Recently, the bicycling world has been aghast to learn that a law-abiding citizen is being charged with “reckless driving” in Kentucky…despite all facts to the contrary. Cherokee Schill, a single mother, cut expenses by using her bicycle as transportation to work. Her route to work includes a section of U.S. 27, a high speed limit, multi-lane road.
Schill, 41, said if there were an easier way to get to work, she would take it. Her 1992 Toyota Camry with 360,000 miles is not dependable. To be able to afford housing and food for herself and two teenagers, the divorced mother said commuting by bike keeps her household afloat.
“I’m not putting myself here because I think it’s fun or exciting,” Schill said of the commute. “I’m here because I’ve got two kids to feed and a roof to put over their head. … I’ve got to pay rent, pay bills and buy groceries.”
The Lexington Herald-Leader also notes that she has not been involved in any crash since she started commuting by bike last June. Despite the fact that Cherokee is operating completely within the local and state laws, the Nicholasville police officers and Jessamine County deputy sheriffs have cited her three times, twice for “careless driving” and once for “reckless driving”, and the Jessamine County Attorney’s office has asked the county judge to prohibit her from riding on U.S. 27.
Reading the news reports, it’s clear that a reverse logic is working here. Instead of holding motorists responsible for inattentive driving, the police and county attorney are persecuting a law-abiding bicyclist.
“It just creates a very dangerous situation when you’ve got somebody on a bike that’s difficult to see to begin with, on a very highly travelled [sic] road, with signifigant [sic] speeds and a lot of people don’t pay attention to what they should be while driving, so it all compounds itself,” said Jessamine County Attorney Brian Goettl.
Goettl says a deputy sheriff responding to a robbery almost wrecked because Schill backed up traffic.
“He was almost in a wreck because of Miss Schill, and so it added to me another element of danger that I hadn’t even thought of before,” Goettl said.
Instead of persecuting Cherokee, why are the inattentive motorists not being ticketed and targeted for prosecution? Why was the deputy sheriff not paying attention to his own driving? Is the deputy sheriff’s story about almost wrecking even true? Or is it merely a rationalization of his feelings that cycling has no place on that road? Why is the convenience of other road users a higher priority than Cherokee’s right to the road? If a slow-moving tractor were on U.S. 27, would motorists be calling 911 for help? Would the 911 operators and police even give a moment of attention if someone was commuting via horse-drawn carriage (such as many do in Amish and Mennonite communities)?
Randy Thomas, president of the Bluegrass Cycling Club, said Schill is operating within her legal rights and in accordance with safety requirements. Asked if he would ride U.S. 27, Thomas said, “I personally am not going to comment. I ride all over the area, and I’m sure I ride roads that cyclists wouldn’t feel comfortable on. It’s irrelevant what I would do or what anyone else would do, if she’s riding within her rights and what she’s comfortable in doing.”
While she awaits a trial in August, the county attorney asked a judge to stop her from riding on U.S. 27. Fortunately, the county judge ruled in favor of Cherokee Schill and allowed her to continue to commute to work. The full trial will begin in August.
i am traffic applauds Cherokee Schill, Judge Booth, and local advocates like Randy Thomas who are affirming all bicyclists’ right to the road. Steve Magas, a contributor and friend of i am traffic, will be helping to defend Cherokee pro bono, but there will still be legal fees that Cherokee must cover. We encourage you to donate to Cherokee’s legal defense fund and continue sharing this story. Stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter accounts for updates.
Our local highway and traffic department has striped a “bike lane” on the shoulder of a busy road. Aside from the fact that it is a bike lane, there are two big problems – the concrete aprons from all the driveways extend across the bike lane (but not into the traffic lane), and much of the bike lane is split between “road grade” pavement and “shoulder grade” pavement by a meandering line. Needless to say, such pavement conditions are very unsafe for a cyclist.
I brought this to the attention of the highways and traffic people, and this is how they responded:
“This Department considers the shoulder … suitable for a bike lane.”
I don’t use the bike lane anyway, but its existence makes motorists much more aggressive toward my presence in the traffic lane. So my question is this: Are there any standards at all for condition of the paved surface in a bike lane?
This crappy shoulder condition problem highlights the disconnect between how engineers and legislators define the roadway. The legislature typically defines the roadway as exclusive of the berm or shoulder and bike lanes as that portion of the roadway set aside for the exclusive or semi-exclusive use of bicycles. The engineers routinely include the shoulder in the definition of roadway and than refer to the legal roadway as the “traveled way”.
This nomenclature disconnect sets up the problem Nick is facing, since the engineers consider a bike lane NOT part of the traveled way, but as a part of the engineering roadway via the shoulder, and since shoulder standards are NOT bike compatible, they can tell Nick to suck it up and live with it. Yet if they followed the legal definitions, the shoulder would NOT qualify as roadway space, and could not be converted into a bike lane without upgrading the space to legal roadway (what the engineers call “traveled way”) standards.
This slide showing minimum edge bike lane widths from the classes I teach to professionals, shows the disconnect as it relates to shoulders and bike lanes. CVC = CA Vehicle Code, HDM = CA Highway Design Manual.
[singlepic id=398 w=320 h=240 float=center]
And a similar problem exists for door zone bike lanes:
This is the story of living with a disability, overcoming that disability, suffering under a forced re-imposition of that disability, struggling against that imposition, and finally subduing it. That is not my physical disability of blindness, but my intellectual disability of ignorance and fear.
I wrote the first half of this more than a year ago, but I could not bring myself to publish it. I felt like the final chapter was missing, and I had to live that chapter before I could write it.
I dedicate this article to John Forester, who through his writing rescued me from my own accidental ignorance. And to Andrew Fischer, who came to my aid in the struggle against others’ willful ignorance.
I am deeply grateful to my friends, particularly members of the Barony of Bergental and the bicycle driving community, for giving me some light during a very dark period. There were many days during that period (and there continue to be such days) when I could not find a compelling reason to get out of bed. But there were also days when my friends provided such a reason when I would not otherwise have found one.
I am blind. I am not totally blind. Some would describe me as “partially blind” or “visually impaired.” The details are not important to the rest of the story, but people tend to be curious about it, so I will explain.
I was born with a rare, hereditary eye disorder called “retinoschisis.” Balls of fluid, called “scheses” (plural of “schesis”), partially separate my retina from the back of my eye. My acuity is impaired and I am missing some parts of my peripheral vision. The disorder also comes with a risk of retinal detachment, which results in total blindness in the affected eye. There is currently no corrective procedure. Since the defect is in the retina rather than the lens, it cannot be corrected with glasses or contacts.
I also have some secondary symptoms. I don’t have as much control over my eye movements as most other people. I must compensate for my reduced peripheral vision and eye movement control by turning my head more than most people do. I can’t wink, and I tend to blink more than most people. I have what is called a “nystagmus.” If I look intently, my eyes instinctively dart around, trying to focus. But they can’t get the focus they expect, so they just keep darting around. It’s a neat party trick.
It is hard to describe my vision or to compare it to normal vision because I have never had normal vision. It looks normal to me, and I have no other experience to compare it to. But I am told that everything looks blurry to me compared to someone with normal vision and that parts of my peripheral vision are missing. The blurriness means that I cannot make out as much detail as most other people.
I have trouble recognizing people. I have trouble making out small details or details of distant objects. My night vision is especially poor.
My blindness renders me unqualified to legally drive a motor vehicle. For a long time I thought of this as a severe limitation. I did not know of any other means of transportation that would give me the flexibility I needed to live a full and normal life.
On the spectrum of blindness, my vision is actually quite good. It is far better than the uncorrected vision of many people whose vision is fully corrected with glasses or contacts. Most people cannot detect my blindness through casual observation. Until I tell them that I am blind, they just think I’m weird (which I am, and proudly so). I can read most normal-size print under the right conditions. I do not use a cane or dog when I walk.
Apparently, I am quite comfortable performing many tasks by feel for which most people rely on their vision: for example, climbing/descending stairs, shaving, and turning a bolt with a screwdriver.
My blindness renders me unqualified to legally drive a motor vehicle. (My brother has slightly higher acuity than me, and did have a driver’s license for a short period.) For a long time I thought of this as a severe limitation. I did not know of any other means of transportation that would give me the flexibility I needed to live a full and normal life. I got by with a combination of walking, biking, riding buses, and getting rides with friends and family members. With these methods I could meet my basic needs but not much more. Limitations on my mobility constrained my opportunities much more than any direct consequence of my disability: my options for where I could live, work, shop, and socialize.
Socializing was especially difficult for me for many reasons, but an important one was that my mobility limitations hindered my ability to act spontaneously or to interact with others on an equal basis. I could not go where other people went without great effort and planning.
Walking was slow and impractical for almost all trips. Biking was also slow, although faster than walking. It was also difficult, stressful, and still quite limiting. I only felt comfortable going short distances on familiar and comfortable routes. I had quite a few crashes too. Riding buses could be faster than biking, but it could also be slower than walking. It was extremely inflexible and unreliable. Bus routes only go certain places and only at certain times. Often buses are late, don’t stop, or don’t come at all. Missing a bus, even by a minute, could mean being twenty minutes late, an hour late, or not getting there at all. It could also mean becoming stranded far from home. So it was necessary to plan a trip well in advance and leave a lot of buffer time. There is also a severe limit on what can be carried on a bus. Getting rides from friends and family was also inflexible and unreliable, as well as humiliating. I would have to start looking for a ride days or weeks in advance, and I often did not find one. I could not choose when to arrive or depart or even know when I would arrive or depart. If my ride was late to pick me up, then I was late to arrive. If my ride wanted to leave early or stay late then I had to leave early or stay late. And there was a social liability in that my ride’s flexibility was constrained by their commitment to me.
Socializing was especially difficult for me for many reasons, but an important one was that my mobility limitations hindered my ability to act spontaneously or to interact with others on an equal basis. I could not go where other people went without great effort and planning, which often included the indignity of imposing on others for a ride, which I might or might not receive. Asking for a ride might not seem like it should be so humiliating, but as an integral part of my life, it left me in a constantly dependent and inferior social position. I was lonely and isolated. I could not relate to other people, and I resented them for taking for granted the freedom that for me was unavailable. I resented the World for leaving me behind.
“You Are Healed-AH!”
In the summer of 2005, approaching my twenty-eighth birthday, I separated from my wife (now my ex-wife). My principal social outlet at the time was my weekly choir practice, which I had been traveling to with my wife in her car, so it was important to me to continue attending. It was fifteen miles away (ten miles was my limit at the time) on unfamiliar, difficult, scary roads, so biking seemed impossible. I was too far out of the way for other members of the choir to pick me up. There were no buses that could take me.
Before we were married, my wife (then my fiancé) had bought me a book about cycling. She had known even less than I did about cycling (which was not much at the time) and was not at all familiar with the book. But she knew that I rode a bike. She had been poking around on the Web, had come across the book, and bought it for me.
I had never gotten around to reading it before, and I had forgotten about it until this transportation crisis arose. In desperation, I dug the book out and started reading it, hoping to find a clue to my mobility problem. The book was Effective Cycling by John Forester.
As I read the book, I became very excited. It suggested that I should ride my bike according to the same rules as drivers of motor vehicles use and that I should stay away from the edge of the road, sometimes riding in the center or even on the left side of a lane, thus occupying the entire lane. I knew that the designs of roads provided a simple and predictable environment for motorists to travel with ease and flexibility. If I could use the roads in the same manner on a bike, then I could go anywhere with the same ease and flexibility. This was a totally new concept to me, and I was somewhat skeptical of it, but I recognized its immense potential.
It was as if I was no longer disabled. I was still blind, but ignorance, not blindness, had been my disability all along. I had been healed. I could go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted.
I cautiously began to test out the techniques I had read about. On a familiar, comfortable road near where I lived (Strong St. in Amherst, MA), I rode a little farther from the edge than I had before. I immediately noticed that motorists passed me at a greater, more comfortable distance. I tried moving a little farther from the edge, and motorists left me an even wider gap. I also noticed that I could ride a straighter course, at a higher speed, with less effort away from the edge than I could near the edge.
I quickly became comfortable riding assertively on small quiet roads. I advanced my testing to bigger, busier roads. And then even bigger, even busier roads. I learned how to look at the horizon and follow the lane line to my left rather than following the right edge. I also grew more comfortable with scanning and signaling. I was ready to take on the scariest road I knew of: Route 9 in Hadley, a major four-lane arterial.
I headed out to the Hampshire Mall. Approaching University Drive, where Route 9 widened from two lanes to four, and where I would earlier follow the edge, I continued on a straight course to end up in the middle of the right lane. It worked! I looked straight ahead and held my position. Motorists passed me in the passing lane rather than squeezing by right next to me. With the edge of the road farther away from me, I found that I was able to focus my gaze farther ahead and move faster with less effort. Traffic controls no longer took me by surprise like they did before because they were all placed so as to be easily noticed from that middle-of-the-lane position. I also noticed that being directly in line with other traffic enabled me to take clues from traffic ahead of me about what I would encounter. When I got near mall, I scanned, signaled, yielded, and moved to the left through lane. When I got to the beginning of the left-turn lane, I moved right into it. It was amazing how easy it was. When the light turned green, I turned into the Mall. I was no longer afraid.
It was as if I was no longer disabled either. I was still blind, but ignorance, not blindness, had been my disability all along. I had been healed. I could go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I could do all of the normal things that other people did. I could live a full, normal life. I could go to choir practice.
I had the honor of meeting John Forester at the I Am Traffic Bicycle Education Colloquium. The image above is my copy of his book, which he signed at that event.
Conquering Unfamiliar Territory
On a 95-degree summer afternoon, I started on the fifteen mile trip to Holyoke, where my choir practiced. I passed Atkins Market and entered unfamiliar territory.
I continued to exploit my newfound freedom and expand my sense of possibility, cycling on a wide variety of roads under a wide variety of conditions, even making a couple of three-day, two-hundred-mile journeys.
I struggled up the steep winding road to the Notch in my lowest gear. I fought to keep the pedals moving and the front wheel pointing forward. I rounded a curve, hoping to see the top, but there was just another curve. I kept going. Finally, I rounded a curve and I saw the top. My muscles hurt terribly, but I kept pushing until I reached the top. I rested and drank some water. Then I claimed my reward: flying down the smooth, straight, south side of the Notch.
I would never have made it up that hill with mind and body divided by the stress and difficulty of my old way of cycling. By freeing myself of that stress and difficulty, I was able to unite mind and body to achieve new heights, literally and figuratively.
I reached the South Hadley side of the Connecticut River, but I couldn’t find the bridge to Holyoke. I went around and around trying to find it until I finally realized that I was misreading my map. Before, being lost like that would have been terrifying, but with my new ability, being lost no longer meant being stuck. I calmly searched for the bridge until I found it.
