The Definitive Rules of the Road for Urban Bicyclists

Last month, the usually-thoughtful website CityLab published a concern-trolling piece about biking in the city. They outsourced their credibility to a man whose business model is reliant on people being afraid of their streets, and thus, a stream of vehicular cycling, victim-blaming garbage ensued.

Well it’s easy to critique without offering a better solution, so in response to CityLab’s thinly-veiled anti-bicycling piece, here are The Real Definitive Rules of the Road for Urban Bicyclists.

…actually there’s only one:

Do what you have to do to get to your destination safely and efficiently without needlessly endangering anyone else.

Seriously. That’s it. Sometimes you’ll need to follow the “rules”; sometimes you’ll need to break them. Sometimes, you’ll need to break the law, because your life is more important than arbitrary rules that aren’t even designed for bicycles.

So, what does this mean?

It means that sometimes you may need to hop on a sidewalk. If you’re stuck on an intimidating road, then, by all means, get somewhere more comfortable…just be respectful of pedestrians. Don’t do to them what drivers do to you.

It means salmoning can be okay. (Salmoning means biking the “wrong” way down a one-way street.) For example, I live off of Bank on a one-way street that connects to another one-way street that connects to a semi-busy residential street. To get to my home legally when I’m coming from the east, I would be expected to get into a left turn lane, turn onto Bank, take the left hand lane and make a left turn off of Bank without the aid of a light. Or I could peacefully salmon down two one-way blocks that have almost no cars. It’s an easy choice. And if cars are coming, I can hop up on the sidewalk or just stop at the curb and let them go by.

It means rolling through stop signs. Yeah, scofflaw those stop signs. Too often, bike routes are on streets that have stop signs on just about every block or, worse, in the middle of a hill. That’s bullshit. If there’s no one coming, don’t bother stopping if you don’t want to. Stop signs aren’t there for bicycles, really; they’re there for cars. Bikes and pedestrians can get by without stop signs. Ontario really needs to get with it and legalize the Idaho stop.

It means taking advantage of advance walk lights. Sometimes on busy streets, the walk light will change before the car lights to give pedestrians a chance to get through the intersection before drivers will start trying to run them over. These lights aren’t actually for bikes, but use them. You’re just as vulnerable as a pedestrian, so you deserve the safety measure, too. Just don’t get in a pedestrian’s way.

It means you shouldn’t feel the need to apologize for doing things that will help save your life. City planners and city drivers intentionally try to put you in harms way. They want you doing risky, dangerous stuff. Fuck ’em. Stay safe.

It means cooperate with everyone else. If someone is salmoning in your direction, try to give them room. If you’re the one salmoning, then give those with the right-of-way proper space. If you’re walking and you see a bicyclist on the sidewalk, consider what the road is like before condemning them. If you feel safe biking on a busy street, don’t judge those who don’t.

It means wear whatever the hell you want. You don’t need a helmet (it may actually increase your risk of injury); you don’t need hi-viz; you don’t need to wear bright clothes; you don’t need spandex; you don’t need a mirror on your bike or helmet; you don’t need special shoes. But, hey, if you like wearing all the stuff, that’s cool; you do you.

But really, this is all just details. Be smart; be safe; be considerate…and most of all, just enjoy the ride.

Drivers as After-School-Special Bullies

Remember the old trope, touted by after-school-specials and bad (and good, maybe) sitcoms that if you stand up to a bully, you’ll show them to be a coward? The idea is that bullies only pick on those who appear weak, not those who challenge them.

I spend a lot of time walking near cars, often along busy streets where intersections don’t always have traffic lights (most regularly on Bank Street). Walking these streets, it’s very common to have cars creep into (or just drive into without care) the crosswalk, completely blocking the path of pedestrians.

It’s pretty classic bullying. They’re driving big, dangerous vehicles that offer them a lot of protection. Pedestrians are pretty much defenceless.

What is very grating, is that these drivers, so willing to block crosswalks, are reticent to encroach on driving lanes. This is especially bad when they’re trying to go straight or turn left. They’ll completely block the sidewalk, and a bit of the parking lane, but they’ll never go any further until the entire street is absolutely clear of cars.

They’re bullies who are too scared of the other drivers–other bullies, if you will–to even risk inconveniencing them. They’re self-absorbed cowards who are willing to push around the most vulnerable people on the street.

If you do this, stop. It’s gross. And it reflects tremendously poorly on your character.