Salmoning: For Some ChainLinkers a Test of Ethnic and Racial Purity

Background Reading


Cyclists like every other segment of the population have their inconsistent beliefs. Randy Cohen is famous for his rants on being allowed to run red lights as a cyclist while being adamant that riding against the flow is dangerous and bad. Jonny Diamond of “L Magazine” writes:

Mahatma Gandhi On A Bicycle

Mahatma Gandhi On A Bicycle

You guys know I’ve been pretty pissed about this for a while: cyclists riding the wrong way down one-way streets. It’s called “salmoning,” apparently, and I am not alone in my anger. This City Room post talks to some other New Yorkers (including the wife of a man who was killed by a wrong-way cyclist) upset at the practice, which in my mind stems (justifiably) from the old pre-bike lane approach to New York biking, which really had to be a lawless, take-no-prisoners style. I concur wholeheartedly with Times “ethicist” Randy Cohen, who says, regarding the best way to rectify the situation, “I believe it is a duty of every cyclist to speak up—gently, nonconfrontationally—in such situations. To simply keep silent isn’t courtesy; it’s dangerous passivity.”

Yup, peer pressure and shame are the only way to fix this, and it definitely needs fixing. To me, salmoning is less about the safety of pedestrians (though seriously, to the guy going the wrong way on Berry Street, with the strawberry-blond goatee, fuck you for glaring at me for almost getting hit by you) than it is about the legitimacy of the bicycle as urban transportation, because we can’t have idiot columnists saying things like this: “It’s gotten worse. I have a strong feeling that there’s too many bicycles.”

As cyclists, we have to be better than the asshole drivers, and exhibit a code of honorable conduct at all times, not just when it’s convenient. I’m certainly not suggesting we stop slapping hoods or cursing at idiot pedestrians, but that we do so from a position of moral authority, the kind gained by following the rules. (And look, I know the very idea of “following the rules” is anathema to a lot of cyclists, but what I’m suggesting is more like a massive Gandhi-style passive revolution, a “laying down in front of horses” kind of thing. Except for the hood slapping.)

Salmoning Is A Practice We Americans Exported

As a kid we were taught that riding against the traffic was the safest way to avoid being struck from behind. I am sure that this teaching was exported to other countries where bicycling was even more popular than it is here. So when I first read about “salmoning” I had to look up the term. When I discovered what it meant I was curious about the nature of the “beef” cyclists had with a riding technique cyclists my age were taught as kids.

But what became even more disturbing is that someone like Randy Cohen was rise up in righteous indignation against the practice while espousing the “ethical right” of every cyclist to break the laws regarding stop signs and traffic lights. It was as if someone had decided that “fornication” was a moral sin except for those situations where you were practicing it with your “mistress“.

The subject came up again this morning as the ChainLink crowd decided to “poll” themselves on the practice. Here is how the conversation begins:

Salmoning poll
Posted by h’ 1.0 on June 15, 2013 at 12:49am

I ended up in West Town during the tail end of rush hour tonight, and saw a ridiculous amount of salmoning on the way there…. just wondering on average how often folks experience a rider coming at you going the wrong way.

How many times have you experienced it in the past week/month, and is there a place and time where you think you’re more likely to encounter it? Have you noticed repeat offenders? Are there folks who seem to be doing it deliberately to endanger/scare the right-way riders?

Then came the inevitable responses:

Reply by Len Krietz 2 hours ago
Are you including riding the wrong way on one way streets? If so I can’t recall how many times in a week (I live on a one ways street). Salmoning in a bike lane is less frequent. I only encounter it abut once or twice a week. I do have to confess I salmon on a sidewalk every morning for 100yds on my commute to get from Kingsbury to the Cherry St bridge.

Reply by envane (69 furlongs) 48 minutes ago
About half my commutes while on Lawrence. Always Mexicans.

Reply by Lanterne Rouge 22 minutes ago
On mountain bikes with grocery bags of their belongings hanging from the handlebars?

To validate your claim, that may be a regional thing. At my last job, I worked with many, many Mexicans who had very recently immigrated to the states. I was disgusted by how often they left trash everywhere or just threw trash on the street instead of trash cans. When I asked some of them about this, they were a little confused and said that in Mexico, they pay taxes to have government or a private company deal with the trash on the streets, sidewalks, etc. So they figure it’s OK to do that since someone will swiftly be around to deal with the problem.

