A cyclist stands up to terrorists and drivers

Eben Weiss, who writes the Bike Snob NYC blog is like a lot of New Yorkers. He’s not afraid of terrorists. He’s going to keep riding New York’s bike trails despite this week’s terrorist attack that has left eight dead.

But his reason for not being even a little afraid of the possibility of a terrorist is going to get a lot of urban cyclists around the country cheering. He deals with everyday automobile drivers, he writes in his op-ed in the Washington Post today.

If there’s one group that is unlikely to be cowed by terrorists, it’s cyclists, he says.

We’re reminded every day via social media and though rolled-down car windows that we “share” the roads with people who actively hate us and that our interests (including safety) come behind theirs. Every one of us knows what it’s like to stare death by auto square in the grille. We’ve all had drivers set their cars upon us at one time or another, whether due to run-of-the-mill inattention or out-and-out road rage. This reality is already priced into our decision to ride.

More than 700 cyclists were killed in the United States last year, he says. So terrorism hardly factors into cyclists’ decision about whether to ride.

Carnage like this is far more frightening to cyclists than terrorism, because these sorts of conflicts happen literally every day. From behind the handlebars, the meaningful difference between a misdemeanor right of way violation and an act of terrorism is whether the driver tooted the horn or shouted “Allahu akbar” during the act. Yet still we ride.

Another reason New Yorkers will never be frightened out of their bike lanes or off their bicycles is that you won’t find anyone more appreciative of our little slice of the cityscape than cyclists. Sidewalks? On a day-to-day basis, too many people just take them for granted. Highways? We only think about them when we’re stuck in traffic; then we hate them. But cyclists are all too aware of what it took to get those hard-won and too-few bike lanes, and we’re reminded of what’s at stake every time some crackpot candidate promises to rip them out again because it plays well in the tabloids. Sure, half the time the bike lanes are full of parked cars, but they’re our lanes, dammit! So if you think some nut case in a rented Home Depot truck is gonna scare us out of them, then guess again.

Weiss says he hopes people begin to see “all acts of traffic violence” as abhorrent.

  • MrE85

    There is nothing on the world quite so annoyingly self-righteous as a cyclist, except perhaps an anti-tobacco activist or a biofuel advocate. That said, I’m glad Eben Weiss is on our side. Ride safe and unafraid, pal. #NYCStrong.

  • Noelle

    Eben is correct. I tried bike commuting last year for awhile, a measly mile or so to my local park and ride in a relatively bike-friendly part of town. I eventually got tired of being super anxious trying not to get hit in almost every situation involving an intersection, and have resumed driving there.

    I honestly thought, when the story first broke, that the motorist was some pickup truck nut job hell-bent on finally showing cyclists who’s boss of the road.

  • jon

    Agreed far more afraid of the average motorist (a certain percentage of whom are drunk…) than I am of “Radical Islamic Terror!”

    perhaps because those things pose a significantly higher risk to me, and I’m not terrible at judging risks…. though the average person is pretty terrible at it (a certain percentage of which get a pass, because they are drunk.)

    If terrorists want to terrorize me, they are going to need to start killing millions a year… and even that isn’t a given… heart disease is the biggest killer in america, and I have a family history, and even that doesn’t get me to exercise as often as I probably should.

  • Rob

    Forget terrorists with trucks – it’s the texters, tweeters and cell talkers with trucks that bike riders have to be leery of.

    • L. Foonimin

      agreed except for the truck reference, in my experience the most aggressive, arrogant and self-righteous drivers are in Volkswagen Passats

      • Jerry

        They’re just angry because they got a look at their most recent repair bill.

      • Vince Tuss

        They’re Passat-Aggressive.

        • L. Foonimin

          excellent!

      • Barton

        No. It’s the extended cab pick up truck drivers who are overly aggressive on my cycling commute. I assume they are late and therefore don’t think the rules of the road apply to them? I see the same 5 or 6 of them every morning on 3rd Ave in Mpls, They run red lights, they make illegal u-turns, and they are using going 50 down a 30 mph street.

        • Jerry

          The type of people who drive pickups now are the same type of people who used to drive sports cars. They tend to be over aggressive and over testosteroned.

        • Don’t forget passing other vehicles on the right…in a bike lane…

    • I absolutely REFUSE to ride WITH the traffic anymore. I want to see the driver that’s coming and, most important, I want to see where his eyes are. I can’t do that when I’m riding the way I’m supposed to, but I don’t care anymore. Blame the texters.

      • rosswilliams

        You aren’t making yourself safer, you are just making the rest of us who ride normally less safe. You think the motorist is more likely to avoid hitting you approaching at 45 mph instead of 15? And you seriously believe you are more likely to survive the collision? If you don”t want to follow the rules of the road like an adult, stay off the street and ride on the sidewalk at pedestrian speeds. You are selfishly making the streets unsafe for everyone else.

