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Monday, June 30, 2008

two wheel squabble in San Fran

Posted By on Mon, Jun 30, 2008 at 6:33 PM

Last summer, I found myself in the backseat of a Honda zipping around Chicago in the wee hours of the morning looking for a jazz club. We'd just wrapped up a two-day conference with our trade association and I hit the town with a couple of editors from other altweeklies, one of whom was the city editor at the San Francisco Bay Guardian. For part of the ride, our conversation touched on Idaho's bike laws--a topic that despite being a regular bike commute myself, I knew little about compared to the Californian.
Long story short: He says he wants to write about Idaho's bike laws in the SFBG and I dismiss the idea as the beer talking.
And then in May he called me. He asked if I'd write a piece on Idaho's bike laws, specifically the part of Idaho's code that makes it legal for a cyclist to treat a stop sign like a yield sign and a stop light like a stop sign. I do it, I send it off, it's published and I think nothing else of it.
Turns out, however, I landed myself right in the middle of an argument that's reached a rolling boil in the Golden Gate's city.
Since publishing the piece, I've been contact by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, a handful of detractors, as well as a handful of supporters. And at least one publication has suggested that my piece is completely irrelevant because I'm but a bumpkin on a bike in a potato field. Ouch.
Not to fear, I have thick skin and will happily take the flack. After all, at least someone is reading, right?
The point, however, is that I don't think most of us know how good we have it when it comes to bike laws. We can ride on the sidewalk legally. We can ride in the street legally. We only have to come to a complete stop at a traffic light and wait for traffic to clear before proceeding. We needn't stop at every single stop sign when not a car is in sight.
I was thinking about all this as I rode to work this morning and then I almost got myself killed while breaking the law at an intersection. I guess knowing the law doesn't protect me from my own stupidity.
And, San Francisco, I'd say that's the bulk of the battle right there. Giving bikers the leeway to proceed when it's safe to do so won't increase fatalities and bike-car collisions (at least that's what it sounds like these UCB researchers may have discovered in preliminary findings). It's the stupidity of the biker--and the driver--who should know better that you have to worry about. Boise is no San Francisco at rush hour, but find me a cyclist who actually wants to risk his or her life by playing frogger at a busy intersection and I'll eat crow. Until then, give the cyclist the benefit of knowing what's best on two wheels.

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