South of the bridge, I entered the urban core of Holyoke, another unfamiliar setting. But an unfamiliar road no longer scared me. I knew that I could count on the familiar patterns of other roads. I was hot and exhausted, but I was also happy and confident.
I made my way to my friends’ house where practice was held, and I collapsed. They weren’t home. I sat and waited until some relief came along in the form of an ice cream truck. A little later, my friends came home and reminded me that there was no practice scheduled that week. Oh, well.
I continued to exploit my newfound freedom and expand my sense of possibility, cycling on a wide variety of roads under a wide variety of conditions, even making a couple of three-day, two-hundred-mile journeys. I made these trips because there were opportunities at the end that I wanted to take. I could never have made those trips or taken those opportunities before my transformation. It would have been overwhelmingly difficult, stressful, and scary.
I felt compelled to share the knowledge that led me though such a powerful transformation with other. I began corresponding with cycling instructors and pursuing cycling instruction certification.
A Crippling Blow
As I continued to exploit my newfound freedom, I was sometimes stopped and threatened by police officers, who disapproved of my assertive cycling behavior, the defensive driving techniques that made bicycle transportation practical and allowed me to build a life for myself. I had never interacted significantly with a police officer before, and the experience was quite scary. However, these encounters did not deter me because they all ended quickly. They would stop me, order me to move to the edge, or sometimes to get off of the road entirely, threaten to arrest me, and then move on. So I would simply move on as well, confident that my right to the road was secure and that I was not in significant danger.
My spirit was crushed. I was terrified. Knowing that I would eventually be stopped by a police officer again, that I was under a standing threat of arrest and that I could be held in jail for an indeterminate duration without even being convicted of a crime: It all made me feel completely helpless.
But these threats escalated in the Fall of 2009. First I was stopped in Hadley. Hadley was close to Amherst, where I lived, and I had been through it many times. I had never been stopped in Hadley before. The other stops had been farther from home, in places where I did not expect to travel very often. Being stopped in a place where I traveled on a weekly basis was a higher level of threat. The threat was intensified when the same officer stopped me a month later, seized my bicycle, made me walk to the police station to retrieve it, and renewed his threat of arrest.
Shortly thereafter, I was stopped by a police officer in West Springfield. I had been stopped in West Springfield several times before, but nothing had come of them. During the previous West Springfield stop, officers had even acknowledged my legal right to the road. But this time the officer arrested me and charged me with the crime of disorderly conduct. At my arraignment, the judge informed me that if I was arrested anywhere, for any reason, while the charges were pending, that I could be held in jail until their resolution.
My spirit was crushed. I was terrified. Knowing that I would eventually be stopped by a police officer again, that I was under a standing threat of arrest in Hadley, that a police officer who stopped me would discover that I was facing criminal charges, that the discovery could further bias them against me, that a threat of arrest and criminal charges was credible, and that I could be held in jail for an indeterminate duration without even being convicted of a crime: It all made me feel completely helpless. I was afraid to leave my home unescorted for fear of another police stop. And when I did leave my home, I was overcome with such intense anxiety that I could not enjoy what I was doing. I was extremely depressed, feeling like a prisoner in my home.
Moreover, I was afraid of the possibility of being found guilty. Such a finding would be terrible and not only for the usual reasons that a criminal conviction is terrible. It would also render illegal an essential function of my life, one that I had suffered without for most of my life. After living with a disability for twenty-eight years, then being freed from its constraints and enjoying that freedom for four years, I was forced back into the constraints of my disability once again. It was like I imagine it would be for someone who lives to adulthood unable to walk, then learns to walk as an adult only to have someone shatter his knees with a sledge hammer a few years later and again be unable to walk.
The Nightmare Continues
After four months of prosecution, a week before the scheduled trial, the district attorney agreed to drop the charge. I was a little bit freer, but I was still terrified of the possibility of future encounters with police officers, and I was still overcome with anxiety when I left home. I desperately wanted some means to ensure my safety, but I was told that there was nothing I could do to achieve it. Short of that, I wanted to at least know for sure what danger I was in, particularly in Hadley, but I was told that the only way achieve that was to go out and see what happened. I apparently had no choice but to pretend to live my life as normal, all the while expecting the nightmare to resume at any time.
I have never had a talent for acting. I was unable to pretend that everything was okay. But I did venture out a little and try to rebuild some of the life I had before. I had been doing some private tutoring and looking for a full-time teaching position before I was arrested. I felt that things were too uncertain to resume that. I started with some social activities with people I felt comfortable with. That would reduce my anxiety a little. But I was always apprehensive of the possibility of further conflict with the police. And being unable to determine where I stood with them was especially upsetting. There was no way to ask them if their threats still stood and get a meaningful answer.
A few months after the disorderly conduct charge was dropped, the same Hadley police officer stopped me a third time. He accused me of wiretapping and seized my camera. I received notice a few days later that he had charged me with wiretapping as well as disorderly conduct.
I bought a sport video camera with the hope of collecting on-bike footage for educational videos. When I went out, I mounted it on my helmet and set it to record my trip, hoping to refine my camera technique and maybe catch some interesting traffic interactions. It also gave me some security in that it would enable me to document a police encounter.
A few months after the disorderly conduct charge was dropped, the same Hadley police officer stopped me a third time. He wrote me a traffic citation. He also accused me of wiretapping and seized my camera. I received notice a few days later that he had charged me with wiretapping as well as disorderly conduct.
I was again a helpless prisoner. I pleaded for help from anyone who might have been able to help me, but most were unwilling to do much. After six months of prosecution, a judge eventually threw out the charges in response to a motion to dismiss. But I now knew that the Hadley police were willing to carry out their standing threats. I knew that I was not safe. I was still a prisoner.
One of the people that I had asked for help was attorney Andrew Fischer, and in the Fall of 2010, he agreed to pursue a lawsuit against the Hadley police, in which we would ask the court for an injunction, an order to leave me alone.
It was another year before he filed the lawsuit. At that point, I felt a good deal safer traveling because I knew that the judge would hear about any interference from the Hadley police. I was still in a tenuous position, but a much better position than before. I could at least begin to rebuild my life. I moved to a new home in Easthampton. One major difficulty in coping with the pending lawsuit was the legal hazards of speaking or writing about my experience. I felt an intense desire to discuss the experience that dominated my thoughts with others, and suppressing that desire was intensely frustrating and it continued to isolate me. The lawsuit continued for more than two years.
Victory, Affirmation, Freedom Restored
Many people take for granted the ability to travel freely. They do not realize how precious it is, and they do not understand what it is like not to have it.
I was unable to secure the injunction I had asked for, but I was able secure a summary judgement ruling and a settlement that clearly constitute a victory, albeit a weaker victory than I had hoped for. Through the settlement, I was able to achieve a solid sense that I would have some recourse if the Hadley police were to interfere with my travels again. My victory was, in fact, historic, being the first time a federal court had ever affirmed a cyclist’s right to the road. I have come a long way toward rebuilding my life, but I also have a long way to go. I cannot simply “move on.” However, I am now free to move forward. Things are slowly getting better.
Many people take for granted the ability to travel freely. They do not realize how precious it is, and they do not understand what it is like not to have it. Having discovered it after living without it for most of my life, it is certainly very precious to me. And having recovered it after it was seized from me makes it all the more precious.
You can hear me speak about my long conflict with the Hadley police in my recent interview on the Strong Towns podcast.
Since August 2009, Eli Damon has been put through the wringer of the justice and legal system, but perhaps most demeaning: Lousy media reporting. All because Eli was looking for a job near his home in Easthampton, Massachusetts. After a series of harassing traffic stops by local police, the town of Hadley began pursuing legal action against Eli for his right to use the road safely. Unlike many states, Massachusetts does not require that cyclists ride “as far right as practicable.” Instead, the Massachusetts General Laws have a requirement for overtaking that is applied frequently to cyclists:
“Except when overtaking and passing on the right is permitted, the driver of an overtaken vehicle shall give way to the right in favor of the overtaking vehicle on visible signal and shall not increase the speed of his vehicle until completely passed by the overtaking vehicle.” (MGL 89-2)
Eli is an experienced transportation cyclist and traffic cycling instructor, and well-versed in the numerous safety benefits of visible lane positioning. He also has a thorough understanding of how to facilitate safe overtaking when appropriate (a CyclingSavvy technique called “Control & Release”).
With all of this in mind, I was completely stunned while reading a recent editorial titled “A wise ruling on bicyclist’s use of Route 9 in Hadley” in The Daily Hampshire Gazette. The un-attributed author of the piece shows a complete ignorance of cycling safety, actual laws, and even journalistic ethics.
Without asking Eli directly or reading any of his online posts, the editor assumes Eli’s motivations and reasoning for (assumptions italicized):
Wearing a video camera while riding. “But by gearing up with a camera, he seemed to expect a confrontation; he claimed what he got was harassment.”
Filing a complaint. “Damon’s 2011 U.S. District Court complaint, by the way, did not seek money. He wanted to prove a point.“
Lane position. “Though the magistrate makes clear bicyclists have the right to use roads, too many motorists seem to think riders have no place on public ways. Damon’s decision to ride in the middle of a travel lane pushed back against that, with predictable results.“
Perhaps had the editor inquired into his actual motivations — instead of fabricating a narrative convenient to editorial bias — they would have learned how vital unencumbered, safe cycling is to Eli’s livelihood:
“The primary allegedly criminal act on my part is one that I must commit as part of my daily life, namely traveling on public roads in a safe and efficient manner. Indeed, traveling on public roads is almost universally considered to be essential for full participation in society. The effect of this is to place me on a kind of virtual house arrest, since any attempt I make to travel unescorted carries the risk of interference by police officers.” (Eli Damon, “Undue Process of Law”, June 12, 2010)
For additional context, the following is Eli’s CyclingSavvy Instructor bio:
I was born in 1977. I am principally a math teacher and have been teaching since the age of 17. I have a B.E. in computer engineering from SUNY Stony Brook (2000) and a Ph.D. in mathematics from UMass Amherst (2008). In the Society for Creative Anachronism, I am Lord Eli of Bergental, member of The Order of the Fountain. I first learned to ride a bike, in the common sense, at age 7. Due to a visual disability I cannot acquire a driver’s license. I once thought of this limitation as a severe one. I made some trips by foot, bike, and bus, and relied on friends and family members with cars to give me rides for some other trips. For the most part, however, the difficulty I had in traveling prevented me from living what most people would consider a full life. I learned to DRIVE a bike at age 27, and it radically transformed my life. Suddenly, I could go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted, in a reliable, flexible, carefree manner. It felt as if I was no longer disabled. Now I travel almost entirely by bicycle. I have found that good cycling habits provide me with more freedom and flexibility than I could ever achieve through driving a motor vehicle. I have cycled in ten states and the District of Columbia, on a wide variety of roads under a wide variety of conditions. I have made trips of up to 200 miles.
The unwarranted police interference with Eli’s right to travel safely on our public roads made his only means of independent travel nearly impossible. Eli had been repeatedly harassed by police officers (The Hadley Encounters, The West Springfield Encounters, The Third Hadley Encounter: Relapse), so he should not be chastised for using common video equipment to record the encounters. The justice system holds a sworn law officer’s word in higher regard than that of a citizen. Unfortunately, this favors dishonest officers. Many of us have seen videos that contradict statements made by such officers. It’s a sad reality that citizens (especially ones in a minority) need to protect themselves from some of those sworn to serve and protect us.
Confrontation was not Eli’s motivation for recording his rides. In fact, his motivation was quite the opposite:
When I originally bought my Oregon Scientific ATC5K sport video camera, it was because I wanted capture footage of my bike rides for educational videos. I had seen videos from John Allen, Dan Gutierrez and Brian DeSousa, and Keri Caffrey and Mighk Wilson, and I wanted to do something like they had done. I wanted to show my community our local roads from a new perspective. I wanted to show them that there was no reason to be afraid of motor traffic on those roads, and wanted to show them the benefits of an assertive position, and the absence of the danger that many imagined.
A month after I bought the camera it was seized by Mitchell Kuc, and I was made to feel insecure traveling alone. The camera did come in handy in documenting the encounter. (Eli Damon, On-Bike Video Project, June 23, 2012)
Eli wants to prove a point? At great expense to himself, he is not seeking monetary damages for the harassment, humiliation, unwarranted confiscation of his property or curtailment of his ability to travel—a violation of his civil rights. He is simply seeking the ability for himself and other bicyclists to travel safely on public roadways without continued threat of police interference and harassment. That’s quite a point.
Common Ignorance of Bicycle Safety
Common sense is that which tells us the world is flat. — Stuart Chase
It may not be commonly understood, but as many of our educated and informed readers know, Lane Control is a vital safety skill that cyclists use to improve vantage and visibility and significantly reduce conflicts. Unfortunately, the editor did not see fit to look into why Eli might believe so fully in riding in a visible and predictable manner. Instead, the assumptions and bizarre conclusions set in: “If [Neiman’s ruling] had supported Damon’s claim riders can use the middle of a travel lane, people would get hurt. Even if lawful, it wouldn’t be safe.”
Sadly, the media platform allows the writer to set an authoritative tone to common ignorance and misconception. Since the editor could not be bothered to search out these claims of safety, I’ve collected a few pieces to bring the editor up to speed:
The editor’s conclusion that the ruling did not support a bicyclist’s right to use the middle of the lane is wrong. In his ruling, Judge Neiman wrote that “Massachusetts law requires a slower-traveling bicyclist to pull to the right to allow a faster-traveling motorist to pass when it is safe to do so under the circumstances.”
The implication of that statement is that bicyclists are not required to ride right by default: they must only move right under certain conditions. While it is, in a sense, a victory to have a federal judge acknowledge the validity of lane control, the editor’s misinterpretation of the ruling demonstrates the same prejudicial misunderstanding that has led to this case in the first place. Therein lies the problem.
In many conditions it is unsafe, or impossible, for a bicyclist to move far enough right so that a motorist does not have to use a significant portion of the adjacent lane to pass. At that point, there is little difference to the motorist versus just changing lanes. Does the bicyclist still need to move right for show? Does the bicyclist have the autonomy to make that decision? Must he repeatedly defend that decision to the police and courts of law?
Who decides when and what is safe?
Our roadways are a cooperative system. In our daily interactions, most road users cooperate with each other in a civil manner — facilitating each other to enter or leave the roadway, make lane changes and pass more easily if we are considerably slower. We also cooperate by discouraging or mitigating each other’s mistakes to prevent crashes. Actual crashes are a mere fraction of the potential crashes that never happen because one party compensated for the mistake of another.
