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Why Do Cyclists Break Traffic Laws?

Busted

Photo Credit: BR!AN QU!NN

I’m paying close attention to my behavior and the behavior of other cyclists on the road. I made a decision to ride my bike consistently with the rules of the road, but other cyclists may not share that sentiment. The problem lies not in the cyclists themselves, but in the way that cyclists are treated as road users.

There is one particular crosswalk on my commute that represents the issue. It is a pedestrian activated traffic light that allows people to cross Iliff Ave (a fairly busy road) and connects two sections of bike path with homes and a school. It’s a major crosswalk that is ignored by essentially every pedestrian that uses it. The problem is that it is a 3 minute wait for the signal to change (that doesn’t sound like much, but the average traffic light changes every 30-60 seconds). During that 3 minutes there are frequent breaks in traffic, and there is a large median in the center of the road, so most pedestrians just cross when they can rather than wait. The question I ask is, “is there a timing for this signal that people would be willing to wait for to cross safely?” I think the answer is yes.

Apart from being a long wait, this traffic signal sends a clear message: “Pedestrians are not important!” It effectively treats anyone who uses the crosswalk as a second-class citizen. As a result, people act like second-class citizens and ignore the laws that are meant to protect them. This is the same behavior I see from cyclists. When infrastructure is provided that creates a positive environment for cyclists, generally there are fewer infractions. When cyclists are marginalized, however, the reaction is to act outside the law.

Of course there will always be cyclists that ignore the law, just as there are motorists that do the same. But some cyclists’ perception that they can ignore stop signs and traffic signals is just as prevalent as motorists’ perception that bikes don’t belong on the road in the first place. If the infrastructure and attitude changes to give bicycles equal share of the road (and really we’re only asking for 3 feet), then I believe we will see more cyclists acting responsibly. The result will be safer roads for everyone.

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