another letter to the editor (and more stupid reactions)

Another letter to the editor concerning the rights of cyclists to local roads appeared in Wednesday’s edition of the local paper.

To the editor,

As an avid bicyclist living in Lenawee County for the past 13 years, I consider myself fortunate. Our county is a beautiful place to ride. I always ride in accordance with Michigan Vehicle Code, Section 257.660a “as close to the curb or edge of road as practicable with exception(s) for hazards and / or when turning left.” I also wear proper safety equipment and use hand signals.

My concern is that, nearly every week, my life and/or the lives of other motorists are endangered by someone that does not know what to do when encountering a bicyclist.

Riding primarily in the Irish Hills, I am all too frequently passed by motorist nearing the crest (or top) of a hill by people who can clearly not see oncoming traffic. As a result, oncoming motorists and/or I am forced off the road, sometimes narrowly avoiding serious accidents, injuries, or worse.

I’ve been bumped off the road and/or crashed more than once. Last week a police cruiser passed me on a double yellow as ascended a hill near Sand Lake, long before the driver could have possibly seen over the crest of the hill.

People (motorists and cyclists alike) need to understand that per Section 257.657 of the Motor Vehicle Code, bicyclists are entitled to the same rights and are responsible for following the same rules as other vehicles. If you’re driving and encounter a bicyclist, treat that person as if they were in a car, truck or on a motorcycle. If you’re a cyclist, follow the rules of the road. Ride on the right side, with traffic (not against it!). Use common sense. Wear a helmet, and use hand signals to indicate where you intend to go (not where you’ve been).

No one has to be anywhere so urgently that they need to endanger someone else’s life to get there. Same Road. Same Rules. Same Rights.

John Kaverman
Onsted

Unfortunately, it appeared alongside a letter making an apologetic plea for the “correct” understanding of Christianity in response to the recent arrest of a local militia group that was gearing up to act in the name of the Lord, as any good militia group is obliged to do. Consequently, Mr. Kaverman’s letter didn’t receive the attention it should have.

Not surprisingly (this has, after all, become about as predictable as my invariable inclination to put the bottom bracket in backwards on my Fuji Special Tourer every single time I overhaul it), the letter prompted the usual sort of pissant reaction one anticipates from ignorant purveyors of undeserved and arbitrary privilege intent on schooling two-wheeled dunderpates.

The problem with bicyclists is that a larger than expected percentage of THEM do not know, or adhere to, the rules of the road. They feel that riding is purely their ‘right’, yet the basic common sense rules of safety don’t apply to them.

– Almost every morning I encounter a cyclist that dresses in black and/or olive drab green, black bike, black helmet and zero reflective gear. This ‘fool’ is riding on a 55mph, 2-lane country road, complete with Michigan potholes at sun up. He is asking to be killed. I even saw a different bicyclist very recently wearing a camouflage shirt. Duh!

– Last week, I encountered 2 bicyclists riding side-by-side on a hilly 45 mph road. I beeped my horn as I approached in an attempt to get them to get back into ‘legal’ single-file so I could pass. Instead, they BOTH took both of their hands off the handlebars to give me two double single-finger salutes each as if proving they were somehow more intelligent than I. Instead they were simply revealing their combined IQs. Needless to say they refused to stop riding two-abreast and less than kind words exchanged as I did get next to them. Hope they did write MY license number down and report me as I have proof of what they did … digital camera’s are a wonderful thing when kept handy.

– I cannot begin to count the number of bicycle riders I see who blow through stop signs without a hint of slowing down.

You want Same Road, Same Rules … then the police should write the SAME TICKETS.

I seems to me that the cute pointy helmets and tights eliminate ALL common sense any more. It infuriates me that, should an ‘accident’ occur due to THEIR own stupidity, I will be found at fault because I am the one in the car. Thank God motorcycle season is upon us as I can just blow by these imbeciles without a second thought.

Hmm, let’s see if we can unpack this response a bit and determine precisely what’s going on. I think it would probably be most helpful to decipher some of the language.

  1. THEM stands for “The Heroes of Environmental Magnanimity.” Although we go by other names, this is simply the most obvious nomenclature for those who regard sustainability, care for the planet, and personal health as fundamental aspects of so-called “common sense.”
  2. ALL is an acronym for “Average Lilliputian Licentiousness,” which is sort of like the lowest common denominator, and here refers to the point at which “common sense,” “traffic law,” and “cute pointy helmets and tights” (who knew drivers found our gear so titillating) intersect in such a way as to create both the sound and sensation of binding and snapping. It’s difficult to explain, but think along the lines of Kafka meets Chamois Butt’r.
  3. BOTH is a misspelling, based on Canadian pronunciation (a substantial Canadian influence can be heard in the dialect of certain pockets of Michigan) that should be read as “Booth.” Here, it is a veiled reference to John Wilkes Booth, by which the writer means to say that his experience ogling the “cute pointy helmets and tights” left him feeling as if he was being gunned down by a Midwestern variation of the Contadorian finger bang salute.
  4. MY refers to “Michigan Yodeler,” who, in our neck of the woods, make a sound very similar to that of a turkey call. Since this is frequently used illegally by militia groups to signal the start of a paintball training exercise or group wedding, a license is required.
  5. THEIR is shorthand for “The Heroes of Environmental Innovation and Ratiocination,” a smaller and lesser known (but still highly regarded) splinter group once associated with THEM.
  6. Finally, SAME TICKETS is a foreign phrase that should be pronounced sah’-mē ti-kets. The term functions here as a variation on the Australian idiom, “have tickets on oneself,” which means “to be conceited.” Hence, the author is saying that bicyclists should be just as arrogant and full of themselves as drivers if they want to use the road. Of course, the irony is that cyclists are already full of themselves, which is why we don special clothing to draw attention to ourselves, travel slowly so as to ensure a prolonged gaze in our general direction, and then assault the visual senses of innocent bystanders with our Lycra-clad bottom brackets.

The issue appears to be less the cyclists with their laissez-faire attitude toward stop signs than the lack of a sufficiently swift and just police action on the part of the five-o who are apparently too busy busting militia groups to allow time for the necessary crack-downs and sting operations on members of the pedaletariat. However, there seems to be some confusion over whether it is “common sense” or “the law” that is to be adhered to. (For the record, I will admit to frequently regarding stop signs as suggestions, but I consistently hint at slowing down.) I could be wrong, but I’m catching a whiff of jealously on the part of the writer. After all, cyclists are a free-spirited lot, and our sense of unadulterated joy can’t help but provoke frustration among those burdened by the trappings of the horseless carriage.

Regardless, typical of these rants, ironies abound. If spanky SAW (an acronym for “Shan’t Act a Wanker,” often used as a verb) all these cyclists, then what’s the problem? Why has he got his knickers in a twist over them not being visible? Moreover, it is mind-bogglingly ironic to me that this writer rides a motorcycle, as I would ordinarily attribute the greatest understanding and empathy to motorcyclists, who frequently face many of the same frustrations and dangers that cyclists face. Meh, the world is full of surprises.

On a more serious note, I do agree that cyclists need to make themselves as visible as possible and then ride as if they’re invisible (i.e., alertly and defensively). Absolutely.

The temperature has climbed to near-record highs here in southeastern Michigan, and suddenly I see bicycles everywhere. It’s wonderful. But please, for your own sake and for the sake of everyone else who rides a bike, be mindful. Ride in the street, not on sidewalks. Ride carefully and in a predictable way. Signal your intentions. And find ways to make your self seen.

By the by, the May 2010 issue of Bicycling arrived in my mailbox this afternoon. Wouldn’t you know, the “Road Rights” column by Bob Mionske, “Two by Two,” addresses the very question of whether and where it’s legal for cyclists to ride two abreast. Sure enough, in Michigan it is explicitly permitted. Unfortunately, the article isn’t yet available online, so I can’t provide you with a link at this time. The good news, however, is that the League of Michigan Bicyclists provides the proof I need. Here’s the full text:

Riding Two Abreast – When is it Appropriate?

According to Michigan law, bicyclists may ride two abreast.  Specifically, Michigan Compiled Laws (MCL) 257.660b states, “Two or more individuals operating bicycles upon a highway or street shall not ride more than 2 abreast except upon a path or portion of the highway or street set aside for the use of bicycles.” While it is allowable to ride two abreast, that right is limited by subsequent MCL 257.676b, which states that a person “shall not block, obstruct, impede, or otherwise interfere with the normal flow” of vehicular traffic upon a street or highway.  So, if a bicyclist is blocking or impeding traffic, he or she may be cited for a civil infraction.  If it is rush hour, it may be wise (and safer) to ride single file or choose a different, less-traveled, route.

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6 responses to “another letter to the editor (and more stupid reactions)

  1. Good article. Do not forget that the problem with common sense is that it’s not that common.

  2. I do agree that while it’s nice to see bikes coming out of the woodwork in the nice weather, too many of them don’t use common sense. Of all the others on bicycles I’ve encountered, seldom do I see the rider with a helmet on. Rather it’s just their head or a hat of some kind. Not to mention quite a few that I’ve seen ride in the wrong lane in opposing traffic. That’s just asking to become road kill. Also I’ve seen people zip through side streets without any lights, which is another good way to get hurt or killed since on some side street areas, drivers don’t pay much attention or don’t care and usually speed through.

  3. and as usual i forgot to clarify about the lights. it was about 11 at night when I saw one zip by while I was walking to the store. and I also didn’t see reflectors of any kind.

  4. Admittedly, I was playing a rather sardonic devil’s advocate, but you raise some important points. These are problems I consistently encounter also. Clearly, more education is required. So how do knowledgeable cyclists help make that happen?

    Organizations like the League of Michigan Bicyclists make education part of their core mission. Our local bike shop has “rules of the road” materials. The work that Jim Manley is doing with the group at Lenawee Christian Centre is oriented heavily toward education. And periodically this blog has something of educational value on it for the two or three people who happen to stop by on a given day.

    But with all this, there still seems to be a gap. There is a key demographic made up of persons who use bicycles for regular transportation and others who ride them on an occasional basis for recreation. They aren’t likely to read this blog, attend one of Jim’s events, or join the LMB. The latter group might wander into the bike shop.

    So, how do we (i.e., those of us on our bicycles sharing the road with them) reach them? There have got to be some good ways of doing this.

  5. in some ways it almost seems like having any/all bicycle riders have some sort of educational course like for automobiles, a cyclists ed if you will (like drivers ed) mandatory learning before taking a bike off the rack for the first time.. sadly this may scare off some, but the more dedicated types (like those in the LMB for example) may just go with/for that and it might shut the ignorant/arrogant vehicle driver up from their whining and complaining. on a side note I’ve been tempted to take one of those bike plates for a kids bike and get one that you ‘make yourself’ and use mailbox stickers to do the numbers and letters for a ‘plate’. might be an idea for such a program too.

  6. Last year I lost a friend on his bike. Had he simply had turn signals on his bicycle he would be with us today. I just brought mine at http://www.safetybikesignals.com.
    If you believe like I do and every bike safety expert that bicycle turn signals
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