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Responsible biking: We are not exempt from the traffic rules!

As you know, I very often advocate using the bycicle as the main means of transportation in Mexico City. The city is very apt for biking through it, and contrary to the fears of mostly everybody, the city is neither aggressive nor as dangerous as people say.

However, I have seen cyclists which seem to be looking for the best ways to be hit by a car, or to hit a pedestrian.

Yesterday, I read this note in La Jornada: The local Environment Secretary calls cyclists to respect vial regulations.

Many cyclists assume they are a special case of pedestrians, and zig-zag as they please between the road and the walkway, or just stay in the walkway. That is dangerous, both to pedestrians and to themselves. You might find children, elderly or motion-challenged people on your way. Also, not only will pedestrians only expect other people in the walkway, moving at their pace or slightly more, but cars will also not expect somebody moving at 10-20Km/h. A car driver pulling out of his garage, or crossing a street, will not have enough warning when he sees you, and you are very likely to end up in an accident.

Since ~5 years ago, Mexico City is growing a grid of Metrobús and confined trolebús cero emisiones (trolleybus) lanes. Many cyclists use those lanes — That is VERY dangerous. Public transport vehicles are large, have a lot of inertia, and will take longer to react to finding you ahead of them. Besides, they can go way faster than a regular bike (~60Km/h for metrobús, ~40Km/h for trolebús), and have to stop every couple of blocks. So, you will be uncomfortable if trailing them, and you will be a liability to ~100 people if you go ahead of them. Besides, it is illegal to drive in the confined lanes if you are not a public, semimassive transport vehicle!

Surprisingly many people have argued they prefer riding their bicycles against the traffic — I think they prefer staring at Death into its blue, glowing eyes (or into its long, thin whiskers)… By far, most cars that hit a bicycle do so from the side, when crossing a road. And if you arrive at a crossing from the wrong way, the way a driver does not expect you, don’t expect the driver to be aware of you. Also, in the much less likely event of a car running into you, would it be better to be hit at 80Km/h (60Km/h of the car plus 20Km/h of your own speed on a full frontal crash), or at 40Km/h (substracting instead of adding)? Yes, some people say that looking at the car will allow you to maneuver – How far in advance would you know a car coming from the front will hit you? One second? That’s 22 meters at 80Km/h (again, if you realize the 60Km/h car is heading straight to you, at 20Km/h). Too short notice for you to do anything — Any maneuver will most likely end in an accident. And the driver would not be so much to blame, as he would not be anticipating you riding against the traffic.

Make sure you get seen. By night, always use proper lights (red on the back, white on the front, and reflective material to the sides). Day or night, wear bright, reflective clothes (or over-clothes material). Act in a predictable fashion. Remember you are riding a vehicle and are subject to the same rules any driver is — A cyclist is not exempt from driving correctly! Do not jump red lights. Never ride on the walkway. Do your best to enjoy the ride.

And ride. Yes, ride, take the streets, enjoy the streets. But don’t attempt to drive the traffic out of it — The streets belong to us all, and we can all share them.

PS — I also saw this note in the same paper: Sunday Rides in “Campo Militar Número Uno”. The main military field was open as a park this weekend! I have to make sure it is regularly open — I am definitively going there!


gwolf 2011-02-18 07:43:28

No juzgo, sólo hago referencia ;-)

Estoy completamente de acuerdo con lo que dices - pero es el nombre del sistema. Los trolebuses en México en general dan lástima; aunque son un medio muy conveniente, no han recibido el mantenimiento (ni la actualización) que merecen, y se están cayendo a pedazos. Por lo menos, para el programa “corredor cero emisiones” hicieron un buen remozamiento, tanto mecánico como de los espacios interiores para el usuario.

Menciono al proyecto por su nombre para diferenciarlo, pues.


gwolf 2011-02-18 07:57:21

What do I mean by “against the traffic”

I won’t delve much argumenting whether cycling in the bus lane is more or less dangerous — It is against the rules (and having a bike does not exempt me from following the rules), and it creates inconveniences for many people that will be slowed down by me if I cycle in the bus lane.

Regarding bicycle lanes against the traffic, I have never seen them. I meant cycling against the traffic when sharing the road; many people feel safer when doing so. Possibly if they rode on an exclusive lane, I would not object (so) much, but that is not our reality.

Jordi Gutiérrez Hermoso 2011-02-16 22:53:28

Hell yes

I wish everyone would read this. Mexicans in general just don’t get the point of rules, and every Mexican seems to think that every rule does not apply to her or him. It’s not just bikers; pedestrians seem to think there’s no point in obeying pedestrian crossing lights, motorcyclists also think traffic rules don’t apply to them, and common car drivers will often break traffic rules whenever it’s convenient.

It’s such an uphill battle. If everyone’s breaking the rules, why should anyone follow them? Why should I, and why should you? I always think of this Quino cartoon.

We can generalise even further; it’s not just traffic rules, but every single rule in the law books. We only obey laws when it’s convenient to do so. We have no culture of following laws, so it’s a weird kind of de facto anarchism at best and selective application of justice by those with actual power at worst.

This, I think, is at the heart of the Mexican condition. It’s what defines our national character. It’s always been that rules only work for the strongest because nobody else feels like it’s worth their time making rules work for anybody else, starting with themselves. We’ve always had the strongest, they make the rules, and everyone else is crabs trying to crawl out of a lawless bucket, pulling each other down in an effort to bring oneself up.

P.S. I love my countrymen, and if I weep it is because I love.

Michael Wolf 2011-02-17 21:00:30

¿Cero emisiones?

La electricidad que usan los trolebuses viene de alguna fuente, y dudo que sea sin emisiones. “Cero emisiones” es propaganda dirigida a gente menos inteligente que tú.

Np237 2011-02-16 09:20:00

Driving against the traffic

It is popular belief that cycling in bus lanes (in France bus lanes are allowed for bicycles) or bicycle lanes that go against the main traffic on large avenues is dangerous. Statistics proved otherwise, and this is not that much surprising. Maybe the relative speed is more important (70 km/h instead of 30 - yes, the speed limit is 50 here), but not only you see better the car, the driver also better sees you.

I’m happy to see more and more bicycle lanes that go against traffic being added to my town. And even better, like many large cities, they have rendered cycling against traffic legal in all downtown streets which are limited to 30 km/h.

Np237 2011-02-18 08:04:56

Well, it looks like there is

Well, it looks like there is room for much improvement in your traffic regulations to favor bicycles. In France it used to be very bad compared to Northern Europe which has had such regulations for ages, and seeing this corrected (with innovations like allowing cycling against the traffic downtown) is a real relief for users.