Engineering

Appreciation for the Generic Slow Vehicle Law

pull-over

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 road, alley, or driveway. The intent of this subsection is to facilitate the overtaking of slowly moving vehicles by faster moving vehicles. …

The driver of any vehicle traveling slowly can satisfy this law by using the right hand thru lane; only if there are no marked lanes is such a driver compelled to operate “as close as practicable” to the road edge.

When a bicyclist is pulled over in a state with abicyclist-specific FTR law, the disucssion about the statute requires explanation and interpretation of a long list of exceptions.
When a bicyclist is pulled over in a state with a bicyclist-specific FTR law, any discussion about the statute requires explanation and interpretation of a long list of exceptions. This places a burden on the bicyclist to thoroughly know the law and to be articulate and diplomatic in her explanation. It also increases the likelihood she may have to ultimately fight an unjust citation in court.

Having no discriminatory bicycle-specific stay-right law doesn’t make lawful cyclists immune to police harassment rooted in ignorance and bias. A lack of adequate police education about bicycling in North Carolina has resulted in many bicyclists (including myself) being pulled over by police who felt we shouldn’t be riding in the center of a narrow lane. The difference in North Carolina is that when the stopped bicyclists invite police to look up the statute, the officers usually recognize their error about the state law. The contrast between an unfair citation and a teachable moment is of great significance to the bicyclist. It’s possible that some bicyclist somewhere in North Carolina has paid a ticket for violating our state’s generic slow vehicle law, but our statewide advocacy organization isn’t aware of one, and we are vigilant.

Bicyclist advocates in North Carolina are actively engaging local police departments to promote better police relations and improved public safety, including education about best bicycling practices. When discussion of bicyclist positioning on the roadway comes up, we explain the technical issues of why it is often safer to ride in the center of the lane or control it by riding double file. This conversation with police is made much easier by the fact that North Carolina has no bicycle-specific stay right law. Question: “Don’t bicyclists legally need to stay to the right side of the lane?” Answer: “No, state law treats bicyclists the same as the driver of a slow moving tractor; they can occupy a travel lane. Next question?” Our state Driver Handbook underscores this point. “Bicyclists usually ride on the right side of the lane, but are entitled to use the full lane.” 11 North Carolina’s vehicle code clearly defines bicycles as vehicles and bicyclists as having the rights and duties of drivers of vehicles. Bicyclists don’t need a vehicle-specific law to telling them where to ride in a marked travel lane – or that they are allowed to occupy travel lanes in the first place – any more than motorcyclists do.

Do bicyclists in North Carolina ever control a wide travel lane under conditions where it creates an unreasonable delay for motorists, but with no real safety benefit? Yes, but such situations are very rare, firstly because so few lanes are truly wide enough for this to be safe, secondly because roads that carry substantial traffic will usually have an additional same-direction lane for passing, and thirdly because cyclists will usually move to the right as a courtesy when it will make a significant improvement for others. Contrary to what some people may think, bicyclists are human beings who typically care about other people, and some have written a good deal about this. 12 The rare cases where motorists experience significant delays from unnecessary control of wide lanes are too few and far between to warrant adopting a law that invites abuse from police and encourages unsafe edge riding.

Living without laws that punish bicyclists for being slower than motorcyclists and narrower than tractors has worked well in North Carolina. Bicyclist advocates in other states would do well to pursue the same full driver rights.

Notes:

  1. Guy Hackett, Ryan Scofield: “Cyclist fights ticket for using full lane, and wins”
  2. David Kramer (6/29/2014), Scott Golper (7/6/2014), Greg Liebert (11/10/2013)
  3. 316.2065(5)(a) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride in the lane marked for bicycle use or, if no lane is marked for bicycle use, as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations:
    1. When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.

    2. When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.

    3. When reasonably necessary to avoid any condition or potential conflict, including, but not limited to, a fixed or moving object, parked or moving vehicle, bicycle, pedestrian, animal, surface hazard, turn lane, or substandard-width lane, which makes it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge or within a bicycle lane. For the purposes of this subsection, a “substandard-width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and another vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.

  4. 21202. (a) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations:
    (1) When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
    (2) When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
    (3) When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes) that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge, subject to the provisions of Section 21656. For purposes of this section, a “substandard width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.
    (4) When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.
    (b) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway of a highway, which highway carries traffic in one direction only and has two or more marked traffic lanes, may ride as near the left-hand curb or edge of that roadway as practicable.
  5. UVC 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 practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations:

    1. When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
    2. When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
    3. When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge. For purposes of this section, a “substandard width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.
    4. When riding in the right turn only lane.

    (b) Any person operating a bicycle or a moped upon a one-way highway with two or more marked traffic lanes may ride as near the left-hand curb or edge of such roadway as practicable.

  6. Cycling Savvy “FAQ: Why do you ride like that?”
  7. Interactive Graphics: Lane Width and Space
  8. “Cyclist fights ticket for using full lane, and wins”
  9. In 1975, the NCUTLO Panel on Bicycle Laws wrote:

    UVC § 11-1205(a) requires bicyclists to ride as close as practicable to the right hand side of the roadway. This provision is very unpopular with bicyclists for a number of reasons. It treats the bicyclist as a second class road user who does not really have the same rights enjoyed by other drivers but who is tolerated as long as he uses a bare minimum of roadway space at the side of the road. The provision is also frequently misunderstood by bicyclists, motorists, policemen and even, unfortunately, judges. The provision requires the bicyclist to be as close to the side of the road as is practicable, which we all understand to mean possible, safe and reasonable. But many people apparently don’t understand the significance of the word practicable, and read the law as requiring a constant position next to the curb. Even where the significance of the word practicable is recognized, the bicyclist is exposed to the danger of policemen and judges who may have a different idea about what is possible, safe and reasonable, and he is exposed to the very real danger of motorists who, because of their misconception of this law, will expect the bicyclist to stay next to the curb and will treat him with hostility if he moves away from that position.

    The side of the road is a very dangerous place to ride. The bicyclist is not nearly as visible here as he is out in the center of a lane. Also there is reason to believe that motorists don’t respect a bicycle as a vehicle when it is hugging the side of the road. It is at the side of the road where all the dirt, broken glass, wire, hub caps, rusty mufflers, and other road debris collects, and it is hazardous to try to ride through this mess. Storm sewer grates are generally at the side of the road. The roadway is frequently less well maintained in this position. Also, in urban areas there is frequently a dangerous ridge where the roadway pavement meets the gutter, and the bicyclist must try to ride parallel with this ridge without hitting it. A bicyclist riding near the right edge of the roadway is also in substantially greater danger from vehicles cutting in front of him to turn right than is the bicyclist who rides out in the middle of the right lane.

    https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B8yYlSlJo3DfbnVRVUhxVExLaDQ/edit

  10. NC § 20-146(b): Upon all highways any vehicle proceeding at less than the legal maximum speed limit shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for thru traffic, or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the highway, except when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when preparing for a left turn.
  11. North Carolina Driver Handbook, Page 77
  12. What is a Courteous Cyclist?

What Police Need to Learn about Cycling

policeonmills

In part 3 of his comprehensive overview of cycling law enforcement, Kirby Beck explains:

  • What police need to learn
  • How to get heard by your local police department
  • Why changes in police departments need to come from the top
  • Plus: why you need the AAA on your side.

“You need to start reporting things,” Kirby urges cyclists. “They’re not going to know it’s a problem if they don’t hear from you and hear from your friends.

“Now I know the cops will go, ‘Why did you tell them that? That’s all we need is more calls.’ Too bad! Too bad.

“See, I’m not going to be happy until we don’t have to have special programs to do bike enforcement because it’s part of what cops do every day, we don’t have to spend a lot of money on bike lanes and other facilities because we’ve got roads, and people can use those roads. They’re there for everybody, it’s a public right-of-way.”

Beck is a retired police officer and a trainer with the International Police Mountain Bike Association. In Part 1 of this series, he took us through the fascinating history of cops on bikes, and gave an overview of the current state of enforcement of bicycle law – or lack thereof. In Part 2, Beck explained how to deal with police citations and how to effectively report incidents to 911.

What is a Courteous Cyclist?

thankyou-wave-jason

The issue of courtesy often comes up when bicyclists discuss traffic, especially when motorists are part of the conversation. Most bicyclists want to be respectful of others and to set a good example. However, different assumptions, experiences and knowledge about traffic bicycling can result in different opinions of what “courtesy” means. How can cyclists extend courtesies to their fellow road users, while prioritizing their own safety? We’ll answer that question as it’s addressed by cycling classes such as CyclingSavvy and BikeWalk NC’s Traffic Bicycling course.

Defining Courteous

Courteous means “marked by respect for and consideration of others.” Courtesy is voluntary social behavior that exceeds our obligations under the law (such as stopping for red lights). Police cannot write traffic tickets for being rude; they are limited to the statutes that prohibit unsafe movements. All road users must cooperate with one another to avoid collisions; courtesy, however, is making the extra effort to improve the social environment of traffic and optimize the experience for everyone. When it comes to courtesy, we self-police according to our own judgment.

The Golden Rule

As socially conscious travelers we try to apply the rule, “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” We appreciate favors from strangers and try to do the same for them. But how big a favor should be expected? One example is holding a heavy door open for a stranger entering a building behind us. How long should we wait? If the stranger is right behind us, we feel rude for letting the door swing shut. If the stranger is too far away, waiting a long time makes both parties feel awkward. Our minds calculate a threshold by comparing estimates of our cost of holding the door and the other person’s cost of re-opening it. We usually extend favors when the cost to ourselves is less than the cost we save for others. When everyone does this for everyone else, everyone wins.

First Come, First Served

We often let a person with one item go first at the checkout counter when we have a full cart. But what if there is a long line of people behind us at checkout? If we give up our place in line, others will benefit, but our individual cost may become too burdensome. Such a large sacrifice is not expected of us; people understand that sometimes the first come, first served rule is the only fair and practical way to limit every individual’s burden to a reasonable level.

