S.F. Cyclists: If We Don't Communicate Well With Others, We Don't Deserve Respect

LR_Cyclists_Must_Stop.jpg
James D. Schwartz / Flickr
UPDATE: We now know this sign is in Toronto. We wonder whether things are any different there?
Welcome to The Spokesman, our weekly bicycle column written by French Clements, a San Francisco resident and distance cyclist who considers it pretty routine to ride his bike to Marin County or San Jose and back. He belongs to a club, the SF Randonneurs, and is active in numerous aspects of the cycling community. For those of you wondering, the title of this column is a slightly tongue-in-cheek merging of bicycling and blogging terms, not a claim that Clements speaks for anyone but himself.
--Keith Bowers

The bike scene in San Francisco feels bipolar lately. There's nice stuff -- more bike shops, more bike lanes, more riders -- but there's some nasty stuff too.

Two-wheeled scofflaws compel police to go on a ticketing binge, a spree that's as sudden as it is misdirected. Deadly bike accidents on the Embarcadero and in the Castro gain a sensationalized aura that disguises their rarity. Victimization posts in comments-sections online ricochet across the web and spill into intersections and crosswalks.

And there's so much YELLING!

The Spokesman hereby offers a communitywide talk-down. I appeal to my fellow cyclists (and hope my distant motorist-cousins will take our efforts to heart). Dudes, dudettes, let's step up our game. The only figure that's rising faster than San Francisco's bike-ridership is its bike-accident rate, and studies show we cause more accidents than we might realize.

So how can we cyclists -- and I'm not going to lay blame on anyone else -- how can we make things less shouty, more safe, and in the process earn back the respect we deserve? A good place to start is intersections, specifically those with stop signs. (I'm saving stop lights for another week.) This is an issue especially on "The Wiggle" -- that zig-zaggy route from bay to ocean that contains no hills -- but it plays out even at those spacious and unregulated crossings in the Sunset and Richmond. Whenever a driver and a cyclist cross paths without a light, one of two things must happen. Either they communicate well (consciously or not), or they get pissed off (consciously or not).

You've seen It's a Wonderful Life? If you have, you remember the idea that "Every time you hear a bell, an angel gets his [or her] wings." Well, every time a driver needs to stop short, a cyclist gets shat on by a commenter at SFGate.com.

LR_Cole_Ashbury_Tony_Fischer.jpg
Tony Fischer / Flickr
All clear.
Good communication, on the other hand, somehow just works. It's like a tiny U.N. peace agreement every quarter-mile or so. Same goes for pedestrians, whose presence sometimes gets squeezed out of today's driver-cyclist duality -- communicate with them.

Successfully riding a bike in the city -- like walking and driving -- doesn't require solving some eternal mystery, only embodying a set of good principles and practices. That, and making sure that those supporters of our safety, including the Wigg Party, the S.F. Bicycle Coalition, and the public servants they connect with, are hearing what they need to know.

That esteemed velocipedestrian George Bernard Shaw noted that the single biggest problem in communication "is the illusion that it has taken place."

So break the illusion. Buy and install your lights, use your hand signals -- and keep your ego in check. And I'll do my part by disproving another of Shaw's observations: that newspapers (the blogs of his day, you know!) are apparently unable to "discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization."

In part two of this introductory post, I'll detail four strategies cyclists can use to negotiate four-way stops with motorists. They form the acronym S.U.C.K.

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The Spokesman is a weekly bicycle column by French Clements on bicycle culture and the ways it's reshaping the city's appearance, economy, and politics.

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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39 comments
Driver
Driver

Im not braking anymore. If they run a red in front of my car, they are going to get hit.

Joel Pomerantz
Joel Pomerantz

Communication is hampered by technology. Here are the four biggest technology failures:

1) tinted windows, which are becoming more common as people move here to SF from LA and the SW2) music in the ears (easier than ever to ignore the world)3) video game mentality while riding and dodging through traffic4) talking on the phone while driving (I was sure hopeful when a law came along but the police lost their chance to firm up the law, not bothering to ticket anyone in the fist months of the law)

On top of those things, there's the increasing sense of each person just going for what they want and not learning how live with others.

