Greater Greater Washington

Why don't people obey the rules when they ride a bike?

On a recent Saturday night, about 11 pm, I was biking home while the wind-chill whipped at 10 degrees. Despite the "No Turn on Red" sign at 15th and New Hampshire and Florida and W Streets, I turned. There was no traffic, I couldn't feel my face, and I just wanted to get home.


What to do here? Photo by the author.

Half a block later a policeman pulled me over. "There was no turn on red at that last intersection," he said. "Bikes are vehicles and you're required to stop and wait for the green arrow, just like cars."

For a moment I was enjoying the heat coming out of his squad car, which further drove the point that we were in completely separate worlds.

But what could I say? He was right.

DCMR Title 18 Section 1201 states, "Every person who propels a vehicles by human power or who rides a bicycle on a highway shall have the same duties as any other vehicle operator under this title, except as otherwise expressly provided in this chapter."

There it is. It's the law.

However, bikes aren't vehiclesnot really. They're not cars; they're not motorcycles. There's a lot that separates bikes from cars, and that's why many cyclists act differently than drivers.

Bikes don't have heaters on them, which may have led to my haste last Saturday, and perhaps the lack of sympathy from our toasty friend with the badge. They don't offer the same amount of protection as a car does, so cyclists behave differently.

Bikes are smaller. They're thinner, they're lightweight. Bikes need less room, which is why bike lanes are five feet as opposed to the 10-12 feet required for auto lanes. And even when there's no bike lane, that's why people on bikes can squeeze through traffic at red lights.

Another distinction is that if you get hit by a bike, it might hurt, but you probably won't die. And I say this with all seriousness, because DDOT installed the right turn signals and the "No Turn on Red" restriction because a pedestrian was killed by someone driving an SUV and making that same turn I did.

Bikes don't go as fast as vehicles. The top speed most cyclists can get up to in the District on streets is maybe 10-15, perhaps a little faster on a hill. Because people go slower when they ride bikes, they can see more and react more quickly. This also makes bikes safer to other people.

Riding a bike uses a lot of momentum. It takes effort to get up to 10 mph. So when there's a stop sign with no cars at the intersection, only those determined to obey the laws actually will. Like when pedestrians cross when the light clearly says "Don't Walk. Which brings me to my next point.

People have better visibility when they ride a bike. They can see how close a car or pedestrian is. They understand exactly where their bike is, and how much space it's taking up. And because cyclists are closer to the intersection, not set back behind a hood, they can see the cross traffic a lot better.

When I worked at DDOT, a colleague was telling me how bikers shouldn't cross when it's red. I replied that if it's safe, I did so. She asked, "Well, how do you know if it's safe?" I was confused and just said, "You look." It took a couple of days to dawn on me that when someone drives almost exclusively, they forget that it's pretty easy to see if a car's coming. If parents feel safe telling their kids to look both ways, I'm confident I can pull it off, too.

As a policy decision, there's a lot of reasons to make it safer and easier to ride a bike. There are health benefits, fewer accidents, reduced congestion, and so on.

With more people biking, we have a responsibility to make it safe, just like we did when more people started driving.

However, there are barely 2 pages in the DCMR reserved for bicycle operations, and 20 pages reserved for vehicle moving violations. DC needs to update the DCMR to stop treating bicycles like vehicles, similar to what Arizona, California, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, and Vermont have done.

There are a lot of examples of good bicycle-specific policies. One example is the Idaho Stop, which allows people who are riding a bike to treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights as stop signs.

People break the rules when they ride a bike not because they're bad people or because they like live outside the law. They understand that almost all of the traffic control in the city is directed at people driving machines that weigh at least 3,000 lbs. and can get up to 100 mph. They don't really make sense if you're on a bike.

The best way to get people to obey the rules when they ride bikes is to write the rules for people who ride bikes.

These updated rules should provide better clarity about situations that didn't really exist 10 years ago. For example, vehicles turning right when there's a bike lane. Is the person driving supposed to wait for the bike? Or is the person on the bike supposed to overtake the car as the driver waits in the bike lane to turn right? What if someone double-parked their car in a bike lane, what is the correct action for the cyclist?

The new rules should then be presented comprehensively to the Metropolitan Police Department, in drivers education classes, and show up on drivers license exams. It would also be helpful to have them distributed to new bike owners.

More cyclists will follow the rules when they ride bikes because the rules would finally make sense.

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Chris Ziemann moved to Washington after a 7-week, multi-modal hitchhiking trip from Lisbon to Berlin. He has a masters degree in City and Regional Planning from the University of North Carolina, and is currently working for the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, promoting sustainable transportation in developing countries. Chris worked for almost four years with DDOT to improve the quality of life and equality of transportation options for residents and visitors. 

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There are some rules that are pretty important for cyclists to follow, and unfortunately a lack of education (at least where I'm living in Cincinnati) means that there are adults riding their bikes on the sidewalks, or going the wrong way down one way streets - even cops on bikes do this!

The rules need to not only be updated, but then publicized so that both bike riders AND car drivers are well informed.

by Jenny K on Jan 26, 2011 10:33 am • linkreport

If you use the road, you need to follow the rules of the road. As a biker, I have no problem doing this, and I always marvel at how other bikers not only disregard the rules, but honestly believe they are not causing problems for driver, bikers or walkers. As a person who has nearly been hit a dozen times by bikers who ignore the rules, I like having laws in place that protect people.

Maybe instead of just having an Entitled Driver Syndrome, we need an Entitled Biker Syndrome.

by Cassidy on Jan 26, 2011 10:42 am • linkreport

I agree up to a point. We can codify many of the rules, but it seems we always have a set of norms that overrides the rules (see previous GGW post that i don't have a handy link to right now).

Motorists can speed when they think it's safe. Pedestrians can jaywalk when they think it's safe. Cyclists can proceed on red when they think it's safe.

We accept the possibility that we could always get a ticket for following the norms, but we have an implicit agreement with law enforcement to use good judgment and not get ticketed for illegal but "normal" behavior.

The cop who cited you for right on red, assuming you didn't bowl over a pedestrian in the process, was violating the norm, but nobody can do anything about it. That's the cost of unwritten norms.

More police officers need to read GGW.

by Ward 1 Guy on Jan 26, 2011 10:47 am • linkreport

There are occasions on which cyclists kill the pedestrians they collide with. I think just last year there were two such occasions here in Philadelphia within about a month (I'd have to check that).

That said, it's obviously a lot less likely to happen with a bike than with an automobile. I'm sure it's probably evenhappened in collisions between two pedestrians.

I don't feel that the statement "bikes aren't vehicles" is fully defensible, but saying that they're not the kind of vehicles that vehicular codes are designed for is pretty accurate. Saying they're not the vehicles lawmakers are thinking of when they use the word "vehicle" is probably accurate. But they're still machines that allow a person to travel with superhuman speed, and there's danger in that that should not be brushed aside.

by Lucre on Jan 26, 2011 10:48 am • linkreport

I find your logic flawed. Many of your excuses for Bicyclist can be made for people who ride Motorcycles or Scooters (Cold/no heater, smaller, more likely to be hurt in an accident, don't go as fast-my scooter max speed is 35mph, have better visibility).

Crossing at red or turning on red because it is safe can be applied to cars. If no one is else is at a light why should a motorist not be allowed to cross at red as well.

It seems you are saying, people are going to violate the laws, so change them, but that does not really work. On that logic, we could get rid of a lot of crime if we got rid of all the laws. I do not follow this train of thought, but maybe I missed somthing.

by Brandon on Jan 26, 2011 10:49 am • linkreport

Much like zoning laws in most of the country, the laws for bicycles reflect an unrealistic, idealistic and, maybe even lazy approach to writing the law.

I can see those who wrote the laws saying "ah, it's late and I want to go home. Just write that bicycles need to obey the law just like cars; that'll save us a lot of time."

Similarly, most zoning laws are not nuanced and don't reflect (or respect) historical patterns of development. They try to impose suburban ideals across the board when the reality is that our urban fabric is much more diverse and nuanced than the zoning shows. (not everywhere but most places I've observed...)

Hopefully as cycling continues to increase, more attention will be paid to the issue and lawmakers will change the law to better reflect reality.

by EZ on Jan 26, 2011 10:50 am • linkreport

If there's a group that uses public space that doesn't feel entitled, I have yet to meet them.

by Monkeyrotica on Jan 26, 2011 10:50 am • linkreport

@Cassidy - I have been nearly hit by far more motorists ignoring rules that DO pertain to them than I have by cyclists ignoring rules that DO NOT pertain to them. A dozen 'near hits' from motorists happens within two months.

Bicycles are different and occupy a space between cars and pedestrians. I wholeheartedly agree that we need exemptions from car related rules when appropriate.

by Shawn on Jan 26, 2011 10:52 am • linkreport

When a bicycle is ridden on the roadway, IT IS A VEHICLE, and the "rider" is the "driver" of the vehicle. I agree there needs to be more education for both cyclists and motorists. Neither group understands the law as it pertains to bicycles. The League of American Bicyclists offers a very good class, but the cities and metro areas also need to be educating all drivers, whether in a car, on a motorcycle or on a bicycle.

by Lloyd Lemons on Jan 26, 2011 10:53 am • linkreport

I recall an elderly gentleman was killed in DC recently by a hit-and-run bicyclist. Your belief that you can't be killed by someone riding a bike is wrong. Cement can be pretty hard on a head and pedestrians don't wear helmets.

by DB on Jan 26, 2011 10:54 am • linkreport

Brandon, the better argument for changing the law is that since the Idaho stop law was instituted, Idaho became safer (fewer bike crashes). Since the Right Turn on Red law was put in place - which is incredibly similar to the Idaho stop from a legal standpoint and was meant to deal with the gas crisis in the 70's - things have become less safe for pedestrians.

So we should institute laws that are safer, especially if they make things more convenient as well. Or even laws that make things more convenient as long as they don't make things less safe. Which is what I think Chris is talking about.

by David C on Jan 26, 2011 10:58 am • linkreport

@Cassidy, I agree with you when cyclists take risks and endanger people, but not simply when they (we) commit technical violations per se. I treat Right on Red signs as "caution, visibility for right turn is limited" and I watch extra carefully for pedestrians and other traffic, but I still turn before the light changes if it's safe to do so.

Frankly, there are some ridiculous No Right on Red signs (e.g. entering Logan Circle from the north on 13th St.) that even motorists should ignore, but they don't. I've noticed in other countries drivers go straight on red all the time. Just look both ways, give a honk, and go. Not advocating we do that here, but it's funny to see a car waiting patiently all alone at a light at 3 in the morning with nobody around for miles.

Bottom line: we need norms, so this discussion is good.

by Ward 1 Guy on Jan 26, 2011 11:00 am • linkreport

@Monkeyrotica: rats.

by Ward 1 Guy on Jan 26, 2011 11:01 am • linkreport

DB, he said "you probably won't die" not that you won't die. So you're arguing against something he didn't say. He acknowledged that people can die from bike/ped crashes (even the bicyclist, which is vastly different from car/ped crashes). You can also die in a bike-bike crash, ped-ped crash or even a single ped crash (aka a fall).

by David C on Jan 26, 2011 11:02 am • linkreport

While I'm sympathetic to some of what you write (and would support exempting bikes from the no turn on red prohibitions), I think you vastly over estimate the ability of cyclists to determine whether running a red light is safe. Not only are there more variables than you appreciate (pedestrians running to cross a light, cars turning on to the roadway from parking lots and alleys), but we're all biased a bit in favor of thinking its safe to cross b/c drawing that conclusion will allow us to get where we're going faster. On several occasions I have seen bikers crossing against the light in seemingly reasonable fashion, and still have near collisions with pedestrians and motorists. The problem is that the cyclist did not, and maybe could not, anticipate a vehicle or pedestrian making a legal, but unexpected maneuver.

I also take issue with the idea that cyclists will only obey the law when they decide (individually? collectively? unanimously?) that doing so "makes sense." I cycle to work almost every day, and I follow the law. Yes, it slows me down, and yes it is frustrating to stop and wait for the green before turning, but it's not that big an imposition. I have about a 5 mile commute, and I'm guessing I lose 5 minutes each way by complying with traffic laws. Big deal. (I also take advantage of DC's code where it favors cyclists, such as using sidewalks outside of the downtown core and passing cars stopped at red lights. These are real advantages that belie the "laws are written for motorists" mantra.)

Cyclists can follow the law. Some just choose not to for the same reason that motorists speed: it's inconvenient and they can make up post-hoc justifications for their actions.

PS - this post also assumes that the entire "bicycle scofflaw" problem consists of responsible bikers who responsibly ignore certain traffic laws. That's part of the problem, but there's also plenty of cyclists who ignore virtually every law. Until the latter is curtailed, I doubt you're going to make much headway with the public.

by mw on Jan 26, 2011 11:02 am • linkreport

I'd bet someone living below the poverty line could make an equally good case why the rules should be different for them than for those with sufficient funds and/or income. For example, why should someone who is starving not be allowed to take what they need from the grocery store without paying for it? It's not like they have the same option of paying for it like the person wtih sufficient funds and/or income has. Why doesn't society recognize that different rules need to be applied to different people based on their circumstances? If anything, a better case can be made for exempting someone living below the poverty line from adhering to the 'no stealing' rules (and other rules such as paying for the Metro, etc.) than for exempting a cyclist from the rules all others must follow. The person living below the poverty line can't just up and live 'above the poverty line' just by wishing it. However, the cyclist can indeed decide one day to become a pedestrian, bus user, Metro user, or ... though a stretch ... a motorist!

Rules are there for a reason. And if we're talking about a shared space such as a road way, you can't have some rules applying to one set of users and another set applying to another set of users. If you want that, then you need to have separate and dedicated un-shared spaces such as we do between vehicles and pedestrians ... and rules for how they interact when they absolutely must mix ...

by Lance on Jan 26, 2011 11:09 am • linkreport

I'm all for cycling, but you're an idiot for riding in the winter. Use public transit and follow the law. Every stop sign you blow is another driver who doesn't trust a cyclist.

by What on Jan 26, 2011 11:10 am • linkreport

Lance, I think the question at hand is not whether rules should be followed, but rather or not they should be changed.

by David C on Jan 26, 2011 11:11 am • linkreport

Lance, I think the question at hand is not whether rules should be followed, but rather whether or not they should be changed.

by David C on Jan 26, 2011 11:12 am • linkreport

I suppose it's a lawyerly difference, but none of your arguments make bikes "not a vehicle".

They are arguments that bikes are vehicles that should be subject to different rules than other vehicles. Some of those are good arguments, or at least ones worth debating. But it's not realistic to create entirely separate laws/rules for every means of propulsion. What about a person on a horse cart, or a segway, or a skateboard, or rollerblades? If you take your approach then basically there are no rules applicable to any non-car, non-motorcycle vehicle. Far better to start with a set of common rules for all means of conveyance used on roads and then if warranted create exceptions or modifications to those rules based on various factors such as those you suggest.

by ah on Jan 26, 2011 11:16 am • linkreport

@ Ward 1 Guy

I watch extra carefully for pedestrians and other traffic, but I still turn before the light changes if it's safe to do so.

I tell ya when ill do the same in my car next time, as long as i'm extra careful isn't that ok?

by Doug on Jan 26, 2011 11:16 am • linkreport

What's particular ridiculous is that you'd be perfectly within the law to turn on to the sidewalk and bike 6 feet then ride back on the road.

I think everyone should be able to agree with these two principles: bikers should respect the law, the law should respect bikers.

by TM on Jan 26, 2011 11:17 am • linkreport

Yes, on Entitled Biker Syndrome. And before you jump all over me as someone wanting a car centric society, I don't even own one.

However, I can think of many times when it's say late and there is no traffic that a driver could run red lights, treat them as stop signs, drive the wrong way down a one way street for a couple of car lengths, make a right turn where you aren't supposed to and host of other things safely. Most of us don't do it because its against the law (and not being cold probably helps).

We have laws and rules because the entire population cannot be trusted to use good judgement. Plus, people who have bad judgement, generally don't know they have bad judgement.

I'm also not that sympathetic to the cold arguement. If you are too cold to follow the law, then you should be better dressed.

That's not to say that I've never crossed against the light on a cold night with an empty street, because I have. And I'd be annoyed if I got a ticket, but it's not a good arguement to change the law.

Can anyone point to any research on the Idaho stop and it's safety done in any place with remotely the kind of volume of cars, pedestrian, and bikes as a major city? Based on who its described, I'm sensing a serious apples and organges comparison with confirmation bias because bikers like what they've heard.

by Kate on Jan 26, 2011 11:18 am • linkreport

Given the difficulty of interesting the police in various other petty infractions, I think the more interesting question is, Why did this particular incident result in a stop? Possible answers:

-- The officer wanted an excuse to learn more about you in case you were arrestable for other reasons (intoxication etc)
-- The officer thinks bicycles are a public menace and sometimes likes to take cyclists down a peg or two
-- The officer was so bored that he was willing to get out of his warm cruiser, but not so bored that he would risk having to do a lot of paperwork
-- The officer thought you were cute and wanted to talk to you
-- The officer had a legitimate, if slightly absurd, sense of public safety and was trying to make our roadways safer.

by mark on Jan 26, 2011 11:20 am • linkreport

Doesn't the "it's okay if it's safe" argument sound pretty dumb if you really look at it. Everybody can't see everything at once, and certain laws are in place because of that. I will admit, I once bumped a pedestrian because I thought everything was clear. And the fault is with me. Just saying "it looks safe, so it's okay for me to do" is great, until you hit someone or something.

by Cassidy Mullen on Jan 26, 2011 11:21 am • linkreport

Cyclists really need to make up their minds, as this gem completely flies in the face of everything hardcore cyclists tell us:

"However, bikes aren't vehicles"

Well, if it isn't a vehicle, then I guess you don't belong on the road at all then right?

And I find it funny that the same day the author tries to downplay the danger of cycling and the speed at which cyclists frequently cruise crowded DC streets, that there was a breakfast link about a cyclist that got a speeding ticket in Alexandria for going 31 in a 25.

And "Bikes don't have heaters" as an excuse not to have to follow standard traffic laws?

Ridiculous.

by freely on Jan 26, 2011 11:21 am • linkreport

Lance, have you heard of food stamps, unemployment, welfare, etc.? Wouldn't these qualify as "different rules" for individuals below the poverty line?

by urbanlumberjack on Jan 26, 2011 11:22 am • linkreport

Why is it that biker's believe that they should have greater rights when it's convenient to them, but when it's inconvenient to drivers everyone has equal rights? If bikers want equal respect on the road they should follow the same rules, if they want to be treated like a special class of vehicles then they should also be prohibited from being a nuisance to drivers.

@David C

If "we should institute laws that are safer" then bikes should be banned from the road.

And to pull it back a little bit, I think that there is some give and take on what is acceptable bike behavior in relation to other vehicles. Namely that cars should give bikes a safe berth and bikes shouldn't clog up traffic.

by DC Driver on Jan 26, 2011 11:26 am • linkreport

ah, there are different laws for a person on a horse cart, or a segway, or a skateboard, or rollerblades.

Kate, Most of us don't do it because its against the law Sorry, I don't buy that for a minute. Most people don't do it because they will be in a crash. If drivers respected the law more, then they would respect the law more (by not speeding for example). But they don't. Can anyone point to any research on the Idaho stop and it's safety done in any place with remotely the kind of volume of cars, pedestrian, and bikes as a major city? Is Boise not a major city? They host a bowl game. Besides what city is EXACTLY like DC. It will always be apples to oranges or pears or something.

by David C on Jan 26, 2011 11:30 am • linkreport

If "we should institute laws that are safer" then bikes should be banned from the road.

Prove it. Prove that removing cyclists from the road will make it safer.

by David C on Jan 26, 2011 11:31 am • linkreport

Just one question for those arguing "Doesn't the 'it's okay if it's safe' argument sound pretty dumb if you really look at it":

Do you agree with a 100% zero-tolerance crackdown on drivers of motor vehicles that fail to come to a complete stop--behind the 'stop line' at stop signs? What about stopping and ticketing every single driver who operates their vehicle even one mile per hour over the posted speed limit?

If not, let's drop the vapid "rules are rules" line.

One last thought: I'm curious, is there any way to get statistics on the number of tickets written by actual, living, breathing MPD officers for a) jaywalking, versus b) speeding? Anyone?

I'd hazard to guess that more pedestrians are ticketed for jaywalking than drivers for speeding. Anyone care to hazard a guess as to why that is? My pet theory is that the fundamental goal of US traffic law is to 1) keep auto traffic flowing as smoothly as possible; and 2) keep everyone else the fuck out of the way of said auto traffic.

by oboe on Jan 26, 2011 11:33 am • linkreport

So now that we've got that cleared up, why don't people obey the rules when they drive a car or walk? The vast majority of cars don't obey the speed limit or come to a complete stop at stop signs. Millions of peds cross in mid block or against the light.

The fact is, most people don't follow traffic rules, and the rules are enforced arbitrarily.

by jcm on Jan 26, 2011 11:33 am • linkreport

On the safety of the Idaho stop:

the year after the Idaho Stop became law, bicycle injuries in the state actually declined by 14.5 percent.
Meanwhile, in the past 27 years, Idaho motorists and police have grown to accept the legislation as sensible public policy, said Jason Meggs, a UC-Berkeley researcher who spent last summer crunching years of traffic data, conducting interviews and observing cyclist behavior in the state.
Boise, home to Idaho's biggest bike population, "has actually become safer for bicyclists than other cities which don't have the law," Meggs said.
And what about the children?
Mark McNeese, the Idaho Transportation Department's bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, said legislators removed an education requirement in the original law in 1988 because special training quickly became unnecessary. "The kids were quick to adapt," he said. "The bottom line is that when this thing passed, there wasn't one doggone thing that changed."

http://blog.oregonlive.com/commuting/2009/04/idaho_stop_is_a_go_for_bicycle.html

by David C on Jan 26, 2011 11:36 am • linkreport

DC Driver:

If "we should institute laws that are safer" then bikes should be banned from the road.

Ok, but that's not going to happen since every single time the courts have looked at it, they've found a right for cyclists to be on the public roadways. Any other ideas?

by oboe on Jan 26, 2011 11:38 am • linkreport

@DC Driver

"If "we should institute laws that are safer" then bikes should be banned from the road."

No, by your logic, if we should institute laws that are safer then *cars* should be banned from the road. Bikes are inherently safer than cars, because of basic physics.

by nevermindtheend on Jan 26, 2011 11:38 am • linkreport

@David C. Boise is not in any sense of the word a major city. It's not even one of the 50 largest cities in the US. Hosting a Bowl Game does not a major city make.

You say that drivers obey the law because otherwise they will get in crashes. So are you saying it's ok for divers to ignore the law when they won't get in crashes? So if there no other cars around in a primary residential neighborhood drivers should be free to treat red lights as stop lights? Have you seriously never witnessed a single car sit at a red light with no other cars anywhere insight?

by Kate on Jan 26, 2011 11:47 am • linkreport

Rules, schmules... According to IIHS, more than 85% of DC area drivers fail a rules of the road exam (without prep time) tells you that it doesn't matter if changes to the laws are made. Beware! Bikers and peds are own their own in this town...

by Fonzy on Jan 26, 2011 11:47 am • linkreport

@MW; you bring up some good points. One thing about sidewalk cycling, however, is having a blanket rule banning it is easier to understand. I really don't know where it stop (24th, 25th?) in the west end -- if it does at all. More a point about how you advertise rules rather than a commentary on sidewalk riding.

@Oboe; the number of speeding tickets is probably about 1000x the number of jaywalking tickets. Clearly, your preference for ancedote is winning the war for your remaining brain cells. Look up the revenue numbers. And yes, I've gotten a jaywalking ticket. However, I think there is a policy in MPD for not giving tickets under $100.

I think this post represents the schizoid nature of the cycling advocate. Traffic rules are always overbroad. Enforcement is always selective. However, if you want to be some to be a larger percentage of road traffic, you are going to have to start paying for it an accept heavy handed regulation.

by charlie on Jan 26, 2011 11:50 am • linkreport

@ Oboe,

Yes, I agree for a 100% zero tolerance. There isn't a time that I roll through a stop sign or exceed the speed limit that I also don't acknowledge that I might get ticketed for it. It goes with the territory and I realize and also acknowledge that the rules are in place to ensure saftey on a macro level which is essential when you have a variety of dissimilar forms of transportation using the same infrastruture.

And as I've said before, cyclist and drivers all currently share the same traffic offenses, speeding, rolling through stop signs etc. The one (and most dangerous of all) that cyclists own all to themselves that I see multiple times on a daily basis is blowing through stop lights. I could count on one hand the number of times in my life I've seen a car drive up to a red light, and drive right through it.

And yes, of course the goal of traffic policy is to keep traffic flowing as smoothly as possible. Why wouldn't it be? The two forms of "transportation" are not equal to each other. Heck, the author is even trying to convince us that bikes aren't actually vehicles at all.

You have hundreds of millions of vehicle trips on US roads every day, a large percentage of them commerical or public vehicles carrying people or products that allow our economy to function.

Vehicle transportation is a basic necessity to the day to day functions of our nation.

Look at it this way. Outlaw all vehicles, ALL of them on US roads for one day during the week. What do you think that would cost us in lost GDP? Considering the size of our 14 trillion dollar economy, I am guessing somewhere in the 50-60 billion dollar range.

How much of lost GDP would there be if you outlawed all bicycles on US roads for one day during the week? Tens of millions...if that.

by freely on Jan 26, 2011 11:51 am • linkreport

Kate, if we must try the Idaho stop in a major city before we can deem it safe for a major city, than how are we to proceed? Also, what specifically is it about the differences between DC and Boise that you thinks makes the research from Idaho inappropriate. How is a four block downtown different from a 60 block downtown?

So are you saying it's ok for divers to ignore the law when they won't get in crashes? No. I'm saying that's what drivers do.

So if there no other cars around in a primary residential neighborhood drivers should be free to treat red lights as stop lights? No. I don't believe that would be safe.

Have you seriously never witnessed a single car sit at a red light with no other cars anywhere insight? I have. But why do you think that drivers do this when they will gladly speed, catch yellow lights, drive and talk on the cell phone etc...Why is this law the one they follow?

by David C on Jan 26, 2011 11:53 am • linkreport

@charlie:

@Oboe; the number of speeding tickets is probably about 1000x the number of jaywalking tickets. Clearly, your preference for ancedote is winning the war for your remaining brain cells. Look up the revenue numbers. And yes, I've gotten a jaywalking ticket. However, I think there is a policy in MPD for not giving tickets under $100.

Sorry, I should've been more clear: no fair counting automated traffic-enforcement (i.e. speed cameras). Point me to the numbers for MPD officers making traffic stops. How many drivers get pulled over for speeding each year by actual MPD officers? I have never actually heard of this happening. I hear about sudden eruptions of jaywalking ticket writing every so often as part of an "education" campaign.

by oboe on Jan 26, 2011 12:05 pm • linkreport

"How is a four block downtown different from a 60 block downtown?"

I agree with your point that we can't dismiss it out of hand just because it's from Idaho, and that we might as well make DC the test case for a large(r) city, but Boise has approximately 1/3 of DC's population with approximately the same land mass. DC is much denser, with many more cars on the road, than Boise.

by dcd on Jan 26, 2011 12:05 pm • linkreport

I'm just glad there exists one MPD officer who will take the time to give a ticket to a cyclist.

I bike to work year round, and follow the rules pretty religiously, stopping at stoplights, etc... I've yet to see an MPD officer enforce any cycling related rule (whether ticketing a cyclist or driver) and would very much like to see enforcement and education increased.

Until we have legal Idaho Stops in D.C. we shouldn't be performing Idaho Stops.

by S.A.M. on Jan 26, 2011 12:12 pm • linkreport

@freely,

Yes, I agree for a 100% zero tolerance. There isn't a time that I roll through a stop sign or exceed the speed limit that I also don't acknowledge that I might get ticketed for it.

I think you're being a bit nervous given the fact that such laws are never enforced against drivers, but fair enough. When the rest of society comes around to your way of thinking, I'll applaud the equitable application of traffic laws.

by oboe on Jan 26, 2011 12:13 pm • linkreport

Incidentally, the photo accompanying this piece asks 'What to do here?'.

From what I've read on GGW, the motorist who is on the bicycle lane is where he/she is supposed to be (assuming they are making a right turn) and the cyclist is supposed to overtake the motorist on his left.

The problem here though (as others have mentioned) is education. As a motorist I used to stay in the 'car' lane and wait till the coast was clear before making the right hand turn. Now, after reading on here that I'm supposed to wait in the 'bike' lane, I do that ... and get very angry looks by most cyclists who for good reason think a car shouldn't be sitting in the 'bike' lane. Can we try to get the word out to cyclists that that is the correct procedure? (And it makes sense to me since the dotted lines at the end of blocks ... and the signs ... clearly indicate that cars can merge into that lane there. And if we assume that the 'special' rules for bikes end where the exclusive use of that lane by bicyclists end, then following 'the regular rules' a cyclist can legally overtake the stopped car at that point by going to its left.)

by Lance on Jan 26, 2011 12:15 pm • linkreport

2 questions for Idaho stop supporters: 1) how do the police reasonably enforce that law? In other words, what objective criteria is there to differentiate someone who properly "treats stop signs like yield signs" (good, responsible cycling!) from someone who "blows through stop signs" (bad, illegal cycling), or to determine whether a cyclist at a red light reasonably believed it was safe for s/he to proceed (even if it means that vehicular traffic has to slow or swerve to avoid the cyclist)?