Assisting Overtaking

Every bicyclist must decide for themselves on a case-by-case basis how much burden to shoulder for an inadequate road design, and how much to rely on the first come, first served rule to get to their destination in a reasonable time.

In the Traffic Cycling class we discuss when a bicyclist should move to the right edge of the road to assist faster drivers in passing, versus when they should maintain control of their lane by riding in the lane center. For safety, cycling instructors encourage cyclists to control the lane when the usable lane width is narrow, because this reduces the risk of sideswipes caused by unsafe close passing. Bicyclists in North Carolina have the same legal right to use a full lane as other drivers. However, we also encourage cyclists to voluntarily move right at a safe location when the usable pavement is wide and it will help drivers pass by, letting them do so without changing lanes. Oftentimes one encounters marginal cases where the lane widens for a limited distance before narrowing again, and sometimes traffic backs up on narrow two-lane roads. In these cases, a bicyclist may elect to pull over where safe and wait until traffic disperses before continuing.

This is where comparison of relative convenience is useful. For instance, if only one car is following the bicyclist on a narrow road, and a safe opportunity to pass via the next lane will appear in several seconds, there is no net advantage to the bicyclist pulling off the roadway and stopping to facilitate the pass. But if multiple motorists are waiting at substantially reduced speed with no foreseeable opportunities to pass safely in the next lane, the bicyclist who pulls over at a safe location for a brief time provides a substantial benefit to the other road users at a low personal cost. One example of such a maneuver is “control and release.”

CourtesyDoubleFile
In a narrow lane, riding double file does not make safe passing more difficult. It discourages unsafe too-close same-lane passing and makes the group shorter, requiring less time to complete a pass in the next lane. (photo by Mike Dayton)

So how often should a bicyclist do this? Pulling over too frequently creates an unreasonably high cost for the bicyclist in return for maximizing motorists’ convenience. Every bicyclist must decide for herself on a case-by-case basis how much burden to shoulder for an inadequate road design, and how much to rely on the first come, first served rule to get to her destination in a reasonable time.

In the case of a group of cyclists, the logistics of moving everyone off of the roadway in a safe and coordinated manner can be particularly challenging. Usually a passing opportunity opens up and following traffic disperses long before a group can find a good place to pull over. One way that a group can make passing easier on a narrow two-lane road is to shorten the length of the group. This can be accomplished by riding double-file within a single lane, thus reducing the length of the group by half, and by riding in separated platoons of a dozen or fewer cyclists instead of in very large groups.

Some roads feature paved shoulders, which in most states are legally optional for bicyclists to use. The width, surface condition, and continuity of such shoulders varies greatly, so bicyclists who consider using them to assist others with passing must continually evaluate the risks. Helping another road user pass a few seconds earlier is not worth a flat tire or crash.

Multi-Lane Roads

On roads with more than one thru lane in the bicyclist’s direction of travel, drivers can move into the left lane to pass with relative ease. On such roads, traffic almost never builds up behind bicyclists for more than a few seconds, so bicyclists usually need not concern themselves will pulling off the roadway to assist passing. In urban areas with significant traffic, multi-lane roads are often the most advantageous routes for bicycling, offering everyone more convenience than narrow roads.

Passing on the Right

Passing stopped traffic on the right creates conflicts at intersections and frustrates drivers who must repeat their passing maneuvers. It is also prohibited by law when not done in a separate marked lane.
Passing stopped traffic on the right creates conflicts at intersections and frustrates drivers who must repeat their passing maneuvers. It is also prohibited by law in some states when not done in a separate marked lane.

Where traffic queues up at traffic lights and stop signs, bicyclists can occasionally be seen squeezing past the queue on the right and moving up to the intersection. In some states, such as North Carolina, traffic law prohibits passing on the right when not in a separate marked travel lane. This rule is designed to prevent right-hook collisions between right-turning and overtaking traffic; right turns are to be made from the right lane and overtaking should only occur left of right-turning traffic. But beyond possible legal and collision concerns, filtering forward often creates a greater burden for the queue of motorists than it saves for the bicyclist. If the travel lane is narrow, it may be unsafe for motorists to pass the bicyclist again without moving into the next lane. Each motorist may wait behind the bicyclist, pass when safe, and stop at the next light, only to have the bicyclist squeeze past them again and repeat the whole process. The safer and more courteous approach is for bicyclists to get in line with queued traffic and pass through the intersection on a first-come, first-served basis.

Stopping in Groups

group_releasing_traffic
When this group pulled over, the front riders moved forward far enough to ensure the rear riders could easily ride completely out of the travel lane before stopping. Then they offered a friendly wave to motorists who had followed them through a narrow stretch of road.

Groups of cyclists traveling together must sometimes stop for a short time to rest, re-group, or make route decisions. When a group stops in the roadway, however, other road users must figure out how to get around them in order to proceed. This is especially problematic if the group has stopped to chat at an intersection, where moving into the next lane to pass would be hazardous. If a cycling group stops and waits for a reason other than waiting for traffic ahead to clear, it is a simple courtesy to move the bicycles off of the roadway temporarily, and return to the roadway when the group is ready to continue.

Courtesy to Pedestrians

On paths, bicyclists should slow down and give pedestrians lots of space when passing, just as bicyclists need motorists to do for them on roadways.

Some locations, such as greenway paths, are shared with pedestrians. Pedestrians value these spaces as safe and relaxing places to walk with their children and pets, and will sometimes make unpredictable movements. This requires bicyclists to slow down and give pedestrians lots of space when passing, just as bicyclists need motorists to do for them on roadways. When a path is congested or pedestrians are otherwise spread across the width of the path, the bicyclist must often slow down to pedestrian speed and alert the pedestrians to the bicyclist’s desire to pass. Although a bell can be an effective way to alert pedestrians who are not facing the bicyclist, a friendly voice may be better appreciated. It is also important to receive some form of confirmation from the pedestrian (such as eye contact) indicating that they know they are about to be passed.

Disagreements about Courtesy

By making an attempt to understand the genuine difficulties faced by travelers other than ourselves, we can all promote civility.

Debate often arises about courteous cycling when different people have different perceptions of the costs of the available options. A motorist may not see and appreciate the broken glass, gravel, broken pavement, rumble strip, door zone or other hazards present at the edge of a road. Some people are unfamiliar with the effective safety benefits of riding near the center of a narrow lane to deter unsafe same-lane passing. A bicyclist may not appreciate the challenges a driver pulling a trailer may face when preparing to pass safely on a two-lane road. Some debates will never be put to rest, and sometimes all the options seem equally bad. But by making an attempt to understand the genuine difficulties faced by travelers other than ourselves, we can all promote civility.

Motorists often do not understand the reasons a bicyclist choses to ride where she does. Click on the image to see the conflicts this bicyclist is avoiding.
Motorists often do not understand the reasons a bicyclist choses to ride where she does. Click on the image to see the conflicts this bicyclist is avoiding.

A markedly different kind of debate results when one participant believes that another has an inferior right to a shared resource because they belong to a lower caste or class of users, and should therefore defer to the superior group. This type of prejudice often fuels motorists’ complaints about bicyclists using roadways, and sometimes anti-car advocates for increased bicycling can be similarly afflicted. While there are solid legal arguments supporting equal rights to traveled ways, the most persuasive approach to resolving prejudice usually involves an appeal to humanity and development of mutual understanding.

It’s important for bicyclists to view themselves as equally entitled users of our public roads, which means being equally entitled to safe travel. A bicyclist should never compromise her safety to increase convenience for another road user; that is too high a sacrifice to make. The prudent approach is to trade time and effort in an equitable manner to help everyone get to their destinations safely and in reasonable time.

Dealing with Harassment

Suppressing the urge to argue can be difficult, but it is unlikely that a motorist’s mind has ever been changed by a yelling match.

Occasionally a motorist who feels slighted by a bicyclist’s movement or simply their presence on the road will harass the bicyclist by yelling or horn honking. This can be very upsetting, and it may be difficult for the bicyclist to keep calm. Understand that the greatest danger in such situations usually occurs when the bicyclist escalates the situation by retaliating with their own yelling, obscene gestures, or other expressions that can be interpreted as hostile. Such exchanges can result in assaults. But if the bicyclist simply ignores the harassment, the motorist will usually continue on their way without incident. Suppressing the urge to argue can be difficult, but it is unlikely that a motorist’s mind has ever been changed by a yelling match. If a motorist behaves in a threatening manner, however, stop and report the incident to police as soon as possible. Take note of the license plate, driver description, and location, and be prepared with any witnesses or video that may be available. Note that video can be a very compelling and unbiased witness, and will also show any unlawful or escalating behavior on behalf of the bicyclist. Whenever interacting with other members of the public on our roadways, the most successful long term approach is ultimately to take the high road.

What Most People Don’t Understand About the Cherokee Schill Case

“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.


FACTS & ISSUES

1) Statutory definitions are important.

Kentucky definitions for the key terms used this case are consistent with other U.S. states.

highway

[learn_more caption=”Highway”]KRS 189.010 (3) Highway means any public road, street, avenue, alley or boulevard, bridge, viaduct, or trestle and the approaches to them.[/learn_more]

[learn_more caption=”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.[/learn_more]

[learn_more caption=”Vehicle”]

KRS 189.010 (19)

(a) Vehicle includes:

  1. All agencies for the transportation of persons or property over or upon the public highways of the Commonwealth; and
  2. All vehicles passing over or upon the highways.

(b) Motor vehicle includes all vehicles, as defined in paragraph (a) of this subsection except:

  1. Road rollers;
  2. Road graders;
  3. Farm tractors;
  4. Vehicles on which power shovels are mounted;
  5. 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;
  6. Vehicles that travel exclusively upon rails;
  7. 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
  8. Vehicles propelled by muscular power.

