Respect Between Cyclists, Drivers a 2-Way Street

Photo: Jill Schneider, The Chronicle

If the death of pedestrian in a Castro Street crosswalk taught us anything, it's that the beta-testing period of bikes on major Bay Area streets is over. Bikers are now a fully fledged commuter group. It's about time they act like one. Before the bike lobby breaks out the pitchforks and torches (if they can brake), let me be clear: I've never owned a car. I don't even drive. I bike, every day, everywhere.

And as a biker I say this: It is time we put childish ways behind us and act as we wish to be treated. Simple idea: If you want respect, you act respectfully. Bikers need to be subject to - and protected by - some ground rules. That means giving bikers a greater road presence and firmly punishing riders who don't act responsibly.

Let's clear the air of animosity around this subject. Folks need to understand that as a biker, you are totally exposed.

Many of us bike like we own the street because we have to in order to stay alive. Those clueless drivers who text and drift in their lanes? They can kill us. We sometimes take up a lane of traffic because otherwise we'll get clipped by some idiot in a BMW trying to squeeze past us.

Please understand that it's not entitlement; it's safety. Some riders abuse that.

We can fix this by actually enforcing the existing laws and nailing down the unwritten ones - the common-sense stuff. For instance: On the streets, if you don't wear a helmet, you get a ticket. If you run a red-light in traffic in broad daylight, you get a ticket. If you don't have a bright enough light so that cars can see you, or you cut across lanes of busy traffic without signaling, you get a ticket. If you kill a pedestrian in a crosswalk, you go to jail.

These tickets shouldn't be given out to punish bikers - they're to make the roads safer for everybody that's on them.

Common sense should go both ways, however. Stop signs should be treated as yields. Running red lights when no one is on the street should be given a pass. Bike lanes should be obvious and respected so bikes don't weave around cars. Drivers who get annoyed at having to drive more carefully should take a deep breath and relax.

Last but not least, tickets should be 50 bucks, not $200. Lowering the fine and upping the enforcement targets the problem bikers. That way everybody gets the message and no one gets outraged. A $200 ticket for a minor infraction undermines the law's validity, plus it makes bikers want to stay off the road.

Remember, we want bikers. Every bike means less traffic, a less-crowded bus. More bikes means a cleaner San Francisco Bay, more parking spots and lower gas prices. With the money Bay Area cities get from these traffic tickets, they should build more bike lanes and intersection green zones like Amsterdam and Portland have adopted.

The Bay Area traffic grows every year, and bikes are the perfect solution to stop our streets from becoming like Los Angeles at rush hour. No one can bring back the two lives lost in deadly bike accidents in recent months in San Francisco; and the lives of the two young bikers at fault will also be changed forever. We can make our streets safer by learning from them. That's a goal all of us can get behind.


Originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle