Monday, August 2, 2010

Cyclists: We Have Met the Enemy -- and He is Us

By Kevin Kasowski

Earlier this year, I had the dubious distinction of being cited (rightfully) for blowing through a stop sign on my bike. After getting over my indignation, my penance – taking a three-hour "Share the Road" safety course (in lieu of a $240 fine) – was one of the best things I've done lately in terms of enhancing my own self-preservation.

Since then, I've been paying much closer attention to my own riding habits, those of my fellow cyclists -- and those of drivers. And I have to say, fellow cyclists, we've got "issues". When I drive to work, I see hundreds of other cars; of those, maybe one or two on any given day are piloted by drivers who are acting like idiots. When I bike to work, I see half as many cyclists – but at least a quarter of them are blatantly flaunting basic principles of safety.

Today, in fact, I had my first experience of "bike path" rage. As I was cruising along the Springwater Trail, which is shared by bikes and pedestrians (including many kids), I passed an elderly gentleman riding at a leisurely pace. At this same moment, another cyclist (you know who you are if you're reading this) whizzed past me at what must have been 40 mph – even though yet another cyclist was coming in the opposite direction and there was really only room for three bikes on the eight-foot wide path. When I pointed out to this guy that this was "not a good place to pass" I got an earful of self-righteousness back and ended up in a near shouting match as he sped on down the path.

If going 40 mph in a car isn't legal on many arterials and all neighborhood streets, how is it safe on an eight-foot wide bike path? Would cyclists tolerate a motorcycle blowing by them at that speed? Are there speed limits for bikes? If not, there should be.

If we want more people to ride bikes, we have to create a safe environment for all cyclists and hold the "rogue" cyclists among us accountable. A mandatory $5 per bike registration fee, contingent on passing a mail-in safety test, would generate millions annually for bike safety education and enforcement programs that are long overdue, not to mention maintenance of bike lanes and bike paths that primarily benefit cyclists.

Imagine if we managed our road system the same way we manage cyclists – no rules, no cost, no accountability. We'd have mayhem. And as more and more people in Portland take to the wheel, that's what we'll get if we don't change the system, and soon.

No comments: