Bone Island Bike Blog (scofflaw edition)

It's a book blog, sure, but it's my blog so if I've got something to say on another subject I might as well say it here. And I've got something to say about bikes. This is a true story. Recently, on a Thursday, I was riding home from the library for lunch and got stopped by a Key West police officer at the corner of Grinnell and Virginia streets. Yes, I had rolled a four-way stop sign (more on that later). He was kind enough to give me a warning rather than a ticket but I did get a talking to and he ran my license, which is annoying (you don't have to have a driver's license to ride a bike, right?).

On the same day, on my way home after work, I was riding down Eliza Street when a (different) Key West police officer pulled out in front of me on Georgia Street. At that intersection, I did not have a stop sign. And he did. Fortunately I have learned to ride defensively in these parts so I didn't hit him.

This was an almost unbelievable real-life demonstration of exactly what makes so many of us who rely on bikes as our primary transportation on this island so very angry about the official attituide toward cyclists. It seems we are the problem and efforts to improve the safety of cycling target us, rather than recognizing the real dangers we face daily.

Since that Thursday, I have also seen: a Key West police car roll a stop sign into traffic at the corner of Amelia and Simonton, and a gray SUV come extremely close to hitting a cyclist who was proceeding, with the green light, on United across White Street. The SUV was turning left, and had to lock up the brakes so hard that there was a loud screech and the car actually jumped a bit. No cops in evidence for that one.

I am, of course, in favor of the enforcement of traffic laws, including laws governing cyclists, especially the ones that endanger the cyclists themselves as well as other cyclists, pedestrians and drivers (running stop lights, going the wrong way on one-way streets, riding at night without lights, etc.). I will say that rolling a stop sign seems like a strange place to focus enforcement. My approach to the far-too-plentiful four-way stops in this town is to proceed cautiously and make sure no other traffic is approaching. That's what I did the day I got pulled over. That's what I've seen Key West police officers on bicycles do at the corner of Olivia and Windsor. That's what Randy Cohen, the ethicist, does according to this column in today's New York Times.

Yes, I realize that rolling a four-way stop is not obeying the letter of the law. But there are plenty of laws in the cyclist-car universe that are enforced flexibly or, as far as I can tell, never. For instance there's the state law (F.S. 316.083, LOOK IT UP), which requires cars to stay at least three feet from bicycles when passing them. As far as I know, that law is never enforced. For obvious reasons -- it's inconvenient for cars in our small town with narrow streets.

You know what else is inconvenient? Sitting in traffic on Flagler or South Roosevelt while three years of road construction unfurls on North Roosevelt. You know what would make that situation easier? If everyone who was able was riding a bike instead of a car. I truly wish our police chief, mayor, commissioners and new city manager would just give it a try -- just a week or so, try conducting their lives on two wheels instead of four. They might discover why some of us like it so much -- the freedom and pleasure of seeing the town at the pace and level of a human rather than a machine. And they might learn about some of the hazards we face, from hostile drivers to giant potholes. And these days, they may well get where they're going a whole lot faster and find parking a lot easier (and cheaper).