[/learn_more]

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.

[learn_more caption=”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 for a slow vehicle law is found in the Uniform Vehicle Code:

UVC 11-301 (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 road, alley, or driveway. The intent of this subsection is to facilitate the overtaking of slowly moving vehicles by faster moving vehicles.

Slow vehicles are to use the right lane or drive as close as practicable to the right edge of the roadway. The latter applying only to roads without lanes. Unfortunately, KY has not adopted the UVC, or at least not a recent version of it, and remains among a handful of states that use language that is inconsistent with statutory definitions of highway and roadway. We know of no other cases where such language was used to selectively discriminate against a bicyclist or driver of any other slow vehicle using the roadway.

[/learn_more]

[learn_more caption=”Bicyclists MAY use the shoulder”]

Kentucky Administrative Regulation (KAR) permits, but does not require, bicyclists to use the shoulder.

Section 9. Operation of Bicycles. A bicycle shall be operated in the same manner as a motor vehicle except the following traffic conditions shall apply:

(1) A bicycle may be operated on the shoulder of a highway;

(2) If a highway lane is marked for the exclusive use of bicycles, the operator of a bicycle shall use the lane whenever feasible;

(3) Not more than two (2) bicycles shall be operated abreast in a single highway lane.

The use of “may” in statute is permissive, not mandatory. A requirement to use the shoulder would be worded as “shall.” Nonetheless, this permission was used against Cherokee. The prosecutor argued that because 189.300 (2) required slow vehicles to be kept as close as practicable to the right hand boundary of the highway AND bicyclists are allowed to use the shoulder, the bicyclist is then required to drive on the shoulder.

[/learn_more]

[learn_more caption=”Requirement to drive carefully”]

KY 189.290 Operator of vehicle to drive carefully.

(1) The operator of any vehicle upon a highway shall operate the vehicle in a careful manner, with regard for the safety and convenience of pedestrians and other vehicles upon the highway.

Cherokee wasn’t charged with a simple traffic ticket, she was charged with careless driving. The case was built upon the purported careless behavior of other drivers reacting poorly to her presence on the road. Yes, this woman on a bicycle was failing to operate with regard for the safety and convenience of people enclosed in multi-ton vehicles because motorists’ careless behavior, driven by incompetence or aggression, might endanger other motorists. I have no idea how anyone could argue that with a straight face, but there you go.

[/learn_more]

In summary, Cherokee was found guilty of careless driving because the law allows her to use the shoulder. In choosing not to use the shoulder, she disregarded the “safety and convenience” of people who are incapable of simply changing lanes to pass a slower vehicle without having a temper tantrum.

3) A bicyclist’s decisions about her own safety are subject to being overruled by people who know nothing about bicycling safety.

Click to enlarge.

Even if we accept the notion that slow vehicles are required to keep off the roadway, the statute says “as closely as practicable…” Practicable means capable of being done within the means and circumstances present. You might think that when safety is at stake, the person most at risk would be given the latitude to decide what is practicable.

But the prosecutor insisted, and the judge agreed, that the police should determine what was practicable. For the purpose of the citations, the police officers’ assessments that the shoulder was “just fine” at the time and place of the citations was the only acceptable testimony. All the testimony about the risks and conflicts to be found on that shoulder from four expert witnesses (including the prosecution’s own two expert witnesses) was for nothing.

Apparently, Cherokee was expected to ride in the shoulder, only leaving it for every single immediate hazard and then returning to the shoulder, crossing the rumble strip each time after yielding and waiting for traffic to clear.

Click on the image to explore the frequent hazards and conflicts of the U.S. 27 shoulder.

4) Operating on the shoulder is not just inconvenient, it eliminates your right-of-way and legal protection.

[learn_more caption=”Right-of-Way at Intersections”]

KY 189.330 (10) The operator of a vehicle about to enter or cross a roadway from any place other than another roadway shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles approaching on the roadway to be entered or crossed.

Definition of Right-of-Way

KY 189.010 (9) “Right-of-way” means the right of one (1) vehicle or pedestrian to proceed in a lawful manner in preference to another vehicle or pedestrian approaching under such circumstances of direction, speed, and proximity as to give rise to danger of collision unless one grants precedence to the other.

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A shoulder is not like a bike lane or even a sidewalk. In most states, including Kentucky, it is an operational no man’s land (because it is not intended for vehicular operation). It is off the roadway; therefore a bicyclist using it has no right-of-way. She must yield to all traffic making conflicting movements at intersections and driveways. If someone hits her, she has no legal protection. There’s nothing practicable about operating in a space where you are both vulnerable and subservient to every vehicle on a conflicting path.

U.S. 27 is not a limited access highway. It has clusters of commercial development along it where there are frequent intersections with streets and driveways.

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shoulder_row_issues_roadway_obst

It is a fundamental rule that a roadway user has the right of first come, first served. Faster vehicles approaching from behind are required to yield and pass only when it is safe to do so. In the case of U.S. 27, there is a passing lane available for that purpose.

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Every surface hazard or obstruction that necessitates leaving the shoulder requires the bicyclist to wait for traffic to clear. Moving in and out of the shoulder makes the bicyclist unpredictable. Motorists who are not paying attention, may detect her in the shoulder, then turn their attention to something else, assuming she’ll stay there.

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shoulder_row_issues_roadway_dwy

The right of first come, first served also includes other vehicles making conflicting movements. The roadway bicyclist has priority over vehicles turning left or entering the road. She also has the ability to encourage drivers who are turning right to wait and turn behind her rather than pass and turn across her path. This maneuver violates a roadway bicyclist’s right-of-way, though motorists often do it to edge-riding bicyclists).

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The bicyclist on the shoulder has no right-of-way. She is not on the roadway and must yield to all traffic on the roadway, including cars turning onto or out from a cross street. A driver can legally pass her and turn right across her path. A resulting right hook crash would be the motorist’s fault if she was on the roadway, but not if she was on the shoulder. She is required to yield, even when the motorist is coming from behind her. Likewise, drivers entering from the cross street do not have to yield to her because she is not on the roadway. A driver turning left from the opposing lane not only does not have to yield to her, he may not even see her if she is hidden by passing vehicles or the heavily crowned road surface.

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When right turn lanes form, the shoulder stays to the right of them, or disappears altogether. A bicycle driver in the roadway can continue in a predictable straight line, maintaining her vantage and visibility through a complex intersection.

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shoulder_row_issues_shoulder_int

When turn lanes divert or replace the shoulder, the bicyclist has to yield to all traffic on the roadway before she can proceed to the through lane. If she stays in the shoulder all the way to the intersection, she is even more vulnerable because she is in an unpredictable, low-visibility position. And she has no right-of-way. She must yield to all conflicting traffic.

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5) The scales of injustice favor the majority, no matter how absurd.

911-crybaby-01So let’s review.

Cherokee, after trying to use the shoulder and suffering its many hazards, did some research and learned that the safest, most predictable (and most efficient) way to drive her bike is to control the right lane and make herself visible and predictable.

Some motorists were incensed at having to change lanes, and possibly slow down for a few seconds, to pass her. So they abused the 911 system to complain about a bicyclist on the road.

The authorities responded by repeatedly ticketing Cherokee for careless driving. Not only that, they ignored the dangerous behavior of motorists. Once, when she called for help because a motorist was assaulting her, an officer showed up, waved the motorist away and gave her a ticket!

This case was absurd. Yet the judge sided with the prosecutor and decided that her safety is subservient to the tender convenience of motorists AND that her presence on the road endangers them. Seriously, a woman on a bicycle “inconveniences” and “endangers” motorists (in plush climate-controlled cocoons—surrounded by 4,000 pounds of steel cage, crumple zones and airbags—propelled forward at high speed by the delicate press of the driver’s toe upon a pedal). The hardship. The horror. To have to lift that toe for a few seconds to change lanes and pass a bicyclist.

scales of injustice-01Here’s how it stacks up:

The court says Cherokee must ride on a shoulder, where she has no legal right-of-way; faces numerous crash hazards and likely flat tires; must constantly stop and wait for traffic to clear in order to pass obstructions, driveways and intersections; and must endure rough, loose pavement that robs several miles per hour from her cruising speed. Beyond the safety issues, we’re talking about adding significant time (measured in fractions of an hour, not seconds) to a commute that was already over an hour… rain or shine, blistering heat or freezing cold.

All this to save motorists (in their plush climate-controlled cocoons) 20 seconds of having to drive under the speed limit, for a delay of even less than 20 seconds. Time which would easily be absorbed by the next red light or traffic jam of other motorists.

A motorist who momentarily loses less than 20 seconds can choose to step on the gas and get it back. A bicyclist who loses 20 minutes has no way to make that up.

To make this even more ridiculous, the sources of delay on this road include traffic lights, traffic congestion (of cars), motorists slowing to look for destinations, vehicles slowing to turn, vehicles entering the road, and school bus stops (which stop traffic in both lanes). But a few seconds of driving slower to pass a moving bicyclist? Well, that’s just unacceptable.

6) What kind of a society are we?

What we have here is a single mom trying to get back on her feet after escaping domestic abuse. She lost her license for financial reasons (she couldn’t afford insurance). She didn’t give up. She didn’t go on welfare. She got on a bicycle — at first, a delta trike — and rode to the only full-time job she could get. Those early commutes took her three hours each way. Three hours. She was out of shape and weighed 90 pounds more than she does today. She gutted it out. She lost weight. She got stronger. She got a faster bike. She learned how to ride safely and successfully. She was pulling herself up by her bootstraps, dammit!

