Thursday, April 7, 2011

In Which I Confess Criminal Tendencies

I hope that the CRPD isn’t reading my blog too closely—I may come close to admitting a few crimes.

Not serious ones, mind you. Not kicking puppies or stealing cookies from HyVee. But, by their nature, traffic laws were written mostly to control cars, and by their nature, bikes and bike riders have some problems following them.

That is sometimes a source of friction for car drivers who don’t appreciate bikers. My own philosophy is that wherever I’m biking, I’m to some extent borrower turf from someone. If I’m on a trail or sidewalk, I owe pedestrians the respect of an audible warning if I’m approaching from behind, and plenty of room if I’m passing the other way. The walkway belongs first to them.

If I’m on the street, I try to cycle in a way that doesn’t obstruct or bother motorized vehicle drivers. However, I do think it’s important to note that streets were originally built for horses and carriages and then bicycles—in the scheme of things, historically, cars are borrowing the street from me. Those of us on two wheels were there first.

Practically, however, that doesn’t mean much. As a biker, I am a much quieter, slower and smaller vehicle than any car or motorcycle. I can easily get in the way but not be seen or heard. For my own safety, I can’t pretend that I own the streets.

So where does crime come in?

First of all, many bikers, including yours truly, will do “California,” or rolling stops at some stop signs. I don’t at any busy intersection, and certainly I don’t at any 4-way stop when a car is on the other street. But as a biker, I can see and hear differently than people driving cars can. I have better peripheral vision and I’m out in the open with my ears tuned only to birds and traffic. Trust me, car drivers, even if you’re in a Prius, you’re noisy compared to a bike, and I’ll hear you long before I see you. So, if I’m at the corner of, say, Lindale and 27th Street, do I come to a complete stop at the stop sign?

Sure. If I hear a car …

You could argue that the CRPD should ticket me next time I do a rolling stop just to teach us bikers a lesson. I would think you’re nuts, but you could argue it. The next piece of scofflawery, I think, is more systemic. I have less choice in the matter if I am to bike in Cedar Rapids. Sometimes, inevitably, to get from here to there, I will run a red light.

Gasp! The horror! Before you drivers pick up torches and pitchforks (or tar and feathers), let me explain.

Many traffic lights these days are controlled by sensors in the street. Those sensors are not sensitive enough to respond to a 280-pound weight (me on a 30 pound bike). If I am to cross, say, Old Marion Road at F Avenue, I’m either waiting for a car or running the light when I think it’s clear.

Please don’t think less of me, but what, honestly, would you do? You’d run the light, too.

At Collins Road and F Avenue, I have more patience. But I do “steal” the light. Let’s say I’m headed north, going home in the afternoon. Rockwell Collins employees will be doing the same thing, but they’ll be exiting Rockwell Collins, headed south.

Their SUVs and cars will trigger the light. And when the Collins Road lights glow red, there will be a 2-second delay before their southbound F Avenue light turns green.

That’s when CR Biker steals the light—crossing when my light is red, but only because my light will never turn green until a car comes along going my way.

Be very careful if you ever “steal the light” at this corner—you have to watch the traffic and make sure no Collins Road driver is going through a “pink” light, or that no left-turner is jumping the gun. You have to watch both Collins Road lights—usually, one turns red and a left turn signal comes on for the other direction on Collins before the F Avenue cycle starts. So you have to know both the lights and the traffic patterns.

But if you do know the light, you’ll steal the light, too. It’s what all bikers do because we have to. Even if, historically, we were there “first,” traffic control lights are car-friendly and not bike-friendly, and many corners don’t have accessible pedestrian signal lights that bikers could use (I do use pedestrian lights if they are available and accessible, but sometimes they are there but not useful, like at F and Old Marion where there is a cross light, but one you can’t reach from a bike).

CR wants to be a bike friendly town. Figuring out a way to make traffic signals bike friendly would solve a lot of my biking-in-the-city problems.

Anyway, I’m hoping my crime confessions won’t get me in too much trouble. We’ll see.

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