        • I don’t live nor ride in the city so where I ride, I’m not around any other cyclists. And there aren’t any sidewalks.

          and yes, I believe that if I see a guy texting coming for me, I have a better chance of getting off the road and out of the way than if he’s coming up behind me and I don’t see what he’s doing and we all get to be surprised together.

          Is it selfish? Yes. My goal is for me to stay alive. If I see another cyclist, I’ll be sure to pull off the road and let him by unimpeded. Everybody wins.

          • rosswilliams

            No, everyone doesn’t “win”. Riding the wrong way on the road is the same as driving the wrong way on the road. if you want to stay alive, the best way to do that is by riding properly. But your goal is not to “stay alive”, you are simply doing what makes you comfortable. You want to see what’s coming even if it makes you more likely to get hit. And in the process you are helping create an environment that makes it more dangerous for all bicyclists by assuming you have the right to ignore traffic laws.

          • Nope. Obviously I disagree. But if riding blind works for you and you feel safer not knowing if the person coming up on you is knee deep in Facebook, by all means go for it. It doesn’t work for me anymore.

          • Erick

            My mantra to myself and my kids is to always be predictable when you ride or drive. If I am behind the wheel and a biker comes at me from the wrong way I don’t know what they are doing and it feels like an unsafe situation. As a biker I hate it when a driver doesn’t allow me my 3 feet of space, but it is safer to follow the rules.

          • It wasn’t for Penny Verdeck . It wasn’t for Andrea Boeve. It wasn’t for Grace Harken.

          • rosswilliams

            Are those all people who avoided getting hit because they were riding against traffic? Nope.
            You are just like the folks who think they can text and drive. If not texting and talking on the phone while you driving works for you, go for it. You make up your own rules and make everyone, including yourself, less safe. Its irresponsible.

          • They were people who followed the rules and ended up dead.

            // You make up your own rules and make everyone, including yourself, less safe.

            And yet: they’re dead.

          • rosswilliams

            And they would still be dead if they had been riding against traffic. You can make a long list of pedestrians hit by cars while walking against traffic. They all saw it coming.

            The reality is that riding against traffic makes it more likely you will be killed, not less likely. You are far more likely to be killed at 45 mph than 15. I suspect you can make a long list of cyclists who survived being hit by cars from behind that wouldn’t have if they had been riding against traffic.

            Its also more likely because the driver has less time to react, you have less time to react and your example makes cyclists unpredictable scofflaws. If you want to see traffic behind you, get a mirror.

          • // And they would still be dead if they had been riding against traffic.

            an opinion disguised as fact.

          • rosswilliams

            “an opinion disguised as fact.”

            No Bob. You are the one that is claiming if they had been riding against traffic they wouldn’t be dead. There is no evidence to support that. You are claiming it is safer to ride against traffic. And, again, there is no evidence for that and a lot of evidence to the contrary. Which is why we have a law that requires you to ride with traffic. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, the responsible thing to do is not to ride on the street at all.

            And, frankly, the biggest problem isn’t texting. Its people talking on the phone. There are fewer texters and they at least know they are distracted.

          • // if they had been riding against traffic they wouldn’t be dead.

            Nope, I’m saying they followed the law and they’re dead. The law isn’t going to keep a distracted driver from killing you.

            Like I said, if you want to ride a bike with your eyes closed to what’s happening behind you, be my guest.

            // a lot of evidence to the contrary.

            And I’m prepared to review your evidence that a bicycle rider on a road, no other bicyclists around, is safer not seeing a distracted driver coming at him/her than someone who does. But you haven’t provided it yet , so, yeah, I’m just gonna be keeping my eyes open out there.

            Same as I do when I drive or fly the plane. I’m on the side of seeing the threats and taking action and not on the “I’ll just hope for the best” squad.

          • Junebug

            I know you’re not advocating that everyone ride the way you choose to but here are some things for all of us cyclists to remember.

            Vehicles entering traffic from intersections and driveways are not expecting traffic coming from the wrong direction which makes it more likely that they will pull out in front of a cyclist.

            If there is an accident and the cyclist is riding against traffic, the cyclist would likely be at fault legally.

            In the event of a bike/car collision, the impact is higher if the cyclist and the vehicle driver are hitting each other head on.

            That said, the roads are dangerous places, and I hope we all do what we can to make sure everyone gets home safe and sound.

            As a side note, today’s the day I’m ending my Disqus registration just to simplify my life in a very small way.

            Thanks to all you Newscutters for the years of conversation and interesting topics.

          • (Above comment is from Junebug, who has decided to leave Disqus. When you do that, all your comments become “guest” comments and are hidden from view because we don’t allow guest comments anymore, unless I manually go through and approve them again, which I don’t have time to do)

            // In the event of a bike/car collision, the impact is higher if the cyclist and the vehicle driver are hitting each other head on.

