I’m sitting in my $6.99 woven plastic lawn chair in the middle of a small traffic island along East Eighth Street on a stunning fall afternoon. Or as stunning as a fall afternoon can be in East Davis.
My little island, which I’ve named “Motley Island” in honor both of our late mayor and the diverse collection of people who pass by this spot, has trees and shrubs and endangered wildlife and no doubt would be an excellent place to hang out during a neighborhood game of hide-and-seek.
There are actually two islands at the intersection of J and East Eighth, Major Motley and Mini Motley, both surrounded by an asphalt sea. I’m on the larger one, just to the east of the smaller. Each island has one large tree and their respective branches nearly touch near the top as they stretch over J Street.
Mini Motley also has an exceedingly tall cell phone tower that is virtually indistinguishable from an old-growth Douglas fir.
I’d like to fire up the barbecue and toss a burger or two on the grill, but I’m sure if I did in no time at all several members of the Natural Resources Commission would show up on their bicycles to write me up for any number of violations.
I’m here not to work on my tan but to observe the behavior of this town’s thousands and thousands of cyclists, many of whom traverse this busy east-west thoroughfare on a daily basis.
As you no doubt are aware, there’s a raging debate in this town concerning the behavior of cyclists, which like all other forms of human behavior, varies from individual to individual.
Folks who drive cars in this town frequently claim that bicyclists routinely ignore the rules of the road that all moving vehicles on the pavement are expected to observe. Dedicated cyclists — the ones who wear the fancy striped body-hugging pants and the colorful aerodynamic designer helmets — claim that their breed is as law-abiding as is anyone behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.
I am here during the five o’clock rush hour, notebook in hand, to test that assertion.
There are many options at this four-way-stop intersection. Bicycles and cars are heading westbound or eastbound on East Eighth. Many are turning north onto J Street to find their homes among the hundreds of apartments and duplexes that line J Street all the way to Covell Boulevard.
A few are turning right or left onto J and heading south, while some have been on J all along and will remain on J as they cross East Eighth.
In 15 minutes of careful scientific observation, aided by the meticulous note-taking of my 11-year-old daughter, Maev, we determined that fully 84 cars and two Unitrans buses passed through this intersection, which features a large “STOP” sign for all participants, no matter which way they’re heading. All 86 vehicles came to a full and complete stop. Not once did we observe that all-too-common, slow-rolling “California stop.”
The same could not be said for this town’s bicyclists. Not even close. Even the Above-Pictured Columnist, who has witnessed aberrant cyclist behavior many times before at this intersection, was shocked at the level of lawlessness.
Of the 54 bicyclists we observed during this busy period of time, only seven bothered to stop. Maev and I compared notes and our figures matched on the dot. Another six did the brief hesitation just prior to their assigned “STOP” sign, then pedaled for all they were worth.
Shockingly, 31 cyclists actually sped up as they approached the intersection and bolted through their “STOP” sign at full speed. Two of those even glared at the drivers of cars they encountered in the intersection.
The remaining 10 cyclists rolled through the intersection at various speeds, seemingly oblivious to the fact there were other human beings sharing this small part of Planet Earth with them on a gorgeous afternoon.
Next time one of those well-outfitted cyclists tries to tell you that “virtually everyone” on a bike obeys the law, send them my way.
Very clearly, just the opposite is true. I have the proof, recorded in Maev’s spiral-bound notebook.
— Reach Bob Dunning at firstname.lastname@example.org