Bicycles must be considered and treated as equal road vehicles and bicyclists must be treated as full and equal drivers of vehicles in traffic laws and policies.
“Bicyclists controlling lanes are a normal and reasonable movement of traffic.” – Dan Gutierrez
A fundamental disbelief that bicyclists controlling lanes is normal and reasonable has led to the creation in most US states of inequitable and discriminatory laws restricting bicyclists movements, degrading their access and relative safety. This view must change. Thus:
All US states must maintain equitable traffic laws in these important aspects:
- Uniformity – Ensuring uniform laws throughout a state to protect against access, movement, and equipment ordinances that discriminate against cyclists.
- Access – Affirming the legal rights of bicyclists to use all highways, and all parts and features of those highways, particularly the roadway itself (i.e. the part designated for driving of vehicles, excluding shoulders, sidewalks, etc.), except possibly for controlled access freeways for which sound and reasonable alternatives are available.
- Movement – Affirming that the default behavior for motorists, lane control on laned roadways, is also the default behavior for bicyclists. This means no bicyclist (class) specific movement rules that prohibit lane control or restrict turning moviements or the use of turn lanes. Also unacceptable are any laws that prevent cyclists from making the same movements as other drivers or subject them to more restrictive lane usage rules than other drivers. This equal legal roadway movement status does not prevent or inhibit bicyclists from using special facilities, which serve as options for bicycle travel.
- Equipment – Ensuring that minimum bike propulsion, fit, braking and lighting requirements are adequate for effective operation and precluding restrictions unrelated to safety or effective operation.
The following types of laws, which discriminate against bicyclists compared to other road users, must be repealed.
A) Allowing non-uniform local regulation, gives local politicians without bicycling knowledge, carte blanche to prohibit or restrict cycling, thus creating a balkanized/feudal quilt-work of confusing regulations across multiple jurisdictions. This means repealing laws that grant local authorities the right to enact local laws governing bicyclist’s movements, access and equipment.
B) Restricting access – Highway/roadway bans, or Mandatory Side Path (MSP) or Mandatory Shoulder Use (MSU) laws that prohibit bicyclists from using the roadway, thus preventing them from operating as vehicle drivers.
C) Restricting movements – Far To Right (FTR) laws, which require bicyclists to operate near the road edge on laned roadways, prohibit lane control. Mandatory Bike Lane (MBL) laws prohibit use of adjacent travel lanes. Both FTR and MBL laws require edge behavior. Similar for Mandatory Shoulder Use (MSU) laws, which restrict roadway movements. FTR/MBL/MSU law are inequitable and discriminatory because they require bicyclists, and no other drivers, to abandon control of travel lanes for the overtaking convenience of motorists.
D) Equipment deficiencies – Laws allowing or requiring the use of unsafe equipment (e.g. low brightness lights, poor visibility reflectors) or redundant equipment (e.g. pedal reflectors) and the absence of safe equipment requirements, such as requiring a service brake and specifying a stopping distance at a given speed.
Bicyclists must also be treated as equal road users when laws and policies covering other transport modes are considered. These include inter-modal access. They also include not improving one mode, say pedestrians or motorists at the expense of bicyclists.
Per federal guidance, transportation policies must treat bicyclists as equals with other modes:
“Considering walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes: The primary goal of a transportation system is to safely and efficiently move people and goods. Walking and bicycling are efficient transportation modes for most short trips and, where convenient intermodal systems exist, these nonmotorized trips can easily be linked with transit to significantly increase trip distance. Because of the benefits they provide, transportation agencies should give the same priority to walking and bicycling as is given to other transportation modes. Walking and bicycling should not be an afterthought in roadway design.”
Thus, state and local policies relating to highway and bikeways, including funding, access, design, construction, maintenance, and inter-modal access, must give bicyclists equal consideration, which starts in the very beginning of the transportation planning process, including when funds are earmarked for various transportation modes, and also in policies relating to planning and project initiation documents, to produce an equal and therefore equitable policy climate for bicyclists.
Posts in the Equality Category
Bicyclists across the US, including a number in Florida 1 and California 2 have recently reported that they were harassed by police and ticketed for riding in the center of travel lanes that are too narrow to share safely side-by-side with cars and trucks. Florida and California have bicycle-specific laws 3 4 modeled after Uniform Vehicle Code § 11-1205(a), which requires bicyclists to ride as far right as “practicable” when traveling slower than other traffic. 5 Like the UVC version, the Florida and California bicycles-stay-right laws include an exception for lanes that are too narrow for riding side-by-side with a motor vehicle to be safe (in addition to many other exceptions such as on-street parking and surface hazards). Unfortunately, many police ignore the exceptions and use the stay-right requirement to harass or ticket cyclists whenever other traffic must slow for them. When so many bicyclists operating according to best practices are cited for violation of the law, we must conclude that there is something wrong with the law. When so many bicyclists operating according to best practices 6 are cited for violation of the law, we must conclude that there is something wrong with the law. One observation is that since most travel lanes are 10 to 12 feet wide – too narrow for safe side-by-side sharing by a typical SUV, much less a truck or bus 7 – the law has the general rule (stay right) and the exception (narrow conditions) completely backward. Police officers assume that the law wouldn’t be written the way it is unless bicyclists should stay to the right edge of the lane most of the time, and so they send lane-controlling bicyclists to court again and again, only to have such cases dismissed. 8 This poorly conceived and written law generates needless conflict between police departments and the bicycling community. A somewhat better bicycle-specific law would declare bicyclists’ right to a full marked travel lane as a general rule, and define the exceptional circumstances where same-lane passing may be allowed. (Multiple criteria must be met: An especially wide lane allowing abundant passing distance given the vehicle width, a location away from intersections, safe conditions at the right edge of the lane given the bicyclists’ speed, and so forth.) The states of Colorado and Montana have each modified their bicycles-stay-right law with a step in this direction. But what would happen instead if states did away with the bicycle-specific stay-right law entirely, as the NCUTLO Panel on Bicycle Laws recommended in 1975 9? Would traffic grind to a halt? No, but it would be harder for police to ticket bicyclists who exercise lane control for their own safety. We know this because six states – Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania – never adopted a bicycle-specific stay-to-the-right law. North Carolina has only a generic slow vehicle law, 10 similar to UVC 11-301(b): UVC 11-301 – Drive on right side of roadways – exceptions … (b) Upon all roadways any vehicle proceeding at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic, or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, except when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private...read more
“She is the bellwether for: ‘Do we have the right to use the road[way] or not?’ Not when it’s fashionable, not when it’s yuppies in Portland, but when it is a single mom who needs to get to her job.” — John Schubert In May, we shared the case of Cherokee Schill, a single mom in Kentucky whose only means of transportation is a bicycle, and whose only viable route to work was a nasty U.S. Highway. Cherokee has been systematically targeted by Jessamine County law enforcement. She was charged with careless driving for operating her bicycle in the right-hand travel lane. Her case went to trial in September. Despite the fact that all four expert witnesses (two for the prosecution and two for the defense) testified that the shoulder was unsafe and that the way Cherokee was riding on that road was the safest way to ride, the judge sided with the prosecutor and upheld the citations for careless driving. There are important issues in this case that are not well understood, and that have been further obscured by a vocal faction of detractors. This post will discuss those issues. First, for some background, listen to the Outspoken Cyclist radio interview with expert witness John Schubert. John recaps the trial beginning at 10:20 in the podcast. http://www.wjcu.org/files/audio/shows/outspokencyclist/wjcu-the_outspoken_cyclist_2014-10-04.mp3 FACTS & ISSUES 1) Statutory definitions are important. Kentucky definitions for the key terms used this case are consistent with other U.S. states. Highway KRS 189.010 (3) Highway means any public road, street, avenue, alley or boulevard, bridge, viaduct, or trestle and the approaches to them. Roadway KRS 189.010 (10) Roadway means that portion of a highway improved, designed, or ordinarily used for vehicular travel, exclusive of the berm or shoulder. Vehicle KRS 189.010 (19) (a) Vehicle includes: All agencies for the transportation of persons or property over or upon the public highways of the Commonwealth; and All vehicles passing over or upon the highways. (b) Motor vehicle includes all vehicles, as defined in paragraph (a) of this subsection except: Road rollers; Road graders; Farm tractors; Vehicles on which power shovels are mounted; Construction equipment customarily used only on the site of construction and which is not practical for the transportation of persons or property upon the highways; Vehicles that travel exclusively upon rails; Vehicles propelled by electric power obtained from overhead wires while being operated within any municipality or where the vehicles do not travel more than five (5) miles beyond the city limits of any municipality; and Vehicles propelled by muscular power. In summary: A bicycle is a vehicle. A bicycle is not a motor vehicle. The roadway (which, in the case of U.S. 27, consists of travel lanes and turn lanes) is the part of the highway intended for vehicles to use. All vehicles, not just motor vehicles. 