UPDATED : Gosh, Now You Tell Me…


Photo by Shutterstock.

We really need to establish a sane pattern of expectations here on the ChainLink Forum. Either we are going to be scofflaws or wussies. Choose one and stick with it. Please…

Take a look at this outrageous request by someone who must be new to the scene:

Cyclists of Chicago, please…

Posted by Sarah D. on August 31, 2012

…pass on the left. Thank you.

I don’t know who these people think they are. You must be joking. The next thing you will be asking is that I do not salmon down your bike lane, or worse yet you will want me to lose all momentum and come to complete stops at stops signs or maybe even cease blowing red lights. I just got done reading Randy Cohen’s article on being ethical while doing all this stuff (except perhaps the “salmoning”) but I know for certain that because I am getting all this good information from people I know and trust and not some cycling authorities who might be over 50 years of age and truly lame (i.e. square and stodgy) it must be correct, right?

Now here is a truly square guy who is always “breaking bad” with folks:

Reply by James BlackHeron on August 31, 2012 at 8:56am

Pass on the LEFT -I’ll second that amen!

But only as long as we are only talking about passing other bikes. I’ve actually seen some folks expect that bikes should never pass stopped traffic on the right. Usually these folks are not bicyclists, but entitled auto-drivers who think that once a bicycle is passed it should never pass them back as they wait behind 20 other cars at an intersection. They hate having to pass us multiple times. (Cue the trombone: Wah-wah-waaah!) But unfortunately I’ve actually heard this argument all-to-often by suburban weekend path-riders on various bike forums.

The reality of urban bicycling precludes such foolishness.

Now see this is just what I was talking about. Either we are going to be “bad ass” all the time or we are not. This is not a smorgasbord homies. Of course this guy is a Tea Party supporter so what would you expect.

Now then a bit later this yokel decides to muddy the waters a bit:

Reply by James BlackHeron on August 31, 2012 at 11:04am

From The official City of Chicago Bicycling FAQ:

Where in the bike lane should people ride?

Bicyclists should usually ride in the middle. But in a bike lane next to a line of parked cars, bicyclists should ride on the left side of the lane. That way, an opening car door won’t hit them.

Just to be sure everyone is aware of this, folks should not be riding in the “door zone” -I’ve seen other bicyclists on this very site complaining that other cyclists don’t ride far enough to the right in similar discussions about passing on the left and the evils of passing on the right. In Chicago much, if not most, of the bike lanes and “sharrows” are situated directly adjacent to parked cars, and not simply against a curb where the rider could safely be in the right-portion of the bike lane.

Expecting slower riders to ride in the door zone so that they don’t have to pull into a traffic lane to pass them is just plain wrong. If someone wants to ride faster than other riders then they are going to have to learn to deal with taking a lane and passing these slower in a safe and sane manner. And sometimes that means having to wait a bit until it is safe to do this. Cue the sad trombone: Wah-Wah-Waaaaaah….

Did you catch that mention of an official document from the City of Chicago. Am I supposed to be scared or somethin’? This is kinda typical of these old farts. They find somethin’ they want to do and they go all corporate on you but then when they want to do something wrong they rationalize the heck out of it. Kinda reminds me of my priest who always wanted me to confess my sins but paid special attention to us altar boys when we showered after school. Another creepy guy.

Some of these older guys are really lame. Take for instance this doofus:

Reply by h’ on August 31, 2012 at 11:36am

It’s not just good karma. Most people won’t have time to process the message in “on your left” in time for it to do any good. What they are processing, by the sound your vocal cords is making, is that there is someone behind them, moving closer at some particular speed, maybe moving towards one side or other. So the longer the utterance, the more useful. In Lisa’s example above, “on your left” probably worked just as well, or as poorly, as if she had said in in their language.

