Blogging Bayport Alameda

June 19, 2015

Cyclists of change

Filed under: Alameda, Public Resources, Transportation — Lauren Do @ 6:09 am

To close out the week, here’s is a funny piece on why we have such visceral reactions to those who use bicycles for more than just a leisurely weekend pedal around the block, from Slate:

Despite such statistics, lots of drivers assume all people on bikes are assholes like me. In doing so, these motorists are making an inductive fallacy, not unlike saying, “Of course he beat me at basketball—he’s Asian like Jeremy Lin and Yao Ming.” Now, you might be thinking to yourself that you’ve seen more than one or two suicidal cyclists in your day—that these roaches on two wheels are an infestation that’s practically begging to be squished underfoot (and by “foot” you mean “my Yukon Denali”).

First off—wow, that is disturbingly violent. Second, your estimate of the number of asshole cyclists and the degree of their assholery is skewed by what behavioral economists like Daniel Kahneman call the affect heuristic, which is a fancy way of saying that people make judgments by consulting their emotions instead of logic.

The affect heuristic explains how our minds take a difficult question (one that would require rigorous logic to answer) and substitutes it for an easier one. When our emotions get involved, we jump to pre-existing conclusions instead of exerting the mental effort to think of a bespoke answer.

I’ll just point out that the “affect heuristic” is pretty much the default position in any discussion about traffic in Alameda. And more:

Though most Americans don’t ride bikes, bikers are less likely to stereotype drivers because most of us also drive. The “otherness” of cyclists makes them stand out, and that helps drivers cement their negative conclusions. This is also why sentiments like “taxi drivers are awful” and “Jersey drivers are terrible” are common, but you don’t often hear someone say “all drivers suck.” People don’t like lumping themselves into whatever group they are making negative conclusions about, so we subconsciously seek out a distinguishing characteristic first.

Every time another bicyclist pulls some dickish stunt, the affect heuristic kicks in to reinforce the preconceived biases. The same isn’t true in reverse: The conviction that bicyclists are erratically moving hazards is not diminished by the repeated observance of safe and respectful riding. Facts and logical arguments that do not conform to the emotional conclusion are discounted or disregarded. But we’re not doomed to our initial prejudices: Once a person becomes aware of her biases, she is more able to engage rational thought processes to overcome the affect heuristic and dispel her inaccurate conclusions.


  1. Are you trying to say that there are some teen and adult bicyclists in Alameda who actually “obey” all traffic laws? Or is that different than “safe and respectful riding?”

    Comment by Breathless — June 19, 2015 @ 6:31 am

  2. I would posit that the percentage of teen and adult bicyclists who actually “obey” all traffic laws would be similar to number of teen and drivers who “obey” all traffic laws. The tiny minority of teen and adult driver who “obey” all traffic laws will observe the same rules when they drive a bike.

    Comment by Mike McMahon (@MikeMcMahonAUSD) — June 19, 2015 @ 7:51 am

  3. 1: Breathless, yes, we (law-abiding cyclists) do exist. “Safe and respectful riding” = “obeying all traffic laws” in Lauren’s post. Most teens and adults obey traffic laws–at least the majority of the time–when cycling, driving, and walking, and objective studies of driver or cyclist behavior show that *most* of us do the right thing–at least the majority of the time.

    What the post Lauren is quoting reminds us of is that *we are selective and subjective in registering and remembering* the behaviors that reinforce our preconceived notions. We *remember* the cyclists who don’t stop at stop signs more readily if we believe that “most cyclists” (mis)behave in that way.

    Many more cyclists would ride lawfully if Alameda and other local schools and municipalities provided the same degree of traffic safety education (bike and ped) for elementary and middle school students as California once did (in the 1950s-1960s, before Proposition 13 ): you cannot expect anyone to behave legally if they never learn what legal behavior is in the first place.

    Many drivers do not know that cyclists have a right to be on the road and to avoid hazards such as the door zone. The average door width of 36-48 inches means that cyclists are not safe from door contact until they are riding 5 or 6 feet to the left of parked cars. If you see a cyclist riding 5 or 6 feet out from parked cars, s/he is riding “as far to the right as is safe and practicable” under the California Vehicle Code:

    Comment by Jon Spangler — June 19, 2015 @ 8:04 am

  4. #2 Mike, I would have to say there is some small truth to his, but not really. I try to obey the traffic laws while driving, but when on a bike if I don’t see a car coming I don’t stop at traffic lights if there are no cars coming, I don’t signal, I don’t stop when people are in the crosswalk (I go around them). When at a 4 way stop I don’t give the person on the right the right of way, I am less courteous when on a bike than when in a car. I am not the only one, I see it all the time.