Put a jerk in a car or on a bike and the result is the same: dangerous intersections. These four technologies make the problems much worse.

Please
Please

The column states that: “Deadly bike accidents on the Embarcadero and in the Castro gain a sensationalized aura that disguises their rarity.” Followed by: “studies show we cause more accidents than we might realize”. So, of the accidents caused by bicyclists, it is the fatal ones that are rare? Perhaps so, but the bicyclists’ behavior that causes the accidents, fatal or otherwise, is not rare. It is only by Divine intervention that more accidents do not take place. The issuing of citations to bicyclists who break the law is long overdue. “earn back the respect we deserve”. Why do bicyclists, as a group, “deserve” respect? Respect is earned. What the bicyclists have now is contempt from motorists. Also earned. It is the bicyclists who have declared war on motorists and pedestrians. It began with Critical Mass and continues unabated. Too many bicyclists have a “Critical Mass mentality”. Arrogance combined with a sense of entitlement, not to mention; sanctimonious, rude, inconsiderate, and dangerous behavior.  Motorists see their vehicle lanes and parking spots disappearing in order to pander to bicyclists. This adds to vehicle congestion, and makes it more difficult and expensive to operate a vehicle in the City. Bicyclists gain at motorists’ expense. Add to that, the tragic fact that the life of pedestrian Dionette Cherney who was killed by bicyclist Randolph Ang, was only worth $15,375.oo plus 500 hours of “community service” and 3 years probation to City government, and you get a situation where motorists definitely get the impression that they have become second-class citizens in San Francisco. That might cause a little resentment. Bicyclists are not a benign presence in the City; they have made themselves a dangerous and contentious element, and seem quite proud of it.

Dave Nakamura
Dave Nakamura

 Though I do not think it is fair to demonize ALL cyclists in SF, there is an element out there who think it is their right to flout all traffic rules and that they somehow are being cool and edgy for doing so.  They also think that they have more right to the roads than anyone else, and they're simply wrong.

OF COURSE it is the motorist's responsibility to drive safely and to be aware of their surroundings... surroundings that include cyclists.  Cyclists are inherently harder to see than an automobile, so cyclists have a vested interest in 'communicating', i.e., making sure that they are being seen.

In some ways, I can sympathize with cyclists' plight, because SF is a pretty dangerous place to be riding a bike sometimes.  Ride often enough and you will have some close calls with knuckleheads who are driving while talking on the phone.

But there is a very interesting fact: in vehicle/pedestrian accidents, a very high percentage of them are the pedestrians' fault (i.e.,jaywalking on a busy road, crossing the street against a red light, etc., etc.).  I've seen people in cars, on foot, AND on bikes do the dumbest things imaginable.  It would be a mistake to assume that every time it is the motorists' fault.

street_equity
street_equity

I agree with everything that Zack has already said in response to your inane and predictable post, I'd also like to add that no one is taking your parking spots or driving lanes away, because they were never yours to begin with.  

Purchasing and driving a car does not inherently entitle you to use public land for storing your vehicle or driving it around at the exact location that you choose.  

Similarly, buying a million commemorative plates from the Franklin Mint (a classier but perhaps equally ludicrous purchase as a car in San Francisco) the city does not provide free storage.

Dave Nakamura
Dave Nakamura

 Regarding your later post on this thread.  It isn't your place to be telling a 60, 70, or 80 year old where she should live or how she should get around.  What if she is a multimillionaire in Pac Heights and can afford a chauffeur?  She has as much right to her SF lifestyle as you do yours.

And I think that my experience with the mocking hipster IS relevant here, because it's people like that who are really the problem.  I have no problem with cyclists who ride responsibly.  Hell, I AM one.

Dave Nakamura
Dave Nakamura

 Are you going to impose your ideals on, say, a 60-year old woman who needs a car to get groceries?