2) Sloppily written statutes can be exploited to abuse citizens. The following three statutes were used by the prosecutor to make his case. Slow vehicle statute language is inconsistent with definitions KY 189.300 (2) The operator of any vehicle moving slowly upon a highway shall keep his vehicle as closely as practicable to the right-hand boundary of the highway, allowing more swiftly moving vehicles reasonably free passage to the left. See the diagram and definition above. The right-hand boundary of the highway is the edge of the public right-of-way. It seems unlikely the KY legislature expected slow vehicles (including motor vehicles) to be operated in the grass berm, or on a sidewalk. The more common language...read more
Recently, the bicycling world has been aghast to learn that a law-abiding citizen is being charged with “reckless driving” in Kentucky…despite all facts to the contrary. Cherokee Schill, a single mother, cut expenses by using her bicycle as transportation to work. Her route to work includes a section of U.S. 27, a high speed limit, multi-lane road. Schill, 41, said if there were an easier way to get to work, she would take it. Her 1992 Toyota Camry with 360,000 miles is not dependable. To be able to afford housing and food for herself and two teenagers, the divorced mother said commuting by bike keeps her household afloat. “I’m not putting myself here because I think it’s fun or exciting,” Schill said of the commute. “I’m here because I’ve got two kids to feed and a roof to put over their head. … I’ve got to pay rent, pay bills and buy groceries.” (Lexington Herald-Leader, “Woman biking daily to Lexington on U.S. 27 ticketed three times for reckless driving”) The Lexington Herald-Leader also notes that she has not been involved in any crash since she started commuting by bike last June. Despite the fact that Cherokee is operating completely within the local and state laws, the Nicholasville police officers and Jessamine County deputy sheriffs have cited her three times, twice for “careless driving” and once for “reckless driving”, and the Jessamine County Attorney’s office has asked the county judge to prohibit her from riding on U.S. 27. Reading the news reports, it’s clear that a reverse logic is working here. Instead of holding motorists responsible for inattentive driving, the police and county attorney are persecuting a law-abiding bicyclist. “It just creates a very dangerous situation when you’ve got somebody on a bike that’s difficult to see to begin with, on a very highly travelled [sic] road, with signifigant [sic] speeds and a lot of people don’t pay attention to what they should be while driving, so it all compounds itself,” said Jessamine County Attorney Brian Goettl. Goettl says a deputy sheriff responding to a robbery almost wrecked because Schill backed up traffic. “He was almost in a wreck because of Miss Schill, and so it added to me another element of danger that I hadn’t even thought of before,” Goettl said. (Emphasis added, WKYT, “Jessamine Co. bicyclist charged with reckless driving sparks court case”) Instead of persecuting Cherokee, why are the inattentive motorists not being ticketed and targeted for prosecution? Why was the deputy sheriff not paying attention to his own driving? Is the deputy sheriff’s story about almost wrecking even true? Or is it merely a rationalization of his feelings that cycling has no place on that road? Why is the convenience of other road users a higher priority than Cherokee’s right to the road? If a slow-moving tractor were on U.S. 27, would motorists be calling 911 for help? Would the 911 operators and police even give a moment of attention if someone was commuting via horse-drawn carriage (such as many do in Amish and Mennonite communities)? Randy Thomas, president of the Bluegrass Cycling Club, said Schill is operating within her legal rights and in accordance with safety requirements. Asked if he would ride U.S. 27, Thomas said, “I personally am not going to comment. I ride all over the area, and I’m...read more
First My Own, Then That Of Others CONTENTS Introduction Blindness Immobility “You Are Healed-AH!” Conquering Unfamiliar Territory A Crippling Blow The Nightmare Continues Victory, Affirmation, Freedom Restored Introduction This is the story of living with a disability, overcoming that disability, suffering under a forced re-imposition of that disability, struggling against that imposition, and finally subduing it. That is not my physical disability of blindness, but my intellectual disability of ignorance and fear. I wrote the first half of this more than a year ago, but I could not bring myself to publish it. I felt like the final chapter was missing, and I had to live that chapter before I could write it. I dedicate this article to John Forester, who through his writing rescued me from my own accidental ignorance. And to Andrew Fischer, who came to my aid in the struggle against others’ willful ignorance. I am deeply grateful to my friends, particularly members of the Barony of Bergental and the bicycle driving community, for giving me some light during a very dark period. There were many days during that period (and there continue to be such days) when I could not find a compelling reason to get out of bed. But there were also days when my friends provided such a reason when I