Gaining A Serious Response To Road User Behaviors… Nearly Impossible

It's Only 12%, What's The Big Deal?

It’s Only 12%, What’s The Big Deal?

Background Reading


There is a constant battle that road users have with those who behave either in a reckless fashion or simply an unlawful one. These scofflaws regardless of their mode of transportation like to ask the question “So how many folks got hurt when I did thus and so…?” It is inevitably the kind of fall back that they might have used in Junior High School.

When a motorist does not come to a full stop at an intersection where one is required he endangers others. Sure someone might not have been hurt at that moment but what we are looking for are the cumulative effects of failing to adhere to traffic laws. A driver or pedestrian or cyclist who is inebriated and habitually disregards traffic laws will not be as in control one day and their minor infraction will turn into something no so harmless.

But when you are a bicyclist and you claim to be an advocate for safety you have to realize that safety is not something that can exist in a vacuum for a single segment of the transportation landscape. If motorists and pedestrians are not safe then neither are cyclists. It is a bit like that old joke about smoking areas in restaurants. Some people really do still believe that smoking in a corner of a restaurant is in no way affecting the experiences of others anymore than their peeing in the deep end of a public pool should bother those at the shallow end.

Let’s listen in to some of the conversations on the Chicago ChainLink Forum for a clue to just how different each of us is in response to bad road user behaviors:

Reply by David P. yesterday
I’d like to give a warm, brotherly hug to:

  • the 15-year-old boy who tried to barrel across the red light right three feet in front of me at Armitage going southbound on western. You’re gonna get laid down one day soon if you keep riding like that.
  • the three cyclists who barreled at 15-20mph through the red light on Milwaukee at the Congress Theater in front of the confused (and, fortunately, cautious) woman in the Accent who had a green but wondered if her light was actually red because of all the bikes blasting through.

Cyclists are amazingly oblivious to the effect of their behaviors ‘on street‘. I sometimes think they behave a good deal like those folks on YouTube whose glass-walled loft has a shower with glass walls facing the buildings across the street. Somehow they must be able to convince themselves that no one else can see them while showering?

Kids who break the law by running red lights will eventually be adults who do the same. And eventually they will have children whom they will teach how to run red lights while riding in fundraising tours like the Wright Ride and the Four Star Bike Tour. I say this not in jest or supposition but rather from first hand knowledge. I have actually seen parents of pre-teen children hustle them through red lights on invitational rides and through stop signs as well. It is chilling.

Now no one got hurt, so I guess that some might say, no harm no foul. But I think it will be only time before some parent realizes that these ill-advised moves on their part contributed either to the injury or death of their child or someone else’s.

As for adult riders that run red lights they too need to understand that they affect motorists who are trying to ply the same streets as they and could inadvertently trigger a collision at some future date.

Reply by Anne 12 hours ago
As an ex-light runner, I am unashamed to yell at cyclists running lights now.

At Linden and Sheridan, just south of Bahai Temple, I lost my sh*t as half a dozen riders during the North Shore stopped, then blew, the light there.

The gorilla in the room is US

Anyone who has had to learn to modify their behavior to quit smoking or get clean after years of drug abuse must recognize the response that Anne had. She is concerned that others not make her mistakes. But what is unfortunate is the response that was given by a fellow cyclist:

Reply by h’ 1.0 8 hours ago
That’s terrible. Do you know how many were injured?

This is of course silly. But it is par for the course on this forum. There are any number of folks who frequent this virtual corner of the Urban Cyclist Community who offer up the same degree of casual disregard. But what is more confusing is the need of these same folks to have “close call” anecdotes memorialized when a driver passes too close to them or nearly collides with them at an intersection. Then of course the driver’s behavior is excoriated as the reason for the lack of safety on the roadways. Ryne San Hamel drove drunk. He ended up killing someone on a bicycle. But I can assure you that he drove drunk more than once in his life and during those previous instances never hurt a fly. His excuse would probably have echoed that of Howard Kaplan, “so how many were injured?

