Press-Republican

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September 27, 2012

Slate: Why you hate cyclists

PHILADELPHIA — I'm that jerk weaving his bike in and out of traffic, going the wrong way down a one-way street, and making a left on red. I'm truly a menace on the road.

But it's not because I'm on a bike — I'm a jerk on the road no matter what. I'm also a stereotypical Jersey driver, someone who treats speed limits as speed minimums and curses those who disagree. And I'm just as bad as a pedestrian, another jaywalking smartphone zombie oblivious to the world beyond my glowing screen. If I'm moving, I'm an accident waiting to happen.

Biking is my primary means of transportation, so when someone defames cyclists, I feel particularly bad. The fact is, unlike me, most bicyclists are courteous, safe, law-abiding citizens who are quite willing and able to share the road. The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia studied rider habits on some of Philly's busier streets, using some rough metrics to measure the obnoxiousness of bikers: counting the number of times they rode on sidewalks or went the wrong way on one-way streets. The citywide averages in 2010 were 13 percent for sidewalks and 1 percent for one-way streets at 12 locations where cyclists were observed, decreasing from 24 percent and 3 percent in 2006. There is no reason to believe that Philly has particularly respectful bicyclists — we're not a city known for respectfulness, and our disdain for traffic laws is nationally renowned. Perhaps the simplest answer is also the right one: Cyclists are getting less aggressive.

A recent study by researchers at Rutgers and Virginia Tech supports that hypothesis. Data from nine major North American cities showed that, despite the total number of bike trips tripling between 1977 and 2009, fatalities per 10 million bike trips fell by 65 percent. While a number of factors contribute to lower accident rates, including increased helmet usage and more bike lanes, less aggressive bicyclists probably helped, too.

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