There is an outfit called “Critical Mass” that seems determined to make motorists hate cyclists even more than many already do – if such a thing is possible.
Like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, it started out with a not-bad idea. In the case of Critical Mass, the idea being to try to get drivers to be more aware of – and considerate toward – riders.
No problem there.
But just like MADD, Critical Mass didn’t stop there. It went from “share the road” to take over the roads – literally. Critical Mass organizes (you guessed it) mass ride events, where dozens, hundreds (or even thousands) of cyclists pour onto a road, their numbers making it physically impossible for cars to pass them. This is deliberate policy – the point of the exercise. To inocnvenience cars. Or rather, to make cars defer to cycles. The radical wing of Critical Mass sees this as its main mission. They hate cars in principle (the movement began in places like left-as-you-can-get San Franciso and Portland, Oregon) and use their swarming tactics to literally push cars off the streets or at the very least, make it extremely unpleasant to drive anywhere near the Critical Mass massing.
They also use a tactic called “corking,” in which a few riders will deliberately blocks side streets so that the swarm of riders can blow right through red lights. Cars that have the green light – and the legal right of way – are prevented from entering the intersection.
And this is where they cross the line from reasonable to dickhead in a single bound, becoming in their own way precisely that which they claim to be fighting.
Reasonable riders expect drivers to not run them over and kill them. To be paying attention to the road and give bicycles space, just like they would (hopefully) not ride inches from the bumper of the car ahead of them or try to run another car off the road. Reasonable drivers have no problem with such requests, either. Most drivers do their best to conduct themselves civilly toward bicycle riders as much as they do other drivers.
Some cyclists aren’t content with reasonable. They want to own the road, not share it. They demand the “right” (as they see it) to ride on almost any road, even when the road in question is obviously not appropriate for bicycle riding (more on this below). And they demand that cars defer to them. The Critical Mass people, for example, will descend on a road with a speed limit/average traffic flow that’s higher – often a lot higher – than pedal power can achieve or maintain. And expect – no, force – the drivers to stare complacently at their neon yellow Spandex-clad asses (often, they’ll ride in packs, side by side – which is usually illegal) as they gimp along at 20 MPH less than the limit, sometimes for miles on end – not giving a damn about the cars stuck behind them. Enjoying the power they have to make cars piddle along behind them.
Let’s cut through the crap and make some reasonable rules that reasonable people ought to be able to agree on:
* On any given road, if a bicycle cannot keep up with traffic the cyclist should defer to traffic by moving right to allow traffic to get by.
This used to simple common courtesy understood and practiced by almost everyone. But thanks to decades of tacit approval of left-lane hogging cars, many cyclists now have the same attitude toward traffic piling up behind them that Clovers “doing the speed limit” (and usually, a few MPH less than that) have.
Cyclists arguably have an even greater obligation to yield to faster-moving traffic as they’re usually not out there doing necessary work (such as a tractor or heavy truck) and because it’s so much easier for a bicycle to just move over. They’re small, light and highly maneuverable. Deliberately preventing cars from passing by refusing to yield is probably the single biggest reason why drivers and cyclists are becoming as antagonistically inclined toward one another as North vs. South once were. The whole situation could be diffused if cyclists would not adamantly refuse (just like their Cloverish cousins in cars) to acknowledge that other people are trying to get somewhere – and would like to get by. Why not let them?
Narrow, windy – and hilly – country roads with no shoulder, for example. Some cyclists insist on taking such roads, anyhow – even though they create hazardous conditions for themselves and everyone else by doing so. It is not safe (let alone polite) to take your bike on a road where it’s difficult or outright unsafe for faster-moving cars to pass you – and where (because there’s no shoulder) you, the biker, have no safe place to pull off to let them pass. If cars can’t pass safely and you can’t safely pull off to let them pass, you’re a dick for expecting them to gimp along at your 12 MPH pace as you chuff up that incline ahead.
Bottom line: Cyclists do not have the same right to the road as drivers – or shouldn’t have, anyhow. For openers, they aren’t paying to use the roads because bicycles don’t use gas and it’s taxes on fuel that (mostly) pay to build/maintain the roads. That alone ought to give cars priority. Cyclists also do not have to buy expensive insurance – even though they are just as capable of causing an accident as a car or motorcycle. Bicycles don’t have to be state safety inspected, either – another hassle of driving they get to avoid. (Not that I want them to – I don’t think either insurance or “safety” inspections should be mandatory cars either. Just making a point.)
But the most important point is that in general roads are designed for motor vehicles. Conveyances capable of keeping up with traffic. The rule should be, if you can’ t keep up with traffic, take a back seat to traffic.
Bikes should be able to use the roads – where it’s safe and reasonable for them to do so – and when they aren’t creating a dangerous roadblock/forcing people to choose between crawling along at the bike’s pace or attempting a potentially dangerous pass to escape Spandex Hell.
The problem is, they often do just that – which is why so many drivers see red when they see Spandex up ahead.
Throw it in the Woods?