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Old 01-20-06, 12:34 PM   #1
Brian Ratliff
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Is the cyclist right? - Portland, OR situation of interest

Bus rider confronts cyclist

This incident happened a year or so ago and is causing a bit of a stir here because it was caught on video (there is a video of the incident on the webpage) and a lawsuit was filed; not to mention that it is just that time of year where papers pick up the "cycling" angle of our city. What do you think of this situation?

Currently, the cyclist is suing Trimet (bus authority) for $50,000. Unfortunately, the driver appears to have passed away during the last year and the passenger has not been identified.

Since this is of public record, go ahead and rip on or side with the cyclist and/or the collective of the bus. If you cite theory though, back it up with specific situations you have encountered yourself. If you cite your actions simply "on principle," prepare to defend how your principle deals with the specific situation.

I, personally, have not ridden here before, so I have no first hand knowledge of the on-road conditions. Chances are, though, that there are people on this forum who have riden here before. Please defer to their descriptions to keep this thread from degenerating. I might bring myself to hauling my a$$ out of bed and visiting this spot tomorrow. I'm thinking of a bike ride tomorrow anyway.

HH, if you post here, we all know your "on principle" stand. I respectfully ask for personal situations to support your "on principle" ideas and extensions of those ideas. No need to start at square zero.

Moderator, lock this thread after it reaches 100 posts. Thanks in advance.

Everyone else, don't waste posts by "calling spades, spades." We all know what a spade looks like, no need to point it out. We have 100 posts max, so enough with the calling and countercalling.
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Old 01-20-06, 12:47 PM   #2
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Man, I hate bus drivers that fail to pass with enough clearance!

I think there's a % in every fleet - drivers that hate bicyclists.

I saw the video this morning on the local news. Haven't watched it again because I'm using an 8k modem...

The bicyclist had a clearance flag by the rear axle, I wonder if it got engaged by the bus?

I know when I'm riding a busy road with a narrow outside lane, with heavy traffic approaching from behind, and there's a bicycle accomodation to my right, I'll try to take it, even when its filled with gravel- i feel the gravel is less of an inconvienence than a 30 ton bus dogging my left side.

I also take a shoulder when double dump trucks are approching me from behind at highway speeds too, instead of lane grabbing, so, in my experience in these types of situations, it's easier for the biker to yield to their right -

Personally, I've also blocked buses and ripped the drivers a new one when they've passed me too close, but I wasn't ignoring a bike lane at the time.

Last edited by Bekologist; 01-21-06 at 06:23 PM.
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Old 01-20-06, 12:59 PM   #3
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I don't see what the bike lane has to do with anything. Assault is assault, even if the victim is acting like a hothead. The only legal issue I see is whether Trimet has legal liability for the actions of its passengers.
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Old 01-20-06, 01:03 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bekologist
I know when I'm riding a busy road with NOL, and there is heavy traffic approaching from behind, and there's a bicycle accomodation to my right, I'll try to take it, even when its filled with gravel-
Interestng how we interpret road descriptions. In all my past description of NOLs I used the term to refer to pavement width (to the right of the lane divider) that is physically narrow and a not striped width - meaning there is never an option to move right, good surface or not. So when I refer to riding in center of a NOL and not moving right to let vehicles pass, that has always meant to me that there is not even an option to move right.

But I do understand that a NOL could mean that there is a 'difficult to ride' (i.e. debris/narrow width) shoulder to the right of the NOL. But never once do I think of a NOL as having a BL to its right. To me that would be a WOL with a BL stripe added. Of course a BL with debris then creates a NOL. My head is spinning.

ps- if this thread approaches 100 I will delete this post to give back some space for the discussion of the specific issue.

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Old 01-20-06, 01:12 PM   #5
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The question of the thread is 'Is the cyclist right?" From what I read, yes (2nd edit: on watching video the cyclist got in front of bus and stood still and truely blocked bus, questionable - I would have taken bus number and reported instead, always difficult to assess taking action into ones own hands when emotions are high ...?).
Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian Ratliff
What do you think of this situation?
That folks (drivers of all types of vehicles) on the road need to calm down and go out of their way to be courteous. There is a real pleasure in being nice to others sharing the road that enables one to arrive at ones destination feeling peaceful.

