I live in a City with a Powerful Bicycle Lobby. No wonder middle-America thinks we’re out of touch.

Update: An old friend called me out on Facebook for my harsh words below. I’m going to leave them there, so everyone can read what I now believe was an overly harsh initial reaction to the article I’m quoting here from SFGate. I still believe my original conclusion, but I am not happy about how I explained my reasoning.

My updated, more thought out reasoning, was posted as a comment on Facebook, as well. I will add that to the end of this article, for your convenience, or you can visit it here:

http://www.facebook.com/joecieplinski?v=wall&story_fbid=112235358809466

Thanks, Dave, for making me rethink my argument. Maybe you still disagree with me, but I hope you at least can see I’m trying to explain myself a bit better. 

 

Pedal power: In a true example of the squeaky wheel getting the grease, bicyclists are getting a major break over motorists when it comes to the tougher cell phone law making its way through the state Legislature.

The proposed law would increase the fine for texting or using a hand-held cell phone on the road to $50 for a first-time offender.

Adding in all the state’s court fees and surcharges, that really comes to about $255 for drivers. A second offense would come to $445 in most counties.

But thanks to some very effective lobbying by pedal pushers, cyclists won’t have to pay those extra charges. As a result, their fines will be hundreds of dollars less than those of drivers.

The logic is that distracted cyclists do less damage than someone in a car (of course, a car can do a fair amount of damage to a distracted cyclist), and besides, cyclists tend to be young and thus can’t afford the high fine.

As if anyone can.

Only in San Francisco. There’s absolutely no reasonable argument to be made defending bicyclists who ride while texting or talking on a cell phone. This behavior is absolutely as dangerous as driving a car while doing the same. It’s probably more dangerous, as steering and balancing a bike with one hand is far more difficult than driving a car one-handed.

The argument they try to make is that younger people are more likely to be riding bikes. Exactly. And younger people are far more likely to be texting and holding their phones while riding, too. These are exactly the people most likely to be committing this offense. What’s the point of a law that punishes the most likely offenders the least?

Bikes can still run stop signs and red lights. They can kill pedestrians. They can cause fatal car accidents quite easily.

But never mind that. When your Bicycle lobby is doing the corrupt deals at City Hall, maybe it’s time to rethink just how removed you are as a city from the rest of the country.

 

And now, my updated argument:

To clarify my post: I’m happy I live in a town with a powerful bike lobby, as opposed to a powerful gun or tobacco lobby. We’re never going to argue about whether or not we should be celebrating confederate history month here in SF. 

Maybe the bike itself can’t kill me (I’d argue that it could, at least, kill someone small and frail enough), but the truck that swerves to avoid a bike ridden by a texting rider could very easily kill me. 

I don’t mean to suggest that the level of danger is equal. Just that degrees of danger in the theoretical shouldn’t lead to different fines for different vehicles. The fine amount should be determined by the level of danger in the actual circumstance of the offense. In other words, a law enforcement agent should be able to heighten or lower the fine based on what transpired, regardless of the vehicles that committed the offense. 

In a perfect world, a car that stops but then drives through a red light at 5 a.m. on an empty city street with clear visibility in all directions and no other cars or people within sight would still get a fine, but a lesser fine than someone zipping through a red light in the middle of the day with many other cars and pedestrians present. 

This is the same reason why I am against red light cameras at intersections. It takes human judgement away from a situation that desperately needs to be judged by a human. 

A bike is less likely to cause a dangerous accident, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t ever be the cause of a dangerous accident, or that similar behavior in a car is ALWAYS more dangerous. 

A city street is a very serious place. It needs to be treated with the appropriate level of respect by everyone on it. To me, not paying full attention to your driving or riding is one step below intentionally trying to cause harm. 

I just don’t think we should be backing off any opportunity to discourage this behavior, regardless of the vehicle. I’m not trying to pick on the bikers. I know good law-abiding riders get a lot of undeserved crap in this town. But making the fine cheaper for bikers is a clear message that the City doesn’t consider it as serious an offense. I personally think that’s a mistake.

It also gives drivers more fuel for their “lazy” thinking. You won’t change their minds by giving yourselves what they will unfortunately only interpret as preferential treatment. (Then again, you might not change their minds, no matter what you do.) 

I think the best thing for bikers and drivers, and pedestrians, is if we give all vehicles on the street equal status and respect, which requires subjecting bikers to the same moving violation rules and consequences as drivers. At least on paper. 

Maybe I’m paranoid about this stuff. But I don’t even think people should be texting while walking. We’re just not that good as a species at doing these things simultaneously.

I may not have heard of a bike killing someone recently, but I watch bikers blow through stop signs and red lights, ride on the sidewalk, go the wrong way up one way streets, or fail to signal turns on an almost daily basis. True, all those things are currently subject to the same fine as for a car. To me that’s all the more reason why distracted riding should not be an exception.