But what is cooperation? It seems to mean different things to different stakeholders. The law is vague on this matter — as it should be — because cooperation cannot be legislated or mandated, especially when it concerns decisions which affect safety.
The bicycle, because it is both narrow and slow, creates a complex problem for the concept of cooperation. The bicyclist’s vehicle provides no shell or buffered space around him. Therefore, the bicyclist must rely upon, or proactively encourage, the drivers of other vehicles to allow a buffer of space when passing. Lane control is an effective tool for proactively discouraging the common mistake of passing dangerously close. In addition, the narrowness presents the problem of being invisible or irrelevant — often overlooked by drivers making conflicting movements; this is a problem that is common to, and well understood by, motorcycle drivers. Lane control makes bicyclists more visible and provides them with vantage to see potential conflicts and compensate for the mistakes of others. But that same narrowness, coupled with slow speed, leads to the prevailing assumption that bicyclists should, by default, squeeze to the edge to facilitate faster traffic — even when that eliminates their ability to compensate for— and prevent—the mistakes of other drivers.
The Burden of Car-Centric Prejudice
Unlike many states, Massachusetts does not have a bicyclist-specific roadway-position law. However, its slow vehicle law uses vague wording for “safe operation” that leaves room for interpretation. Judge Neiman’s ruling did not clarify what is safe and who is to determine what is safe. Unfortunately, it still implies that a bicyclist can be subjected to a level of scrutiny not applied to the driver of any other vehicle.
No one would think to compel the operator of a car, or even a narrow vehicle like a motorcycle, to operate continuously at the right edge of a lane, or to move frequently back and forth to allow faster vehicles to share all or part of the lane for more convenient passing — or, in most cases, the illusion of more convenient passing. Yet, it is “common sense,” according to the Gazette Editor, to compel a bicyclist — who operates the least robust vehicle and is passed with the highest speed differentials — to do just that. This sentiment is nothing less than car-centric bigotry. It is the removal of autonomy and assignment of second-class citizenship to the drivers of a particular class of vehicle.
In reality, the language of MGL 89-2 is very old. It is a vestige of the early days of narrow, unlaned and often unpaved roads. These roads were typically crowned with steep or soft edges, making it prudent to drive in the middle of the road (not lane). As common practice was to drive in the middle, all slower drivers were required to move over to accommodate passing. The current slow vehicle law in most states (based on an updated Uniform Vehicle Code which MA did not adopt) requires the drivers of slow vehicles to operate in the rightmost thru lane (except when passing, avoiding a hazard or preparing for a left turn). This reflects current roadway design, and (absent bicycle-specific discriminatory laws) applies equally to bicycles as to other slow vehicles. Since the parts of Route 9 where Eli was stopped have multiple lanes, there is no rational reason to expect the driver of any slow vehicle to accommodate unsafe same-lane or lane-split passing, nor to operate on an intermittently-unusable, debris-filled and conflict-ridden shoulder.
The most disappointing and frustrating part of all of this is that Eli has been almost completely alone in this battle. Despite repeated pleas for assistance and advice to MassBike and the League of American Bicyclists, Eli has been turned down and ignored. The very least that these organizations could have done is publicize his case and situation. If these organizations cannot rally around someone who must use his or her bicycle on a daily basis for their sustenance, what is their basis for existence?
Currently, I Am Traffic is a loose coalition of volunteers and educators. We hope one day to be an organization with the resources to support bicyclists like Eli in the effort to allow all bicyclists safe, unhindered travel on our public roads.
I see a future where bicyclists are seen as first class road users, with the same rights and duties (as far as the rules of the road are concerned) as drivers of vehicles . In fact, I see a future where bicyclists who are traveling slower than other traffic are seen as drivers with the same right to use lanes as other drivers.
That doesn’t mean that bicycles and cars are equal, no more than cars and trucks are equal. What I mean is that the people who operate them follow the same rules of the road. For instance, in almost every state, all drivers who are traveling slower than other traffic, regardless of what vehicle they are driving, are required to use the right-hand lane. There is no such rule in those states as “If you can’t keep up, you have to stay at the right edge of the right-hand lane.” (This is not true in Europe.)
I see a future where bicyclists who are traveling at less than the speed of other traffic can use the right-hand lane, turning out occasionally where it is safe to let faster drivers pass, just like other drivers. And bicyclists who are traveling at the same speed as other traffic can use any lane, just like other drivers.
I see a future where a bicyclist using a full lane is seen as normal and reasonable, even if the bicyclist is going slower than other traffic.
I see a future where bicyclists would no longer be afraid of being intimidated, threatened, bullied, buzzed, yelled at, had things thrown at them, forced off the road, accused of being rude and cited for riding in travel lanes. And without these fears, more people would ride bicycles on the public streets and highways.
Vulnerability and risk. Statistics and ethics. Solutions or fixes. Top-down interventions or individual actions. These are the core issues in the long-running bike-lane (or cycle track)-versus-integration argument and in the book Antifragileby Nassim Nicholas Taleb (better known for his previous book, The Black Swan). Antifragile is a long and complex read, but the author managed to summarize it while metaphorically standing on one foot: “Everything gains or loses from volatility. Fragility is what loses from volatility and uncertainty.”
We know what fragile means; the characteristic of being at risk of serious harm or destruction through sudden and extreme shocks. We also have the term robust, which means something is mostly immune to sudden extreme shocks. Taleb noticed there are also things, people, and systems that improve with such shocks, which required the new term, antifragile. There is no hard line between fragile and antifragile; rather it is a continuum. Taleb explores this fragility to antifragility continuum throughout the book.
We bicyclists can’t make ourselves totally antifragile, to the extent that we can benefit from the volatility of traffic, but we can significantly reduce our fragility and become somewhat antifragile by learning to respond effectively to the many small violations we experience. These small violations are often indicators of the actual crash we’re trying to avoid. The close pass indicates the risk for the sideswipe. The right hook close call indicates the potential for a right hook collision. And so on. We cannot and will not become less fragile or more antifragile by putting most of the responsibility for our safety on government or motorists. The best way to achieve it is by changing our own behavior.
Butterflies are very vulnerable, but similar to bicyclists they have the options of movement which reduces their fragility; so much so that they have survived as species for millions of years.
Before we explore how to reduce our fragility as cyclists, it’s important to differentiate between fragility and vulnerability. A china cup is both vulnerable and fragile, we can reduce its vulnerability by protecting it with bubble wrap, but it remains fragile. It’s also useless when wrapped up in the bubble wrap. Butterflies are very vulnerable, but similar to bicyclists they have the options of movement (as well as coloration and chemistry) which reduces their fragility; so much so that they have survived as species for millions of years. (Options is a major theme of Antifragile.)
Bicyclists don’t collide with motorists because they’re vulnerable or slow; but mostly because they’re unpredictable or inconspicuous. (Please don’t misconstrue this as fault; predictability and conspicuity are relative, and of course some motorists are careless. But when we look at the data, it’s clear many — if not most — crashes can be avoided by improving cyclist predictability and conspicuity.) As cyclists, our vulnerability cannot be significantly reduced, but our fragility can. To reduce fragility we must reduce the volatility and uncertainty of our environment, and increase our options.
We must also bear in mind that we’re not in this by ourselves; motorists also need a more predictable environment, because they are also fragile. Yes, motorists are fragile – emotionally and economically. A collision with a cyclist is often damaging to a driver’s psyche or bank account, or both. Well-designed streets and adherence to well-reasoned rules reduce volatility and uncertainty for both cyclists and motorists. As cyclists our options are increased by enhancing (but not violating) the rules of the road with special strategies.
“A complex system, contrary to what people believe, does not require complicated systems and regulations and intricate policies. The simpler, the better. Complications lead to multiplicative chains of unanticipated effects. Because of opacity, an intervention leads to unforeseen consequences, followed by apologies about the “unforeseen” aspect of the consequences, then to another intervention to correct the secondary effects, leading to an explosive series of branching “unforeseen” responses, each one worse than the preceding one.”
—Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Rules Trump Laws (or at least they should)
Adding more rules will not solve the problem, because adding more rules adds points of failure. Instead of more rules, cyclists need more options to avoid the errors of others.
When it comes to rules it’s essential to understand how they relate to laws and to risk. Rules precede laws; they usually arise out of the culture out of experience and consensus. Laws often have political motives and biases; sometimes they uphold the rules, but other times they usurp them. When it comes to risk, particularly in traffic, we must recognize that rules which are violated become points of failure. (This is not always so with laws, because some laws are frivolous or not intended to reduce risk.)
The vast majority of traffic crashes — regardless of mode — happen because one or more parties violated one or more rules. What’s more, even if one party did not violate any rule, they often failed to take effective action to prevent it. I’m reminded of my early auto driving days as a teenager. I was driving along a collector street and another car was approaching from a side street. He was facing a stop sign and I wasn’t. From the passenger seat my dad mildly chastised me for not covering my brake. If that other driver had pulled out and caused a crash he would have clearly been at fault and received the citation, but it would have also been because I failed to take appropriate action. I would have failed to take an option available to me.
Adding more rules will not solve the problem, because adding more rules adds points of failure. Instead of more rules, cyclists need more options to avoid the errors of others. Our most important options are sufficient operating space and adequate line of sight. We can also learn ways to give motorists more options to avoid unnecessary conflicts with us.
So we need a traffic system with the fewest number of rules (not laws) possible, with street designs that support those rules, with the lowest volatility we can manage, and with the greatest options for all. This means we need a system based on what people do best and most naturally, not on what they do poorly or need to be nagged into doing. Many bicycling advocates are calling for systems that increase the failure points and reduce options both for cyclists and motorists.
The rules we have are based on the limits of human perception. Our eyes are at the fronts of our heads and we don’t have x-ray vision. They are also based on years of practical experience, first on open waters where boat captains needed to avoid collisions, and then on roads and streets when cart and carriage drivers needed to do the same. It was only when the industrial revolution came that cities got large enough and traffic got thick enough that the rules needed to be formalized into laws. Eventually traffic control devices were created to help manage the movements and reduce delays. For those who think the rules of the road were created for motor vehicles, note that less than 10% of urban traffic was motorized when William Phelps Eno wrote the first formal traffic codes for New York City in 1909. Eno thought cars were a fad and would be gone in a few years. He wrote his code for horse-drawn vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians, with autos, the horse-drawn and bicycles all categorized as vehicles.
The essential fairness of the rules of the road is based on the idea that all people are equal, no matter their mode. That’s why the core rule is:
First Come, First Served. You yield to the traffic in front of you because the person ahead of you in the lane was there first. Just like at the grocery store check out. You yield when entering a roadway from a driveway because the people on the road were there first. The same goes when you get to an intersection; you yield to the person who got there before you did. When changing lanes; you yield to the person who is already in that lane. Drivers yield to pedestrians who’ve entered the crosswalk because the pedestrian was there first.
Next comes Keep Right; Pass Left. We have to all agree to keep to the same side of the roadway when going in the same direction, or else it’s chaos. And we want passing to be limited to one side to minimize the amount of scanning we need to do, and because, as I noted earlier, we don’t have x-ray vision. When you pass on the right you can be hidden from view to left-turning drivers approaching from the front.
Intersection Positioning reduces the number of conflicting movements at intersections by eliminating or minimizing converging movements, instead making all movements parallel or diverging.
Yield To the Right at Intersections. If two or more drivers arrive at an intersection at the same time, they yield to the drivers to their right. Why the right? Because motorists sit at the left side of the vehicle and the line of sight is better to the right. (Roundabouts are a special case. They’re really a set of T intersections around a circle, and with the bottom of the T yielding to the top.)
Yield To On-coming Traffic When Turning Left. The purpose of this is to minimize delay and increase certainty. And as noted above, the turning driver needs to be able to see the traffic he’s supposed to yield to.
Notice that with the exception of lane changing, drivers are to yield to people who are in front of them or to the side but still ahead. Our eyes are at the fronts of our heads. Lane changing requires a rearward scan, but lane changing is only supposed to be done mid-block, not at intersections.
In earlier times there was no rule requiring slower traffic to yield to faster traffic. That would conflict with the rule of first come, first served. Today minimum speed laws are in place in many states, but they are only intended to keep drivers of motor vehicles from unnecessarily slowing other motorized traffic. If such laws are applied to bicyclists or other non-motorized users, they are no longer about equality; they are effectively fascist, favoring the powerful over the powerless.
Seeking Order; Gaining Failure Points
When we add a bike lane or cycle track to a street we effectively add new rules and violate some of the original rules. With such facilities, for bicyclists we now say:
Pass On the Right. The right rear section of a motor vehicle has the worst blind spots, but we expect drivers to check those spots with the same level of effectiveness as when they look forward or into their left side mirror.
Bike lanes discourage proper intersection positioning; cycle tracks often prohibit it. “When do I leave the bike lane to get into the left turn lane? Or should I just turn left directly from the bike lane?”
And for motorists we now say:
When Turning Right, Yield to Through Vehicles Approaching From Your Right Rear (your blind spot), while also scanning ahead for pedestrians in the crosswalk.
When Turning Left, Yield to Vehicles You May Not Be Able to See (because they’re moving toward you while hidden behind other stopped vehicles).
Motorists are often confused as to how to do intersection positioning. “Do I move all the way to the curb as I normally do, or do I stay fully in my current lane?”
So we have added new rules, which means new points of failure. What’s more, these rules are more difficult to obey because they require motorists to look back when they also need to be looking forward, and they require both cyclists and motorists be able to see through stopped vehicles. None of these new rules, or the bikeways that necessitate them, eliminate the need for adherence to any of the original rules, or eliminate the crashes caused by the violations of those rules.
Types of bicyclists and types of bicyclist behaviors.
Bicycle planners are fond of systems that attempt to categorize bicyclists into “types.” The most commonly used type system uses “A” for “experienced” adults, “B” for “novice” adults, and “C” for children. The problem with this system is it assumes certain types of behaviors and preferences for each group, but with no data to support those assumptions. A far better approach is to categorize basic types of behaviors. Some behaviors are more successful at mitigating conflicts and crashes, and some are less successful. Whether a cyclist is a 40 year old man on a $2,000 road bike or a 12 year old girl on a bike from Target is beside the point. Successful behaviors work for everyone. Unsuccessful behaviors fail for everyone. (The presumption that successful bicycle driver behavior is not achievable by novice adults or by children in an appropriate environment is demonstrably false. It’s been done.)
On the other hand, the basic behavior types are driver, edge and pedestrian. Pedestrian behavior is bicycling on a sidewalk, a sidepath, or on the roadway against traffic. Edge behavior is cycling close to the roadway edge with the flow of traffic. Driver behavior is using the roadway in the same manner as any other driver of a slower vehicle, usually in the center of a lane. It’s not a matter of whether a behavior is “right” or “wrong,” but whether it’s successful or unsuccessful for a given type of street and situation. The well-trained cyclist understands the pros and cons for each behavior.