would not otherwise have found one. Blindness I am blind. I am not totally blind. Some would describe me as “partially blind” or “visually impaired.” The details are not important to the rest of the story, but people tend to be curious about it, so I will explain. I was born with a rare, hereditary eye disorder called “retinoschisis.” Balls of fluid, called “scheses” (plural of “schesis”), partially separate my retina from the back of my eye. My acuity is impaired and I am missing some parts of my peripheral vision. The disorder also comes with a risk of retinal detachment, which results in total blindness in the affected eye. There is currently no corrective procedure. Since the defect is in the retina rather than the lens, it cannot be corrected with glasses or contacts. I also have some secondary symptoms. I don’t have as much control over my eye movements as most other people. I must compensate for my reduced peripheral vision and eye movement control by turning my head more than most people do. I can’t wink, and I tend to blink more than most people. I have what is called a “nystagmus.” If I look intently, my eyes instinctively dart around, trying to focus. But they can’t get the focus they expect, so they just keep darting around. It’s a neat party trick. It is hard to describe my vision or to compare it to normal vision because I have never had normal vision. It looks normal to me, and I have no other experience to compare it to. But I am told that everything looks blurry to me compared to someone with normal vision and that parts of my peripheral vision are missing. The blurriness means that I cannot make out as much detail as most other people. I have trouble recognizing people. I have trouble making out small details or details of distant objects. My night vision is especially poor. My blindness renders me unqualified to legally...read more
Update (Dec 3, 2013): Eli’s case has been settled quite favorably. Read the news as broken on The Daily Hampshire Gazette website: Hadley poised to settle federal case with bicycle advocate; agrees to pay $27,500 in lawyer’s fees Since August 2009, Eli Damon has been put through the wringer of the justice and legal system, but perhaps most demeaning: Lousy media reporting. All because Eli was looking for a job near his home in Easthampton, Massachusetts. After a series of harassing traffic stops by local police, the town of Hadley began pursuing legal action against Eli for his right to use the road safely. Unlike many states, Massachusetts does not require that cyclists ride “as far right as practicable.” Instead, the Massachusetts General Laws have a requirement for overtaking that is applied frequently to cyclists: “Except when overtaking and passing on the right is permitted, the driver of an overtaken vehicle shall give way to the right in favor of the overtaking vehicle on visible signal and shall not increase the speed of his vehicle until completely passed by the overtaking vehicle.” (MGL 89-2) Eli is an experienced transportation cyclist and traffic cycling instructor, and well-versed in the numerous safety benefits of visible lane positioning. He also has a thorough understanding of how to facilitate safe overtaking when appropriate (a CyclingSavvy technique called “Control & Release”). With all of this in mind, I was completely stunned while reading a recent editorial titled “A wise ruling on bicyclist’s use of Route 9 in Hadley” in The Daily Hampshire Gazette. The un-attributed author of the piece shows a complete ignorance of cycling safety, actual laws, and even journalistic ethics. Imaginary Motivations Without asking Eli directly or reading any of his online posts, the editor assumes Eli’s motivations and reasoning for (assumptions italicized): Wearing a video camera while riding. “But by gearing up with a camera, he seemed to expect a confrontation; he claimed what he got was harassment.” Filing a complaint. “Damon’s 2011 U.S. District Court complaint, by the way, did not seek money. He wanted to prove a point.“ Lane position. “Though the magistrate makes clear bicyclists have the right to use roads, too many motorists seem to think riders have no place on public ways. Damon’s decision to ride in the middle of a travel lane pushed back against that, with predictable results.“ Perhaps had the editor inquired into his actual motivations — instead of fabricating a narrative convenient to editorial bias — they would have learned how vital unencumbered, safe cycling is to Eli’s livelihood: “The primary allegedly criminal act on my part is one that I must commit as part of my daily life, namely traveling on public roads in a safe and efficient manner. Indeed, traveling on public roads is almost universally considered to be essential for full participation in society. The effect of this is to place me on a kind of virtual house arrest, since any attempt I make to travel unescorted carries the risk of interference by police officers.” (Eli Damon, “Undue Process of Law”, June 12, 2010) For additional context, the following is Eli’s CyclingSavvy Instructor bio: I was born in 1977. I am principally a math teacher and have been teaching since the age of 17. I have a B.E. in...read more