My little anecdote is just to say that maybe in Mexico, they’re still being taught to drive against traffic.

Reply by Dovah Cat 3 minutes ago
It’s definitely common in Little Village and Pilsen, but it’s been mildly annoying around UIC lately. It isn’t usually a problem until we’re playing chicken in an already narrow bike lane and a door opens or a bus passes.

When Did We Decide That ‘Situational Ethics’ Was Fashionable Again?

For the past quarter century the United States has been embroiled in an internal conversation with itself at the political level over ethics. The Debate on Abortion is an outgrowth of our attempt to deal with “truth” and its internalized counterpart “morality“. It would seem that for some folks if you believe in the sanctity of human life that “killing” an unborn infant is “immoral“. But putting that same being to death by the hand of the state is not. Catholics have long had the most consistent approach to the “Sanctity of Life” issue. For them “capital punishment“, “abortion” and even “war” all stem from the same “unethical behavior“. While I am not Catholic I certainly am a big fan of their logic in this regard, because it is consistent.

I would add too that the Catholic position on “poverty” largely stems from the fact that this social blight affects quality of life. And of course it makes perfect sense that if life is sacred (and I truly believe that it is) then condemning an entire generation to inhuman conditions in the midst of great wealth and opportunity is as “immoral” as taking that life in the first instance. We Evangelicals are quite inconsistent in this regard. We support “capital punishment” and yet are more than willing to have abandoned all the “social programs” we began a century ago.

Our justification for not wanting to deal with “poverty” was that we were against what came to be known as the “Social Gospel“. Ours was a preaching of the “Good News” that for some reason was deemed to be more conceptual than practical. It is a reflection of the tensions between those who embrace the teachings of the Book of James versus those who would rather claim their faith as an entirely private matter that did not necessarily have a social component.

Let me go on the record as saying that what you “believe in your heart will inevitably be reflected in what you do with your hands and tongue“. A person who having heard the “Gospel of Jesus Christ” and comes to a realization of their sinful state cannot help but want to spread the Good News. It is such an overwhelming concept that you would want to show some compassion to others that until that moment of awakening you did not fully understand or appreciate the need for sharing. Being utterly grateful changes the heart and mind of the person who accepts “Grace“.

Christianity teaches that “salvation” comes when you accept the gift of the death of Christ on the Cross without reservation. That there is nothing that you could have done to merit this gift is the beauty of “grace“. And as with the person who answers the doorbell and is handed a check for $1 billion dollars their impulse should be to help others with their newfound wealth. To do “lasting and permanent good“.

Cyclists Have To Come To Grips With Truly Ethical Behavior

I have a yardstick that I hold up to every belief. It has to be something that applies universally to all of us as humans. So if I learn that a cleric is condemning homosexual behavior but he himself is involved in a sexual relationship with another priest, it says to me that the man is a hypocrite. If a church espouses “Family Values” but is unwilling or unable to bring itself to deal with pedophiles in its midst, again this is a sign of hypocrisy.

Cyclists claim in the main to be Liberals. Their notion of self is that riding a bike is not only a pleasant thing to do with healthful benefits, but it also is a self-less act designed to “save the planet“. But from where I stand the overwhelming sense that I get is that Urban Cyclists are elitists who while claiming to espouse the use of all alternate forms of transportation are personally loathe to ride buses and elevated trains in cities because of the kinds of people they are likely to encounter. When a cyclist writes that they are disgusted by the fact that the lack of personal hygiene of a fellow traveller it makes me think that their idea of the value of alternate transportation has bumped up against their dislike of rubbing elbows with the other inhabitants of this planet they are out to save.

Some Additional Responses

Reply by Fran Kondorf 10 hours ago
I recently lived on the corner of two one-way streets sort of between Bucktown and Logan Square. We had a great view of the traffic from our 2nd floor windows and saw cyclists salmoning daily, mostly white kids in their 20’s and 30’s.
Usually during the evening rush hour and certainly not threatening. Just dumb I suppose.

The folks I see actually “salmon-ing” are from all over the ethnic and racial spectrum. But it is clear that this topic evokes race and ethnicity more than most others having to do with cycling.

Reply by Juan Primo 9 hours ago
What, were they waving Mexican flags or something? Could they have been Guatemalan, Honduran, Dominican, Costa Rican?

Bingo! This is exactly the problem we are frankly biased against others who do things that we do not care for and in the way of humanity we use the shorthand of identifying those people with whatever group we dislike the most.

Reply by Jeff Schneider 9 hours ago
I don’t have any stats, but between Edgewater and the Loop I usually see only one or two salmon for every 100 miles of riding. Usually middle-aged men. I assume they either grew up in rural areas where they were taught to do that, or they are felons with no bike experience at all. They seem more confused than threatening when I approach.

I’ve never seen anybody salmon in order to scare me. But I frequently encounter teens doing trackstands, riding in unpredictable sort-of-circular patterns, and swerving immediately in front of me without looking, both on the streets and on the LFP.

Reply by JMG 9 hours ago
I live on the north side on Wolcott (a one way) and ride down to Montrose and back almost daily. In the one mile trip from here to Montrose it’s not unusual to for me to play chicken with 5 or more wrong way (non-hispanic) riders. I usually take Ravenswood on the way back and it’s often the same story there. I’ve also noticed a LOT more people riding on the sidewalk these days, not sure what’s up with that.

Again the racial-ethnic coding appears.

Reply by notoriousDUG 9 hours ago
I see quite a few, at least one a day commuting through the West Side. However once I get to Oak Park I almost never see a salmon in the street because everyone out there rides on the side walk.

If you are from the Chicago area any reference to the West Side is code for African-American.

Reply by badwolf 8 hours ago
I always see white girls on cruiser bikes salmoning down Division in Wicker Park, after randomly crossing through traffic to get to the other side.

Again a reference to race. But why? I think it is because any reference to this action known as “Salmoning” is in essence a discussion about race. It is in essence itself a code word.

Reply by David P. 6 hours ago
I can’t comment to Jim’s specific situations, but statistically, in most parts of the city if you see someone who is “hispanic” (the way this term is usually used sort of annoys me, so by this I mean, more or less, mestizo – I’m Latin American but I’m also white and I look and sound like just another anglo white guy) they are a lot more likely to be Mexican than those other nationalities. Some of my other LatAm neighbors (Avondale) are Dominican and Puerto Rican, but most are Mexican.

Anyway, IME the majority of the people I see salmoning are people who I would categorize as people who don’t know any better. They’re not “bike people” in any of the myriad senses of that word (with the class implications that it suggests) and seem to be going on the possibly-instinctive feeling that it’s safer if they can see cars coming at them; generally they are removed from environments where there are people who would tell them otherwise.

Just for precision’s sake. If you are of mixed race you are not part whatever and part white. What racial purists would like you to understand is that you are of impure blood. Hitler referred to folks in this condition as “mud people“. Conservatives like Rush Limbaugh spent many pleasant on-air hours dissing the POTUS Barack Obama for not being black. He is in that unpleasant state of being “tainted“. One drop of “nigger” blood makes you a “nigger“. So if you are a Hispanic laboring under the notion that you are half white and half hispanic be informed that you are simply a “mud person“. In essence a “reject“.

Reply by Tony Adams 7 mi (dirtbag hipstr) 6 hours ago
Riding the wrong way on a one way street isn’t salmoning. The only reason those streets are designated as one way is because there isn’t room for cars to travel in both directions. (Usually due to drivers parking their private vehicles on the public way.) We should not be bound by rules soley designed to accomodate the shortcomings of the automotive death machines. I’m not saying it is legal or safe, but I do it more often than I can count also. I too live on a one way street.

It seems like I’m encountering less salmon these days, although it still occurs – perhaps twice a month? I wonder if the greater numbers of (non-salmon) riders is educating the salmon by example?

2. I almost always politely ask the salmon to ride on the right side of the street, to which I point.

Not certain why cyclists have to always revert to hyperbole when discussing automobiles. They are safer in collisions than any bicycle ever invented so what not refer to the bicycles as the “death machine“?

