Same Behavior, Disparate Treatment

All road users not created equal

I love that a big paper like the LA Times is tackling big road-use issues, especially in a city like Los Angeles, the car capital of the world, where it is still technically illegal for kids to play in the street because drivers cannot be inconvenienced, even for one second, by a bunch of snot-nosed little brats recreating.

The ‘Idaho stop:’ Really a good thing to talk about. Double standards in treatment of road users generally make this a sore topic in the majority of municipalities; allowing cyclists to use their judgement in rolling stop signs goes against every tendency every Committed Driver has to scream UNTIL ALL CYCLISTS OBEY ALL LAWS, NO NEW PRIVILEGES FOR THEM!!!1!!

The piece goes on to talk about Idaho stop treatment of red lights (bicycles often do not trigger light timers, frequently leaving law-abiding cyclists waiting hours to cross empty intersections), take-the-lane laws (as opposed to ‘always keep right’) and increased penalties for dooring cyclists. These are all very good things.

Most importantly though, this piece calls out the single most important factor in road use discussions, and that is infrastructure:

“It’s true that Los Angeles is finally taking its first serious steps toward making the city more bike-friendly. But the focus is on building bike-dedicated infrastructure, which can be slow and expensive to build.”

Everyone from the well-meaning but never-rides-a-bike city councillor to the red-faced driver shrieking for the cyclist to GET OUT OF MY LANE to insidious social players like People for Bikes will tell you with no question that ‘bikes need their own lanes.’ That if you ‘build it they will ride.’ That ‘streets are too dangerous for bikes.’ Etc, etc, and so on and so forth.

These arguments themselves are part of the discriminatory environment cyclists face on the road every day. For while countless billions of dollars are effortlessly spent building and maintaining roads for drivers, the utopian world where there are bike lanes everywhere and every cyclist can get to the same places as every driver with the same ease of access as driving is not here. And every day roads discourage cyclists while the promised land of protected lanes does not arrive is one day less every living cyclist has to use them.

This is why road access is cultural. The legal framework for riding in the road is good, the cultural framework is poor. Unfortunately, this piece misses a serious cultural issue, and that is the consideration for the law by all road users. Talking about things like cyclists rolling stop signs or the Idaho stop or lane-splitting (aka filtering) without the proper context still leaves casual readers with the sense that cyclists are just trying to get one over on drivers. And what is that context?

That everyone should obey traffic law. But no one does. Not drivers, not cyclists. Take a look around you next time you are out. You will be literally surrounded by law-breaker drivers rolling stop signs, speeding, gunning on yellow, failing to signal lane changes, etc., and you will continue to be until there is a cultural shift toward obeying traffic law.

And so drivers should quit asking cyclists to do what drivers themselves will not.

Image credit: Photo by Nicole De Khors from Burst.

About Ben Folsom

Ben Folsom is a founding member of the Bike Commuter Cabal, a worldwide group of transport cyclists dedicated to protecting the rights of all road users and to encouraging people everywhere to ride more. Ben and his bikes live with his family in Alexandria, Virginia.