            Let’s consider this on the open road, which is where I ride (as opposed to in the city, where I don’t).

            A car is coming at 60, I’m riding away from the traffic at 10 (I’m old). The collision impact is 50 mph. If I’m riding against the traffic, it is at 70 mph. Is there a big difference in the impact effect of an unprotected person from 50 to 70? What is it? (I realize that you’re not going to be able to answer the question now that you’re gone).

            I would suggest that just as roundabouts reduce the severity of collisions because of the angle at which they occur, KNOWING a car is about to blow into you increases the chance that the resulting collision would occur at a less severe angle than if you don’t know it’s coming. And that’s if you were unable to get out of the way, and I posit that knowing a car is head for you creates a greater chance that you will get out of the way that not knowing. I’ve seen ZERO evidence presented to the contrary, despite the assertion that such evidence exists.

          • rosswilliams

            “A car is coming at 60, I’m riding away from the traffic at 10 (I’m old). The collision impact is 50 mph. If I’m riding against the traffic, it is at 70 mph. Is there a big difference in the impact effect of an unprotected person from 50 to 70?”

            No, nor is there any difference whether you see it coming. You will be just as dead. Your ability to dodge a car coming at you at 50 or 70 is minimal. The chances for the driver to avoid hitting you are considerably worse.

            There are a lot of ignorant scofflaws out there. Some of them text and drive, some of them ride against traffic. They both endanger others in selfish pursuit of their own comfort.

          • // You will be just as dead. Your ability to dodge a car coming at you at 50 or 70 is minimal. The chances for the driver to avoid hitting you are considerably worse.

            That mere guesswork gussied up to appear as expertise as you’ve reached your conclusion not only without evidence, but also without consideration of two additional factors that are well known by anyone who has considered collision avoidance: Distance and time.

            Adjectives are poor substitutes for facts.

          • rosswilliams

            “without consideration of two additional factors that are well known by anyone who has considered collision avoidance: Distance and time.”

            uh – no. In fact I have fairly consistently referred to relative speed – which by definition is distance/time.

            You are guessing that you will be able to react and get out of the way between the point where you can see the driver texting and the time their car hits you. But mostly you are simply ignoring the safety advice of people who actually study this stuff because it makes you “feel” safer. You are also ignoring the law and making anyone riding a bike less safe.

            I suspect you would be outraged if a motorcyclist suggested they would be safer riding on the wrong side of the road.

          • // relative speed – which by definition is distance/time

            Umm… no, it’s not. At least if you’re citing the physics of relative speed or relative velocity.

            A truck heading for you at 70 mph — relative to the earth, of course — has the same relative speed whether it’s a mile away from you or two miles from you or two feet away from you.

            But they present different threats to you.

            Take flying for instance. When I fly east, I’m to be at an odd number of feet plus 500 feet. A plane flying opposite me is to be flying at an even number of feet plus 500 feet. But sometimes it doesn’t work and usually it’s not a problem . This is why when I fly to the East Coast, for example, I don’t spend time looking in a direction of travel that isn’t a threat.

            A plane traveling toward me at 120, if I’m doing 120, is going to close at 240 mph or 4 miles a minute. A plane four miles a away that i can see (disclaimer: I likely wouldn’t see a plane 4 miles away approaching on same heading/opposite direction), gives me one minute to take evasive action. A plane a mile away, gives me mere seconds.

            At five, four, three, two, and one mile away, the speed is still 240 mph.

            Under your scenario, there is no advantage to seeing a plane four miles away (or being alerted to its presence) and one that’s a mile away.

            And yet, our entire air traffic control structure is built on the premise that there most certainly is.

            If you’re suggesting that there’s not an advantage to recognizing a threat, then no one has ever gotten out of the way of an oncoming car. Ever. That, of course, is absurd.

            Your motorcycle comment assumes that I’m riding in the oncoming car’s travel lane. That’s not the scenario that’s been presented. Irrelevant.

          • rosswilliams

            Miles(distance) per hour (time) – speed of vehicle relative to you. And it is traveling 20 mph faster if you are riding your bike 10 mph in the opposite direction rather than the same direction. It is a the same threat at that much longer distance. And the reaction time of the driver has to be that much faster to avoid hitting you..

            “Your motorcycle comment assumes that I’m riding in the oncoming car’s travel lane”

            Not really. You have no problem with motorcycles and automobiles driving on the opposite shoulder so they can see the traffic headed at them? How about OHV’s and farm vehicles? What about horse and buggies? That would be safer according to you since they could see the texters coming.

          • //And it is traveling 20 mph faster if you are riding your bike 10 mph in the opposite direction rather than the same direction.