For some strange reason, the opinions of the untrained and less experienced cyclists are held in higher regard than those of the trained and experienced ones. I know of no other activity in which that is the case.
A bicyclist whose default behavior is driver sees a bike lane or cycle track as adding volatility and limiting options. A bicyclist whose default behavior is edge or pedestrian sees a bike lane or cycle track as reducing volatility and increasing options. This is partly because he or she has little or no experience using driver behavior, and partly due to what the majority bicycling culture is saying. It also creates some cognitive dissonance on the part of the edge or pedestrian rider, because he still experiences conflicts while in the bike lane or cycle track.
For some strange reason, the opinions of the untrained and less experienced cyclists are held in higher regard than those of the trained and experienced ones. I know of no other activity in which that is the case.
“What can we say about people who studiously avoid learning from the mistakes of others?” — Taleb
There are better ways to attempt to reduce volatility and improve options that don’t involve violation of the rules of vehicular movement. The best is to reduce motor vehicle speeds in urban and suburban areas, and to limit the number of multi-lane arterials. The faster we travel the poorer our ability to track multiple conflicts and the more distance we need to react to them. Crash data from Florida shows that crash rates for all road users increase significantly when roads are widened from four lanes to six.
We can accept the superiority of bicycle driver behavior over edge and pedestrian behavior by the simple observation that people who effectively learn bicycle driving do not revert to the other behaviors as their default; driving becomes their default because it clearly works better for them (though bicycle drivers will on occasion use edge or pedestrian behavior when it serves a specific purpose.)
“Suckers try to win the argument; non-suckers try to win.”
This bike-lane-versus-integration argument has been running for 30 years at a stalemate, and statistically speaking it’s unwinnable. The argument is in essence: overtaking crashes versus other crashes. The experienced and trained bicycle driver sees the risk of the overtaking motorist as exceptionally low and the risks of turning and crossing conflicts as significantly higher. (Overtaking crashes account for no more than 10% of urban and suburban crashes, while most of the rest involve turning and crossing conflicts.) Based on direct, real world experience they see bikeways that keep cyclists along the edge of the road as increasing their risk for turning and crossing conflicts. Virtually all cyclists who predominantly use driver behavior were once edge or pedestrian riders, so they understand the difference in effectiveness based on real world experience.
Cyclists who predominantly use edge or pedestrian behavior have little to no experience with bicycle driving behavior, so they are unable to compare the effectiveness for themselves.
Advocates of bike lanes, cycle tracks and sidepaths see the risk of overtaking motorists as unacceptably high and believe the turning and crossing conflicts that bikeways create can be mitigated with better design and motorist training and enforcement. They also tie the tenuous safety benefit of bikeways to the desire to get more people on bikes, making the equally tenuous claim that getting more people on bikes will reduce the crash rate (but not the crash numbers). Cyclists who predominantly use edge or pedestrian behavior have little to no experience with bicycle driving behavior, so they are unable to compare the effectiveness for themselves.
If you’re going to trade off one risk for another, you have to first know which risk is greater. Statistically speaking, that means knowing the absolute risk in a measure such as crashes per mile or per hour of exposure. What’s more, you need to know how those risks change with different environments. For example, the risks of turning and crossing conflicts are relatively low on a high-speed rural road with few cross streets and driveways, but one could reasonably expect overtaking crashes to be a potential problem. Conversely, on a low-speed downtown street with many driveways and cross streets, turning and crossing conflicts are a significant concern and overtaking crashes are exceptionally low. Lane control greatly reduces the predominant type of overtaking crash, the sideswipe, in which motorists attempt to squeeze past cyclists within the lane. Therefor, the only type overtaking crash that lane control might not mitigate is the type in which the motorist is so seriously impaired or distracted that he or she does not see the cyclist directly ahead. Such crashes in the urban context are so rare they could be compared to being struck by lightning.
In order to measure the risk for a particular type of crash and how it might change by the type of street, you need to measure quite a few variables, and be confident you’ve measured them accurately. To put this to use, you also need to create a sound mathematical model that reliably predicts the risk for different situations.
Let’s take one type of crash – the right-hook – as an example. In order to predict how many right-hook conflicts per mile or per hour cyclists would expect if they are traveling along the edge of the roadway, we need to know:
How many cyclists travel along the street
How many motorists travel along the street
The numbers of intersections and driveways (minus the ones where there is a dedicated right turn only lane)
The number of signalized intersections
How many motorists make right turns at each intersection
The relative average speeds of the motorists and bicyclists (the closer the relative speeds, the higher the likelihood a cyclist will be in the blind spot of a motorist who’s turning right)
The percentage of motorists who check their right side blind-spots before turning right
And there may be other factors I haven’t thought of. Other turning and crossing conflicts, such as left-crosses and drive-outs, would have their own sets of necessary factors.
Similarly, to measure the absolute risk of overtaking crashes for cyclists who control their lanes we need to know:
How many cyclists travel along the street
How many motorists travel along the street
The relative average speeds of the motorists and bicyclists
The percentage of motorists who are distracted, and how long on-average their attention leaves the road
The percentages of motorists who are intoxicated and sleep-deprived
Also at issue is the relative injury severity of the two (or more) crash types. Once again, overtaking crashes might have high risk of death or serious injury on a rural road, but not on an urban street, while right hooks involving large trucks in low-speed environments have very high fatality risk. These rates are also unknown and difficult to measure.
If you cannot predict which risk is greater, then you cannot ethically restrict a person’s options for limiting their risk based on their own real world experience.
This should explain what I mean when I say the argument is unwinnable, as least from a statistical analysis standpoint. One side can argue that the overtaking risk is higher, but cannot prove it (at least not to anyone looking at the data objectively), and the same is usually true the other way. If you cannot predict which risk is greater, then you cannot ethically restrict a person’s options for limiting their risk based on their own real world experience.
A cyclist who is concerned more about overtaking motorists than about turning or crossing conflicts always has the option of biking along the roadway edge, and often has the option of using a sidewalk. He or she also has the option of controlling the lane, but either chooses not to utilize it or thinks that option is illegal or unsafe. If the lanes on an existing road are narrow and the road has no sidewalks, one could argue that options are limited for this cyclist. He has two options, neither of which he likes. But note that at this point no action has been taken by anyone in authority to change the available options. We could make the lanes wider or add sidewalks; this adds options for this cyclist, and he may or may not prefer these options.
A cyclist who is concerned more about turning and crossing conflicts has the same options as the first cyclist, and will normally choose driver behavior – until a bike lane or cycle track is provided. Now an option has been removed or somewhat restricted. Whether or not there’s a law restricting the bicyclist to the bikeway, the cyclist who avoids the bike lane in order to avoid turning and crossing conflicts gets punished, either socially (through motorist harassment) or legally (through police action). What’s more, the punishment is being doled out to the trained and experienced cyclist who is attempting to avoid a well-document conflict.
A bike lane or a cycle track is a traffic control device. According to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices:
“The purpose of traffic control devices, as well as the principles for their use, is to promote highway safety and efficiency by providing for the orderly movement of all road users on streets, highways, bikeways, and private roads open to public travel throughout the Nation.
Traffic control devices notify road users of regulations and provide warning and guidance needed for the uniform and efficient operation of all elements of the traffic stream in a manner intended to minimize the occurrences of crashes.”
Notice it doesn’t say “to make people feel comfortable and encourage them to ride bikes.” Nor does it say “support common behaviors” such as bicyclists passing on the right or riding against traffic. Are there any other traffic control devices that expert drivers believe add unnecessarily to volatility, reduce predictability, and eliminate defensive driving options?
There may be areas in which the downsides of a bikeway are very minimal and the upside is significant, such as sufficiently wide bike lanes on high-speed suburban roads, or sidepaths along high-speed rural highways. But a blanket “put in a bike lane” attitude is not a wise strategy.
Laws that eliminate or restrict defensive driving options are even worse. Bicyclists are the only vehicle drivers who (at least in most states) are put in the default position of sharing a lane side-by-side with much larger and faster vehicles. By controlling a lane we get the kind of passing clearance and protection from turning and crossing conflicts that we want, but lane control is framed in our statutes as the exceptional option, not the default option.
How Much Risk Reduction Do You Want?
Would you prefer a 40% reduction or as close to 100% as possible? Published studies comparing streets with and without bikeways vary quite a bit with their claims of crash risk reduction. For the sake of argument, 40% is fair starting point. (I’ll get to the validity of those claims in a bit.) I’ve no doubt you’d rather take the close-to-100% option if it seemed reasonable.
If you go through a Goal Zero process and ignore the most effective strategies for reasons like “people aren’t interested in that” (a common argument against expecting people to seek cycling education), you’re really saying “a 40% reduction is good enough.”
The gold standard of safety programs is the “Goal Zero” approach. With Goal Zero you look at every angle of the system, every point of failure, and strive to understand it as clearly as you can. Then you analyze all the potential strategies to reduce or eliminate those points of failure and determine which strategies are most effective. In bicyclist safety circles that’s called the “3E” approach: engineering, education and enforcement. Enforcement is just trying to ensure people do what they’ve been taught. Too often “education” itself is presented as a countermeasure, but it’s really not. Education is a way to demonstrate to people the types of behaviors that are most effective. It’s the behaviors that are the real crash countermeasures. They don’t work unless the cyclist (or motorist) uses them.
If you go through a Goal Zero process and ignore the most effective strategies for reasons like “people aren’t interested in that” (a common argument against expecting people to seek cycling education), you’re really saying “a 40% reduction is good enough.” Well-designed bicyclist training programs (such as CyclingSavvy) take the Goal Zero approach by addressing each type of conflict and using the most effective countermeasure, not the most popular one.
But I was being charitable to those bikeway studies a few paragraphs back. Their claims of crash rate reductions are highly suspect due to poor methodologies. None of the studies address cyclist or motorist behaviors. They simply look at all the crashes before and after the installation, or compare crashes on streets with and without bikeways. In order for such comparisons to be valid you have to screen out crashes that wouldn’t have been affected by the bikeway presence, such as someone running a red light or a stop sign, or a cyclist entering the roadway from a driveway, or one out at night without lights.
These studies don’t compare bikeway travel to bicycle driver behavior; they compare bikeway travel to edge and pedestrian behavior without bikeways, because those are the dominant bicycling behaviors. The full range of behavioral strategies has therefore not been studied.
Worse still, some studies have made comparisons between bikeway streets and non-bikeway streets without keeping the other street characteristics consistent. For example, in the Lusk, Furth et al study of Montreal cycle tracks, one-way, one-lane residential streets with cycle tracks were compared to two-way, four-lane commercial streets without bikeways. They also ignored crashes that might have been relevant, but we can’t tell from their paper. (They also omitted a cycle track section that was already known for a high crash rate.) Critiques of that study can be found here and here.
We also have to consider the unintended consequences scenario. If we build a bikeway that is generally believed to be safe, the proponents say, more people will come out to bike. This may well be true, but will those new cyclists keep only to the bikeways? Of course not. And will they seek out training? Not until we get serious about it as a culture. So we will have more cyclists out on all of our streets, but they are doing so with the less successful edge and pedestrian behaviors. The bikeway designs might partly mitigate the failures of edge and pedestrian behavior, but of course not on the streets without the bikeways. So it’s completely predictable that crashes would go up on non-bikeway streets compared to the bikeway streets because we’ve invited a bunch of untrained people into situations they don’t understand, and have reinforced the types of behaviors that get them into trouble to begin with. But the pro-bikeway study authors take this as validation.
The things we don’t measure are often as important, or more important, than the things we do.
“It would be nice if all of the data which sociologists require could be enumerated because then we could run them through IBM machines and draw charts as the economists do. However, not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
—William Bruce Cameron, “Informal Sociology: A Casual Introduction to Sociological Thinking”
Inhibiting people from learning better strategies is also unethical. How does a novice ever learn to reduce his own risks if training is dismissed as irrelevant or impractical and the infrastructure discourages the more successful behavior?
Bicyclists get hit by motorists while traveling in bikeways. They get rear-ended, right-hooked, and left-crossed. They also get hit by motorists driving out from driveways and cross streets. There are also crashes involving wrong-way cyclists in bike lanes. Yes, of course, these crashes also happen to cyclists who are not in bike lanes, but no-one has solid data showing they are less likely with a bike lane. It’s unethical to limit an individual’s attempts to reduce their risk if you don’t have strong certainty that you have a better strategy. Bicycle drivers know from direct real world experience – which includes all the pertinent factors, just not in the form of quantifiable data – that they have far fewer close calls involving such conflict types when they are controlling a lane than when they are in a bike lane or otherwise along the edge.
Inhibiting people from learning better strategies is also unethical. How does a novice ever learn to reduce his own risks if training is dismissed as irrelevant or impractical and the infrastructure discourages the more successful behavior? Some years ago I met a man who’d spent quite a few years living in The Netherlands. Like so many, he loved their bikeway system and raved about it to me. I didn’t argue with him about it, but just reminded him that here in Orlando you have to know how to handle yourself on roads without bikeways. He assured me he knew how to bike safely in mixed traffic. Each time I’ve seen him since he’s been cycling on a sidewalk.
We could liken bike lanes and cycle tracks to placebos. Even placebos have some positive health effect, but we would never give a placebo when the real drug was much more effective. Vaccines on the other hand work very well. They strengthen the immune system rather than attack the malady directly. Training is a vaccine; it shows the cyclist how to address the most common problems wherever she goes — not just where the government has installed a special treatment — and no-one is misleading her into thinking some other agent will handle her problems for her.
A Robust System
While we can’t make individual cyclists robust or entirely antifragile, we can do it for our overall traffic system. Our traffic system is inherently based on cooperation, but too many people are trying to treat it as though it’s a competitive one. Whether it’s the motorists-as-wild-beasts theme, the media pumping up the us-versus-them angle, or some bicycle advocates with their us-versus-them brand of activism, they are all making the system unbalanced and less effective by bolstering the competitive mentality.
Cooperation is what makes our traffic system robust. It’s what gives it safety redundancy; it’s what makes its users smarter and more effective; it’s what makes traffic flow smoothly; it’s what makes us focus on our own responsibility rather than everyone else’s; it’s what rewards successful behaviors.
Confusion (such as when the system is made too complex) confounds cooperation and feeds competition.
Cooperation is strongest within species and cultures, not between them. So “pedestrians and bicyclists as endangered species” and “bike culture versus car culture” are harmful analogies. We are all one species: homo sapiens. We are genetically and culturally guided to protect the vulnerable of our own species. Protection of the vulnerable is a far more effective driver of human cooperation than the law. A motorist who expects to see bicyclists on all roads (except freeways) and on all parts of the roadway will be more diligent in looking for cyclists than one who expects them to only be on paths or bike lanes.
