Surprise! Drivers Break Way More Traffic Laws Than Bicyclists

road ragePhoto via Thinkstock


For all the ridiculous, crybaby nonsense we hear about how hair-on-fire cyclists are making the streets hazardous for the drivers of cars, I have some news: It just ain’t so.

I’ve known this, anecdotally, for a while — just like most cyclists have. But last month I decided to take it to the street and count. But where to count, and when? I Googled some accident numbers and figured out that Central Square in Cambridge is the city’s most dangerous intersection. As for a time, rush hour seemed like a no brainer.

I’m still mystified by the mental gymnastics required to somehow blame rush hour traffic — essentially a log jam of cars, cars, and more cars — on a couple of bicycle commuters, hipster fixie riders, and the occasional flustered-looking Rube on a Hubway.

But I’m a real sport when it comes to hypothesis and transportation, so here goes: The drivers of cars are basically already on the verge of mental breakdown as they watch the walk sign counter count down to zero and they are definitely not going to make it. I understand the into-the-shoulder lunge and box out to keep another car from squeezing between you and your goal a few hundred yards away. But those are minor variables. The major thing about traffic is the shared suffering. Knowing that everyone in their cars has to wait their turn. This is as fundamental to traffic as the second law of thermodynamics.

Bicycles, on the other hand, are unhinged from this dynamic, which no doubt fills motorists with jealousy. But then that jealousy converts to rage rather than, perhaps more healthfully, a desire to get a bike of one’s own. Madder drivers mean more people trying to squeeze through lights, means more honking, means more gridlock, means more traffic. Ok, so yeah, I do understand how bicycles can cause more traffic. It’s just that the logic is ridiculously fucking stupid.

Back to Central Square. It took less than one light cycle to see how this was going to play out. And it went just like I laid out above. With one notable exception, there were very few bicycles, and the ones that were there, probably owing to the dangerous psychopathy of the drivers of cars, were playing it real cool, man, real cool. While cars were like giant, grinding gears, pedestrians were the gum in the machine. They’d dart across the street against the light, outside the zebra crossing, on cell phones, completely oblivious, bounding around all nambly pambly — especially where the T station sits on Mass Ave.

Of course, this little project did let me witness one of my favorite traffic phenomena. As a driver was waiting to turn across Mass Ave. onto Prospect (in clear violation of posted signs), she gave that priceless look of incredulity as other drivers of cars honked at her. And then she darted through the intersection after the light changed as if the city was made for her and her car.