Women and men

Results not typical

Results not typical

Riding around San Francisco I’ve noticed a difference between women and men on my daily routes. Put in the starkest possible terms, the difference is that women follow traffic rules. It’s not true for everyone, but as a percentages game, if you’re wondering whether a rider in San Francisco will stop at a red light, the odds are pretty good that she will and he won’t.

I am one of the tedious people; I stop at red lights and stop signs. It doesn’t seem to slow me down much compared to the people buzzing through them—I always catch up to them by the next intersection—and I figure the extra margin of safety is worth starting and stopping more often. I understand why some people don’t; it is beyond tiresome to be honked at regularly by drivers behind me who did not expect or want me to stop at traffic signals, which happens at least once a week. But I guess I’m just a slave to authority.  Plus I figure I have my hands full already dealing with the thousands of drivers in this city who think they have the right of way when they’re turning left at an intersection and my bike is going straight in the opposite direction. Which for the record, they don’t. So if you’re in a car and wondering why I don’t just go already when the light turns green, now you know.

Sometimes I am simply appalled what I see. Last week while riding to work I ended up behind a man on an Xtracycle with, yes, a child seat and stoker bars on the deck, but thankfully, no kids on board at the time. He jumped every red light on our route, but sadly never got far enough ahead of me that I didn’t have to see him anymore. While he was running one red light, the driver of a pickup truck that had started to cross the intersection on the green braked suddenly as he popped out. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?!?” Xtracycle dad screamed at the driver. At the next red light, he actually stopped, but only to take a drink of water and spit it out onto the car stopped next to him. It was closest thing to bicycle road rage I’ve ever seen, and it was deeply unnerving to think that this man rode with children.

Someone's going to run this light.

Anyone going to run this light?

The next day I rode the same route behind a woman in the full roadie kit. Unlike the dad on the Xtracycle, she stopped at every red light, occasionally sighing like I do when men on bikes jumped past us to run the red light. Then she’d calmly reel them before we reached the next light (I usually ride this street with the electric assist turned off, but I was so interested that I turned it on to keep up with her).

I have days when every intersection is like this. I stop at a red light, and if there are any women on bikes nearby, they stop too. If there are men on bikes nearby (unless they happen to be my husband), they blow through the red. Then I catch up with them at the next intersection and we do the same thing all over again. What on earth do you think you’re gaining? I think. Why is this difference so gendered? I wonder. But there it is.


Filed under commuting, San Francisco

7 responses to “Women and men

  1. Easy

    Interestingly I saw this a few weeks ago:
    “Some hypothecize that it is due to women actually taking fewer risks, not jumping red lights which instead leaves them in proximity to the HGVs”
    Though here’s a response that hypothesizes it’s due to the different treatment of women by truck drivers:

  2. Sadly, I see plenty of red light runners of both genders here in Toronto.

  3. I stop at all red lights, too. I stop for stop signs if there are other people at the intersection, but always slow down for them in case I do need to stop. I guess I’m the bicyclist equivalent of a driver who rolls through signs without coming to a full stop. I bike on mostly residential side streets, so many times there is no one around a stop. But I suppose I’m just rationalizing and should just accept the blame.

    But yes- cyclists who run lights drive me crazy! They do seem to be mostly male, but I don’t see as many women on the streets, so I don’t know if I’ve witnessed enough to say for sure.

  4. Reblogged this on Kitesurf Bike rambling and commented:
    interesting article blog about gender attitude to lights ….

  5. sho

    Female and male cyclers alike run red lights here in Cambridge/Boston.

  6. Jim

    Lots of knuckleheads of all kinds out there. Been nearly wiped out by plenty of girls, thank you.

    Some intersections/situations are best left ahead of the car flow.

  7. Not enough of either gender around where i am to say for sure. I have seen quite a bit of each gender running through lights though!

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