The BL looks clear well before the bus passes, but at the point the bus is passing it does look like half the BL is filled with water/ice/debris. So I can see why the cyclist was where they were.
Does OR have a passing clearance law?

Al

Last edited by noisebeam; 01-20-06 at 01:49 PM.
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Old 01-20-06, 01:39 PM   #6
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It is clear from watching the video that the cyclist stopped in front of the bus to get the bus driver's attention. This is what prompted the passenger getting out to "deal" with the situation. It is undoubtable that the bus driver was cupable in the assault, as he let the man off and then did not close the doors, but let him back on - all without calling the incident in. It is being discussed now because the video makes for a good case study.

I tend to agree with Bekologist when he says that he would take to the bike lane. But it kind of depends on how fast I am going, the conditions of the bike lane, and how much traffic there is. There is a section of my commute which has a shoulder (not a bike lane - barely over a foot wide), 55-65 mph traffic on a single lane rural highway and I am going up hill. In this case, I take surrender the lane and dodge piles of gravel and debris. I feel safe doing so because I know that the road ahead levels out and the shoulder remains present for long enough for me to get back up to speed. The cyclist in the case here cites gravel in the bike lane as the reason for staying out of it.

Here, I would probably be content in the bike lane, as the gravel piles up in only a thin line right at the bike lane line. Note that, because the weather is very wet here, the famed "sweeping" motion of car tires, said to be an advantage for WOL's, might be compromised. I say that because the gravel piles are literally right at the edge of the white line. In dry weather, even with bike lanes, there is usually a 6" to 1 ft strip near the left bike lane line which is clear of all debris due to the sweeping action of cars. Since cars tend to follow paths through debris just like cyclists, it is unlikely in my mind that a WOL would help with the gravel, and hence, the passing clearance.

Finally, I should mention that buses here and in Seattle (the two bus heavy places I have lived) tend to act like they own the road. I had a bus pass me and then immediately cut in front to get to a stop. I had to stop because the end of the bus had not even passed me before he cut me off. In some ways, the bus drivers act as we cyclists sometimes do, but with multi-ton buses.
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Old 01-20-06, 01:43 PM   #7
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Of all road users, commercial drivers, especially bus drivers, have a special responsibility to use caution. Any driver who threatens another is guilty of a misdemeanor, but a bus driver assisting a passenger to assault a cyclist should have resulted in his immediate suspension, possibly dismissal. In addition, you don't need drivers like that behind the wheel of a large vehicle who will purposely cut it too close to a cyclist.
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Old 01-20-06, 01:46 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian Ratliff
It is clear from watching the video that the cyclist stopped in front of the bus to get the bus driver's attention. This is what prompted the passenger getting out to "deal" with the situation. It is undoubtable that the bus driver was cupable in the assault, as he let the man off and then did not close the doors, but let him back on - all without calling the incident in. It is being discussed now because the video makes for a good case study.

I tend to agree with Bekologist when he says that he would take to the bike lane. But it kind of depends on how fast I am going, the conditions of the bike lane, and how much traffic there is. There is a section of my commute which has a shoulder (not a bike lane - barely over a foot wide), 55-65 mph traffic on a single lane rural highway and I am going up hill. In this case, I take surrender the lane and dodge piles of gravel and debris. I feel safe doing so because I know that the road ahead levels out and the shoulder remains present for long enough for me to get back up to speed. The cyclist in the case here cites gravel in the bike lane as the reason for staying out of it.

Here, I would probably be content in the bike lane, as the gravel piles up in only a thin line right at the bike lane line. Note that, because the weather is very wet here, the famed "sweeping" motion of car tires, said to be an advantage for WOL's, might be compromised. I say that because the gravel piles are literally right at the edge of the white line. In dry weather, even with bike lanes, there is usually a 6" to 1 ft strip near the left bike lane line which is clear of all debris due to the sweeping action of cars. Since cars tend to follow paths through debris just like cyclists, it is unlikely in my mind that a WOL would help with the gravel, and hence, the passing clearance.

