Friday, April 9, 2010

Critical Mess in Reston

The Reston Bike Club has been holding Tuesday evening rides in Reston for many years. They are very popular and often attract over 100 cyclists. To avoid having one very large group, cyclists are divided into 5 classes based on average speed, from 1 (22+ mph) to 5 (14-16 mph).

I often hear about the rides, mostly from motorists who complain about rider behavior. As you can imagine, the faster cyclists aren't inclined to obey most traffic control devices. There is a pretty firm rule against going straight through a red light, but stop signs are mostly ignored as are red lights when turning right.

I decided to join the "slower" 5s this Tuesday to see for myself. I never did see the 1s once they left the parking lot, but we did see the 4s about halfway through our ride as they turned right at speed through a stop sign. After our group blew through a four-way stop intersection I suggested perhaps we should stop at stop signs. This advice was ignored at first but when I persisted I was told that I must be new, as the group generally didn't stop at stop signs. They didn't run red lights (expect when turning right), but it was unreasonable to stop at every stop sign.

Most motorists do the same thing. The next time you're at an intersection with a stop sign, notice how many motorists come to a complete stop. A while back I recorded a video of motorists rolling through a four-way stop intersection at Church and Center Streets in Vienna (while eating lunch at a good sushi place on the corner). Some motorists do slow down or stop when they absolutely have to when a car is turning in front of them, but most roll through.

The problem is when this happens with pedestrians present. Almost no one stops for right on red or at a stop sign any more. Many crashes with pedestrians, and cyclists, those who are foolhardy enough to ride on the sidewalk against traffic, occur in these situations. The only time I heard a horn honk while filming in Vienna was when a motorist honked at another motorist who had stopped for a pedestrian.

I guess the club cyclists aren't really behaving much differently than motorists. Since most of them drove to the ride, I assume most of them are motorists and when they get in their cars, they act much the same. I just don't think it's right. Motorists and cyclists in places like Europe are much more law abiding, and I suspect have lower crash rates.

The club cyclists in Reston are giving cyclists a bad name, and most don't even think there is a problem. Just because it's inconvenient to slow down for a stop sign or when turning ride on red, and motorists do the same thing, doesn't make it right. We are supposed to have the same rights and responsibilities, and until we act like we deserve these rights, we'll make little progress.

As a side note, it's a bit ironic that last Saturday I had tried to get permission to use this same parking lot for parking lot drills in a Traffic Skills 101 class and was refused.

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Nothing will change unless there is significant peer pressure and/or someone gets seriously injured.... I do the 1's and 2's and we do the same.....Only reason I can come up with is that no one wants to slow down while training and/or get dropped
Nice post - blunt and necessary. On-road cyclists need to get it in their (our) heads that just because they want to train like they race doesn't mean they can do it on public roads. It's not safe and it's not smart.

People who dislike cycling are going to dislike it regardless, but we can stop giving them ammunition by following road rules.
I think it has a lot to do with the racing mentality that's developed in the club. The Tues/Thurs rides are very competitive with the lead riders trying to drop those in the back so there's lots of pressure not to obey traffic signals. This applies even to the slower groups.
There was a group (now defunct) called DC MOB (Ministry of Bicycles) that road through DC in a group of 20 or so. They obeyed all the laws and passed out flyers at Eastern market with suggestions for sharing the roads. The catch was that I witnessed more accidents with them than any-other group ride I've been with. Traffic laws are not built around cyclists and when you have 20+ independently coming to complete stops at signs it not only takes longer (angering drivers even more) but creates a greater hazard to cyclists b/c of their close proximity and slower less balanced speeds. None of them got into an accident with cars but they were falling over themselves quite a lot which can be dangerous as well. This is not an excuse for breaking the law I am simply pointing out the results of your suggestion of having everyone in a group ride stop at every stop sign.

I agree that it's unreasonable for a group of cyclists to each stop at a stop sign. The lead person could stop, the others gather and roll through as a group. No one in the group with which I rode stopped at a four-way stop intersection with other cars waiting. Is it right for them to ignore the other motorists and take their turn out of place? Even if a motorist signaled for them to go through, the other motorists at the other stop signs deserve consideration.

Even I don't come to a complete stop at a suburban intersection where there are no other vehicles. I do slow down. On the ride cyclists didn't hesitate at these locations. They really didn't hesitate at right on red, which in most cases they could get away with, but it could be dangerous. I agree that if the lead people came to a complete stop it might be dangerous, probably because other cyclists are so accustomed to ignoring stop signs and lights that they're surprised when someone actually stops. That doesn't make it right.

The Idaho Stop law is one solution; allow cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs only when it is clear. However, "The law does not grant a cyclist permission to take the right of way from another vehicle." It also doesn't apply to stop lights; they are treated as real stop signs (i.e. stop required but OK to go when clear).

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