Now she’s stuck. Since the trial, the police have upped the ante. A few weeks ago, they arrested her for wanton endangerment — a criminal charge — for not riding in the shoulder. And the shenanigans are getting worse. She is on parole for the violations that caused her to lose her license — driving without insurance and while her license was suspended (for failure to pay a speeding ticket in NY). Jessamine County is now trying to make her parole conditional upon not driving her bike on the roadway on U.S. 27. In other words, if she gets caught in the roadway on U.S. 27 again, she violates her parole and goes to jail.

Alternatives to U.S. 27 include adding significant distance and using a 55mph, winding, hilly, 2-lane state highway (where motorists can’t pass safely or easily) to get to U.S. 68, which is just like U.S. 27. Any alternatives to the U.S. Highways add an additional hour to a 75 minute commute into Lexington — on 2-lane roads.

She recently completed a certification course to become a Cardiac Electrocardiogram Technician and is looking for a full time job in that field. Yet, she’s basically hamstrung. There are very few jobs in Nicholasville and she has no reasonable way to get to Lexington. In addition to problems with the police, shock jocks from the local radio station have been fomenting hatred on air. As a result, militant motorists regularly go out of their way to threaten her with their vehicles. She’s even been followed by a carload of men and had to divert from her route and hide.

Appeal Fund for Cherokee SchillNo one should have to live like this.

The good news is that many generous people in the bicycle driving community have been supporting Cherokee, emotionally and financially. If you would like to pitch in, you can donate to her legal fund and share this story.

To hear Cherokee’s story in her own words, listen to her interview with Diane Lees on the Outspoken Cyclist.

Police Have Issued You a Cycling Citation. Now What?

cycling law enforcementIn part 2 of his comprehensive overview of cycling law enforcement, Kirby Beck explains:

  • What police mean when they describe something as a “problem” (hint: it’s different from how you or I might use the word)
  • How to effectively report incidents to 911
  • How to deal with police citations (step one: stay calm!)

Beck is a retired police officer and a trainer with the International Police Mountain Bike Association.

In Part 1 of this series, Beck took us through the fascinating history of cops on bikes, and gave an overview of the current state of enforcement of bicycle law – or lack thereof. In part 3, he will discuss what police need to learn about cycling law enforcement.

Crossing A Double Yellow Line

Co-author: Steven Goodridge.

crossing_double_yellow

What would you do?

You are driving your car along a narrow two-lane road when a cyclist comes into view up ahead. Of course, you are a lawful, responsible, and respectful driver. You recognize that the lane is not wide enough to safely pass within it, so you slow down. If your sight lines are limited, you follow behind the cyclist until sight lines open up. If you are approaching an intersection where you might have to stop, then you follow behind the cyclist until you are past that point as well. If there is oncoming traffic, you wait for it to clear. Then, you move into the oncoming lane, accelerate, and pass the cyclist, leaving them plenty of room for safety and comfort. When you are safely past the cyclist and their forward right-of-way, you move back into the proper lane and continue on your way. No problem, right? Just another everyday driving maneuver.

But what if a traffic engineer decided to have a solid double yellow line applied down the middle of that road? Wouldn’t your passing maneuver be a violation of traffic law? So what do you do? Do you call the police to complain about the cyclist? Do honk or yell at the cyclist to move over? Do you try to squeeze past the cyclist without moving into the oncoming lane? Of course not. You’re a lawful, responsible, respectful driver. Do you follow behind the cyclist until your route diverges from theirs or you reach a point where the design of the road changes? That’s certainly a safe and legal option, but it is inconvenient and it seems unnecessary, since you can see an opportunity to pass safely. Or do you just take the first opportunity to pass safely, legal or not?

If you are like most motorists, you take the first opportunity to pass the cyclist safely, regardless of the stripe. After all, the purpose of the solid yellow line is to indicate where it is unsafe to pass, and the purpose of prohibiting drivers from crossing a solid yellow line to pass another driver is to prevent unsafe passing. So if it is safe to pass, then why is the solid yellow line there in the first place?

How did we get here?

Our surface streets have carried a wide variety of low-speed vehicles – horse drawn carriages, bicycles, tractors – since long before the popularity of motoring. Our traffic laws protect the right to drive these slower vehicles while also defining the limited privileges of overtaking for drivers who want to travel faster. For instance, overtaking drivers are prohibited from moving into the path of oncoming traffic or moving left of center where short sight distances would make this unsafe. The traffic laws clearly state that a driver wishing to pass another driver must wait behind until conditions are safe for passing without interfering with other travelers.

Dead Man's Curve along the Marquette–Negaunee Road in Marquette County, Michigan, shown in 1917 with its hand-painted center line. Source: Wikipedia
Dead Man’s Curve along the Marquette–Negaunee Road in Marquette County, Michigan, shown in 1917 with its hand-painted center line. Source: Wikipedia

As motoring became increasingly popular over the last century, motor-vehicle crashes took a tremendous toll in human life. One of the most devastating crash types involves a high-speed motorist swerving or drifting left of center on a  two-way roadway and colliding head-on with oncoming traffic. Highway engineers discovered that marking a stripe down the center of such roadways reduced such collisions by helping drivers keep track of their position relative to the center of the roadway. Marking of stripes in the center of roads that carry traffic at high speeds or high volumes eventually became standard practice.  These markings are an early example of “traffic controls” that traffic engineers install with the intent to encourage safe operation in compliance with the traffic laws. Over the decades, traffic engineers have added more and more traffic controls to roadways, sometimes with good results and sometimes with unintended consequences. Because the traffic engineering profession is half hard science and half social experiment, the full effects of traffic controls sometimes take time to reveal themselves.

In response to motorist errors, traffic engineers began marking no-passing zones in areas where the sight distance was inadequate to safely pass a vehicle traveling just below the maximum posted speed limit.

Some collisions that occur on two-lane roads are caused by motorists attempting to pass other drivers in when oncoming traffic is too close, but might be beyond the passing motorist’s sight distance when the maneuver begins. Although the passing law requires drivers to heed the sight distance required to pass safely, some drivers underestimate the sight distance needed, particularly when passing traffic moving at high speeds. (Other drivers choose to risk passing regardless of clearly inadequate sight distance.)  In response to this, traffic engineers began marking no-passing zones in areas where the sight distance was too short for passing a vehicle traveling just below the maximum posted speed limit 1. A solid stripe became the standard marking for no-passing zones, with dashed markings used elsewhere. Some states, such as Vermont and Missouri, adopted traffic laws that treated the solid centerline as a warning rather than a statutory prohibition against passing, but most states adopted laws that prohibited passing on a two-lane road wherever a solid centerline was present.

Over time, solid centerlines proliferated over a larger percentage of roadway miles. On many two-lane roads, solid centerlines continue for miles at a time, with no dashed sections at all.

florida_ave_340

Over time, solid centerlines proliferated over a larger percentage of roadway miles. Engineers marked them extending out several hundred feet from intersections, in areas with driveways, and anywhere else that the engineers considered unsafe for passing, particularly at high speed. The formulas and tables used to determine where to place solid centerlines assumed that the vehicle being passed was traveling near the maximum posted speed limit1, so that dashed centerlines, indicating permission to pass, became quite rare.  On many two-lane roads, solid centerlines continue for miles at a time, with no dashed sections at all. Passing of same-direction motorists on two-lane roads declined over time, partly because of the scarcity of legal passing zones, but also due to greater availability of multi-lane roads for longer route segments. Toward the end of the 20th century, traffic engineers saw passing zones to be less important as the amount of low-speed traffic declined (toward extinction, some may have presumed) and many of the motorists who did pass on two-lane roads were exceeding the speed limit.

The markings that traffic engineers placed on most miles of two-lane roads did not communicate a reasonably convenient process for passing low-speed vehicles.

Yet low-speed vehicles did not disappear from the roadways. Bicycles, thought by many in the mid-20th century to be obsolete, suitable only as children’s toys, later resurged as an economical, healthy, energy-efficient travel mode. Mopeds and scooters continued to be used as an affordable alternative to motorcycles. Horse-drawn carriages remained in use by traditionalist groups and equestrian tour operators. Farm tractors and construction vehicles were joined by new types of short-range electric utility vehicles. Laws throughout the country recognize a general right to travel on public roadways. At I Am Traffic, we are aware of some troubling infringements on this right, but the law does generally recognize that the public’s right to the road is not dependent on speed capability. But the markings that traffic engineers placed on most miles of two-lane roads did not communicate a reasonably convenient process for passing low-speed vehicles. The system is broken.

In some places, highway engineers have attempted to make two-lane roads wider to accommodate passing of some types of slower vehicles, but most roads cannot be widened due to economics. Instead, drivers of low-speed vehicles often become scapegoats for the dysfunctional nature of the road design and lane markings. Because traffic engineers have not considered the requirement to pass low-speed vehicles when designing the roads, many in government treat drivers of such vehicles as “unintended users” and marginalize their use of typically marked roadways.

What’s the problem?

pass-on-double-yellow

In most of the United States, a motorist is not clearly permitted to cross a solid centerline to pass a cyclist when safe. Yet practically all drivers do, rather than continue to follow the cyclist at reduced speed. Drivers recognize that current striping policies for no-passing zones are overly restrictive in the context of low-speed vehicles. Mathematical analysis bears this out. For instance, safely passing a motorist traveling at 35 mph on a 45 mph road requires a sight distance 600 feet longer than passing a 15 mph bicyclist on the same road 2.

There is a common provision permitting a driver to cross a solid centerline to pass an “obstruction”. Does a cyclist qualify as an obstruction? Some police departments take this interpretation while others do not. But police department policy is not law and for many reasons cannot take the place of law.

Some departments will apply a common exception for passing an “obstruction” to slow moving vehicles.
Considering cyclists to be obstructions is not necessarily good for cyclists, even if it seems to work in particular cases.

Moreover, considering cyclists to be obstructions is not necessarily good for cyclists, even if it seems to work in particular cases. Other drivers engaged in normal driving behavior are not referred to as obstructions, and referring to cyclists this way is degrading and can lead to further ill treatment in the future. It can even lead to bad outcomes in court proceedings, where the characterization of cyclists as obstructions might be carried into a different context.

