When do the needs of many trump the rights of an individual?
I had an interesting experience on the #15 bus on Saturday (coming home from watching An Inconvenient Truth). The bus was approaching the (red) light at 18th and Morrison, wanting to make the right turn to get out to Burnside.
There was a cyclist at the light (presumably waiting to go straight through the intersection). The lane is narrow enough that there is no safe way for a bus to pass the cyclist.
The bus driver leaned on his horn with two blasts and the cyclist pretty much hopped out of the lane. The bus turned right on red and we were on our way.
The bus driver’s behavior was clearly inappropriate (TriMet, I have the vehicle number and time of day), and the law was on the side of the cyclist to hold the lane, no question.
But… there is a certain utilitarian logic to the idea that a greater good might be achieved if the cyclist yielded his position so 30+ people on the bus could get to their destination a little sooner (and some amount of greenhouse gases could be foregone). Assuming there were a less obnoxious and confrontational way to negotiate the interaction, would there be a moral argument that the cyclist should yield?
[Hey, so I’m feeling a little philosophical.]
11 responses to “Any Ethicists Out There?”
It is an interesting question, Chris.
Although I suspect many would argue similarly that the installation curb-extension bus stops where there is room for a full pullout may inconvenience and delay drivers, but then it comes down to a numbers game: What is the average occupancy of a bus at a given time at the curb-extension stop, and how many actual persons are delayed behind it in SOVs. Does the net improvement in travel time for the bus and consequent fuel savings for the bus counteract the increased delay for the SOVs and increased fuel usage (if any.)
And to further cloud the waters, as hybrid cars increase in the share of total automobiles, the amount of fuel wasted during times of congestion and stop-and-go driving will be dramatically reduced… congestion will become mostly a factor of time rather than a mix of time, pollution, and consumption.
Getting back to your original question… is there a moral argument that the bicyclist should yield? There may be a courtesy argument, but morally we expect (in some cases loudly demand!) that bicyclists meticulously follow the law, so isn’t there a moral imperative to allow a legally behaving cyclist to utilize their right-of-way when it is clearly their turn under the law?
Further, if one were to apply “tit for tat” ethics, how many times has a bus slightly abused the right of way by crossing the center line or utilizing the yield flasher (which is subject to specific laws) when it was unnecessary to do so? How many times have buses crowded out bikes?
Another factor to consider: Was the bus operating on-time or was it behind schedule? A bus is not supposed to operate too far ahead of schedule, otherwise people would miss their scheduled connections. If the bus was already on-time, overriding the bicyclist would not gain anything for the bus riders, as the bus would have to wait longer at the next time-point.
– Bob R.
PS… since you mentioned “An Inconvenient Truth”, four of us went on Sunday. We actually semi-jokingly discussed if we should all take MAX downtown or pile into the Prius… after all, somewhere out there, Al surely was watching us. :-) One member of our party had arthritis and wasn’t sure how much walking she could do, so we felt reasonably justified taking the Prius, giving us a combined fuel economy of 185.6mpg :-)
– Bob R.
Given the way this particular bus driver was driving, I suspect he was behind schedule. This was not the only aggressive move on the trip.
how many times has a bus slightly abused the right of way by crossing the center line…
The #14 buses on Hawthorne often take two lanes since they’re oversized for one of these narrow lanes here. I don’t mean take a little itty-bitty part of a second lane, I’m talking straddling the two lanes and saying, in effect, don’t even think about passing me. It seems a little rude, but understandable under the circumstances, even though it substantially holds up traffic for the cars stuck behind (and not all of them single-occupancy.)
I’m always amused as the buses stop at the east-side foot of the Hawthorne, yield light on, and the bicyclists come up from behind and pass, filling the bike lane which keeps the bus driver from being able to go forward. Occasionally a cyclist will acknowledge the bus’ yield indicator and stop behind the bus in the bike lane…but then they’ll be passed by other cyclists who won’t. And, mostly, they don’t wait for the light at the stop line, they wait in the crosswalk.
Then again…I’ve never seen a red light downtown that a Tri-Met driver didn’t feel honor-bound to ignore. I used to have a corner office over-looking one such intersection and I would guess that more buses went through that particular red light then stopped for it.
And just last night, while waiting for the #14, a skateboarder came racing down the street, swerved to the front of our line of passengers waiting to board, kick-flipped his board into his hands, and got aboard first. And grabbed one of the last remaining seats.
Chris…its a jungle out there. And one of the down-sides of densification is desensitivation. You do what you gotta do.
“The #14 buses on Hawthorne often take two lanes since they’re oversized for one of these narrow lanes here.”
