Bikers, Boston and Who Needs Rules?

bicycle, road signI am going to say something that will earn me the anger and enmity of a whole category of people who appear to consider themselves a superior class, deserving of privileged treatment. They break the law with impunity, demand special access and availability, act like they are the only people around, and seem oblivious to the needs and safety of others.

I refer to people who ride bicycles on city streets.

I know, I know. You all have stories about how you were “just riding along,” or JRA, when something terrible happened because a driver didn’t see you or opened the car door just as you were passing by. Well, I have experiences where I’m JRA and see bikers doing illegal, unsafe, rude and inconsiderate things, oblivious to the consequences or the impact on others.

My Own Privileged Position

This perspective comes to me via my own privileged position, sitting high up on a tour bus, right behind the driver, with the whole big windshield in front of me. Some of the things I see would curl your hair. Boston pedestrians walk along with their eyes on their phones and their heads up . . . well, you know.

I have seen pedestrians walk right out in front of a very big bus oblivious to its existence, much less its proximity—more times than I can remember. Sometimes this happens at a corner and sometimes it’s a jaywalker casually crossing in the middle of a block. If the bus drivers weren’t so good at their job. Boston pedestrians would have a well-earned reputation to equal (or exceed) that of Boston drivers.

But it’s the bikers who take my breath away.

JRA with the Bikers

Bike Lanes, Beacon Street, Boston, bikersThink about it. They have special bike lanes that are sometimes physically separated from automobile lanes. Bike racks outside buildings give them a place to store their wheels safely. BlueBikes let them pick up a bike and drop it off elsewhere. Even so, they are supposed to obey the same traffic laws that apply to automobile drivers.

Those rules are clearly posted

“You are required to follow all traffic laws and regulations, including stopping at stop signs and following all traffic lights, unless signs are posted otherwise. You must bike in the same direction of traffic unless the street is signed otherwise. You are allowed to pass cars on the right.”

And that’s a joke. On a regular basis I watch as they:

  • Zip through intersections against the light while barely slowing down.
  • Weave in and out between the cars and trucks on a crowded street
  • Cross right in front of a moving bus
  • Ride the wrong way up a one-way street
  • Ride the wrong way on a two-way street
  • Weave among pedestrians on sidewalks
  • Riding side-by-side when there’s not enough room
  • Taking pedestrians by surprise by riding very fast and not alerting to their presence

Although I haven’t witnessed this with my own astonished eyes, back in 2019 kids were riding their bikes through O’Neill Tunnel. You can see the video on Boston25 News. That’s not only dangerous, it’s stupid. This June, Universal Hub showed a man riding his bicycle along the Mass Pike.

Who Needs a Hand Signal?

Bikers are also subject to this rule:

“When you turn, you must use hand signals. You may use either hand to signal which direction you’re going. If you need both of your hands to operate the bike safely, you are not required to signal with your hands.”

Want to guess how many times I have seen a biker use hand signals? To be fair, I guess, given that they aren’t operating the bike safely to begin with, they don’t have to signal.

Taking the Cake

But the one that takes the cake happened this week. The bus was on Washington Street near Spring Lane with a biker riding ahead of us on the right. So far, so good. Then I saw a flash of movement as the biker flung an empty water bottle onto the sidewalk. Having disposed of his trash, he rode on.

Spring Lane, Washington Street, bikersTo his minimal credit, the biker didn’t actually hit a pedestrian; he seemed to pick a space between people to dispose of his trash. But he certainly littered, leaving it to someone else to pick up his water bottle and throw it away.  He, special person that he was, treated the sidewalk like his trash bin and just rode on.

I was astonished, as were other people on the bus, who were visitors to the city.

Bikers and the Law

Sure, the onus is on vehicles in a bike-on-auto situation because they are bigger and can do more damage in a collision. I understand that. But what annoys me about the flouting of the law I see regularly is how frequent and casual it is. It almost seems as if bikers have simply decided that the laws don’t apply to them. Even the very simple “don’t litter” part.

I want to be on their side because bikers are doing the environmentally friendly thing. But, wow, it’s difficult when you have the same view I have of their behavior. As Big Papi said so eloquently, “This is our (bleeping) city.” Can’t we all be polite to one another whether you’re riding with two wheels or four?