What the heck has “karma” got to do with anything? Geez, where do these old farts get this stuff? Here’s another blow hard trying to tell me and my boys what’s up:

Reply by Beau Sessions on August 31, 2012 at 2:07pm

Every time one of us runs through a red light, aggravates a motorist, sits oddly halfway into the interesection or scares a clueless weekender, we put our future in jeopardy. We have all done it at times and there are, at times, some practical reasons to do it, but the reality of the situation is that our population has grown immensely and we are representatives of a better lifestyle. You may get away with it unscathed (for awhile) but I guarantee you that your actions will have negative results for the next bicyclist. Hope I don’t sound like I’m getting old, I just really love every aspect of bicycling and plan on doing it for the rest of my life.

Oh, and if this seems slightly off the subject I apologize. It came up when someone mentioned being passed on the right as someone then proceeded to blow through two red lights.

Geez, what a tool! If this guy wants to get cool he should try riding a fixie with my posse. Then he and James DunderHead BlackFace BlackHeron can learn what real urban cycling is all about. And did you catch that really, really lame video Jimmie boy proffered:

Reply by James BlackHeron on August 31, 2012 at 11:50am

This doesn’t work quite as well in the US -but a bell really does work quite well. Ring it 50+ yards and 10 seconds before you get up to them to give them enough time to react, ring again closer if they don’t get it.

I find this works really well. “On your left” is something I only say as I’m passing them AFTER they have moved or otherwise looked/acknowledged my presence so I know they won’t dart in front of me. I almost always add in a “thank you” or “good morning” or something nice as I pass.

Scaring the crap out of peds and buzzing them is acting just like cars treat us when they do the same thing on the roads.

On your left doesn’t work well on its own because people need time to react so in order to say it from far enough away to give that reaction time you will have to YELL IT.

People, on the whole, don’t respond very well to being YELLED AT. A bell is much less confrontational and more cheery. Do it from far enough away and it is not confrontational at all -just a warning that a fast-mover is coming by.

And if enough riders used them more regularly the peds would start to get it and become much more trained to respond like the Japanese peds in the video.

A bell? Really? What’s up with this chucklehead? I’ll bet he and his sissy friends are into this Tweed Stuff, right? We oughta run his chubby but down and drag him back to our tattoo parlor and get him inked up a bit. This guy has been listening to far too much Rush Limbo. These chuckleheads are really scary.

Peace Out Y’all and keep on rockin’ those skid pads. I say break every single law you can and never look back. It’s lame to honor some of the stuff and not the rest just for your personal convenience. Man up and f*uck ’em all, y’all!

Some Additional Exchanges That Are Revealing

Reply by Craig S. 9 hours ago

Until all bike riders know to ride to the right because there’s always someone faster behind them, I’ll pass on the right whenever I want and I’ll be vocal about it. Thank you.

Reply by Lisa Curcio 9 hours ago

If you want to ride between me (slow rider) and the car door, have a ball. I will appreciate it if you will try not to get doored just as you pass me on the right, however. 😉

Reply by Craig S. 7 hours ago

Are you two riders so self absorbed that you ride slow to the left not caring that others want to pass? If not, you do not have to worry about me or anyone else passing you on the right. If you are that self absorbed, I and other may not be vocal as we pass.

Reply by Beau Sessions 7 hours ago

Sorry Craig you must have misunderstood my comment or I wasn’t clear. I roll fast and rarely deal with any of you. Some people pass me and some people I pass. I don’t think I’ve really had any issue with “passing rules”. I was just laughing that you wanted to pass on my right and get doored. More power to you.

My original comment was about helping each other survive. Not real concerned with interaction beyond that. It shouldn’t be controversial to use common sense.

Reply by mike w. 4 hours ago

Hmmm. Yup, once again i see that the biggest problems many riders have are other riders…

Most mornings i am about the only rider on my route- it’s early- so the whole passing thing doesn’t come up very often, even though i’m on the slower side. i have noticed, however, that the way other riders (usually members of the racing or triathlete fraternities) treat me as they pass depends a lot on what bike i’m on.

i have a habit of wishing any passing rider “Good Morning” or “Good day” as they go by.

On my three speed or my ugly ex-mountain bike utility commuter, i barely get a grunt.

If i’m on my touring or randonneuse bike, about half of them return the greeting.

If i’m kitted up and on my road bike, many of them are almost chatty.

Go figure.

