I feel like there's a lot of weird antagonism between cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians in this town, a feeling, I will admit, I got after reading numerous comments on bike related posts right here. We all want to get where we're going alive, so why can't we all just get along? Has it always been like this?
Dear Poppin' Wheelies,
When I was kid, back in the dark ages, biking was primarily a leisure or fitness activity, not an alternative means of transportation. I rode a banana seat bike around the neighborhood, handlebar streamers flying, or around Golden Gate Park, but didn't ride one to school or for anything other than fun.
Then I saw the movie Breaking Away, and thought cycling for sport looked pretty exciting, so when Matthew's (top of the hill Daly City!) was giving away 18-speed bikes, we got one with a new TV.
It was a men's touring bike, and it was way too big for me. The first time I rode it, I slipped off the seat and bruised my vagina on the crossbar. From that moment on, it sat in the garage until someone eventually broke in and stripped it. Still, even after Matthew's seemingly flooded the city with shitty bikes, I never saw a lot of people riding them around on the streets. Was this because there weren't any bike lanes to speak of, or were there no bike lanes because people had yet to catch on to practical cycling?
I'm thinking it may have been the former, because eventually, biking commuters did become more common, despite the lack of bike lanes, and by the end of the 90s, I joined in. I used to commute on bike to my tech job during the first dot-com boom, racing down California Street and along the waterfront over to South Park, with no helmet, wearing headphones the whole way.
I was the kind of cyclist who always stopped at stop signs and red lights, and would always have other cyclists pass me and then cruise through those same signs and lights. But I was also someone who would ride on the sidewalk if it felt safer than veering into traffic to pass double-parkers, or if I was someplace like the Embarcadero. I was both the best and the worst kind of cyclist.
After a couple of years, I must have lost my death wish, because the thought of riding my bike in traffic now scares the hell out of me. Which is ironic, because I think it's probably a lot safer now, at least on those streets that now have bike lanes.
So, in answer to the question: No. This animosity hasn't always been around, mainly because there weren't always so many bikes on the road. Personally, I feel like things have cooled off between cars and bikes in the last few years, but maybe that's just me?
But let's go ahead and look at how this animosity usually plays out. It seems to go like this:
Cars are bigger than bikes and can easily kill us! Stop being an asshole car driver, and look out for us!
Yeah, but cyclists don't obey traffic laws and are just asking to get killed by running red lights and stop signs!
Yeah, but cyclists are only doing that so we can keep away from cars, plus it takes a lot of energy to come to a full stop and then pedal up again! Make the Idaho Stop legal here!
Yeah, but why should bikes get special treatment? They're on the same roads and should obey the same laws! Plus, that won't stop asshole cyclists who just don't look around from ramming into pedestrians in crosswalks!
Yeah, but cars have to obey those laws because they're big and can kill people. Bikes aren't as dangerous!
And then someone gets called an asshole. Am I missing anything?
I think we just need to face it. Everyone is terrible.
Cars ARE scary, and unpredictable. Hell, you can get hit by a car while waiting at a bus stop (the same thing happened to me near SFSU in the 90s!), so even when actively avoiding any kind of danger, cars can kill you. If I had a dollar for every time I've had the right of way, but had to wait at a crosswalk because someone making a right turn was paying more attention to the cars on the left than the pedestrians on the right, well, I could probably BUY a car.
Which is why I don't understand why a cyclist would ever want to take a chance by cruising through a stop sign, no matter how safe the situation may look. Plus, as a pedestrian, I've narrowly avoided being mowed down by cyclists (and once, even a guy on a fucking unicycle) who were crossing against the light or not stopping.
And let's not leave pedestrians out of this, particularly those who are glued to their phones, not paying attention to cars or stoplights, or worst of all doing all this while also jaywalking.
Perhaps there's one group that can help all of us repair this bitter divide, by uniting us in universal hatred. I'm talking about assholes riding hoverboards, or whatever the fuck those single-wheeled things are, on busy sidewalks.
So, to the guy who was riding on one of the latter in front of the Metreon while looking at his phone AND vaping, congratulations. You win the award for Peak Douche! Now please take your trophy and get the fuck off the sidewalk.
Rain Jokinen was born and raised in San Francisco and, miraculously, still calls the city home. Her future plans include becoming a millionaire, buying a condo complex, and then tearing it down to replace it with a dive bar. You can ask this native San Franciscan your questions here.In these Troubled San Francisco Times, there is a lot of talk about who was here when, and what that does (or doesn't) mean. In an effort to both assist newcomers and take long-time residents down memory lane, we present to you Ask a San Francisco Native, a column penned by SF native and longtime SFist contributor Rain Jokinen, which is inspired by a similar one on our sister site Gothamist, and is intended to put to rest all those questions only a native of this city can answer. Send yours here!