While riding my bike through the heavy rains of early summer I was pulled over at the intersection of Elm and Church. I had run a red light. Both directions of traffic were stopped and the crosswalks held for pedestrians. The cop was gruff and intimidating, but informative. I never knew that bicyclists are considered automotive traffic, and that we cannot use the crosswalk in our favor, and that we might be fined $112 for circumspectly running a red light. I am thankful that he let me go with a warning.
He noted, in his chastening, that actions like mine are “the reason so many of you bikers get hit by cars.” This cast of blame is entirely unproductive. I have lived in New York; Portland, Ore.; Chicago; and now New Haven. Nowhere else have I seen automotive traffic so dangerous to the growing population of cyclists. And nowhere else have I seen a police force so hostile to bikers. If prevailing opinion runs that the recklessness of bikers accounts for the high rate of car-bike collisions, and if ticketing is how policy hopes to address the concern, then the problem will not diminish.
The problem is twofold:
1) Police enforce the law as if bikes are cars. Thus other cars must respect bikes as if they are cars.
2) It is incumbent upon the New Haven Police Department to monitor and uphold this parity.
Consistency would help lead to resolution.
Symptomatic of the problem is a host of issues that endanger cyclists: cars frequently run (stale) red lights; cars fail to signal; cars drive aggressively and recklessly on roads with no shoulders; road rage (unnecessary honking and yelling) is regularly exhibited toward cyclists. If bicyclists are punished for minor automotive traffic infractions, then cars must be held to equal standards. Similarly, and of greater importance, bicycles must be as welcome and respected on the road as any automobile. Effective accident prevention stems from the legal recognition and enforcement of these facts.
I admit freely that some in the bike community maintain a self-righteous dudgeon toward automobiles. For most of us, however, the impulse to bike grows out of the desire for improvement. We’re not all anarchists. Very few of us are, in fact, anarchists. We bike for cleaner and healthier air, for less congested streets, for the safety of New Haven residents (children especially), for our personal health and for aesthetic enjoyment. Biking is a positive and essential facet of progressive city development. It is a practice that should be encouraged and cultivated through more creative approaches than legal antagonism.
Eventually, I believe cars and bicycles should be classified separately. Cars move easily (hence auto-motive) and encourage complacency; bicycles do not. Cars command the road in a way bicycles do not. Cars are extremely dangerous in a way bicycles are not. Cars move at speeds bicycles cannot. The discrepancies are clear and manifold. Presently, however, both bicycles and cars stand on even footing. So let us be treated — persecuted and protected — equally.
Dylan Walsh is a first-year student in the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.