How the car lane paradigm eroded our lane rights and what we can do to restore them Not long ago I was riding in the middle of the right-hand (slow) lane on a 4-lane urban street with parallel parking and a 25 mph speed limit. I had just stopped at a 4-way stop when the young male driver of a powerful car in the left lane yelled at me, “You aint no f***ing car man, get on the sidewalk.” He then sped away, cutting it close as he changed lanes right in front of me in an attempt, I suppose, to teach me a lesson. That guy stated in a profane way the world view of most people today: If you can’t keep up, stay out of the way. My being in the right-hand lane and therefore “in his way” violated his sense that roads in general and travel lanes in particular are only for cars, a viewpoint that I call the car lane paradigm. The car lane paradigm conflicts with the fact that in every state of the union, bicyclists have the same rights and duties as drivers of vehicles. So which is it? Do bicyclists have the same right to use travel lanes as other drivers or not? Before lanes existed, bicyclists simply acted like other drivers. But now that travel lanes are common, most people grow up with the car lane paradigm with bicyclists relegated to the margins of the road. This article goes into the history of how the car lane paradigm came to be and what we can do about it now. Reading this is going to take a while, so here is an outline of where we’re going: 1897: In the beginning, bicycles were vehicles and bicyclists were drivers 1930: Bicycles are not vehicles 1911 – now: Lane lines are invented and become common Oops, the inventors of lane lines forgot about bicycles “Slower Traffic Keep Right” or “Slower Traffic Use Right Lane”? What does the “or” in “right-hand lane or as close as practicable to the right” mean? Do speed and might mean that travel lanes are actually “car lanes”? 1944: If you can’t keep up, you don’t belong (in the lane) 1968: Motorcyclists, but not bicyclists, are entitled to full use of a lane 1975: Bicycles once again defined as vehicles, but still not entitled to use of a full lane Exceptions to the law requiring bicyclists to ride far right are better than nothing, right? Now: No room on the road for bicycles Bicycles at the far right and laned roads are incompatible What do we do now? 1897 In the beginning, bicycles were vehicles and bicyclists were drivers In 1789, the United States Constitution delegated to the states the power of policing their own citizens, including the power to establish their own rules of the road. As it turns out, some states even allow local agencies to have their own rules of the road. Since it is impractical to go over the history of every set of rules of the road in the U.S., this article will for the most part focus on events at the national level. As the bicycle became popular in the late 1800’s, some states and local agencies adopted laws prohibiting bicycles on their roads....read more
I live in Easthampton, Massachusetts. Late in 2011, I began an effort to remove discriminatory language from my city’s bicycle ordinances, an effort that concluded late in 2012. As part of the effort, I attempted to educate city officials, most of whom had little knowledge of or interest in cyclists’ right to the road, about the true nature and consequences of these laws. As a result of my attempt, I was able to greatly expand and refine the way I explain these topics. CONTENTS Laws That Discriminate Against Cyclists The Far Right Rule A New Home, A New Dicovery The Role Of Traffic Regulations Positioning Narrow Vehicles The Role of Courtesy Effects Of Discriminatory Laws The Result Of My Effort Laws That Discriminate Against Cyclists Bicycles must be considered and treated as equal road vehicles and bicyclists must be treated as full and equal drivers of vehicles in traffic laws and policies. Inequitable laws, which discriminate against bicyclists compared to other road users by allowing non-uniform local regulation, restricting access or movement must be repealed. From the I Am Traffic Equality Goals Every state in the United States has a law that initially grants those traveling by bicycle all of the rights enjoyed by those who travel by motor vehicle, or by vehicle in general. And every such law goes on to make broad exceptions this rule. Some of these laws, in acknowledgement of the exceptions’ breadth, go on further to make exceptions to the exceptions. These laws often restrict, beyond what is required of other drivers of vehicles, the roads a cyclist can drive on and the position on a road that a cyclist can occupy. They can also require or prohibit certain equipment. These laws tend to be vague and arbitrary. Some states permit municipalities to impose further restrictions. The map on the right, provided by Dan Gutierrez, shows which states permit local traffic regulations and which states guarantee uniform statewide traffic regulations. Many of the city ordinances that concerned me were contrary to the Massachusetts traffic code. (I use the term “code” loosely, as Massachusetts statutes are notoriously disorganized.) This raised a debate over whether Massachusetts law permits municipalities to enact their own traffic regulations. I, along with a number of my colleagues, am under the impression that Massachusetts does not permit local traffic regulations, and that is what I argued. However, some have expressed a contrary opinion, and I have been unable to find a clear demonstration of either position. The Far Right Rule By far the most problematic of all common elements of bicycle laws is what I call the “Far Right Rule”, also known as “(As) Far Right As Practicable”, “AFRAP”, “FRAP”, “Far To Right”, and “FTR”. The National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances (NCUTLO), “a private, non-profit membership organization dedicated to providing uniformity of traffic laws and regulations through the timely dissemination of information and model legislation on traffic safety issues,” (defunct as of 2008) expresses the Far Right Rule in its last (2000) version of their Uniform Vehicle Code (UVC) as follows. 11-1205 Position on roadway (a) Any person operating a bicycle or a moped upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride as close as...read more