The legal ambiguity around crossing a solid centerline is a source of conflict for cyclists, motorists, police officers, and driving instructors. Motorists can be unnecessarily inconvenienced because they believe that they are not allowed to pass a cyclist. Their frustration can lead to resentment and hostility toward cyclists. It can even lead to riskier behavior and crashes. A motorist might honk or yell at cyclists or might buzz them to avoid crossing a solid centerline. In the worst cases, motorists have attempted to squeeze past cyclists within the same lane and fatally struck the cyclists.

A cyclist can feel anxious about motorists following behind for too long, as can happen if a motorist believes that passing is prohibited. The cyclist can feel obligated to move to the edge and encourage motorists to squeeze past at an unsafe distance. There is a common belief that cyclists are legally obligated to enable passing regardless of the inconvenience or danger to themselves. This belief is completely false – cyclists’ obligation to facilitate passing is no greater than for other drivers – but the legal ambiguity about crossing a solid centerline exacerbates this belief. People are entitled to assume that the law and the design of roads make sense and will not lead to absurd situations. A motorist who is doing everything right, but can’t get around a cyclist, even if traffic is light, might understandably assume that the cyclist is doing something wrong. Police officers are vulnerable to the same confusion, and may stop or ticket cyclists for bogus infractions such as “impeding traffic” (which by law only applies to drivers traveling more slowly than they reasonably can).

control-release-series
Click photo to enlarge

The ambiguity about crossing a solid centerline frustrates driving instructors who teach cyclists or motorists about safely interacting with the other. In a typical encounter between a cyclist and a motorist on a narrow two-lane road, the safe and effective technique for the motorist is to wait behind the bicyclist until it is safe to move into the oncoming lane to pass. The safe and effective behavior for the cyclist consists of controlling the lane (taking a position in the lane far enough leftward to discourage motorists from attempting to pass) while there is oncoming traffic or any other condition that would make passing unsafe, and at other times encouraging the motorist, through a more rightward position and/or gestures, to move into the oncoming lane to pass. This technique is known as Control and Release. However, discussion of these techniques is frequently derailed by arguments over whether it is legal for the motorist to cross a solid centerline to pass a cyclist and when it is legal for a cyclist travel on a road under any conditions in which motorists cannot legally pass.

Can we fix this thing?

The long-term solution is for traffic engineers to include low-speed vehicles as design vehicles on all ordinary surface roads and to provide appropriate passing facilities depending on context.  For instance, important through roads intended to support high speed traffic might warrant more convenient passing facilities than low-speed, low-volume, local streets. Such widespread engineering changes will not be achieved any time soon. In the meantime, an easier fix is needed. A prime candidate for such a fix is a provision in traffic codes that explicitly permits a driver to cross a solid centerline to pass under appropriate conditions. Some states have already implemented this fix.  Colorado3, Maine4, Mississippi5, Ohio6, Pennsylvania7, Utah8 and Wisconsin9, for example, have added provisions to their respective traffic codes explicitly allowing drivers to cross a solid centerline to pass a slow-moving vehicle, or a bicyclist specifically, under safe conditions.

The vast majority of motorists are already crossing solid centerlines to pass cyclists today. What isn’t happening is a substantive public discussion about how to do it safely.

We propose that prohibitions on crossing solid centerlines be relaxed by adding an exception for passing vehicles traveling at a sufficiently low speed. In Ohio, for example, this speed threshold is half the maximum posted speed limit. Such an exception would be applicable to passing tractors, construction vehicles and horse-drawn carriages, in addition to bicycles. Most motorists already cross solid centerlines to pass all of these vehicles when safe. However, Ohio’s exception is not entirely satisfactory. It is not uncommon for a cyclist’s speed to be greater than half the maximum posted speed limit, while still being unnecessarily slow for a following motorist. For example, it is well within the range of normal conditions for cyclist to be traveling at 20mph in 30mph zone or even 30mph in a 50mph zone (going down a hill, for example). If the road is straight, then sight distance would likely be adequate for a motorist to pass this cyclist safely and without exceeding the maximum posted speed limit.

Model No-Passing-Zone Exception

When passing a pedestrian, bicycle, tractor, or other slow moving vehicle, the operator of a vehicle may drive on the left side of the center of a roadway in a no-passing zone when such movement can be made in safety and without interfering with or endangering other traffic on the highway.

Alternatively, states could redefine the meaning of the solid centerline from a statutory prohibition on passing to a warning that passing may be unsafe. This is already the case in some states, such as Vermont (the Vermont statute requires signs, not solid striping alone, to define a no-passing zone). All of the other laws restricting passing due to oncoming traffic and limited sight distance would still apply.

We ask that legislators modernize their passing laws to reflect safe and practical passing practices, and that cycling advocates make a priority of lobbying them to do so.

The vast majority of motorists are already crossing solid centerlines to pass cyclists today. What isn’t happening is a substantive public discussion about how to do it safely. Changing the law to reflect prudent behavior will facilitate this discussion as well as better public education and more effective law enforcement. We at I Am Traffic believe that relaxing the solid centerline no-passing rule is essential to reducing sideswipes, unsafe close passing, and harassment of bicyclists on two-lane roads. We ask that legislators modernize their passing laws to reflect safe and practical passing practices, and that cycling advocates make a priority of lobbying them to do so.

Footnotes

1. NCHRP Report 605, Passing Sight Distance Criteria, Transportation Research Board, 2008. http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/nchrp_rpt_605.pdf

2. Consider a driver planning a pass on a 45 mph road. Observation of real-world behavior shows that drivers take an average of seven-seconds to pass a 15 mph bicyclist (with a speed differential of 10 mph), but an average of ten seconds to pass a 35 mph car. A seven second pass at 25 mph covers about 256 feet worst case (ignoring acceleration). By comparison, a ten second pass at 45 mph covers about 660 feet. An oncoming 45 mph driver travels 462 feet in seven seconds and 660 feet in 10 seconds. The required safe passing sight distance in the average bicyclist case is therefore about 600 feet shorter than in the average motorist case. Also, the slower passing speed is safer, should the passing driver misjudge; the oncoming driver will have more time and distance to reduce speed and “cooperate” with the pass as is often the case whrn passing a stationary obstruction. While the law prohibits a passing driver from interfering with an oncoming driver and requiring that driver to slow, this interference is much less dangerous  when passing a slow bicyclist than when passing a fast motorist. This is why there are so few crashes involving oncoming vehicles when drivers are passing cyclists on two-lane roads.

3. Colorado No-Passing-Zone Exception
42-4-1005. Limitations on overtaking on the left
(1) No vehicle shall be driven to the left side of the center of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction unless authorized by the provisions of this article and unless such left side is clearly visible and is free of oncoming traffic for a sufficient distance ahead to permit such overtaking and passing to be completed without interfering with the operation of any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction or any vehicle overtaken. In every event the overtaking vehicle must return to an authorized lane of travel as soon as practicable and, in the event the passing movement involves the use of a lane authorized for vehicles approaching from the opposite direction, before coming within two hundred feet of any approaching vehicle.
(2) No vehicle shall be driven on the left side of the roadway under the following conditions:
(a) When approaching or upon the crest of a grade or a curve in the highway where the driver’s view is obstructed within such distance as to create a hazard in the event another vehicle might approach from the opposite direction;
(b) When approaching within one hundred feet of or traversing any intersection or railroad grade crossing; or
(c) When the view is obstructed upon approaching within one hundred feet of any bridge, viaduct, or tunnel.
(3) The department of transportation and local authorities are authorized to determine those portions of any highway under their respective jurisdictions where overtaking and passing or driving on the left side of the roadway would be especially hazardous and may by appropriate signs or markings on the roadway indicate the beginning and end of such zones. Where such signs or markings are in place to define a no-passing zone and such signs or markings are clearly visible to an ordinarily observant person, no driver shall drive on the left side of the roadway within such no-passing zone or on the left side of any pavement striping designed to mark such no-passing zone throughout its length.
(4) The provisions of this section shall not apply:
(a) Upon a one-way roadway;
(b) Under the conditions described in section 42-4-1001 (1) (b);
(c) To the driver of a vehicle turning left into or from an alley, private road, or driveway when such movement can be made in safety and without interfering with, impeding, or endangering other traffic lawfully using the highway; or
(d) To the driver of a vehicle passing a bicyclist moving the same direction and in the same lane when such movement can be made in safety and without interfering with, impeding, or endangering other traffic lawfully using the highway.

4. Maine No-Passing-Zone Exception
Title 29-A: MOTOR VEHICLES HEADING: PL 1993, C. 683, PT. A, §2 (NEW); PT. B, §5 (AFF)
Chapter 19: OPERATION HEADING: PL 1993, C. 683, PT. A, §2 (NEW); PT. B, §5 (AFF)
Subchapter 1: RULES OF THE ROAD HEADING: PL 1993, C. 683, PT. A, §2 (NEW); PT. B, §5 (AFF)
§2070. Passing another vehicle
1. Passing on left. An operator of a vehicle passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction must pass to the left at a safe distance and may not return to the right until safely clear of the passed vehicle. An operator may not overtake another vehicle by driving off the pavement or main traveled portion of the way.
[ 1997, c. 653, §11 (AMD) .]
1-A. Passing bicycle or roller skier. An operator of a motor vehicle that is passing a bicycle or roller skier proceeding in the same direction shall exercise due care by leaving a distance between the motor vehicle and the bicycle or roller skier of not less than 3 feet while the motor vehicle is passing the bicycle or roller skier. A motor vehicle operator may pass a bicycle or roller skier traveling in the same direction in a no-passing zone only when it is safe to do so.

