Last week, while riding my bike through West Campus, a police officer called me and several other cyclists over for not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign. Honestly, I was a bit surprised. In the two years I’ve been riding my bike around campus, this is the first time I’ve ever been stopped. From personal observation, my bad habit — even if I think I’m reasonably safe for at least slowing down at intersections — seems to be the norm around campus. UT and its populated perimeter are crowded with people trying to get where they need to go, and there is a lot of frustration between people with different modes of transportation. With so much congestion, it’s tempting to disregard others for a spot on the road. Road etiquette is a safety issue, a legal matter and a way to really make or break a person’s day. Here’s an argument for awareness and respect between all mobile parties: cyclists, pedestrians and drivers alike.
In terms of safety, according to a 2011 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, bicycle-related crashes account for 2 percent of all motor vehicle traffic fatalities and 2 percent of crash-related injuries. These numbers may seem small, but they are concerning because they are also increasing at a steady rate. The number of cyclists killed in 2011 was 9 percent higher than the number in 2010. Furthermore, 59 percent of these fatalities did not occur at intersections. We can’t rely on one side to prevent traffic accidents from happening. Drivers and cyclists alike need to be more conscious of their surroundings overall — especially with the growing number of bicyclists on campus due to factors like the new bike sharing program on the Drag and the increasing number of bike lanes.
Road etiquette, of course, is also a legal matter. Although there is no new official initiative within Austin Police Department to target cyclists more heavily than in the past for traffic violations, according to data from the City of Austin Municipal Court, APD issued 180 more non-motor vehicle-related citations in 2013 than in 2012. APD will continue to patrol areas such as West Campus randomly, and it’s best to avoid the large fines, which can be as much as $200. Respect the law, and, if you do get called over, respect your officers. While I am uncertain about all the reasons why I got away with a warning, I’m sure it helped that I was polite and apologetic when the officer was taking down my information. As for the other cyclist who was stopped with me last week, I suspect that the officer, who had to ask him to remove his headphones while they were speaking, was less sympathetic.
Here is a proposal: Let us all be better people by opening our eyes and ears to what is around us. Let us obey the law and be polite to the officers who enforce it. Let us not zoom our bikes through intersections when there is a car there first. Let us not honk at cyclists going up a hill. Let us not use the crosswalk on 22nd and Guadalupe during a green light. While headphones may cancel out noise, they do not cancel out the awkward pre-collision dance between bikes and pedestrians. And, while we may not wholeheartedly believe in what Austin Cycling Association calls “burning those extra calories” by pedaling after you have brought your bike to a full stop, I am sure we all can agree with their recommendation to live a life in which we get flipped off less.
Almeda is a marketing senior from Seattle