Reply by Julia C 7.5 mi 6 hours ago
Sure it is. Doesn’t matter if it’s a “shortcoming of automotive death machines” – you’re still going against the traffic flow and it’s still dangerous.
I live near a pretty popular Logan Square bar. Almost all of the streets around me are one-ways. People salmon my street all the time – though most have the common sense to move aside for oncoming traffic and the wherewithal to realize they’re approaching a major intersection rather blindly. I haven’t seen anyone hit yet, but probably a dozen or so close calls since the weather warmed up.

Salmoning in bike lanes – I see maybe 1 a week? It’s pretty hard to salmon Milwaukee or Elston, but every now and then someone manages. There was a guy salmoning Desplaines yesterday that nearly caused a collision. The ones I spot salmoning in terrible spots seem to be oblivious to more than just the fact that they’re the only one going the wrong way…

Reply by Evan 6 hours ago
I have seen this very infrequently in the suburbs. Three times in the past twelve months that I can recall (two “euro-american guys” and one “African-American lady” if anyone is counting [apparently we are]) . One guy came very close to me and I said “your on the wrong side of the road”. He said “I don’t care”. “I do” I replied.

The people in the suburbs that ride the department store bikes and wear regular street clothes (no helmets) always seem to ride on the side walk (tolerated in the burbs even more so than legal street riding).

Clearly the idea of riding against traffic is associated with not only race and ethnicity but also social class.

Reply by Steve: 5-7mi 6 hours ago
I see it all the time and every day on Wabash St.

Reply by Tim Heckman 5 hours ago
I’ve seen two people in cycling kit salmoning on bike routes and even bike lanes in Riverside/Brookfield lately. But I don’t see it that much in the near west suburbs, and usually by inexperienced riders.

Reply by Anne Alt 4 hours ago
Last Sunday morning around 7:30 a.m., when there was almost no traffic at all, I nearly had a head-on collision with a guy (middle aged, white) salmoning in the Milwaukee Ave. bike lane. He’d turned from a side street and was coming right at me – soon after the viaduct west of Blommer’s. I yelled at him, and he yelled back something unintelligible (drunk?). Charming.

We are evidently clearly and irreparably drawn to this race, ethnicity coding.

Reply by h’ 1.0 4 hours ago
Thanks for all the responses. Not like it’s “my” discussion or something, but I’d be just fine if we left race/ethnicity/imagined national origins out of the responses from here on out.

Howard is what I generally refer to as a Liberal Hypocrite. He’s been around long enough to know that discussions about this practice always end up being about race and ethnicity. What bothers him most is that Liberals are evidently no more color-blind than Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter. Well to the deep end of the “cesspool“.

Reply by Daniel G 3 hours ago
I once refused to give way to a bike lane salmon in Uk Village and he ran into a parked car when all the shit hanging off his rear rack caught on it because he had no room. I’m not sure what got into me and I felt kind of bad about it afterwards. The traffic behind me was bad on Augusta so I said screw him, he can wait, I’m not merging with it or stopping.

It was not keeping with the inclusive spirit of cycling, but I do hope he stops using the wrong lane on Augusta in rush hour.
Really dangerous for everyone. I’m much more laissez-faire about people salmoning when it’s not immediately threatening. I don’t personally misuse one-way streets for more than a block and a half or so. But if my destination is right there, I’m not about to circle the block or use the sidewalk.

I see it much more on the south and west sides, where you have lots of people riding who have no connection to the biking community and don’t know what’s what. I’m not going to tell them the correct way to bike their neighborhoods though. They must have their reasons.

I just love that line about the “inclusive spirt of cycling“. It is pure poppycock and is just the sort of “happy talk” that Liberals like to sling around to make themselves feel superior to the rest of the world. And I certainly think the reference to the “people riding who have no connection to the biking community and don’t know what’s what” is truly arrogant. Again, there is no Cycling Community. Reread the latest pronouncement by the High Priest of Urban Cycling Mikael Colville-Andersen on the issue of bicycles and vacuum cleaners.

Altogether now there is no Cycling Culture. Bicycles should be thought of in the same vein as vacuum cleaners.