            Nobody has asserted to the contrary. In fact, my example of two planes mentioned exactly that. Again, however, the variable of time and distance isn’t changing w.r.t your definition of relative speed . But the variable of time and distance IS changing for the purpose of collision avoidance. There are actually TWO calculations involving time and distance, not one, in a scenario like this.

            So a blanket statement and position that you can’t get out of the way in time even if you choose to see the threat rather than be blind to it, is simply incorrect unless you’re factoring in the variable that’s changing because the probability changes along with them.

            Because that probability is changing even as your definition of relative speed is not, the conclusion can’t be an absolute. That’s all.

            Look, rules are rules. And rules are blanket to cover all situations because it’s not effective to have a rule for each scenario. But sometimes the rule is counterproductive. Ever speed more than 10 mph ove the speed limit to pass a car before slowing back down once you pass it? Why? It’s against the rules.

            A rule doesn’t — or at least shouldn’t — preclude a smart person analyzing a scenario and concluding on the basis of all available evidence, that the rule — while it’s nice to follow rules — creates a danger when followed on mere faith in a given scenario. It’s OK to question rules, which is one reason why i’ve asked for your data that shows that the scenario in which I ride is safer by following a rule.

            Overall, your motorycle analogy is pitted. The motorcycle on a two-lane highway IS traveling opposite traffic. So to apply it in a logical manner, is the motorcyclist in a better position because of that to see and react to the person in an oncoming vehicle who has crossed into his lane (say, to pass another vehicle?).

            I say he is. Earlier you suggested there’s evidence that he (or at least the bicyclist traveling opposite direction on the side of the road with no oncoming cycling traffic) is not as safe or safer than being oblivious to what’s about to kill you.

            If that were true, the “rules” wouldn’t say that people walking on the side of a road should walk against the traffic.

            You haven’t presented that data, however. If you’ve got it, I’d love to see it. If you don’t, then just acknowledge that fact and we can move on to the weekend chores like getting the snow shovels out.

          • Erick

            Granted, a quick search of the web did not come up with much data. However, there is a consensus among safety experts including from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that riding against the traffic puts you at greater risk. That said, I think the onus is on you to provide real evidence to the contrary.

          • I’ve already noted that in CERTAIN situations, of course, riding against the flow of traffic would be risky. I doubt the NHTS has broken down its advice and analysis by, say, country road and city road.

            My evidence to the contrary is pedestrians are told to walk against traffic for the very same reasons I cite as to why in my environment, it’s also the safest way to keep from being killed in the era of texting drivers. There is no data as far as I know to suggest that knowing an oncoming threat is more dangerous to not knowing it.

            I’m not waging a campaign for everyone to ride against traffic; you do what you need to do.

            However, I do suggest people look for a turning vehicle when they’ve got the “walk” light even though the “rules” say it’s OK to walk.

            Same deal when employing a strategy in an enviroment where you’re not endangering other cyclists. Look for the threat. Adjust accordingly.

          • rosswilliams

            The emphasis there is on “feel”. I prefer to actually make myself safer. And riding against traffic is inherently making everyone unsafe.

            You may think you are more likely to get out of the way of a vehicle approaching you at 60 mph than that they will avoid hitting you at 30. But that isn’t real.

          • // you are more likely to get out of the way of a vehicle approaching you at 60 mph than that they will avoid hitting you at 30. But that isn’t real.

            This isn’t real.

            https://youtu.be/3HvTmK1RTok

            Also not real:

            https://youtu.be/1pGLwnPglLs

            Not real:

            http://m.austindailyherald.com/2017/07/deputy-jumps-in-ditch-to-avoid-being-hit-by-car/

        • Rob

          Deep breaths. If you’d rather get taken out by a “fender surprise” as someone approaches you from behind, that’s your call. I’m with Bob C. I’d rather have the chance to avoid the putz looking down at their phone because I see the putz looking down. Self-preservation ain’t selfish.

  • rosswilliams

    We will only be safe when human beings no longer drive multi-ton motor vehicles. Its not just cyclists, pedestrians are targets as well. Essentially people get in their car and expect everyone else to stay out of the way while they talk on the phone at 30 mph. I am far less frightened of hostile drivers when I am riding a bike or walking than I am the typical inattentive ones.

    • Rob

      It would make a nice change if people actually adhered to the speed limit. It’s just so old school to do so.

  • kennedy

    At the school near where I live there is a bike lane on the right side of a 2-lane city street. During morning rush hour, when kids are making their way to school, cars regularly use that lane to make right turns. I’d say 9 out of 10 vehicles encroach on the bike lane. And when I stay in the vehicle lane, I get cars behind me honking if it delays the right turn traffic.

    Lower in the thread there is a debate about safety and following the rules. There are so many drivers out there not following the rules. And in any collision, a cyclist is far more likely to suffer physical injury than a driver. It is not unreasonable for a cyclist to choose safety over following the rules.