    Yesterday, I was going down Harrison after coming out of the Tube and the light just turned green and a stopped bike going down 8th pulls out in front of traffic expecting all the cars to yield to her when she had a red light (I don’t know what she was thinking or if she was). Some bicyclists (not all) believe they only have to obey traffic laws when they think they are appropriate or convenient for them and they flip you off when they are in the wrong.

    I know that a few give all a bad name. But when riding a bike I am more likely not to obey all traffic laws than when I am in a car.

    Comment by Jake. — June 19, 2015 @ 8:23 am

  5. Compare the amount of time the typical car in Alameda disobeys the rules of the road (including 25 mph) against the amount of time the typical bike does not comply.

    Comment by MP — June 19, 2015 @ 8:55 am

  6. I think you also have to consider the fear factor and the inexperience most drivers have with cyclists in an urban setting. My theory is that most drivers are terrified of the idea of hitting a cyclist. They are therefore nervous when they have a close encounter with one. When the fear response kicks in, it often morphs into anger. Nobody wants to feel afraid, so they naturally (and irrationally) blame the cyclist (pretty much sub-consciously, of course) for their discomfort. Probably the only cure for this is exposure. Spend more time driving down Shoreline than less. Not a realistic goal probably, but I firmly believe it’s fear behind the anger, at least on the driver’s part.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — June 19, 2015 @ 9:16 am

  7. To clarify, I mean that drivers are often afraid even WHEN the cyclist is acting responsibly. They are conscious of the cyclists’ vulnerability and the potential harm they could do them if they swerved over a foot in the wrong direction.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — June 19, 2015 @ 9:19 am

  8. It is not the cyclists I object to. It is re-configuring the existing roads, which were built for motorists in the first place and which cannot be or will not be widened, to accommodate cycle tracks. These “improvements” allegedly make roads safer for cyclists, while definitely making them more dangerous for motorists. You all, especially Lauren, should read this week’s Letter to the Editor in the Alameda SUN, by John Najibi = a first person account of his $8000 encounter with the new Shoreline road hazards, at 20 MPH. Sure, no one was killed or injured. But if you have to budget $500+ for car repairs every time you drive down Shoreline, the City might as well close it off to cars completely.

    Many of these events have happened since the ribbon was cut for the new Shoreline drive remodel. Not all of them get reported to the police, because drivers don’t want their insurance affected. Even fewer get memorialized in Letter to the Editor. But they are piling up. A blown tire and a bent rim are not a matter of opinion. They are proof that Shoreline is now MORE dangerous, not less. Not a “complete street” at all.

    Comment by alamedavigilante — June 19, 2015 @ 9:57 am

  9. Were there cars when Grand St was built? When Encinal was? Weren’t horses and bicycles more common? (I am not a multi generation Alamedan; perhaps one of that exalted class would know how Alamedans got around in the late 1800s.) If roads were changed to accommodate cars, then road use is clearly mutable.

    The point about the prevalence of cars breaking the law is correct. We’re just used to it. And the consequences of lawless drivers are worse.

    I think there’s resentment on the part of drivers that bikes can be faster and their riders happy, trim and fit. The most aggressive drivers I’ve encountered are ones I’ve passed in traffic jams.

    Comment by BC — June 19, 2015 @ 10:18 am

  10. #8. Correction: Our streets were built for pedestrians and horsedrawn vehicles in the first place.

    I’ve driven, ridden a bike, and hoofed it down Shoreline Dr. many times since the car and pedestrian reconfiguration. Haven’t had a problem. Does your friend know you’re supposed to AVOID hitting the road hazards? Let him know — it could save him a lot of money.

    Still, better the hazard than a pedestrian or biker. That can get very expensive.

    Comment by Jack Mingo — June 19, 2015 @ 10:29 am

  11. That reminds me? Where are the horse lanes? They were here first!

    Comment by Jack Mingo — June 19, 2015 @ 10:31 am

  12. Just read the Alameda Letter to the Editor mentioned in 8. For those of you who aren’t going to (and I don’t even know why I’m wasting my time with it), here is the what he says happened:

    “As I crossed Grand Street, a vehicle heading in the opposite direction crossed into my lane of traffic, forcing me into the concrete barrier next to the bike lane.”

    Only in Alameda would the drivers-first crowd claim that this is a problem with the bike lane. A driver crossed into oncoming traffic and caused him to wreck, not the bike lane.

    These poor fearful automobile drivers. Here’s an idea, if there’s not enough room to overtake a bike, DON’T PASS THE BIKE! You’ll still get to your nail appointment just 5 minutes later.

    Comment by Brock — June 19, 2015 @ 10:51 am

  13. Shoreline Drive had to have been built after the South Shore Fill in the 1950’s, for automobiles, bicycles and pedestrians, but primarily for the automobiles.

