It is not surprising that many students bike around campus. The bicycle is the most efficient means of transportation ever invented. For environmentally conscious Brown students, biking is a way to avoid having a car or renting a Zipcar. For those who have jobs, volunteer off-campus or are in a rush, biking might be the only way to get where they need to be in a reasonable time period. And, for the rest of us, biking can be just plain fun and enjoyable.
While there are many positive attributes to biking, and I commend all those who choose to bike, biking etiquette on campus has left me puzzled. How is it that students can be so careless about how they bike but care so much about everything else?
Bicycles are actually vehicles and are treated as such by the law. Last week, I was almost broadsided when crossing Meeting Street by the BioMed Center. The street is one way, so naturally I looked in the only direction from which vehicles are legally allowed to come. After assuring myself that no vehicle was coming, I stepped off the curb only to be saved by a last minute swerve from a bicycle going the wrong way down the street. And this is not the only violation of traffic laws that I have seen at Brown.
Almost daily, I see a cyclist approach an intersection, completely oblivious that another vehicle might be coming from another direction. Stop signs and red lights are ignored, or are, at best, cause for a slight slowdown. This behavior is particularly appalling during the busiest times of the day, when the indifference to traffic laws turns from being merely unlawful to downright dangerous.
Nighttime bike riders are just as likely as their daytime counterparts to be careless about safety. However, their foolish disregard for things like "right of way" is often compounded with lack of reflectors, making it very difficult for cars to see renegade cyclists.
To these students — and you know who you are — at least put on something yellow or orange instead of relying on the very elaborate vision tests that are given at the Department of Motor Vehicles to be your saving grace. But I guess when most cyclists are "too cool" or "ironic" to simply wear helmets, it is no surprise that other matters of safety are completely ignored.
These behaviors are not just downright risky; they also undercut the entire point of riding a bicycle in the first place. If you were riding because you were in a rush, the extra two seconds it would have taken to put a helmet on would be worth not landing yourself in the emergency room because you hit a pothole and fell headfirst into the asphalt — which is surely not very likely on Providence's incredibly well-paved streets. The same can be said for other simple safety tips like taking the time to look both ways at stop signs and not going the wrong way down one way streets.
There is one morbid bright side to the logic of unsafe riding. Those of you who ride because it is the environmentally conscious thing might be doing more than you intended.
Humans use up a tremendous amount of the earth's resources, and reducing overpopulation will go a long way towards reducing carbon emissions. I doubt that hazardous biking etiquette is part of some master scheme to reduce this huge source of emissions, but you would not know it judging by the way in which many cyclists on campus behave.
I do really wish that cyclists would see the light (like the red one that means stop) and start to have some common decency. It does not have to be more difficult than anything you learned when you were a kid biking around the neighborhood.
While we are on the subject, please lock your bicycles to the convenient bicycle racks on campus and not to any random pole or tree. These simple steps will afford pedestrians and drivers some peace of mind when negotiating the streets around campus.
Please do not see this column as an attack on cyclists and bicycles. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve biking with my friends and family. And I am quite sure that if I needed to get anywhere off-campus on a regular basis, I too would join the ranks of student cyclists. My only concern is that people have some common decency to make smart decisions about their means of transportation. Bicycles are environmentally friendly, fast and fun; their riders should use them well and safely.
Ethan Tobias '12 does not want to be the only one wearing a helmet when he brings his bicycle to campus. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.