You know, I once had a hipster biker make some snide remark because I was putting on my bike helmet before I got on my bike.  Apparently he was 'too cool' to wear a helmet.  What an idiot.  I think that same guy went out and ran every red light and stop light on his way home.  I wouldn't be surprised if he's in the hospital now...

street_equity
street_equity

@Dave, I'm sorry you were mocked by hipsters.  They bug me too, but that hardly seems relevant here.

I'm not sure why this hypothetical lady would need a car to buy groceries. My mom is nearly 70 and she seems to be doing fine without one.

I'd kindly explain to your 60 year old lady friend that if she were to forego buying a car, she could likely save $500-$800 per month  on gas, maintenance, car payment, smog check, insurance, etc.  With those extra funds, she could afford to live somewhere that she could walk to get her groceries.  Couldn't that be nice?  It could get her out of the house, keep her active, fit and healthy, increase her sense of community and widen her social network.

Also, if the 60 year old lady can't walk well, does she really want to move a car for street cleaning 3x per week, just so she can buy groceries every 2 weeks?

If it's just for groceries, wouldn't it be more cost effective for her to take the bus, or a train, or a cab, or a pedicab?  Or she could use Task Rabbit and have her groceries delivered.   Given that she's living on a fixed income, saving money would be important for her.

She'll also want some plan for when she turns 70 and can't see well.  Living within walking distance of shops and community seems like a better bet on the future than a gas guzzler.

And, finally, let's remove the stigma from the "granny cart".  Can't she carry her groceries in one of those?  I'm a 40 year old dude and I do.

You're welcome
You're welcome

Most drivers who run over or kill pedestrians get no sentence whatsoever. Bicyclists aren't "taking lanes and parking" from you.  We're using them.  If it's so difficult and expensive to use a car, why do so many people do it?  And if it is, stop.  Riding a bike is easy and free.  Though I'm very pro-bicycle, but I don't have contempt for motorists.  You want to make generalizations?  Motorists are a bunch of road-raging, overweight, entitled, dangerous, loud, polluting, earth-hating, ignorant, unobservant murderers.  OF COURSE, that isn't true.  But there are more facts to back up those assertions than the nonsense you just typed.  30,000-40,000 vehicle-related deaths a year.  Rising levels of obesity, lack of community connection to your neighbors.  Increasingly chaotic climate from rising CO2 levels.  Asthma and cancer for people who suck in vehicle exhaust.  That's what your precious automobiles cause.  As a cyclist, the only thing I feel entitled to is the ability to safely get from one place to another in a manner that I love and is good for me.  That's it.  I do it safely, I respect the safety and rights of others, so please, stop with your unnecessary, untruthful generalizations.  People like you are the exact reason that cyclists start to feel like things like Critical Mass are necessary.  You're declaring war, expect the same in return.

Dave Nakamura
Dave Nakamura

 I think that this self-righteous, holier-than-thou attitude towards everybody who isn't on a bike isn't going to get you very far... and yes, I live in SF and have biked here.

I believe that Critical Ass actually hurts the the cause of bikers' rights much more than it helps.  You can disagree with me, but gridlocking traffic on the last Friday of each month isn't going to win you any friends, but it will earn you A TON of enemies.

Dave Nakamura
Dave Nakamura

"whenever drivers and bicyclists cross paths without a light"... communication doesn't matter as much as OBEYING THE RULES OF THE ROAD.  Cyclists need to stop at stop signs just like everyone else.  End of story.  It isn't nearly as complicated as you're trying to make it.

Prinzrob
Prinzrob

I disagree, and propose that communication is just as important as following the law, and in some cases more so. Communication doesn't just mean bells and signaling, but also lane position, body posture, vocalizations, eye contact, shoulder checks, nods, waves, and more, all of which are extremely important in remaining predictable to other road users but none of which are codified in the law.

