Sunday, May 25, 2008

"Idaho" stops

Riding in to the office today, I was approaching a stop sign in the new South Waterfront area. Now, this stop sign happens to be a reasonable one. Visibility is poor, and there is a fair amount of traffic even on a Sunday. As I slowed and noted a car approaching from each side of the cross street, a cyclist blew past me and the stop sign at full speed. Fortunately, both cars stopped, each of them arriving before I did, but neither continued on. Both of them looked at me with a "Well, aren't you going to blow the stop sign, too?" look. As we got our little right-of-way convention sorted out, I noticed my momentum-loving friend was busy blowing the next two stop signs despite car and pedestrian traffic at each.

I hear people talk about "all those cyclists blowing stop signs," but I actually don't see much of it at all. Most cyclists I see treat stop signs pretty much like I do. They slow down enough to see that no one is coming or else, if someone is coming, stop to yield right of way. Just for the record, blowing stop signs was the only thing my renegade friend had in common with the fixed-gear hipster crowd of stop-sign blowing stereotypes. He was middle aged, pedaling a nice suspended mountain bike and wearing full rain gear plus backpack.

I decided to catch up to him, tell him in a friendly-ish way that blowing stop signs like he had makes it worse for all of us cyclers. As I kicked it into 3rd (whoa, nellie) and eased up toward 20mph, I started anticipating possible responses. Among choicer expressions, I considered: "Yeah, I'm sure YOU stop at every stop sign, buddy." Hmmm, he'd have me there, I guess. And that's one of the real problems with current law as I see it. I caught him as a stop light turned red in front of us. He blew that, too, and the next one, and I decided chasing him off my own route was more than I was interested in this morning.

Besides a decent story to tell Rachel tonight, the encounter left me with a couple of thoughts. Current law makes peer pressure sort of impossible. It's kind of like exploding on someone for doing 75 in a 65, when everyone drives 72 anyway. Also, the current law tends to make me default to the cyclist's side when they get ticketed for stop violations. I've seen two cyclists caught in the act, and both had treated the stop signs in a respectable manner, in my opinion.

In other words, if the law called for "Idaho stops", I'd argue that both average cyclers and police would find it easier to enforce safe behavior. The cost of a full stop, braking distance, and visibility differences between bikes and cars are enough to warrant different treatment in this case. The "bikes are cars, same rights same privileges!" rant doesn't work for me. We already (correctly) differentiate based on performance differences. Bikes are allowed on multi-use paths; cars aren't. Cars are allowed on all freeways; bikes only where their performance differences won't create safety problems. Cars have to have brake lights, and so on. Stop as yield makes a lot of sense to me. It might even work for cars, too!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Perceptional drift

It's fun to have those moments when one realizes his perceptions of the world have been changing. Just slowly enough to not be noticed, but quickly enough to cause a mental "Whoa!" when it is noticed (like the already shoulder-high rosebushes in our backyard). I noticed this morning that my perception of speed has undergone some serious drift.

I walked my commute this morning (80 minutes on foot, 25 by bike, 15 in car). I noticed the bikes whizzing past and thought, "That's too fast to see anything!" I had been noticing the jagged edges of new leaves, whose gutters needed mending, reading the announcements on all the tiny Brooklyn shops' doors. The world was in slow motion. I smelled more, too. The little smells in between the big ones, if that makes any sense. It was a lot like when I first started non-sport cycling five years ago. And there were the cyclers with heads down, trying to stay ahead of buses and make those timed lights just like I do.

Twelve miles per hour has become 70 with the cruise on for me. My detail senses shut down and wait for a stop. Those leaves with jagged edges become green stuff off to one side. I can count on one hand the memorable "scent zones" along my commute route (the bottom, the woods, the river, Ross Island cement, downtown). Twelve miles per hour sounds slow, but 18 feet per second sounds fast. It depends on what one's looking (or sniffing or listening) for.

A little odd maybe, to walk to work during bike to work week, after biking to work during the 51 non-bike-to-work weeks. But, I think I'll hoof it more often, just to encourage a little more drift in the slow direction. Maybe it will remind me to sit up and slow down on that fire chariot that is my 40 pound commuting bike. Plus, those jagged leaf edges are pretty cool.