Taxis and bicycles

Oh look. A taxi parked on the sidewalk. Quelle surprise.

I have issues with taxis.

I am glad that taxis exist. They have bailed me out of more than one emergency “your kid is sick and you need to come right away” situation, as well as out of occasional public transit failures in multiple cities. I take cabs to the airport when I’m on business in other cities. The world would be a much more difficult place without them.

That said I kind of hate taxi drivers. They are often rude, and they frequently ignore the rules of the road. I never know, stepping into one, whether I will end up feeling like I’m on a death ride. And when I’m riding my bike, driver rudeness is the least of my worries. When I see a taxi on the road I immediately tense up, waiting for a swerve into the bike lane or a dooring or an unmarked turn into oncoming traffic.

This is the world's most loathsome bumper sticker.

San Francisco made my irritation with taxi drivers even more extreme last year, when the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency allowed taxi drivers to officially occupy the bike lane, ostensibly to pick up passengers who were disabled. Over half the cabs in the city now sport the blue bumper stickers advertising this new liberty, which I have learned the hard way to read as: “I’m going to do whatever I want and you can’t stop me.” I have seen taxis with these bumper stickers parked on the sidewalk. A couple of weeks ago I watched a taxi with that bumper sticker swerve directly in front of me, at which point the passenger opened the door, leaned over, and vomited into the bike lane. No photo: this is a family biking blog. Parking in bike lanes is a given. Everyone does that. But taxis can’t get tickets for it anymore, and those blue stickers are like a “neener-neener-neener” right in my face every time I have to cut into traffic around a parked cab in my lane. I hate those bumper stickers. Thanks for nothing, Muni.

Objectively, I realize that taxis that do these things are the minority, but oh, what an annoying minority they are.

And then yesterday, when I was riding mid-afternoon to a meeting, I happened across two other bike riders on my route—a woman on a road bike and a man on a cruiser. These riders were casually blowing through red lights and stop signs, swerving through traffic and into crosswalks to avoid even the slightest loss of momentum, and all of this despite the fact that they were riding even more slowly than I was. And I ride pretty slowly on my way to an afternoon meeting in dress clothes, because I refuse to show up at a meeting sweaty. I get mistaken for a student often enough as it is.

Suddenly I thought, “Oh my god! These riders annoy everyone else on the road the way that taxis annoy me! And I am guilty by association!” These bicycle riders are the reason that pedestrians stop me in the street about once a week to thank me for my complete stop at every 4-way stop sign intersection. I am not kidding. Last week one person clapped.

Taxi drivers and bicycle riders: we are ugly bedfellows, all of us damned by association no matter how we behave. I cannot begin to imagine the cultural shift it would take to make me start trusting taxis to behave like even normal cars, and that is a not a very high standard. Which means it must be equally impossible for most drivers (and most people are drivers) to imagine bicyclists behaving like something other than spoiled children.

There are a lot of parents like me who would be willing to ride their bikes with their kids if it seemed like something respectable people did—I talk to these parents every week. They would never run a red light any more than I would: my kids are on the bike! But why would you want to start riding a bike if you hate bicycle riders who ignore the rules of the road? Those are the riders people see—how could they not? I hate those riders and I was actually riding a bike when I saw them. Who would want to start driving if it meant being scorned like a cab driver? I hate riding in the vicinity of cabs even though most of them are driven by responsible people.

How do you change an entire subculture of people behaving badly? Change the law or change the culture, but something would have to change. Right now, for both taxis and bicycles, there is a critical mass of scofflaws.


Filed under advocacy, commuting, San Francisco, traffic

2 responses to “Taxis and bicycles

  1. Ack, this is what scared me too much to ride in The City. Even skateboarding to work, taxis would intentionally rev towards me at intersections.

    I think that bumper sticker graphic looks like the taxi dooring a pedestrian. I bet many bike riders see that.

    • Ha ha! It does look like the taxi is dooring the pedestrian.

      I think in the last few years things must have changed for the better with taxis. I don’t feel they’re actively hostile to bikes or pedestrians (or skateboarders) per se. They’re more obliviously entitled, and it’s equal-opportunity obliviousness. They’re mostly ignoring everything else on the road: cars, bikes, traffic signals, safety cones, lane markers, whatever. I do sometimes enjoy watching a taxi drift into the orbit of another taxi, though.

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