The bicycle: Car or Pedestrian?

The debate has been serious this summer. From touchy questions on sides of buses to annoying comments on blog posts to occasional legal debate. The community has been vexed by this question: Is a bicycle a car or a pedestrian? To help shed light on this problem, beerdrinker has gone undercover, actually riding his bicycle most days, frequently more than 25 miles.

I’ve been thinking about this question for quite awhile, but it really came to a head (or mine) when Webtrends posted their controversial question on Portland’s public transportation: Should cyclists pay a road tax? The confusion was evident most clearly in a response to that question…”Cyclists should pay $.10 every time they change roles.” or something like that. But it’s been prevalent in conversation around the internet and reality for a long time.

With more people riding bikes due to higher fuel costs, better and/or more vocal communities, and peer pressure, the answer to the debate is becoming more pressing. Drivers are more frustrated, and more vocal. Bike lanes are taking up more precious road space. Green boxes are making colorful areas near busy intersections to the dismay of automobile owners. At some places, cyclists even have their own signals, and in others roads dedicated to them (and pedestrians).

Sometimes it becomes necessary to take a step back from the problem to really see what its inner workings are, and how they fit together. So I looked up the terms.

A pedestrian is a person traveling on foot.
wikipedia – pedestrian

An automobile or motor car is a wheeled motor vehicle used for transporting passengers, which also carries its own engine or motor.
wikipedia – automobile

Those are pretty clear, and pretty general. There are unfortunately vehicles that do not fit into either classification. In fact, the subject of this article does not.

A bicycle is neither a pedestrian nor an automobile!

Well, dangit. I guess we need to be asking a different question, like “where do cyclists belong?” But first, let’s continue the analysis to make sure we’ve covered all our bases.

A bicycle is like a car in many ways. It has wheels and a passenger (sometimes 2-3). It moves faster than pedestrians typically move. It will hurt a pedestrian if it hits them.

At the same time, there are a number of differences between cars and bikes. A car can accelerate and travel far faster than a bike. A car propels itself. Typically, cars do far more damage in collisions than bicyclists, and cars will universally win contests of strength. Like a turtle, cars have a crunchy, protective outside and a chewy center, whereas cyclists are a bit more like a delicious chicken leg with a hard lower part and a moist, fleshy upper portion.

Comparing a pedestrian to bicycle, we again see similarities and differences. They can both fit on sidewalks. They both weigh about the same. They are both self-propelled. Yet, bicycles can move faster than pedestrians and do have pokey hard parts. In a battle between cyclists and pedestrians, the cyclist would have the upper hand. In addition, they typically gain the element of surprise.

At this point, we have pretty much established that a bicycle is neither a car nor a pedestrian, having some qualities that are common to each, and some dramatic differences. In the future, I will explore how cyclists fit into a system that has difficulty seeing the grey areas.

  • Sherry Halley

    Very descriptive, witty, informative, and interesting–I would like to read more. As your mom I know I may be prejudice, but I really think you should write articles for publication. You write extremely well, and you have lots of knowledge to share.

  • m8ryx

    previous comment flagged as spam ;)

    j/k. Thanks mom!

  • Kristie

    mmmmm chicken legs….