ESSAY: Defensive tactics, not attitude, needed to make Sacramento a biketopia

By Jacob Waters

Fellow Sacramento cyclists, we need to have a talk.

We all want to live in a city where biking is a safe, viable form of transportation. Yet the possibility of a dangerous accident is undeniable. And when our 20 pounds of aluminum meet 1.5 tons of high-speed steel, there are no fender benders.

This is partially a matter of public policy. And Sacramento, with its ample well-marked bike lanes, does better than many cities in this area.

But, as a recent report on bicycle-automobile collisions shows, we’re not a bike utopia. And the city certainly can and should do more to protect cyclists. It’s a worthy endeavor: an increase in cycling has social, public health and environmental benefits.

But that’s not enough. For Sacramento to be a truly bike-friendly city, we cyclists have a responsibility to ride safely and follow the rules of the road. A bike can be a a legitimate form of transportation that is protected and subject to the law, or it can be two-wheeled toy—not both.

Yet cyclists routinely ride the wrong way on one-way streets, weave dangerously in traffic and blast ahead full-speed on sidewalks. (I was recently bowled over by a bike while walking downtown on K Street. For the record, yelling “Behind you!” while barreling toward a pedestrian isn’t a very effective way to avoid a collision.)

That may not seem like a big deal. But every time a cyclist flouts the law or is otherwise unsafe, it further builds an adversarial relationship between drivers and bicyclists. You might feel totally in control while playing your live-action game of Frogger, but drivers are (rightly) frustrated, anxious and angry. And since a bike will always lose a battle with a car, the last thing we need is more nastiness.

Now, I’m not implying that bikes are to blame for most, or even many, collisions. I also don’t think that bikes need to act exactly like cars all the time—logical adjustments, like having bikes treat red lights as stop signs and stop signs as yield signs—are in everyone’s interest.

But every time you bike in a needlessly risky or lawless way to save a couple minutes, know that somebody else may end up bearing the cost.

Jacob Waters is a political writer and Sacramento newbie. He tweets @jacobwaters.

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