    Comment by Lois Pryor — June 19, 2015 @ 2:55 pm

  14. The level of entitlement shown by the bike cryders in these comments is laughable. Roads weren’t built for you to twiddle your thumbs put-putting yourselves around at a dangerously slow speed, they were built for cars. It’s a known fact that most bicycle-on-car accidents would have been prevented if bicycles weren’t allowed on our roads.

    The bicycle lobby and their cadre of child-like internet spinsters are given too much clout by the readers of this fine blog. What percentage of Alamedans consists of normal car-driving upstanding citizens? How many cars do you see on the road versus bicycles? We need to stop giving ground to the denizens of the bicycle scammunity and take back our streets.

    Comment by Rodney — June 19, 2015 @ 2:58 pm

  15. “poor fearful auto drivers”…?!…If you do not fear a car that swerves into your lane, threatening a head-on, there is something wrong with you, Brock. If the cycle track lane wasn’t there, the concrete (and other solid) barriers wouldn’t be. You need to read the letter again, with your glasses on. Even when there are no bicycles on the track, the hazardous barriers are there, threatening motorists.

    Of course Lois is correct. Shoreline was never built for horses. Alameda is practically the only city in the East Bay where you cannot ride a horse (unless you are EBRPD). Horses probably have more sense than many cyclists.

    I should have said “roads that were PAVED for motorists”.

    Comment by vigi — June 19, 2015 @ 3:55 pm

  16. According to Vigi (are you the same person as “alamedavigilante”?), with no concrete barriers there he would have just swerved all the way across the beach and into the Bay.

    Or do you think that if this happened before the bike lane barriers came into existence he would have hit a parked car or pedestrians on the pedestrian path?

    Again if drivers are fearful (see comments 6 and 7 since you don’t seem to be following along) of cyclists and “threatened” by an immobile barrier to the side of their lane, they are not capable of safely operating an automobile. Their licenses should be revoked.

    Comment by rock — June 19, 2015 @ 5:05 pm

  17. I believe Mr. Najibi’s main point was that if Shoreline had been simply striped, as we have done until lately, he would have been able to move over safely. As it is, the concrete barrier badly damaged his car, and he’s having to pay a really high price for the car and also higher rates which will cost him for years. He’s possibly the third person I’ve heard of who’s come to grief because of those barriers. The first was a lady who got hung up on the Lincoln School barriers, she had to be towed, the second a gentleman coming around the curve from Westline, as I recall, it was foggy and he couldn’t see that the barrier was there. There might be another, but I can’t remember the details. I don’t like them, for both of these reasons. I think they’d also be unsafe for bikers too, if for some reason they had to swerve, or whatever.

    Comment by Li_ — June 20, 2015 @ 12:19 am

  18. Are you fucking kidding me with this? Drivers can’t stay in their lane because of their shitty driving skills and people blame it on the biking infrastructure. Unbelievable.

    You want to know what is really unsafe for people on bikes? When you are biking down the road, and some driver who is unqualified to operate their 4000 lb vehicle, a) swerves to avoid an oncoming car, or b) swerves out of her lane because ???, or c) takes a turn too wide because it is foggy and he is driving too fast for his visibility, and then they run you down and you are dead because there wasn’t any barrier to stop their uncontrolled auto from hitting you.

    The fact that these peoples cars are hitting these barriers is exactly why the barriers exist. They are there to keep shitty drivers in their lane instead of running people down on the side of the road.

    Comment by Brock — June 20, 2015 @ 9:34 am

  19. 18. great! you just saved me the effort. 14. great satire. you could write for the Daily Show.

    Comment by MI — June 20, 2015 @ 9:48 am

  20. @16 “with no concrete barriers there he would have just swerved all the way across the beach and into the Bay”. Only if he had a flying car. Dunes, man. Our beach has dunes, with an asphalt path next to them. I believe they have infrastructure to hold the sand in place, too. And did you read the part about he was only going 20 MPH down Shoreline? Isn’t that what you cyclists wanted-slower driving? Maybe you are one of those bike Coalition plants from out of town who has never even been to Crown Beach, but who shows up at every so-called “community meeting” and volunteers to speak for the whole table of bewildered residents, to make it appear as though Alamedans actually approve of all these changes.

    Brock, your comments are so outlandish I can’t believe you even have a driver’s license. Maybe you drive a MiniCooper and somehow think all motor vehicles are only as wide as that. News flash: Delivery trucks, motor homes, moving vans, campers..they’re all a bit wider and they aren’t prohibited on Shoreline.