If they plough on by without by so much as a by-your-leave, especially if they do so within arm’s reach,
i ring my bell.

Lacking In Empathy

I have noted before on this blog that there is a clinical discovery of the relationship between Stress and Aggression. You can read more here:

Being from the suburbs has its advantages in allowing me to compare what I knew as a kid (growing up on Chicago’s South Side) and what I see now as an adult. Every single time I visit the city, despite wanting to be there, my sense of the stress of riding the streets of the place is palpable. I immediately and instinctively look for and use side streets whenever possible. About the only place I can ride with a modicum of the relaxed state I gain from touring say the Fox River Trail is the Chicago Lakefront Trail. And then only when doing the southern end (during the week) and the northern end (only on weekends).

Being in the city is a definite stimulus that elevates all sorts of juices in the body. I love being on the Chicago Lakefront Trail when the crowds are large enough to be interesting but not so much so that they impede progress up and down the trail. There is a nice level of stimulus that can be reached when the numbers are just right.

But riding on busy streets is really not something that I relish doing and frankly avoid when the traffic is too great. I much prefer meandering on side streets and gawking at the homes that are often quite unique and look great following restorations and rehabs. But I am always mindful that the city streets are mean streets and that like it or not I should expect injury rather than be surprised by it.

Kids who live in high crime areas have a similar expression of their feelings when they  finally get a chance to talk with a guidance counselor. Like the bicyclists who ride the mean streets of Chicago these kids who walk them are at risk and they know it. They have no illusions about the dangers and sometimes become fatalistic about it all. But at the same time human beings begin to cope with the stress levels by becoming aggressive.

A sure sign of this is when you lose that subtle ability to be gracious and friendly. And that my friends is the core message of the thread under discussion here. You are looking at the frank interactions between cyclists who having ridden as long as they have in urban settings may have lost that acute awareness of the transformation that has taken place in them.

Urban cyclists are numbed to their behaviors. Riding as they do without regard to personal safety or that of others is hard for me to watch. I get frankly angry when I see cyclists do things that are not only dangerous but (from my point of view) unnecessary. I have not witnessed a situation in which cyclists I was alongside of needed to run a red light. I am further not quite certain why any of those that do take the kinds of risks they take in doing that intricate dance they do out in the center of a busy intersection.

Maybe it is because I ride a very long recumbent which frankly would not physically allow me to execute these pirouettes. But for that I am thankful. I am thankful too that I have not become numbed to the sense of danger that should accompany riding between a bus and a truck just to get to an intersection before the light begins to change. I would wager that it is this lowering of inhibitions that results in the risky bike handling behaviors that get people killed and doored and crushed under trucks.

About the only response that urban cyclists seem to have is an outsized rage over the death of one of their own. And even then it seems to depend on whether or not they actually know the person and too whether that individual is similar to them in terms of age, ethnicity and race. In fact there was such a markedly different response to the three most recent cycling deaths (as compared to the fixie rider who was crushed under a truck while avoiding an open car door) that it “hurt” me.

If cyclists are going to be outraged then they need to decide to be outraged consistently regardless of whether the fellow is in his 50s or is an immigrant from another country or a hipster on a fixie. A death is a death. But frankly I can understand the problem with all of this. The ChainLink is really a small cluster of individuals who know one another (more or less) and have a social bonding surrounding their choice of transportation. They are no more capable of cross cultural empathy than suburbanites who read about shootings in high crime areas.

Everyone detests deaths but feeling it strongly in your gut, strongly enough to contact media and print up stickers is quite a big deal if you are not emotionally attached to the victim. And too there is the factor of whether the person killed rides the same streets you do. A victim killed along Milwaukee Avenue would get a lot more “sympathetic” outpouring than one killed on 47th Street on the South Side. That is simply a fact of life in this highly segregated city.

But the aggressively of many of these threads (and that includes this one) is a prelude to what life would be like if the population of cyclists was to swell some three-to-five times greater than its current levels. The Dutch are facing problems right now because of the levels of stress and aggressiveness as a direct result of their much vaunted and admired, bicycle congestion.