Reply by Reba 4.0 mi 1 hour ago
Damen Ave between Grand and Division St is full of Salmons – I see them at least 5x a week. It’s typically middle-aged men on cruiser style bikes, riding slow and meandering all over the street. I’ve taken to stopping in their path after yelling WRONG SIDE and pointing ridiculously at the other side of the street. I’m so. sick. of. this.

The Augusta Blvd bike lane is also prime Salmon breeding ground, from Western to Ashland. I see young, well (stylish) dressed men doing this nearly every morning on my way to work. Between them and the double-parked (in the bike lane) parents dropping their kids off at any one of the three elementary schools on this street, I try and get going well before 7:30 or well after 8:05.

Desplaines is a great street to take southbound, it’s plenty wide, but I’ve given it up because of the stupid Salmons.

This issue is one of the major reasons I tend to avoid protected lanes. I’d rather go out of my way and travel the lesser-traveled side streets.

Don’t even get me started on the sidewalk riders

Rush Limbaugh has to be her favorite radio personality.

Proof That Urban Cyclists Are Elitist

Daniel G has let the cat out of the bag. Urban Cyclists are in fact elitist. And judging from Reba they are also arrogant. They have no problem expressing the kind of impatience with the behavior of those who ride against traffic that others have with those who run stop signs and red lights and argue that they have both a right and a duty to behave in that fashion.

The Red Light Two Step is a step known only to those who are connected with the cycling community (according to Daniel G.). It look suspiciously like a variation on Salmoning (at least to me):

Urban Cyclist "Idaho Stop" Two-Step Variation

Urban Cyclist “Idaho Stop” Two-Step Variation

Note that upon crossing the median strip of the intersection the rider does a “Salmoning” maneuver to ride against traffic before performing a U-Turn to complete his crossing. Urban Cyclists who are members of the Randy Cohen wing of the church are loathe to acknowledge this similarity. That would be like admitting that they had at least one African ancestor a few generations ago, which would make them “mud people”. It is much better to keep up the pretense of being thoughtful in pursuit of doing whatever the hell you want to do. Randy has given you all the cover you need.

And as for “Salmoning” you get to see Randy at the end of the video above actual snarl at an Asian man riding against the traffic. This of course after having waxed poetic about Kant and his notion that you can be both ethical and a scofflaw simultaneously.

Nope on second thought Daniel G despite your arrogance you are accurate in saying that South and West side riders “have no connection to the biking community and don’t know what’s what“. And in my book that is OK. I have lived my entire lifetime without knowing the secret handshake of the Ku Klux Klan as well. So I guess being on the “outside” is not so bad.

Yet More Of Their Crap

Reply by Maurice 18 hours ago
I think their age might be significant in a different way. Growing up in Chicago in the late 1970s and early ’80s, we were taught to bike against the flow of traffic because it (foolishly) was believed to be safer since you could see the cars coming.

It was a different time. Don’t even get me started on helmets, seat belts, and second-hand smoke.

In fact this method of training was prevalent in the 1950s and 1960s. It is evidence that over time ideas about what will work change. I expect all the current blather about protected bike lanes to give way to something entirely different in a few decades and the 20-somethings now will be carrying on about how they just knew that PBLs were slightly off and that the newest idea is far better. Yeah, right!

Reply by William Beck 17 hours ago
I commute daily from Uptown to Jefferson Park Blue Line. Lawrence Ave. And I’d say 3 out of 5 days I see a Hispanic male (30 years old or more) salmon. I always say “Wrong way, dude!” as we avoid that dangerous near miss.

Its sometimes scary, always dangerous. I never considered that it might be cultural but even if it is they’re in the US now and need to comply with the rules of the land in which they’re living.

The “honky” speaketh. Let me translate for all you ignorant “people of color“. When a white guy says you need to adjust to “the rules of the land in which you are living“, he means “you” and not “we“. He has no intention of abiding by the Rules of the Road himself, especially where trivial things like obeying traffic controls are concerned. He already has a justification for this approach that weighs in with the thinking of Emanuel Kant and ends with him “blowing smoke up your dress“. In the 1950s the Westerns on television always had at least one Indian actor speaking the line that has always been my watchword:

White man speak with forked tongue!