2) if DC adopts the Idaho stop, are you willing to commit to obeying traffic laws? Or will we continue to be subjected to harangues about how laws are 100% designed for motorists and we really shouldn't have cars anyway, and I need to ride against traffic on one way streets to stay safe and . . . .

by mw on Jan 26, 2011 12:18 pm • linkreport

@S.A.M:

The "Idaho Stop" is the cycling equivalent of jaywalking. So long as there are traffic signals, I'll be jaywalking when on foot, and doing the "Idaho Stop" when on a bike.

As freely said, "There isn't a time that I roll through a stop sign or exceed the speed limit that I also don't acknowledge that I might get ticketed for it..."

Fortunately, both "infractions" are such a minor threat to the general welfare that they are rarely enforced. In that sense, it's almost a perfect analog to going 5-10 mph over the limit when you're driving a car. Actually, there's a much greater chance you'll be ticketed if you're a pedestrian or cyclists jaywalking or "Idaho Stopping" than if you're a driver speeding. But still rare enough to make the increase in safety and convenience worthwhile.

by oboe on Jan 26, 2011 12:20 pm • linkreport

The current bike regs were written in the 1950s to protect kids biking to school. Today, no kids bike to school and all the biking is done by adults on faster, better bikes. Update the regulations to match modern use and norms. The reality is biking is growing tremendously and needs to be accomodated.

And the cop showed poor discretion, considering the circumstance and was a dick. Cops see hundreds of violations a day and because they can't pull them all over, they use discretion all the time. That poor decision making will still exist no matter how the regs are updated.

by crin on Jan 26, 2011 12:22 pm • linkreport

Can we try to get the word out to cyclists that that is the correct procedure?

I'll put it in the newsletter next month.

by oboe on Jan 26, 2011 12:22 pm • linkreport

Cyclists can follow the law. Some just choose not to for the same reason that motorists speed: it's inconvenient and they can make up post-hoc justifications for their actions.

That pretty much summarizes it from my point of view.

Is it the case that cyclists represent an identical threat as cars? No.

But does it make sense from an enforcement perspective to have a (largely) consistent set of traffic laws across vehicles? I think so from both an enforcement and safety perspective. That is, it is OK for road users to have some uncertainty with respect to what others are doing. But we don't want people confused by the rules and road design. So I'm willing to live with the rules and understanding that if you feel that breaking a rule is safe that the price is a potential ticket.

That said, something like an Idaho Stop for stop signs but not traffic lights which are generally located at intersections with different properties, mimics real world behavior closely. So either people are nutty on bicycles or they have concluded that in the vast majority of intersections, slowly rolling through an intersection controlled by a stop sign seemingly devoid of crossing traffic is an acceptable risk. (This is my understanding of an Idaho Stop) And as far as I know, there is no evidence to the contrary. So I support efforts to legalize the maneuver.

by Geof Gee on Jan 26, 2011 12:24 pm • linkreport

As an ex. messenger, I could answer the question pretty easily... it was all about the benjamins. As a bikestrian I would have to say I still broke all the rules because of the feeling of freedom one has on a bike, jumping curbs and snaking through rush hour traffic. I did observe some unwritten rules though. The pedestrian ALWAYS has the right of way. Traffic rules always over rule my convenience as a biker. Never assume anyone can see you, as a driver now, I tend to default to traffic rules and not look out for the biker I was.

I think if we did live in an Amsterdam kind of environment where the ratio of cars to bikes was more equal, I and many others would que up into our lanes and follow the rules, but when I was outnumbered so greatly (early 90's) I took a mad max approach. Come to think about it, I bet hormones have a lot to do with it.

by Thayer-D on Jan 26, 2011 12:30 pm • linkreport

@mw

2 questions for Idaho stop supporters: 1) how do the police reasonably enforce that law? In other words, what objective criteria is there to differentiate someone who properly "treats stop signs like yield signs" (good, responsible cycling!) from someone who "blows through stop signs" (bad, illegal cycling), or to determine whether a cyclist at a red light reasonably believed it was safe for s/he to proceed (even if it means that vehicular traffic has to slow or swerve to avoid the cyclist)?

How do we do this with Right Turn on Red? Or Yield signs?


2) if DC adopts the Idaho stop, are you willing to commit to obeying traffic laws? Or will we continue to be subjected to harangues about how laws are 100% designed for motorists and we really shouldn't have cars anyway, and I need to ride against traffic on one way streets to stay safe and . . . .

The harangues will then focus on how laws are 99% designed for motorists. Not sure who's arguing for the elimination of cars, though. On a side note, it's funny how the slightest mitigation of a privileged class' privileges usually result in feelings of persecution and related drama queen antics. "White men are the only class you're allowed to persecute anymore!", or "A bike lane!?! How are delivery trucks supposed to deliver baby formula!?!" and such.

So unnecessary.

by oboe on Jan 26, 2011 12:34 pm • linkreport

Quit making excuses and follow the law as written. If you want to change it, get elected to City Council and convince the other members. But don't make excuses for your criminal and negligent behavior.

by Redline SOS on Jan 26, 2011 12:35 pm • linkreport

I'm a full-time pedestrian. No car, no bike. And I've been hit or almost been hit by bikes far more than cars. Just because you speeding through the redlight on a bike while I'm legally in the crosswalk might not kill me, doesn't mean it won't hurt like hell when you do and I've got the scars to prove it.

by Ward One Resident on Jan 26, 2011 12:37 pm • linkreport

Cyclists can follow the law. Some just choose not to for the same reason that motorists speed: it's inconvenient and they can make up post-hoc justifications for their actions.
[That pretty much summarizes it from my point of view.]

I'd add one further point: in some cases it's a convenience, thing. In some, it's a safety thing.

One thing that doesn't get much notice, but which every cyclist realizes if they think about it for a moment, is how much of cyclist behavior is driven not by convenience or safety, but out of generosity: cyclists ride for the convenience of auto traffic in many situations where they need not. This might mean climbing hills on the sidewalk (rather than legally taking the lane), or not taking the left lane a block ahead of a left turn but rather waiting to get to the light, etc..., etc... Because of poor perspective-taking, drivers rarely acknowledge these small sacrifices, but that doesn't make them any less relevant.

by oboe on Jan 26, 2011 12:42 pm • linkreport

@Redline SOS:

Quit making excuses and follow the law as written. If you want to change it, get elected to City Council and convince the other members. But don't make excuses for your criminal and negligent behavior.

Said the upright citizen to the jaywalking pedestrian...or the pedestrian to the driver doing 30 in a 25 mph zone...etc...etc...

by oboe on Jan 26, 2011 12:43 pm • linkreport

@oboe; changing the rules, are we?

Dude, sometimes you are as clueless as lance.

Last year, DC issued about 2.4 MILLION parking and moving violations.

1.6 million were parking tickets.
675,000 were speed camera violations.
113465 were moving violations.

by charlie on Jan 26, 2011 12:45 pm • linkreport

I'm a full-time pedestrian. No car, no bike. And I've been hit or almost been hit by bikes far more than cars. Just because you speeding through the redlight on a bike while I'm legally in the crosswalk might not kill me, doesn't mean it won't hurt like hell when you do and I've got the scars to prove it.

You have my sympathies, but, respectfully, this is completely irrelevant to the conversation. You might as well interject teen drunk driving into a conversation about the legitimacy of "right turn on red" laws.

by oboe on Jan 26, 2011 12:46 pm • linkreport

"How is a four block downtown different from a 60 block downtown?" The difference is 56 blocks.

by Gerry on Jan 26, 2011 12:48 pm • linkreport

@charlie:

1.6 million were parking tickets.
675,000 were speed camera violations.
113465 were moving violations.

This ain't Monopoly, I was asking a legitmate question: "How many traffic stops for speeding did MPD officers make last year?"

Speed camera violations are irrelevant because they're not at an officer's discretion. The number of "moving violations" tells us nothing: An acquaintance was plowed into by an oncoming car a couple of weeks ago. He was cited for "Failure to yield."

Adding "parking tickets" is just hand-waving. However, I won't accuse you of "Lancentiousness" as it's already gray and miserable enough outside, and I don't want to add to the general atmosphere of gloom and negativity.

by oboe on Jan 26, 2011 12:54 pm • linkreport

I only recently learned to ride a bike here in the city (since November), and I VERY quickly learned that if I followed the rules as a I would in a car, I would be killed. When the choice comes between following the letter of the law and living, I'll choose living.

After that point, traffic laws lose their legitimacy in my mind, and it's a very slippery slope. "If I can ride up on the sidewalk to avoid getting run over, then I can act like a pedestrian. If I can act like a pedestrian, I can jaywalk. If I can jaywalk, then I can Idaho Stop."

Nearly every time I see a police car, I'm doing something that under car circumstances would get me a ticket, but I've never gotten so much as a second glance.

Biker's entitlement is part of it, definitely, but it's also a combination of these two things:

1) The general belief that the rules for vehicles don't make sense (and are downright DANGEROUS) for cyclists.
2) The observation that these laws are not enforced on cyclists.

For the law to work, they need to carry legitimacy and some group needs to hold authority over the laws and their violators. Neither of these seem to exist, and complaining at cyclists is not going to work. Chris Ziemann's article seems to round out with the idea that the laws should be changed - it establishes legitimacy!
The other option (one that Chris touches on but doesn't advocate) is that the police should enforce these laws with cyclists. That would reestablish DDOT's authority on the matter. As an entitled cyclist, I don't advocate this either. Neither, does it seem, does MPD. If they did, I'd imagine officers would hassle cyclists incessantly and never be lacking in their ticket quotas.

A combination of the two would probab

by Andrew on Jan 26, 2011 1:12 pm • linkreport

I don't want to overlook the photo in the original post which asks, "What would you do here." Presuming "you" refers to a cyclist going straight, I would pass the first car on the right, then change lanes to the left by passing the blue car on its driver side. The blue car's angle indicates it is entering the bike lane to make a right turn and the cylcist's safest path is to be left of a right turning blue car.

1201.3(b) allows for this maneuver. This is a fundamentally safe, legal and recommended maneuver, however most drivers see it as reckless because 99.9% of them have never read the bicycle chapter of the traffic code. They just intuit the traffic code from what their father taught them when they learned to drive.

I'd put a cyclist's knowledge of the entire traffic code up against a driver any day.

by crin on Jan 26, 2011 1:19 pm • linkreport

small correction

553,00 were speed camera, the balance were red light cameras (about 120K)

Moving violations are a good benchmark for the number of speeding tickets. Biggest areas there are speeding, red light, DUI and headset.

To match that number, you'd have to have 300+ jaywalking tickets being handed out every day.

DC, when you include photo radar, issues the most speeding tickets in the country per miles driven. Yes, that data pool means it is an outlier. On the other hand, it is the bottom 5 for pedestrian fatalities per captia.

In 2004, there were 10,000 hand written speeding tickets, vs about 423000 speeding radar tickets. Given a small increase, it is safe to say more than 10,000 speeding tickets are written by hand. We do know in 2009 there were 3500 citations for speeding over 30mph the limit.

The reason this is hard to find -- looking up Governors HIghway Safety Association -- is people would scream bloody murder if they actually crunched the numbers of cash revenue by police. Glad to see bicyclists starting to get it.

by charlie on Jan 26, 2011 1:24 pm • linkreport

It's hard for drivers to understand, but stopping at every block is a BIG deal for bicyclists. It takes a lot of muscle power and sweat to brake, get a foot off the pedal, and then restart from a dead stop when the light turns green. It is much, much different than when a car has to stop.

Telling bicyclists they need to stop at every stop sign is like telling pedestrians they need to stop, look both ways, and then proceed at every single driveway. There is not a pedestrian in existence who does that, and at least 90% of pedestrians will jaywalk without the slightest moral compunction.

I would also add that I personally think riding bikes on sidewalks is OK - but ONLY if you are riding ultra slow and yielding to pedestrians. I ride around a City (Richmond) enough and am experienced enough that I'm in the road 95% of the time, but every so often there comes a situation where it's a choice between riding on the sidewalk, riding on an unsafe road, or turning the wrong way onto a one-way street. In that situation I'll choose the sidewalk.

I won't completely poo-poo the risk of bicycle-pedestrian crashes. While it is extremely unlikely a pedestrian will die from a bicycle collision, there is a decent probability he/she will be injured beyond just a scrape. (Note that's only for fast cyclists; a recreational cyclist going under 10 mph is seriously unlikely to do more than cause a mild bruise.)

There's no easy answer. Cops should increase bicycle enforcement - but they should be smart about it, and only target the bicyclists who are observed doing something truly reckless.

by Marc on Jan 26, 2011 1:25 pm • linkreport

@crin,

I don't want to overlook the photo in the original post which asks, "What would you do here." Presuming "you" refers to a cyclist going straight, I would pass the first car on the right, then change lanes to the left by passing the blue car on its driver side. The blue car's angle indicates it is entering the bike lane to make a right turn and the cylcist's safest path is to be left of a right turning blue car.

Depending on how congested the intersection was, I'd flip a coin and either do what you've recommended, or I'd have gotten in the left lane about a half a block back.

by oboe on Jan 26, 2011 1:25 pm • linkreport

I have deleted a comment that expressed hope someone would be killed in a traffic crash and used namecalling.

by David Alpert on Jan 26, 2011 1:30 pm • linkreport

@oboe,

Agree completely about being in the left lane a block sooner. Better to avoid situations rather than need to get out of them.

by crin on Jan 26, 2011 1:32 pm • linkreport

And I have now banned that commenter entirely, who is just continuing the namecalling and turning it on me instead.

by David Alpert on Jan 26, 2011 1:43 pm • linkreport

For what it's worth, I got pulled over by a cop late last night for doing an Idaho stop on 14th -- full, foot-down stop, looked both ways, but then went through the red light. Didn't see that there was a bored cop behind me.

"If someone in a car ran a red light, I should give them a ticket, right?"
"Yes, sir" etc.

One block later, he made two un-signaled turns. I happened to have to walk past his parked car and pointed this out: "you should signal your turns, please." He told me that MPD was hiring and that I should apply.

So maybe there's some sort of directive out there to give out warnings. Apparently NYPD is currently doing some sort of crackdown on bicycle law enforcement.

by Payton on Jan 26, 2011 1:47 pm • linkreport

@charlie:

Some interesting numbers. But what scenarios could we imagine where it would possible to arrive at 10k hand-written speeding tickets per year? Surely only the tiniest fraction of those could be issued for violating the speed limit on surface streets.

I've lived in many different neighborhoods, and I can't recall ever meeting anyone who received a non-automated speeding ticket. I wonder, do officers write tickets for "excessive speed" when responding to traffic accidents?

by oboe on Jan 26, 2011 1:54 pm • linkreport

It's amazing to see how worked up people get over this, spatting off things like "the law is the law" and "the rules apply to everyone" blah blah blah.

My advice to you is: ride a bike, then talk to me. I love the part of this story when the co-worker asks how he knows it's safe to cross on a bike. The answer: I look. This is not rocket science. Everyone is guilty (drivers, cyclists and pedestrians) of occassionally defering to one's own judgment. It's hilarious that people take out such frustration on cyclists, and not on distracted pedastrians or the drivers behind the wheels of 3,000 pound weapons.

by MJ on Jan 26, 2011 1:54 pm • linkreport

More bicycle vs. automobiles crap. Great..

D.AL, thanks but did u really need to tell us why someone was initially censored and subsequently banned? We would have never known any of this had u not interjected it into the discussion.

I'm sorta ok with the new, yet absolutely temporary, change in tone. But really? We HAD to know that someone had too much hyperbole in their latte focring you to act?

by HogWash on Jan 26, 2011 1:57 pm • linkreport

@ oboe; it isn't scenario, it is a fact.*

I could see MPD pulling officers of speeding patrol now that they have more cameras. Also the appeal rate of hand-written tickets vs. cameras is different, so MPD wants to get as may speeding tickets done by camera. I don't have the numbers from 2004 later -- MPD apparently stopped reporting. MPD also has recent policies to only write tickets for $100, so minor tickets like mine may have dropped off.

The 3500 number is more recent, so the universe you are talking about is at least between 3500 and something like 15,000 hand written tickets a year.

Now, if you want to dig and get your jaywalking (and bicycle) numbers that is fine. Macro point: DC LOVES TICKETS.

* your basis on "neighborhoods" means you ignore the shilobelth that DC LOVES to tickets out of state (Maryland) drivers. Arlington does the same -- if you are VA driver they will let you off with a warning.

by charlie on Jan 26, 2011 2:02 pm • linkreport

Is it something about the culture in DC? I lived in Chicago for 4 years sans car. I biked, walked, took CTA and Amtrak. I just don't recall being harrassed while on my bike like I am in DC. I can't remember one incident where a driver nearly killed me or yelled at me to get off the road. This has happened so often in DC that I've lost track of how many times. Maybe its simply that the roads and sidewalks are generally wider in Chicago.

by Tina on Jan 26, 2011 2:11 pm • linkreport

The person who said to count the number of near misses you've had as a pedestrian with cars vs. the number you've had with bikes is right on. Cars are much more deadly than bikes. It's not even close.

I'm as frustrated by some of the reckless bikers as everyone else, but it usually has nothing to do with drifting through red lights or stop signs. It's the less than 1% who are simply careless around pedestrians.

by aaa on Jan 26, 2011 2:12 pm • linkreport

my comment above is off topic. I agree with the post and Andrews comment that the laws need to be changed to fit appropriately for the mode of transportation.

by Tina on Jan 26, 2011 2:14 pm • linkreport

MJ - did you miss the part in my comments, and in comments from several others advocating following traffic laws, that we do, in fact, commute by bicycle? Frankly, my experience as a bike commuter has made me more hostile to the bike-scofflaw apologists, as their arguments about safety and "laws designed for motorists" have not matched my experience at all.

by mw on Jan 26, 2011 2:18 pm • linkreport

Congratulations for Deputy Dog for following the letter of the law with no regard for the purpose of the law which is to improve traffic safety. Every once in a while you get a cop who thinks he is doing the right thing by pulling you over for crossing a painted gore, doing 27 in a 15, or in this case making a right turn on red in the middle of the night when there is no traffic.

by movement on Jan 26, 2011 2:19 pm • linkreport

This was a great piece. Thanks for writing it. I especially liked the part about living in two worlds, and the heat.

But here is where you lost me:

"Another distinction is that if you get hit by a bike, it might hurt, but you probably won't die."

First of all, that's really not true. There was a recent case of a death.

Second, it's a bit cavalier if you don't mind me saying so, and it's perhaps indicative of the reason a lot of people resent cyclists sometimes.

by Jazzy on Jan 26, 2011 2:29 pm • linkreport

Is it something about the culture in DC? I lived in Chicago for 4 years sans car. I biked, walked, took CTA and Amtrak. I just don't recall being harrassed while on my bike like I am in DC. I can't remember one incident where a driver nearly killed me or yelled at me to get off the road. This has happened so often in DC that I've lost track of how many times. Maybe its simply that the roads and sidewalks are generally wider in Chicago.

by Tina on Jan 26, 2011 2:11 pm

___

Tina, I've lived in DC a long time. In my experience, this is a recent phenemenon (yelling and threatening cyclists). I used to ride a lot more than I do now. When I got on my bike once last year, I remember a driver honking and cussing at me. That was the first time I had experienced that. And I gave him the finger. I hated the whole experience. I hate to be that confrontational.

So all I can say is, it didn't used to happen to me. Now it does.

by Jazzy on Jan 26, 2011 2:33 pm • linkreport

@David C -- I never said that considering the Idaho stop in a major city like DC wasn't reasonable. I just don't consider "it worked in Boise" to be unqualified evidence that it's appropriate in a dense city.

Also, some drivers are morons who do stupid things legal or illegal. So do some bikers. We accept that drivers will get tickets when they do things that are illegal even if it is safe in that instance if they get caught I don't see why bikers are special or have better judgement.

by Kate on Jan 26, 2011 2:43 pm • linkreport

Apologies if anyone else has posted this link already, but I like to remind people "we're all scofflaws" - http://www.thewashcycle.com/2009/08/were-all-scofflaws.html

by Lucre on Jan 26, 2011 3:28 pm • linkreport

"Another distinction is that if you get hit by a bike, it might hurt, but you probably won't die."
I have heard bikers use the exact opposite excuse, i.e. they run into pedestrians more and have more injuries, to justify riding on a road instead of on an adjacent, parallel hiker/biker path.

by dht on Jan 26, 2011 3:35 pm • linkreport

Yeah, dht - we like to have it both ways.

by Andrew on Jan 26, 2011 3:40 pm • linkreport

Trucks, buses, cars, bikes scooters, segways, roller skates.

The fact that the legal books classifies all of these as "vehicles" and suggests they should all follow the same set of norms is bogus.

The fact is, they ARE different. VERY different.

And of course, the rule books are riddled with exceptions. No trucks on the left lane of freeways, no bikes on freeways, no buses on this street, etc etc.

Cut the lazy crap, and write up five different law books.

Trucks.
Buses.
Cars + Motorcycles
Scooters/mopeds
Bikes + segways + roller skates.

by JJJJJ on Jan 26, 2011 4:55 pm • linkreport

dcd, DC is much denser, with many more cars on the road, than Boise Fair enough, but how does that matter?

how do the police reasonably enforce that law? The law makes stop signs into yield and stop lights into stop signs for cyclists. So they would be enforced the same way stop signs and yield signs are.

if DC adopts the Idaho stop, are you willing to commit to obeying traffic laws? Compliance will improve.

@Jazzy, the claim that if you're hit by a bike you probably won't die is true - in that a very small percentage of pedestrians hit by cyclists die.

@Kate, Again, what is it about Boise that means the results there are unlikely to translate here? How does density matter?

I don't see why bikers are special or have better judgement.
They aren't and they don't. But bikes are different and so bicyclists have more information (can see more and hear more, spent more time approaching an intersection) and more mobility - so that slowly rolling through an intersection is much safer than in a car.

by David C on Jan 26, 2011 5:06 pm • linkreport

What we need to be doing is enforcing the laws and give the people (driving, biking, walking) a god damn ticket if they brake the law and plain and simple.

by kk on Jan 26, 2011 5:07 pm • linkreport

A point Chris missed. Above and beyond any individuals desires, it is in the public interest to make cycling convenient:
a) Cycling infrastructure is cheaper to install and maintain than infrastructure for motorized transportation.
b) Cycling has public health benefits. Reducing auto-vehicle miles decreases auto-related deaths and injuries, and cycling can contribute to this reduction. Cycling itself is exercise - and exercise is an important contributor to a healthier population.
c) Cycling is inexpensive for the user. Money otherwise spent on transportation (and in particular fuel) can be spent in ways which have economic multiplier effects.
d) Cycling can save time. Even at high levels of use in urban environments cycling can provide a quicker alternative. Time saved by cyclists can be productively applied to other economic activity.

In short a dense city (such as ours) can reap extensive, public health and economic benefits from encouraging extensive bicycle use. And that is a reason to change laws to make cycling convenient and safe.

by egk on Jan 26, 2011 5:08 pm • linkreport

@ egk

Cycling has health benefits for some; if you already have a health problem cycling does not benefit you and thats a lot of people.

"Above and beyond any individuals desires, it is in the public interest to make cycling convenient:"

Nope public transit in any form (bus, streetcar, lightrail, hevy rail etc) should be the public interest all types of people can use it the able bodied and the disabled whereas cycling only helps those that can use it.

by kk on Jan 26, 2011 5:25 pm • linkreport

@kk
That's like saying that since blind people can't drive, maintaining a viable highway system doesn't benefit society and interstate commerce.

by HisMexcellency on Jan 26, 2011 5:42 pm • linkreport

@ HisMexcellency

What percentage of DC uses bikes out of the 600+ thousand population and what percentage is disabled in anyway (mental or physically)

What should be done first should always be what can support all people and biking is not that it should be walking on foot or getting around with a wheelchair.

It would be better to make the city accessible to all residents before with things such as sidewalks, crosswalks, traffic lights etc before moving to pet projects (bike lanes etc) which the majority wont use nor can a significant segment of the city use at all.

by kk on Jan 26, 2011 5:55 pm • linkreport

@David C - density matters because the chances of an area being free of cars or pedestrians matters as far safety and the ability to rely on individual judgment. One reason that you can't turn right on red in NYC in a car is that there is a very good chance there there will be another car or a pedestrian that makes it a less safe choice. In some place like Boise the chance is lower so its safer. That's why density matters.

Devices that control traffic of any kind matter more when there is dense traffic of any kind.

by Kate on Jan 26, 2011 6:31 pm • linkreport

What percentage of DC uses bikes out of the 600+ thousand population?

According the the Bicycle retailers association about 50% of Americans will get on a bike this year.

by David C on Jan 26, 2011 6:55 pm • linkreport

Kate, I disagree. I don't see any reason why the Idaho Stop wouldn't work here - especially since that is what most cyclists already do and the number of cyclists who died running a red light or stop sign in the entire DC metro area is 0 over the last two years.

by David C on Jan 26, 2011 6:59 pm • linkreport

Okay, so normally I am a hater when it come to bikes and the rules of the road. However, as I walk most places now i am starting to see a lot of the points you make. Good post, thanks!

by Gregg on Jan 26, 2011 8:37 pm • linkreport

Traffic engineers are very aware that setting speed limits too stringently for motorists means they will be routinely broken and, thus, serve no purpose. It's called the 85th percentile rule. Speed limits should not be set, as the rule goes, below what the 85th percentile of drivers would drive naturally with no restraints. Based on tons of empirical research, we understand that traffic law can only nudge behavior away from our perceptions of the rational choice to a certain degree.

If we are willing to set laws based on motorists' actual behavior, why do we completely ignore bicyclists' actual behavior when setting laws for them. Instead, many seem arbitrary, with no reason to follow except for the sake of following the law.

What I hear Chris saying here is that observation of actual cyclist behavior should inform how the laws are written. It's about time!

by Daniel on Jan 26, 2011 9:36 pm • linkreport

@kk a "public interest" means that it is good for society as a whole - it is good for society as a whole to have a healthier population, it is good for society as a whole to reduce traffic accidents, it is good for society as a whole to produce more domestic economic activity.

Or to put it more directly: YOU benefit because I ride a bike - You benefit because I'm not sending my dollars overseas by buying gas, I'm spending them here locally (perhaps in stores where you or friends of yours work); you benefit because I'm not using up valuable and expensive road or transit infrastructure (that your taxes pay for), you benefit because I'm contributing - however slightly - to lowering my own health care costs (which will - however slightly - keep health insurance premiums down); and you benefit because given how slow I ride neither you nor your friends will be killed or maimed by me on my commute to work.

And the great part is, the more other people ride bikes, the more you benefit.

by eg on Jan 26, 2011 10:49 pm • linkreport

@Kate -

I'm perplexed by the bizarre slander of Boise here. It's the third-largest city in the Northwest, it's the capital of the state. It has a population in the low hundreds of thousands. Downtown is characterized by multiple lane wide one way streets and boulevards with multiple lanes in each direction. Downtown is characterized by ten story high-rise office buildings and some universities. The nearby residential neighborhoods are mostly moderate density single family houses. Boise has won numerous awards for its quality of life and its civic planning, so it is probably a good model.

It seems to me that as far as bike commuting goes, this is extremely similar to DC. There are differences. On the one hand, it is a bit under half the size of DC, and it's densest residential neighborhoods are probably not as dense as Dupont or Foggy Bottom. On the other hand, the suburbs and exurbs are not served by rail at all, whereas the DC suburbs are completely reliant on rail to get commuters into the downtown core (though Boise does have a streetcar system in the works). Both cities were built on a late nineteenth/early twentieth century urban layout and scale.

Does the following scene remind you of anywhere? Possibly somewhere with a new bike lane that has caused a silly amount of pissing and moaning?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Boise_Idaho.jpg

It just sounds completely parochial and ignorant to dismiss a quality public policy initiative because you can't possibly imagine comparing Boise to DC. Life exists outside the Northeast corridor, and it even exists between the coasts.

by Joe on Jan 26, 2011 11:28 pm • linkreport

D.AL, thanks but did u really need to tell us why someone was initially censored and subsequently banned? We would have never known any of this had u not interjected it into the discussion.

I strongly disagree and I'm really glad when you give feedback on how you're moderating the comments. I think forums work much, much better when people have some indication of what the rules are, than when everything is private and unannounced. And people feel treated more fairly, too.

by David desJardins on Jan 27, 2011 1:07 am • linkreport

@Joe -- I did not slander Boise. And I didn't dismiss the initiative. All did was ask if there had been research done somewhere with density similar to DC. Then I got back a fair number of questions about why I would even ask such a question. I still think it's fair question. I don't actually think that photo looks very similar to DC based on traffic when most people travel.