If you stop and think about it we are praying for the kinds of congestion amongst cyclists that we loathe amongst motorists. I suppose this is because we feel greater safety in numbers. But I am not certain that this persists beyond a certain level of participation by the general public. Places like Vail, Colorado become overnight successes and draw people to them who have the means and affinity for them. But eventually the growth outpaces the intimacy that initially attracted people and suddenly the newcomers are thinking about preventing other newcomers from settling there.

I don’t think that the New York Times really needs an ethicist where cycling is concerned. What is needs instead is someone to help urban cyclists process the changes that they are undergoing in their psyches. They need to understand how best to channel their aggressions and even to recognize the presence of them in ways that are profitable. Turning on one another is a definite symptom of an environment gone wrong. You can see this most clearly among school age children who live in areas where the stresses are not brought on by riding in heavy traffic but rather in dealing with the extraordinary levels of gun violence all around them.

Perhaps the ChainLink Forum can find a means of doing more than harnessing the anger of frightened cyclists towards motorists before their start to fall upon one another over something as simple as the use of a bike lane. We need to know how to deal with people riding against traffic or parking in the lanes or running or skateboarding or whatever without being aggressive. If the aggression becomes commonplace enough it will be like it is everywhere else in the world, you get desensitized to it and violence becomes a commonplace experience. That I would not wish on my worst enemy.

One Additional Piece From A Different Thread

Light night comics often deal with material which is frightening with raw humor. That is what they are paid to do. We often mimic their efforts with ones of our own. But at the core of the humor is the fact that everyone who has had to deal with a stressful situation eventually has at least a day dream about fighting back. It is a coping mechanism.

But there are some folks who cross the line between day dreams and reality. They bring loaded weapons into crowded theatres or to political rallies in Arizona or into campus lecture halls. They open up and fire and like the would be comic they feel a release that has been otherwise not dealt with.

Our society is fraught with lots of stressful places. Some of these places we have to visit because that is perhaps where we work. Who hasn’t had an ogre for a boss? But some things we try to do because we feel compelled by guilt or idealism. Riding bikes in the city should not be something that we stress out over. It should never, ever be the case that a thread questioning out loud whether biking is stressful, even enters the mind of a would be blogger.

But the fact is that it does and did. Dealing with nasty drivers and cyclists is something that really should not have to happen. But sometimes the bad behavior on the part of our fellow commuters has less to do with the travel time itself and is instead an indication that other areas of their lives are crumbling.

When women come to the office with bruise marks on their bodies, we often look and cringe and decide to accept their stories about bumping into doors and such. But frankly the worst thing we could do is be enablers when it comes to sustaining physical abuse. Likewise when we attempt to sugarcoat the biking experience because we are anxious to have Federal Dollars come the way of our local infrastructure and convince ourselves to put a “happy face” on the urban cycling experience it only compounds the problem.

If nothing else we know from the threads on the ChainLink Forum that folks are hurting and frustrated and fearful and stressed out. This is something that is undeniable. If you question a person about a thread to which they have contributed you might get their equivalent of “I bumped into a door”. But the raw reality and emotion of some of these threads belies their spin.

Like child abuse and spousal abuse we cyclists need to come clean about the dangers of cycling and the results of the stressful of the situation of having to deal with aggressive drivers and cyclists and even pedestrians. If nothing else we may be able to help others “deal”. If both motorists and cyclists can start talking to one another instead of at one another we might get somewhere with all of this stress/aggression that erupts all too often.

And while we are at it, there is a very real rift between the experiences of urban and suburban cyclists that ends up meaning that there is a mutual lack of respect. They often do not share the same vision of cycling and it shows in their mutual differences of opinion on events like Critical Mass Rides. There is also a dialogue over the future of Vehicular Cycling that I would love to see take place.

The current emphasis on pretty green protected bike lanes alone is really not sufficient to deal with problems that even in the presence of these lanes are not getting resolved. It is time for us to also admit that we need at least a two pronged attack.

I wish I had one of these!
Posted by kiltedcelt on November 15, 2012

Funny or Sobering?

I’d like this to deal with unruly drivers when I’m out and about on the bike.