If we want an antifragile system then, we need three key ingredients: simple rules, cooperation and vulnerability.
Simpler rules increase predictability.
Vulnerability combined with predictability increases cooperation.
And cooperation strengthens the rules.
It’s a virtuous cycle.
“You get pseudo-order when you seek order; you only get a measure of order and control when you embrace randomness.”
How the car lane paradigm eroded our lane rights and what we can do to restore them
Not long ago I was riding in the middle of the right-hand (slow) lane on a 4-lane urban street with parallel parking and a 25 mph speed limit. I had just stopped at a 4-way stop when the young male driver of a powerful car in the left lane yelled at me, “You aint no f***ing car man, get on the sidewalk.” He then sped away, cutting it close as he changed lanes right in front of me in an attempt, I suppose, to teach me a lesson.
That guy stated in a profane way the world view of most people today: If you can’t keep up, stay out of the way. My being in the right-hand lane and therefore “in his way” violated his sense that roads in general and travel lanes in particular are only for cars, a viewpoint that I call the car lane paradigm. The car lane paradigm conflicts with the fact that in every state of the union, bicyclists have the same rights and duties as drivers of vehicles.
So which is it? Do bicyclists have the same right to use travel lanes as other drivers or not? Before lanes existed, bicyclists simply acted like other drivers. But now that travel lanes are common, most people grow up with the car lane paradigm with bicyclists relegated to the margins of the road. This article goes into the history of how the car lane paradigm came to be and what we can do about it now.
Reading this is going to take a while, so here is an outline of where we’re going:
1897: In the beginning, bicycles were vehicles and bicyclists were drivers
1930: Bicycles are not vehicles
1911 – now: Lane lines are invented and become common
Oops, the inventors of lane lines forgot about bicycles
“Slower Traffic Keep Right” or “Slower Traffic Use Right Lane”?
What does the “or” in “right-hand lane or as close as practicable to the right” mean?
Do speed and might mean that travel lanes are actually “car lanes”?
1944: If you can’t keep up, you don’t belong (in the lane)
1968: Motorcyclists, but not bicyclists, are entitled to full use of a lane
1975: Bicycles once again defined as vehicles, but still not entitled to use of a full lane
Exceptions to the law requiring bicyclists to ride far right are better than nothing, right?
Now: No room on the road for bicycles
Bicycles at the far right and laned roads are incompatible
What do we do now?
In the beginning, bicycles were vehicles and bicyclists were drivers
In 1789, the United States Constitution delegated to the states the power of policing their own citizens, including the power to establish their own rules of the road. As it turns out, some states even allow local agencies to have their own rules of the road. Since it is impractical to go over the history of every set of rules of the road in the U.S., this article will for the most part focus on events at the national level.
As the bicycle became popular in the late 1800’s, some states and local agencies adopted laws prohibiting bicycles on their roads. By 1897 the League of American Wheelmen had successfully challenged those laws and declared in a pamphlet:
The League has made it possible for a cycler to ride the wheel on any street or highway in the United States. When the League was formed the bicycle had no legal recognition; now it is universally recognized as a carriage, and may travel with impunity wherever any carriage does. 1
Some foresighted people saw that it was necessary to formally organize the laws applying to road users into what came to be called “rules of the road.” One of the first places where rules of the road were adopted in the U.S. was New York City in 1903 2. In those first rules of the road, bicycles were defined as vehicles, the operators of which were treated the same as operators of other vehicles (most of which were horse-drawn wagons and carriages).
Many of those early rules of the road are familiar to us even today: drive on the right side of the road, slower traffic keep right, overtake on the left, don’t go faster than is safe, turn left from the center of the road, turn right from the far right, etc.
But there were variations in the rules of the road adopted by the various states and localities, which eventually led to an effort to create a model for the rules of the road for all the states and local agencies to follow. In 1926, the Uniform Vehicle Code (UVC) was created by what came to be known as the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances (NCUTLO). 3 States are encouraged to adopt the provisions of the UVC as their own, with some complying more than others.
The original 1926 UVC incorporated the victory won by the LAW when it defined a bicycle as a vehicle:
“Vehicle.” Every device in, upon or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a public highway, excepting devices moved by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks; provided, that for the purposes of (Title II of) this act, a bicycle or a ridden animal shall be deemed a vehicle.
For bicyclists, defining bicycles as vehicles was crucial, not least because two of the most important provisions of the UVC are the definitions of “highway” and “roadway,” which in turn use the term “vehicular travel”:
Section 1. Definitions
“Highway.” Every way or place of whatever nature open to the use of the public, as a matter of right, for purposes of vehicular travel. The term “highway” shall not be deemed to include a roadway or driveway upon grounds owned by private persons, colleges, universities or other institutions.
Notice that the definition of “highway” said nothing about speed, so the roads were just as open to the drivers of slower vehicles as to faster vehicles. That slower vehicles are normal was reinforced by the law requiring drivers of slower vehicles to keep right:
Section 10. Drive on Right Side of Highway.
…Upon all highways of sufficient width, except upon one way streets, the driver of a vehicle shall drive the same upon the right half of the highway and shall drive a slow moving vehicle as closely as possible to the right-hand edge or curb of such highway, unless it is impracticable to travel on such side of the highway and except when overtaking and passing another vehicle subject to the limitations applicable in overtaking and passing set forth in Sections 13 and 14 of this act.
The UVC also addressed overtaking:
Section 13. Overtaking a Vehicle.
(a) The driver of any vehicle overtaking another vehicle proceeding in the same direction shall pass at a safe distance to the left thereof, and shall not again drive to the right side of the highway until safely clear of such overtaken vehicle. (b) The driver of an overtaking motor vehicle not within a business or residence district as herein defined shall give audible warning with his horn or other warning device before passing or attempting to pass a vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
Section 14. Limitations on Privilege of Overtaking and Passing.
(a) The driver of a vehicle shall not drive to the left side of the center line of a highway in overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction unless such left side is clearly visible and free of oncoming traffic for a sufficient distance ahead to permit such overtaking and passing to be made in safety.
(b) The driver of a vehicle shall not overtake and pass another vehicle proceeding in the same direction upon the crest of a grade or upon a curve in the highway where the driver’s view along the highway is obstructed within a distance of 500 feet.
(c) The driver of a vehicle shall not overtake and pass any other vehicle proceeding in the same direction at any steam or electric railway grade crossing nor at any intersection of highways unless permitted to do so by a traffic or police officer.
Except for the now antiquated rule about giving way to the right on an audible signal (which only makes sense on rural unlaned roads), the rules for overtaking are still well understood today, at least when it comes to motor vehicles overtaking other motor vehicles. Bicycles, however, are another matter. People don’t seem to understand how the rules apply when overtaking bicycles or being overtaken by bicycles. I believe the reason has to do with the car lane paradigm, which came about after the introduction of lane lines.
As it turns out, the overtaking law was written before lane lines became commonplace, so it is not surprising that it does not address overtaking on a laned road. Indeed, it is not logical for either the reference to the “right side of the roadway” or the requirement for the driver of the overtaken vehicle to “give way to the right in favor of the overtaking vehicle on audible signal” to apply on a laned road.
Without lane lines, a wide road has room for multiple lines of vehicles (as illustrated in the recently rediscovered movie of Market Street in San Francisco in 1906), so there needed to be a provision prohibiting moving left or right unless such a move can be made with safety:
Section 18. Signals on Starting, Stopping or Turning. …(a) The driver of any vehicle upon a highway before starting, stopping or turning from a direct line shall first see that such movement can be made in safety and if any pedestrian may be affected by such movement shall give a clearly audible signal by sounding the horn, and whenever the operation of any other vehicle may be affected by such movement shall give a signal as required in this section plainly visible to the driver of such other vehicle of the intention to make such movement. (b) The signal herein required shall be given either by means of the hand and arm in the manner herein specified, or by an approved mechanical or electrical signal device, except that when a vehicle is so constructed or loaded as to prevent the hand and arm signal from being visible to the front and rear the signal shall be given by a device of a type which has been approved by the Department.
Whenever the signal is given by means of the hand and arm, the driver shall indicate is intention to start, stop, or turn by extending the hand and arm horizontally from and beyond the left side of the vehicle.
Notice that even in 1926, the UVC authors assumed that all vehicles had a left side beyond which the hand and arm could be extended and that although Section 13b required only drivers of motor vehicles to sound their horns, Section 18a required drivers of all vehicles, including nonmotorized vehicles such as bicycles and horse drawn wagons, to sound their horns, too, even though nonmotorized vehicles were not equipped with horns. Thus the original UVC authors were apparently already thinking that all vehicles were motor vehicles, a viewpoint that still exists among highway and transportation professionals today.
Bicycles are not vehicles, but bicyclists have the same rights and duties as drivers of vehicles
In 1930, the UVC authors decided that bicycles would no longer be considered vehicles and instead inserted a provision giving bicyclists the rights and duties of vehicles:
“Vehicle.” Every device in, upon or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a public highway, except devices moved by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks.
Every person riding a bicycle or an animal upon a roadway and every person driving an animal shall be subject to the provisions of this act applicable to the driver of a vehicle, except those provisions of this act which by their very nature can have no application.
This seemingly innocent change had disastrous effects on bicycling. In 1975, the NCUTLO Panel on Bicycle Laws wrote:
A bicycle is not a vehicle, but a bicyclist on the roadway has the same rights and duties as the driver of a vehicle. Too frequently judges, attorneys and police don’t accurately perceive how the provisions work together to regulate bicycles, and if these people can’t figure it out, how can the bicyclists and vehicle operators be expected to do any better? Laymen view the existing Code provisions as a bunch of “mumbo-jumbo.” 4
Excluding bicycles from the definition of vehicles has been and is being used to justify the following inequities:
Police not preparing collision reports for bicycle crashes.
Highway engineers ignoring bicycles in the design of streets and highways.
Not treating bike paths as highways. This has led to treating bike paths as though they were walkways. For instance, instead of treating a location where a bike path crosses a street or highway as an intersection, with the same rules as a locations where a street or highway crosses another street or highway, a bike path crossing is usually treated as a crosswalk. Also, a California appellate court ruled that a bike path was equivalent to an unpaved walking trail, for which public agencies have immunity from liability for injuries of bicyclists caused by negligence of their employees in the design and construction of bike paths.
In his book, Fighting Traffic, Peter Norton writes about how during the 1920s motoring interests fought and won a battle to define streets as spaces that excluded pedestrians, horses, streetcars, and bicyclists:
[B]y 1930 most street users agreed that most streets were chiefly motor thoroughfares. 5
Removing bicycles from the definition of “vehicle” was just one way of consolidating that victory. Since bicycles were not motorized, they were not considered part of the normal movement of traffic.
1917 – NOW
The invention and proliferation of lane lines
As more and more motor vehicles were used on the roads, more rules were added and new road design features were created to regulate their operation. Although bicyclists often complain about stop signs and traffic signals, I believe that the one road design feature that had more impact on bicycling than any other was the lane line.
Today, lane lines are so common that it’s hard to imagine a time when they did not exist. But just like all other traffic control devices, they had to be invented. The first documented use of a lane line was a center line installed on a rural highway in Michigan in 1911. 6 In 1917, a center line was painted on Dead Man’s Curve along the Marquette-Negaunee Road in Michigan. That highway was only wide enough for two vehicles to pass, but there was a tight curve where drivers tended to cut the curve, resulting in head-on crashes. The line worked beautifully to keep drivers on their own side of the road, and by 1940 use of lane lines was common in the U.S., not only for center lines but also to designate multiple lanes in one direction.
But what is a lane? Here is the dictionary definition:
A narrow passage, course, or track, especially a strip delineated on a street or highway to accommodate a single line of vehicles. 7
Lane width is determined by the width of the widest vehicle likely to use the street or highway, which most often is a large truck. 8 The current (2000) UVC contains the following provisions related to laned roadways:
1-147 – Laned roadway
A roadway which is divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for vehicular traffic
11-309 – Driving on roadways laned for traffic
Whenever any roadway has been divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic, the following rules, in addition to all others consistent herewith, shall apply. (a) A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from such lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety.
The requirement that a vehicle must be driven within a single lane means that a vehicle cannot occupy two lanes at the same time (except when changing lanes, of course). You would think that if one vehicle cannot occupy two lanes, then two vehicles would not be able to occupy one lane, but that’s not true. Some lanes are wide enough for two lines of traffic, such as where the lane lines are striped far enough apart for two trucks to travel side by side or where both lines of traffic consist of narrow vehicles. In such instances, a driver is expected to share a single lane side by side with other drivers (with the notable exception of motorcycles – see below).
Even so, because two cars or trucks cannot normally fit within a single lane, it is common for car and truck drivers to act as though they are entitled to a full lane. For instance, it is expected that a car driver who encounters a hazard in a lane (such as a rock) will swerve sideways within the lane without checking first for another vehicle in the same lane. And it is expected that the driver of a car or truck who encounters slower traffic will change lanes to pass.
Lanes work well to promote the orderly movement of traffic as long as all vehicles (1) go about the same speed and (2) are wide enough that only one fits in a lane at a time. Almost all motor vehicles can go fast enough to keep up, even on freeways, but some, such as motorcycles and motor scooters, are narrow enough to fit two or more side by side in a lane or to slip between lanes (called lane splitting). Even when the driver of a motorcycle or motor scooter uses a full lane, though, car and truck drivers have no grounds to complain because these smaller motor vehicles have enough power to keep up.
Oops, the inventors of lane lines forgot about bicycles
As a general rule, until lane lines were invented, bicyclists had the same rights and duties as other drivers. Just like any other vehicle, bicycles had to be driven on the right side of the road and, when slower than other traffic, had to keep right. A faster driver who could not overtake safely could honk, but if there was no place for the bicyclist to “give way to the right,” then the overtaking driver would simply have to wait until it was safe. Since most people underestimate the space a bicyclist needs for safety, the meaning of “keep right” and “give way to the right” is not always clear in the case of bicyclists.
Because a bicycle cannot generally go as fast as a motor vehicle and because a bicycle is narrow enough that a motorist can often squeeze by one (unsafely) in a normal width lane, such behavior has become expected. Therefore most people do not believe that a bicycle is entitled to full use of a lane. The result is a mismatch between the historic concept of the bicycle as a vehicle and the basic idea of a lane’s being for a single line of vehicles.
