Urban Velo

If Kant Were a New York Cyclist

Originally published back in August 2012, this opinion piece, If Kant Were a New York Cyclist by New York Times columnist Randy Cohen is a well written piece on the ethics of urban cycling.

The rule-breaking cyclist that people decry: that’s me. I routinely run red lights, and so do you. I flout the law when I’m on my bike; you do it when you are on foot, at least if you are like most New Yorkers. My behavior vexes pedestrians, drivers and even some of my fellow cyclists. Similar conduct has stuck cyclists with tickets and court-ordered biking education classes.

But although it is illegal, I believe it is ethical. I’m not so sure about your blithely ambling into the intersection against the light while texting and listening to your iPod and sipping a martini. More or less.

If my rule-breaking is ethical and safe (and Idaho-legal), why does it annoy anyone? Perhaps it is because we humans are not good at weighing the dangers we face. If we were, we’d realize that bicycles are a tiny threat; it is cars and trucks that menace us. In the last quarter of 2011, bicyclists in New York City killed no pedestrians and injured 26. During the same period, drivers killed 43 pedestrians and injured 3,607.

Laws work best when they are voluntarily heeded by people who regard them as reasonable. There aren’t enough cops to coerce everyone into obeying every law all the time. If cycling laws were a wise response to actual cycling rather than a clumsy misapplication of motor vehicle laws, I suspect that compliance, even by me, would rise.

Read the entire column at www.nytimes.com

One Comment

  1. ChampsFebruary 5, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    Personally, I liked Felix Salmon’s rebuttal.
    http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2012/08/05/why-its-not-ok-for-cyclists-to-run-red-lights/

    “I’ve done, on my bike, everything Cohen has done on his. I just don’t kid myself that I’m behaving ethically when I do so. And I’m trying to set a good example, even if I don’t always succeed.”

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