Reply by S 7 hours ago

I didn’t realize that violating traffic laws didn’t matter as long as no longer gets hurt. I’m sure you’ll give a similar snarky reply the next time someone talks about a close call with a car.

The problem here is that we humans are very good at ‘pointing the finger at others‘. We mastered this trait in Junior High School and some of us have carried on the tradition well past its due date. What these folks tell themselves is that anyone offering criticism of them or behaviors like theirs is ‘blaming the victim‘.

You can talk to any alcoholic or drug user and hear the same sentiment expressed ad nauseam. Every person who suffers from some sort of addictive behavior has an extremely large victim complex. Nothing that goes wrong in their lives is their fault. They either blame their parents, siblings or Society. You have often heard that they must hit rock bottom and own their personal deficiencies before healing can begin.



To some small degree we cyclists too are in denial. We have decided that because there are no Protected Bike Lanes on our block we cannot be expected to behave in a manner consistent with that required by law. And we get a degree of enabling from our Bicycle Advocacy leaders when they tell the press that bicyclists will behave better once more infrastructure is built. This is like an addict promising to get their lives straightened up once they can get a little something to put them right (meaning another fix).

We need to own our guilt alongside the motorists who drink and drive and pedestrians who disregard safe crossing behaviors. We need to own the fact that when we ride in the Door Zone doing 15-20MPH and are suddenly confronted with a motorist exiting their vehicle that we are partly to blame. After all riding in the Door Zone is something that is preventable. Yes our cities often place ‘sharrows‘ and bike lanes directly in the Door Zone, but we have the power to steer ourselves out of these areas.

We cannot expect others to be any more ethical than we are. I imagine that one of the things the characterizes the success of the Dutch in reducing their bicycle-related traffic fatalities is their longstanding practice of educating children about bicycle safety. And eventually those children grow up to be adults who both ride and drive cars and retain some understanding of how to be safe. And eventually those adults have children of their own to whom they convey their belief that obeying safety laws is a vital part of their duty as citizens.

What they probably don’t do is engage in co-dependent behaviors that excuse unlawful activity during the execution of their duties as the driver of a car or bicycle. Shame on us for fostering that kind of behavior!

We err immeasurably when we confuse signing petitions and attending rallies with fostering Safe Streets.

Safe Streets‘ are won a day at a time. Each and every motorist, pedestrians and cyclist contributes to them by doing the little things that no one sees. Every time one of us comes to a complete halt at a stop sign and is willing to ‘lose our momentum‘ a different kind of momentum is gained. It is the momentum that carries a neighborhood forward so that children walking or riding to school can do so without their parents worrying. It is the momentum that makes it safe for the elderly to go about their daily shopping in local markets without fear of being run down in the crosswalk by someone trying to win a pointless challenge on a GPS Forum.

Every time we decide to cut corners in our efforts to be safe and obey the laws something dies in our communities’ spirits. We end up a less regard for one another and become more selfish in the process.

At our street-side outreach, hundreds signed letter to Mayor for Safe SoMa Streets

At our street-side outreach, hundreds signed letter to Mayor for Safe SoMa Streets

One final take on this discussion:

Reply by Reboot Oxnard 3 hours ago
Sometimes I’m amazed that some of the people on this forum are able to ride, considering their lack of balance and inability to see beyond their front rim.

The article isn’t saying that bicyclists are the biggest problem – but is does say that bicyclists are sometimes part of the problem and, more importantly, are in a position to either hurt or help their own cause through their behavior. Sometimes, if you really want things to change, the place to start is within.

From the article:

Bike riders often fail to follow the rules of the road and sometimes ride unpredictably. This is more than a practical challenge to safe interaction with cars; it breeds mistrust and anger.

The most important part of this paragraph is the last five words.

It's Only 12 Percent - Sheesh!

It’s Only 12 Percent – Sheesh!