In some respects California law goes too far in applying car-centric statues to bicycles unnecessarily, and in other cases does not go far enough to offer adequate protection (only a rear reflector required, not a light? no minimum passing distance? really?). In order to be truly safe cyclists must and do go well beyond what is legally required, especially with so many roadways that were designed with only auto traffic in mind.

Dave Nakamura
Dave Nakamura

 I disagree.  The problem cyclists in SF are a problem because they are breaking traffic laws and putting themselves and others in danger.  "Communication" means nothing unless this basic is met first.  I think that people like you and others seem to think that somehow so-called "communication" can make up for bicyclists not obeying the rules of the road.  It simply can't.

I recently saw a bicyclist in the Mission (on Valencia near Zeitgeist) deliberately run through a red light and make a car swerve and brake HARD to avoid hitting him.  As bad as drivers can be, SF has MORE than its fair share of irresponsible bikers.  That's a fact.

DaveinSF2
DaveinSF2

 Prinzrob, all good points and I agree with you on all of them.  However, there is a big distinction between cyclists' disregarding "laws they find inconvenient" and ignoring traffic laws that results in dangerous situations.  Cyclists deliberately running red lights is still a major problem from what I've seen.  That is totally different from, say, rolling through a stop sign when nobody else is around (which is what a lot of motorists get away with all the time as well).

My point is that some of these angry bike-riding knuckleheads with a chip on their shoulder who ride irresponsibly are hurting the cause of bike riders everywhere.  They think they railing "against the man", the establishment, and cars in general... but all they are doing is ensuring that bike safety laws will become even more strict and inconvenient for them and for everybody else.

Prinzrob
Prinzrob

ChefBum: I think we agree on the problem of unsafe and uncourteous cycling, but disagree as to what the acceptable solutions are. As I see it, if we want bicycle riders in SF to understand and obey the law there are a number of steps we could take such as:1) Mandatory bike safety education included in school PE programs, driver's ed curricula, and in all professional driver/biker training programs. (I'm all for this one, especially for the long term potential)

2) Bicycle infraction ticket blitzes (Not for this one as the fees discourage biking and take resources away from more significant enforcement efforts, unless a bicycle safety traffic school option is offered as an alternative to a monetary fine)

3) More nuanced laws which allow currently illegal but not unsafe behavior, enabling law enforcement officers to concentrate on specifically dangerous activities instead of "letter of the law" violations (You can guess where I stand on this one)

4) Better bike infrastructure which encourages a more diverse ridership, diluting the streets with less agressive cyclists and encouraging a calmer and more law abiding status quo

This last point is, in my opinion, the most important and the least understood, especially since it gets the old guard up in arms about "segregated" bike facilities. However, the future of biking in our cities is not about roadies, messengers, or revolutionaries, it is just about making trips by bike a mundane and accessible activity for everyone.

Going back to the main point, though, I would argue that following the law with poor communication is just as dangerous as communicating well with total disregard for the law. They are equally valid aspects of bike safety, but while the laws are well known but still often ignored, we can at least do a better job instructing cyclists on how to better to communicate with other road users.

ChefBum
ChefBum

Prinzrob: I disagree. Bike advocates I this thread seemingly at putting an emphasis on "communication" to deflect blame and attention that has been on a few irresponsible cyclists. We are talking about apples and oranges. My point is that no amount of communication will ever make up for cyclists who don't obey traffic rules. The fact that there are many such cyclists in SF is a foregone conclusion. Let's tackle that serious issue before we go splitting hairs on traffic laws for cyclists that these knuckleheads aren't observing anyway, shall we?

Prinzrob
Prinzrob

"people like you and others seem to think that somehow so-called "communication" can make up for bicyclists not obeying the rules of the road"

Please re-read my comment and stop making assumptions about what I think. I never stated that following the law is not important, and a thorough understanding of and appreciation for the CVC is inherent to any bicycle safety education.