5. Mississippi No-Passing-Zone Exception
MS Code § 63-3-1309 (2013)
(1) While passing a bicyclist on a roadway, a motorist shall leave a safe distance of not less than three (3) feet between his vehicle and the bicyclist and shall maintain such clearance until safely past the bicycle.
(2) A motor vehicle operator may pass a bicycle traveling in the same direction in a nonpassing zone with the duty to execute the pass only when it is safe to do so.
(3) The operator of a vehicle that passes a bicyclist proceeding in the same direction may not make a right turn at any intersection or into any highway or driveway unless the turn can be made with reasonable safety.

6. Ohio No-Passing-Zone Exception
4511.31. Hazardous zones
(A) The department of transportation may determine those portions of any state highway where overtaking and passing other traffic or driving to the left of the center or center line of the roadway would be especially hazardous and may, by appropriate signs or markings on the highway, indicate the beginning and end of such zones. When such signs or markings are in place and clearly visible, every operator of a vehicle or trackless trolley shall obey the directions of the signs or markings, notwithstanding the distances set out in section 4511.30 of the Revised Code.
(B) Division (A) of this section does not apply when all of the following apply:
(1) The slower vehicle is proceeding at less than half the speed of the speed limit applicable to that location.
(2) The faster vehicle is capable of overtaking and passing the slower vehicle without exceeding the speed limit.
(3) There is sufficient clear sight distance to the left of the center or center line of the roadway to meet the overtaking and passing provisions of section 4511.29 of the Revised Code, considering the speed of the slower vehicle.

7. Pennsylvania No-Passing-Zone Exception
§ 3307. No-passing zones.
(a) Establishment and marking.–The department and local authorities may determine those portions of any highway under their respective jurisdictions where overtaking and passing or driving on the left side of the roadway would be especially hazardous and shall by appropriate signs or markings on the roadway indicate the beginning and end of such zones and when the signs or markings are in place and clearly visible to an ordinarily observant person every driver of a vehicle shall obey the directions of the signs or markings. Signs shall be placed to indicate the beginning and end of each no-passing zone.
(b) Compliance by drivers.–Where signs and markings are in place to define a no-passing zone as set forth in subsection (a), no driver shall at any time drive on the left side of the roadway within the no-passing zone or on the left side of any pavement striping designed to mark a no-passing zone throughout its length.
(b.1) Overtaking pedalcycles.–It is permissible to pass a pedalcycle, if done in accordance with sections 3303(a)(3) (relating to overtaking vehicle on the left) and 3305 (relating to limitations on overtaking on the left).
(c) Application of section.–This section does not apply under the conditions described in section 3301(a)(2) and (5) (relating to driving on right side of roadway).

8. Utah No-Passing-Zone Exception
41-6a-708. Signs and markings on roadway — No-passing zones — Exceptions.
(1) (a) A highway authority may designate no-passing zones on any portion of a highway under its jurisdiction if the highway authority determines passing is especially hazardous.
(b) A highway authority shall designate a no-passing zone under Subsection (1)(a) by placing appropriate traffic-control devices on the highway.
(2) A person operating a vehicle may not drive on the left side of:
(a) the roadway within the no-passing zone; or
(b) any pavement striping designed to mark the no-passing zone.
(3) Subsection (2) does not apply:
(a) under the conditions described under Subsections 41-6a-701(1)(b) and (c); or
(b) to a person operating a vehicle turning left onto or from an alley, private road, or driveway.
41-6a-701. Duty to operate vehicle on right side of roadway — Exceptions.
(1) On all roadways of sufficient width, a person operating a vehicle shall operate the vehicle on the right half of the roadway, except:

(c) when overtaking and passing a bicycle or moped proceeding in the same direction at a speed less than the reasonable speed of traffic that is present requires operating the vehicle to the left of the center of the roadway subject to the provisions of Subsection (2)

9. Wisconsin No-Passing-Zone Exception
346.09 Limitations on overtaking on left or driving on left side of roadway.
(3)
(a) Except as provided in par. (b), the operator of a vehicle shall not drive on the left side of the center of a roadway on any portion thereof which has been designated a no-passing zone, either by signs or by a yellow unbroken line on the pavement on the right-hand side of and adjacent to the center line of the roadway, provided such signs or lines would be clearly visible to an ordinarily observant person.
(b) The operator of a vehicle may drive on the left side of the center of a roadway on any portion thereof which has been designated a no-passing zone, as described in par. (a), to overtake and pass, with care, any vehicle, except an implement of husbandry or agricultural commercial motor vehicle, traveling at a speed less than half of the applicable speed limit at the place of passing.

Cyclists and Law Enforcement: History and Overview

In this series of videos, Kirby Beck – retired police officer, instructor and trainer with the International Police Mountain Bike Association – gives a comprehensive overview of cycling law enforcement. In part 1, Beck takes us through the fascinating history of cops on bikes, from the early police officers who stopped speeding horses, to the bike-based rapid response team that kept anarchists from burning St. Paul during the 2008 Republican National Convention. Plus, we get an amusing look back at 1970s TV cop show Adam 12, in which the protagonists clock a neighborhood cyclist at 45 mph.

Beck also gives an overview of the current state of enforcement of bicycle law – or lack thereof. Frustratingly for bike advocates, Beck says,

“Virtually no officers I have ever spoken with have had any kind of specialized training in bicycle laws or bicycle enforcement, anywhere in this country. The most they get is at rookie school where they are given the traffic code and [are told to] read it and memorize it….

“There is nothing in their background, except for the same biases that every other motorist on the road has. So that’s what you’re dealing with and it’s not intentional. It’s just they don’t know any better.”

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In Part 2, Beck describes what police mean when they describe something as a “problem” (hint: it’s different from how you or I might use the word), how to effectively report incidents to 911, and how to deal with police who cite you with cycling violations. In Part 3, he explains what police need to learn and how to get heard by your local police department.

The 6 Es: Video from the Colloquium

Presentation by Dan Gutierrez at the 2013 I Am Traffic Colloquium:

The 6 ‘E’s of Bicycling Equity — Equality, Education, Engineering, Enforcement, Encouragement, Evaluation — is a program of bicycling advocacy: one that is more detailed and comprehensive than any other such program now existing. Dan Gutierrez, who formulated the 6 ‘E’s, spoke about the program at the I Am Traffic Bicycle Education Colloquium. He explained the development of the 6 ‘E’s formulation, how previous advocacy efforts were lacking, and how the concepts should be enacted to create equity for cyclists. Video filmed by Tom Cook and edited together with Dan’s presentation by John Allen.

Kirby Beck, founder the the International Police Mountain Bike Association (IPMBA), makes a profound comment at 53:42 on rights versus privileges.

Joining the Chorus of Ignorance

crash-pic-collage

For decades competent and trained cyclists have had to deal with the occasional ignorant motorist who hollers out some variation on “Get off the damn road ya idjyit, yer gonna get yerself killed!” Fortunately most of these incidents don’t escalate into anything serious, and while little has been done to change this attitude over the years, we could shrug off such blather with confidence that the logic of our road use was supported both by direct personal experience and objective scientific study. We also had the backing of the League of American Bicyclists to defend our rights, if only in words.

Well, things have changed. With its recent sophomoric “study” of fatal bicyclist crashes and subsequent statements by its executive director, the League has joined the chorus of ignorance in agreeing that bicycling on regular roadway lanes is “gonna get you killed.”

Fear of the overtaking motorist has been a key arguing point between those supporting separated facilities as the primary accommodation for bicyclists, and those who prefer bicyclists be treated as normal vehicle drivers.

Last month the League released a report on bicyclist fatalities entitled Every Bicyclist Counts. A key finding noted by the League and other bicycle organizations is that 40% of bicyclist fatalities involved an overtaking motorist. This finding varies significantly from other studies and has caused quite a stir amidst bicycle advocates. The fear of the overtaking motorist has been a key arguing point between those supporting separated facilities as the primary accommodation for bicyclists, and those who prefer bicyclists be treated as normal vehicle drivers.

Most notable in the various reporting following the publication of this report is an interview of League President Andy Clarke by BRAIN (Bicycle Retailer And Industry News) in which he attempts to make a connection between the 40% claim and the increasing desire to provide “protected bike lanes”:

Andy Clark: For the longest time it’s been an article of faith that we should be taking the lane, and that separated bike facilities are unnecessary … well, I think we are grown up enough now to say that’s not the case. Most people feel more comfortable actually having a paved shoulder or a cycle track or having a buffered or protected bike lane, and those things will reduce the fear and the incidence of being hit from behind. And we shouldn’t feel bad or awkward about saying that.

BRAIN: So this data reinforces the movement toward separated facilities?

AC: Yes, it reinforces and validates that approach. There is still a small, tiny percentage of people who think we should not be putting in that kind of infrastructure. They are hanging on to the idea that being hit from behind is not that big of a problem. Well, the data tends to suggest otherwise.

There are still going to be places where there isn’t that kind of infrastructure and you are going to need to know how to cope with that. So we are not diminishing the need for the kind of education programs that we have presented and are going to continue to present. But we are saying that infrastructure can and should play a role in eliminating some of the most serious kinds of crashes.

By undercutting the essential practice of lane control, Clarke is dismissing the key defensive driving strategy taught in the League’s own education program, not to mention that of every serious adult cyclist education program.

With such a statement from the League, this 40% overtaking claim is highly significant for those of us who believe bicyclists are drivers of vehicles and wish to protect our rights to use regular roadway lanes. Lane control mitigates many motorist-caused crashes due to turning and crossing conflicts, as well as overtakings, the majority of which are sideswipes in which the motorist is well aware of the cyclist’s presence. By undercutting the essential practice of lane control, Clarke is dismissing the key defensive driving strategy taught in the League’s own education program, not to mention that of every serious adult cyclist education program. A thorough review of the League’s methodology and analysis is called for.

