Life in the bike lane too often creeps onto the sidewalk
Say you’re riding down the street in your pickup and come to a red light at the intersection of King and Columbus.
A) Come to a complete stop so you can force your wretched musical tastes on pedestrians?
B) Determine how long the light has been red so you can decide whether to stop?
C) Drive up on the sidewalk and keep on trucking?
If you chose C, congratulations — you are well on your way to becoming a bicyclist.
Last week, 40 bicyclists rode through the intersection of King and Columbus in an hour’s time one afternoon — and 60 percent of them were breaking at least one traffic law.
Nearly 48 percent of them rode on the sidewalks, which is a no-no on streets with speed limits of 35 mph or lower. Which is most downtown streets.
And 15 percent of them actually blew through a red light. Several of them just hopped up on the sidewalk and kept on pedaling.
This is not only insane and terribly dangerous — it gives bicyclists a bad name.
Somebody needs to tell these folks they aren’t helping the cause.
Know the law
Tom Bradford, executive director of Charleston Moves, admits the bicycling community has its share of, well, idiots.
“It does tick people off when they see flagrant violations of the law,” he says. “Our frustration is we don’t have the manpower to stand out on the corner and flag them down. We’d probably get punched in the nose anyway. ... But it’s not a problem specific to bicyclists.”
He’s right. A lot of motorists are just as bad, if not worse. Sometimes you get the feeling that, in Charleston, people think red lights are just a suggestion.
Difference is, when you see a moron driver, you usually don’t condemn all drivers (although some of us do).
But if one bicyclist runs into you on the sidewalk, they must all be idiots. It’s not fair, but that’s the perception.
Bradford can’t tell you the number of times he’s heard people say they support the good work of Charleston Moves, but they won’t join until the group stops all those college kids from blowing through stop signs.
Sorry, but it’s not that easy. Even though those folks make Bradford just as mad.
“In Charleston, we have an acute problem because we have so many people from different places coming into the city every year,” Bradford says.
And a lot of them come from places where there aren’t a lot of biking laws. Unlike here.
Charleston police will ticket bicyclists, but they can’t chase down everyone. They mainly look for people zigzagging through traffic, going the wrong way on a one-way street or running stops signs.
“If it’s riding in a reckless manner, we will ticket them,” says Charleston police Sgt. Heath King. “And we don’t let you ride on the sidewalk.”
It looks like about half the bicyclists aren’t getting the picture, though.
Be the law
The police and Charleston Moves are doing their best to educate people. Both will be at the College of Charleston’s bike auction Friday, handing out bike law booklets.
On Thursday, Charleston Moves will distribute safety information and blinky lights for bikes at the Clips Brew and Film festival in Marion Square. They will do the same thing today at the Green Fair at James Island County Park.
Stephanie Hunt, board chairwoman for Charleston Moves, says it’s good to have so many forms of transportation on Charleston streets, but there are still problems to be addressed.
“The infrastructure has not kept up and with it some people are taking short cuts,” Hunt says. “It’s a little like the Wild West out there.”
But she’s right — the city probably needs to do more ticketing (which means more police officers), the DOT needs to make the streets more user-friendly for bikers and everyone needs to get a little better educated.
When you see 40 bicyclists run through an upper peninsula intersection on a weekday mid-afternoon, it suggests there are a lot of folks pedaling around out there.
And many of them clearly need to learn the rules of the road. A good stiff fine would probably help that.
But they should learn the rules anyway because it would be good PR for the biking community and because, frankly, some of them are really annoying.
And it’s unfair to lump all bicyclists into that category.
But mostly, these scofflaws need to wise up for their own good. In case they haven’t noticed, bicyclists aren’t the only ones on the road who blow through red lights.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com