When someone says it worked in city x; we should try it in city y; it's not unreasonable to wonder if there is something different about city x and city y that might possibly effect how something works.

by Kate on Jan 27, 2011 3:21 am • linkreport

Monkeyrotica's comment best summarizes this thread.

by Fritz on Jan 27, 2011 8:34 am • linkreport

+1 Monkeyrotica, Fritz, and Geoff Gee @12:24pm

by Froggie on Jan 27, 2011 8:49 am • linkreport

I love bikes! But:

"Bikes aren't vehicles" is stupid.

"Bikes don't really hurt people if they run into them" is stupid.

"It's cool for me to run red lights and stop signs because I can see better on a bike" is stupid, and will eventually get you hurt or killed.

by xlive on Jan 27, 2011 11:52 am • linkreport

xlive,

Luckily those last two aren't quotes, so there's no need to worry about that. The first one, while a quote, loses some of it's nuance by itself.

by David C on Jan 27, 2011 12:05 pm • linkreport

Kate, you didn't "wonder if there is something different about city x and city y that might possibly effect how something works" you straight out said it was an apples and oranges comparison and that those who felt the Idaho results were applicable here were too blinded by their love of bikes to see that. So I pushed back and asked you why it was apples and oranges. Don't insult me by portraying yourself as some victim of unreasonable attacks.

I don't necessarily think it's a fair question, btw. When people say it's dangerous, the reply is "it worked in Idaho." Then people say "well this ain't Idaho." But I think the onus is on the naysayers to explain why it will work in a city with a population density of 2000+ people/sq. mi. but not one with 9000+ people/sq. mi. At what density does it switch from more safe to less safe?

by David C on Jan 27, 2011 12:18 pm • linkreport

Can we agree that bikes are vehicles but are instrinsically different than motor vehicles?

by canaan on Jan 27, 2011 12:22 pm • linkreport

My bike is a vegan and requires a Vegan Bike Lane.

by TS on Jan 27, 2011 12:39 pm • linkreport

I am a certified cycling instructor (through LAB) and what I see here is a BUNCH of people who really, really, really need to take Traffic Skills 101, a class offered by LAB.

Seriously, as someone mentioned up above, when we go around saying that bicycles aren't really vehicles, we risk giving up our rights to the road. I very much resist the notion that stopping at red lights should be optional for cyclists. It's a bad, bad, bad idea. You don't like stopping and starting? Boo hoo. Take up track racing or ride your bike on a bike trail.

And yes, I do ride my bike, for those of you who would think I never ride a bike in traffic.

by mothra on Jan 27, 2011 12:41 pm • linkreport

mothra, the Idaho Stop still requires stopping at red lights. That does not become optional.

by David C on Jan 27, 2011 12:49 pm • linkreport

David C.: those aren't quotes, but they are accurate statements of the writer's meaning. The use of the quotation marks here amounts to me putting paraphrases in his mouth, but the paraphrases are accurate.

If you're tempted to further tweak me about punctuation usage, please review the proper usage of "its" and "it's" first.

by xlive on Jan 27, 2011 1:02 pm • linkreport

xline, mine was not a point about punctuation (but I am notoriously bad about homophones). It was about the accuracy of your paraphrasing - as in that it is not. Perhaps quoting the lines you specifically disagree with would make it easier to agree or disagree with you. Right now, you're putting inaccurate and inflammatory statements into the mouths of others and then attacking them. That's hardly useful.

I, for one, did not care for your earlier comment that "everyone else is stupid and should be hurt or killed." [Paraphrasing, of course].

by David C on Jan 27, 2011 1:10 pm • linkreport

xlive

If by paraphrase you mean gross oversimplification, then I would agree with you.

People keep pointing out the "bikes aren't vehicles" statement and are ignoring the point of the argument. Bicycles are not the same thing as automobiles, and its silly to have the same rules apply for both. It's reasonable to desire that the law show more nuance. Having cyclist abide by laws that were written for automobiles is not practical or safe.

"Bikes don't really hurt people if they run into them"
I thought the point was that there a drastic difference between getting hit by a car and hit by a bike. I'm not sure what's so hard to grasp. Nobody is saying that getting hit by a bike won't hurt you, they are only saying that you're much less likely to get killed or seriously hurt.

by HisMexcellency on Jan 27, 2011 1:12 pm • linkreport

Worst. Logic. Ever.
Bikes don't have heaters on them?
Dress warmer.
Bikes are smaller? Another distinction is that if you get hit by a bike, it might hurt, but you probably won't die?
I watched an elderly person get nailed by a bike. She didn't die, but she took a ride in an ambulance. If your bar is set at "It won't kill someone", I suggest you review your bar.
Bikes don't go as fast as vehicles? Ask the old woman.
Riding a bike uses a lot of momentum? Oh my, you are lazy. Why do you ride a bike to work every day?

I commute by bike to work in Boston almost everyday. The vehicles on the road I fear the most? Other bikes.

Everytime you break the law, you make it less safe for those of us that follow the rules. And here you are trying to justify it.

Personally, I think all bikes should require a license and insurance.

by Tom on Jan 27, 2011 1:21 pm • linkreport

Personally, I think all bikes should require a license and insurance.

Yes, that has certainly made motorists drive safely.

Bikes don't go as fast as vehicles? Ask the old woman. I bet she's aware of physics and the relative speed of bikes and cars. She'll agree with the statement.

by David C on Jan 27, 2011 1:28 pm • linkreport

@DavidC; bet she's aware of physics and the relative speed of bikes and cars.

I am fairly certain a bike traveling at 21 mph is faster than a car traveling at 15mph. But I don't live in David C's fantasy world, either. Differnt physics package, I guess.

The eternal cycling advocate circle jerk:

1) More bikers mean more safety (agreed)
2) To get more bikers, we need infrastructure and legal changes
3) To get that, we need a community which can force change
4) To get a community, you have to say "all cyclists are brothers"
5) That makes it impossible for them to admit a certain percentage of cyclists are just bad people, or bad cyclists, or just plain stupid.

How you choose to transport yourself isn't a political statement.

by charlie on Jan 27, 2011 1:37 pm • linkreport

I watched an elderly person get nailed by a bike. She didn't die, but she took a ride in an ambulance. If your bar is set at "It won't kill someone", I suggest you review your bar.

Oh for God sake, let's drop the drama; on the off chance there is an "old woman" rather than a rhetorical device, the traffic laws that responsible cyclists ignore have nothing to do with pedestrian safety--certainly much less so than allowing motor vehicles to turn right on red.

The fact that you fear other cyclists more than any other road user gives us keen insight into your risk assessment abilities, though. It certainly doesn't bolster your argument...

by oboe on Jan 27, 2011 1:37 pm • linkreport

charlie, first of all, I'm not sure the term "circle jerk" is fit for polite company.

Second, I think the point is that on average cars go faster than bikes. Or that at top speed cars go faster than bikes. By your logic bikes go faster than airplanes because I can bike faster than a plane taxiing down the runway. If asked the question "Which goes faster, a car or a bike?" what would be your answer, or the old lady's.

Third, almost every cyclist I know will admit that "a certain percentage of cyclists are just bad people, or bad cyclists, or just plain stupid." Show me a person who thinks otherwise.

Tom, I agree with oboe. If you're more scared of other cyclists than drivers, you are woefully ill-informed about actual crash rates, fatality rates and the types of crashes these are made up of. The fatal bike-bike crash is so rare that I doubt you can find an example of one outside of the world of bike racing.

by David C on Jan 27, 2011 1:50 pm • linkreport

@David C; you should really try law school.* You love not answering the question.

Physics has nothing to do with the speed of bikes. What you are trying to say is a car, at 3000 pounds, hitting you at 10 mph may do a lot more damage than a bicycle weighing 180 pounds (plus driver) at 10 mph.

Really, next time a cyclists comes by me on the Custis trail exceeding the speed limit I'm going to stick my umbrella out and test the physics. Should be fun.

The constant function on death, rather than injury is fascinating. More of the circle-jerk mentality. And when you're with bikers, polite company is far away.

* that would not mean you would be a good lawyer.

by charlie on Jan 27, 2011 2:00 pm • linkreport

@charlie:

That makes it impossible for them to admit a certain percentage of cyclists are just bad people, or bad cyclists, or just plain stupid.

If you can find one cycling advocate here that has claimed this, I'll give you a cookie. I think you're conflating the above with a failure to agree with the anti- side's assertion that the selfish, bad, or plain stupid cyclist is representative of the whole, or that policy should be built around their behavior.

by oboe on Jan 27, 2011 2:01 pm • linkreport

@charlie

4) To get a community, you have to say "all cyclists are brothers"
5) That makes it impossible for them to admit a certain percentage of cyclists are just bad people, or bad cyclists, or just plain stupid.

This is just plain untrue. We (bicyclists) say again and again that there is a certain percentage of cyclists who are f-ing morons. It's the same as any other group - pedestrians, drivers, etc.

Where I and others have a problem is when people paint all cyclists as morons (which is untrue), or define "being a moron" in ridiculous terms. People make these huge broad statements that reflect the fact that A. they never ride a bike and B. aren't really thinking about a situation. "Cars can't do X so bikes shouldn't do X" - ignoring the fact that bikes and cars are inherently different.

Let's look at an example from this conversation. The article wrote: Another distinction is that if you get hit by a bike, it might hurt, but you probably won't die.

This has been distilled by commenters down to variations on "bikes don't kill people ever!" or "bikes can't hurt people!" or "bike crashes aren't a problem!" which is not even remotely what the author said. If you can't look past bias to see that the point is "bikes are less dangerous to pedestrians than cars" which is obviously true, then I don't know what to say.

by MLD on Jan 27, 2011 2:02 pm • linkreport

@xlive:

"It's cool for me to run red lights and stop signs because I can see better on a bike" is stupid, and will eventually get you hurt or killed.

This is just laughably wrong. If it were the case, the "always obey signals" folks would have a point. But they don't. Just as responsible jaywalkers are arguably safer than folks who wait for the walk sign, the only evidence shows that responsible "Idaho stoppers" are safer than those who rigorously obey traffic signals.

by oboe on Jan 27, 2011 2:08 pm • linkreport

@Gregg:

Okay, so normally I am a hater when it come to bikes and the rules of the road. However, as I walk most places now i am starting to see a lot of the points you make. Good post, thanks!

Great... The last thing our resident monomaniacs (e.g. David C and oboe) need is any encouragement that reasonable folks can change their mind.

by oboe on Jan 27, 2011 2:12 pm • linkreport

charlie, Physics has nothing to do with the speed of bikes. As a former physics professor, I disagree. Speed is a critical function of physics.

What you are trying to say is...</> Let's recap. Tom contradicted the statement that "bikes don't go as fast as [cars]" by saying that we should ask some woman who was hit by a bike if that were true. All I'm trying to say is that any reasonable person, whether they'd been hit by a bike or not, would agree that bikes don't go as fast as cars. Nothing more.

Really, next time a cyclists comes by me on the Custis trail exceeding the speed limit I'm going to stick my umbrella out and test the physics. There is no speed limit on the Custis trail. I guess the number of times you've been there with an umbrella or will be there with one is equal to 0. But it says a lot about you that you want to hurt a complete stranger for some perceived slight that in no way caused you harm. You'd make a great sociopathic murderer. Seek mental help now, before you end up executing people in a Safeway parking lot.

The constant function on death, rather than injury is fascinating. I'm guessing you mean focus. This is primarily because there's more accurate data on fatalities than injuries.

by David C on Jan 27, 2011 2:25 pm • linkreport

Fixing the italics

charlie, Physics has nothing to do with the speed of bikes. As a former physics professor, I disagree. Speed is a critical function of physics.

What you are trying to say is... Let's recap. Tom contradicted the statement that "bikes don't go as fast as [cars]" by saying that we should ask some woman who was hit by a bike if that were true. All I'm trying to say is that any reasonable person, whether they'd been hit by a bike or not, would agree that bikes don't go as fast as cars. Nothing more.

Really, next time a cyclists comes by me on the Custis trail exceeding the speed limit I'm going to stick my umbrella out and test the physics. There is no speed limit on the Custis trail. I guess the number of times you've been there with an umbrella or will be there with one is equal to 0. But it says a lot about you that you want to hurt a complete stranger for some perceived slight that in no way caused you harm. You'd make a great sociopathic murderer. Seek mental help now, before you end up executing people in a Safeway parking lot.

The constant function on death, rather than injury is fascinating. I'm guessing you mean focus. This is primarily because there's more accurate data on fatalities than injuries.

by David C on Jan 27, 2011 2:26 pm • linkreport

...This is primarily because there's more accurate data on fatalities than injuries.

...and (must it be pointed out?) there is no chance of recovery from death.

by Tina on Jan 27, 2011 2:42 pm • linkreport

Tina, Good point.

Fatalities are also a straight 1 to 1 comparison. No fatality is more or less serious than another. Whereas injury is a vague term. Would a skinned knee count the same as severe head trauma or a lost limb?

by David C on Jan 27, 2011 2:46 pm • linkreport

A big part of why cars are more dangerous than bikes *is* because they weigh a lot more, this means they have a way bigger impact even if they hit you at the same speed. When you analyze the collision in center-of-mass coordinates, you see that the inelastic collision with a car has about 4 times the energy transfer to a pedestrian than being hit by a bike.

by David desJardins on Jan 27, 2011 2:49 pm • linkreport

Well, I spent two years in Atlanta using a road bike as my primary means of transportation. I pretty much followed the same rules as a car. I would get on the sidewalk for steep climbs or other times when I couldn't keep up with traffic, but being 24 and fit (biking 12+ miles a day in a hilly city will do that!) I really could keep up from stop light to stop light. I would never blow through a stop because that's just suicide.

Most people who do ride fixies; screw them, none of my fixie friends ever outpaced me uphill, downhill, or any other way. And the no-brakes 'asthetic' should be illegal. Jesus.

What else... Oh, if you're old or on a mountain bike or otherwise slow, you make the rest of us look bad.

by Scarshapedstar on Jan 27, 2011 2:58 pm • linkreport

Thing is, the driver or the pedestrian has to know what to expect of the other object moving around on the road. Bike are vehicles. That's how it works.

(I've been hit by a car while biking, and I've been hit by a bike while walking.)

by Tommy D on Jan 27, 2011 3:00 pm • linkreport

I pretty much followed the same rules as a car. I would get on the sidewalk for steep climbs or other times when I couldn't keep up with traffic, but being 24 and fit (biking 12+ miles a day in a hilly city will do that!) I really could keep up from stop light to stop light. I would never blow through a stop because that's just suicide.

You make an excellent point--which is why no one does this.

by oboe on Jan 27, 2011 3:07 pm • linkreport

For those of you on snow day with lots of free time, Jeffrey Hiles wrote a long essay back in 1996 that touches on much of what has been discussed here. Although the context had to do with bike lanes (pro/con), his observations and thoughts are still very salient.

He cites some statistics that are interesting, too, although now they are 15 years old. Enjoy!
http://ow.ly/3LyMz

by Steve O on Jan 27, 2011 4:41 pm • linkreport

Here's a quick quote from the first page to whet your appetite:
Different cyclists have different reasons for bicycling and different beliefs about what makes bicycling safe and fun. Some speed through city streets, keeping pace with heavy traffic. Some saunter along village sidewalks. Some prefer to drive their cars to the country or to a trail to ride where traffic is scarce. Some cycle solo, others join clubs and pedal in packs. Some ride for fun and exercise, others just to get somewhere. Being such a mixed lot, bicyclists naturally have their differences over how transportation planning should serve bicycling—and who it should serve.

Depending on your viewpoint, the Lycra-clad “advanced” cyclists represent the keepers of ultimate knowledge and wisdom about bicycling, or they comprise a cadre of athletic elitists who are out of touch with the wants and needs of the bicycling masses (in so far as there is such a thing as bicycling masses). Adherents of these opposing views have wrangled for decades over what to do, or not do, for bicyclists. The wrangling continues
http://ow.ly/3LyMz

by Steve O on Jan 27, 2011 4:44 pm • linkreport

The best way to get people to obey the rules when they ride bikes is to write the rules for people who ride bikes.

It really won't work that way. You get cyclists to obey the rules as they are, then you advocate for change from a position of strength. That breaks the cycle (pardon the pun) of marginalization producing marginal behaviour.

I spent nearly a decade in a decent-sized city that, while not Amsterdam or Copenhagen, hosts thousands of everyday bike riders. There weren't special rules for cyclists, and the standard rules of the road are enforced, but the infrastructure accommodated them within that existing framework.

by pseudonymous in nc on Jan 27, 2011 5:09 pm • linkreport

@Jazzy I have to agree with you. I grew up here and when I turned 16, I got a bike. I rode it from one end of town to the next, though mostly through downtown. I obeyed the traffic laws, because that's what you did. You were expected to ride on the road and to behave as a vehicle on the road. The one time I didn't, I hit a car, that was extremely understanding and more worried about my safety.

The animosity that's against cyclists is something that's happened recently. Maybe within the last 5-6 years. As someone who walks, bikes, and drives fairly equally, it's mostly likely because there's been this collective sense of cyclist entitlement that has recently permeated the DC scene.

And to whomever said that it's an unspoken understanding in DC that pedestrians have the right of way, you've got it wrong. It's the law. About 8 years ago the did a crackdown on drivers that didn't stop for pedestrians regardless of if they were in or out of a crosswalk.

by LexiQ on Jan 27, 2011 6:05 pm • linkreport

@LexiQ

It's also possible that the recent animosity that you're observing is a response not to "cyclist entitlement" but to what some drivers see as "a lot more cyclists who need to get out of my way."

by David R. on Jan 27, 2011 7:50 pm • linkreport

The writer needs to consult his dictionary. A vehicle is variously defined as "...A device or structure for transporting persons or things; a conveyance...". It need not be motorized. Traditional Amish get around just fine in their horse-drawn buggies, which also perform as vehicles.

Why don't bicyclists obey the rules? More importantly, why doesn't anyone else? As the Transportation Board Chair of Los Alamos, New Mexico, I had to help write a set of formal procedures that the county would follow to investigate and implement neighborhood traffic calming because of the number of complaints of speeding motorists we get--constantly. We had to rebuild one of our main streets in town to forcefully lower the de-facto speed limit to its posted value.

The bottom line is cyclists are the same people as motorists and pedestrians. We cheat because we think we can get away with it. We usually do. The difference between cyclists and motorists are many, but two stand out in this discussion: there are fewer of us than there are motorists and therefore its easier to pass bad laws aimed at bicyclists. Secondly, when a bicyclists cheats and gets into a crash, he or she is the crumple zone.

by Khalil J. Spencer on Jan 28, 2011 11:45 am • linkreport

My bike is a vegan.

Pay the fine and obey the traffic laws.

You're not special.

by TS on Jan 28, 2011 9:48 pm • linkreport

Lexi,

I'm not sure we DO agree! The time I was out riding, and a driver honked and verbally abused me, I was simply riding in the road, not flaunting a sense of entitlement at all. Though in light traffic situation, I will do a "rolling stop," I am mostly as inoffensive a cyclist as you might find. Maybe I'm overestimating myself, but I am pretty deferential too. So what was it that prompted my abusive driver? He just hated cyclists.

This is why I go back time and again to my pet idea - WE NEED PSAs to flash to people that yes, that's right, there ARE more cyclists out there, and we all have to get along.

Yes, there are aggressive riders. But they do not account for the recent driver hostility in my opinion. What does is the increase in cyclists.

by Jazzy on Jan 29, 2011 6:58 pm • linkreport

Actually, there *is* a major, dense, traffic-choked, bike-friendly North American city that allows cyclists to "Idaho stop" and then proceed through red lights: Vancouver, B.C. Okay, so it's technically not going against a red light and it's only at some red lights, but many of its bike routes (typically on lower traffic side streets) feature intersections where the bike route has a stop sign, but the major intersecting street has a stop light. The stop light typically flashes green, until it's activated when a cyclist or pedestrian requests it. Then it turns yellow and then red, and a WALK/BIKE sign goes on for the bike route, overriding the stop sign.

Here's a photo of some cyclists waiting at such an intersection -- note that there's no traffic light facing the cyclists, just a stop sign -- and here's a close-up photo of the bike-specific stop sign.

by Payton on Jan 30, 2011 1:19 am • linkreport

Actually, that Vancouver situation reminds me a bit of Bremen, Germany, where I just spent a week on a business trip. Bicyclists and peds have their own downsized traffic lights and their own rights of way. I realize I only spent a week there, but it seems to work just fine.
I posted some pics here:
http://labikes.blogspot.com/2011/01/ubiquitous-gazelle.html

But a system that provides cyclists their own light cycles is a far cry from a system where you have a different rule for the same traffic device, i.e., the Idaho Stop. For both political reasons and reasons of parsimony, i.e., a traffic control device should mean one thing, I don't like the Idaho situation. Unless, of course, it is allowed because they cannot afford to put in cyclist-sensitive devices on traffic-controlled traffic lights. But I think other laws might cover that, i.e., if a light is not functional one can treat it as a stop sign?

by Khalil J. Spencer on Jan 30, 2011 11:07 am • linkreport

For both political reasons and reasons of parsimony, i.e., a traffic control device should mean one thing, I don't like the Idaho situation.

Not sure I understand either of these. I guess the case could be made that "political reasons" means there might be some sort of backlash, but it's hard to envision how that might come about.

But what on earth does parimony mean in this context? Either that by having one set of rules we'll "save money"; or that we'll eliminate confusion? Or what?

by oboe on Jan 30, 2011 11:59 am • linkreport

sorry, "parsimony". ;)

by oboe on Jan 30, 2011 12:00 pm • linkreport

Parsimony in this case means the most frugal explanation for something. Stop means stop for everyone. Parsimony isn't religion and I could be wrong, but I think everyone benefits when you assume that everyone follows the same rule. But we can study Idaho for a few years and see how it works, and benefit from their experience. If it works, great.

As far as the political, I should have elaborated a bit. I think there might be some backlash if bicyclists are seen to have a different set of rules for red lights and stop signs than others. This is one case where I just think the Idaho Stop is a solution in search of a problem and that in the general case, encouraging double standards for cyclists could backfire (for example, the "as far right as is practicable" law.)

I've been commuting, racing, and riding lots for 32 years. Stop signs and red lights never crushed my will or caused me to bonk on a Century.

by Khalil J. Spencer on Jan 30, 2011 12:15 pm • linkreport

Khalil, Idaho is 30 years in to this. How much longer do you need?

by David C on Jan 30, 2011 2:26 pm • linkreport

Yeah, sorry about that. I was aware that in 2005 cyclists were allowed by a change in law to roll through red lights, but was clueless that the stop sign law has been in effect since 1982! Some interesting discussions here:

http://www.oregoncycling.org/2008/12/history-of-idahos-stop-sign-law/

http://www.bicyclelaw.com/blog/index.cfm/2009/3/7/Origins-of-Idahos-Stop-as-Yield-Law

http://www.bikedavis.info/?p=47

by Khalil J. Spencer on Jan 30, 2011 2:54 pm • linkreport

Okay, if the intent of a stop sign is to keep traffic from speeding through an urban neighborhood, then any 10MPH cyclist is observing the intent of that law even if she doesn’t follow the letter of the law. (Not that drivers do, either: almost any graph of observed auto speeds will find a bell curve with the midpoint well above the posted speed limit.)

Cyclists in Amsterdam or Copenhagen get not just bikeways, but also a completely different set of road rules tailored around cyclists — even green lights are timed to move bike, not car, traffic. The Dutch traffic engineers who recently schooled DC engineers have a saying: "bicycles flow like water, and we should design for it." Actual full stops there are relatively rare; instead, signs and lines oblige all vehicles to yield. (Similarly, Portland, Vancouver, and other cities with bicycle boulevards have replaced a lot of stop signs with yield signs, and stop lights with signs -- see my post above.) Yet both driving and cycling there are statistically much safer than in the US.

This “yield if it’s safe” approach acknowledges that a full stop for a cyclist isn’t like tapping the brake pedal in a car, since the car wields 500X as much horsepower and takes up much more space. It’s more akin to asking pedestrians to sit down before getting back up and crossing the street. Contrary to claims above, it really does add substantially to travel times -- particularly for the less-able among us.

Instead of more enforcement, better laws would go a long way towards improving safe and orderly traffic flow for everyone. It's the same general idea as legalizing other safe, victimless behavior: bicycle boxes began that way, by observing that cyclists were safer "breaking" the law (pulling in front of the stop line); leading pedestrian intervals began that way, by observing that pedestrians tend to step off the curb before the green but are actually safer that way; and raising the speed limit from 55MPH also happened that way. Another bike-specific example: in Portland, installing a "bike scramble" increased cyclist signal compliance from 21.9% to 95.8%, and made everyone safer. More broadly, things like legalizing gay marriage are based around the same legal principle.

Khalil, there are plenty of "except bicycles" signs all over the world -- particularly with regard to one-way streets (Boulder, Cologne, Vancouver, and of course Washington D.C.) -- but also, to return to the Original Post, right turns on red (Portland, Netherlands). That particular bridge has been crossed already.

by Payton on Jan 31, 2011 12:28 am • linkreport

Okay, if the intent of a stop sign is to keep traffic from speeding through an urban neighborhood

No, that's certainly not the intent of a stop sign.

by David desJardins on Jan 31, 2011 12:47 am • linkreport

Here's another thing. What about peer pressure? I have, on occasion, felt like a fool stopping at a stop sign or red light while on my bike just because it seems that so many bikers do not. (I will never be pressured into riding without a helmet, despite the incredible number of people I see doing that - it's absolutely insane.)

by Josh S on Jan 31, 2011 9:06 am • linkreport

I will never be pressured into riding without a helmet, despite the incredible number of people I see doing that - it's absolutely insane.

In what sense? Not to start a helmet war, but all the latest info shows that cycling is pretty safe compared to other comparable activities. Do you wear a helmet while ice skating? What about while driving on the Beltway? Now that's crazy!!! After all, statistics show you're much more likely to need it out there.

I usually wear a helmet when I'm riding; sometimes I don't. The number of strangers who actually *comment* on my helmet status illustrates just how irrational the helmet fetishists are are on this one.

by oboe on Jan 31, 2011 9:57 am • linkreport

Parsimony in this case means the most frugal explanation for something. Stop means stop for everyone.

Not sure exactly what the benefits of this are? To avoid confusion? I"m pretty sure most people know if they're driving a car or riding a bicycle. As David C says, if it's a question of "assume any differences will make matters worse" then I think we can safely say the study period is over and we can move on to implementation.

As far as the broader picture: there are probably a handful of intersections in Washington, DC where a 4-way stop wouldn't be every bit as effective as a traffic light. We should begin converting them to stop signs, making exceptions only where a compelling case can be made.

by oboe on Jan 31, 2011 10:06 am • linkreport

Oh contraire, Chris, bicycles are vehicles! If they are not, what are they; only sporting equipment, toys? Do you really want to be, as a bicycle operator, put in the same category as inline skaters and joggers? Bicycles are mechanical devices that transport people and goods from place to place (definition of vehicle; see wikipedia) and have been operated on roadways for over a century! Bicycles are used for work, getting to work, running earns, visiting family and friends, and numerous other functional activities.

So, why don’t bicycle riders obey the rules? There are as many answers to this question as there are people who ride bicycles. However, it’s been my observation that the people who usually don’t follow the “rules of the road” when riding bicycles are those who don’t understand they are operating vehicles. The other group who usually don’t think bicycles are vehicles is the non-cycling motorist. Paradoxical, isn’t it, when talking about sharing the road for safe cycling.

Not acknowledging or accepting that bicycles are vehicles leads to a risk of bicycles being run off the road – physically and otherwise. If the average person driving a motor-vehicle thinks that bicycles are not vehicles, why should he or she respect and/or yield to a bicycle on the road? If the law makers don’t think bicycles are vehicles, why should they permit these whatevers on our roadways, much less take bicycle use into consideration when changing/passing traffic laws?

Instead of creating your own rules for cycling, independent of an open and legislative process, work with your local and state/provincial governments to change some of rules that would make cycling better (e.g., “no right on red except bicycles”). Don’t run red lights to cross an intersection, even if you “think” it’s safe. I live in Canada and have waiting on my bicycle for green lights in well below freezing tempters, even when there was no cross traffic. Why? – because I’m operating a vehicle and know it; and, I don’t want to potentially reinforce the perception of a person sitting in a car beside me that all people who ride bikes are self-centred jerks!

Regarding the photo “What to do here”; this is typical of designated bike lanes everywhere. Personally, as a cyclist, I pay attention to the rest of the traffic (which I’m a part of) and ignore the "bike lanes." All lanes on a roadway are cycling lanes. Communicate with the other road users though eye contact and using appropriate arm signals, and take proper road position for whichever direction you are traveling. If you don't feel safe cycling on roads with this type of traffic, take another route or learn better skills but don't blame the motorists. Be responsible and take responsibility!

by Hal on Jan 31, 2011 12:44 pm • linkreport

@oboe: As far as the broader picture: there are probably a handful of intersections in Washington, DC where a 4-way stop wouldn't be every bit as effective as a traffic light.