This review will address a number of important shortcomings of the League’s report, including:

  • Their method of selecting crashes for assessment
  • Questions of how crashes are categorized
  • Key differences between urban and rural crashes
  • Alcohol & drugs and cyclist use of lights and reflectors — two key factors in overtaking crashes

Bias in Crash Selection

source_pieRight up front the League’s methodology for selecting and analyzing crashes has a built-in bias. The report states clearly that:

The majority of the information captured by Every Bicyclist Counts came from newspaper reports (56% of all reported sources), TV reports (25%) and blogs (19%).

Using news reports creates bias at two levels. First off, the types of stories that are most heavily reported are those involving the “good cyclist.” The person who is “just like us,” riding a well-maintained, good quality bike, wearing a helmet and obeying the rules. As one who has been following both media attention and official crash data for 20 years, I can tell you the story of the homeless alcoholic hit while crossing a dark arterial at night without lights or reflectors gets scant attention from the media compared to those “good cyclists.” As the League notes, their study misses about 24% of the crashes. It’s quite reasonable to expect that the characteristics of those missed fatalities vary significantly from those they reviewed.

Next, the fact that the League’s sources are from the media rather than the official crash report means the facts have been filtered through a reporter, or a number of reporters. While we can certainly question the accuracy of official police reports in cycling crashes, we certainly aren’t getting more accurate information from the media, since they are themselves getting most of their information from law enforcement.Yes, an insightful analyst can spot inconsistencies or details that show flaws with the reporting, but that rarely tells us what actually happened, it only tells us what may not have happened.

Media reports can only be less accurate than official crash reports, because reporters only report what they’ve been told by law enforcement.

The League illustrates the difference between their methodology and that of official sources:

Approximately 40% of fatalities in our data with reported collision types were rear end collisions. This is higher than what was found in the 2010 FARS* release that included PBCAT-based crash types (27% of fatal crashes with reported collision types), although the crash type “motorist overtaking bicyclist” was the most common collision type in that data as well.

*Fatal Accident Reporting System

Why would overtaking jump from 27% to 40% in 2 years? This speaks more to the problems with their methodology than to what’s actually happening. Their reporting of helmet use by the victim does so as well:

Among the fatalities tracked by Every Bicyclist Counts, only 150 of the 633 reported fatalities included information on whether the cyclist was wearing a helmet. In the majority — 83 or 57% — of those fatalities the cyclist was wearing a helmet. This is higher than other data sources that record helmet use have reported.

Again, this illustrates the bias in their event selection. Crashes involving “responsible cyclists” (sympathetic victims) are more likely to be counted than the ones involving intoxicated homeless persons.

Categorization

The League’s crash typology is nothing like the FHWA crash typing, and vagueness of some of the “types” leave many questions. Without a consistent typology it’s very difficult to compare results. For example “Cyclist side/car front” could mean a number of different crash types. It could mean either a cyclist being hit by a motorist who ran a red light or stop sign, or the opposite. The same goes for a “T-Hit.”  Since free crash typing software is available from pedbikeinfo.org it’s a shame that they didn’t take advantage of it so we could compare it to other reports.

“Sideswipe” is normally included in overtaking. The FHWA typing also includes “cyclist sudden swerve,” and “cyclist lost control” in the overtaking group. I cannot tell if cyclist sudden lefts or swerves are included in the overtakings.

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Overtaking crash types:

[tabs slidertype=”simple”] [tab]

overtaking crash types_sideswipe

Motorist hits a bicyclist who is directly in front of him. Such crashes normally involve a night-time crash with a cyclist without lights or reflectors, or an exceptionally impaired motorist, either intoxicated or asleep.

[/tab] [tab]

overtaking crash types_rearend

Motorist overestimates passing space and clips bicyclist.

[/tab] [tab]

overtaking crash types_drift

Motorist drifts into bicyclists (usually in shoulder or bike lane). May involve distraction; often occurs on bends or curves.

[/tab] [tab]

overtaking crash types_swerve

Bicyclist swerves into motorist’s path while attempting to avoid a suddenly-appearing hazard.

[/tab] [/tabs]

While a direct hit from behind is what most people fear, that type only makes up a small portion of overtaking crashes. Each crash type has different causal mechanisms and different countermeasures. Lumping them together creates misleading message about the safety of bicycling—specifically, the ability of bicyclists to discourage or prevent motorists from hitting them. 

[/box]

Their “unknowns” are exceptionally high, at 30%; probably because media reports tend to be quite sketchy. By comparison, for my review of cyclist fatalities from official crash reports, only 3% fell into the “unknown” category. These usually involved a cyclist found dead after a hit & run. Their categorization also includes “None,” which I presume to be a solo cyclist crash with no other vehicle involved.

The League report’s 40% overtaking was arrived at by ignoring 41% of the crashes.

Already we have 24% not reviewed at all, and another 23% of the remaining 76% set aside as “unknown.”  So 41% of the fatalities during the study period were not categorized by the League. The 40% overtaking was arrived at by ignoring 41% of the crashes. The League’s overtaking percentage drops to 31% with the “unknowns” included, which is of course much closer to the 27% overtaking from FARS.

Urban Versus Rural

In the League’s report we are shown that 31% of the crashes were on rural roads and 69% on urban roads (which includes suburban). But their data does not tell us what proportion of the rural or urban crashes involved overtaking. This matters because the League is arguing for separated urban bikeways based on that 40% number.

My review of 105 cyclist fatalities in the Orlando metro area (a predominantly suburban area) since 2006 found 15 overtaking deaths (14%). Of those, nine were rural and six were suburban. None were in an area one would characterize as strictly “urban.”

The State of North Carolina has provided a rich source of statewide bicyclist crash data online using official crash reports and the standard FHWA crash typing scheme. Using their online database I found that 34% of their fatals were overtakings, and 37% of all fatals were urban/suburban, but their online interface would not provide a cross-tabulation of rural/urban and crash type, so we cannot get a direct read on how many urban/suburban fatalities involved overtaking. We’ll have to estimate that from other factors.  If one assumes that urban and rural overtakings are just as likely to result in a fatality, then 48 of their 129 fatal overtakings would have been urban, which works out to 12.7% of the 379 cyclist fatalities in their database. But rural and urban crashes are not equal in their severity. The NC data shows rural crashes were 3.6 times more likely to result in a fatality than urban crashes (4.7% versus 1.3%), so let’s divide those presumed 48 urban overtakings by the 3.6 times higher fatality potential of rural crashes. That gives us 13 urban overtakings, which is 9% of their 140 urban fatalities.

rural-v-urban-graph

Overtaking crash types as a percentage of all crashes. Source: North Carolina Pedestrian and Bicycle Crash Data Tool

Intoxication and Lighting

ninja-salmon_straightenedWhile the League report paid legitimate attention to unsafe and illegal motorist behaviors that led to deaths, such as intoxication, distraction and leaving the scene, it’s also a sad fact that many bicyclist deaths involve cyclists behaving similarly. But the League report was strangely silent on this. In North Carolina’s data 19% of fatalities involved an intoxicated cyclist. In metro Orlando it was 40% overall, two of the nine rural overtakings, and three of the six suburban overtakings involved intoxicated cyclists.

Use of lights by cyclists at night is also a key factor. Of the 15 overtakings in the Orlando metro area, four involved unlit cyclists at night; three of the six suburban overtakings involved unlit cyclists. (Cyclist lighting information was not available in the NC data.)

Undermining Lane Control

In his BRAIN interview, Andy Clarke said:

For the longest time it’s been an article of faith that we should be taking the lane, and that separated bike facilities are unnecessary … well, I think we are grown up enough now to say that’s not the case.

Of the report’s five victim profiles, three involved cyclists in bike lanes or on paved shoulders; none were noted as using lane control in a general purpose lane.

And yet their report did not give us any indication of how many lane-controlling cyclists had been hit from behind. Indeed, they didn’t even provide such an event among their five victim profiles. Of the five crashes, three involved cyclists in bike lanes or on paved shoulders; none were noted as using lane control in a general purpose lane.

In the North Carolina data, we can see the differences between overtaking crashes (for all injury levels) in rural and urban areas.

“Bicyclist Swerved” crashes are of course not relevant to lane control. “Misjudged Space” crashes are broadly understood to be remedied by lane control. “Undetected Cyclist” crashes mostly involve unlit cyclists at night. So it is the “Other/Unknown” that would most likely involve the totally distracted motorist who squarely hits the cyclist from behind. 7.5% of these “Other/Unknown” resulted in fatalities in North Carolina, but of course rural crashes are much more likely to result in fatalities than are urban ones.Change Lanes to Pass

None of the 105 metro Orlando fatalities involved lane control.

The real “article of faith” being presented here is that a practice promoted by the most experienced and highly trained cyclists in our culture is now being dismissed without evidence.

The real “article of faith” being presented here is that a practice promoted by the most experienced and highly trained cyclists in our culture is now being dismissed without evidence. And it’s being dismissed by a national organization that was originally formed to promote safety and excellence in cycling.

Context Matters

There is no question that we need better reporting of bicyclist crashes by law enforcement, but the League’s report only adds confusion, not clarity. We also should use more than just fatalities when making decisions about street design; adding incapacitating injuries will provide us with far more comprehensive data to combat the most serious crashes.

rural_sidepathAnd no, this review of the League’s fatality report is not intended as a blanket refusal of separated bicycle facilities. There are certainly some roads along which a sidepath would work. High-speed rural highways are good candidates. I used an excellent one in the Bitterroot Valley in Montana. Paths along riverfront and lakefront roads are workable as well. And certain suburban high-speed arterials may be suitable for sidepaths or bike lanes if they have limited and well-managed conflict points. But when it comes to regular urban streets, overtaking is the least of our concerns as cyclists. That is where the turning and crossing conflicts are most common, where savvy, integrated cycling is essential, and where channelization of cyclists leads to unnecessary conflicts.

