Oakton Opinion: Don't Ride Into Autumn

My Labrador retriever and I are not bicyclist-friendly. Sorry.

My 65-pound yellow Labrador retriever, Autumn, was pulling me through our Oakton neighborhood on a leash.

We came to the intersection of Valewood and Wayland. This should be a safe streetcorner for a pedestrian of any species. It's a four-way stop.

A bicyclist moving at high rate of speed passed close to us, never slowing down, not stopping, as if the sign didn't exist. He would have needed to be only a couple of feet closer to ride into Autumn.

"That's a stop sign!" I yelled.

The cyclist's response was a popular finger gesture whose meaning is pretty clear to most Americans. It's the first time I've ever seen a bicyclist give a hand signal.

I've been driving an automobile for 56 years and have never seen a bicyclist stop at a stop sign or a red light, or signal a turn.

Small wonder an "us versus them" mentality seems to be stoking conflict between bicyclists and everybody else all over the country.

No one slips more readily into the role of victim than an American on a bicycle. "There are ... people that use their cars to intimidate and harass cyclists," Greg Billing of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association told the Detroit Free Press after tensions flared between bicyclists and drivers in Motor City.

Say what? Does Billing have any idea how scary it is to be driving a car — or, in the case of my dog and me, walking — and to come upon a person on a bicycle?

Every day, especially in summer, I see cyclists riding along without a helmet, or without mirrors or both. Every year, the news tells us of at least one bicyclist killed in a traffic collision in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. On any given day, a word search will turn up a dozen or more cyclist fatalities around the nation. The news stories often seem slanted to make the motorist the villain.

A different word search will produce numerous opinion pieces to the effect that bicyclists and motorists must learn to get along. Nothing about pedestrians. Nothing about dogs. What these opinion pieces inevitably have in common is their bias toward cyclists who are uptight about being trod upon by meanie motorists.

Although details may vary from one locality to another, a person riding a bicycle on the street is usually subject to the responsibilities levied on drivers, including obeying traffic lights and signs.

They're stereotypes, of course, but in my observation bicyclists come in two categories. There's the utilitarian worker, trundling along in old clothing on a rusty Schwinn, using those two wheels just to get to work. And there's the in-your-face Lance Armstrong clone wearing Speedos and peddling a skinny racer. Count on the first person to be approaching you by riding in the wrong direction on the wrong side of the road. Rely on the second to ignore a red light, a stop sign or my dog.

Now, here's the thing.

My dog can talk.

Autumn only speaks when we're alone. She doesn't want to become a celebrity and be forced to cope with fame, glory, groupies and all that. But just after the cyclist brushed past us we were alone, so my dog looked up at me.

"How come you humans aren't as smart as us dogs?" she asked.

That's a real stumper. The rules that permit bicycles to share the road were created for a different era, when traffic density was lighter and pedestrians were fewer. By playing the victim, cyclists distract us from the simple and the obvious: It no longer makes sense for them to peddle on the street.

Spare me the argument, please, that bicycles are environmentally friendly. There is nothing energy-efficient about the cost to society of having to take care of cyclists when they become real victims. So cycling is great exercise? OK, get a recumbent exercise bike and ride it in your basement. But there's something I don't want you to do.

This is an especially scary time for Autumn and me because the weather is good, it's summer, and cyclists are out in droves. Fortunately for terrified motorists, pedestrians and dogs, the number of cyclists drops sharply when the season becomes colder and wetter.

Before fall arrives, I would love it if my fellow Oakton residents and Americans everywhere would adopt some common sense. That means rigid enforcement and severe penalties for bicyclists who violate the law, which appears to me to be all of them.

Or ban them. Completely.

In the meanwhile, enjoy your summer. But come to a halt at the stop sign.

And don't ride into Autumn.

Writer's Note: Robert F. Dorr has provided one photo, of his dog Autumn, for this piece. The other two photos have been uploaded to the site by user J Anderson. 

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J Anderson August 07, 2013 at 10:33 AM
Texting drivers are risk to all users of the roadway as well as those walking their dogs. This is not just a bike vs car issue. I'd also venture to say that any driver runs the same if not more risk regarding influence of life vs death given the behavior of so many other drivers - rolling stop signs, texting, right on red, speeding etc.
Robert F. Dorr August 07, 2013 at 10:56 AM
There's no way you can make a case that driving my car "runs the same if not more risk" from those bad drivers out there. If one of those drivers hits me, I have a pretty good chance of surviving.
J Anderson August 07, 2013 at 11:08 AM
Cars will always win over a bike but the more people that bike the safer it becomes. That is a fact and supported by data in numerous communities. If the greatest cause of children's deaths are in auto accidents, then why do so many parents feel that driving their child to school is safe. The issue isn't with cars, bikes or feet but those don't take their responsibility seriously and frankly feel their need to rush or read a text is more important than someone else's safety.
Robert F. Dorr August 07, 2013 at 11:58 AM
"[T]he more people that bike the safer it becomes?" And you say you have documentation? That defies logic. Even if a handful of bicyclists observe all laws and conduct themselves with safety in mind (something I have never witnessed) how could anyone be safer with more bikes on the road. Bicyclists, who are in greater danger than drivers or pedestrians, would be safer if no bikes were on the road.
J Anderson August 07, 2013 at 12:42 PM
As Reagan said to Carter - There you go again. As an author who engages in research for your books, I'm sure you have the skills to find the facts if you desired.....however I'll give you this as a starting point. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuBdf9jYj7o I'd also venture to say that drivers are safer today w/ more cars on the road than the early days.....because of safety innovations, better infrastructure, better education and because simply put...more people drove. And because the road system we have today was envisioned and planned out by a handful of bicyclists. That is fact....as I believe I've stated previously.


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