What kind of a ridiculous statement is this? If you replaced most traffic lights in DC with 4-way stop, you would have total gridlock. Are you just saying that you don't care if there's gridlock?? I think most of the residents do. Even some of those who don't have cars.

by David desJardins on Jan 31, 2011 12:59 pm • linkreport

Actually, I have nothing against bicyclist-specific rules and infrastructure as long as these are part of a carefully engineered system rather than an exception to well established rules on our roads. It can be done right, even here in the U.S., as John Allen recently opined regarding the D.C. treatment at at the intersection of 16th street, U Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW ( http://john-s-allen.com/blog/?p=1833 ).

But for every location where we get it right, we have a few where the slipshod U.S. designs kill people, such as the suicide squeeze bike lanes in...yes, Portland ( http://www.katu.com/news/10721191.html ) that require motorists to be watching in their blind spots for cyclists to be passing them on the right going into intersections, a design which as any driver ed class would tell you, is absurd.

In Bremen, the cycletracks along side major roads had their own bicycle traffic light cycles (and bicycle-specific traffic lights) to prevent these sorts of crashes. Know what? The cyclists didn't run the reds. Its part of an engineered system, not an afterthought. In Germany and many parts of Europe, traffic engineers have designed entire bicycling-specific traffic engineered systems (see my Bremen post on my blog or Gil Hanson's blog discussion of Muenster, Germany).

What I have misgivings about is providing exceptions to rules on a piecemeal basis. If I am driving towards an intersection and a cyclist is arriving from a side street and has a stop sign, I'd rather expect him to stop than to be deciding if he can beat me across the intersection by not stopping. I am sure the cyclist feels the same way about me in my car. Perhaps this is a minority view on this blog. So be it.

by Khalil j. Spencer on Jan 31, 2011 1:32 pm • linkreport

Forgot to mention. I think there is a general agreement in traffic circles (pardon the pun) to look at replacing Stop signs with Yield signs in locations where yield provides an efficiency factor without loss of safety, i.e., where sight lines are good and traffic not too heavy. But why have Yield for bikes only? Motor traffic would certainly benefit. This, after all, is the whole idea behind roundabouts, i.e., to create free flowing traffic in roundabouts rather than platooning traffic in signalized intersections.

by Khal Spencer on Jan 31, 2011 1:37 pm • linkreport

But why have Yield for bikes only?

Partly because the difference between stopping and yielding is a lot bigger for bikes than for cars. And partly because the bicyclist takes most of the risk of failure to yield, while the motorist imposes a large share of that risk on others.

by David desJardins on Jan 31, 2011 1:55 pm • linkreport

But why have Yield for bikes only?

Why ban large trucks from the left-most lane of the freeway? Far too confusing. We should have a single set of laws. Also, why require large trucks to have that beepy thing when they back up when cars don't need it?

by oboe on Jan 31, 2011 1:59 pm • linkreport

My main beef doesn't have to do with red herrings like trucks in left lanes or backup beepers on trucks, but in leaving the MUTCD alone: Uniform Traffic Control Device should mean uniform signage and uniform message.

"...Partly because the difference between stopping and yielding is a lot bigger for bikes than for cars..."

Really? Sure, it does takes some effort to pedal back to speed and I too find it annoying if there are too many stops, which is why I generally fought against putting bicyclists on "bike boulevards" if they had to stop (or yield) at every intersection for arterial traffic. But I thought that exercise was the point of bicycling? Do you know of anyone who has bonked on the way to work lately due to too many stop signs? The folks who really go through hell when stopping are those eighteen-wheeler drivers with ten or more forward gears to row through. Maybe they should be exempt from stopping.

Stop and go traffic greatly reduces gas milage for all motor vehicles, another reason for roundabouts, which replace a stop with a yield for all traffic.

So sure, almost everyone can make an argument for eliminating unnecessary stops. Let's do it where it is safe and replace stop with yield where its safe to do so. Everyone will benefit.

As far as special rules for bicylists that create two meanings for the same sign? I would actually prefer the European system where the entire bike infrastructure has been carefully laid out with its own signalized controls, laws, and where traffic safety management is considered in advance, not as an afterthought.

by Khal Spencer on Jan 31, 2011 2:31 pm • linkreport

@Khal:

I thought that exercise was the point of bicycling? Do you know of anyone who has bonked on the way to work lately due to too many stop signs? The folks who really go through hell when stopping are those eighteen-wheeler drivers with ten or more forward gears to row through. Maybe they should be exempt from stopping.

Wow. And you accuse me of "red herrings"? Different modes have different responsibilities.

Why allow pedestrians to cross at unsignaled mid-block crosswalks? Walking is supposed to be healthy. How many people do you know who've bonked while walking to work because they had to walk an extra couple of hundred yards to the crosswalk at the corner?

I think your "Law of The Conservation of Traffic Laws" is a bit less compelling than you seem to think. A parsimonious outlook is all well and good, but let's not make a fetish of it. Especially the exceptions can be well-defined, and which have been shown to increase the safety and convenience of everyone.

by oboe on Jan 31, 2011 2:44 pm • linkreport

But a midblock crosswalk is, after all, a crosswalk. They often are dangerous ones, too.

Yeah, this could become a fetish, I admit, but reserve the right to be a bit of a curmudgeon on this topic.

By the way, does anyone have a link to the source of that statement of a 14.5% injury reduction in Idaho after the law was passed? I've seen it in a couple blog posts but never with a link.

for example: http://blog.oregonlive.com/commuting/2009/04/idaho_stop_is_a_go_for_bicycle.html

"...But the year after the Idaho Stop became law, bicycle injuries in the state actually declined by 14.5 percent...."

by Khal Spencer on Jan 31, 2011 2:54 pm • linkreport

@Khal Spencer: I thought that exercise was the point of bicycling?

Really?? No wonder you're so ignorant and dismissive of this transportation mode. No, lots of people ride bicycles to get from point A to point B easily, quickly, conveniently, with less cost, less environmental impact, more fresh air, and lots of similar reasons.

And yes, eliminating stops at stop signs makes a big difference in people's ability to commute and travel by bicycle. Bicycle boulevards in cities like Berkeley and Palo Alto, designed to create routes for bicycles to travel long distances across town without stopping at every block, while using various techniques to prevent them from being congested with automobile traffic, make quite an appreciable difference. But you can't do that everywhere.

I don't even favor the Idaho stop rule in big cities. But your dismissive attitude, pretending their is no possible argument for it, is absurd.

by David desJardins on Jan 31, 2011 5:21 pm • linkreport

"No wonder you're so ignorant and dismissive of this transportation mode."

http://labreform.org/campaign/candidates.htm#KS

So exercise is not one of the points of bicycling? So much for the Active Living folks. Heck, even the Germans who cycle slowly on their Gazelles get more exercise than the average American, and use half the energy we do per capita.

Have a nice day, Mr. desJardins.

by Khal Spencer on Jan 31, 2011 5:55 pm • linkreport

Exercise is *a* reason why people ride bicycles. It's not *the* reason. Some people are out for exercise and don't mind stopping at all. Other people are just trying to get from A to B, and delays are a big hassle and also perhaps drive the energy expenditure for their trip beyond their physical abilities.

I don't think this is hard to understand.

by David desJardins on Jan 31, 2011 6:36 pm • linkreport

Really, next time a cyclists comes by me on the Custis trail exceeding the speed limit I'm going to stick my umbrella out and test the physics. Should be fun.

@charlie -- if you're going to threaten us cyclists, then at least have the decency to identify yourself. i know it's easy to threaten violence on the internet, but some of us don't take to it too kindly -- we might like to have a word with you offline.

I can't remember one incident where a driver nearly killed me or yelled at me to get off the road. This has happened so often in DC that I've lost track of how many times. Maybe its simply that the roads and sidewalks are generally wider in Chicago.

I think this has a lot to do with a general acceptance that terrorizing cyclists is OK. it's not just right-wing politicians, either -- it's cycling 'advocates', like WABA. at some point we're going to have to stand up and say enough is enough -- people probably aren't going to stand up for us if we can't stand up for ourselves (because by not standing up for ourselves, we'll be validating the position of the terrorists -- that harming us and threatening to harm us is OK and the right thing to do).

Boise is not in any sense of the word a major city. It's not even one of the 50 largest cities in the US.

it's in the largest 100, but not sure how this matters. none of the 'density'-related arguments make any sense - not when you talk total numbers of cars/bikers/walkers, not when you look at per-capita numbers, etc.

but if you're interested in what effect implementing the Idaho Stop in DC would have, I hear they're going to do an experiment starting tomorrow morning -- right around the time you step outside your door and get yourself to a stop sign that is frequented by cars and bikes. this new experiment, that the people of DC (and most of America) are going to do tomorrow, is going to test the Idaho Stop on a large scale, and it's going to be an almost perfect experiment, because nobody will know they are actually participating. the data will show conclusively that most DC drivers and cyclists abide by the stop sign portion of the Idaho Stop law. whether or not they believe the Law is in effect or not is of no consequence.

there will, however, be one apparent anomaly in the data -- some very small percentage of drivers and riders will actually come to a full stop at the stop sign. the drivers will be very cautious drivers who probably act this way way because they have young children -- which is understandable and commendable.

the cyclists who stop completely, however, will most likely be part of what is generally termed in the scientific literature as The Law & Order Brigade. the L&OB is unable and/or unwilling to commit to social norms, instead preferring -- in fact, demanding -- that everyone obey the laws as written -- to the letter, not spirit, of the law.

In this way the L&OB are not unlike the Vehicular Cycling (VC) folks who actively quashed the growth of cycling in the United States for the past 30 years. It is possible that VC folks, having been exposed and discredited, have merely shifted their pro-driving rhetoric to one of making cyclists obey laws which nobody else obeys, in order to make cycling as inconvenient as possible.

The presence of the L&OB is a sign that your experiment is valid. The L&OB have always been on the wrong side of history and will continue to be so -- condemning runaway slaves for not obeying the law, condemning cyclists for not stopping at stop signs, etc. They are the type of folks who are probably condemning the people of Egypt for breaking myriad protest and curfew laws right now.

As stated, the presence and vocal opposition of the L&OB means that you are doing something correct -- a lack of their vocal opposition would mean that you should seriously re-examine your policy position.

and forcing cyclists to stop at red lights is ridiculous, too. traffic lights and stop signs and the rest are only necessary because of cars. when we're rid of the cars, we can get rid of the stop signs and traffic lights. cars are a temporary pimple on the butt of humanity -- they'll soon be gone and we'll hardly remember the pain.

by Peter Smith on Feb 1, 2011 2:26 am • linkreport

@Peter Smith: the data will show conclusively that most DC drivers and cyclists abide by the stop sign portion of the Idaho Stop law. whether or not they believe the Law is in effect or not is of no consequence.

I think this is totally false. I think if you actually go out and look, you will see almost no one who proceeds through stop signs without slowing at all, which is what the Idaho Stop provides for.

and forcing cyclists to stop at red lights is ridiculous, too. traffic lights and stop signs and the rest are only necessary because of cars. when we're rid of the cars, we can get rid of the stop signs and traffic lights.

I gather that perhaps you have been up late drinking, so I probably shouldn't take this rant too seriously, but this is like arguing that pedestrians shouldn't look both ways before crossing the street, because we should all just live as if we were in the paradise with no cars.

by David desJardins on Feb 1, 2011 5:10 am • linkreport

Interesting approach - don't treat bikes like vehicles. In an era where there are MANY in politics looking for any excuse to kick us OFF the roads, the easiest would be for them to say, "Look, they don't want to follow the rules."

As an avid cyclist, a lawyer who has handled 250+ "bike cases" in which cyclists have been hurt or killed, someone who has researched bike crashes and drafted legislation, and someone who has written "bike laws" with the best interests of cyclists at heart and tried to work them through "the system," I see the author's approach here as naive and idealistic - creating a sort of Bike Utopia, where everyone sees and appreciates the merits and benefits of cycling and allows cyclists to use the roadways without really needing to follow "the rules" - so, what, they're not so much "rules" really, eh? They're actually more like guidelines?

Roadways are public ways - designed to allow the public to move about the country in an orderly fashion. Rules are needed to insure this orderly flow of "traffic." Traffic is a brightly woven cloth with threads of many colors - the dark, smokey, polluted greys and blacks of cars, trucks and busses, and the bright, vibrant hues of bicycles, trikes, recumbents, fixies, 29-ers, hard and soft tails, and "kid" bikes. The rules for moving all this traffic around safely must take ALL types of traffic in mind - from Amish buggies to slow moving farm equipment to bikes to 4-wheelers to 18-wheelers... Maybe life for cyclists is better in D.C. and has evolved to that Utopian place where rules are no longer needed and folks can just LOOK and be safe - not so here.

The "law" generally divides the world into two parts - the part "On" the road and the part not on the road. If you want to drive a vehicle on the road, you need to follow the rules. For bicycle operators, this means some very basic stuff- stopping at red lights and stop signs - not driving drunk - etc etc etc. While the merits of particular rules can be debated, the reality is that rules are needed to make traveling in traffic "predictable" and safe.

I'm currently doing a detailed study of EVERY fatal bike crash in Ohio over the past two years - a study I hope to continue each year. I'll be releasing a detailed report in time, hopefully, for Bike Month. This study involves obtaining and independently reviewing and analyzing the crash reports, witness statements, photographs, accident reconstruction analysis and any other publicly available documents of each deadly crash to see if the police "got it right" when detailing the "cause" of the crash. Ohio's cycling fatalities usually are in the 10-20 range, so, to me, this type of detailed study was "do-able" and the numbers are really too small to use statistically.

Of the 9 fatalities in Ohio in 2010, 2 involved cyclists who ran stop signs at bike path/roadway intersections. One involved an older man who was riding at night, without a light, in dark clothes, while very drunk... [funny thing, from my reading of the police reports, the latter rider may have been the LEAST culpable of the three...in terms of accident causation! He was riding well to the right, possibly off the road and on the berm, when he was rear-ended by a hit/run driver. Police did a rather shabby investigation, though, as far as accident reconstruction probably, I suspect, because he was drunk, and it was night, and he had no light so Voila, he was "invisible" and the hit/run motorist couldn't "see" him...given where he was struck, and where the debris scattered, the motorist was clearly, to me, off the roadway when she clobbered him...but that's another story]

People writing about "injuries" in this thread have picked up a very valid point. "Injury" cases are much harder to classify and track. Injuries range from skull fractures and TBI's to road rash. However, virtually every fatal crash generates a very detailed report, which makes for a better independent study. For any analysis of bike crashes leading to "injuries" we are stuck with big numbers, statistics based on a possibly faulty street-level analysis leading to hurried conclusions noted with an "X" in the "fault" box of a police report by a beat cop who may have better things to do ...

So how does this help us look at the "Idaho Stop" and "let's not follow the rules" arguments? First, anyone who has been involved in cycling advocacy for more than 5 minutes knows that selling a change of the rules is very very tough no matter WHAT the change is... if the change is "we're gonna let cyclists slide through stop signs" I can guarantee you that you will never get the votes in Ohio's legislature to get that through. There is no sense in wasting what little political capital we have on dead issues with no chance of passing.

Further, I see the "Idaho Stop" as potential suicide in big cities. You can say what you want about people being smart enough to not pull out in front of cars, it happens all the time under CURRENT "stop" laws... it's a bit like watching a punch press... you think you've got it timed so you can stick your hand in there and not get clobbered but the odds of you getting stuck... at some point over time.. are pretty good without rules and guards to protect you - 1:1 maybe - even though you KNOW it would be stupid to let that thing smash your hand and you KNOW you can time it so you can stick your hand in without getting smashed - over time, stuff happens... people get tired or in a hurry or they are having too much fun to pay attention, they don't "see" what there is to be seen, perception/reaction times suffer... Following "stop sign" rules and other rules keep you safe while participating in the very serious business of moving about the country!

Finally, if we want "respect" from motorists, we have to earn it on EVERY ride. I've written for many years that every cyclist is an Ambassador for Cycling on EVERY ride. The meter that measures public perception of cyclists ticks every slow slightly Positive or Negative with every encounter a motorist has with a cyclist. When I take a "bike case" to trial, I try to gauge the feelings of jurors about cyclists - almost all have negative views. This negativity crops up in lawmakers in the form of a "parens patriae" approach - we need to take care of them and keep them safe...how? By getting them off the road of course! Not following the road rules just juices up THAT theory.

We've been fighting the battle to stay ON the roads for more than 100 years...let's not give "them" more ammo for arguments about kicking us OFF...

Let's be careful out there!

Steve Magas
The Bike Lawyer
www.OhioBikeLawyer.com
[co-author of "Bicycling and the Law"]

by Steve on Feb 1, 2011 8:34 am • linkreport

Vehicular Cycling principles have “quashed the growth of cycling” and have been “discredited?” How, Peter, and by whom? Only, maybe, in the minds of the “critical mass” people. Also, by obeying traffic laws “make cycling as inconvenient?” How lazy is that? It’s a fast food have it my way mentality. Sad, so sad. And, to compare cyclists who understand and respect that a traffic system is necessary to what’s happening now in Egypt is just plain stupid.

by Hal on Feb 1, 2011 9:54 am • linkreport

@Peter Smith, your criticism of WABA is unfair. It's a long way from asking cyclists to follow the law to accepting the terrorizing of cyclists.

@David desJardins, "I think if you actually go out and look, you will see almost no one who proceeds through stop signs without slowing at all, which is what the Idaho Stop provides for." Not true. You have to slow and yield to perform the Idaho Stop.

by David C on Feb 1, 2011 10:00 am • linkreport

OK, Why don't people obey the rules when they ride a bike?

Because they want to feel special! Really!! Don't like the road rules, use multi-use path/trails. Oh wait trails have rules! Dang where do special people ride?

Thanks @Steve Magas and Hal for the thoughtful notes.

by danc on Feb 1, 2011 10:31 am • linkreport

Steve, First of all, I loved your book.

But I disagree with you on the Idaho Stop. Your points are:

1. It can't be passed
2. It would be less safe
3. Cyclists should follow the rules for PR reasons

The first is not an argument against the change, but against investing the effort in the change. The situation in Ohio is not the same as everywhere, and I actually think we could pass it here in DC.

The second point does not match the facts. We have data out of Idaho showing that it made the road safer for cyclists. You have worries, but they're just worries and don't count as much as facts. Many people are fearful on a roller-coaster, but feel safe in the car on the way home. When the facts show they should reverse those somewhat. Irrational fear is not something I want to build policy on.

On the third point I'd say that passing this law will bring cyclists more into compliance with the law by legalizing normal, safe behavior.

by David C on Feb 1, 2011 11:05 am • linkreport

David C., could you please post links to the studies you mention "...We have data out of Idaho showing that it made the road safer for cyclists..."? It sure would be nice to see the data and data interpretations which support the quote.

by Khal Spencer on Feb 1, 2011 11:32 am • linkreport

Khal, Jason Meggs study is not online.

I can however quote a letter he wrote about it:

"A longitudinal study of injury and fatality rates in Idaho before and after its adoption in 1982, controlling for historical trends, was sought. Interviews in Idaho were conducted with authorities including police, legislators, transportation professionals, bicycle leaders of both recreational and advocacy groups, individuals involved with the original adoption of the law, and members of the general public. In summary these inquiries strongly supported adoption of the Idaho Law, and no entity whatsoever identified any negative safety result associated with passage of the law.

Idaho's Office of Highway and Traffic Safety (OHS) were contacted and were highly cooperative with the study; the OHS opened their historical data and allocated staff time to assist in this effort. Microfilm archives of police traffic incident reports from 1966 to 1992 were consulted over a period of days, and deemed too difficult to analyze; archival copies of statewide yearly summaries of traffic injuries and fatalities, including fatalities and injuries by county and by mode, were located instead as best available data.

There is no evidence of any change in injury or fatality rates as a result of the adoption of the original Idaho Law in 1982.

The question of whether Idaho cyclists are more at risk than other cities in the present day was asked as well.

Additional, detailed electronic data in spreadsheet form was obtained from OHS for years 1997 to 2007 and used to compare Idaho's largest city, Boise (the state capital), with other cities.

In order to obtain a valid and meaningful result, it was critical to compare cities with similar bicycling patterns, cultures and environments, or results would not be meaningful; city X might have two times the injury rate of city Y, leading some to assume it is more dangerous than Y, yet in actuality city X could be two times SAFER per trip if it has four times the bicycling rates. In fact just that type of mistake has recently been made regarding the law: Erroneous conclusions stemming from misinterpretation of simplest data regarding the relative risk of bicyclists in Fairfax, VA compared to Boise, ID were recently used to abandon an initiative for adoption of the law there, which emphasizes the need to use careful methodology.

Bicycling rates are difficult to come by to begin with and vary widely between cities, as do other factors indicative of risk (age strata; bicycling experience and skill levels; traffic volumes, speeds and conditions; weather patterns; etc.). Isolating whether there is any effect of the law by comparing cities with and without the law is a difficult proposition as there is much to control for and there are many unknowns.

An extended search for comparable cities to Boise was undertaken and comparisons were made with those cities using best available information. All comparisons indicated that Boise was safer for bicyclists than other cities which did not have the Idaho Law.

The closest comparison city utilized was Sacramento, California, also a state capital, which was comparable to Boise regarding many important factors affecting bicycling rates and injury rates including precipitation; topography; street layout (both being capital cities with numerous one-way streets, civic buildings and parks as well as gridded single- and multi-family residential districts); degree of development of a bikeways network, including the presence of a river with a bicycle path through the city; strata of populations of special risk (youths and college students); overall population and worker population; and more.

Using California SWITRS data, OHS data for Idaho, and erring on the conservative side against the law, Idaho nevertheless shown brightly as safer than Sacramento, with no fatalities year after year compared to regular fatalities in Sacramento, and a much more favorable injury rate year after year. Utilizing U.S. Census data, the best available source for actual bicycling rates between the two cities, an injury-to-bicycle-commuter ratio was generated, and Boise was found to be 30.4 % safer than Sacramento.

The primary difference identified between the two cities (and the other cities so compared) was the Idaho Law. To attribute Boise's enhanced safety to the law alone would be premature without further analysis, but it is important to emphasize that this study found support in every other
inquiry."

by David C on Feb 1, 2011 11:44 am • linkreport

I take that back. I found it.

http://bclu.org/jmeggs-TRB-IDAHO-AUG10.pdf

by David C on Feb 1, 2011 11:47 am • linkreport

@David C: You have to slow and yield to perform the Idaho Stop.

I stand corrected. I read the law and it says "slow to a reasonable speed". There's no indication of how to decide what's reasonable. I think there are plenty of bicyclists who think that going through stop signs at full speed is reasonable, when they don't see anyone else around. I have a hard time understanding how to apply a law that states that people should slow to a "reasonable" speed without defining how to decide what is reasonable.

by David desJardins on Feb 1, 2011 12:08 pm • linkreport

Further, I see the "Idaho Stop" as potential suicide in big cities. You can say what you want about people being smart enough to not pull out in front of cars, it happens all the time under CURRENT "stop" laws... it's a bit like watching a punch press... you think you've got it timed so you can stick your hand in there and not get clobbered but the odds of you getting stuck... at some point over time.. are pretty good without rules and guards to protect you...

I disagree, firstly because of the study David C cites. But secondly, by way of common sense. Cyclists and pedestrians treat stop signs as yield signs, and red lights as stop signs *already*. This behavior is near universal. It's possible that in Ohio, when pedestrians

Cars kill pedestrians when they're in the road--not when they jaywalk. The incidence of pedestrians being hit by cars is no greater when pedestrians are jaywalking than when they've got the ROW.

I don't think I've *ever* heard of a cyclists who was struck while proceeding through a red light--not saying it has never happened. Just that, in every recent case of a cyclist being struck that I can remember, the right-hook, left-hook, sidewalk-riding, or dooring scenarios are all far, far more common.

As David says, humans are terrible at figuring probabilities. My mother stopped riding the Metro after the crash a couple of years ago; of course, she thought nothing of strapping her granddaughter into a car seat and puttering around the Beltway.

by oboe on Feb 1, 2011 12:12 pm • linkreport

I think there are plenty of bicyclists who think that going through stop signs at full speed is reasonable, when they don't see anyone else around.

And yet...there are a great many drivers who slow to this reasonable speed (i.e. "full speed" for an average cyclist) and roll through the intersection when they don't see anyone around.

by oboe on Feb 1, 2011 12:15 pm • linkreport

@oboe: there are a great many drivers who slow to this reasonable speed (i.e. "full speed" for an average cyclist) and roll through the intersection when they don't see anyone around.

I'm skeptical. By "full speed for an average cyclist" you mean something like 15 mph? I am doubtful that it's common for cars to roll through stop signs, even when no one is around, at 15 mph. Do you have supporting data?

by David desJardins on Feb 1, 2011 12:17 pm • linkreport

I don't have time to make my own video at one of the many local stop signs, but here you go. Probably a few dozen more on youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=182F3KnT9Z4
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGA3YhfsHhY

Asking for "supporting data" on this is a bit like asking for data supporting universal speeding by drivers. How much data do you need to know it's darker outside at night than during the day? :)

by oboe on Feb 1, 2011 12:40 pm • linkreport

I assumed that by "full speed" you meant normal cruising speed without slowing on flat ground. 15 would probably be on the high-end of that scale. I doubt your average cyclist who "doesn't even slow down" is going much faster than 10-12 mph.

This is pretty entertaining, btw:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZ1TgVcZsic

by oboe on Feb 1, 2011 12:43 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the link and the letter to the Meggs TRB paper, David.

I would agree with the author that "...There is no evidence of any long-term increase in injury or fatality rates as a result of the adoption of the original Idaho Law in 1982...", based on what I see. I'm still not sure that one can coax an "increase" in safety out of this without doing some statistical evaluation that's not in this paper (with total bicyclist injury rates per year in the teens, 14 percent can be a couple crashes. If only a small fraction of that is from running stop signs, I doubt one can make much of a safety argument unless one drills down to look for near miss and other non-crash data; that stuff is notoriously difficult to find).

by Khal Spencer on Feb 1, 2011 12:43 pm • linkreport

Regarding rolling stops, I often check to see how quickly a driver who is behind me at a four-way stop passes me. In many cases, the car passes me just after I've cleared the intersection. I would wager that my measured rolling-stop speed through an intersection is slower than most cars' "full stop" speed.

Keep in mind that cars today accelerate MUCH faster than they did even in the 1970s, when Effective Cycling was invented -- today's Toyota Camry goes 0-60 as fast as the legendary 1970 Ford Mustang Mach 1 Cobra Jet 428 did.

@Oboe: a study of serious bicycle crashes by the Portland DOT (PDF) finds that of 221 investigated crashes, 2002-2006:
- 13.1% were due to cyclist running signal/stop sign
- 11.3% were due to motorist running signal/stop sign
- 15.4% were due to “right/left hook” (turning motorist not yielding properly, often during RTOR situation)

In other words, even though cyclists “always” run signs/signals, motorists “running lights” are actually responsible for twice as many bicycle crashes.

A study that reviewed 1,000 crashes in New York City between 1994-1997 found drivers at fault in 90% of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities.

by Payton on Feb 1, 2011 12:44 pm • linkreport

I know what you mean about the difference between bikes and cars - it sometimes doesn't seem fair on your bike, but at the same time, are there enough differences between driving and riding? Cyclists aren't required to pass classes the way drivers are, and I'd like to keep it that way, but then how can cyclists really be held to the same standard as drivers? It all gets a little messy. Here are some more thoughts on the issue...

by LBJ on Feb 1, 2011 1:08 pm • linkreport

Right hook/left cross crashes might be a little more complicated than simply blaming the motorist for a fail to yield (not a light-running) violation. The typical bike lane puts thru cyclists to the right (i.e., in the blind spot) of motorists making right turns (right hook crash), and far to the left of motorists making left turns (left cross crash).

That's not exactly an optimal situation for either the cyclist or the motorist and increases the chances of either/both of them making an error. Sure, motorists should be aware not to overtake a cyclist while entering an intersection and then make a right turn. Likewise, cyclists should be cautious not be overtaking a motorist on the right when entering an intersection. People are not infallible. When you design an error-prone situation, people will make errors.

by Khal Spencer on Feb 1, 2011 1:28 pm • linkreport

I’m sure they have big cities like NYC and D.C. in Idaho … er … well… maybe not. Boise’s population of 205,000 put it at #100 of the top 100 biggest cities, comparable to, say, Akron, OH and Rochester, NY, although the Greater Metro Boise area population was almost 465,000 in 2000.

From looking at NHTSA stats, it doesn’t appear that the Idaho Stop has had much of an impact either way there – in 1993 there were a total of 227 people killed on Idaho roads, and 2 cyclists. In 2008, there were 232 people killed on Idaho’s roads, and 2 cyclists.

