Just as nothing in life is certain but death and taxes, nothing is certain in a metropolitan area except traffic and the headaches it entails. Long lines of cars, a chorus of honks and the poor soul trapped in the middle of the intersection all come to mind. In Lincoln, as with most cities, the hustle and bustle of traffic includes the humble bicyclist, laboring frantically to stay ahead of impatient motorists on the road and weaving between packs of pedestrians on the sidewalk.
The concrete jungle is a kind of Hobbesian war of all against all, with each person identifying with their preferred method of transportation and despising those who would have the sheer audacity to favor other means of getting from point A to B.
As someone who is almost always on the pedestrian side of the conflict, I have a special vendetta against bicyclists. I’ve had too many close calls with two-wheeled speed demons on N Street. Despite having a traffic light solely dedicated to cyclists that’s clearly visible, I still encounter at least one instance a month when I’m nearly clipped by a cyclist who wasn’t paying attention.
For pedestrians and cars alike, bikes can add more rage to the morning commute. Some days their antics can be perplexing and outright infuriating.
But cyclists are a fact of life in Lincoln and have as much license to use the roads as any of us. Instead of merely griping about bikes, it’s time for us as a city to determine how we can make the pavement safer for everyone, regardless of if they walk, drive or pedal.
First and foremost, there’s a need to adapt how we look at bikes versus automobiles. The general view is to consider cyclists as motorists. This is an easy conclusion to reach but has significant implications that render it absurd. This train of thought implies that biking and driving are similar methods of transportation carrying with them the same risks. In no way is this true. In a serious collision, the most likely scenario where the bike is at fault is serious injury to the rider and a dazed pedestrian or cracked windshield. Compare this to a crash caused by a motor vehicle, the effects of which are much more devastating to innocent victims.
Cars are steel death machines, typically weighing at least a ton with the capability to reach breakneck speeds. The sheer mass, velocity and potential danger is wholly dissimilar to a contraption you can carry around and maybe reach 15 mph on.
Because of the smaller risk imposed by cyclists compared to motorists, it wouldn’t be outrageous to propose having a disparate set of rules and regulations applying to the more environmentally-conscious among us. This would include permitting the so-called “Idaho stop,” a method already being used (albeit illicitly) in downtown and elsewhere. Essentially this kind of stop treats a red light as a stop sign, and a stop sign as a yield sign.
Initially it seems counterintuitive to allow bicyclists to pass through a red light. However, it would be hypocritical to say they need to stop one hundred percent of the time when most of us don’t obey traffic laws ourselves. I jaywalk every day, usually multiple times. The same can be said for most people who take the sidewalk to their destination. As long as an individual is aware of their surroundings, they should be capable of making their own decisions when crossing the street.
Allowing “Idaho stops” in demarcated areas would yield benefits not only for cyclists, but also motorists and pedestrians. Those on bikes, like walkers, have a much wider field of vision than automobiles and as such are less likely to be involved in a collision. It would also grant bicyclists an opportunity to get ahead of motor vehicle traffic, alleviating congestion and preventing the rage that can be attributed to 66 percent of road fatalities. Such a policy shift would make the roads more appealing to bikes, thereby lessening the chance of a cycle-pedestrian collision on the sidewalk.
The city additionally needs to clarify which sidewalks bikes are and aren’t allowed on. The current ordinance is perplexing and ill-understood, to say the least. Making the law simpler and clearer would be a boon to bikes and would allow pedestrians such as myself to know where we should be on the lookout for cyclists.
Thus far, Lincoln has made significant strides in making the area more friendly to those on two wheels. Despite my qualms, the N Street bikeway represents progress in the fight to make the city’s roads not exclusive to cars. The state’s first cycle way is buffered from the rest of traffic by a median of raised concrete and foliage. Because of this groundbreaking roadway, cyclists are able to avoid the most hectic 17 blocks of downtown.
Although the city is moving in the right direction, campus remains an unimproved space and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future. When it comes to safety while hustling from class to class, common sense is at a premium. Cyclists taking the courtesy to have a bell or horn and specifying which side they’re passing on can ensure that the bulk of incidents with pedestrians are avoided.
As much as they can be pesky, bikes, like death and taxes, are a certainty in the city. A place like Lincoln should take care to enact innovative policies that eliminate any sort of power hierarchy on the roads. Adopting the unique policies of the Gem State and others would make our city the gold standard for transportation and an example for other metros.