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Friday, April 15, 2011

San Francycle: Why There Is No S.F. Bike Etiquette

Posted By on Fri, Apr 15, 2011 at 8:49 AM

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Bike etiquette: What do you do when what's polite isn't safe, what's safe isn't legal, and what's legal isn't polite?

This week a guy was seriously injured in the Financial District when he fell off of his bike ... while riding against one-way traffic. Okay, so that's neither legal, polite, nor safe.

But what about four-way stops when there are no cars coming? Turning left from the Wiggle onto Fell Street? What about those roadways with no bike lanes at all, like Duboce Avenue east of Market? Squeezing through the rush-hour cars stuck at intersection at Market and Fourth streets? 

And Sunday Streets -- oh, Sunday Streets. Anecdotally, we've heard that some of the cyclists have been getting aggressive with pedestrians. Have you found this to be the case?

We started following an excellent Reddit conversation a few days ago on this very topic.

"What's your standard for bike etiquette?" one user asked. "There appears to be no consensus for cyclist behavior."

That's the truth.

The problem is the conflict we mentioned earlier: laws, manners, safety. Not to mention, applying vehicular rules to bikes doesn't exactly make sense: If you're trundling up the McAllister hill, stopping at every intersection kills both momentum and your leg muscles. That doesn't hold true for motorists, whose sole physical exertion is applying a slight tilt to one ankle.

Commenters on the post offer some helpful recommendations: Even if you consider stop signs to be suggestions, always obey red lights. When you're passing other cyclists, give 'em some room. Signal, use lights, and never ride on sidewalks.

And those last few tips get to the core of smart cycling -- be visible.

But that's easier said than done. Sometimes, it means being in the way. For example, if you're on a street like Masonic Avenue with speeding drivers and no bike lane, cyclists generally feel safer if we take up an entire lane of traffic. If we're too far to the right, we might blend into the parked cars, and because seemingly every driver on Masonic exceeds the speed limit, they might not be able to stop in time.

Just this week, a jogger in a crosswalk on Masonic Avenue was hit by a driver who allegedly blew through a red light.

The problem with taking up a full lane is that it seems kind of, well, rude. Cyclists don't really use all that lane space, they simply need it as a buffer from careless drivers. We have been honked at many times for taking up a full lane on Masonic Avenue.

But it's okay to get in motorists' way and slow them down. Really. It's fine. They are in a comfortable chair in a climate-controlled space, listening to whatever they want, and carrying tons of cargo with no extra effort -- and all they have to do to move is wiggle their toes.

If it takes them an extra few seconds to get where they're going, BOO FUCKING HOO.

Sometimes, even when you get in drivers' view, they still don't see you. Or they see you, but they don't care. And even if you were legally in the right, you're still dead, so it's moot.

So what do you do to prevent that? Sadly, nothing. You can't anticipate and stop every psycho with a car.

For us, we have a checklist of three items that we continually scan in order to be conscientious:

- Stay out of pedestrians' way
- Stay out of other cyclists' way
- Make cars give me a wide berth

It seems like most (not all) cyclists follow the same general principles. And in practice, those principles take on different forms: Some cyclists need to come to a complete stop to avoid hitting peds, while others feel comfortable swooping around them. Some cyclists can pass other cyclists without making everyone nervous, others can't. Some cyclists want a car berth of a whole lane of traffic while some are okay with something smaller.

So to answer the Reddit question: No, there isn't a uniform S.F. bike etiquette -- yet.

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Matt Baume

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