The entire state of Idaho is bigger than New England, yet its population of 1.5 million pales beside the more than 14,000,000 people that live in New England.

Consider the “Idaho Stop” in an Idaho that has TEN TIMES as many people… cars… roads… idiots… It ain’t gonna work. In New York City, from 1995-2005 there were 225 cyclists killed in that city alone – ten times the number killed in Idaho over ten years.

Traffic density is the key. In my neck of the woods, the traffic density today is considerably greater than when I used to ride out to the "country" 10-20 yrs ago. There are more people and more cars going to more places on, basically, the same roads... In Idaho, 1.5 million folks can move about "New England" sized land pretty easily... 15,000,000 people going to millions of new places, facing millions of new frustrations and deadlines, and being more rushed than ever, might seem a tad bit too crowded to "see" every cyclist cruising through a "stop/yield/slowdownifyouwantto sign..

by Steve Magas on Feb 1, 2011 2:08 pm • linkreport

I enjoyed this discussion so much, I added it to my Bike Lawyer blog!

http://ohiobikelawyer.com/bike-law-101/2011/02/why-follow-the-rules/

Thanks!
Steve Magas

by Steve Magas on Feb 1, 2011 2:12 pm • linkreport

"Steve, First of all, I loved your book.
But I disagree with you on the Idaho Stop. Your points are:

1. It can't be passed
2. It would be less safe
3. Cyclists should follow the rules for PR reasons"

A. THANKS for the props. It's really Bob Mionske's book, he just asked me for some help on a few chapters...

B. No.2 is critical. The "Idaho Stop" would be less safe in major urban areas, in my opinion, than mandating that people stop at stop signs. The difference between "less safe" and "dead" is a very very slim line and legalizing behavior that tips the scales towards "dead" is a bad idea, in my view.

If the world were Idaho, we could do this.. but it's not - it's a lot busier. The slow/stop may work in Idaho... good for them to find this and legislate it. Shooting guns within the city limits may work there too - population density being what it is there, bullets have more free space in which to travel and more area taken up by rocks and tree, instead of people, in which to land. That won't fly here any more than slowing down for stop signs...

SMM

by Steve Magas on Feb 1, 2011 2:30 pm • linkreport

"B. No.2 is critical. The "Idaho Stop" would be less safe in major urban areas, in my opinion, than mandating that people stop at stop signs....If the world were Idaho, we could do this.. but it's not - it's a lot busier. The slow/stop may work in Idaho... good for them to find this and legislate it."

Why? I find this to be an assumption and a mistaken one. D.C. hasn't had a death related to this infraction in a couple of years, yet we have a higher density. This is a natural behavior for cyclist, and people who are arguing that population density changes things are ignoring that people who bike in large, dense cities are already practicing this. The argument that it makes it less safe hasn't really played out. The only consequence would be that the author would not have gotten a ticket.
We are already doing this, and its reasonable for it to be legal.

by HisMexcellency on Feb 1, 2011 2:44 pm • linkreport

Traffic density is the key. In my neck of the woods, the traffic density today is considerably greater than when I used to ride out to the "country" 10-20 yrs ago.

One thing I've found is that, as traffic density increases, things tend to get more dangerous--up to a point. At a certain point, denser is actually safer.

That's why it's 1000 times safer to ride on the streets of DC (even those without bike lanes) than it is to ride on most suburban streets in the greater DC Metro area.

by oboe on Feb 1, 2011 2:45 pm • linkreport

Actually I think there's a lot of merit to the higher traffic density = safer cycling argument.

I can't put my finger on it, but I read a study [in Britain??] indicating that cyclist deaths go DOWN dramatically once the car speed goes down to 30mph ... 40mph+ will kill ya, but 30mph might just maim you for life if you're lucky... higher traffic density brings down speeds....

That's why, in my opinion, NYC with its billions of people and cars and bikes and idiots and yahoos and such, and NY in general, is not in "The Big Three" of fatal bike crashes...lagging significantly behind FL, CA [wide open space, high speeds, old people in big cars] and slightly behind TX ...

Steve Magas

by Steve Magas on Feb 1, 2011 2:50 pm • linkreport

@oboe: That's why it's 1000 times safer to ride on the streets of DC (even those without bike lanes) than it is to ride on most suburban streets in the greater DC Metro area.

Give me a break. Of course it's not. What sort of ridership and accident rates would it take to support a 1000:1 ratio? I hope you're being hyperbolic, because this is not remotely realistic.

by David desJardins on Feb 1, 2011 2:56 pm • linkreport

I suspect that like most things, compliance and technique are key to success, as is the level of hazard in the local situation, as Steve Magas points out.

If I slow to a near track stand, I have a good chance at seeing enough of the intersection to know if I need to stop and evaluate further or if I can proceed without putting a foot down or stopping completely. I still need to slow down, which means I expend energy to speed back up. The more complicated and busy the intersection, the better the chance that the foot comes down. Same deal as when I was on motorcycles all the time.

The cyclist who blows through an intersection at too high a speed (or who is not sufficiently alert) to do the mental math, whether it be at an intersection marked with a Yield or a Stop, is in Darwin Award territory and in some situations, puts others at risk as well. That won't change, regardless of whether the sign is yellow or red. That much we should agree on.

by Khal Spencer on Feb 1, 2011 2:57 pm • linkreport

Bah, David desJardins: Why must you suck the poetry out of life??

While you may be more likely to bump into something into the city, if what we're concerned about is becoming a pink stain on the pavement, in my experience, it's significantly safer to ride in the city than in the suburbs. Steve's take on it is spot-on in my experience.

Of the several friends and acquaintances I know who've been involved in *serious* accidents while riding, nearly every one of them has been in a suburban scenario--either in the 'burbs, or in burb-like areas of DC (Mass Ave, or North Capitol, or Penn Ave east of the river).

What makes these areas significantly more dangerous for cyclists is the same thing that makes them significantly more dangerous for pedestrians.

One last thing, when you're talking about something as vanishingly rare as a serious bicycle accident, I'm not sure you can dismiss even a hyperbolic claim like "1000 times safer" out of hand.

by oboe on Feb 1, 2011 3:31 pm • linkreport

Well, I wish I could say that "serious bike accidents" were "vanishingly rare" but such is not hte case. Numbers are down - way down from the highs in 1975 - 1000+ cyclist deaths per year.

But...

Demographics have flipflopped.

In 1975, 67% of those 1002 cyclists killed on the roads were UNDER 16 yrs old - kids. So, roughly 320 "adults" > 16 yrs old were killed.

In 2009, there were 630 cyclists killed, according to IIHS, a significant drop. BUT... 87%, or 630 riders, were OVER 16 -

So the big numbers are way down - 47% decrease. But the number of ADULT deaths in 2009 is MORE THAN DOUBLE the number killed in 1975.

We're not quite breathing "vanishingly rare" air by any statistical stretch...at least as far as adult riders are concerned.

Steve Magas

by Steve Magas on Feb 1, 2011 6:55 pm • linkreport

Steve, while I will admit that Boise is different than DC or NYC, I don't think those differences matter in respect to the stop as yield law. We have two pretty compelling pieces of evidence that Stop as Yield would probably just as safe here as the status quo.

1. It was at least no less safe in Idaho after the change in law and, according to the only study, safer.
2. Stop as yield is, we are constantly told, how cyclists pretty much ride here anyway, and has resulted in almost no fatalities.

In the DC-area (DC, Arl, Alex, MoCo, PG, Loudoun and Fairfax), since 2004 when I began tracking such things, there have been 30 cyclists killed in collisions with cars. Of those, 25 have had the causes identified. In four of those disobeying a traffic control device was in part to blame. All but one of those occurred in the suburbs.

Two involved cyclists running stop signs on the W&OD trail, where there is both a stop sign and a crosswalk. This combination is the source of constant debate and confusion even among traffic professionals. Regardless, it's not Idaho Stop territory.

One is a bit dubious as the only witness was the driver, an 82 year old man. The back wheel was damaged in a way that suggested rear-ending, not sideswipe.

One involved a cyclist who'd been drinking, riding at night without lights who ran a red light. So there was more at play there than just ignoring the light.

So, in light of that evidence I think the burden shifts a little bit to those who say it will cause havoc. If traffic density tips the balance on this, let's see some evidence. What other activities become imprudent in high traffic density?

I'd also point out that jaywalking (which is similar to stop as yield) goes up in NYC and DC above what it is in Boise. This is indicative of either mass irrationality or a sense that such behavior is safer where traffic density is high.

by David C on Feb 1, 2011 8:33 pm • linkreport

ok, my math sucks... what I meant to say was
547 of 630 cycling fatalities in 2009 were people >16 yrs old... so maybe not double 1975, but a significant increase... mostly men, too [87%]

by steve magas on Feb 1, 2011 10:54 pm • linkreport

I guess I'm not against the Idaho stop. I don't mean to be militant and say YOUMUSTSTOP. If you think it works for you, go for it, get it passed and see what happens and let me know.

I think the LAW of stop means stop is safer, better for the masses. Having fought many, many battles - I think the practical hairs on my neck stand up at the thought of trying to SELL this to lawmakers when we have SO much trouble selling other, easier stuff... I'm sure that colors my thinking about the whole topic...

Good Luck! I've got 27 police reports, photos, etc from Ohio's fatal crashes for 2009 & 2010 to look at. I've been through the 2010 reports so far. We'll see what 2009 brings and I'll let you know how Ohio shakes out.

We had 2 deadly crashes at bike trail/road intersections in 2010. These were "failure to stop" related. Not the burbs, not the city, but way out in the country, where serene bike path meets 45mph 2 lane country road. Lots of signage, warnings, big stop signs - warnings for the cars that the bike trail was nearby - nice sunny days, and two killed or failing to stop and look and SEE the humongous vehicles coming...

SM

by steve magas on Feb 1, 2011 11:01 pm • linkreport

@oboe: One last thing, when you're talking about something as vanishingly rare as a serious bicycle accident, I'm not sure you can dismiss even a hyperbolic claim like "1000 times safer" out of hand.

No, it's not hard at all. We know quite accurately how many bicycle fatalities occur, because these are investigated and documented. A database of Ohio accidents was mentioned above. Then you can find out how many urban bicycle miles and how many nonurban bicycle miles are ridden, this can be accurately estimated by surveying a modest number of cyclists about how often they ride in what situations.

I think you'll find in a state like Ohio that about half of the bicycle miles occur in urban settings, and also that about half of the fatal accidents. Ergo, the rates are similar. They could be different by a factor of 2 or even 3, but there's absolutely no way they could differ by as much as a factor of 10, much less 1000. That would mean that virtually all of the fatalities would have to occur in nonurban areas, which just isn't the case.

by David desJardins on Feb 1, 2011 11:12 pm • linkreport

I'm working on creating a study of each Ohio fatality for 2009 and 2010 and then renewing the work annually. I am NOT making this a statistical study - there are NO valid measures of "miles" or "risk," for "urban" or "suburban" or "rural" riding in Ohio that I know of. The data points are too few - 9 in 2010, 18 in 2009 - to draw statistical conclusions. In fact, part of my point in reviewing these is that each is unique and deserves independent study.

Having said, that, I can tell you of the 9, 2 were definitely "urban/suburban" - Jeff Stevenson was killed on a major Columbus road, at night, by a hit/run driver. Alex Martin was killed in a crosswalk crossing S.R. 48 in Montgomery County. The other 7 include a crash in a crosswalk in downtown Marietta - urban? Marietta, population 14,500, is the tiny county seat of a small Ohio river county. The 2 bike trail/road crashes - both rural. A hit/run in Clermont County on U.S. Rt 125 - small town USA. A rear ender near small Brunswick, Ohio in Medina County - sort of near Cleveland, but rural-ish. A rural road in Licking County and a rural road in Hocking County.

"Ergo" seems to be a synonym for "Voila" or, as in the old but still very funny comic "...and then a miracle occurs..." You can't draw "conclusions" from rapid fire analysis of 9 data points - especially without studying each one separately.

SMM

by steve magas on Feb 1, 2011 11:26 pm • linkreport

@David,

You're conflating "safer" with "fewer fatalities". Obviously they're not the same thing. Also "urban" vs "rural" is the wrong focus. Your categories should be "urban", "suburban", and "rural". The overwhelming number of fatalities would be in "suburban" (i.e. moderately congested) areas.

by oboe on Feb 2, 2011 9:56 am • linkreport

The number of fatalities is an awfully good measure of safety, because it's clearly a main factor in what users mean by safety (they don't want to die), and it has robust data available.

If urban and suburban cyclists are killed at similar rates when cycling, then it's absurd to claim that urban cycling is "1000 times safer".

by David desJardins on Feb 2, 2011 11:58 am • linkreport

You've convinced me. Though *you* say 2 or 3 times safer; I say it's ten times safer. Given the fact that only one of the 9 fatalities was arguably in an "urban" environment. Voila! we'll round that up to 1-in-10.

So, in the interest of accuracy, I'll revise and extend my original comment to claim it's 1000% safer cycling in the city vis the suburbs.

by oboe on Feb 2, 2011 12:31 pm • linkreport

10 times safer would only be 900% safer.

I'm confident it's not 10 times safer, either. But since this is a lot less silly than "1000 times safer", I'll just be glad we can be somewhat closer to agreement.

by David desJardins on Feb 2, 2011 12:35 pm • linkreport


Most of our cycling deaths and serious (i.e., reported) crashes in New Mexico seem to be in and around large cities like Albuquerque, Las Cruces, and Santa Fe. Most likely, that's where the cyclists and motorists and intersections are found. Of course we get onesies or twosies of the typical rural fatalities per year--cyclist rear-ended at high speed on a 55 mph highway by an inattentive or drunk motorist.

As Steve Magas says, there's likely a dearth of data to argue comparisons on the basis of a rigorous analysis. Maybe in its own way, that is actually good news. I'd hate to have abundant data on this question.

One has to evaluate each crash, too before deciding if cities/suburbs/rural areas are "more dangerous". If a cyclist is killed while riding at night while drunk or without lights and while wearing dark clothes, I'd not say that death proves that the location is more dangerous and would throw that data point out of a calculation on urban risk index or whatever we call it. How do you normalize such a study for a "reasonable cyclist behavior" standard? Or do you?

by Khal Spencer on Feb 2, 2011 12:38 pm • linkreport

I think you can measure how dangerous cycling is, just by looking at the aggregate behavior and results of cyclists, without distinguishing by responsibility or assigning blame.

This is like assessing the danger that cars pose by looking at how many deaths they cause, and not saying it is only the driver's fault and nothing to do with the car if the driver was drunk.

Of course, a separate analysis of how much of the risk is caused by cyclist error or misconduct could also be interesting (but is more difficult).

by David desJardins on Feb 2, 2011 12:41 pm • linkreport

As a first approximation, that aggregate number works. The reason I posted the question that way was that if we are using such arguments to advocate for changes in the physical environment, in driver or cyclist behavior, or in vehicle design, its important to pin down what is causing the casualties. If it turns out that many rural fatalities can be traced to some combination of circumstances, one can burrow down and identify them and perhaps hedge one's bets. Rural run off the road cases are well known, but unfortunately, the DOT's solution often results in impassible shoulders, i.e., poorly designed rumble strips.

Simply saying that cycling is dangerous is a good way to get people to worry about cycling as a viable option. (and is a good way to start a three day email war on most cycling e-lists, too). Controlling for hazards suggests to people that they can to some degree control their own fate, by mitigating the hazards, assuming the hazard can be mitigated.

In terms of road fatalities in general, I think roughly a third of ours are due to DWI and a significant number due to driver distraction of all kinds. It took a couple generations to get society to change the social acceptance about DWI and yet we still have a lot of drunks in these parts.

I am afraid that some hazards are just tough to mitigate without brute force or engineered controls. There is some movement towards having engineered DWI controls on all future cars, i.e., a passive sensor for BAC that prevents an intoxicated person from starting the engine. Perhaps we need to have the GPS on cell phones turn them off (or turn off the car) when they reach 20 mph.

by Khal Spencer on Feb 2, 2011 12:59 pm • linkreport

"...and yet we still have a lot of drunk DRIVERS in these parts." is what I should have said.

by Khal Spencer on Feb 2, 2011 1:23 pm • linkreport

From IIHS records, on a national level
2009
Urban Cycling Fatals -69%
Rural - 30%

1975
Urban - 50%
Rural - 50%

Of more interest to me is the IIHS figure which says 28% of the cyclists killed in 2009 were legally drunk.

http://www.iihs.org/research/fatality_facts_2009/bicycles.html#sec4

by steve magas on Feb 2, 2011 1:25 pm • linkreport

I am afraid that some hazards are just tough to mitigate without brute force or engineered controls. There is some movement towards having engineered DWI controls on all future cars, i.e., a passive sensor for BAC that prevents an intoxicated person from starting the engine. Perhaps we need to have the GPS on cell phones turn them off (or turn off the car) when they reach 20 mph.

I think this is the way we're headed--at least in urban jurisdictions. The popularity of red-light and speed-limit cameras are pretty clear evidence of that. I'd say the next big thing will be "average speed" (SPECS) camera systems. The more folks walk, the less tolerant they are of speeding.

Some day maybe we'll achieve the impossible dream of requiring any motor vehicle operated in the city limits to have an automatic speed limiter. Would make this a much nicer (and safer) place to live.

As a visionary once said, "Embrace the present and the future … and quit looking back!"

by oboe on Feb 2, 2011 1:30 pm • linkreport

Steve, I wish the IIHS had published the number of cyclists in rural vs. urban locations. Are more urban cyclists killed simply because more cyclists are riding on urban roads?

As far as engineered controls. During the 2006 Pro-Bike/Pro-Walk, we (the Traffic Justice panel) talked about engineered vehicle speed controls linked to a GPS device. My present GPS computer tells me the speed limit on a lot of roads; my vehicle speed indicated on the GPS turns from black to red when I am speeding (its sometimes wrong or blank--apparently Garmin don't update these as often as I'd like to see).

It would be relatively straightforward to program a GPS speed limiter into modern cars, given the location precision and fast feedback times on modern GPS devices (mine cost 150 bucks and knows when I am at my driveway so its good to a few meters. This would add to the cost of a car but the economy of scale would kick in if in widespread use). I suspect this could be done right now on some test mules (to prove feasibility and reliability) if not for pushback from the auto industry (which oversells vehicle speed and performance to the detriment of safety) and pushback from the folks who already push back on speed and red light cameras as infringements on their so-called right to privacy.

by Khal Spencer on Feb 2, 2011 1:53 pm • linkreport

Steve Magas,

I appreciate your work, but on the issue of "vanishingly rare" fatal bike crashes I agree with Oboe. Demographics may have changed but the numbers are still way low compared to other causes of death or even other causes of accidental death.

Way more people die by choking. Way more people die by falling while walking. And tens of thousands more people die inside their cars.

Do not scare people away from riding a bike. It is not dangerous.

by RobX on Feb 2, 2011 2:52 pm • linkreport

maybe I'm not being clear. I've written for years... CYCLING IS SAFE.

Numbers ARE low.. very low.

Given that millions of riders ride millions and millions of miles on the roads each year, numbers are extremely low.

I think my study of fatal crashes will show this - by showing that each of those fatal crashes is very unique, and was avoidable by the rider or the motorist through the use of a very simple strategy.

So yes, Cycling Is Safe.

Thanks!

Steve Magas

by steve magas on Feb 2, 2011 3:13 pm • linkreport

Re: how safe is bicycling (and this link is really not about helmets)? Pretty safe.

http://neptune.spacebears.com/opine/helmets.html

Part of our problem as cyclists in the Internet age is that every fatality gets flashed around the country immediately and it seems that death is everywhere. If you live in a small town like mine, you usually know the cyclist who is hit by a car. I was out at the police investigation when a colleague of mine was hit from behind while riding on a perfectly good shoulder (after weeks in an ICU, he recovered). Many of us had the creeps for weeks on that road. The knowledge of how he was hit, and that he was basically a sitting duck, magnified the sense of vulnerability beyond the incident alone. So sure, some in the cycling community take a "zero accident and injury" point of view, especially if it is motorists or "the system" that is being criticized rather than their own behavior.

As Steve and RobX have said, cycling is pretty darn safe. Furthermore there is nothing wrong with cyclists and pedestrians taking a Euro-style Vision Zero approach to traffic safety, given how ineffective our U.S. traffic safety system has become. And as many others have said, let's not scare people off their bikes in the process of making the roads safer for them.

by Khal Spencer on Feb 2, 2011 4:07 pm • linkreport

http://ohiobikelawyer.com/uncategorized/2010/06/2008-statistics-confirm-cycling-is-safe/

"Scare" is a bad word. I think cyclists need to be aware of the risks. However, I think the risk of death is very small. The risk of getting hit by a car is very small. The risk of injury from a car crash is very small. The risks can be made even smaller by adopting good riding practices, riding defensively, being conspicuous, using nights at light, or even in the daytime, not cruising through stop signs, etc., etc., etc...

Riding on the road is very scary for many people and it's NOT for everyone. You need to be assertive, smart, defensive and aware of your surroundings. You need to take care of yourself on the road - no one will do it for you. You can't just ride down the road willy nilly in a daze admiring the pretty trees - "OH LOOK, a squirrel" - when cars are nearby. Riding on the road takes a commitment to riding safely. It's not a place for the meek, or the scared. When you take these steps, though, I think you GREATLY reduce the already small odds of a crash. Even then, sometimes it's simply unavoidable.

I had a client who was riding on a bright summer day. A car behind was being driven by a soldier who was home on a 48 hour pass while his wife had a baby... he'd been up for something like 30 hrs straight and fell asleep as he approached my client. He went right and clobbered my client - if he had been awake a second or two longer, no crash. If my client was riding .1mph faster, probably no crash.

Scary Stuff happens... just not nearly as often as "people" think...

Steve Magas
www.ohiobikelawyer.com

by steve magas on Feb 2, 2011 4:44 pm • linkreport

...in fact, if you simply DON'T ride in Florida, Texas or California, you will reduce your risk of a deadly crash significantly since 40% of all bicycling fatalities occur in those states...

SMM

by steve magas on Feb 2, 2011 4:47 pm • linkreport

"Scare" is indeed a bad word. Knowledge-based risk mitigation works in my weird universe.

My criticism was not directed at anyone in particular but at the implicit notion transmitted by some in cycling advocacy saying that cycling is not safe. That is usually followed by a statement saying what government should do to make it safe. Some of these ideas are quite good. Some are absolute rubbish. But cycling is relatively safe, period.

As an LCI, I try to do two things. The first is to use my position as Chair of our county transportation advisory board to make sure we don't build flawed facilities or institute flawed regulations in Los Alamos County (an example of a bad idea was a recent suggestion by an urban planner to continue bikelanes through roundabouts). The second is to teach cyclists good riding habits and make them aware of bad riding habits and likely accident scenerios so they can minimize their risks.

The idea is to make sure Steve has enough time to ride his bike and motorcycle rather than be constantly litigating for injured clients!

by Khal Spencer on Feb 2, 2011 7:37 pm • linkreport

Wait... I thought the idea was to drum up business for Steve's law practice so he can buy a new bike?
:^D

by steve magas on Feb 2, 2011 10:33 pm • linkreport

A recent post at BikePortland.org made me wonder what the Law & Order Brigade do in situations where a red light doesn't turn green?

This story of a female biker getting run over (and ultimately, blinded) (more) by a truck while she was waiting for a red light to turn made me think of the inhumanity of various L&OB arguments. We saw the study from the UK that showed women cyclists break the law less than their male counterparts, so have a higher risk of death. You talk to any motorcyclist and they'll tell you of their fear of getting rear-ended by cars - like this cop did.

It's pretty clear we need new laws, and we need them right now.

by Peter Smith on Feb 3, 2011 3:17 am • linkreport

This story of a female biker getting run over (and ultimately, blinded) (more) by a truck while she was waiting for a red light to turn made me think of the inhumanity of various L&OB arguments.

Where does it say that she was run over by a truck while waiting for a red light to turn? I couldn't find any account of the accident. Is there a police report?

by David desJardins on Feb 3, 2011 3:23 am • linkreport

"...in fact, if you simply DON'T ride in Florida, Texas or California, you will reduce your risk of a deadly crash significantly since 40% of all bicycling fatalities occur in those states... "

Just for clarity, those three states have about 27% of the US population. The percentage of total bicycle miles that are ridden in those states would be an interesting statistic, too. Given their weather, one might assume that more bike riding is done there. But maybe not.

by Steve O on Feb 3, 2011 10:08 am • linkreport

Need new laws? Seems this woman was nearly killed because someone ignored the existing ones.

The woman was stopped at an intersection along the curb when she was run over by an unlicensed driver who made a sloppy turn with his truck and ran over her while driving onto the sidewalk with his trailer. The driver was arrested. We don't know any other details, so adding conjecture as to what difference a change in law would have made at this point (assuming for the moment a change in law would even have provided her an option) is certainly begging the question. But to those smug enough to snipe at others about being members of the "Law and Order Brigade" one can ask a couple things:

1. If the driver had been competent and licensed to drive big rigs, would he have made such a ghastly mistake?
2. If the woman had been farter into the lane, as we teach in LAB's Traffic Skills 101 course, rather than "at the curb", would she have been better off?

Hard to say. All we know is that when someone misuses a tractor-trailer, pretty much everyone else is highly vulnerable.

http://gothamist.com/2010/10/11/trucker_who_hit_cyclist_in_bushwick.php

by Khal Spencer on Feb 3, 2011 10:49 am • linkreport

"...farther..."

by Khal Spencer on Feb 3, 2011 10:51 am • linkreport

@Peter
[You talk to any motorcyclist and they'll tell you of their fear of getting rear-ended by cars - like this cop did.]
Many motorcyclists have an UNREASONABLE fear of being rear-ended. Why? Because motorcycle crashes have been studied in MUCH more depth of bicycle crashes. The Hurt Report researchers studied >900 crashes in amazing detail. They were called to the scene with 1st responders and cataloged 2000 categories of data. They reached many conclusions, but one important one was that MOST crashes happen from stuff going on IN FRONT OF the rider, not behind.
http://www.clarity.net/~adam/hurt-report.html

Two of the conclusions
"17. The typical motorcycle pre-crash lines-of-sight to the traffic hazard portray no contribution of the limits of peripheral vision; more than three-fourths of all accident hazards are within 45deg of either side of straight ahead.

18. Conspicuity of the motorcycle is most critical for the frontal surfaces of the motorcycle and rider."

Further, motorcycles crash "differently" than bicycles - no comparison really. Rider error is much more prevalent. Roughly half of all m/c deaths occur in SINGLE VEHICLE crashes - mostly guys losing it in the curves.

A couple anecdotes don't rise to the level of supporting a wholesale change of rules.

Steve Magas

by steve magas on Feb 3, 2011 11:06 am • linkreport

Many motorcyclists have an UNREASONABLE fear of being rear-ended.

It's not WRONG to fear things not in strict proportion to their probability. Fear is inherently psychological, and such feelings can't be right or wrong. Fearing things that are out of your control more than things within your control is entirely normal, even if the latter are greater threats.

by David desJardins on Feb 3, 2011 11:10 am • linkreport

I'm not saying a m/c rider's fear of an ACDA is "wrong" - it's just not based on the reasonable likelihood of actually happening. Rear-enders are more likely than, say, component failure, but "fear" is better reserved for bad drivers at intersections who don't "see" you.

So fears are not "wrong" but they are not always based on what is more LIKELY to happen... if you're going to ask for rules to be changed, and the entire legal culture of riding to be changed, you ought to base those demands on controlling and preventing reasonably likely problems. Saying people should run lights to avoid being rear-ended seems silly, b/c you are then likely to run afoul of someone else's right of way while giving up your OWN right of way, a powerful right.

For me, as an avid m/c operator, I want to know what the likely problems are, where are they coming from and why. That's why I ride defensively, ride with my bike lit up like a Christmas tree, front and back, and try to ride looking 8-12 seconds ahead!

SM

by steve magas on Feb 3, 2011 11:58 am • linkreport

So, when you call it an unreasonable fear, you're not saying it's unreasonable for people to have that fear?

by David desJardins on Feb 3, 2011 12:03 pm • linkreport

I'm saying "fear" should have nothing to do with what the "laws" should be.

Fears are fears, they are not right or wrong. It's "OK" to be afraid of being rear-ended. I have many, many clients who are, after a crash, afraid to ride, or ride on the road where the crash occurred. Many feel "fear" and "anxiety" when they hear the sound of skidding tires or read about another's crash. These are not only not unreasonable, they are very normal and may be part of a PTSD type reaction to a violent collision.

However, we don't base laws, and traffic controls, on what people "fear" and we don't base laws on misconceptions of likely traffic problems. Traffic law currently provides a vehicle operator with a very powerful right, the "Right of Way," when the operator is riding/driving lawfully. We shouldn't tinker with that on the basis of unreasonable fears.

SMM

by steve magas on Feb 3, 2011 12:16 pm • linkreport

@SMM: We shouldn't tinker with that on the basis of unreasonable fears.