I can find no evidence that highway engineers, law enforcement officers or legislators gave any thought to how bicyclists might use lanes during the time that lane lines were proliferating. It was apparently assumed that bicyclists would be relegated to the right edge of the road and that motorists would only move far enough left to overtake them, just as they had on unlaned roads. That assumption, though, failed to address a number of questions about how bicyclists and motorists were to interact on laned roads:
What happens when a lane is not wide enough for a faster vehicle to safely overtake a bicycle within the lane?
What happens when riding far to the right means being close enough to parked cars to be “doored”?
Is it acceptable for motorists to pass bicyclists without changing lanes?
Where on a laned roadway should a slower bicyclist ride?
Is a bicyclist prohibited from moving left or right within a lane without first signaling and checking to see if the movement can be made with safety?
The answer to these questions will be addressed in the remainder of this article.
“Slower Traffic Keep Right” or “Slower Traffic Use Right Lane”?
Recall that when all roads were unlaned, slower drivers were required to keep as close to the right edge of the roadway as practicable. With the introduction of laned roads, that law was revised so that slower drivers were only required to use the right-hand lane.
But all most people know about this basic principle is the highway signs that read “Slower Traffic Keep Right”. Even the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (the bible of traffic engineering for installing signs and stripes) admits that the sign should be used where slower traffic is not using the right-hand lane:
Section 2B.30 … SLOWER TRAFFIC KEEP RIGHT Sign (R4-3)
The SLOWER TRAFFIC KEEP RIGHT (R4-3) sign (see Figure 2B-10) may be used on multi-lane roadways to reduce unnecessary lane changing.
If used, the SLOWER TRAFFIC KEEP RIGHT sign should be installed just beyond the beginning of a multi-lane pavement, and at selected locations where there is a tendency on the part of some road users to drive in the left-hand lane (or lanes) below the normal speed of traffic. This sign should not be used on the approach to an interchange or through an interchange area. 9
The idea that the speed of traffic increases in the lanes furthest from the right-hand edge of the roadway is called lane discipline, and is formalized as follows (a similar provision regarding use of the right-hand lane first appeared in 1930 but was deleted in 1934 – the current provision was added in 1948 10):
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 last sentence (which was added in 1979 through the work of Chuck Smith and the Ohio Bicycle Federation 11) makes it clear that the reason for restricting slower drivers to use the right lane on laned roads and to drive near the right edge on unlaned roads is to facilitate overtaking and not, as commonly believed, for the safety of the slower driver. After all, overtaking drivers had always been prohibited from endangering the overtaken vehicle, whether the road had lanes or not. In any case, on a laned road the overtaking driver is expected to change lanes, which, because lanes are designed to be wide enough for the widest legal vehicle, usually means there is plenty of clearance between the two vehicles.
What does the “or” in “the right-hand lane or as close as practicable to the right” mean?
There has been a lot of confusion about what the “or” in UVC 11-301(b) means. Some people mistakenly interpret the “or” to mean “and”. By this interpretation, a narrow slow moving vehicle (such as a motorcycle) would have to be driven in the right side of the right-hand lane in order to comply with UVC 11-301(b), presumably in order to facilitate passing by faster vehicles in the same lane. Since the UVC specifically grants motorcyclists the right to use a full lane (see below), a driver could get a ticket for passing a motorcyclist without changing lanes. Therefore that interpretation must be incorrect.
A correct interpretation of the “or” in UVC 11-301(b) follows this line of reasoning:
The driver of a slow moving vehicle is in compliance with the law by meeting one of two conditions:
Operating in the right-hand lane
Operating as close as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway
On an unlaned road:
The roadway does not have a right-hand lane for traffic, so condition 1 does not apply.
The roadway does have a right-hand curb or edge, so condition 2 applies.
Therefore the driver of a slow moving vehicle operating as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway is in compliance with UVC 11-301(b).
On a laned road:
The roadway has a right-hand lane for traffic, so condition 1 applies.
The roadway has a right-hand edge or curb, so condition 2 also applies.
Condition 1 is less restrictive than Condition 2.
Only the less restrictive of the two conditions needs to be met in order to comply with the law.
Therefore the driver of a slow moving vehicle operating in the right-hand lane for traffic is in compliance with UVC 11-301(b).
In 1975, the NCUTLO Panel on Bicycle Laws came to the same interpretation when it considered what would be required of bicyclists on laned roads if the provision were deleted:
UVC 11-301(b) … will effectively require bicycles to stay in the right lane (although it will not require them to stay near the right edge of the roadway) when moving slower than other traffic.
Yet most people believe that it is OK to pass bicyclists without changing lanes, even when the lane is too narrow for a bicycle a vehicle to travel safely side by side. Also, people believe that cyclists are required to stay near the edge. Why is that, and how does it affect bicycling?
Do speed and might make right?
Notice that UVC 11-301 (slower traffic use right-hand lane or as close as practicable to the right) says nothing about a minimum speed for the slower driver. Before World War II, slow vehicles were still common on the roads. Deliveries of milk and other commodities in cities were still commonly made by horse and wagon. So any prohibition against driving too slowly would have to contain exceptions:
UVC 11-804(a) No person shall drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law. 12
This law is commonly called the Minimum Speed Regulation. It was clearly not intended to prohibit slow moving vehicles from using streets and highways at all. For instance, at the time the provision was first adopted, trucks had solid rubber tires that prevented them from going as fast as cars. Now, technological advances allow trucks to go as fast as cars on level ground or downhills, although their limited power to weight ratio means that they still go slowly uphill. Clearly truckers going slowly uphill are not intentionally impeding other traffic, so the Minimum Speed Regulation is not applied to them. If it were, it would be tantamount to prohibiting trucks on uphill grades, which was clearly not the intent of the law.
Why is that same understanding not extended to bicyclists who, because of air resistance, are incapable of going as fast as cars on level ground? It is often assumed that because bicyclists are narrow they can get out of the way, and consequently that they must get out of the way.
Today it is virtually impossible to buy a motor vehicle that is incapable of going freeway speeds. That does not mean, though, that drivers of slower vehicles are no longer allowed to use the roads. In some places in Pennsylvania and Ohio, it is common to see Amish driving horse-drawn carriages. And Georgia’s Supreme Court found that the driver of corn combine going at its maximum speed of 15 mph was not violating that state’s Minimum Speed Regulation. 13
In some states, the Minimum Speed Regulation omits the word “motor” and so applies to drivers of all vehicles, including bicyclists. In one of these states, Ohio, an appellate court found that a bicyclist using a full lane was not in violation of the law. The Ohio court compared the bicyclist to the corn combine in the Georgia case:
In both cases, the vehicle was being operated at, or close to, the highest possible speed. In either case, holding the operator to have violated the slow speed statute would be tantamount to excluding operators of these vehicles from the public roadways, something that each legislative authority, respectively, has not clearly expressed an intention to do. 14
Still, many bicyclists are even today being found in violation of the Minimum Speed Regulation, even though they were traveling at or near their “highest possible speed.” Clearly, the wording of UVC 11-804(a) needs to be clarified so as not to apply to drivers of vehicles going at or near their maximum speed. For instance, bicycle advocates in Ohio recently changed that state’s Minimum Speed Regulation to explicitly say that drivers of vehicles being operated at, or close to, the highest possible speed are not impeding faster traffic.
As time went on and roads became more congested and speeds of motor vehicles increased, the number of horse-drawn vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians decreased. Some highway professionals saw that as a good thing. For instance, in 1950, Richard O. Bennett of the National Safety Council said:
The modern automobile driver resents the presence on the streets of horse-drawn vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians, despite the fact that he may have been a driver of a horse-drawn vehicle, undoubtedly was a bicycle rider, and definitely is a pedestrian whenever he finds himself on the street sans motor vehicle. He considers these with whom he must share the road as monkey wrenches in the wheels of his progress, bunkers on the clear fairways that make up our highway system. Despite his resentment, the motorist must tolerate the walker, the cyclist, and the wagon. Not only must he tolerate them, he must learn to cooperate with them, give way to them, and help make it possible for them to go their ways in safety. They cannot be removed from the highway as an engineer would remove a hazardous obstruction.
Little is known about the number of animal-drawn vehicles in service today. It is known, however, that many domestic supply companies, such as dairies, ice and fuel distributors, fruit peddlers, and brewers have found it expedient to retain animal-drawn vehicles for door-to-door deliveries in densely populated urban areas. Some farmers with prejudices against motorized equipment or for economic reasons still depend on wagons and horses to transport farm products and for other purposes. … It is most fortunate in this era of high speeds and traffic congestion that the number of animal-drawn vehicles has diminished to this extent. Were it not so, our traffic accident situation would be much aggravated. 15
Today, almost no horse-drawn vehicles use our roads. Pedestrians are accommodated on sidewalks along roads and crosswalks to cross roads. That leaves mainly bicyclists for modern drivers to resent. Where do bicyclists belong on modern roads, almost all of which are divided into travel lanes?
If you can’t keep up, you don’t belong (in the lane)
Until 1944, bicyclists on laned roads had the same lane use rights as other drivers. In that year, however, a new provision was added to the UVC requiring bicyclists to ride at the right edge of the roadway regardless of whether the road had lanes:
UVC 11-1205 – Riding on roadways and bicycle paths
(a) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right-hand side of the roadway as practicable, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction. 16
I have not been able to find any background on this addition, but we can be pretty sure that no bicyclists were involved in the discussion. The end of World War II was still a year away, and most people who would have cared were either in the service or otherwise occupied.
For those of you have spent all your life under this law, this change might seem minor, but denying bicyclists the right to use travel lanes like other drivers is actually the biggest legal challenge to bicycles using roads that has ever happened in the US.
Notice the similarity between the wording of this provision and the second half of UVC 11-301(b). The driver of a vehicle moving slower than other traffic has the option of either using the right-hand lane, or, if none, driving as far right as practicable. What UCV 11-1205 did was to deny all bicyclists, not only those moving slower than other traffic, the option of using the full right-hand travel lane.
Basically, this law requires bicyclists to ride “Far to the Right” (FTR), even if the road has lanes. What the FTR law did was to create a third class of road user. Before, there had been only two classes: drivers and pedestrians. But now a new class of bicyclist was created, one without the rights of either drivers or pedestrians. The UVC had clear and well-understood rules for drivers and pedestrians, but bicyclists were treated like drivers of vehicles except they were denied the right to full use of travel lanes like other drivers.
The UVC therefore gave bicyclists the superficial appearance of being drivers, but without the right to use travel lanes like drivers. Although a travel lane is intended for a single line of vehicles, bicyclists were told that they could not use travel lanes like real drivers. Bicyclists were told they had to ride at the right edge and if they strayed from the edge, they were doing so at their own peril. Bicyclists were now officially second-class road users.
The UVC gives no reason for this new restriction on bicyclists, and I have been unable to find any from other sources. But what I have found about the FTR laws in a couple of states give clues. New York’s FTR law says that its purpose is to “prevent undue interference with the flow of traffic.” 17
And when California adopted its FTR law in 1963, the California Highway Patrol, which sponsored the legislation, wrote a memo to the governor requesting his signature with this reasoning:
This will enable the development of a more effective safety program when the youngsters can see the simple and clear cut rules they are to obey. 18
In effect, the CHP was saying that the ordinary rules of the road were too complicated for “youngsters” (there were virtually no adult cyclists at the time) to obey. In reality, the result of the new provision has been the exact opposite of being “simple and clear cut,” a fact that was illustrated in an educational film from the 1950’s warning children of the danger of riding next to a right turning car, inviting what came to be known as a right hook. It was not until a large number of adults began bicycling during the “bike boom” of the early 1970’s that the actual effect of the new provision became clear. 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. 19
Despite the widespread misperception that it is dangerous for bicycles to mix with motor vehicles (as well as the desire to facilitate overtaking by faster traffic), what the proponents of this new provision apparently did not realize was that relegating bicyclists to the edge of the road increased the risk for the following types of crashes:
Driveway and intersection pull-outs
Sideswipes and rear ends during overtaking maneuvers
Door zone crashes
Road edge hazards
I was one of the new adult bicyclists who started bicycling during the “bike boom” of the early 1970s, and soon thereafter became involved in bicycling advocacy. During one of my first organized rides, I recall a group of us approaching a red traffic signal when one rider started to pass some stopped cars on the right. I distinctly remember a more experienced rider yelling, “Never pass a right turning car on the right!” That was my first exposure to the possibility that bicyclists need not expose themselves to unnecessary danger by hugging the curb.
Motorcyclists, but not bicyclists, are entitled to full use of a lane
The NCUTLO took a very different approach to motorcyclists and travel lanes. On an unlaned road, of course, any driver, including a motorcyclist, who is traveling slower than other traffic is required to drive as far right as practicable. But since a motorcycle is narrow, the question arises about whether a motorcyclist is entitled to full use of a lane.
In 1968 the NCUTLO decided to grant motorcyclists the full use of lanes by adopting this provision:
UVC § 11-1303 – Operating motorcycles on roadways laned for traffic
(a) All motorcycles, other than mopeds, are entitled to full use of a lane and no motor vehicle shall be driven in such a manner as to deprive any motorcycle of the full use of a lane. This subsection shall not apply to motorcycles operated two abreast in a single lane.
(b) The operator of a motorcycle shall not overtake and pass in the same lane occupied by the vehicle being overtaken. This subsection shall not apply to a motorcyclist passing a bicycle, to the driver of a moped, nor to a police officer in the performance of the officer’s duties.
(c) No person shall operate a motorcycle between lanes of traffic or between adjacent lines or rows of vehicles. This subsection shall not apply to police officers in the performance of their duties.
(d) Motorcycles shall not be operated more than two abreast in a single lane. 20
Lane position is important to motorcyclists – so much so that it is taught in training classes. Since many law enforcement officers are also motorcyclists and have undergone that training, they understand how important full use of a lane is for motorcyclists. These law enforcement officers know that it would be silly to expect a slow moving motorcyclist to use the right edge of the right lane.
The contrast with bicycles is notable. Even though bicycles are lighter and less robust than motorcycles, the NCUTLO believed that motorcyclists, but not bicyclists, should be entitled to use a full lane, meaning that bicyclists did not deserve the same protections as motorcyclists.
Bicycles once again defined as vehicles, but still not entitled to use of a full lane
In 1975, the NCUTLO Panel on Bicycle Laws made two major recommendations: that bicycles be defined as vehicles and that the bicyclist-specific FTR law be repealed. The panel considered but rejected a proposal to extend the provision entitling motorcyclists to use the full lane to bicyclists. The full NCUTLO accepted the recommendation to define bicycles as vehicles but decided to leave in place the bicyclist-specific FTR law. This was another disaster for bicyclists.
