior is a law free week every six months or so. No one has to obey any laws they don’t like, no matter what. Cops will park themselves in front of their favorite donut stores for a week and watch the mayhem happen.

And I dare Randy Cohen to complain about unlawful behavior on the part of non-cyclists at any point in time, going forward.

What is good the goose is good for the gander.

— English Proverb

One Final Question

Where do cyclists go to complain about each other behaving badly? For instance if you are riding in a paceline and suddenly find yourself face down on the tarmac with a broken clavicle or worse, who is to blame? Obviously you can not blame your own ineptness, so perhaps you can point the finger at the rider in front of you?

If you run headlong into a cyclists riding against traffic in your bike lane who is at fault? Most of us over the age of 50 learned and were taught to ride against traffic for safety reasons. That thinking was exported all over the globe. Riders from foreign countries who routinely commute by bicycle still observe that ritual. Do they get to continue since that is what they want to do because it makes them feel safer?

When a cyclist on a bike trail slams another head on who is to blame? Where can a cyclist go to complain about bad cyclist behavior. Both riders no doubt felt they had the right-of-way. So in those instances how can anyone be at fault?

I just love this “free thinking” stuff. Emerson was absolutely right. Trying to free yourself from conformity is a growth experience. I feel empowered already.