No offense, but why do you keep calling them "unreasonable fears" if you don't think the fears are unreasonable? You should find a better term.

by David desJardins on Feb 3, 2011 12:32 pm • linkreport

good point... they are not "unreasonable fears" - bad word choice on my part... basing laws on "fears" at all is not good policy...

by steve magas on Feb 3, 2011 12:55 pm • linkreport

I think SMM is using the sense of "irrational" for "unreasonable".

You say:

It's not WRONG to fear things not in strict proportion to their probability. Fear is inherently psychological, and such feelings can't be right or wrong. Fearing things that are out of your control more than things within your control is entirely normal, even if the latter are greater threats.

And this is absolutely true. There's nothing WRONG with fearing incredibly improbable events. It's just irrational. We call these things phobias. No judgement here: not wrong; just unreasonable/irrational.

My girlfriend is deathly afraid of clowns. The odds are incredibly slim that she'll be butchered by a clown with a hatchet. Of course, that's not impossible--just very unlikely.

by oboe on Feb 3, 2011 12:58 pm • linkreport

I had a math professor tell us that 'in the long run [i.e., infinity] the likelihood of ANYTHING is 1:1...

by steve magas on Feb 3, 2011 1:00 pm • linkreport

And this from the BBC:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12356618

Cyclist death and injury rate rising, figures show...

by Khal Spencer on Feb 3, 2011 2:36 pm • linkreport

Need new laws? Seems this woman was nearly killed because someone ignored the existing ones.

This comes very close to the line of begging the question. If cyclists see an increase in their personal safety by ignoring certain existing laws--as there is some compelling evidence is the case--then it's a valid argument to say they should ignore those laws.

It's not really a counter-argument to say, "If drivers followed all the laws, it wouldn't be necessary for cyclists to ignore some of the laws." So what? Drivers don't. So cyclists do.

:)

by oboe on Feb 3, 2011 2:41 pm • linkreport

@steve,

Of course, with apologies to Keynes, in the long run, we'll all be dead.

:)

by oboe on Feb 3, 2011 2:45 pm • linkreport

From Khal's BBC link:

AA president Edmund King said fuel prices had changed driving habits, leading to a greater take-up of cycling and more accidents.

"These trends need to be countered and the country's road safety effort has to prepare for better times when more people drive."

Lance! We've found you a soul-mate!

by oboe on Feb 3, 2011 2:48 pm • linkreport

Not meant to be begging the question, Oboe, as much as offering a hypothesis. The truck driver was not licensed to operate such a vehicle and may have been incompetent in driving it, leading to this crash. Our first order of business in traffic safety should be to make sure drivers are qualified to drive their rigs (whether cars, trucks, or motorcycles) and that they do so safely.

We can conjecture further. If the lady had run the light (assuming it was a light), she may have left the scene safely. Or, she may have been hit and killed by a car screened from her by other traffic. Who the heck knows? We can all speculate about what didn't happen but its tough to argue about hypotheticals.

Mr. Magas makes a good point. Our right of way laws protect us. Not 100% of course. You and I and every other cyclist are exposed to risks whenever we ride. We have to mitigate those as well as we can. If there are ways of changing the laws to make them more effective in serving the needs of cyclists, we should do so. At the risk of losing my credentials in the Law and Order Brigade, I am amenable to changing laws. But perhaps more bone-headed about it than some here.

Statistics say that rear-end collisions are rare. Unfortunately, they are often severe, especially for cyclists and motorcyclists. We do need to deal with these sorts of issues, but lets do so based on good science and engineering, not fear, which we apparently agree may not strictly correlate with actual risk. The worry about changing rules based on fear rather than hard data is that one may mitigate a fear but increase another risk.

by Khal Spencer on Feb 3, 2011 3:14 pm • linkreport

Just to be clear, I think hyperbole about "Law & Order" and so forth is a bit silly; I think cyclists (and pedestrians) should obey the law when it makes sense.

But I do think there's compelling anectdotal and "hard" data that suggests obeying the letter of the law may not always be the best thing to do in every situation.

The prime example we keep returning to is that most cyclists who have a lot of experience riding in urban settings are familiar with the technique of "jumping" the light. Generally speaking, if there's no one coming, I'm going to be treating the red light as a stop sign. That's because I've found it's safer to proceed through an empty intersection illegally than wait for a bunch of cars to arrive, then have us all try to choreograph a start when the light turns green.

So I'm totally with you on this:

Our right of way laws protect us. Not 100% of course. You and I and every other cyclist are exposed to risks whenever we ride. We have to mitigate those as well as we can. If there are ways of changing the laws to make them more effective in serving the needs of cyclists, we should do so.

No gratuitous law-breaking from me (though I suspect that kind of behavior is a lot less prevalent than one would imagine reading this thread). But so long as it doesn't transfer risk to more vulnerable road-users, I'm going to do what I have to to keep myself safe.

Generally law-breaking behavior by cyclists is a technique to *manage* risk, not increase it. Obviously we can disagree about whether it's effective, etc... But most cyclists *don't* fit the profile of the guy who "runs red lights without slowing down." You just don't see that very often--maybe in courier, and courier-wannabe culture.

by oboe on Feb 3, 2011 3:38 pm • linkreport

Generally speaking, if there's no one coming, I'm going to be treating the red light as a stop sign. That's because I've found it's safer to proceed through an empty intersection illegally than wait for a bunch of cars to arrive, then have us all try to choreograph a start when the light turns green.

Wow. Your example of when it's right to break the law would be my example of the worst idea ever. I think this ranks up there with drunk drivers who speed to spend less time on the road in an intoxicated state. Ignoring the traffic rules in a situation where there are many vehicles around and everyone is expecting a certain behavior is just a terrible idea.

Jumping lights by drivers who think they are going to get the green next, but don't, is among the common causes of accidents at signalized intersections. Of course, I'm sure you think that, unlike every other human being, there's no risk that you would make such a mistake.

by David desJardins on Feb 3, 2011 3:50 pm • linkreport

@oboe: But most cyclists *don't* fit the profile of the guy who "runs red lights without slowing down."

I don't think anyone suggested a profile of cyclists who run red lights without slowing down. I think there was a suggestion that it's common to see cyclists go through stop signs without slowing down. I certainly see this a lot.

by David desJardins on Feb 3, 2011 3:51 pm • linkreport

"ignoring the traffic rules in a situation where there are many vehicles around and everyone is expecting a certain behavior is just a terrible idea."

You didn't read what he said, did you?

by HisMexcellency on Feb 3, 2011 3:54 pm • linkreport

You didn't read what he said, did you?

Wow, I sure thought I did. Maybe I got it wrong. I thought he was saying he was stopped at a light, along with several cars, and that he would jump the light, starting through it before he gets the green, in order to get out ahead of the cars. Thus, in a situation where there are many vehicles on the road, and potential conflicts, he's behaving in a way exactly opposite to what all of the other vehicles around him will expect.

How is that not right?

by David desJardins on Feb 3, 2011 3:57 pm • linkreport

@David desJ:

Yeah, I don't have time to write a treatise on the subject, so my brief outline is going to have to suffice. But pretty much anyone who's been riding urban streets for more than a couple of years knows the dynamic I'm referring to.

And, while I suppose my behavior is deadly in the extreme, and the Reaper is always just over my shoulder, I've been doing this for about two decades now with nary a close call in these situations.

Oh, and like most other adults who live in the city, I also jaywalk when I determine there's no oncoming traffic. I'm sure that'll surely get me killed as well.

by oboe on Feb 3, 2011 3:59 pm • linkreport

Ah, ok, I see what you're missing. While there are cars behind me waiting for the light to change, there are no cars coming across the intersection. If there are, obviously I don't "jay-ride". Jesus, are the mundane physical actions we go through in our lives here on Planet Earth really so fraught and challenging for the non-cycling, non-walking majority? heh.

by oboe on Feb 3, 2011 4:04 pm • linkreport

"How is that not right?"

Because it's not what you quoted him saying.

What Oboe said:
"Generally speaking, if there's no one coming, I'm going to be treating the red light as a stop sign. That's because I've found it's safer to proceed through an empty intersection illegally than wait for a bunch of cars to arrive, then have us all try to choreograph a start when the light turns green."

Where are the several cars he's referring to? He said nobody was around.

by HisMexcellency on Feb 3, 2011 4:05 pm • linkreport

I've argued here at work that our jaywalkers are potentially as safe as our law-abiding pedestrians so to some degree, I've argued both sides of the issue from an operational standpoint. I've seen near misses with both legal peds and jays. As the volunteer traffic safety committee chair for my employer, I watch this stuff. Mind you, I would prefer everyone obey the law, but realize that reality is not the same as my pipe-dream.

In the case of jaywalkers, some act like the proverbial deer running across the road. Ok, they are the Darwin Award contestants. The more careful ones watch for traffic to clear and then cross only when the way is safe. Technical violation, but no harm?

Lawful pedestrians have to watch for other people's mistakes, regardless of the light cycle and I think that's what we are debating here. I personally have seen several have to dive for safety while crossing with the light. I once did a fifty foot jaunt sitting on someone's hood when they ran a right on red with me in a crosswalk. I think, but don't have data sitting here to test, that right on red violations (without stopping or yielding to the pedestrian) is a major operational safety issue. That includes cyclists doing the evil deed.

Right on red was passed to expedite motor vehicle travel. Its Hell on pedestrians due to sloppy vehicle operator behavior (typically motorists look left to check for a break in traffic and then gun it into the right turn with or without stopping--which is why any salmon-swimming cyclists are also at risk). This is an excellent example of a law that is auto-centric while sacrificing personal safety (in my opinion, anyway).

by Khal Spencer on Feb 3, 2011 4:15 pm • linkreport

Where are the several cars he's referring to? He said nobody was around.

He didn't actually say that. He said he was going to proceed through an empty intersection, but he wasn't clear about whether he does this when he is waiting at the intersection along with other cars, or if he only does it when there are no other cars present even if they are stopped at the light as well. Perhaps I misunderstood and he is saying he would only do this if there are no cars at or near the intersection traveling in any direction, stopped or not. If that's what he meant, I still think it's a bad thing to do, but it's less dangerous than I said.

by David desJardins on Feb 3, 2011 5:01 pm • linkreport

The article on Ken Kifer's page, "Is Cycling Safe" is worthy reading for anyone interested in this topic.
http://www.kenkifer.com/bikepages/health/risks.htm

by steve magas on Feb 3, 2011 5:22 pm • linkreport

The article on Ken Kifer's page, "Is Cycling Safe" is worthy reading for anyone interested in this topic.

Is there anyone here who considers cycling to be dangerous? I think this article is written for people who think cycling is dangerous, but all of us already understand that it is quite safe, so it's really just repeating what we already know.

by David desJardins on Feb 3, 2011 5:34 pm • linkreport

Good post. I blow stop signs (but not red lights) whenever I can on my daily commute, as long as there is no right-of-way violation. It's a pointless law -- even for cars! 4-way stops are assaults on the environment in terms of noise and air pollution and time wasted. Of course, I stop (or California stop) whenever I'm in my car, just because I understand it's the law and I could actually hurt someone if a pedestrian magically appeared right in front of me. But the law makes no sense at all, and I'm sure not gonna obey it on a bicycle.

The irony is that I *do* stop (or, more like, wait my turn) when there is traffic.. but that's precisely when it causes the most impact, because the other drivers have to wait for me to get up to speed and clear the intersection. But you damn well know if I tried to thread the needle at speed and get out of everyone's way, someone would chase me down and scream at me as if I murdered their family.

by RC on Feb 3, 2011 6:48 pm • linkreport

@David desJardin:

I don't think anyone suggested a profile of cyclists who run red lights without slowing down.

Sorry, I got my threads confused. From the A Human Connection... piece:

But the bikers aren't off the hook either. Wild maneuvers, blowing through lights without slowing down, antagonizing cars, and flipping the bird hardly help.
In any case, it's a pretty common charge. Obviously hyperbole, but still...

by oboe on Feb 4, 2011 9:27 am • linkreport

The Kifer article cites a lot of good statistical sources, including the "most common" causes of cycling accidents, discusses "fear mongering" and discusses the health benefits of cycling as offsetting the risks.

Kifer also has a great article - The Fear of Traffic from the Rear -
http://www.kenkifer.com/bikepages/traffic/fear.htm

"Often fear is a greater problem than what we're afraid of. Thoreau stated this somewhat cryptically by saying, "The greatest fear is fear," and Roosevelt restated it (and overstated it) by saying, "The only thing to fear is fear itself."

"When cyclists have an exaggerated fear of motor vehicles striking them from the rear, they can adopt risky cycling behaviors. Such tactics as riding on sidewalks and on the wrong side of the road result in more fatalities and injuries than following the traffic laws... "

Kifer notes the importance of developing good traffic strategies and concludes "... I think that riding a bike is much safer than driving a car, but part of the reason why the bike is safer is that I have more ways of avoiding collisions on the bike than I do in the car. I stay alert while cycling and use my skill with the bike, my observation of my surroundings, and my understanding of human nature to give me an edge in any traffic situation...."

by steve magas on Feb 4, 2011 10:17 am • linkreport

My final thoughts/posting in response the question, “Why don’t people obey the rules when they ride a bike?” and comments that resulted: Again, as I said in my first post, there are as many reasons (i.e., excuses) for not obeying the rules (i.e., traffic laws) as there are people who ride bicycles. All of us who ride bicycles have, at some point, acted against the traffic law. A few years ago I was riding on the shoulder of a major highway that was posted no bicycles. Why? I was behind schedule to meet my friends and it was the most direct route. It was a Sunday morning and the 1.5 km (a little less than one mile) stretch of highway made sense to me; an experienced cyclist who has ridden in far more “dangerous” places. The police officer who stopped me didn’t really think I should be riding there. He didn’t give me a ticket (although he had every right to do so) or even asked my name. He told me to walk my bicycle to the next exit (where I was going anyway), which was about 250 meters (a little less than 300 yards). Of course I started walking, but as soon as he was out of site I hopped back on. I rationalized that I was safer if I got off the highway shoulder faster and cycling was faster than walking. My point is, I violated the law and can’t really defend my actions other than being late. There are other times I’ve not fully complied with traffic law while cycling, but generally I’m in compliance – including using arm signals, lights at night, etc.

A realistic problem with cyclists not following traffic laws is that other road users (other cyclists and motorists included) can’t anticipate cyclists’ actions; and, this makes it more likely there will be conflicts. There’s a series of 4-way stops on one of the routes I use to get to university campus. Some car drivers, who have the right of way, will remain stopped waiting for me to proceed through the intersection. I stop and have to wave on these perplexed drivers. One very busy traffic morning I stopped at one of these 4-ways and the car to my left, which had been stopped, proceeded because it was his turn to go. Unfortunately, another guy on a bicycle came from behind me (passing me on the right) and didn’t stop – the car had to brake hard but luckily didn’t hit the bike rider. This bike rider (middle-aged guy riding an older drop-bar 10-speed) continued to run stop signs the next few intersections. I caught up to him (even after doing proper stops) a couple of blocks later and got him to stop and talk with me. I pointed out that he almost got hit a few blocks back and that, by law, he is required to stop at stop signs. I added he’s giving the rest of us who cycle a bad reputation. His response? He acknowledged that he knew he was to stop at signs and added a but, “... I drive [my car] the same way.” I just hope he has signed a donor card; and, as has been suggested in this discussion, someone notices so he can be nominated for a Darwin Award.

This online discussion has been interesting and thought provoking (as well as somewhat entertaining). The issues raised are complicated. As a behavioural professional and researcher I know that our evaluations of situations are greatly influenced by individual perceptions. In addition, defining what it means to be “safe” is subjective. Does wearing my helmet and cycling in a designated bike lane make me safer? Not really, if one objectively thinks about it. A white line painted on a roadway does not prevent me from being hit by someone else on the road nor does it prevent me from doing something stupid like swerve into the adjacent lane in front of bus to miss a pot hole. Similarly, a helmet is not going to prevent me from crashing into something or something crashing into me on my bike. It will, however, reduce my chances of having a serious brain injury and that’s why I always wear one when I ride.

There are always risks in life. Is cycling a reasonably safe form of transportation? Based on the thousands of people who ride bicycles and overall available statistics on fatalities and injuries, I say YES? As to specific data on cycling accidents, Steve Magas and Dr. Spencer correctly point out that sufficient and good data are, unfortunately, very rare. Policies, planning, infrastructure, and other actions to “make cycling safer” based on “evidence” need to be critically evaluated. Statements like “a natural behavior for cyclist” are not supported. “Lots of cyclists do ...” maybe true, but that does not mean the behaviour is “natural” – perhaps “conditioned” or “learned behaviour” based on faulty logic or bahd modeling (sheep behaviour). Why do some cyclists who know the rules but do not obey the rules? The simple answer to that question is: because they choose not to! Cheers, ah men and Roll On!

by Hal on Feb 4, 2011 12:08 pm • linkreport

He told me to walk my bicycle to the next exit

sounds like a swell guy. unfortunately, cops aren't always the decent people we want them to be.

this is part of why bicycles require/deserve access to the most major thoroughfares/corridors -- they allow us to get where we're going in the shortest distance/time possible. if we allow highways and freeways to stand, then we deserve a whole bunch of bikes-only highways/freeways.

A realistic problem with cyclists not following traffic laws is that other road users (other cyclists and motorists included) can’t anticipate cyclists’ actions; and, this makes it more likely there will be conflicts.

that's why i say the few cyclists who do come to full stops at stop signs should reconsider -- they/y'all should do like most of the rest of us do -- blow it. :) nah - but roll through, certainly. don't steal right of way, don't scare/hit any pedestrians, and try not to get killed by law-breaking drivers -- but be predictable, don't come to a complete stop.

the mechanics of how to handle a stop sign situation with lots of cars waiting can be more tricky -- i usually roll through with a or 'the' car on my left (assuming no pedestrians are around to screw things up!), when it is their turn -- that way i save everyone time and effort, and i get prioritized, the way pedestrians and cyclists should be.

I just hope he has signed a donor card; and, as has been suggested in this discussion, someone notices so he can be nominated for a Darwin Award.

oh! the obligatory donor card/Darwin Award quip -- it never gets old!

I added he’s giving the rest of us who cycle a bad reputation. His response? He acknowledged that he knew he was to stop at signs and added a but, “... I drive [my car] the same way.”

cyclists will continue to have a bad rep among at least some percentage of the population. our near-total capitulation on matters of substance -- like abiding by the notion that we should stop at stop signs or red lights -- is not helping our cause.

everybody runs stop signs. everybody. ok -- not everybody -- almost everybody -- regardless of mode of transport -- so, why should cyclists be treated differently?

get on the bus with the modified Idaho Stop!

one semi-interesting note about the Idaho Stop -- i didn't read the full/detailed safety study, but apparently, at least one of the running theories as to why cycling became safer in Idaho after passing the Idaho Stop law was because a relatively large percentage of injuries/accidents/collisions occur when cyclists are moving very slowly, are stopped, and are taking off again -- it's tough to keep your balance on a bike in the 'slow moving' situations, so we fall into auto traffic, etc. too lazy to look up the web page ref.

by Peter Smith on Feb 4, 2011 6:22 pm • linkreport

ps - i agree with @jcm -- looking forward to the post titled, "Why don't people obey the rules when they drive?"

some of the answer is obvious, but some of it is not -- at least, drivers can't generally use the excuse that 'the laws were not designed for cars/drivers' -- so what's their excuse? just don't care about killing people? what is it?

by Peter Smith on Feb 4, 2011 6:31 pm • linkreport

Found the link for the danger of Stop signs and cyclists having to stop and/or 'move slowly' -- washcycle.

by Peter Smith on Feb 4, 2011 7:37 pm • linkreport

The problem is, there are no actual data in that Meggs study to back up the 14.5% safer claim. I wish he had put in numbers and graphs so we science nerds could satisfy ourselves. Not to mention that I suspect there are too many significant digits in that 14.5 number compared to what I would be willing to bet are the variations on annual bicycling injuries in Idaho.

I don't have a safety based problem with justifying the Idaho Stop on operational grounds (in the context that I am willing to justify Yield signs rather than Stop signs at many locations). Let's just be careful of quoting numbers without actually seeing them.

by Khalil J. Spencer on Feb 4, 2011 8:31 pm • linkreport

http://itd.idaho.gov/ohs/2009Data/09PedBikeMC.pdf

Here's an Idaho bike stat page which doesn't say anything about stop sign crashes but lays out some basic crash/fatal/injury stats. 2009 was a bad year... a jump from 2-3 deaths to 7 and a jump in the number of crashes and serious injuries. The two biggest numbers in the "age group" category for crashes was in ages 4-14 [69 cyclists in crashes] and 15-19 [76]. Wish they would have broken this down further.

However, with "only" 320-350 crashes per year on average, it would make an interesting project to catalog every one for year.

By contrast Ohio, which fits sort of in the middle of cyclist fatality totals at 10-20 per year, has close 1600-2000 "crashes" per year and 1500+ injuries.

http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/departments/nrd-30/ncsa/stsi/16_ID/2009/16_ID_2009.htm
Here's a NHTSA page on Idaho stats

Here's a Google earth map showing all fatals in Idaho for three years [2 in 2007, 2 in 2008, 7 in 2009]

by steve magas on Feb 5, 2011 11:59 am • linkreport

http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/departments/nrd-30/ncsa/stsi/16_ID/2009/Idaho_Map_17_GIS_DATA_2009.HTM

Forgot the google earth link. This is a fascinating link which shows the location of EVERY fatal bike accident in the US down to the street view. You start here--> http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/departments/nrd-30/ncsa/stsi/usa%20web%20report.htm

by steve magas on Feb 5, 2011 12:02 pm • linkreport

http://www.smartplanet.com/business/blog/smart-takes/urban-roads-safer-than-rural-ones-study-says/13956/

Urban roads safer than rural...says one study

by steve magas on Feb 5, 2011 6:02 pm • linkreport

In our downtown strip we have similarities except no cycle path lines.
If I'm going straight, I would pull my bike just behind the black car and take the whole lane until clear of the intersection or the jammed-up area.
If turning right, I would keep to the cycle pathway and just behind the blue car.
In California we are not required to use the bike lane to the exclusion of other avenues of transit.

by Jim McCullough on Feb 5, 2011 8:54 pm • linkreport

Urban roads safer than rural...says one study

This is for cars. And the ratio is a factor of two! Gee, that's a long way from 1000.

by David desJardins on Feb 5, 2011 10:33 pm • linkreport

@Peter: “our near-total capitulation on matters of substance -- like abiding by the notion that we should stop at stop signs or red lights -- is not helping our cause.” I really hope you don’t think you speak for all bicyclists, especially on the “matters of substance,” as you put it. And stopping at stop signs and red lights is not a “notion” or suggestion – it’s the intention so there’s understood order!

Really, Peter ?!, “i usually roll through with a or 'the' car on my left ... that way i save everyone time and effort, and i get prioritized, the way pedestrians and cyclists should be.” First of all, what makes you so special? Living in SF with all the hills I can understand not wanting to come to a stop, but come on, priority? As to rolling through with a car on your left, that’s a very dangerous situation, my friend. Not only are you potentially hidden from other traffic, but if that car’s driver decides to turn right at the last minute you’re toast. Have you signed your donor card?

For a similar discussion go to: http://www.montaguebikes.com/folding-bikes-blog/2011/02/should-cyclists-and-motorists-be-subject-to-the-same-laws/. I have a couple of posts there, too.

by Hal on Feb 7, 2011 8:12 pm • linkreport

Speaking as someone who Metros and walks everyday to work, I'm amazed at the number of cyclists who have "near-misses" with colliding with a person on foot who's either:

1. Crossing at a cross walk, and the cyclist decides to pull through a redlight -- almost hitting the crowd crossing. If a car did this, GGW would be up in arms. Cyclists should *not* be allowed to do this either.

2. Crossing at a cross walk on a one-way street, whereupon a cyclist speeds by in a direction counter to traffic and again almost hitting people crossing the crosswalk.

3. Walking on a sidewalk -- where a cyclist attempts to also ride.

If D.C. is to be walkable, part of that walkability means that BOTH cars and cyclists need to obey the shared rules of vehicles.

Oh, and cops should be allowed to pull cyclists over if they don't wear a helmet just like drivers can be pulled over if they don't buckle a safety belt.

by Walker on Feb 9, 2011 7:50 pm • linkreport

Not to excuse any bad behavior, and failing to yield the right of way is bad behavior, but bike-ped crashes are incredibly rare. According to a DDOT study over the year 1997-99, there were 29 reported bike-ped crashes (less than 1 a month) but 1785 reported car-ped crashes.

Once you account for the increased number of cars and the exposure rate of each, drivers hit about 6 times as many pedestrians as cyclists do per capita. That doesn't mean that it doesn't suck to get hit by a cyclist or that some cyclists don't do the wrong thing, just that it is a very low level risk; and that while a lot of people might report "almost" being hit by a cyclists, few actually are.

by David C on Feb 9, 2011 9:21 pm • linkreport

But what's the ratio of bicycles on the road to cars?

In other words, what's the denominator. You gave 1785 car-ped crashes and 29 reported bike-ped crashes, but out of how many cars on the road vs. bikes on the road?

Just because bike-ped crashes are less than car-ped crashes doesn't excuse the bad behavior (which you also cited). The tenet remains true that part of that walkability means that BOTH cars and cyclists need to obey the shared rules of vehicles.

And if cyclists have "almost near hits" with peds... how much of the cycle-ped crashes are b/c both cyclists and drivers were behaving badly?

When a cyclist speeds through a red light -- as witnessed while on foot Monday morning and Wednesday afternoon -- if they then get hit by a car driving through that same intersection, was that really the car's fault?

by Walker on Feb 10, 2011 1:55 am • linkreport

You gave 1785 car-ped crashes and 29 reported bike-ped crashes, but out of how many cars on the road vs. bikes on the road?

He answered that in the very next paragraph.

by David desJardins on Feb 10, 2011 2:09 am • linkreport

I'd like to see the raw numbers.

Also, I assume there's a lot more bikes in D.C. on the road than, say, on the road in Kansas or Montana. Inversely, a lot more cars on the road in Kansas or Montana than bikes. So national numbers pose a bit of problem when talking about D.C. specifically.

Regardless, are you seriously trying to say that because bikes hit less people than cars, they're excusable because they "hit less". All it takes it hitting once -- you.

by Walker on Feb 10, 2011 2:21 am • linkreport

Walker, here's the analysis. The ratio of crashes is 1:61, but the ratio of bikes to cars is 1:9.6. The denominator is hours of exposure.

And if cyclists have "almost near hits" with peds... how much of the cycle-ped crashes are b/c both cyclists and drivers were behaving badly?

I'm not sure I understand the question. But if you're asking about how fault changes the numbers, I don't know.

In DC, if a cyclist runs a red light and gets hit as a result, they will be at least partially at fault in every single case. As DC is a contributory negligence jurisdiction, that means they will be the same as 100% at fault.

So national numbers pose a bit of problem when talking about D.C. specifically.

These numbers are DC specific.

Regardless, are you seriously trying to say that because bikes hit less people than cars, they're excusable because they "hit less".

No. I'm saying that cyclists in general behave more safely than drivers, which is not the popular perception. And since the majority of vehicles are cars, that means the average cyclist is safer than the average vehicle operator on the road. So when you complain about cyclists, you're complaining about the safer road users. There are bad cyclists who fall into the bottom half, an it's fair to complain about them, I just want things kept in perspective. If a cyclist crashes into you, they are pretty likely to be hurt as well. The same is not true of a driver. So cyclists are heavily incentivized to not do that.

Furthermore, I'm making the point that while I regularly hear about people complaining about "almost" being hit by a cyclist, rarely are people actually hit. Being almost hit is a subjective term - is that one foot, is that two feet, did they pass behind you or in front - you don't say. It's a non-scientific term and related to one's own comfort zone. Reported crashes are non-subjective. So if you're point is that cyclists are regularly risking a crash with you, I don't think that is accurate, and I trust the numbers more than the opinion of an anonymous poster on a blog.

All it takes it hitting once -- you.

Really? You're already going to profanities? How adult of you. When you get hit by a cyclist, then you can pull out the profanities, but until then it's a bit of overkill to pull them out for the supposition of a future crash.

by David C on Feb 10, 2011 8:39 am • linkreport

@David C: I'm saying that cyclists in general behave more safely than drivers, which is not the popular perception.

I think a more accurate statement would be that cyclists are less of a danger, which is primarily because bicycles are less inherently dangerous than automobiles, not because cyclists behave more safely than drivers.

by David desJardins on Feb 10, 2011 4:00 pm • linkreport

@David desJardins:

I would argue they're both. They're both less of a danger, and--because they're more vulnerable--as a whole behave more safely. David gets it exactly right when he says, "If a cyclist crashes into you, they are pretty likely to be hurt as well. The same is not true of a driver. So cyclists are heavily incentivized to not do that."

The only counter-argument I've seen hinges on such question-begging as "Of course they're less safe! They treat stop-signs as yield signs" and whatnot.

