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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

S.F. Cyclists: If We Don't Communicate Well With Others, We Don't Deserve Respect

Posted By on Tue, May 1, 2012 at 8:30 AM

UPDATE: We now know this sign is in Toronto. We wonder whether things are any different there? - JAMES D. SCHWARTZ / FLICKR
  • James D. Schwartz / Flickr
  • UPDATE: We now know this sign is in Toronto. We wonder whether things are any different there?

Welcome to The Spokesman, our weekly bicycle column written by French Clements, a San Francisco resident and distance cyclist who considers it pretty routine to ride his bike to Marin County or San Jose and back. He belongs to a club, the SF Randonneurs, and is active in numerous aspects of the cycling community. For those of you wondering, the title of this column is a slightly tongue-in-cheek merging of bicycling and blogging terms, not a claim that Clements speaks for anyone but himself.

--Keith Bowers

The bike scene in San Francisco feels bipolar lately. There's nice stuff -- more bike shops, more bike lanes, more riders -- but there's some nasty stuff too.

Two-wheeled scofflaws compel police to go on a ticketing binge, a spree that's as sudden as it is misdirected. Deadly bike accidents on the Embarcadero and in the Castro gain a sensationalized aura that disguises their rarity. Victimization posts in comments-sections online ricochet across the web and spill into intersections and crosswalks.

And there's so much YELLING!

The Spokesman hereby offers a communitywide talk-down. I appeal to my fellow cyclists (and hope my distant motorist-cousins will take our efforts to heart). Dudes, dudettes, let's step up our game. The only figure that's rising faster than San Francisco's bike-ridership is its bike-accident rate, and studies show we cause more accidents than we might realize.

So how can we cyclists -- and I'm not going to lay blame on anyone else -- how can we make things less shouty, more safe, and in the process earn back the respect we deserve? A good place to start is intersections, specifically those with stop signs. (I'm saving stop lights for another week.) This is an issue especially on "The Wiggle" -- that zig-zaggy route from bay to ocean that contains no hills -- but it plays out even at those spacious and unregulated crossings in the Sunset and Richmond. Whenever a driver and a cyclist cross paths without a light, one of two things must happen. Either they communicate well (consciously or not), or they get pissed off (consciously or not).

You've seen It's a Wonderful Life? If you have, you remember the idea that "Every time you hear a bell, an angel gets his [or her] wings." Well, every time a driver needs to stop short, a cyclist gets shat on by a commenter at


Good communication, on the other hand, somehow just works. It's like a tiny U.N. peace agreement every quarter-mile or so. Same goes for pedestrians, whose presence sometimes gets squeezed out of today's driver-cyclist duality -- communicate with them.

Successfully riding a bike in the city -- like walking and driving -- doesn't require solving some eternal mystery, only embodying a set of good principles and practices. That, and making sure that those supporters of our safety, including the Wigg Party, the S.F. Bicycle Coalition, and the public servants they connect with, are hearing what they need to know.

That esteemed velocipedestrian George Bernard Shaw noted that the single biggest problem in communication "is the illusion that it has taken place."

So break the illusion. Buy and install your lights, use your hand signals -- and keep your ego in check. And I'll do my part by disproving another of Shaw's observations: that newspapers (the blogs of his day, you know!) are apparently unable to "discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization."

In part two of this introductory post, I'll detail four strategies cyclists can use to negotiate four-way stops with motorists. They form the acronym S.U.C.K.


The Spokesman is a weekly bicycle column by French Clements on bicycle culture and the ways it's reshaping the city's appearance, economy, and politics.

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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