The reality is, however, that one can follow the law to the letter and still be very unsafe on the road if they do not bother to communicate their actions and remain predictable. This is part of the reason why some cyclists (not myself) disregard laws they find inconvenient, as they find it hard to respect a system that does not go far enough to protect their safety and rights. This plus a lack of education, a lack of experience, a lack of diversity in the ridership, and a lack of infrastructure and engineering standards that apply the same level of service to bike facilities that we now get by default on auto thoroughfares all contribute to an environment where people on bikes are less likely to feel like they are part of traffic. Therefore the solution to getting people on bikes to respect the law means not only better education and better bike facilities, but also better laws.

In the meantime cyclists have to make do with what they have, and one of the greatest safety advantages a bike rider has over a car driver is that it is much easier to communicate when one is not inside a giant, metal box. Many cyclists communicate their actions on the roadway without thinking of it as actual "communication" but let there be no doubt that lane position and body language can do as much or more to keep one safe on a daily basis as observing every stop sign with a full stop (which I do, by the way, as ridiculous as it is in some situations).

Walking
Walking

Most CA automobile drivers love some and respect most Bicyclist, however automobile drivers are rude just like some Bicyclist are rude.  Unfortunately, the State of CA is still in the 'dark ages'  in regards to Bike safe lanes etc; thanks in part to big oil interest, backward thinking civic leaders etc.etc.

Zack
Zack

I completely agree that a little communication goes a long way.  Just simply making eye contact can help immensely in making sure you and a driver are closer to the same page.  Signal your turns (important for everyone, far too many cyclists AND drivers fail to do this) and stop when others have right of way.  On the issue of coming to a complete stop at each and every stop sign - I propose this.  A day or week when every cyclist commits to doing just that.  One at a time, pull up to stop signs and come to a complete stop.  I can guarantee drivers will be FAR more annoyed with that behavior than they think they are now with people rolling through from time to time.  Safely checking and assuring the intersection is clear and safe to cross doesn't always necessitate coming to a complete stop on a bicycle - you're traveling slower, aren't restricted in your field of vision or hearing, and are much more maneuverable than in a car.  Coming to a complete stop every time leads to increases in unsafe behavior like drivers edging up next to you when they should be waiting behind you.  As the article points out, we can all do better, and honestly, some of the closest calls I've had in the Wiggle were caused by other cyclists - darting around cars into my lane, etc.  We can't change the drivers' behavior - let's face it, we'd all be angry and impatient too if we were caged up in cars, but we can make sure we all do our part to make this a safer place for our fellow cyclists and pedestrians!

PaulV
PaulV

Simple rules to follow (that are ACTUAL CITY LAWS) in order for bicyclists to get respect: 1) Stop behind the crosswalk at the red light and STAY STOPPED until the light turns green. 2) Do not ride your bikes on the sidewalk (San Francisco law states if you're over 12 years old, it is illegal to ride your bike on the sidewalk downtown). 3) Ride your bike with traffic, not against it. 4) Do not make illegal turns.  This especially goes to the two bicyclists with the fat douchebag on the segway that make the illegal left turn at Market Street in front of the Sees Candy store. 5) Stop behind the crosswalk at every stop sign.  No excuses.

THIS is how bicyclists in San Francisco can make a good start at getting respect from others.  Respect isn't a gift.  You have to earn it.

Prinzrob
Prinzrob

Can I add?:

1) Stop riding no-handed, especially through intersections. How do you plan to stop/swerve if something unexpected happens?2) Stop jumping in front of other people at red lights, making everyone pass you again as you slowly get your (often fixed gear) bike back up to speed after the green.3) Just pull over to take that call or wait until you get home.4) This is a city where people live, not a race track. If you are trying to keep a pace or beat a time please do it on a track or a rural highway with few intersections.5) If a cyclist in front of you stops to let a car or pedestrian take their right of way, don't zoom past them, especially not on the right, and especially not without calling out.6) Stop circling around at a red light just because you don't want to put your foot down.7) For the love of all that's good and holy stop passing buses and trucks on the right in an intersection, as they prepare to make a wide right turn!8) Don't stop at a red light in the crosswalk or on the far right curb and then wonder why you never get a green.9) Don't stop at a light on the far right curb and then wonder why all the cars are cutting you off to make a right turn.

