The Failure of the ‘They Do It Too’ Argument

Background Reading


Danny Williams is a fellow blogger whose Cyclists In The City has a decent following in Europe. Recently he wrote:

Anyone tells you we can’t invest in bike infrastructure till ‘cyclists’ “behave” on roads – just send them this link:
Motorist offences crackdown snares 3,200 drivers

Picture: Ian Georgeson

Picture: Ian Georgeson

The essentials of the piece he references are:

POLICE Scotland said today it was “regrettable” that 3,239 drivers had been caught breaking the law in the new national force’s first motoring crackdown.

  • “Regrettable” that over 3,200 drivers caught in Police Scotland crackdown for motoring offences, say police
  • 2,027 across Scotland caught speeding during four-day campaign
  • One incident saw 18-month-old baby injured after mother with buggy was reversed into by driver, 80

A total of 2,027 drivers across Scotland were caught speeding during the four-day campaign which ended yesterday, with other offences including 12 of dangerous driving and 57 of careless driving.

So what does this tell me? Car drivers are a menace on the roadway. Is there a solution? I am told by none other than Ron Burke of the Active Transportation Alliance that increased bicycle infrastructure will:

  • Increase the likelihood that “newbie” riders will become commuters
  • Placing streets on “Road Diets” (part of the infrastructure plan) will reduce overall automobile speeds
  • The three sectors of the traffic infrastructure (automobiles, bicycles and cars) will experience “increased safety

In point of fact he offered this guidance in response to a criticism of cyclist behavior. He noted that:

With the implementation of bicycle infrastructure cyclist scofflaw tendencies will be remedied as well.

That prediction is sadly not coming to fruition and probably never will. It is something this side of a “lie” to offer up cycling infrastructure as the method for creating a safer transportation picture. Motorists are now and will always be impatient. They will speed. Cyclists will in lieu of raw speed seek to maximize their ability to cross town by ignoring traffic controls of all sorts. In the end you have what is essentially a nicely painted set of green lanes with that are attractive and inviting but really do not solve the speeding issues by either motorists or cyclists.

Ignoring Traffic Controls Is Essentially A “Speeding Issue”

Because most street speed limit signs are well outside the physical capabilities of your average bicyclist, they make up for their lack of raw power by keeping their momentum going at all costs. It leads to be good deal of reckless behavior which includes (but is not limited to):

  • Riding between lanes (a blatant disregard for the 3-Foot Law) of slowly moving cars to “leapfrog” past both the cars and slower cyclists
  • Ignoring stop signs altogether (especially when it comes to righthand turns)
  • Blowing through stop lights on lightly traveled streets or needlessly entering busy intersections to weave their way through to the other side to “beat the automobile traffic” to the next intersection
  • Passing vehicle and other cyclists on the right side
  • Using sidewalks and crosswalks to avoid having to stop at red light intersections

What we have here is a “failure to communicate” effectively to motorists. It is as if a group of Fundamentalist Christians had descended on a town to Preach the Gospel and are later exposed as hypocrites because they are doing essentially those things against which they preach. If you ask motorists to accept the Gospel of Protected Bike Lanes because it will heal them of their sins and then you find that cyclists are violating the intrinsic controls built into those lanes, you now have a credibility problem.

Pointing to the sins of motorists will do nothing to cause them to cease examining your own failures. And cyclists must remember that pedestrians are as likely to have a low opinion of the impatience of cyclists who squeeze between them as they traverse a crosswalk as cyclists do of motorists. It becomes a question of who can out sin the other guy and still maintain a straight face when doing their brand of “finger pointing“.

The “They Do It Too” Argument is a non-starter.