Finally, I should mention that buses here and in Seattle (the two bus heavy places I have lived) tend to act like they own the road. I had a bus pass me and then immediately cut in front to get to a stop. I had to stop because the end of the bus had not even passed me before he cut me off. In some ways, the bus drivers act as we cyclists sometimes do, but with multi-ton buses.
Even if you agreed with all of that, does that justify assault? No.

Here's my (non-lawyer's) take, after re-reading the article. The assailant is guilty of assault. The bus driver is an accessory to that assault, both for enabling it and not reporting it. The bus driver is also guilty of careless passing. The bus driver's employer is financially responsible for the actions of its employee in the course of conducting his duties. The cyclist could have acted to prevent both illegal acts -- taking the lane could have prevented the careless passing, and not confronting the driver could have prevented the assault -- but he broke no laws, and has no contributory negligence.
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Old 01-20-06, 02:01 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LittleBigMan
Of all road users, commercial drivers, especially bus drivers, have a special responsibility to use caution. Any driver who threatens another is guilty of a misdemeanor, but a bus driver assisting a passenger to assault a cyclist should have resulted in his immediate suspension, possibly dismissal. In addition, you don't need drivers like that behind the wheel of a large vehicle who will purposely cut it too close to a cyclist.
I agree with you, but there is no denying that there are strong feelings about this. A vast majority of readers who wrote into the Oregonian about this article were in favor of the bus driver and the passenger. They express some extreme frustration with the way that some cyclists selectively break traffic laws and they take it out on this one cyclist. Even my mom is that way!

That there was a bike lane on this road that the cyclist chose not to use is, no doubt, part of the frustration as well. But even if the bike lane strip were removed, it would be the fact that there was space to the right of the cyclist which would draw the many comments. If there were no bike lane and no WOL, there would be no question that the cyclist was doing the right thing in terms of lane positioning, yet I get the feeling that these same people would push for us to use the sidewalk (which, BTW, is illegal here).

This convinces me that there should be three objectives of Portland advocacy, besides getting bad laws changed and getting us more favorable laws. The first is to get more and better trained/informed cyclists out on the street. The second is to lobby for better signage and better drivers' ed with respect to cyclists' rights and responsibilities. The third is to gain the trust of frustrated moterists and advocate for better enforcement against law breaking cyclists.
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Old 01-20-06, 02:02 PM   #10
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I can give a couple of analyses here, one from a cyclist's perspective and one from a lawyer's.

As a cyclist, I largely agree with bekologist. I think in a situation like that one, gravel is probably an easier thing to handle than a bus. While I haven't viewed the video, it sounds to me like the cyclist may have been being overly confrontational. I don't think there's anything wrong with getting a driver's attention out on the road and letting them know they did something wrong or dangerous, but it sounds to me like he was intentionally obstructing the bus to make a point. Frankly, he had better avenues (and likely more effective ones) to pursue. This is a bus. Take down the number, the license plate, and the time of day, and call the transit authority. Register a formal complaint and see if you can get this assh*le reprimanded. It would have much more effect than trying to make a point by self-help.

From a lawyer's perspective, I think the transit authority is responsible for the actions of its driver and I can just about guarantee you he made an unauthorized stop by allowing a passenger off and back on at something other than a marked stopping point. But for the driver's action, the cyclist would not have been assaulted, and this should result in civil liability. As for the passenger, he should have both civil and criminal liability. What he did is just plain unconscionable. Finally, with regard to the lawsuit filed by the cyclist, it looks quite reasonable until you reach the $48,000 in non-pecuniary damages portion. That, frankly, is just a bit over the top. It's one thing to say you've incurred medical bills. Quite another to suggest that you've been emotionally scarred by the whole thing.
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Old 01-20-06, 02:07 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LittleBigMan
Of all road users, commercial drivers, especially bus drivers, have a special responsibility to use caution. Any driver who threatens another is guilty of a misdemeanor, but a bus driver assisting a passenger to assault a cyclist should have resulted in his immediate suspension, possibly dismissal. In addition, you don't need drivers like that behind the wheel of a large vehicle who will purposely cut it too close to a cyclist.
Right on! It's getting to be well known here in Portland that there is a definite widespread animosity towards cyclists from Trimet drivers. That's not to say they are all out to get us, but there's been several accounts of bus drivers acting hostilely towards cyclists on the roads. It's very unfortunate that the general auto population here is for the most part considerate and aware of cyclists, but the bus drivers continue to be so aggressive. As for whether the cyclist in this incident did the right thing or not, I don't think it's too out of line to make a firm point when someone almost kills you. It was certainly wrong for the driver to let a passenger out to assault him, let the passenger back on, and drive away.
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Old 01-20-06, 03:08 PM   #12
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Where is the link to the video?