Yes, I’ve had a few very close calls with buses on Hawthorne in this regard myself, which is why in other threads I’ve strongly suggested a Hawthorne streetcar would be a better fit… they are narrower than buses (but longer and hold more passengers) and, by definition, do not swerve out of their lane.
– Bob R.
Unless things have changed recently, you can’t go straight at SW 18th & Morrison because that lane is closed ahead due to construction on the Civic. So technically his only legal path was to turn right anyway. (Sometimes I’ll cross over to the sidewalk next to PGE park for a block if I want to go straight, but I get in the left hand turn lane to do that, since I’m crossing traffic.)
Or maybe they’ve opened that lane back up again recently?
It’s all unrelated to your larger point anyway.
Reminds me of something. This study looked at how most bus drivers in Santiago, Chile are paid–per passenger, rather than per hour.
“Incentive pay” bus drivers are much more efficient, get where they are going faster, and customers choose them over the traditional buses.
The flip side is that they get in more accidents.
The broader point is that the benefit of a dog-eat-dog, free market, everybody rushing to where they want to go system is greater efficiency. The price of all this, usually, is a loss of civility, people falling all over each other trying to meet the next deadline.
I think bicyclists should be courteous. That means not unnecessarily impeding the path of others. I try to stay out of the right turn lane for that reason. It also prevents some idiot driver from turning right in front of me when the light turns green…
The problem on Hawthorne should be fixed by designating both lanes as shared by bikes. That way the bus and bikes would not have to play leapfrog all the way down the street.
bicyclists come up from behind and pass, filling the bike lane which keeps the bus driver from being able to go forward. Occasionally a cyclist will acknowledge the bus’ yield indicator and stop behind the bus in the bike lane…but then they’ll be passed by other cyclists who won’t. And, mostly, they don’t wait for the light at the stop line, they wait in the crosswalk.
I have slowed down to let a bus get pull out at that intesection and in fact other bicyclists went past me to the intersection. But in all the times I have gone through that intersection, it has happened only once that there was a red light and the bus turned on its signal and there were no bikes already waiting at the intersection.
“When do the needs of many trump the rights of an individual?”
NEVER. Period. Because they shouldn’t be in conflict to begin with.
Simply put the bicyclist should have been considerate and respectful enough to get out of the way, for that mere split second. To allow 30+ people to go by.
The bus driver, I can’t blame. With the elitism of many Portlanders and the inherent obliviousness many Portlanders seem to have when driving/biking/riding/walking around they need awakened from their slumbering travel.
I don’t see much wrong with this. Personally I would be horrifically embarrassed if I EVER was going so slow as to be in the way of a bus. Not a single time have I even been in a position to be honked at by a bus driver.
No one else should either. It’s just frivilous. Besides, I’ve seen what happens when a bus runs over you, and no one has a single law that can prevent a bus from smashing something if the law of physics is coming into play.
So an all American, Pragmatic answer, of the simple aspects of the situation.
…and Chris… you should have driven with just one other person. You would have been responsible for a more efficient trip.
re: Bob R. Prius trip. It was about 3x more efficient than riding the MAX!
“The broader point is that the benefit of a dog-eat-dog, free market, everybody rushing to where they want to go system is greater efficiency. The price of all this, usually, is a loss of civility, people falling all over each other trying to meet the next deadline.”
Benschon, I agree 100% with this. It’s a measured imperical fact. But I’d also have to say that a large part of this lack of civility is cultural and definately would not be the same if done in the US.
Look at our old mass transit systems. Take the Santa Fe Super Cheif for example. One of the most luxurious trains ever created. The pride of all America to be enjoyed at whim. It hurried, running across the country at 90mph at many points. Faster than anything else would have been travelling by ground in the 40 and early 50s. The 50s where also what happened to be the last decade that America enjoyed what could have been considered a free-market approach to the transportation industry.
Adron wrote: re: Bob R. Prius trip. It was about 3x more efficient than riding the MAX!
Well, yes and no…
At the time we went to the movie, if we had chosen to take MAX instead, it would have been a non-PEAK trip. Therefore, the train we would have caught would have had room for us for sure, and would have been running with or without us. Our incremental weight on the train would have been a very minor increase in energy consumption by the train, but our increase to the number of passengers would have been a greater percentage. Therefore, our presence at that time of day would have improved the energy efficiency per passenger mile for that trip.
Shorter form: Any non-peak boardings on a scheduled route almost always improve efficiency.
On the other hand, if a train is always full at a particular time each day, and demand increases and another train has to be scheduled, the average efficiency per passenger mile suddenly drops! (But is still far more efficient than a mid-day train.)
It can be difficult to compare efficiency of individual trips in terms of automobiles vs. transit, but in aggregate the modes are more easily (but not identically) comparable.
– Bob R.