On Monday, I was pulled over on my bicycle for rolling through a four-way stop. It was a sunny day, it was a residential intersection, and a block of the cross street was visible and empty in either direction. I brake checked, confirmed there was no traffic, and coasted through. 100 meters down the road, a parked police officer waved me to the side of the road.
He asked for my information. “I live right down the street,” I said as I provided him with my address. “You can see a block or two in either direction. I go through this intersection four or five times a day.”
“I understand you didn’t want to waste your energy,” the officer ignored my comment. “But doesn’t that contradict the whole point of biking—to get exercise?” He’d been parked there for an hour. He’d seen cars roll the same stop, but being “reasonable,” he’d let them slide. “In a car,” he said. “you’re more visible and more protected should something go wrong. When you bike recklessly, you substantially increase the risk of hurting yourself.”
Perhaps my braking had been less pronounced than the automobiles before me? A deceleration of 20 to 10 kilometers per hour is hardly as dramatic as one of 50 to 10. Yet is the law not defined by absolute rules rather than efforts to obey them? Isn’t the only difference between a car and a bike traveling at the same speed a couple hundred pounds of (dangerous) mass, a few added blind spots, and a substantial decrease in dexterity?
Moreover, it’s the accusation of ignorance and recklessness that I find troublesome—the idea that as the more vulnerable body on the road I have an increased responsibility to protect myself. That this was something the officer felt his duty to enforce. Cyclists are required to be hyper aware: aggressive drivers, people that park in and turn through bicycle lanes, and a lack of education on urban cycling make this essential. I don’t know a single bike commuter that would take a blind corner without caution as to what lay up ahead—let alone an intersection.
Exercise is not the sole point of riding a bicycle. There are a handful of variables that influence my decision: the price of gas, mobility in gridlocked traffic, and the ability to find parking in downtown Victoria being three. Ultimately, bicycle commuting is our number one defense against city congestion and personal fossil fuel consumption. Biking under the influence is still a dangerous game, but it substantially decreases the number of parties at risk.
But cycling culture won’t evolve as long as we use ill-founded logic to discourage biking through a culture of fear and unequal treatment in the eyes of the law.
“At least you were wearing a helmet,” the officer said as I rode away with a warning. I didn’t ask why he deemed it necessary to spend over an hour parked in a residential neighborhood on a Monday afternoon.