Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bikers v. Drivers

Portland is probably typical of American cities in that it is currently undergoing a flare-up of conflict between bikers and drivers as gas prices force more bikes and angry drivers into public thoroughfares. Much of the chatter revolves around a recent scuffle between a driver and a biker in our fair city, as helpfully re-re-enacted by the Portland Mercury:

Will Wilkinson admits he can't be bothered to follow all the vehicular traffic rules when he is on a bike:

People complain about bikers breaking traffic laws. Well, I’m guilty, and I’m damn well going to keep doing it. A lot of traffic regulations make sense for cars, but just don’t for bikes. For example, I ride home almost every day the wrong way up a one way street, and nobody coming the other way gives a damn. Why should they? ... I like biking because it’s faster than driving — because I blow through stop signs, go the wrong way on one-ways, etc. Were I suddenly to become fastidious about heeding traffic laws intended to regulate cars, one of the main advantages of biking over driving would evaporate.
Andrew Sullivan seconds Wilkinson on this, and I agree with some qualifications. If there is a collision or other accident resulting from one or another party's failure to follow the rules, the rule-bending party needs to own up to the responsibility. Even so if the accident resulted from the infringement of a rule that the party had violated a thousand times before without incident, and that others violate frequently. That is, I do not want to see the rules drift to some nebulous state -- "Yes, the law says X, but everybody knows that Y is the way it's done"-- as if they're merely customary. If the rules of the road need to adjust to the realities of newly-emerging uses, then that's fine, but it should happen according to the normal, democratic rule-making process.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Megan Mcardle talks about this at her blog. she notes that if she were to start strictly obeying traffic laws she would ride in the middle of the lane at all times, which would really torque drivers off.