If the cyclist feels it was unsafe to ride in the bike lane, that should be taken on face value. No fault there.

If the bus driver passed with too little clearance, the cyclist's ability to touch the bus as it passed would certainly show this to be true, then the bus driver is at fault for unsafe passing.

Riding up onto the sidewalk in "ped mode" is okay, to ride up to the bus door to try to get the bus driver's attention, unless sidewalk cycling is illegal there.

Now, walking into the middle of the street and putting the bike ahead of the bus? I haven't seen the video, but if doing this included stopping ahead of the stop line, or in the crosswalk, then the cyclist is at fault for that. If he was just using up space that the bus had in front of it, that's not great, but it's okay. In either case, of course none of that comes close to justifying assault.

The bus driver's behavior, perhaps opening the door for the passenger, but certainly allowing him back on without calling the police, constitutes some kind of guilt for something, I'm sure. As an agent of the bus company, that makes them liable. Hopefully they'll lose a lot of money and bus drivers everywhere will be lectured about not harrassing cyclists.

If I violated something requested in the OP here, sorry. I don't see how citing any personal experience would be relevant. These are just my opinions, and they seem pretty self-explanatory to me.
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Old 01-20-06, 03:15 PM   #13
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The video was shown on CNN (or maybe it was FOX cable news). The coverage was relatively fair.

Of course they didn't state that the cyclist does have the right to use the roadway, if the bike lane is not safe to ride in, (or other exemptions to the stay right rule).
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Old 01-20-06, 03:39 PM   #14
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Link to vid is on the upper right hand corner of the article in the "Related" box.
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Old 01-20-06, 03:54 PM   #15
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I learned after posting that the seeing the video is very important.

Maybe the cyclist just wanted to put his bike on the bus rack (joke)

One thing I've recently learned is that emotions can really (and naturally) affect ones reaction to an incident. When I was brushed by a car I had a very strong reaction to the driver. When I looking at the video one wonders why I was so aggressive as they don't fully see and feel the event. But experiencing the event as a cyclist the reaction felt restrained. I also think that if one is an advocate or has strong feeling that they often dwell on about how cyclist are treated it can perhaps escalate a situation in ways that may not be the most responsible or reflect well, even if the event that triggered the reaction was very wrong and deserved a strong response. Its a fine line.

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Old 01-20-06, 04:00 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Helmet Head
Where is the link to the video?

.....
Riding up onto the sidewalk in "ped mode" is okay, to ride up to the bus door to try to get the bus driver's attention, unless sidewalk cycling is illegal there......
The part of the bridge roadway where the cyclist rides on the sidewalk is a steel grating (drawbridge). Bicycles normally use the sidewalk there.

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Old 01-20-06, 04:24 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by noisebeam
One thing I've recently learned is that emotions can really (and naturally) affect ones reaction to an incident. When I was brushed by a car I had a very strong reaction to the driver. When I looking at the video one wonders why I was so aggressive as they don't fully see and feel the event. But experiencing the event as a cyclist the reaction felt restrained. Al
Agreed. Most of us know what it's like to be passed too closely. It's scary, and it is easy to get angry.

I've been run off the road by a truck, cut off by buses and cabs - one (cab) almost left hooked me and I stomped up a hill trying to catch it. It was stopped for a light at the top, and I nearly started pounding on the driver's window. Who knows what that would have gotten me though.

