Open thread: Should dangerous bike riders be treated like dangerous drivers?

Cyclist cited for riding the wrong way in DTLA

We’ve heard it all before.

Drivers complain about dangerous bike riders, as if they faced the same risk from bicyclists as cyclists face from motor vehicles. And pedestrians complain about riders needlessly risking their lives as they navigate the periphery of city streets.

Problem is, they may have a point.

It’s not uncommon for cars skid to a stop as a bike rider blows through a crowded intersection regardless of traffic signals or right-of-way. Or for pedestrians to jump out of the way of a speeding bike in a hellbent race through crosswalks and along sidewalks.

I’ve seen both far too many times to count.

And while motorists usually risk little more than some insurance-paid bodywork, pedestrians and cyclists can both face serious injury, or rarely, death, in a collision between the two, regardless of who is at fault.

That was driven home by the recent conviction of San Francisco cyclist Chris Bucchere, who took the life of a pedestrian in a crosswalk in an alleged high-speed, red-light running tear through the bayside city. Yet Bucchere got off with a sentence of community service, something that would have made many bike riders livid if it had been a similar scofflaw motorist who killed a bike rider.

Myself included.

I’ve written about Bucchere’s sentence here. And KPCC’s Larry Mantle recently devoted a segment to discussing the case on his AirTalk program.

So what do you think?

Are overly aggressive bike riders really a problem?

And should they — we — be held to the same legal standards as motorists, who have far more potential to do deadly damage?

  • brianmojo

    I’m no victim blamer, but I do think that everyone(!) should follow the law or be prepared to face the consequences. Blowing through that red light may seem harmless to you — but you may not see the driver coming the other direction who needs to swerve to avoid you, potentially hurting others. Laws allow us to have reasonable expectations of others’ behaviors on the road. If you don’t like the laws, then work to change them, but don’t be surprised when you’re ticketed for breaking them. I feel like this is pretty much common sense.

    That said, motorists should be held to the same standards — and unfortunately that is often not the case.

  • Anonymous

    Sure, bicyclists should be held to the same standards as motorists, with penalties proportional to the kinetic energy of the vehicle at the time of the moving violation.

  • grrlyrida

    Hmmm. I’m watching TV right now and I see a cane in the middle of the street with its owner under a white tarp. I don’t believe that people riding bikes are the problem. Drivers who run over people and leave the scene are. How many times does a person riding a bike kill someone in this country 3? Maybe 6 times? I think people’s outrage is misplaced. Besides, as long as drivers get as you said “a soft caress on the wrist” sentence, a person riding a bike should get a comparable sentence.

  • Anonymous

    Overly aggressive ANYONE on the streets should be treated as a problem if they’re a threat to themselves or someone else. Why is this even a topic for debate?

  • Anonymous

    People should be held accountable for recklessly injuring another person. If Bucchere had been driving a car and blown through a yellow/red light and killed Hui, we wouldn’t even be having a debate. Drivers should be held just as accountable.

    That said, I don’t think it’s fair for drivers or pedestrians to use Bucchere as an indictment of bicyclists in general. Getting rear ended by an Asian woman is not an indication that Asian woman can’t drive. People should receive fair treatment as individuals.

  • Joe B

    “It’s not uncommon for cars skid to a stop as a bike rider blows through a
    crowded intersection regardless of traffic signals or right-of-way.”
    Are you sure about that? Because I’ve seen cars skid to a stop due to a cyclist running a light exactly once in the past year. (It was a young teenager on Venice Blvd.)

    Sure, I’ve seen plenty of cyclists run red lights (and stop signs). But it’s almost always done in a way that, well, doesn’t really startle anybody.

    On the other hand, I get the crap scared out of me about once per day by an idiot driver making a dangerous and illegal maneuver.

    So, while the rare cyclist who endangers a driver and the more-common-but-still-relatively-rare cyclist who startles or endangers pedestrians are both problems, I don’t think it does anybody any good to pretend that they’re on the same scale as aggressive and dangerous drivers.

  • Guest
  • Zomg

    If Bucchere had been driving a car and blown through a yellow/red light and killed a bicyclist, we wouldn’t be having a debate either. Bucchere would walk. Because the authorities don’t care about people on bikes.

  • Ted Rogers (bikinginla)

    Yes, I’m quite sure about that, having seen it several times myself as a driver, passenger, cyclist and pedestrian.

  • Wanderer

    It’s clear enough that in the United States more people are hurt by cars than bikes. There’s more cars, they’re bigger, and they’re generally going faster.

    But the Bucchere case destroys a claim–that I’ve often seen on this and similar boards–that being hit by a bike won’t hurt you. I used to offer to ride a bike at downhill speed into people making those claims, but that isn’t funny any more.

    The fact that cars do it more is irrelevant to what the law should be, the law should seek to guard against less common as well as more common harms, especially when those harms can be deadly. The relative prevalence of injury/death caused by bikes and cars is relevant to spending on facilities and planning.

    The harm that speeding, reckless vehicle operators do–be those vehicles bikes or cars–goes beyond people actually injured. It also affects people who are too scared to use/cross a street because they fear vehicles. This is very common among older people, but it’s not just limited to them.

    There are also ongoing discussions about how to get more people who don’t cycle onto bikes. A subset of this discussion is about women, who only make up 1/4-1/3 of cyclists in most American cities. If you want to attract more people into cycling, a safe, law abiding, non-macho environment with predictable, non-reckless behavior by both cyclists and drivers can only help.


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