 

Mighk Wilson is the president of the new American Bicycling Education Association.

Ask i am traffic: Bicyclist Licensing

An i am traffic reader asks via email:

Do you think requiring bicyclists to have licenses, similar to automobile drivers (or a spot on our driver’s licenses similar to motorcyclists), would raise bicyclists’ stature in the eyes of law enforcement and the driving public? Would the inconvenience this would cause to cyclists be worth it to more clearly send the message to everyone else that we cyclists seriously want to be given the same respect as the automobile?

It has often been suggested, usually by non-bicyclists, that bicyclists should be required to pass a skills and knowledge test as a precondition for using our public roads. Anyone can see that inept and unlawful bicycling behavior is widespread here in the US, and studies show that moving violations by bicyclists contribute to about half of all car-bike crashes 1. So why not license bicyclists like motorists to improve public safety?

A bicycle license for an elementary school student in 1963. Glen School, Ridgewood, New Jersey
A bicycle license for an elementary school student in 1963. Glen School, Ridgewood, New Jersey

While many proponents of bicyclist licensing have motivations that are hostile toward bicycling, some others have a sincere interest in promoting safer bicycling, and so the question deserves a serious and reasoned response. No US state, and apparently no government on the planet, requires adults to pass a skills and knowledge test as a precondition for exercising the right to travel by bicycle on public roads. There are many reasons why this is so, ranging from beliefs about the appropriate role of government to cost-benefit considerations, regulatory program efficiency and social justice.

Danger to Whom?

Moving violations by motor vehicle operators pose a grave danger to members of the public, killing thousands of people each year in the US alone 2. By comparison, moving violations by bicyclists rarely injure anyone but the bicyclist. When bicyclists do injure people, the victims are usually pedestrians, and these bike-pedestrian collisions are more likely to happen when bicyclists operate on sidewalks, paths and other non-roadway facilities that bicyclist licensing advocates usually exclude from their proposed regulations. As a result, a licensing requirement for roadway use is unlikely to protect the safety of people, and may actually increase danger to pedestrians by encouraging more use of sidewalks by unlicensed bicyclists trying to avoid roadways, which studies have shown are the safer location for bicyclists to operate 3.

sidewalka

Self Protection

Rather than having a credible goal of protecting the public from bicyclists, bicyclist licensing is usually touted as a way to protect bicyclists from themselves. By that reasoning, why not require people to pass a swimming skills and knowledge test and obtain a swimming license before being allowed to use public pools, beaches, and lakes? After all, more people drown per million hours of swimming than are killed per million hours of bicycling 4. But the public would reject such a swimming license scheme because it creates a high government-imposed barrier to entry into a relatively harmless activity where the risks are private rather than public. Instead, most people prefer to invest in swimming skill development voluntarily and gradually as their interest and participation in the activity grows. Another preferred strategy is to incorporate key swimming education components into public school programs. This is the practice for bicycling education in many countries, but here in the US there appears to be less appreciation of the safety benefits of bicyclist knowledge and skill than of swimming knowledge and skill.

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Government Overhead

There are some “nanny” laws, such as seat belt use laws and helmet use laws, that have a fairly low cost of compliance for the individual, and yet these laws are often hotly debated. A bicyclist license regulation scheme, by comparison, would have a much higher cost of compliance, on par with the cost of motor vehicle driver licensing. Not only are there the government costs of developing and administering the testing and licensing program (costs that would presumably be passed on to the bicyclists), but also the time and cost of training. Motorists accept the costs of licensing because they appreciate the potential danger posed to them and other people by those motorists lacking important skills and knowledge. But for bicyclists, the threat posed to them by unskilled bicyclists is not compelling, especially if those bicyclists ride very little.

Unintended Consequences

An avid bicyclist who spends hundreds or thousands of dollars on bicycling equipment and invests hundreds of hours per year bicycling won’t be deterred from bicycling by a licensing scheme, but many occasional, casual bicyclists would be. Bicycle licensing costs would be especially burdensome for the lowest income people, many of whom cannot afford cars and depend on bicycling for basic travel. Then there are children, who make up a significant part of the current bicycling population. The result of a bicyclist licensing requirement would be an immediate reduction in bicycling participation by casual, low income, and young users. Such a reduction would have negative consequences for public health because the health benefits of bicycling greatly outweigh the health risks, even for unskilled participants. It would also have negative consequences for transportation accessibility, transportation system efficiency, and air quality. Many health and transportation stakeholders consider any policy change that makes bicycling more difficult to be a move in the wrong direction.

basketbikes2

Police Enforcement

Some bicyclist licensing advocates have claimed that police will not or cannot ticket bicyclists for moving violations unless bicyclists are licensed. In fact, police have little difficulty stopping and ticketing bicyclists for moving violations when they are motivated to do so, and have numerous ways to determine the identity of a person without a driver license. If for any reason police are unable to obtain satisfactory identifying information in the field, they can always bring the bicyclist to the police station (as happened recently to actor Alec Baldwin when he was stopped by NYPD for bicycling against traffic). The real reason why police rarely stop bicyclists for traffic violations is because police don’t consider it a priority, in large part because our society does not consider these violations to be a significant threat to the general public.

In some places, mandatory bicycle registration programs have been employed as a means to identify the owners of bicycles. These programs imitated motor vehicle registration programs with the objective of reuniting owners with lost or stolen bicycles. In some cases they were also promoted as a way to help law enforcement officers hold bicyclists accountable for moving violations by facilitating revocation of bicycling privileges through seizure of the registration plate or even impoundment of the bicycle 5. Most of these mandatory bicycle registration schemes resulted in several unintended consequences. The first consequence was that the cost and inconvenience of registration deterred many occasional, child, low-income and multiple-bike-owning bicyclists from purchasing it; in many cities the vast majority of bicycle owners did not comply with the law. Another consequence was that police ended up spending less of their time and attention enforcing actual traffic laws and instead shifted their energy to enforcing the mandatory bicycle registration laws. Low compliance rates also meant that police could often assume that a bicycle was unregistered and use that suspicion to conduct pretextual stops and searches of most any bicyclist they wished 6. Lastly, the high cost of running bicycle registration programs compared to the price bicyclists were willing to pay meant that such programs were generally ineffective at revenue generation and often lost money. As a result, most localities that experimented with bicycle registration either eliminated the programs or made them voluntary in the wake of citizen complaints.

Toronto Conclusions

Despite a rich history of problems, new proposals for bicycle registration and bicyclist licensing still arise. In 2004, the City of Toronto studied the issue in response to a request by the City Council and arrived at the following conclusions 7:

  • Bicycle registration is not effective in preventing bicycle theft;
  • A bicyclist operating license is not required for police officers to enforce the existing traffic rules;
  • Developing a bicyclist testing and licensing system would be expensive and divert resources from enforcing the existing traffic rules for bicyclists; and
  • Providing more resources for bicyclist education and training and increased police enforcement would be a more cost-effective approach for improving safety.

Right to Road

Yet the weakest argument that has been levied in favor of bicyclist licensing is the idea that travel upon our public roads is a privilege that should come at a price and that the price should be as high for bicyclists as it is for motorists as a matter of “fairness” or for symbolic “legitimacy.” This argument attempts to turn centuries of road-rights law on its head. Since about the time of the Magna Carta, travel upon the public roads has been considered a basic human right to be protected from unnecessary interference. Early regulations such as medieval tolls were tolerated only when they were demonstrably fair and necessary for road construction and maintenance 8 9 10 11. Motor vehicle-specific regulations, including licensing requirements, were developed in response to the new dangers motor vehicles posed to the general public. As the public costs of motoring dwarfed the public costs of human and animal powered modes, motorists became the focus of revenue collection for road funding. The few direct user fees that existed for nonmotorized travelers were generally abandoned as inefficient and impractical to collect compared to the alternatives, such as property taxes. The regulatory burden for all users, motorized or not, should be kept as low as the safety of travelers and the maintenance of the facility allows. Lower energy modes create much less public danger and pavement wear than higher energy modes, and so will have a lower regulatory burden. In a fair and free society, our traffic regulations are a means to an end rather than an end unto themselves.

What to do?

If bicyclist licensing is not the solution to dangerous bicycling behavior or negative perceptions of bicyclists, then what is? We recommend the following:

  1. Incorporate bicycling education into public school curricula. Most nations that value bicyclist safety offer bicycling skills and knowledge programs in their schools. Over time, this provides all members of society (including children, adult bicyclists, motorists, police, politicians and traffic engineers) with a consistent concept of operations for effective traffic negotiation by bicycle instead of the misconceptions, myths and taboos that Americans hold about bicycling.
  2. Educate motorists about bicyclists’ rights. The common myth that roads are for cars and not bikes adds fuel to another myth that the traffic laws are for cars and not bikes. Motorist harassment of bicyclists on roadways breeds contempt among some bicyclists for the driving culture including the normal rules of movement, and results in more unpredictable operation, such as sidewalk bicycling, red light running and wrong-way bicycling. Motorist education is sorely needed to address this social dysfunction and to provide a more hospitable environment for predictable and lawful bicycle driving.
  3. Train police in enforcement techniques that support safer bicycling. Most police are not adequately trained in traffic law as applied to bicycling or how to effectively prioritize enforcement actions to promote bicyclist safety. As a result, police often err by stopping bicyclists for bogus infractions, such as impeding traffic, while ignoring unlawful and truly hazardous violations, such as bicycling against traffic or bicycling at night without lights. Clear policies, priorities and procedures empower police to focus their actions on significant safety problems while promoting respect for the traffic laws.
  4. Invest resources in basic traffic law enforcement and related education. Enforcement campaigns that combine educational materials, advance publicity, verbal and written warnings, and targeted but fair issuance of citations can be highly effective at improving bicyclist and motorist compliance rates while protecting bicyclists’ access to their road system. Consistent enforcement maintains compliance and reduces long term crash rates.

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