It's easy to see why the cyclist felt threatened. But it appeared as though the bus driver and the passenger felt inconvenienced by the cyclist. So the passenger decided to shove the cyclist out of the way.

It's easy to get feel threatened and get angry. I applaud the cyclist for trying to take a stand then and there. I hope the he wins his lawsuit.
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Old 01-20-06, 04:40 PM   #18
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This case does show why the law needs to clearly state that using the bike lane is optional for cyclists. It sounds like many Portlanders have the attitude, "We built you these lanes, now get out of our way." A change in the bike lane law would be a nice first start.

Here, I fault the cyclist for chosing to ride in the wrong part of the traffic lane. If he thought the bike lane was not usuable, he should probably have been in the middle of the right traffic lane. It would have discouraged (but maybe not prevented) the driver from passing so closely.

[potential thread-jack comment deleted by author]

And of course, the driver was at fault for passing to close and for opening the door. The thug was also at fault. It's weird that no one has ID'd him from the video or that he wasn't stupid enough to have bragged about it at work.

EDIT: Someone in the commuting forum added a link to letters to the editor of the paper's blog. Pretty much everybody agrees that cyclists don't belong in traffic, especially when bike lanes have been provided. Brian, is this representative of non-cycling Portlanders?

SECOND EDIT: According to this article, the statute of limitations is about to expire. I've heard of prosecutors indicting a DNA fingerprint to stay within the statute of limitations, why can't they indict a picture?

Last edited by Daily Commute; 01-21-06 at 08:35 AM.
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Old 01-20-06, 05:41 PM   #19
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Prior to commenting, people should look at the video link the OP listed. (Hannity & Colmes on Fox did run a cut of the video on the Thursday night show, but did not show the bus recklessly passing the cyclist). AP has a video that includes an interview with the cyclist -

AP video


The bike lane looks to be only 3 feet wide and probably did have debris. As others stated, that is the cyclist call. The cyclist was staying very slightly left of the white lane strip. Several other vehicles were able to move into the adjoining lane and pass the cyclist safely; the bus could have done the same but choose to pass the cyclist extremely closely (improper passing and reckless endangering). It appears the cyclist actually slapped the bus, maybe in anger or maybe to let the driver know he was there as the driver was moving right forcing the cyclist out of his lane position. The cyclist caught up to the bus on the bridge while the bus was stopped in a traffic back up. The cyclist stood by the door of the bus, appearing to try and get the driver to engage in a discussion. The article indicates the cyclist stated the driver refused to look at (acknowledge) the cyclist. The cyclist walks his bike in front of the bus to force the driver to acknowledge him and maybe to engage in conversation about the incident. A passenger pushes his way to the front of the bus, talks to the driver and the driver opens the door (not at a bus stop which is most likely against all bus regulations). During the assault, the cyclist does not appear to punch back at the passenger. The driver leaves the door open the entire time the assault occurs. The passenger gets back on the bus. The bus driver and passenger then flee the scene of the assault.

This type of behavior only happens if the bus company allows it to happen. $50,000 is not enough for them to pay.

Experience - I had several incidents of the public bus in Honolulu (on a particular bus route) passing me recklessly. This was out of character for the public bus. The cause - demands by supervisors for the drivers on that route to try and maintain a schedule that was impossible for them to keep. So schedule then became more important to the driver than safety. I reported 4 incidents of reckless passing through the bus web page. A customer service rep called back but took no real action and refused to give me the phone # of the safety manager, and demands for the safety manager to call me were ignored. During this time another bus force me out of the traffic lane and onto a shoulder full of broken beer bottles - got a flat - sent an e-mail to the bus telling them I would submit a claim for the tire and lost work time. Part of my job includes being the companies safety manager, so I have a few contacts which allowed me to get the direct phone # for the bus safety manager. Boy was she surprised when I called her direct line. She was unhappy that I seemed to know more about the bus safety record than she knew - not a good sign. With each point I tried to make, she responded with the mantra “We train our drivers to be aware of bicyclist”. Since the conversation was going nowhere, I finished with a warning to her that sooner or later, a driver on that route would seriously hurt or kill a motorist, cyclist and/or pedestrian if she did not take action to fix the problem immediately. THE NEXT DAY, A BUS ON THAT ROUTE RAN OVER A PEDESTRIAN.

