I try not to be a preachy cyclist. I ride because I enjoy it and I bike commute because it seems crazy for me to drive 1.5 miles and blow $8.00 a day on parking. I don't consider myself an activist, an environmentalist, or really any other "-ist". Sometimes though, I encounter someone that makes me want to holler at them until they "get it". When this unvoiced-tirade is directed at a fellow cyclist it is usually because that person is poisoning the well (so to speak) for me.
My commute to work is a simple thing. I head out my door and make a left and head north (admittedly, on the wrong side of the street) a half a block. I cross a semi-major (2 lanes each way) street, hang another left and head west on the semi-major street about a mile. Then a few jags and jogs and I'm at the office. I tell you that, not because I think anyone cares what my commute is like, but in the hopes that it makes the following story a little clearer.
This morning I was waiting to cross the semi-major street when I saw another cyclist. He was on a clean little silver folder, in street clothes, with a shoulder bag and no helmet. (NOTE - this rant has NOTHING to do with the lack of helmet. I wear one because I've collected a few too many concussions over my lifetime and am now epileptic. I fall into the camp that safe, intelligent city-style riding does not require a helmet.) As I watched he slid across my street, more or less in the crosswalk and with the light, and headed up the semi-major street angling across the lanes without looking around. This kind of move is one I've long associated with messengers (or at least riders who look like they're probably messengers), not semi-newbie looking commuters. He did the same thing at a red light a few blocks later, where the view of oncoming traffic was completely blocked by cars waiting for the light to change.
Why do I find his light-running odd? Because the man was SLOW. He wasn't blasting down the road and running reds because he was in a hurry, he was creeping (something I'll be generous and attribute to the gearing on the folder since he was spinning like nobody's business) along the road and even my ~ 10 mph commute speed easily left him in the dust. Additionally, his body language was giving off a distinctive laid back vibe with no hurry about it.
So why do I care? Because this type of riding is what leads to the "scofflaw cyclist" image. Maybe I'm being nitpicky, but there is a difference in my mind between the so-called California-roll at a light or stop sign (pulling up, braking to a slow roll to looks for cars, proceeding) and hitting the intersection at full speed a la my friend this morning. All I really know is that drivers who see that sort of behavior are more likely to believe the "all cyclists ignore traffic laws" stereotype when it shows up in news reports or opinion pieces, and that just makes it harder for the rest of us on the road.
(Final note - I wrote this on Tuesday afternoon, with plans to post it Wed morning. When I was breezing through my subscriptions this morning I saw this post by CycleDog, discussing the same WashCyle post I mention above.)