Bicyclists must follow road rules too

Bicyclists think they own the road, but it’s that type of thinking that gets them in trouble. “How dare you!” screamed a middle-aged woman on a bicycle at me from the curbside. “You almost hit me!”

Breathing a sigh of relief that I did not just kill a person, and praising my anti-lock brakes for working, I rolled up my window and glared at the woman in disbelief. The fact that she was the one to blow through the stop sign appeared to make no difference to her.

Bicyclists in Santa Monica seem to live by their own set of rules. Stop signs? Just mere suggestions. Those three-ton vehicles whizzing by? Such a nuisance to their commute.

Cars and bikes in Santa Monica are being forced to coexist, but according to the website for the city’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment, in 2007, less than 3 percent of Santa Monica’s arterial streets have bike lanes. This means that bicyclists are forced to integrate themselves among the throngs of automobiles.

The city may have added more bike lanes since this report, but the challenge of uniting cars and bikes in one highly-commuted city still stands, and no one is listening to each other.

However, Sgt. Richard Lewis, Santa Monica Police Department public information officer, disagrees.

“Santa Monica is a bike-friendly community,” he said. “Both cars and bikes share the road.”

That may be true, but it’s easier said than done. According to a Nov. 30 press release from the SMPD, there were 129 collisions in Santa Monica between bicyclists and cars from Jan. 1 to Nov. 22.

The OSE website also offers statistics that are not very promising. Between 2002 and 2009, the number of vehicle/bike accidents rose 51 percent, from 85 accidents in 2002 to 128 in 2009. The pedestrian/bike safety is “poor” and the trend is “worsening,” states the OSE report.

These statistics show the need for stronger enforcement, whether it be ticketing the cars or the bikes when rules are broken. But it is extremely important to enforce whatever means necessary for the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists in Santa Monica.

According to the SMPD press release, in the majority of incidents between bicyclists and cars, bicyclists are not at fault. However, when bicyclist have been found to be at fault, the common causes have ranged from failure to stop at traffic signals and stop signs, failure to ride upon the right side of the road, unsafe turning movements, riding under the influence, and unsafe speed.

If bicyclists don’t follow the same rules of the road that a car does—as they are supposed to, according to Lewis—how can we ever get along?

Many drivers, including myself, tend to view all bicyclists as the same: an annoyance on the road that needs to get out of the way. I can’t count the number of times I’ve come close to hitting a bicyclist who swerved around my car.

But despite how bothered I am by them, when there is a collision between a car and a bicycle, I’m not all that worried about the car. It’s safer for a driver in a car than it is for a biker.

As a way to alleviate tension, throughout December motor officers will focus on bicyclists who fail to follow the rules of the road in addition to their normal duties, according to the SMPD press release.

If all bicyclists followed the rules as laid out by Santa Monica’s Bike and Park website, then bicyclists would avoid unnecessary conflict with drivers, and in return, drivers just might accept sharing the road.