The following day, I sent another e-mail demanding the bus manager pass on my name, e-mail and phone # to the pedestrians lawyers during the discovery phase of her lawsuit. Within a week, a VP of the bus management called me and wanted to meet to discuss safety issues.

The public busses give me lots of room when they pass know. (Still working on the private tourist buses though).
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Old 01-20-06, 05:53 PM   #20
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I don't think there was any 'right' in this incident. Everybody was wrong: The driver for passing too closely and then letting the passenger off and back on and not reporting the incident, the passenger for assaulting the cyclist, and the cyclist for escalating the incident by planting himself in front of the bus. I wasn't thrilled with the passengers giggling about both the buzzing and the assault either, typical sheep.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian Ratliff
I agree with you, but there is no denying that there are strong feelings about this. A vast majority of readers who wrote into the Oregonian about this article were in favor of the bus driver and the passenger. They express some extreme frustration with the way that some cyclists selectively break traffic laws and they take it out on this one cyclist. Even my mom is that way!
What Brian says here may be more worthy of debate (for another thread of course) than the actual incident, IMO. If cyclists ever want to change these negative perceptions, it has to start with courtesy, good manners, and setting an example of respect for both the laws and other users of the roadways. Sadly, perception counts more than truth in our society, so we have to accept this reality and deal with the perceptions.
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Old 01-20-06, 06:02 PM   #21
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"The bus driver has since died in a boating accident"

I wonder if he was driving the boat?
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Old 01-20-06, 06:03 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chipcom
What Brian says here may be more worthy of debate (for another thread of course) than the actual incident, IMO. If cyclists ever want to change these negative perceptions, it has to start with courtesy, good manners, and setting an example of respect for both the laws and other users of the roadways. Sadly, perception counts more than truth in our society, so we have to accept this reality and deal with the perceptions.
I'll give you permission for debate. After all, the whole reason this incident is in the paper nearly two years after it occured is to stimulate debate on the very topic of perception of rights and laws and the effects it has on cyclist-driver interactions. This makes a great case study because the whole thing is caught on tape and is so illustrative of the anecdotal stories we tell so often here on the forums. The lack of need to debate the facts of the situation should bring about some higher quality discussions.
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Old 01-20-06, 06:34 PM   #23
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Three belligerent jerks butting heads. Move along people.
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Old 01-20-06, 06:43 PM   #24
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Quote:
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Someone in the commuting forum added a link to letters to the editor of the paper's blog. Pretty much everybody agrees that cyclists don't belong in traffic, especially when bike lanes have been provided. Brian, is this representative of non-cycling Portlanders?
It's probably representative of cycling Portlanders!

The "we're special" and "we should be treated specially" sanctimonious attitude exhibited by many cyclists is breeding more and more resentment. Big surprise.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Bike lanes reinforce the notion that cyclists have an obligation to stay out of the way of motorists, and that's the last notion cycling advocates should be looking to reinforce. To the contrary, we should be putting our efforts and resources towards quashing such a notion, and instead emphasizing that we are equal users with the same rights and responsibilities of vehicle drivers. But you're all tired of the same ol' song, so I'll stop.
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Old 01-20-06, 06:57 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by Helmet Head
It's probably representative of cycling Portlanders!

The "we're special" and "we should be treated specially" sanctimonious attitude exhibited by many cyclists is breeding more and more resentment. Big surprise.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Bike lanes reinforce the notion that cyclists have an obligation to stay out of the way of motorists, and that's the last notion cycling advocates should be looking to reinforce. To the contrary, we should be putting our efforts and resources towards quashing such a notion, and instead emphasizing that we are equal users with the same rights and responsibilities of vehicle drivers. But you're all tired of the same ol' song, so I'll stop.

But until we are actually EQUAL users... able to travel at 45MPH up hills and the like, not having bike lanes will only tend to slow and enrage motorists who will then point to sidewalks...

So sing the song, but sing all the words.
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