The issue of stop signs and red lights came up again on the
austin-bikes email list.
Here’s a sampling of what others and I have written in the past few days:
entry number one:
In fact, my fantasy is that the next time CAMPO or the City Council wants to deny funding to cyclists because some cyclists run red lights, I want to be there to enthusiastically scream, “I couldn’t agree more!” And then show a homemade video of motorists running every single cycle of a red light at some prominent Austin intersection 20 times in a row, and then ask, “Since road users who run red lights don’t get funding, when can we expect funding to be cut for new highways?”
Of course the irony here is that it was CAMPO member Senator Barrientos who implied at a meeting that he wouldn’t support increased bike funding because cyclists run red lights, and then a while after that the good Senator was arrested for drunk driving.
my first response:
Otherwise known as Fallacious Bike Argument #46.
Motorists don’t run red lights the way cyclists do. Period. They “run the orange” pretty often. This is a very different violation in terms of the real, pragmatic, world we actually live in.
“running the orange” means that some impatient jerk decides to keep going even though the light just turned from yellow to red.
Compare and contrast to cyclists – in my estimation, close to 50% of the cyclists I see on the road do not stop at stop signs unless they see traffic; and do not stop for traffic lights or sometimes stop-and-go (AND DON’T TELL ME ABOUT THE ONES THAT DON’T TRIP; I’M TALKING ABOUT LIGHTS LIKE SPEEDWAY AT 38TH WHICH IS ON A PURE TIMER).
It’s not the same thing. Every time you equate what cyclists do to what motorists do, you make it that much harder on people like me who are trying to get real things accomplished. Our outgoing chairman of the UTC voted against bike facilities on at least one occasion because of the obnoxious lawbreaking attitude evinced by cyclists like that; so we even have this problem at the city level.
SUMMARY: CYCLISTS RUN RED LIGHTS AND STOP SIGNS IN A WAY THAT MOTORISTS DO NOT. MOST MOTORISTS, IF THEY EVER DO THIS, “RUN THE ORANGE” OR DON’T COME TO A FULL ROCK-BACK AT A STOP SIGN. TRYING TO EQUATE THIS WITH THE WILD-WEST ATTITUDE OF MANY CYCLISTS IS MAKING YOU LOOK STUPID AND MAKING MY JOB HARDER.
The most reasonable retort:
It seems to me that hurling 4000lbs of glass, steel and rubber thru an
intersection at a high speed on a light that just turned red is a bigger
hazard to society than me pedaling thru it after quadruple checking that
the coast is clear. Granted both may be bad but why would you consider
my offence more grievous?
“Running the orange” is a matter of education trumping impatience. We’ll get there sooner or later.
“Running the red” is a matter of your own convenience trumping _everything_ – it shows a complete lack of respect for the law that requires motorists to treat you as a vehicle.
Ask yourself which is worse from a purely motorist perspective: continuing to turn left at an intersection even though the light just turned red, or running the intersection halfway through the other peoples’ green cycle.
You run enough red lights and stop signs, and drivers will, no matter what the law says, treat you as a menace.
I’ve nearly wrecked my car at an intersection near UT because some bozo on a bike ran the stop sign. If I were older (worse reflexes), I would have. So there you go.
But getting back to the point – 99% of the people in this town drive. Pissing off 99% of the population in order to make some point about danger is really really really stupid from a pragmatic political perspective. Sooner or later, it comes back to bite you in the ass, as it did when our UTC chairman voted against bike facilities, using lack of respect for the law as his stated reason for doing so.
Then, they get angry:
I think Dahmus was suggesting that when motorists run red lights, it’s typically because they’re trying to beat a yellow light, while bicyclists will run a red light smack in the middle of the red light.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always true. If I had a dollar for every time I saw a car blast through an intersection right in the middle of the red part of the cycle (whether intentional or not — does it really matter?) then I wouldn’t be wasting my time on this forum, I’d be too busy enjoying my new private tropical island.
This discussion seems to come up over and over on this list. I personally don’t see anything wrong with going through a red light when there are no cars in the opposing lanes to be inconvenienced, others beg to differ. I don’t think anyone’s mind is going to be changed by blabbing about it on an email list, so why even bother bringing it up (Mike)?
First of all, as for motorists running lights, it’s not a case of “if they ever do this”. I can go to most busy intersections in Austin and see motorists running red lights on every single cycle, period.
As for motorists not running red lights in the same way that cyclists do, that’s really funny. I thought the argument was that cyclists were bad because they were breaking the law? Oh no, my mistake, it’s not that they’re breaking the law, it’s that they’re breaking the law in a less socially acceptable way. It’s perfectly acceptable to break the law if you do it the proper way. Motorists break the law in a good way, cyclists break the law in a bad way.
So it sounds like Dahmus’ real problem is with cyclists who do things that are unsafe. If that’s the case, then why SAY that their problem is with cyclists breaking the law? You can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can’t harp on cyclists for breaking the law and then excuse motorists for breaking the law. The argument that they break the law “in a different way” is weak, weak, weak.
Motorists break the law in Austin every day in ways that are truly dangerous. People get hurt and killed as a result. But when was the last time anyone suggested that we cut roadway funding as a result? Let’s face it: people only care about cyclists breaking the law. They don’t extend that same outrage to their fellow motorists, period.
Yes, Dahmus repeats this a lot, and I’ve addressed it a lot. The fact is that I’m not going to accept responsibility for somebody else’s faulty logic. Someone could tell me that he’s going to kill a baby kitten for every week I remain a vegetarian. Well, I wish he wouldn’t be that cruel, or unfair, but ultimately, is it his fault or mine?
I don’t deny that the outgoing UTC chairman may have voted against bike facilities because he saw cyclists breaking the law. I simply can’t help it if that guy had a double standard. We certainly never saw him trying to cut facilities for cars because motorists break the law, did we? I won’t pander to that double standard, it’s unfair, and it’s ridiculous.
This is probably the biggest straw man argument I’ve ever seen in my life. Who exactly is it who’s advocating that cyclists run stop signs when it’s not safe to do so?
Anyway, let me return to the newsletter article that so raised Dahmus’ ire. In that article I pointed out that Senator Barrientos hinted about not funding bike facilities because cyclists break the law. And a while after that the good Senator was arrested for driving drunk. Is THAT how motorists break the law in a different way than cyclists that is so much safer? Does this person have any business chastising cyclists for breaking the law, much less denying them funding? Probably close to 100% of motorists who drive in an unsafe manner think it’s worse when cyclists do so. The question is, do we pander to that delusion or do we call them on it? Dahums evidently chose the former. I choose the latter.