Somerville cyclists can earn respect by obeying the law

Published in Somerville Journal and Cambridge Chronicle, 9/5/13

I write this letter as an enthusiastic bicyclist, to my fellow cyclists.

In July my wife, Jane, walked up to the intersection of Willow Avenue and Summer Street, at a place with a 7’ bamboo fence. As she stepped out, a cyclist going full speed flashed by six inches in front of her on the sidewalk, continuing down Willow Street against one-way traffic. If my wife had been half a step faster, she would have been hit, with broken bones and worse.

A few days ago, my wife and I were crossing Massachusetts Avenue toward the Porter Square Shopping Center. The walk light was on, three lights were red, and three lanes of car traffic were stopped. As we stepped out, a cyclist flashed by in front of us in the bike lane. Again, half a step faster and she would have been hit, with broken bones and worse. When she yelled “Watch it!” he yelled back “Yo!” (That’s an apology?)

These incidents illustrate an ongoing problem. In my experience, the majority of cyclists ignore the traffic laws. I have seen bicyclists riding full speed along busy commercial sidewalks, riding the wrong way on one-way streets, and, incredibly, riding the wrong way around rotaries. When I stop at a red light, cyclists routinely blow past me through the intersection without even slowing down. Such behavior is worse than illegal and dangerous, it is juvenile. It reminds me of a  teenager who once challenged me to a race down the Community Path through crowds of pedestrians. I said, “You can race with me, but I won’t race with you.” “Aw, come on!”

Fellow cyclists, please learn from these incidents. Please obey the traffic lights and lanes, and urge other cyclists to do so. Likewise, law enforcement officers, please ticket and fine cyclists who disobey the traffic laws.

Cyclists frequently complain, “We don’t get no respect.” Well, if you want respect, you start by deserving it.