Due to the way the UVC had developed over the years, changing the definition of vehicle to include bicycles was not simple. Numerous other changes had to be made to provisions related to things like sidewalk bicycles, criminal and civil liability, etc. Perhaps due to the complexity of changing their laws, few states have followed suit, so little has actually changed as a result. Even in states that do define bicycles as vehicles, roads are still seen as motor thoroughfares and bicyclists as interlopers. That experience has made it clear that even though changes in the law are necessary for bicyclists to be seen as legitimate users of the road, such changes are not sufficient. It has been so long since bicycles were defined as vehicles that it will take a lot of effort for highway engineers, law enforcement officers, judges, and the public to see bicycles once again as vehicles.
The discussion among the panel members came down to these opposing viewpoints:
Some members of the Panel expressed concern that a bicycle could ride anywhere in the right lane, and that where this is the only lane available, this would hold up traffic unnecessarily. Others noted that such an obstruction is no more than any other slow moving vehicle would cause when there is only one lane for the direction of traffic, and that the bicyclist should have no greater duty to pull over than any other driver of a slow moving vehicle. Most bicyclists will pull over as far as they think is reasonable and safe. They will not maliciously obstruct traffic, even though the law may entitle them to do so, because they are very much unprotected and they are unlikely to thumb their noses at several tons of steel kicking at their heels. Nevertheless, it should be left to the bicyclist to determine when he should pull over on the basis of his perception of what is safe and reasonable. If he has a good reason for not pulling over, he should be allowed to stay out in the lane, and the law should not suggest to other drivers that they have a legal right to substitute their judgment for the bicyclist’s and demand that he pull over.
Unfortunately, during the meeting of the full NCUTLO in November 1975, the viewpoint opposing the deletion of the bicyclist-specific FTR provision prevailed.
The proposal to extend the provision entitling bicyclists to use of the full lane did not even make it through the bicycle panel:
Motorcyclists are entitled to the use of a full lane and can’t lawfully be passed within that lane. Shouldn’t bicycles have the same right? The difference, of course, is potential speed — the motorcycle can keep up with traffic while the bicycle often cannot. One Panel member nevertheless favored the motorcycle rule for bicycles. Where speed differential is high there is even greater need for vehicles to leave the lane to pass a bicycle. When they pass too close it creates a vacuum which makes control of the bicycle difficult. Others noted that the Code requires passing at a safe distance, and that there are lots of conditions under which cars can pass bicycles safely in the same lane, such as where the car is small and the lane is wide. The Panel decided to recommend no change.
So, the decision made in 1975 was that even though bicycles are vehicles, bicyclists themselves are not entitled to the same right to use of a full lane as drivers of vehicles are.
Exceptions to the FTR law are better than nothing, right?
With the failure of the attempt to delete the bicyclist-specific FTR provision, attention next turned to clarifying what was meant by having to ride “as near to the right-hand side of the roadway as practicable”. In 1979, the NCUTLO decided to adopt amendments intended to clarify the FTR law. These amendments had originally been developed by the California Statewide Bicycle Committee in 1974 and became law in January 1976.
I was one of many bicycling advocates who took part in that effort. Our intent was to make it clear when bicyclists were not required to ride at the edge. Here is what we came up with:
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 motor vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.
4. When riding in the right-turn-only lane. [Added in 2000.]
This time, the NCUTLO documented the reason for the change:
The proper position for a bicyclist on a roadway has been misunderstood by bicyclists, police officers, and judges. There clearly is a need for a special rule to replace the inadequate description designed for motorists in UVC §11-301(b). The 1979 revision closely follows an earlier change in the laws of California which was based on a study of its laws. 21
The opinion that UVC § 11-301(b) is intended for motorists is a mystery, as the 1975 NCUTLO Panel on Bicycle Laws had clearly described the intent in its report.
Although the exceptions should have clarified the situations when bicyclists were not required to ride as far right as practicable, that fact is not well known. Until this year, for instance, the CHP Redi-Ref guide only mentioned that there were exceptions to the FTR law without actually listing them. 22 And a police captain told me a couple of years ago that bicyclists can never “stray” from the right edge of the roadway. All across the country, bicyclists who do stray from the right edge of the roadway are being cited and convicted. Thus our efforts to lessen restrictions on bicyclists’ lane use rights failed.
No room on the road for bicycles
Like millions of other children, I was taught to ride my bicycle at the right edge of the road. When I started riding seriously as an adult, I continued to ride the same way. I simply accepted the commonplace thinking that bicycles should not mix with cars and that I should stay as far from cars as possible. Thus when I started my bicycling advocacy, I remember thinking, “I need to do something about the fact that there’s no room on the road for bicycles.”
That attitude wasn’t always commonplace. When bicyclists won equal access to all roads in the 1890’s, they weren’t worried whether there was enough room on the road for bicycles. Since roads were built for carriages and wagons, every road had plenty of room for bicycles. All vehicles were governed by the same rules of the road, including the requirement for slower vehicles to be driven near the right-hand edge of the road. Bicyclists weren’t affected much by that law, since they were usually faster than the horse-drawn vehicles which dominated the roads at the time. But as motor vehicles became popular, bicycles went from being the fastest vehicles on the road to the slowest, and so were relegated to the right edge most of the time. But then, lanes were invented and shortly thereafter bicyclists were denied the right to use them. Despite the introduction of the exceptions to the bicyclist-specific FTR law, most people today believe as I once did, that bicyclists cannot stray from the right edge of the road. Indeed, most people believe that bicycles should never mix with motor vehicles at all.
With the exceptions added to UVC § 11-1205 being largely unrecognized, where are we? Edge riding leads to close passes (what some people call being buzzed), which is scary. And many crashes result between edge riding bicyclists and passing motorists, some leading to the death of the bicyclist. But bicyclists who ride in the travel lane are resented by motorists, who sometimes bully the bicyclist, as in my story at the beginning of this article. The danger of riding at the edge and the fear of bullying have made bicycling relatively rare in most places in the US. Most people believe, like I once did, that there is “no room on the road for bicycles”.
The reasons given for requiring bicyclists to ride at the right edge were bicyclist safety and to facilitate passing by faster traffic. Inevitably, as they got older, children stopped using bicycles for transportation and once they got a driver’s license, never bicycled for transportation again.
For their part, highway professionals in the U.S. never thought much about building roads to accommodate bicyclists riding at the edge (or anywhere else, for that matter). Their design vehicle was a large truck, but they gave no thought to how the roads would accommodate bicyclists. Today, roads are built as though they were motorways, with high speed limits, multiple lanes, widely spread intersections, and high speed merges and diverges. No wonder people believe that roads are for cars. Traffic law already requires slower drivers to use the right lane, but bicyclists don’t even have that right.
If a road has a paved shoulder or a bike lane or a sidepath or a sidewalk, then is a bicyclist who chooses to use a travel lane guilty of impeding faster traffic? A court in Texas found that a bicyclist using a travel lane on a high speed rural highway with what some people said was a “perfectly rideable shoulder” was guilty of reckless driving. 23
Keri Caffrey and Dan Gutierrez have written:
Cyclists inadvertently, or forced by the combination of ill-conceived infrastructure and/or discriminatory laws, make it more difficult for motorists to do the right thing. The resulting conflict creates the animosity between cyclists and motorists with both thinking the other careless and stupid. 24
Is the FTR law discriminatory against bicyclists? When I ask this question of law enforcement officers, they insist that the FTR law is attribute-based, as though bicyclists were always slower than other traffic and that other narrow slow moving vehicles also had to drive at the right edge of the road. But what other slow moving vehicles are there these days? Horses have disappeared, and virtually all motor vehicles are capable of freeway speeds. What the law enforcement officers are expressing is a prejudice in favor of faster motor vehicles, and that because bicyclists are narrow and can safely (in their view) get out of the way, that’s what they must do in order to facilitate the movement of faster vehicles.
What the law enforcement officers don’t realize is that such FTR thinking is incompatible with the whole idea of travel lanes.
FTR thinking and laned roads are incompatible
FTR thinking permeates every aspect of bicycling on public streets and highways. What follows is a listing of what happens when bicyclists engage in FTR thinking:
Overtaking slower traffic on the right
Creating two lines of traffic in one lane
Being hidden from opposing left-turning drivers
Inviting motorists to overtake without changing lanes
Inviting motorists to overtake on the left before turning right
Riding in the door zone where parking is permitted, otherwise in the gutter
Riding through surface hazards
Making left turns from the right edge of the road
Jumping onto the sidewalk and riding in the crosswalk to overtake stopped or slow vehicles
Bikes May Use Full Lane signs
Shared lane markings (sharrows)
Share the Road signs
Two-stage left-turn queue boxes
Teaching children to ride FTR
Treating bicyclists as though they were incapable of learning or following the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles
Teaching people that being hit from the rear is the greatest danger
Thinking of travel lanes as “car lanes”
Thinking of roads as being intended only for cars
Citing bicyclists who stray from the right-hand edge
Citing bicyclists for delaying faster traffic
Forcing bicyclists who use a full lane to justify their choice
Failure to cite bicyclists and motorists for violations that are the major causes of bicycle collisions
Assigning fault for collisions to cyclists on the grounds that they were too far from the edge
Not assigning fault to motorists for going too fast for conditions
Not assigning fault to motorists for overtaking without enough clearance
The bicycle-specific FTR law itself
3-foot passing laws
Making use of shoulders mandatory
Making use of bike lanes mandatory
Making use of sidepaths mandatory
Prohibiting bicyclists from roads that do not have separated bicycle facilities
If bicyclists don’t feel that they have the same right to use lanes as drivers of vehicles, then why should they feel like they have the same duties as drivers of vehicles? That kind of rationalization leads to the following unlawful behaviors:
Riding the wrong way
Running stop signs
Not stopping for red lights
Not yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks
Not using lights at night
FTR thinking causes bicyclists to act like victims and not to be aware of how their own behavior affects their risk. Bicyclists don’t know what the real risks are or how to avoid them, leading to a misjudgment of the actual risks and to the following types of collisions:
FTR thinking distorts the way that bicyclists and motorists think of courtesy:
Bicyclists using travel lanes are viewed as being rude
Bicyclists see courtesy as being more important than their own safety
FTR thinking reduces bicyclist use of high speed or high traffic roads
FTR thinking leads bicycle advocates to:
Refer to general purpose travel lanes as “car lanes”
Think of being pro-bicycle as the same as being pro-separation
Promote bicycle facilities that are inconsistent with the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles
Finally, FTR thinking has resulted in many, if not most people growing up with the belief that roads are for motor vehicles. Roads for motor vehicles do exist, of course – they are what Americans call freeways or tollways and Europeans call motorways. But FTR thinking causes highway engineers to treat conventional streets and highways (on which bicycle travel is explicitly permitted) as if they were motorways (on which bicycle travel is explicitly prohibited).
It is now generally accepted that if bicyclists cannot keep up, then both for their own safety and for the good of society they must either ride at the right edge of the road or on the sidewalk or bike path – or not at all. It is as if every street and road is a motorway, with the understanding that bicyclists are tolerated only as long as they stay out of the way of “real” traffic. The victory that the LAW celebrated in 1897 was for bicyclists to use the roads the same as other drivers, but once bicyclists were denied the right to use travel lanes like drivers of other vehicles, they were no longer a “normal” part of traffic.
What do we do now?
Suppose there were a law that required bicyclists to endanger and inconvenience themselves for the benefit of drivers in faster vehicles.
Well, there is such a law – it’s the FTR law requiring bicyclists to ride as close as practicable to the right edge of the roadway. And we do have bicyclists who accept that law and routinely ride much further to the right than is practicable. And we do have motorists and police officers and judges and legislators who see that system as just.
But there’s also a law that says bicyclists have the same rights and duties as drivers of vehicles. If drivers of other vehicles who are traveling slower than other traffic don’t have to drive at the right edge of the right lane, then why should bicyclists? That contradiction within the laws needs to be addressed.
The FTR law has led to a dysfunctional set of beliefs related to bicycling. Keri Caffrey writes:
Beliefs are the number one impediment to cycling. The belief that it is too dangerous. The belief that it is too difficult. The belief that human beings driving different types of vehicles can’t coexist on unadulterated roads.
The belief was created by motordom in the 1920s, has been the dysfunctional doctrine of “safety material” for almost a century, and now is being perpetuated by shortsighted bike advocates in the name of getting more asses on saddles. 25
The FTR law needs to be repealed in order to once again give bicyclists the same rights and duties as other drivers. Unfortunately, since that law has been on the books longer than most of the readers of this article have been alive, most people see the law as normal and reasonable. But it is not. It is the result of the mistaken idea that bicyclists cannot control travel lanes. Not only is the idea that bicyclists cannot or should not control travel lanes responsible for the FTR law, it is also responsible for low mode share. FTR thinking leads to the belief that bicyclists controlling travel lanes is somehow rude or more dangerous than riding at the edge of the road or on the sidewalk.
Along with repealing the FTR law, we need to encourage cities, counties and states to design roads and to install traffic control devices that recognize bicyclists as having full lane use rights. Instead of designing only for fast motor vehicles, highway engineers need to design streets and highways for a variety of speeds. On all streets and highways where bicycling is permitted, we need squared-off intersections that encourage motorists to drive more slowly and yield to bicyclists instead of high speed ramps that discourage yielding to slower bicyclists. Instead of the Share the Road sign, we need to expand use of the Bikes May Use Full Lane sign. Instead of shared lane markings (what some people call sharrows) in the gutter or in the door zone, we need them in the middle of the lane.
Also, along with repealing the FTR law, we need better education. For instance, instead of telling children to stay out of the way of cars, we need to teach them how to interact with motorists as drivers of vehicles. By teaching school children how to drive their bicycles in traffic, they will have a jump start on learning how to drive cars better when they grow up.
But the first step is repealing the FTR law. As long as the FTR law is on the books, bicyclists will continue to be marginalized and denied full lane use rights.
The following story is a speech given May 7, 2013 by Michie O’Day at the Active Communities Conference in Waterville, Maine.
I am honored to publish it here with her permission. Michie is an inspiration to me and a heroic example of what it means to be antifragile. Her journey on the tricycle confirms everything we are trying to do here at I Am Traffic—from education, to legal equality and informed law enforcement to inclusive facility design.
Recreational Opportunities for People With Disabilities (breakout session)
Today I’m going to tell you how I became disabled and how I make the most of it. I hope you’ll see that despite the hurdles, I’m an active and contributing member of my community. What I want is for you to return to your communities – all fired up to include more people like me – so that together we can enhance both the social and economic well-being of Maine’s cities and towns.
First, some background.
