My cousin George and I had a spirited discussion on my earlier post on cycling ethics. Here’s a published counterpoint to the argument for some elasticity in how cyclists behave in a world of rules made primarily for cars.

Mr. Adler’s rebuttal is from the rigid, “Laws are laws for everyone” school, that holds if one doesn’t agree with a law, one should lobby against it and get it changed. Unfortunately, it really isn’t how the real world works. If it were, blacks would still be riding in the backs of buses, women wouldn’t be able to open a bank account without their husband’s permission, and it would still be OK to beat your kids without interference from anyone. Unreasonable laws most often change as a result of both civil disobedience and political action.

To quote Gandhi:

“He who resorts to civil disobedience obeys the laws of the state to which he belongs, not out of fear of sanctions, but because he considers them to be good for the welfare of society. But there come occasions, generally rare, when he considers certain laws to be so unjust as to render obedience to them a dishonor. He then openly and civilly breaks them and quietly suffers the penalty for their breach”.

My take is as follows:

The dominant mode of transportation always dictates the design of roads and the rules. When the car was first introduced it had to deal with the fact that roads were designed for horses. Many towns even banned the automobile within their city limits because they scared the animals.

Roads and traffic rules have been designed with a smooth flow of automobile traffic in mind, as well as with some pedestrian safety as an afterthought. But that ethic is changing with the energy crisis, global warming, and an emerging new ethos of sustainability. The bicycle will never dominate, especially in cold places like Canada, but it will certainly have to be accommodated with some adaptation of the rules that recognize the bicycle’s usage dynamics.

For example, in a car I don’t mind stopping at red lights and stop signs because I can just press the gas pedal and be on my way. But on a bike, constantly stopping and restarting would be the equivalent of a driver having to get out of his car at every light, run around it twice, and get back in to continue his journey.

Cautious rolling stops are an efficient, safe, and effective way to promote cycling as a general transportation activity. I do not condone riding against traffic, riding double in narrow streets, riding on sidewalks, or scaring the bejesus out of pedestrians.