Big Metal Things

When I bike, I’m pretty by the book when it comes to the rules of the road. It used to be that I expected everyone else to do the same. But experience has made me more empathetic. So when I hear someone demand something like:

“We need all cyclists to follow the rules of the road. They’re giving us a bad name!”

I roll my eyes.

You won’t get everyone following the rules. Take a look at drivers. And the “bad name” is more complex than just stopping at a red light- it’s a generalization from a car-centric culture.

Once you’ve biked in a city you quickly realize one rule trumps all road rules: self preservation.

Big Metal Things

However, people who bike may have varying opinions on how to safely keep away from the big metal things. And it’s chaotic. Why? Because the infrastructure and rules are built around cars, not vulnerable road users.

If you really look at what people are doing (without judgement) you may catch a glimpse of where the real problem lies.

Big Metal Things

Yes, there will always be those to do what they can get away with. But perhaps some are just doing what they feel they need to get away with to get to work or school or back home safely.

Big Metal Things

I still take care to follow the road rules, but I’ll also take care of myself if needed.

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33 Responses to “Big Metal Things”

  • Tim

    This is a really valid point as I can attest, as frustrating as it is. The last three times I was hit by a motor vehicle, I was stopped at a traffic signal or stop sign, and hit from behind. In one of the three I was knocked off my bicycle, and injured. I use a mirror now and watch more carefully for the clueless, ignorant, and mean assholes in their metal cages.

    In retrospect, it was silly of me to not bother getting a mirror until after the third one.

    Still livin'; still learin’

    One a these days…

    • Tim,
      I’m glad to know that, after being hit three times by automobiles, you haven’t been seriously injured. You’re smart for getting a mirror.

      Stay safe, friend.

  • Great post. So true. So pity.

  • Affenschmidt

    Nothing to add beyond “Oh look, Watertown Square…”

  • CPTJohnC

    As usual, you nail it.

  • Bill Kennedy

    Ask and you shall receive! Boston was named as one of 6 US cities to receive a grant from People for Bikes to Develop Green Lanes (separate routes, cyclo-tracks) for bicycles.

    I also feel there’s room for plenty of education all around

  • Heather

    I find myself more and more becoming the girl who wants a clear bike route.

  • 3-Speed Indeed

    Very true and quite timely for this article that has been going around:
    Definitely worth reading no matter what mode of transportation you use.

  • Uncle Robot

    I spent several days in Washington DC last week. There were no cross-walk buttons anywhere because every stop light automatically goes to pedestrian first. And there are bike lanes everywhere including a cycle-tracks. Pedestrians and bicyclists largely follow the rules. It was dismaying coming back to Boston. As for mirrors – I am with Tim, I have been using a bike mirror on my helmet for 25 years and been hit only once since. We drive cars with mirrors, lights, and airbags for good safety reasons – the same reasons apply to biking.

    • Rog in Miami Gardens

      I’m a bit confused. What are bicycle mirrors supposed to do? In other words, how can it make bicyclists safer in relation to cars?

    • morlamweb

      I’ve been to Indianapolis, IN, many times, and I can attest that their pedestrian signals work much like you describe: they have the green when the through traffic has the green. It’s not universal in Indy, and they do road works and improvements the same as any other city, but I still was impressed. In my hometown in MA, we’re lucky to get a “beg” button (though I hate using that phrase). In fact, I use a crosswalk button nearly every day in order to effect a left turn on to a main road because the traffic light sensors do not recognize bikes. Without that crosswalk signal – which was installed in 2013 as a condition for a nearby development – I’d have a much harder time making a safe left turn.
      @Rog: Though I don’t bike with a mirror, I imagine that it functions much like the rearview & side view mirrors in a car: it lets you see traffic behind and to your left so that you can see it before taking the lane. Mirrors are probably very useful to have in an urban environment where ears alone aren’t enough to pick out cars coming behind you from the general environment noise.

