Leading by Example



Like most cyclists, during many conversations I’ve had with non-cycling motorists we end up discussing the “fact” that cyclists are all law breakers.  If you know me, you will already know that I’m one of the first to admit that some cyclists do blatently disobey the rules of the road (blow through stop signs, run read lights, ride the wrong way up a one-way street, etc.).  However, the vast majority of the cyclists I know have more respect for others and themselves to ride in such a manner.

The Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition tries to stand up and remind cyclists that they are subject to vehicular code under current Rhode Island law, which means we must obey traffic control devices.  I’m sometimes able to catch a motorist off guard, by asking them who on the automobile side of the fence is doing the same thing?  Aside from the police, what organization dedicated to motoring rights, stands up and reminds motorists that they shouldn’t be running stop signs, blowing through red lights, they legally have to use turn indicators, they can’t park wherever they want, that they must yield for pedestrians in crosswalks, etc.  More often than not, this line of reasoning is met with some sort shrug and a comment that there are just too many motorists to control.  This isn’t a valid explanation, it just means the need is even more pressing.

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve been walking around work, I’ve managed to snap the photos you see on this post.  In every case, these are emergency personnel, not responding to a call, breaking the law.  No, they aren’t major violations, but any normal citizen would at least get a ticket for doing the exact same thing.  For me, the real crux of the situation is that these people are the ones who should be setting the example.  If regular people see our emergency personal parking illegally, rolling through stop signs, failing to use turn indicators, etc. what message does this send?  Shouldn’t they be leading by example?

In the case of the RISD officers, they noticed me taking a picture of their vehicle.  One officer went back to the car while the other, after taking a picture of me, came over to talk.  He asked me what I was doing and I explained I was getting a picture of an illegally parked car.  He tried to convince me that it was within the law for them to park as such, to which I asked him to show me where in RI law it states this?  I also added that I drove an ambulance for 4.5 years, granted not in RI, so I had a pretty good handle on what was legal for an emergency vehicle to do when not responding to an incident.  We finished the conversation peacefully and I couldn’t help but notice that the other officer had returned to the vehicle and moved it to a legal spot while we were having our little discussion.  They, or at least the officer who was driving, knew they had parked illegally, they were just being lazy.

Just as I try to remind cyclists both verbally and through my actions that we are required to ride within the law, I think it’s high time drivers do the same.


  • Labann
    May 28, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    What a load! Traffic laws were intended to PROTECT pedicyclists from motorists. Somewhere along the line they were twisted to MARGINALIZE them in favor of motorists. They shouldn't apply.

    Well, we all know why: Big Oil profits and State House collusion for revenue raising. All the biggest public works projects in last 2 decades were roadwork projects that ripped off taxpayers for billions and stuffed pockets of the few and privileged.

    You can't expect a 5 year old to understand such a convoluted code that demands bicyclists obey 16 additional laws above and beyond. Kids aren't slinging around tons of deadly steel, but should be able to safely cross a street to school.

    Wouldn't worry much. If you get caught, what can they do to you? You don't need a license to ride a bike; they can't put you under house arrest for exercising your basic human right to self propel freely along any public thoroughfare. Whenever someone challenges any such ticket it gets overturned by the courts. A bicycle is not a vehicle. That's Forester's myth. It is more akin to a sneaker, something that speeds you up slightly.

    Why get sanctimonious about it? If I do stupid things, I might die (probably not). My choice. They NEVER prosecute anyone in this state who negligently in a vehicular manner kills someone unless they are also motoring. Angry over losing a revenue source? They probably ought to ban motoring altogether, since it is more inimical to life than alcohol and tobacco combined. It would solve most problems. I'd settle for huge taxes on SUVs and trucks over a ton, plus revocation and suspension of licenses for killers with mandatory jail time for driving without. Did see a Cranston Police wagon today with a racked cop bike on back like a spare tire. One less car would have been better.

    But parking enforcement in Providence is a bad joke. Entitlement changes from block to block and week to week. They eliminated a huge free lot at the base of Capitol Hill. Greed ruined urban scene. Malls succeed because you can drive to them and park. They should offer continuous free trolley ring loops from peripheral lots into downtown. Like Barry complains… no vision.

  • jack
    May 29, 2010 at 6:51 am

    Great post Mark. I notice this too and its frustrating. The same signals are sent with the Governor's Lincoln Navigator. Leadership has given way to Politics in many ways.

  • May 30, 2010 at 8:00 am

    Officialdom looks bad when it flout traffic laws. Good rant so far. However, I do not see how it leads to this notion that if only bicyclists would set some sterling example of compliance, then… Then, what?

    Zero pollution and near-zero lethality are sufficient to put bicyclists on the high moral ground. Will people who hate us start respecting us just because we all stop and wait at red lights?

    The law is an ass. Bicyclists have nothing to gain from slavish legalism or from the fiction that bicycles and motor vehicles should or even possibly could be operated according to the same laws. They are different. The rules need to reflect common sense reality.

    Some bicyclists are reckless, some are rude to pedestrians. This does not change what reasonable, mature cyclists have figured out: The best time to cross an intersection is when you can see it is safe to do so without annoying any pedestrians, regardless of what the traffic control devices say, or whether you came to a full stop.