As far as "near-collisions" some folks have a hyper-sensitivity to risk of collision. Not saying that subjective experience isn't valid--but there are a very few people who "almost get killed by speeding cyclists every *single* time I leave my house". Meanwhile, most of us manage to navigate through life without our very lives balancing on the knife's edge. Obviously 99% of that is perception.

by oboe on Feb 10, 2011 4:11 pm • linkreport

I think its accurate to say the incentive to avoid crashes is greater in cyclists than in car drivers.

by Tina on Feb 10, 2011 4:17 pm • linkreport

@oboe: [Cyclists are] both less of a danger, and--because they're more vulnerable--as a whole behave more safely.

Well, this is a valid opinion, but it's just an opinion. The data that have been presented don't prove such a conclusion. It's hard to see how one could make it objective rather than subjective. Certainly we all see plenty of examples of both drivers and cyclists behaving very stupidly, all the time. How would you measure whether there's more or less among one group or the other?

by David desJardins on Feb 10, 2011 4:24 pm • linkreport

use crash data as a proxy for stupidity. Crash data are quantitative. "stupidity" and "almost crashed" are qualitative.

by Tina on Feb 10, 2011 4:38 pm • linkreport

@Tina: use crash data as a proxy for stupidity. Crash data are quantitative. "stupidity" and "almost crashed" are qualitative.

That is exactly my point. Statistics are objective, but we don't have any objective way to adjust those probabilities for the inherent risks of the respective machines.

I'm sure that unicyclists crash more per mile than bicyclists. But it's not because bicyclists are more conscientious than unicyclists. It's because there are inherent differences in the risk of the machines and their respective crash probability, even when operated equally safely.

Cars move faster than bicycles, so they are more likely to hit pedestrians even when operated with an equal degree of (un)safety. If drivers and cyclists operated their vehicles equally safely, there would be a higher rate of driver-pedestrian crashes than cyclist-pedestrian crashes, just because pedestrians are more able to jump out of the way of the slower-moving bicycles, and similar factors. But adjusting for those effects is inherently subjective, and so any conclusion about the relative conscientiousness of drivers and bicyclists from such statistics is inherently subjective.

by David desJardins on Feb 10, 2011 5:00 pm • linkreport

Fair enough, but in the absence of any rigorous studies, I think we'll have to apply Occam's Razor: it's natural that folks on a 25-pound bicycle pay more attention to their surroundings, and avoid accidents. More so than someone in a multi-thousand pound enclosed living-room -like environment with satellite radios, cell phones, blackberrys, kids, not to mention air-bags, ABS brakes, etc, etc, etc...

There may be no in-depth studies that a guy carrying a priceless Ming vase is more mindful than a guy carrying the garbage out to the curb, but we *can* extrapolate a little bit.

by oboe on Feb 10, 2011 5:18 pm • linkreport

I think we'll have to apply Occam's Razor: it's natural that folks on a 25-pound bicycle pay more attention to their surroundings, and avoid accidents.

It's also natural that people moving at 50 mph pay more attention to their surroundings. It's also natural that people driving 3000 pounds of metal pay more attention to the threat they pose to others. There are a lot of things that are natural. You can come to whatever personal conclusions you like, but we don't have to form the same conclusions.

by David desJardins on Feb 10, 2011 5:21 pm • linkreport

@David desJardins,

It's true that we don't know the reason why cyclists crash into pedestrians so much less often than drivers. It may be entirely because pedestrians are more capable of avoiding being hit by a cyclist. It may be entirely due to more defensive riding by cyclists for the reason I mentioned above. It may be a combination of the two. Or it might be something else entirely. It's hard to say why, exactly.

My hypothesis is that it's, at least in part, because cyclists are more incentivized to avoid such crashes. That does seem reasonable, does it not?

Your hypothesis If drivers and cyclists operated their vehicles equally safely, there would be a higher rate of driver-pedestrian crashes than cyclist-pedestrian crashes, just because pedestrians are more able to jump out of the way of the slower-moving bicycles, and similar factors. is not unreasonable and may be part of the reason, but I would not expect it to account for the whole. One thing we know is that incentives are very powerful.

Scientific conclusions almost always contain a level of inherent subjectiveness. That's how we do science. We present the numbers and the methodology and then we try to explain the numbers. To argue against subjectiveness is to argue against the scientific method. So if your only criticism is that there is a level of subjectiveness to it, then that isn't really criticism as much as it is acknowledgement that it's science.

by David C on Feb 10, 2011 5:28 pm • linkreport

@David C: My hypothesis is that it's, at least in part, because cyclists are more incentivized to avoid such crashes. That does seem reasonable, does it not?

Sure, that is beyond doubt. But how do you know if that is a bigger or smaller effect than opposite effects, such as that cyclists pay less attention because they are traveling at lower speeds and expect not to have to react as quickly?

There's no question that one reason cyclists ride more carefully is that they know they are exposed to danger. There's also no question that there are other reasons why cyclists ride less carefully, such as the fact they aren't normally passing two feet away from vehicles that are traveling at a relative velocity of 80 mph or more. What's the sum of all of these offsetting effects? There's no way to know.

It is also the case that people aren't rational. You could argue that it would be sensible for cyclists to ride more carefully. But most dangerous behavior is in fact caused by people who are acting stupidly and irrationally. So looking at their incentives gives you very limited insight into how they actually behave.

I am surprised that you call your conclusions scientific. I am a scientist. There's nothing scientific about the arguments you are making.

by David desJardins on Feb 10, 2011 5:42 pm • linkreport

there's also the Peltzman affect to account for in all those things oboe listed.

It's also natural that people driving 3000 pounds of metal pay more attention to the threat they pose to others. except when they need to make that cell phone call/ text.

by Tina on Feb 10, 2011 5:44 pm • linkreport

I'm sorry but this makes it sound like you've never been on a bike: cyclists pay less attention because they are traveling at lower speeds and expect not to have to react as quickly

When I'm riding I have to be ready to avoid little rocks and even minor potholes. These come up pretty fast even at my slow pace. If I'm driving 50mph I damn sure make certain I have plenty of space and time to react to anything several seconds in advance. My relatively slow riding at 10mph requires a hell of a lot more agility and good reaction timing to keep me safe than my driving at 50.

by Tina on Feb 10, 2011 5:52 pm • linkreport

@Tina: I'm sorry but this makes it sound like you've never been on a bike

I'm sorry if you have a hearing problem. But it turns out that I have been on a bike.

by David desJardins on Feb 10, 2011 5:54 pm • linkreport

What?

by Tina on Feb 10, 2011 5:57 pm • linkreport

To point out the blindingly obvious, it's perfectly common for automobile traffic to be going 40 mph in one direction, and 40 mph the other direction on the other side of a painted line on the street. (In some places, it's even more like 60/60.) If you seriously think you have several seconds to react if a car crosses the line when you're closing at a relative velocity of 80 mph, then you are really deluded. Five seconds, at 80 mph, is about 600 feet. What do you do when you're driving on a city street and there's another car coming in the opposite direction, and it gets within 600 feet? Pull off to the side of the road?

Most cars stay in their lanes, most of the time. That's why automobile traffic works. It has nothing to do with drivers planning five seconds ahead to avoid any possible risk. That isn't remotely feasible. If someone coming the opposite direction swerves into your lane just as you meet, you are not going to avoid a collision, no matter how careful you are.

by David desJardins on Feb 10, 2011 5:59 pm • linkreport

It's also natural that people moving at 50 mph pay more attention to their surroundings. It's also natural that people driving 3000 pounds of metal pay more attention to the threat they pose to others.

You're clearly an idealistic fellow. In my experience, self-preservation tends to trump goodwill to one's fellow man.

by oboe on Feb 10, 2011 6:17 pm • linkreport

@oboe: In my experience, self-preservation tends to trump goodwill to one's fellow man.

Nothing could be a clearer illustration of how your conclusions are based on opinions, not data.

I don't suppose you are claiming to have data on the relative influence of "self-preservation" and "goodwill" on driver and cyclist behavior?

by David desJardins on Feb 10, 2011 6:21 pm • linkreport

And where is your data? You seem to be content to point out people don't have data, yet don't hold your opinions to the same standard. Some scientist.

by HisMexcellency on Feb 10, 2011 6:36 pm • linkreport

@HisMexcellency: And where is your data?

I'm not making any claims or drawing any conclusions. You don't need data to support uncertainty; uncertainty is the default condition in the absence of data.

by David desJardins on Feb 10, 2011 6:53 pm • linkreport

But how do you know if that is a bigger or smaller effect than opposite effects, such as that cyclists pay less attention because they are traveling at lower speeds and expect not to have to react as quickly?

For one thing, I would expect surveys to show that it is bigger. I would expect people to say that they pay closer attention when biking.

I would also expect observation to show safer driving. If you were to watch people drive and bike you'd see far more distracted driving than distracted biking (which is what I think you'll see).

And, as Tina points out there is the Petlzman effect, which shows that drivers drive less responsibly as they begin to feel safer (get everyone to put on a seatbelt, and everyone drives faster).

I'd also look at crash data itself. In what percentage of car-ped crashes is the driver at least somewhat responsible. Then I'd compare that to bike-ped crashes. [We'd have to understand police bias better than we do, of course]

So I think with the right data you could build a pretty good case. Right now I think two out of four of those are pretty solid (Peltzman and Distracted operation) and I'd bet money that surveys would back this up. As for crashes, I'd want to really dig into the police report, but there again I suspect the percentage of cases in which the driver was complicit to be higher than the number in which cyclists were (if only because driving is so endemic).

by David C on Feb 10, 2011 6:54 pm • linkreport

Second paragraph, first sentence I meant "safer cycling". Last sentence I meant "speeding" instead of "driving". Must be getting late.

by David C on Feb 10, 2011 6:57 pm • linkreport

@David C: For one thing, I would expect surveys to show that it is bigger. I would expect people to say that they pay closer attention when biking.

My guess is the opposite. I guess this leaves us back in the condition of having no data. Guesses are not data, right?

If you were to watch people drive and bike you'd see far more distracted driving than distracted biking (which is what I think you'll see).

I thought we were talking about dangerous cycling, not distracted cycling. I see a huge amount of dangerous cycling which is very conscious, it's not a result of distraction at all. For example, cyclists often ride in the wrong direction, which is quite dangerous, but it's not because they are distracted, it's because they are indifferent to the safety concern. I would certainly believe that cyclists are willing to engage in wrong-way riding because they don't see the danger to themselves as so great, while drivers are less likely to engage in wrong-way driving because they think it's more dangerous to them and to others. Do you really disagree?

Cyclists can and do engage in a lot of unsafe behavior because cycling is still relatively safe and so they think they can get away with it, more than drivers think they can get away with the same behavior. But it's still unsafe behavior. If you really want to add up the rate of unsafe behavior, and measure "unsafe behavior by cyclists" and "unsafe behavior by drivers", then you still have to account for the fact that it's going to translate differently into crash statistics, because the inherent risks of the activities are different.

by David desJardins on Feb 10, 2011 7:04 pm • linkreport

David, I thought we were talking about dangerous cycling, not distracted cycling.

I was responding to your example "such as that cyclists pay less attention because..." I thought that was clear. That's why I quoted you. So, you were the one talking about distracted driving.

Cyclists can and do engage in a lot of unsafe behavior because cycling is still relatively safe and so they think they can get away with it, more than drivers think they can get away with the same behavior.

I was with you until the last part. Drivers clearly think they can get away with unsafe behavior, at least as much, if not more than cyclists. If you add in the magnitude of the unsafe behavior it's a no brainer.

David if your point is that I can't be 100% sure, then you win. Point made. But if your point is that I'm probably not right, you haven't made it.

I've shown that drivers are 6 times more like to be in a crash with a pedestrian than a cyclist per capita. You've said that there could be another explanation for it, but haven't really offered a compelling one, all you've offered is that cars are unsafe, not drivers, which is kind of a cop out. Especially since in other countries traffic fatalities are way lower, which means it's not inherent to the vehicle.

I, on the other hand, pointed to the Peltzman effect, which is well accepted and pretty much means that a cyclist will behave safer because they feel more at risk. You haven't addressed this at all.

You're starting to sound like a climate change crank.

by David C on Feb 10, 2011 8:03 pm • linkreport

David C:

No, No. He said he's a scientist, so that means his arguments by default are better. They don't have to be consistent, since he's a scientist.
So there.

by HisMexcellency on Feb 10, 2011 8:07 pm • linkreport

@David C: You've said that there could be another explanation for it, but haven't really offered a compelling one, all you've offered is that cars are unsafe, not drivers, which is kind of a cop out.

Wow. If you really dispute this---if you seriously claim that bicycles are just as dangerous to pedestrians as automobiles are---then you are the crank. I'm sorry for wasting time arguing with you.

The rate of pedestrian-pedestrian crashes is very low. Are you seriously arguing that this proves that pedestrians must be extremely conscientious and careful in how they walk, because there's no other possible explanation for why they aren't maiming and killing other pedestrians? Seriously??

by David desJardins on Feb 10, 2011 8:09 pm • linkreport

The rate of pedestrian-pedestrian crashes is very low.

Pedestrians are your control group, if you want to do a comparison that includes them, you can't use them as your control anymore. You'd have to use another control, like stationary objects. Plus, I suspect you get to the point where underreporting becomes a much more serious issue. People bump in to each other all the time, but they almost never report it. So no, I'm not arguing that no reported ped-ped crashes proves anything.

In a sense ped-ped crashes go the other way concerning the Peltzman effect. It is so rare that these cause injury that people are probably completely content to run into each other - as they do on the Metro all the time.

by David C on Feb 10, 2011 8:56 pm • linkreport

It's the giant predator theory at work. Cars a giant predators. Their operators worry about things that can hurt/kill them. They "see" big box-like things sooner and those big things register on their brain's receptors with giant red flashing flags. Cyclists and pedestrians are like smaller creatures, scurrying around the predators feet - they have to tay out of the way, and out of each other's way.

A pedestrian, to a cyclist, is a huge potential risk - hitting one will hurt and cause serious injuries, or death, to the CYCLIST. Self preservation helps cyclists "see" [perceive and assess as dangerous] much more of what is around b/c much more of what is around - rocks, sand, left over road salt, shards of glass, debris, wood dogs, deer, and pedestrians - presents an immediate hazard to the cyclist.

There are no numbers that I'm aware of measuring cyclist/pedestrian crashes. We know that far more pedestrians are killed each year than cyclists - This paper, http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/809-456.pdf, has a chart showing pedestrian deaths falling from 5300 in 1991 to 4461 in 2001. In 2009 there were 4092 [http://www.walkinginfo.org/facts/docs/PedTSF_2008.pdf ]. Compare this to the 700-800 cycling fatalities per year and our cycling numbers look pretty good. Motorcycle rider fatalities climbed for ten straight years before going down last year, finally. From 5100+ in 2008 to 4200+ in 2009! M/C crashes, like pedestrian crashes, are a "whole nother thang" - and can't be compared to cycling crashes. The lay of the land is different, the physics is different, the crashes are different. M/c crashes have been studied IN DEPTH back 20 yrs ago adn there is amove afoot to re-do that study today. Bicycle and pedestrian crashes simply haven't had that level of study... from that perspective, to me, it's very difficult to swallow arguments that don't have SOME mathematical basis. I like arguments that don't use words like "it's natural for people to..." or "it's perfectly common for..." but rather can be supported by accurate data...

Just my 3 cents...

Steve Magas

by steve magas on Feb 10, 2011 11:21 pm • linkreport

@David C. - re: "All it takes it hitting once -- you." I believe you misunderstood me, that's not a profanity, all I was saying all of this is academic until someone is hit. You can say less people are hit by bicycles vs. cars -- but the fact is people are still hit by bicycles. Ergo, bicycles should obey the same rules of the road as cars when it comes to flow of traffic, not running red lights, and stopping when appropriate for peds.

I have to laugh, b/c if the same arguments that people have been present here for bicycles were put replacing bicycles when "light autos" and cards with "big SUVs" -- I'm pretty sure most of GGW would be up in arms. Is GGW presenting a double-standard when it comes to bicycles vs. peds compared to cards vs. peds?

by Walker on Feb 11, 2011 1:18 am • linkreport

@oboe re: "We do have a social contract. It's just that there is a certain small percentage of cyclists (more accurately, people on bikes) who are self-absorbed assholes."

My experience is in the 5 minutes it takes me to walk from the Foggy Bottom to my work location 2 times a day x 5 days a week, I probably observe about 5-6 infractions done by people on bikes a week. Maybe it's just something about Washington Circle, GW, and the Foggy Bottom area, but that's a lot of problems w/ cyclists not obeying the rules.

Moreover, replace that same sentence with cars -- probably most drivers ALSO obey the social contract, it's just a minority that are bad. But GGW is up-in-arms about that, so again, is GGW presenting a double-standard when it comes to bicycles vs. peds compared to cards vs. peds?

Part of what will make Washington Greater is walkability.

by Walker on Feb 11, 2011 1:21 am • linkreport

@steve magas

You say "A pedestrian, to a cyclist, is a huge potential risk - hitting one will hurt and cause serious injuries, or death, to the CYCLIST."

... um, what about the pedestrian? Aren't they likely to get serious injuries to death too?

All I ask is people replace cyclist -> SUV and pedestrian w/ light car. You'll see how two-faced most of GGW's arguments are. If I wrote:

"A light car, to an SUV, is a huge potential risk - hitting one will hurt and cause serious injuries, or death, to the SUV (which I suppose might take less of the physical damage, but might flip over similar to a bike hitting a person and flipping over)."

... I think you'd agree that's crazy to try and justify that SUVs will be most astute in how they drive.

Ergo, these cyclist arguments are self-rationalization by those who do cycle. Do we need to employ Rawls' Veil of Ignorance when discussing the issues here?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veil_of_ignorance

by Walker on Feb 11, 2011 1:30 am • linkreport

@David C: My hypothesis is that it's, at least in part, because cyclists are more incentivized to avoid such crashes. That does seem reasonable, does it not?

And light cars are more incentivized to avoid crashes with SUVs?

I'd argue that what incentive cyclists have to avoid crashes is out-weighed by the mental exceptionism expressed at the beginning of this article. The cyclists perceives themselves as small and nimble, and thus able to go the wrong way on a one-way street, or take to the sidewalk, or quickly dart through a red light. This exceptionism of the cyclists causes them to take risks that a car wouldn't (how many cars attempt to dart the wrong way on a one-way street or drive on the sidewalk?).

by Walker on Feb 11, 2011 1:41 am • linkreport

@walker. of course, EVERYTHING that moves in traffic is a danger to pedestrians. My point was comparing things that get a motorists attention to things that get a cyclist's attention. Pedestrians are like fleas to motorists but represent significant dangers to cyclists, so cyclists are more likely to be on alert when pedestrians are in/near their path.

Steve Magas

by steve magas on Feb 11, 2011 7:54 am • linkreport

Walker, I apologize. I thought "-- you" was some sort of way of saying f... you. Maybe I'm getting too sensitive in my old age.

by David C on Feb 11, 2011 8:36 am • linkreport

I probably observe about 5-6 infractions done by people on bikes a week. Maybe it's just something about Washington Circle, GW, and the Foggy Bottom area, but that's a lot of problems w/ cyclists not obeying the rules.

This is only relevant if these 5-6 infractions increase the danger to other road users. More often than not, they don't. This is a bit like the old "cyclists are dangerous scofflaws! I saw one this morning who wasn't wearing a helmet!"

It says more about the author's perceived risk than it does about the cycling community.

As far as "...probably most drivers ALSO obey the social contract, it's just a minority that are bad. But GGW is up-in-arms about that..."--I think this belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the car-criticism. If you think most folks here have a problem with the drivers who obey the speed limit and generally operate with due care and respect for other road users (i.e. peds and cyclists), you haven't been reading very closely or for very long.

Most cyclists don't operate in a way that endangers pedestrians. Most drivers don't operate their vehicles in a way that endangers pedestrians and cyclists--other than speeding, failing to stop at crosswalks, etc, etc... Generally, they drive with a focus on the only other threat on the road: other motor vehicles.

by oboe on Feb 11, 2011 9:08 am • linkreport

but the fact is people are still hit by bicycles. Ergo, bicycles should obey the same rules of the road as cars when it comes to flow of traffic, not running red lights, and stopping when appropriate for peds.

I don't believe the second follows from the first. The correct line to follow ergo is "bicyclists should operate their bicycles safely and be conscientious and deferential towards pedestrians. The argument is about the question "is what is legal, safest?"

Is GGW presenting a double-standard when it comes to bicycles vs. peds compared to cards vs. peds?

I don't think so. We are talking about two different things though. One, what people should do; and two, what people do do.

People should drive/bike/walk safely and courteously.

People do tend to raise or lower the safety of their behavior based on how much they feel like they're at risk.

I probably observe about 5-6 infractions done by people on bikes a week.

Again, the position among some cyclists is that what is legal is not safest, so you will see some cyclist break the law in the interest of safety. If you saw 5-6 bike crashes a week, that would be evidence of something.

think you'd agree that's crazy to try and justify that SUVs will be most astute in how they drive.

SUV's are not living creatures, and do not make decisions. SUV drivers, because of car safety, need not worry much about their safety when hitting a Honda accord, and need worry about it even less when hitting a pedestrian. But no, I don't think it's crazy that SUV drivers will be more astute based on how much they think their at risk. I'd bet SUV drivers behave differently around 18-wheelers than they do around motorcyclists.

And light cars are more incentivized to avoid crashes with SUVs?

Probably. Isn't that what car companies sell when they sell trucks and SUV's "Don't be pushed around in your little compact car. Be a man. Drive a truck."

The cyclists perceives themselves as small and nimble, and thus able to go the wrong way on a one-way street, or take to the sidewalk, or quickly dart through a red light.

It's funny you should mention those things. Two out of three of them are legal in parts of DC. And the other is something cyclists want made legal. So yes, bikes are different than cars, and cyclists - as well as the law - recognize that.

by David C on Feb 11, 2011 9:26 am • linkreport

I am reading the comments with interest, and believe that this kind of dialogue can add to informed decision making that might result in sensible amendments to laws governing bicycle use on public roadways. As an avid cyclist and commuter biker, I have witnessed a few accidents involving bikes, most involving a bike being hit by a motorist. Some of the "close calls" I have seen have often involved cyclist meeting motorist, pedestrian, or other cyclist, and on nearly all occasions it was because a cyclist was being careless and/or reckless.

I have certainly broken a few traffic laws, always rationalizing that it was safe to do so. What I will not do is pedal my heart out to beat a light, or get around another cyclist barely missing the oncoming cyclist in the opposite lane of a bike trail. Two conversations need to be taking place: one pertaining to sensible traffic laws for cyclists, and the other addressing a very real "Entitled Cyclist Syndrome." It exists and it is dangerous.

by Steve on Feb 20, 2011 11:52 am • linkreport

Whether pedestrians think it's safe to jay walk when there is no crosswalk or a red light telling them it's not safe, or a motorist who speeds on the open highway because they think it's safe. That is just like a person who robs a bank becasue they think it will not hurt anyone and will just put some easy money in their pocket. All of these are rationalizations that people make. Whether they are good or bad, they are all wrong to do. Those people who jay walk or those motorists who speed do so knowing that they can get caught and reprimanded for their actions. So for the bikers who think they have the right to not stop at a stop light because they THINK they are safe to do so, can do so if they please. But if the law says they can't then they should be prepared to face the consequences of thier actions whether they did it without hurting anyone or not. Taking such an issue up in your local area is a great idea, because complaining or rationalizing about it will get you nowhere, but if you can change it then you will be taking affirmative action, which is what people should do these days when they see problems in our legal system. Too many people sit around and complain about it when they should stand up and do something about it.

by Mike Lockhart on Feb 22, 2011 4:01 pm • linkreport

@Mike,

While your moral clarity is bracing, the stats don't bear you out. Where the law promotes safety, I'll follow the law. Where it does not (and where that's born out by experience and statistics) I will not.

Pretty simple really.

by oboe on Feb 22, 2011 4:13 pm • linkreport

Does anyone rob a bank thinking it won't hurt anyone?

by David C on Feb 22, 2011 4:18 pm • linkreport

Jaywalking is exactly like shooting someone in the face. You wouldn't shoot someone in the face, would you? So don't jaywalk.

by oboe on Feb 22, 2011 4:45 pm • linkreport

I'm new to this site but have been reading with interest the discussion over the last month or so regarding bicyclists, drivers, roads and laws. While I didn't read every post, I believe most all the comments were referring to cyclists and drivers when on roads. While that is probably the most dominate situation, it is not the only one

I live in Alexandria, VA, and live right next to a paved trail going for several miles through the city. While it is used by many cyclists, it is officially referred to as a multi use trail, it is not a bike only trail. At any given time there will be people of all ages walking on the trail, runners and joggers, people pushing strollers, skateboarders or scooters, people walking their dogs, etc.

Several years ago new signs were put up along the trail and the first rule listed was that "cyclist must yield & give an audible warning when passing". Unfortunately it has been my experience that only a small percentage of the cyclists obey that rule.

Almost every day I am on the trail walking with my young child and/or our dog. From my experience over the last several years only about 1 in 5 cyclists obey that rule. I can't tell you how unnerving it is to be walking along and then have a cyclists go speeding by, inches away from your left side. My child and my dog have almost been hit dozens of time. I think many cyclists don't realize or forget that they can't be heard by the people they are approaching, they are virtually silent until they are right up on you.

And before anyone asks it, yes, I always walk down the right side of the trail. It has become my common response now to shout out "Please signal before you pass please" as they go by. Half the cyclists don't reply while the other half gives me the single finger salute.

I can understand the arguments regarding the laws and cyclists when on roads and in traffic with cars. But from my prospective there is an equally serious issue with cyclists conduct when on trails and paths. The arguments of "the cars are bigger" or drivers conduct simple doesn't apply when you are speeding by a mother pushing a stroller. From my observations it seems like a number of cyclists treat the multi use trail as their own personal track and they think they are training for the next race.

So what one would think would be a welcome solution to the issue of cars and cyclists, a trail free of vehicles, is from my prospective, being abused. Even when cars are taken out of the mix, many cyclists, the majority from my several years of observations, still don't or won't obey the rules. I would be interested in any comments regarding why cyclists behave this way when on bike trails.

A cyclist and walker in Alexandria, VA

by Brian in Alexandria on Mar 4, 2011 11:28 am • linkreport

I think the problem is that the rule isn't very reasonable, or isn't seen as reasonable, by cyclists.

If the streets were covered with signs that said, "Honk every time you drive past a parked car," drivers wouldn't do that either.

I don't have a specific better suggestion, it depends on the particular trail and options available there, but I think human nature suggests it is going to be very, very hard to get every cyclist to give an "audible warning" for every one of the hundreds of people they pass, every day on every ride.

by David desJardins on Mar 4, 2011 11:55 am • linkreport

Brian, you've really identified two issues - passing too closely and failure to signal.

The first is, to some extent, a nature of the MVT which is pretty narrow. Cyclists should give plenty of room when passing, but there is only so much room one can give on an 8 foot MUT where the edges are somewhat suspect. I'm usually hesitant to get closer than a foot from the far edge and then I'm 2 feet wide. If you're walking a foot from the other edge, that means we're going to be 2 feet apart. When someone comes by and you don't expect them, 2 feet can seem very close - as though you were almost hit. Some cyclists, btw, are training for the next race - though I do think there is a speed limit on the MVT. Nonetheless, most cyclists do yield the row to pedestrians. There are thousands of passings a day, but only about 1 crash per month (As I recall from an NPS powerpoint presentation).

As for announcing before passing, I do this, but I will say that it is a drag. To be constantly saying "on your right" or ringing a bell takes away from the experience. Additionally, some pedestrians don't like it. I've been yelled at - often - for announcing. I've been told that I "don't own the trail" by people when I ring my bell. I think some people think I'm using it to say "out of my way" instead of "passing". Then others freak out, moving into your way, when you announce. So, considering all of this, it is not surprising that cyclists are not enthused about announcing. Some people want to be warned and some people don't - but there is no way to tell one from the other. I will also note that faster runners (aka almost any other runner on the trail) rarely announce when they are passing me, so it is not unique to cyclists.

One solution is to get a wider trail. That will go a long way to reducing conflict. But to get more people to announce we need to do more to educate both groups about what is expected and WHY someone is announcing.

by David C on Mar 4, 2011 11:58 am • linkreport

David DesJardins,

I appreciate your reply but have to respectfully disagree. I think the rule is extremely reasonable, just a simple "On your left" or Passing left" doesn't affect the cyclists at all. The cyclists who do obey the rule and say one of those things, or just ring a bell, don't have to slow down, don't have to alter their cycling in any way. It just gives the walker or jogger a few seconds warning that someone is approaching and going past.

And this has nothing at all to do with cars and traffic, there is no comparison. A person walking on a multi use trail is not a "parked car", and asking a cyclist to give a waring when passing is not the same as honking. The audible waring rule is not new and has been a standard trail rule for many years, at least on all the public bike trails I have ever been on. If a cyclist cannot or will not obey that simple rule than please, stick to the regular roads and deal with the traffic and cars, and stay off the park trails.

