As someone who complains often about drivers and pedestrians blocking bike lanes in New York, there is another breed of commuter who draws the ire of pedestrians, drivers, and even some cyclists. For the most part, this scofflaw is the one that drivers cite as the reason for the driver-cyclist animosity: the law-breaking cyclist.
In New York and most other states, cyclists are required by law to ride with traffic – never against it unless there is a contraflow bike lane. In addition, some municipalities outlaw sidewalk bicycle riding for the safety of both pedestrians and cyclists, who are less visible to motorists when in sidewalks and crosswalks. Unfortunately, for various reasons, this law is often ignored. In New York City, the most common law-breaking cyclist is the deliveryperson – someone trying to make their job on a bicycle as efficient as possible. Some wrong-way cyclists do so without knowing they’re breaking the law; while pedestrians are told to walk against traffic when using road space for the sake of safety, the same recommendation does not apply to cyclists. Other wrong-way cyclists ride against traffic out of sheer selfishness: it’s faster than riding around the block, even if it puts other cyclists or pedestrians at risk.
What’s not surprising, but finally put on paper after a citywide report on bicycle accidents in Fort Collins, Colorado (PDF), is that law-breaking cyclists are putting themselves at risk for injury. Among the facts from the report, which covered the period from 2007-2009:
- Nearly twice as many broadside accidents (126) occurred when the cyclist rode against traffic than when the cyclist rode with traffic (67).
- The #2 contributing factor in broadside collisions between cars and cyclists was that the cyclist rode against traffic on a sidewalk (second only to failure to yield on the part of the motorist).
- The broadside – the most common type of accident – was more likely to be the fault of the cyclist than the motorist by nearly a 3-to-2 margin.
- One-third of all accidents involved cyclists riding on the sidewalk.
- Across all types of accidents, more contributing factors were attributed to cyclists (272) than motorists (261).
What this data cannot demonstrate is just how many cyclists are breaking the rules in Fort Collins. If the majority of cyclists in Fort Collins are law-abiding, that could further prove just how dangerous cycling on sidewalks or against traffic can be (a Hunter College study of New York cyclists suggested that 21% rode on sidewalks or against traffic).
As a cyclist who plays by the rules, I am often endangered by the scofflaws who ride against traffic (forcing me into traffic nearly as often as motorists who park in bike lanes), ride on sidewalks (blindly entering the street while I ride with traffic), and fail to stop at intersections (potentially causing the most violent broadside bike-on-bike collisions). But the data show that not only are law-breaking cyclists a danger to others, they are also a danger to themselves.
An educational campaign to show that these cyclists are putting their own lives on the line to save a couple minutes might go a long way – perhaps moreso than Transportation Alternatives’ valient effort to educate cyclists on the rule of law.
(Photo via paytonc on Flickr)