    • morlamweb

      To reply to my own post re: bike lanes in Indianapolis: I just found StreetFilm’s great video on the trail. I’ve biked it end-to-end-to-end and can personally attest that it’s a wonderful bike trail.

  • kevin

    Rog, a bike mirror makes it easier to see what is behind you. If you are riding in traffic, you can see what’s coming up behind you without turning your head (and your bike). When I ride home, traffic is heavier. I can look behind me, see how long a line of traffic is coming off the last light, and react accordingly.

  • Paul R

    In reply to Rog’s comment, my helmet mirror enables me to react to vehicles behind, before they hit me!

  • Bikeyface – Very funny, and really captures well the different comfort levels bikey people have on the road. Self preservation is paramount, or to put it another way, always stay alert and don’t do something stupid when you are on the bike.

  • Rosa

    This spring, some of my wishes have been answered – big TURNING CARS YIELD TO CROSSWALK/YIELD TO PEDESTRIANS signs at some lights are the best one.

    The old argument was, they didn’t need signs because that’s the law everywhere. But clearly, given the number of “killed by turning car when had right of way” deaths we have in Minneapolis, we did need them.

  • This explains why we all need bicycle infrastructure in a single page.

    • Vaclav Jellecicz

      You’ve been ordained to speak for all of us? I missed that announcement.

      Those of us who have learned to ride competently do not need bike ghettos. They are of no benefit to us.

    • I suggest looking at the Dutch to see what “bicycle infrastructure” really is. Any of what is passed off as “bicycle infrastructure” in North America would land the designers and builders in jail in the Netherlands. And they are continuously improving what they already have to better serve the people on bikes.

  • The Tile Ninja

    I gotta say, your drawing is really showing a sophisticated grasp of the medium and perspective, it’s not easy drawing bikes, i must admit that drawing vehicles is much easier! Fine work, and representing a cause we all can identify with. Nice work.

  • dr2chase

    I think the bus drivers have been much, much nicer since their sensitivity training.

  • I agree with this for the most part, but there are always exceptions to otherwise good wisdom. Here in Melbourne, where trams are common, the law requires that if a tram is stopped and the doors are open (which have flip-out ‘stop’ signs on them), motorists and cyclists must stop to allow travellers to safely enter and exit the tram.

    The amount of cyclists I see casually riding past the stopped tram – with its flashing lights, open doors, displayed stop signs and travellers moving to and from – is frustrating to the point of being infuriating.

    I cycle every day, sometimes in a rush and sometimes for kicks, but I always stop for the tram. There’s no excuse for not stopping, and so I don’t feel bad when I shout a terse reminder that “there’s a bloody stop sign right there mate, follow the rules”.

    I’d like separated paths, too, but the conditions are what they are and you can’t make up your own rules while things are the way they are. And while your argument of looking out for your own safety is absolutely valid, there are just as many cyclists who merely can’t be bothered with considering the safety and needs of fellow road users.

    • dr2chase

      There’s rules, there’s laws, and there’s consideration for fellow road users. Not always the same thing. There seems to be a range of how much people respect authority (i.e., laws), and also a frequent diverge in how much people themselves respect authority (their actions), and how much they expect others to do the same (their words).

      I can’t make law, but I can make any silly-ass rule I want. “It’s okay to pass cars with prime-numbered license plates on the left” is a rule, and I just made it. A better rule, though not a law, is “when the sum of small children and loose dogs exceeds 3, proceed at walking speed”.

  • Empathy? That was a tough request in the pre-Internet era. But it’s needed now more than ever. Thanks for your posting. And the great, great illustrations.

  • tinyhonkshus

    Now draw Longwood x Brookline!

    Great comic, and if you ever feel inclined to make it into a series, I think it could be a really, really awesome communication device – “this bicyclist is going during the pedestrian signal because left-turning cars don’t yield to her on green”, “this bicyclist is in the ‘middle of the road’ because he wants to be out of reach of car doors”. I keep wanting to write a blog about “this is why bikers do this” but it always goes too ragey.


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