    Comment by vigi — June 20, 2015 @ 1:42 pm

  21. “Maybe” “Maybe”

    Maybe this is Vigi driving down shoreline

    Comment by Brock — June 21, 2015 @ 9:50 am

  22. Yeah, Brock! Except my convertible doesn’t have headrests

    Comment by vigi — June 21, 2015 @ 1:41 pm

  23. #17, I agree with your assessment of what Mr. Najibi appears to be saying. The question his positioning raises is: Should the design of current shoreline, which is like the majority of streets in Alameda, including high volume streets like High, Buena Vista, Sherman, etc. be judged by “if only they hadn’t changed a thing” or not. Two thoughts:

    1) Mr. Najibi appears to blame a very normal, ordinary street design where he encountered someone driving dangerously and erratically as the fault of the street design. As if he and the other driver should both be expected to continue to drive as if there were four lanes, when there are none. That strikes me as irrational. A more rational reaction would be that the law-breaking driver that apparently forced Mr. Najibi off the road should not be on the road and should lose his/her license. On any other two lane street, if the same situation had happened, Mr. Najibi would have found himself plowing into parked cars with likely even greater financial costs.

    2) The 2015 Best of Alameda list came out this weekend. Shoreline Drive Cycletrack was the selected as the “Best thing to happen in the Past Year.” While not scientific, this certainly shows that there is a healthy amount of support for the design.

    Comment by jkw — June 21, 2015 @ 3:12 pm

  24. I don’t know Mr. Najibi, but I have heard the same tire-blowing story from others at various church functions (where jkw probably wouldn’t be found), before I even read the Najibi story. I went to the south end of Grand to look at the [now sharpened with metal cladding] spot. The problem with all these new sharp edges stuck into the pavement is that they are below a driver’s field of vision. When that bus island first went in, I thought it looked like an accident waiting to happen; now i am confirmed in my belief.

    The Best of Alameda lists cater to the causes and businesses that seek them out. They don’t reflect a “healthy amount of support”. It’s just unpaid advertising.

    Comment by vigi — June 21, 2015 @ 4:54 pm

  25. My daughter and I have ridden our bikes all around Alameda since she was in kindergarten. She’s now 10 years old and will attend Lincoln this fall, riding her bike over the Bay Farm bridge. I know that many Alamedans abhor the bike bridge as a waste of money, but I wasn’t award of the complaint about the protected lane approaching Lincoln. I have biked that lane dozens of times and drive past it pretty much every day. Even if my powers of observation regarding the travails of drivers are sorely lacking, I would rather that drivers, including me, pay a few thousand bucks for car repairs than repeat the incident of Brandon Sorenson, who was killed in a collision with a car a few years ago.

    For the last six years, my daughter and I have followed every traffic law outside of traditional hand signaling (we sit up straight and clearly point in the direction we will turn) when on our bikes. I have drilled this mindset into her because if she collides with a car, she will die. Compared to the thousands of dollars someone has to fork out to fix their car, I’d consider the loss of a child to be a bigger price. We need bike lanes with concrete barriers because drivers drive bigger vehicles. Sometimes they are careless.

    One day coming home from Amelia Earhart School, my daughter correctly waited for the light to turn green to cross Packet Landing. She looked both ways and then started to cross the street. From her rear a car approached the corner, slowed to make a right turn, and crossed into the street, heading toward my daughter. My wife saw the whole incident. My law-abiding daughter slammed on her brakes to avoid serious injury or death. The woman must have been in a rush and not paying attention, perhaps on her way to the Harbor Bay Club. She didn’t hesitate or stop at all. My daughter could have paid for that negligence with her life. She came home crying and we wouldn’t let her ride her bike by herself, despite the fact that she did everything correctly.

    Next year she will ride her bike to Lincoln every day. She won’t have to cross that corner at Packet Landing and Island Drive. Many kids will use that “useless” bridge to cross onto the island. I’m thankful that we have the bridge and the concrete barriers on Fernside. Bikes are part of what makes Alameda a nice place to live. I’ve always said that biking is great in Alameda if you’re 7 or 70. Streets belong to cyclists as much as cars. Slow down and share the road.

    Comment by Larry Witte — June 22, 2015 @ 1:29 pm

  26. Bye the way, Mayor Bill Withrow was responsible for getting us that bridge, and took a lot of heat for it. Looks pretty good now.

    Comment by John P. — June 22, 2015 @ 2:48 pm

  27. 27. Building bridges often takes foresight and is a good thing, in more ways than one.

    Comment by Larry Witte — June 23, 2015 @ 10:44 am

  28. How about just paving the frkn streets so people using bikes don’t fall from the cracks on their bikes and possibly into cars.

    Maybe Fix a Few Sidewalks and maybe repair a few pools that ole Billy Withrow forgot to get to along with our last Mayor.

    Maybe even clean up the Blight at the Base No one knew about….. Past administrations were a joke.

    Fore sight = Watch out for chuckholes when Biking.

    Comment by Cobalt Black Keys Johnson — June 23, 2015 @ 11:11 am

  29. There is a discussion of bike plans in Santa Clara county on KQED this morning on Forum.

    Comment by MI — June 24, 2015 @ 9:21 am

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