Don't get me wrong, I have an even bigger list for car drivers, but this discussion is about the not as dangerous but just as irritating stupidity displayed by a noticeable minority of the cyclists in the city.

Morgan Fitzgibbons
Morgan Fitzgibbons

I guess drivers of automobiles earn their respect by killing and maiming hundreds of people in San Francisco every year??

Dave Nakamura
Dave Nakamura

 Sure there are some bad drivers out there... that still doesn't give you the right to be a bad driver who happens to be on a bike.

Like I said in another post, a very high percentage of auto/bike and auto/ped accidents are actually not the fault of the motorists.  In any collision, of course the car is going to come out the better of it.  Sheesh, you would think that fact alone would make some bike riders more responsible. 

I ride very cautiously because I value my safety and my health.  You would be a fool not to do the same, especially in San Francisco.

Shmoozilla2000
Shmoozilla2000

 I guess you missed the point of the article.. :-(

Shmoozilla2000
Shmoozilla2000

 So just keep doing what you're doing Jim, it's working so well.

Jym Dyer
Jym Dyer

 @Schmoozilla - RIght, the point of the article is to shut up and be communicated at.

Logan T Huge
Logan T Huge

Blah blah blah, cars are bad, blah blah blah.  Dude you are a broken record. 

neutral_corner
neutral_corner

Critical Mass rolled down Polk Street on Friday with nearly half the cyclists on the wrong side of the street. WTF? What's it take for the cyclists in this clusterfuck to obey the rules of the road? 

"Arf!" Lemming
"Arf!" Lemming

 In a post literate , post articulate world , it's become even harder tocommunicate intent , much less validate the credibility of a lifestyle.

Logan T Huge
Logan T Huge

The SFBC and the Wigg Party care little about your safety.   If they did care things like the pothole in the southwest Market Street bike lane at Van Ness would have been fixed 6 months ago when it first appeared, not 48 hours after, I a private citizen, finally got fed up with getting my wheels trued and put in at 311 ticket. 

Prinzrob
Prinzrob

Wait, what? You knowingly rolled over a giant pothole for half a year and multiple wheel truings and didn't bother to call it in. Then when you do and it is fixed almost immediately you still find some reason to complain? Sounds to me like the system worked, brother, you called it in and it got fixed.

When you report something, your report is ignored, you report it again, the report is acknowledged and nothing happens for a year then suddenly it is marked as resolved but the pothole is still there, then you get to complain. Ask anyone in Oakland.

The SFBC is a non-profit advocacy organization with not a ton of staff, not a city public works department.

Morgan Fitzgibbons
Morgan Fitzgibbons

Not sure how a pothole at Market and Van Ness is the Wigg Party's responsibility. However I can't say I'm surprised at this paranoid schizophrenic perspective from Logan The Huge D-Bag.

Logan T Huge
Logan T Huge

Actually the Wigg party is worse, you write a butt load of editorials claiming you should be allowed to ignore traffic laws.  We live in a democracy, daily cycling commuters account for less than 5% of San Francisco commuters, as you are a self proclaimed voice of cyclists you end up making all cyclists look like entitled two year olds.  Then you have some s-bird like Chris Bucchere confirm the worst.  Good luck with getting a cycling advocate elected in the future.

Mark Dreger
Mark Dreger

The SFBC suck because they didn't get on a single random pothole you find a nuance?? Calling 311 is your job as a citizen.

Logan T Huge
Logan T Huge

It's not a random pothole, it is one that was more than 18 inches long, nearly covering the entire bike lane and thousands of cyclists ride over weekly, including officers of the SFBC who have DPT on speed dial.   These are things that effect cyclists far more than the green bike box (which BTW more than 90% of cyclists roll past to stop in the crosswalk, or track stand in the northern most lane of van ness) 

oiseaux
oiseaux

That's the CN Tower. Toronto.

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