Thursday, June 12, 2008

Response to the editor - Tulsa World

(Howler monkey image from Wilderness Classroom)

An anti-cycling letter showed up in the Tulsa World this week. Here's a link to the original, and if you have the stomach for it, there's the usual assortment of howler monkeys in the comments section. But I've included this highlight since it's the heart of the letter. Mr. Vollertsen's recommendations for suitable things to yell at cyclists:

Hey! Get a headlight!

Get a tail light!

Get brake lights!

Get signal lights!

Get mirrors!

Get seat belts!
Get a license tag!

Get liability insurance!

Get street legal!

Get over!

In the real world, what a cyclist most often hears as a motorist shouts through a window is something like “Baggawoggahakkaboff!” The best response is to wave and hope that they're not late for their remedial English lessons.

But I wrote a straight-forward response and sent it to the World, after carefully removing all my snarky comments. Here it is:

Conrad Vollertsen's letter illustrated an appalling level of ignorance about safe, practical bicycle operation.

First, the public roads belong to all of us regardless of our transportation mode, provided we operate our vehicles legally. So let's cover some basics of bicycle law.

Bicyclists are required to have a headlight, tail light, and rear reflector if the bicycle is ridden at night. There are no requirements for brake lights or turn signals. Simple hand signals are legal and effective, just as they are for motorists. Some cyclists equip their machines with mirrors, though there's no legal requirement to do so. For many, it's easier to just turn their heads and look for overtaking traffic.

Tags and insurance are more important for motorists than cyclists. Motorists kill more than 40,000 people every year, so tags and insurance are a way to provide some accountability. Cyclists, on the other hand, seldom kill another road user. A bicycle doesn't menace people and property as does a motor vehicle. If it did, similar licensing and insurance would be required.

Finally, I'll address his last complaint, that bicyclists should presumably get over on the right and out of his way. Most lanes in Oklahoma are no more than 12 feet wide. If a cyclist rides in the right hand tire track, he'll have roughly a third of the lane to his right and two thirds to the left. If Mr. Vollertsen wishes to pass, he must leave a minimum of 3 feet clearance between his car and the bicyclist. He'll have to wait until there is no opposing traffic, cross the centerline, and pass the cyclist. I'm sure Mr. Vollertsen remembers that it's always the responsibility of the overtaking motorist do so safely. Cyclists have no obligation to get out of the way, and in a typical lane, they're safer when overtaking traffic must slow down and wait to pass. Safety always trumps convenience regardless of how many wheels you have.

A local advocacy group teaches safe, effective cycling. I'd like to invite Mr. Vollertsen to attend a class and discover fun, practical two-wheeled transportation.

See? I'm not always sarcastic.

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Blogger Ron said...

Well put. Wow, what an ignorant chap. Where's his head, I want to give it a little knock.

8:31 PM  
Blogger Ed W said...

There's something about the anonymity of the 'net that brings out the worst in people. Witness the comments under his letter, for instance, or look at any thread on an open public forum. The sheer venom directed at cyclists is amazing.

People wouldn't say these things to your face. They never advocate violence against other road users, presumably because a back hoe may slow them down, but it can squash their car flat too. Likewise, they never honk and shout at motorcyclists because it's a quick way to get a boot print in the door. And even with cyclists, they get a lot more civil when the light just ahead is red.

8:37 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Seat belts?

1:24 AM  

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