Dear Portland Bicyclist — Portland
When I first started driving in Portland it took me a long time to get used to sharing the road with bicyclists. You have to check and double check your right-hand side and review mirror before making a right turn. You have to have saint-like patience when you're stuck behind a bicyclist riding in the middle of the traffic lane. You have to be mindful of the bike lanes and the bike paths and the kids on bikes and the bikes, bikes, bikes. It's true that the city of Portland has more designated bike lanes than any other city. But those lanes aren't everywhere, and sometimes when you're driving down a narrow street and there's a bicyclist between you and a row of curbside parked cars, it can be a little nerve-racking. But here in Portland we "share the road", no matter what. And here in Portland, people love their bikes. There are bike racks on the buses, bike racks outside almost every business (someone has even taken to making bike rack cozies), and so many bike shops, repair shops, gear shops, frame builders, helmet manufacturers and parts makers that the bicycle industry contributes nearly $100 million annually to our economy.
Which is one of the unique qualities that help make Portland, so very Portland. But being a bicyclist can be extremely dangerous and every year there are fatalities. It takes a certain amount of bravery to put yourself on a bicycle and then jump into traffic with cars and buses and semi trucks and motorcycles. That's why, being a bicyclist, you have to be extra cautious when "sharing the road". And most of them seem to be. Most bicyclists seem to defer to the giant high speed vehicles that can kill them. They use proper hand signals to let traffic know that they're turning or stopping. They wear helmets and follow the rules of the road, stopping at traffic lights and stop signs and making proper use of the bike lanes. But much like - for every good driver there is a bad one - the same applies for bicyclists.
Just the other day I witnessed a bicyclist nearly take out a family of three crossing the street. It was right in front of the Rose Fest fair grounds and the Nato Parkway was nearly deserted of cars. The traffic light was red and the pedestrian signal was set to Cross. A man, woman and young child stepped off the curb to cross the street when a bicyclist, going incredibly fast, ran the red light and came so close to hitting the three people that they all had to literally jump back onto the curb. The bicyclist shook his fist in the air and barked into the wind as though the fault was theirs.
Last year I was driving my car, going about 25 miles an hour, when a bicyclist darted in front of my car from a right-hand turn. I had to slam on my brakes in order not to hit him, causing the car behind me to do the same. So I eventually passed the bicyclist and after I saw him in my review mirror I got back into my original lane, in another few blocks or so I took a right into the parking lot of a video store. As I parked my car the bicyclist rode over to my car and proceeded to yell at me for being a reckless driver. I nearly killed him! He proclaimed. Don't I realize that I am in a car and he is on a bike and I could easily run him over? I still wasn't sure what I had done wrong, after all, he was the one that darted out in front of me, but if he wanted to huff and puff at me I was more than prepared to huff and puff right back. Absolutely! I said. My car CAN easily run you over. So shouldn't you be more careful when pulling out into traffic? Shouldn't you allow for more space between you and the car, more stopping time? Apparently I was not right. Because he stood there with his bike and just yelled and yelled and yelled. Finally, to end the insanity, I just told him to fuck off and proceeded on my errand.
The point is, bicyclists have the same laws that motor vehicles do. They share our lanes and we must treat them like vehicles and yet, some of them think they are exempt from certain rules of the road. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a bicyclist run a stop sign. In fact, I am more surprised when a bicyclist actually stops for a stop sign, that's how often they ignore them. They also ignore red lights. More often than not I see bicyclists turn onto the sidewalk and ride through the crossing pedestrians to cross the road and then get back into the traffic lane on the other side, bypassing the red light completely. There have been many times while driving through the neighborhoods that I make a turn just as a bicyclist is riding off of the sidewalk and into the road, never pausing because they see me coming, they just swerve to miss me and nearly give me a heart attack. In fact yesterday, I was taking the back roads through the neighborhood and came to a crossroads, I didn't have a stop sign and the other street did. Naturally I slowed down, not fully trusting what could be coming and ignorning the stop sign, and lo and behold a woman and her kid, both on bikes, just pedal right through the stop sign causing me to stop in the middle of the intersection.
And where are you people's helmets? Just because you're some hipster in skinny jeans on a vintage bicycle doesn't mean that your head won't crack open like a watermelon when you're taken out by a bus. Put on a fucking helmet! It's the fucking law!
Dear Portland Bicyclist,
I know you're awesome for being a bicyclist. You're fit and active and environmentally conscious. You're braver than I am for risking your life every time you pull into traffic. But please, if you want to be treated like a vehicle, act like one. You are not exempt from the rules of the road so stop acting like you're invincible and start pretending like your poor decisions could get you killed. I will continue to be extra mindful of you and while I may curse you aloud whilst driving in my car, I will not take my frustrations out on you. Oh, and wear a fucking helmet. Here's the Oregon state laws on being a bicyclist. Ride smart, and live long.
OMG the bicyclists here! They're fucking militant. I've never tried so hard to be respectful and super courteous to any group of people that have acted less deserving of it! They yell at you! They freakin YELL at you! I can't get over that! When you pass them (because you will, because they're pedaling and so it's much slower than traffic is meant to be going) and they act like your exhaust fumes just made them lose their will to live - or worse - it makes me a little more bitter towards them. And I do NOT want to be. I respect them and what they're doing and all the reasons why and blah blah blah blah Portland but COME ON!
Awesome blog. Couldn't agree more.
Actually, in Oregon the law only requires helmets for those under the age of 16. Apparently adult skulls are thick enough to withstand a head-on collision with a car.
I don't know why I thought I was done replying. I wasn't. I used to ride. A LOT. So I think I have an appreciation for the average cyclist's position on dealing with the bone-headed drivers out there, but I couldn't agree with you more when it comes to a certain segment of Portland's cyclists. And you nailed it. They are the helmetless "hipsters in skinny jeans on vintage bicycles" who ride at night w/o lights, and think that riding on heavily trafficked and narrow laned streets like Hawthorne and Alberta is a righteous act. Their rights under Oregon law aren't going to mean squat when they wind up dead because they thought that entitled them to ignore the laws of physics. Get real. Wear a helmet. Pick a street, often only one block away, that isn't packed with cars. If you ride at night, don't do it in stealth mode. And goddammit, if you do something stupid, suck it up and learn something from it instead of blaming the driver who could not possibly have avoided you.
Stealth mode bicycling. IT'S ON. That sounds like an awesome idea for a reality TV game show.
When I ride my bike, it's the other bicyclists who drive me crazy. So amen, Dollface. Thanks for the rant!
As a cyclist and a driver, I get seriously pissed at both shitty drivers AND particularly shitty cyclists. I've had other cyclists almost wipe me out on my bike because they are too important to move/stop/signal/think.
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