Yesterday evening, I confess, I rode my bike through a four-way redlight. And the grumbling driver who delayed traffic when the light turned green to roll down her window and issue a colorful reprimand was correct in at least one of her accusations: I was in the wrong.
But as with all stories, there’s more to this one than a flagrant violation of rules. I was riding on Onepu Road, toward Kilbirnie, when the light at Coutts Street turned red. I slowed to a stop as did a large diesel truck behind me. Pedestrians also waited, which told me that before our light would turn green, they would get the little green man to cross in all directions. Soon enough, they did. Unfortunately, the driver of the diesel truck beside me may not have been familiar with the intersection, and he started moving. I yelled at him to stop and he (thankfully) slowed to let pedestrians pass. He then proceeded through the intersection against the red light. When the pedestrians cleared and the little red man was blinking, I also started across the intersection, which is my daily practice– my daily road code vio, I suppose– as I like to get in front of the cars who inevitably race in front of me if I don’t and then make quick left turns across my path into the Woolworth’s parking lot.
Unlike every other day, however, yesterday, a woman in her car took particular offense at my headstart. Although cleared to pass the intersection, she took a moment to give a verbal (and loud) wag of the finger at me, to which I could only nod and say quietly, “I’m on a bike.” I know she didn’t hear me. She wasn’t supposed to.
I thought I’d share the story not because I think I was right and she was wrong. In fact, if we were all to climb on the scales of justice, she would perch prettily on the uplifted right and I would sit among the rubble of wrong, choking on the fumes of the big ol’ red-light running truck. I share it because I think all of us cyclists have a responsibility to acknowledge ourselves as occasional (or frequent) scofflaws and to consider and discuss the reasons we decide to flout the rules.
In a previous post, Lesley confessed to taking to the pavement and provided her justifications for doing so. Commenters have contributed their myriad anecdotes about navigating the CBD or riding around Evans Bay, many of which included quick trips onto the footpath and brief moments against traffic. These behaviors, none of which I would consider malum in se, are understandable reactions to the vulnerability we face on the road. Because as much as we want to ride the road, we are not blanketed in protective steel. And our safe passage is often tenuous. Therefore, we sometimes do things (or even make habits of it) that will give us a survivor’s step up.
All of which makes me realize that a touch of subversion is an inherent part of every ride because the bike remains a little countercultural. A bike ride is resistance. Maybe every trip biked is a small act of civil disobedience. And I got to be honest, I kind of like that. So long as it’s cautious, safe and polite. And includes a bit of bell-ringing.
And to drivers who would insist that I follow their laws with precision, I say, “Enjoy my backside, folks, because I’ll be in the middle of the lane, thank you.”
How about you? Are you raising your fist with me?