    I demand one set of rules for cars, another for bicycles. I do not think I have to wait until all bicyclists obey the existing rules before I do so.

  • Dennis
    May 31, 2010 at 7:46 am

    I think it'd be great to start with Law Enforcement, but Rhode Island needs driver education.

    Once upon a time we put folks who went astray in the stocks on the town square. How about a place to post pictures of "leaders" doing the wrong thing?

  • Ted Lewandowski
    May 31, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    You forgot to point out the pedestrians in the top photo jaywalking – right next to an illegally parked BU Police car – a major problem in itself in Providence creating undue traffic backups.

  • Jun 1, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    This was an entertaining rant and well illustrated. There's a car that parks on the sidewalk in Kennedy Plaza almost every week day. It has Mass plates, and I'm guessing it's a RIPTA employee. I included a photo of it in my blog way back in November. Anyone have any ideas on this car's story? (It's the last photo in the post).


  • Jun 2, 2010 at 4:21 am

    You forgot to point out the pedestrians in the top photo jaywalking – right next to an illegally parked BU Police car – a major problem in itself in Providence creating undue traffic backups.

    Actually, in this particular case, there is a crosswalk right where those people are walking. I was standing on the corner when I took the picture. This doesn't mean there isn't a ton of jaywalking, particularly around the college, but in this case, they were doing it right.

    This does bring up something else I've wondered… Does Thayer street really need to be open to cars? It would make an awesome pedestrian mall. Keep it open so buses and bikes could get through, but close it off to cars. I know, wild idea…

  • Geoff
    Jun 2, 2010 at 8:03 am

    if ya close it to the cars then the big three can really expand their on street seating. As it is, it is impossible to walk down the sidewalk infront of Paragon, Andreas and Kartabar… I'd think that group would stand to gain the most from shutting the street down to cars.

    Well the pedestrians would benefit the most.

    Buses and bikes works for me, the street isn't that long, has good options to go north and south. You would have to keep the cross streets open and some how change habits. But closing it would be a win win for the city.

  • Jun 2, 2010 at 8:33 am

    Closing it to cars is a great idea. I'm sure the merchants on Thayer would resist the idea to say the least. Isn't there some history of this on Westminster street several years ago, and wasn't it unsuccessful? (sorry, before my time in Providence). Almost as good as closing it to cars would be to (gasp) close it to parking! Then they could widen the sidewalks and you wouldn't have to walk within inches of people dining on the sidewalk. The Thayer area is a perfect example of "the high cost of free parking" where people circle around and around trying to find a better parking place.

    Oh yeah, and there's no bike racks anywhere.

  • barry
    Jun 2, 2010 at 10:03 am

    My take on when Westminster "mall" was closed to cars was that it was not very successful, but it isn't very successful since beig opened to cars either.

    As for Thayer St, one way to get started, is to suggest closing it to cars for just some of the time, say Sundays in June, July, August and see what happens. In San Fransisco I read in a bike blog that closing some streets to cars periodically was first resisted by merchants, but then later embraced as the closure itself brought increased business. Someone in Providence ought to bring up this idea with the candidates for Mayor to see if they are at least willing to consider innovative ideas.

    Finally, I was just in New York last weekend and noted the success of closing off a few blocks of Broadway to cars near Times Square,

  • Joe
    Jun 2, 2010 at 11:53 am

    The thing about Thayer Street is that except for during the day when Brown employees park nearby, there are always lots of free spaces in the area. The reason for the endless circling of cars is that people are too lazy to walk the extra block to get where they want to go. It would be a perfect street to close, if not forever, then on weekends. I have to say, every time I am in my car on that street, there is always some helmetless college kid riding up it the wrong way!

  • Jun 5, 2010 at 5:23 am

    The lesson of Westminster Street: The existence in some places of car free streets routinely thronged with pedestrians does not mean that making a dead street car free is sufficient to attract throngs of pedestrians. Thayer already does get closed for a yearly festival, always a success that I think would work well every weekend and possibly at all times.

    The one way street is a perfect example of a rule necessitated by cars that need not always apply to bicycles. The only danger created by two way bike traffic on a street with one way car traffic is when cars parked along the left hand curb pull out. Replace the parking lane on the east side of Thayer with a wider sidewalk and a contraflow bike lane.

  • Labann
    Jun 9, 2010 at 10:49 am

    Here's a good idea, then another, then a third. That's NOT how urban planning works. You need all elements in place for success.

    The "lesson" of Westminister Mall, which I used daily when it was in existence, is this:

    a) It totally worked, had throngs of people during day, but limited use at night… not inviting and well lit.

    b) If you open a suburban mall with acres of FREE parking, it's killer competition.

    c) If you close an anchor store (The Outlet, thanks to Sundlun's mismanagement) INCLUDING its huge paid parking lot, small businesses adjacent will suffer.

    d) If you reopen to vehicles, it will attract new business which favor short term parking and walks of a few blocks. Department stores and hotels will suffer. What you now have are shops and taverns that serve college campuses.

    e) Thayer Street could immediately restrict driving and parking if a large lot were available on its periphery. It will never serve much more than walkers from campus as configured. Given the tax value of land adjacent to Brown, you'll never see this happen.

    f) Smart idea would be develop a depressed area of city, where you can seize property abandoned and in tax arrears and develop such a strategy. Then shops will be established.