Brian in Alexandria

by Brian in Alexandria on Mar 4, 2011 1:07 pm • linkreport

David C,

I appreciate your quick reply and comments but think in the grand scheme of things, with all the other issues regarding biking, traffic, cars and safety, that this is such an easy and reasonable thing to do. Nobody is asking the cyclist to get too close to the edge of the trail, yield or anything else. Just a simple "On your left" or Passing left", doesn't affect the cyclists at all. The cyclists who do obey the rule and say one of those things, or just ring a bell, don't have to slow down, don't have to alter their cycling in any way, it costs them nothing. It just gives the walker or jogger a few seconds warning that someone is approaching and going past. When someone announces to me I usually will take a half a step further to the right (although I already am most of the way on the right) or pull my dog a little tighter, or hold my sons arm until they pass. I bike and I always announce when I'm passing and it has no affect on my trip or the "experience".

Now I'm sure some pedestrians or walkers have reacted inappropriately. But the reactions of a very few should not negate the posted rules. I'm all for any education that will help the walkers and others also obey the rules so that the trails are safe for everyone. I'm sorry you've been yelled at by rude pedestrians but I bet it hasn't been as many times as I've gotten the middle finger from a cyclist why sped by me 18 inches away without warning after I asked him to signal next time when passing. The audible waring rule is not new and has been a standard trail rule for many years, at least on all the public bike trails I have ever been on. If a cyclist cannot or will not obey that simple rule than please, stick to the regular roads and deal with the traffic and cars, and stay off the park trails.

Brian in Alexandria

by Brian in Alexandria on Mar 4, 2011 1:09 pm • linkreport

Just a simple "On your left" or Passing left", doesn't affect the cyclists at all.

Well, like I said, it is kind of a drag. Maybe it doesn't effect your experience, but it definitely makes my ride less enjoyable and I know others have said the same. So it is not without cost.

It just gives the walker or jogger a few seconds warning that someone is approaching and going past.

Which serves what purpose? Mostly it keeps them from being frightened. A cyclist should always pass in such a way that a collision is avoided, without help from the person being passed. So this is kind of superfluous (if you're doing it right). It is a courtesy, it is not a safety maneuver.

But the reactions of a very few should not negate the posted rules.

No, but they do discourage cyclists to continue the behavior.

I bet it hasn't been as many times as I've gotten the middle finger from a cyclist why sped by me 18 inches away without warning after I asked him to signal next time when passing.

If you yell at a cyclist as they ride by, here is what you sound like "DDOOONN JUUUUUL." Now since bad hearing is closely tied to paranoia, I'd guess they think you're saying something worse than what you are. My advice: stop yelling at cyclists. I quit yelling at drivers two years ago, and I think the world is a better place for it. If you want to change behavior, wave at cyclist who signal - positive reinforcement is better.

Also 18 inches isn't that much different than the normal passing distance of 2 feet. Again, narrow trail.

I get that you really want cyclists to signal when passing and you do have the rules on your side, but some people don't want to be called out to. And calling out is largely a courtesy that seems increasingly silly on a trail where well over half the people won't even hear it. Based on the small number of crashes, I'd say things are going pretty well, and I'm not sure that more yelling will fix what is wrong.

by David C on Mar 4, 2011 1:37 pm • linkreport

There are several issues here, the fundamental one being "Should cyclists be training on shared use multi-purpose trails which will of necessity require sharing a narrow space with stroller pushers, 5-year olds on Big Wheels, wheelchair users and horses??"

If you want to ride "fast" then use the roads, or train when all these other folks won't be in your way. Given the relative width of paths, and the huge speed disparity between bikes and peds, I think the verbal cue rule from the cyclist is well-warranted - how hard is it to yell "on your left?" And... if you find that you're yelling it too much, maybe you've picked a rotten time to ride?

In Ohio, we had a quaint "bell/audible signal" equipment requirement in the law until 2006. I still use my bell on trails... I'm not a speedster, but my passing speeds are still 3-4-5+x ped speeds, so I try to give a heads up that I am coming, more for MY safety than theirs... If they get in my way and I hit them they might get bumped up, but I'll probably end up with a fx clavicle or worse.

There is NO COMPARISON between "roads" and trails with regard to this issue. Trails are far more dangerous and swift moving cyclists should ALWAYS choose roads over trails unless they are riding at a time when the trails are underused. Here in OH I don't think I've EVER seen any of our miles of trails overgrown from lack of use, though.

I have 3 "kids on the trail" cases pending right now - where I am representing injured cyclists. In each the parents failed to pay attention to what Jimmy was doing and Jimmy caused a cyclist to crash and get hurt. Twice, Jimmy came across the lane, into the path of an oncoming cyclist while mom/dad walked far ahead. The law in Ohio is not good on these cases though... courts have held that there is no liability for "mere negligence"... we'll see...

I use "On Your Left" all the time, with good results and I think verbal or "bell" signal rules for cyclists on trails is a good thing. Walkers/runners need to stay to the right, go in a straight line and keep their wits about them. Even more dangerous are the skaters who cruise at warp speed while sliding back and forth, rhythmically taking up the entire width of blacktop. If the walker/skater's ipod volume doesn't allow them to hear a given signal, that his/her fault.

Perhaps we simply need to segregate everyone - the Big Wheel path, the ped path, the bike path, the car path, the bus path - send everyone to the corner... at least until everyone learns to play nice...

Steve Magas
The Bike Lawyer
Steve@OhioBikeLawyer.com

by steve magas on Mar 4, 2011 1:56 pm • linkreport

David C,

I'm sorry this has touched such a nerve for you. I really don't understand why such a simple act causes so much consternation with cyclists. Maybe if cyclists spent spent some time walking on the trail they would understand better. Better yet, take a walk on the trail with both a young child and a dog on a leash and see how you feel when a cyclist goes by inches away from either of them.

The audible warning isn't so that pedestrians won't feel "frightened", how insulting. It serves the very tangible purpose so that, for a few seconds, we won't make any moves that may get into the path of a cyclist. On one occasion my young child very innocently pointed to something with his left hand and almost had it clipped off by a cyclist speeding by without warning. It is not superfluous.

Regarding "yelling" at cyclists, there a big difference between someone screaming and my very calm, very direct "Signal when you pass, please". (I always include "please") I know many of them heard it, but if they didn't understand what I said, why would they flip the finger? That just seems to be the default gesture of many a cyclist regardless of the situation.

I'm sorry that a simple act of courtesy is such a "drag" to you. But you are right the rules are on my side. I for one would be happy to have a completely comment or "yell" free experience on the trail. When all the cyclists start obeying the rules that will happen.

Brian in Alexandria

by Brian in Alexandria on Mar 4, 2011 2:06 pm • linkreport

I'd agree that the trail is a poor place to train and that that is better done on the road, but nonetheless people do and it's legal.

But trails also serve a transportation role, and there isn't always a reasonable road option available (especially for the MVT). Bike commuters want to ride fast (time=money) and they have a right to the trail as well. So I would not agree that if you want to ride fast you need to use the roads (not until the GW Parkway is made legal for cyclists). Still, cyclists need to ride at a safe speed for the situation they are in.

As for calling out and ringing a bell - I do it, but I do it as a courtesy. There is no safety element to it.

by David C on Mar 4, 2011 2:09 pm • linkreport

@Brian: I appreciate your reply but have to respectfully disagree. I think the rule is extremely reasonable, just a simple "On your left" or Passing left" doesn't affect the cyclists at all.

Obviously, it does affect them. If I had to say "On your left" 100 times a day, I'd try very hard to go some other way instead.

Reasonableness is inherently subjective, so when I say that I think it's not a reasonable requirement or expectation, I can't be wrong. You can have a different opinion, but both of our opinions are equally valid. If you really want to understand why it is that people don't behave as you wish they would---as opposed to just venting about it---then you'll have to learn to appreciate other points of view than your own, because those are the points of view of the people you're complaining about.

by David desJardins on Mar 4, 2011 2:21 pm • linkreport

I'm sorry this has touched such a nerve for you.

No apology necessary. It hasn't. I use the trail as a runner too.

It serves the very tangible purpose so that, for a few seconds, we won't make any moves that may get into the path of a cyclist.

Why would someone who was safely using the trail suddenly move into the path of a cyclist? Did they not look? Is that safe?

Here's the thing - and why it causes so much consternation. If pedestrians will walk in a straight line and look over their shoulder before moving over or turning around or pointing at something, they will almost surely not get hit - bells or not. Of the crashes I've heard of, the most common cause is that a pedestrian (often wearing headphones) suddenly does a crazy Ivan without looking (or signalling), just as a cyclist passes. The only way that calling out becomes a safety thing is if pedestrians think they don't need to look before they move to the center of the path. So they are pushing the responsibility for their own safety 100% onto the cyclist, and that causes consternation. Not the act of ringing a bell.

Perhaps you should teach your child to look behind them before sticking their arm out on a narrow bike path.

I for one would be happy to have a completely comment or "yell" free experience on the trail.

No, you wouldn't. You would like for every cyclist to call out as they pass. That is the yelling I'm talking about.

by David C on Mar 4, 2011 2:23 pm • linkreport

It has also been my experience that when I call "on your left", people often look over their left shoulder, and in doing so, step halfway into my path requiring me to swerve.

I really need a bell -- if I use my voice from a reasonable distance, I sound like I'm yelling angrily. If I try to use my voice in a more normal tone, I'm either not heard, or they turn directly into my path.

And then it ends up that 70% of the people on the path have headphones in anyway, and can't hear me.

I try to coast and make my freewheel click loudly because people are less frightened by sounds that come on gradually.

Either way, it's silly to imagine that there's an easy solution.

by Reid on Mar 4, 2011 2:24 pm • linkreport

Here in the USA rules and laws are always going to be ignored for simple convenience sake or the perception that it is a bad rule and should be ignored.

I believe we have many so many laws on the books due to the human expedient of finding the loophole to a specific law where we can say it doesn't apply to us.

As for calling out and ringing a bell - I do it, but I do it as a courtesy and as a safety precaution since many trail walkers wander to one side or the other, point and gesticulate, stoop to examine the flora or travel two and three abreast.

One thing I'm aware of too, is that most trail walkers i've seen instinctively move to the right when a bike comes from behind, warned or not and some cyclists who pass on the right either with or without giving a warning should expect this.

by Jim in Sebastopol, CA on Mar 4, 2011 2:41 pm • linkreport

David,

There seems to be so much misunderstanding about this, let me clear it up. This not something that is "inherently subjective", just my "belief", a "point of view" or a "different opinion". It is the law, the printed posted rule on every official sign the city and state has erected along the paved trails. It has been the rule for many years and will continue to be so. So you are certainly free to disagree with a law, not even like it, but if you want to bike on the trails in our city, or anywhere else, you should obey them.

I'm constantly amazed how some people try and justify or rationalize their bad behavior. Unfortunately there seems to be many cyclists who feel that the trails are only for them, that the rules don't apply, or they they are simply doing it as a "courtesy". That's the kind of attitude that gets people hurt.

Brian in Alexandria

by Brian in Alexandria on Mar 4, 2011 4:05 pm • linkreport

@Brian: It is the law, the printed posted rule on every official sign the city and state has erected along the paved trails.

Actually, I am skeptical it is a law. Just because there is a sign, doesn't give it the force of law. Do you have a citation to the city code that requires a verbal announcement of passing when bicycling?

But I don't really care whether it is a law or not. I would still probably ignore it. Lots of people ignore lots of laws. I'm sure there are lots of laws that you ignore yourself. You just think, "That's different," because you've decided for yourself that those are the particular laws that you think are unreasonable. Everyone has a different list.

by David desJardins on Mar 4, 2011 4:11 pm • linkreport

Brian: please contact me or one of the other members of the city's Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

by Froggie on Mar 4, 2011 4:20 pm • linkreport

"Perhaps you should teach your child to look behind them before sticking their arm out on a narrow bike path."

Now you're making snide comments about others' parenting skills? Nice.

by dcd on Mar 4, 2011 4:21 pm • linkreport

David desJardins,

Wow, that's what it boils down to. Do matter what the rule or law, no matter the safety, the rights of others, or anything else, you're just are going to do what you want to do no matter what, everyone else be damed. How sad, that's the kind of attitude that give all the responsible law abiding cyclists a bad name.

Brian in Alex.

by Brian in Alexandria on Mar 4, 2011 4:25 pm • linkreport

David C,

Here's the thing - if cyclists just did the things they are supposed to do, as you request of the pedestrians, there would be far fewer problems. Amazing how you have framed every problem as being the cause of the pedestrian, nothing to do with the cyclist.

"Perhaps you should teach your child to look behind them before sticking
their arm out on a narrow bike path".

Obviously you are not a parent so I'll forgive your ignorance on that one.

"You would like for every cyclist to call out as they pass. That is the yelling I'm talking about".

Then get a bell if you are incapable of speaking.

Brian in Alex.

by Brian in Alexandria on Mar 4, 2011 4:30 pm • linkreport

I'd just like to add that I -- someone who bike commutes daily and rides his bike everywhere -- too find the biking situation on Mt. Vernon Trail beyond dangerous. The bad biking behavior there seems to feed on itself and the speed-pass-near miss pattern has become an accepted practice among an increasingly larger subset of the biking community. With Spring just around the corner, I know that it will no longer be enjoyable (or safe) to run or be a pedestrian on that trail because all of the lycra aficionados who treat the trail as their own personal speed track.

I'm sorry to say that it will probably take a tragedy or series of tragedies before anything changes. It's not even about calling out "on your left" -- though I'm sure that would help. It's about too many bikers travelling at unsafe speeds and making dangerous passes around pedestrians and other more cautious bikers.

by aaa on Mar 4, 2011 5:24 pm • linkreport

@David C, David desJardins

I'm a cyclist and I pretty much always agree with what you have to say on cycling matters. But I seriously disagree with you here.

The general ideal and accepted rule of any pathway, be it a road, trail, path, whatever, is that you defer/yield to the users who are more vulnerable than you. Cars should defer to bikes who should defer to pedestrians. The reality is that on a shared pathway there is often not enough room to safely pass without having to alert pedestrians in front of you that you are doing so. Is there always 3+ feet between you and pedestrians when you pass them? On the Capitol Crescent trail probably but in Rock Creek Park, no way. Three feet is the least we demand from cars so why shouldn't pedestrians demand that of us? If you think about how people walk vs. how they bike, when walking there is actually more variation in your side-to-side movement than when you are on a bike (this is proven, you don't just walk in an exactly straight line). In these close passing situations a variance of 6 inches to one foot can mean the difference between zipping by and hitting someone, so we use audible signals to ensure that pedestrians are aware of our presence. I use trails all the time and I would not call ringing my bell an "unreasonable" requirement - it doesn't take any time or speed away from me. Why do you find it unreasonable, David desJardins?

Your comparison to a car honking its horn while passing is inappropriate. First of all, cars already make sufficient noise that we can anticipate them from far away. Secondly, and possibly more importantly, as has been pointed out by you, me, and probably every cyclist out there, car horns are ear-splittingly loud when you are on a bike - this is not true for a bike bell or saying "on your left."

You both said some variation of the idea that ringing a bell is "a drag" or "takes away from my experience" or "is unreasonable" - why? What exactly does it take away from you? Maybe if you want that experience you should ride elsewhere? As for the argument that pedestrians don't like the bell ringing, I've only found that to be the case for a small minority of pedestrians - most people actually say "thanks!"

Personally I think steve magas has it right - if you are going fast enough that pedestrians are constantly having to be warned out of the way, then you should be training somewhere else. The speed limit on the CCT is 15mph and if you are training at that speed I wish you the best of luck in your next cat 8 race.

Trails are not interstates for bikes. You can't expect that there won't be slow walking pedestrians, children, etc. who might do something stupid.

by MLD on Mar 4, 2011 5:41 pm • linkreport

"Perhaps you should teach your child to look behind them before sticking their arm out on a narrow bike path.

Now you're making snide comments about others' parenting skills?

Not a comment, just good advice.

by David C on Mar 4, 2011 6:38 pm • linkreport

@MLD: The reality is that on a shared pathway there is often not enough room to safely pass without having to alert pedestrians in front of you that you are doing so.

Personally I think steve magas has it right - if you are going fast enough that pedestrians are constantly having to be warned out of the way, then you should be training somewhere else.

Who said I was going fast enough that pedestrians have to be warned? I obviously don't think so.

First you said that every bicyclist has to warn everyone he's passing to get out of the way. Then you said that if you need to warn people to get out of the way, you don't belong on the path at all. So, as I understand your argument, you want to ban bikes entirely.

The argument and claim is that every bicyclist should and must verbally warn every pedestrian that they pass. Not just if they are going "fast", not just if they are "training", everyone. If you're going to defend that position then you need to stick to that position.

by David desJardins on Mar 4, 2011 7:03 pm • linkreport

@Brian: Do matter what the rule or law, no matter the safety, the rights of others, or anything else, you're just are going to do what you want to do no matter what, everyone else be damed. How sad, that's the kind of attitude that give all the responsible law abiding cyclists a bad name.

I find this to be slanderous. I said no such thing. You should consider whether you really wish to misrepresent and attack people in this way, especially when everyone can read what I actually wrote and see that what I actually said is nothing like the strawman you're setting up. You said you are a new visitor to the blog---do you really want the reputation of being one who has no regard for the truth?

by David desJardins on Mar 4, 2011 7:06 pm • linkreport

Amazing how you have framed every problem as being the cause of the pedestrian, nothing to do with the cyclist.

I did not frame every problem as being the cause of the pedestrian. We're talking about a specific subset of problems - namely, those that would be solved if cyclists would ring their bell.

My point is, and someone else said this too, the only reason that a bell has a safety advantage is because sometimes pedestrians do unpredictable things without looking first.

Now let me be proactive. I asked this question before and you conveniently skipped it,

Why would someone who was safely using the trail suddenly move into the path of a cyclist?

Or, to put it another way, can you describe for me a crash in which both of the following are true:

1. It would not have happened had the cyclist rang his or her bell
2. The pedestrian did nothing wrong.

Because I can not think of one. This is the problem I am framing as being the cause of the pedestrian.

What I find amazing is that in the near miss you described, you had the audacity to blame the cyclist. Your child stuck his arm out in an unpredictable and illadvised way. You were standing there with the child and were responsible for them. The cyclist passed, giving enough space so that when your child did something unpredictable and illadvised there was no crash. But somehow, the cyclist was the one who did things wrong. You take no blame.

"Perhaps you should teach your child to look behind them before sticking their arm out on a narrow bike path"

Obviously you are not a parent so I'll forgive your ignorance on that one.

Either you can teach your child something simple like "look before you make a sudden move" or you can not. If you can you should. If you can not, then why would you be able to teach them something simple like "don't make a sudden move when you hear a bell from behind." So either your child is teachable, in which case ringing a bell should be unnecessary; or your child is not, in which case ringing a bell is useless.

And, I actually am a parent. Which child-rearing book did you read where they told you that teaching your child something like what I suggest was a bad idea?

get a bell if you are incapable of speaking.

It's not about being incapable of speaking. It's that very few crashes - if any - would be prevented by the prescence of a bell. Perhaps you know of one.

by David C on Mar 4, 2011 7:07 pm • linkreport

@David C: What I find amazing is that in the near miss you described, you had the audacity to blame the cyclist. Your child stuck his arm out in an unpredictable and illadvised way.

Just to be clear here, although I disagree with Brian on certain issues, I disagree with David C even more strongly. I think he's being absurd. Obviously it is the responsibility of any cyclist to ride so as not to endanger children, elderly people, or other vulnerable and unpredictable trail users. Full stop, nothing more to say.

by David desJardins on Mar 4, 2011 7:11 pm • linkreport

@MLD

I agree with most of what you wrote, except

The reality is that on a shared pathway there is often not enough room to safely pass without having to alert pedestrians in front of you that you are doing so.

Why is that? What will the pedestrian do that will make it suddenly safe? Does this mean it is impossible to safely pass a pedestrians with headphones?

Three feet is the least we demand from cars so why shouldn't pedestrians demand that of us?

It is a little different. I can judge my distance from something on my right much better on my bike than in a car (where my right is 6 feet away).

You both said some variation of the idea that ringing a bell is "a drag" or "takes away from my experience" ... - why? What exactly does it take away from you?

I don't know. It's a feeling. It feels less fun. I do it, but you can't make me like it.

Maybe if you want that experience you should ride elsewhere?

Can't I want that experience and live without it by ringing my bell as I do now? Sometimes people ride with the purpose of getting from A to B and if you take MUTs out of the equation for them it moves things much farther away.

Brian's question was about why cyclists don't announce and what we can do about it. I gave him what I thought were the reasons, do not confuse that with justifying them. But I also think he is making a mountain out of a mole hill and the only reason why announcing has any safety value is because pedestrians sometimes do things that are unpredictable and they do so without looking first - which makes it impossible to blame these crashes solely on the cyclist.

Since he is unhappy with all of my ideas with how to make things better, perhaps he'd like to suggest something. Something other than "Everyone should magically wake up and start following the rules as if they had been exposed to the comet gas from H.G. Wells timeful non-classic 'Night of the Comet'."

by David C on Mar 4, 2011 7:21 pm • linkreport

Just to be clear here, although I disagree with Brian on certain issues, I disagree with David C even more strongly. I think he's being absurd. Obviously it is the responsibility of any cyclist to ride so as not to endanger children, elderly people, or other vulnerable and unpredictable trail users.

Which exactly what this cyclist did.

by David C on Mar 4, 2011 7:23 pm • linkreport

Children move unpredictably, that is their nature, if you are riding so fast and close that you can't avoid a child's unpredictable movements, then you are behaving recklessly. Blaming children for moving unpredictably, or asserting they have some responsibility to be "trained" not to do that, is like complaining when the grass grows, and the wind blows.

by David desJardins on Mar 4, 2011 7:29 pm • linkreport

I'm not actually arguing that children should be trained to not behave unpredictably. I'm making the point that despite unpredictable behavior, the cyclist didn't crash - which means they did things right, but Brian is still not happy with that.

And, I think that if your kid does something unpredictable and ill-advised, you have to bear SOME of the blame for that. You know them and what they're capable of, so if they can't be trusted to behave in a safe manner, then they shouldn't be put in a situation where they have to be trusted to behave in a safe manner. If you cross the street with a rambunctious kid and don't hold their hand, you're somewhat to blame when they run out into oncoming traffic, right?

Let me reiterate. There was NO CRASH. Why? Because the cyclist gave enough space. Nothing that Brian or his kid did ensured their safety. It was the cyclist's behavior that avoided a crash, despite the behavior of Brian's kid.

If all Brian has to complain about is "One time my kid did something stupid and a cyclist almost hit him" then I think Brian has lived a charmed life.

by David C on Mar 4, 2011 8:30 pm • linkreport

@David C. "I'm making the point that despite unpredictable behavior, the cyclist didn't crash - which means they did things right, but Brian is still not happy with that."

... what you write is faulty logic. You're saying Brian would only be valid if a crash happen. Thus you're saying cyclists should only change their behaviors once they've hurt someone.

... Can't we be in the business of preventing harm? Both to folks who opt to walk and folks who opt to cycle?

And can't we be in the business of preventing harm PRIOR to someone being in a crash.

David C. -- your statements that you will chose to disobey rules if you don't find value in them may have some libertarian value to them but FAIL (as in "epic fail") completely when you're using public property in a public space. When you're on public property and in a public space, you accept that there are common rules that have been established by the public.

If you find the rules to be problematic, get active and try and to change them -- pressure the people who make the rules, run for office yourself. But don't think you're somehow noble because you've taken it upon yourself to determine the rules don't make sense so you're going to disobey them -- there's a different word for that, selfish.

What I see is a cyclist who wants to enjoy his/her experience and the hell with others. Replace everything you said David C. with "motorcycle" or "car" (I'm sure drivers of cars want to have an uninterrupted experience driving with the top down and not having to worry about cyclists on the road... but guess what, they'll have to) and you'll see you're just as selfish as the car drivers you've ranted about earlier are.

It's a public space. Share it. Respect the rules. And respect the slowest moving objects (i.e., the walkers, especially children) please.

What this post demonstrates the most is that cyclists have a double-standard... they rail against drivers of cars, but when walkers stand-up for their rights the cyclists are just as dismissive of what walkers say as the some auto-lovers are of cyclists.

by Logic on Mar 4, 2011 9:53 pm • linkreport

Thus you're saying cyclists should only change their behaviors once they've hurt someone.

Really? Where? What I think is that the cyclist in this example need not change his behavior, because he's clearly giving pedestrians enough space to accommodate even an unpredictable child. I think that cyclist IS in the business of preventing harm PRIOR to being in a crash - which is why there was no crash.

As for your second comment, I don't think you meant to direct that to me. If you did, you're way off. If you directed it at David desJardins, you're still way off, but he's totally capable of defending himself.

by David C on Mar 4, 2011 11:07 pm • linkreport

Can I add a few thoughts on cycling safety?

by Kim on Mar 9, 2011 6:51 am • linkreport

The notions in this editorial, while accurate in a real world and physical sense, and possibly even noble - are not practical. In a social sense, it would only serve to increase separatism between 4-wheelers and light 2-wheelers (if you will). It would most certainly lead to many other issues, primarily safety.
I have been a bike courier in Vancouver and Calgary for an accumulative 13 years over the past 25 years of my life. As a courier, yes, by all means - it is very advantageous to 'make up' your own road rules; your livelihood depends on it. Also the risk is progressively lessened with experience and tenure on the road. However, it certainly does not make it right, even for a balls-out courier. I have just turned 41 this year and, after having pedalled some roughly 150,000 to 200,000 kilometers in my life, I recently bought an electric scooter, a Taotao 502. I ride it out (Kelowna) to Winfield at 3:00AM to go to work. Mentally, I look at it no differently than if I was on my Giant Rincon. Throughout my life on the road, professional and otherwise, my mental phylosophy has been as 'just another unit on the move'. (Most) universal road rules are, in fact, extremely sensible - in relation to the layout of a road, (right from left margin of travel), and the expected ways to travel around others. I feel somehow obligated to answer the two situational examples we read in the article (the car turning right on left of cyclist in bike lane / and the bike lane obstruction). A bike lane is a space not usable by regular traffic - under normal circumstance, during normal travel. However, having said as much, it is not exclusively for bikers under all circumstances. Sense dictates, if a car is turning right, and is ahead of a cyclist in his or her lane, the car has right of way in the space he or she needs. First come, first served, (like many other things) that is the way traffic is expected, and supposed to work. As for vehicles obstructing a bikeway, is is sensible and 100% legal for a cyclist to merge to left. It is a general courtesy, but not specified law, for a motorist to try to park inside of the proper shoulder, IF one exists, or at least minimize their parked vehicles usage, without obstructing proper traffic-flow lanes. Therein lies the problem. Look along Lakeshore in the middle of Summer, for example. A cyclist must think of areas or situations such as this as if they're temporarily losing their lane, it's as simple as that. As for the car turning right from the left side of a cyclist in his lane, there is one basic question - who is there first? This is the one dictacting factor provided neither party muscles or speeds in ahead. If the motorist is there first, give him the space he needs to get clear, cyclists either slow and wait or, again, merge left. Merge left is one of my most common reactions to happenings and situations in the right margin. It is simply safe to all but take for granted. I apologize for my long-windedness. I had alot to say. :)

by Gaurueder on Sep 21, 2011 10:03 pm • linkreport

I just know that picking up my son from his elementary school one day, a cyclist almost hit us. He was going down a hill with a stop sign. He ran the stop sign as we were crossing the street. Yes, a bicycle is not as big as a car but it can still kill a child if it's going fast enough. I shudder to think what could've happened and feel blessed we're OK.

by Angie Aldana on Jan 22, 2012 1:24 pm • linkreport

I disagree with this article. No you probably wouldn't have killed anyone by going on that red light, because no one else was there, but I'm still with the cop on this one. It sucks to get a ticket, but rules are rules. If I were to do that in a car, and I told the cop that my heater and AC were broken, I was going really slow and they needed to change the laws more to my liking, would that get me out of a ticket? I'm all for more bikers. If we rode bikes more, we'd probably be healthier and leave much less of a carbon footprint. However, in the interests of safety, I think that people should follow a similar set of rules if they are on the road, regardless of what vehicle they drive. As someone who almost got hit by some dumb #*{^ who went on a red while I was crossing the street as a pedestrian, I think everyone should follow the road rules.

by Ash on Sep 16, 2013 6:29 pm • linkreport

Cars are very bad for the planet. Motorcycles less so. but bicycles are great! Bicycles are exempt from all rules. Critics of bicycles drive cars which are killing our planet in several different ways - if you don't realize this you are just plain stupid.

by Bill Guillen on Oct 6, 2014 12:28 am • linkreport

@Bill - in your cyclist-centric world, you have become so focused on cars you've completely discounted the need for safety/rules to protect pedestrians.

That said, you also revived a 1+ year old thread. Not sure why.

by aworld on Oct 7, 2014 11:48 pm • linkreport

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