I wasn’t always the way you see me today. My deafness and trouble walking stem from a rare genetic condition known as neurofibromatosis. I’ll repeat that for you. neuro-fibroma-tosis. Let’s call it NF. There’re several strains of it. I have the one known as NF2 – which means that I grow benign tumors in my brain and around my spinal cord. I was diagnosed with this when I was 26 years old. Since that time I’ve had too many MRI scans to count, radiation treatment and 6 major neurosurgeries for a total of 36.5 hours on the operating table. I consider this bragging rights, but I’m determined not to let it become a way of life for me.
Fortunately, I’m optimistic, and I’m pragmatic. So when my hearing went kaput in my 39th year and I had to give up my career in nonprofit fund raising, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I seized the opportunity to follow my heart and start fresh as a painter in Stonington, Maine – which I loved even more.
Balance has been an issue since my first neurosurgery when I had a tumor removed from my acoustic nerve 30 years ago. As a result, I became deaf in one ear and my vestibular function was compromised. I had to give up skiing and cycling at that time. There were other losses and adjustments along the way, but things didn’t get bad until 2008, when further neurosurgery left me with a paralyzed right leg. Wasn’t supposed to happen. With a lot of work and rehab, I was able to regain most of the use of that leg – and I was glad to get out of a wheelchair. But recovery wasn’t 100%, and power walks – which I’d loved since I was a teenager – are now only a memory. Today, I use trekking poles – or sometimes a walker – to make sure that I stay upright.
Three years ago when it was clear that my poor coordination was affecting my driving, I gave that up and got rid of my car. Stonington is simply the most beautiful place on earth, and I’d be there still, but it’s remote and not a good place to live without a car. So I moved to Portland, and that’s where my cycling story begins….
I used to walk past Gorham Bike & Ski on my way to the Rite Aid store on Congress St. One sunny day almost two years ago as I was plodding along with my walker I looked at all the shiny new bikes in the window and thought, “Hmmmmm…. I wonder if they sell trikes for grown-ups?” Then I thought, “Nah… even if they do, it would be expensive and I’m still recovering from moving costs.” So I kept walking. I got about 10 feet past the shop….stopped. Turned around and went back. It couldn’t hurt to ask.
Fast forward about six weeks, and – thanks to a generous friend – I’m riding home from the shop on my brand new Sun EZ Tadpole 21-speed Recumbent Trike. I cannot describe my excitement to you! It’s great fun to ride – like a go cart, only better – and it’s something I can DO! After giving up skiing, snow-shoeing, swimming, hiking, cycling, power walking… the trike opened up a whole new world for me. It was so wonderful, that I upgraded to an ICE trike last summer. ICE stands for Inspired Cycle Engineering, and they do make beautiful trikes. I named mine Ruby, and she’s simply the best….
But cycling gives me more than just gratification…. I’ve made wonderful friends through my adventures. The guys at my bike shop are tops – and have come to my rescue when I had a flat tire. Some of you may know Fred Robie and John Brooking – leaders in the cycling community and friends & mentors to me. Paul Niehoff and Jim Tasse, who will lead bike audits later today, went to bat for me last year when I had a little run in with the police. As civic leaders, this incident might be of interest to you. Here’s what happened:
I explained that I’m deaf and couldn’t understand what he was saying. He was still agitated. I remained calm on the outside, but inside I was shaking. Probably because his holster and gun were in front of my nose
I was cycling home from Higgins Beach (south of Portland)… happily pedaling along Highland Avenue, which is a main road that goes through some nice farmland and rural areas in Scarborough. That section of the road has a paved shoulder, but it’s not marked as a bike lane. It was sandy and cluttered with recycling containers, so I was riding in the right portion of the travel lane. Cars had to pass me carefully, and a few did. No big deal. Traffic was light that day.
Next thing I know, there’s a car pulled up beside me and the driver had slowed down to my speed. I look over… It’s a police car. His lights are flashing, including the red light on top. If his siren was going, I didn’t hear it. (I don’t hear anything.) But I saw that the passenger window was open and the cop driving the car was looking at me and yelling. I pulled over and stopped. The patrolman stopped his car in the middle of the travel lane, lights still flashing of course. He got out, ran around the his car, stood in front of me and started shouting at me again.
I explained that I’m deaf and couldn’t understand what he was saying. He was still agitated. I remained calm on the outside, but inside I was shaking. Probably because his holster and gun were in front of my nose…. Through pointing and gestures, he made it clear that I was supposed to be riding IN the shoulder lane, and that no part of my 36”-wide trike should be in the travel lane.
I said no, that was not correct and that I had a legal right to use the roadway. Thanks to CyclingSavvy, which I’ll tell you more about in a minute, I knew what I was talking about. But he wasn’t buying. He continued to insist and I continued to refute.
Eventually, two other cyclists rode by. I flagged them down to help. They stopped and talked to the patrolman. Soon enough everyone calmed down, and I rode on home.
End of story? Absolutely not. As far as I was concerned the unpleasant incident was over, but I saw two important training opportunities and wanted to make sure that both happened. I wrote a letter to the police chief who agreed to meet with Jim and Paul to discuss Maine state laws for cyclists.
Isolation is one of the biggest challenges of disability. While my art gives me another means of communication, cycling gets me out there and involved – part of the world.
The other issue, which was equally important to me personally, and which I am qualified to address, is how to identify a hearing impaired person and communicate with them effectively. A few weeks later, I was able to address a staff meeting of the Scarborough Police Department on these topics. My presentation was only 15 minutes long, but that’s all it needed to be. I made my point.
Back to the big picture…. Frankly, isolation is one of the biggest challenges of disability – especially for me due to the combination of deafness and mobility issues. While my art gives me another means of communication, cycling gets me out there and involved – part of the world.
Personal independence is another challenge of disability. I gotta tell ya, I love doing my own grocery shopping on my trike and coming home with two big bags of groceries in my rear baskets. It’s great to be able to shop or go out to lunch on my own schedule, get some exercise, and contribute to Portland’s economy. So yes, it may take an entire morning for me to do something that most of you can do in a few minutes… But I do it because I can.
So what do I wish for? This is where you come in.
I want to be able to cycle safely on roads and designated bike paths. This means better signage & road markings.
I want better education for both cyclists AND drivers. This includes – but is certainly not limited to – bike-law education for law enforcement officials.
I want standards and best-practices, so that planners and engineers can design roads and bike lanes that are consistent with the rules of traffic movement and safety.
And, I want these lanes & paths to be safe and accessible to all – not just to those who ride bikes but also those us who ride trikes.
A good example is the Eastern Trail, south of Portland. It’s a lovely trail… especially that stretch through the Scarborough Marsh. But the bollards – those yellow posts to keep out the bigger vehicles – are too close together for my trike. When I took the trail to Old Orchard Beach last fall, my companion had to lift the 40 lb. trike over the posts so I could continue on the ride. Otherwise, I would’ve had to turn around and go back home. What a disappointment that would have been!
Last, I’d love for more people who can no longer ride a bike – for whatever reason – to discover trikes. I want company! As you heard from Eric, Maine Adaptive has an excellent program for that. I ride with them in the summer. It’s great to go with a group at my speed. I only wish they rode more often and went more places.
I want to suggest some resources for you.
If you’re not familiar with the Bike Coalition of Maine, they’re here today. The Coalition is a highly effective organization, and a strong advocate for cyclists.
And there’s a new organization being formed, whose working name is I Am Traffic. Their mission is education, and their vision is a world where motorists expect to see cyclists on the road and consider them a normal part of traffic. Likewise, cyclists ride responsibly, making their movements and intentions visible to drivers.
I’ve got brochures from all three of these resources for you. And I have my own brochures too. They include my website address if you’d like to see my paintings.
So, as you can see, cycling has done many good things for me. It’s made me stronger physically. That’s no small thing for a person with my medical history. It’s made me more independent. I love not owning a car and using my trike to get to the beach or store and other places I want to go. And, it’s led to new friendships. When communication is challenged by deafness, it takes time to meet new folks and some friendships never gel, but a shared passion for cycling is a nice basis for mutual respect and support.
I want to conclude by sharing my outlook with you. To counter each loss caused by NF, I’ve always sought to benefit — to learn from it and to become a better, stronger, and more loving person for it. With deafness, the benefit was easy: my art. With the mobility loss in 2008, it was harder, and I’m still coming to terms with that. But I can tell you this: If I could still take my long, brisk walks, I never would have ventured into Gorham Bike and Ski asking about trikes.
For years I’ve said when I’m painting I’m not deaf. Now I can add: when I’m cycling, I’m not disabled. When I’m cycling I feel a sense of freedom and empowerment that I haven’t known in years….. I’m out there, a part of nature, and alive.
The reason I’m willing to stand up here and speak about something as personal as my health and related challenges is because I want you to see that disabled people have much to offer. Look at us. See us. Make us a part of your world.
And if you’re on the road near Portland, and it’s a sunny day, you just might see me riding “Ruby.” Give us a wave.
Thank you for listening to me today.
You can visit Michie’s website and enjoy her paintings at michieoday.com
Cycling is a great way to spend active family time outside.
Bicycling is a popular, fun, healthy, and useful activity that people can do their entire lives. Bicycling provides low-impact exercise of variable intensity that improves health, fitness, longevity, mental focus, emotional balance, and stress levels. Traveling by bicycle is often more enjoyable and affordable than other modes, and can be more convenient where automobile parking is limited. Teaching children to travel effectively by bicycle as they get older develops patience, discipline, self reliance and personal responsibility. Learning to negotiate traffic by bicycle also teaches essential driving skills that will make them safer and more courteous motorists later.
Per hour of activity, bicycling has an injury rate similar to common sports such as soccer, and a fatality rate lower than swimming and similar to that of automobile travel. The health benefits of bicycling outweigh any health risks by an order of magnitude in terms of disability adjusted years of life. Like swimming and motoring, the safety of bicycling is determined primarily by behavior; education and skill development are key to success. As a bicyclist’s skills and maturity progress, safe bicycle travel becomes possible in an increasingly wide variety of environments. An important consideration for cycling with children is matching route selection and adult supervision to the developmental and skill levels of the child.
Children as Passengers
Many parents enjoy bicycling with children as young as one year old (when they can safely support their own weight and sit themselves upright) by using a variety of child trailers and seats. Transporting children as bike passengers allows parents to start modeling successful bicycling behavior early and helps interest children in bicycling.
Bike trailers let kids ride while you stay in control.
Enclosed two-wheel child trailers are ideal for children under four years old; the low center of gravity avoids affecting the parent’s balance on the leading bicycle, provides good handling, and minimizes the potential for a fall-related injury (the vast majority of injuries to kids cycling). Such trailers also provide room for toys and snacks inside the compartment, keeping little ones happy during the ride. Somewhat older children will prefer trailercycles, aka trailer bikes, which attach to the back of the parent bicycle and feature one wheel, a seat, handlebars, and pedals to assist with the work. These trailers require more maturity and cooperation from the child and can be more difficult for the parent to control due to the higher center of gravity. Tandem bicycles are another option, and can be configured to work for children of various sizes as long as the child can stay seated. Child carrier seats are also available, and are usually the most affordable option for transporting children. However, a child in a carrier seat can make a bicycle top heavy and difficult to control, especially when mounting and dismounting.
A tandem bicycle can be adjusted as the child grows.
Are We There Yet?
Long bike rides can be tiring or tedious for children; it’s useful to start small and break up longer trips with stops every 20 minutes or so. Planning a round trip to a destination of interest such as an ice cream shop, restaurant, or park works especially well.
Water and snack breaks keep kids happy.
Teaching Cycling to Children
The essential skills required for safe cycling can be learned through informal mentorship (e.g. knowledgeable parents or other experienced cyclists), organized classes, or a variety of media. Children can learn bicycle handling skills very quickly, but take much longer than adults to learn traffic negotiation skills due to developmental factors and are limited in what traffic situations they can handle until they reach their teens. This requires that a child’s learning objectives and cycling environment be carefully selected by the parent or educator to match the child’s cognitive development and maturity.
Basic bicycle handling includes starting and stopping, steering, riding in a straight line without swerving, looking back over one’s shoulder without swerving, and emergency braking. These skills should be taught in areas void of traffic, including other bicycle traffic.
Stopping at the Edge
Stop at the edge and scan: left, right, left
An essential traffic behavior that must be learned by children as soon as they start bicycling is to stop when they reach the edge of a driveway, path, or sidewalk. The most common cause of car-bike crashes involving children is when the child rides out from a driveway, path or sidewalk into the roadway without stopping and yielding to other traffic. Children often have “tunnel vision” that causes them to overlook or ignore threats outside their direct line of sight, and often lack the maturity to stop and look both ways when they are not aware of traffic in advance of reaching the edge.
Riding with their child affords a parent the opportunity to supervise their child’s cycling, especially at edge locations such as street crossings. Practically all bicycling trips, including greenway rides, include intersection crossings and/or entrances into vehicular areas. Parents should model consistent behavior by stopping and looking both ways before proceeding, and invite the child to assist in assessment of traffic conditions.
Kids’ enthusiasm for cycling easily outpaces their ability to understand traffic. Parents need to limit their children’s destinations and routes based on their cognitive ability and maturity.
The Sidewalk Dilemma
Although many parents and children are tempted to think of sidewalks as safe places for children to ride, traveling any distance on a sidewalk inevitably results in crossing intersections and driveways or crossing roadways mid-block. Such movements are associated with the most common collision types for child bicyclists, in part because of children’s errors, but also because motorists are less likely to notice bicyclists entering their path from sidewalk locations when they are focused on traffic approaching in the roadway. The most common type of car-bike crash in urban areas of NC involves a bicyclist riding on the sidewalk being struck by a motorist pulling out from a stop sign, red light, or driveway. Parents should consider all such conflict locations when deciding where they will permit their children to ride, and should supervise any and all crossing movements as needed depending on the maturity of the child. In general, if a child does not have the maturity to bicycle safely on the roadway portion of a particular corridor, the child probably lacks the ability to handle the more challenging intersection conflicts that accompany sidewalk cycling on that corridor – at least, without supervision. A suggested rule of thumb is to limit children’s bicycling to those areas where they are capable of safely negotiating the intersections as well as riding safely in the roadway itself.
A leading contributor to car-bike crashes is bicycling on the wrong side of the road. At intersections, where the vast majority of car-bike collisions happen, other drivers aren’t expecting or looking for traffic approaching from the wrong direction. Between intersections, a wrong-way bicyclist requires a driver to make evasive maneuvers to avoid them; the driver cannot simply slow down and wait for a safe passing opportunity as they can with a same-direction bicycle traffic. For these reasons, traffic laws everywhere require bicyclists to ride on the same side of the road in the same direction as other vehicle traffic. In North Carolina, bicycles are defined as vehicles and bicyclists have the full rights and duties of drivers of vehicles.
Children should be taught to ride on the right half of any corridor, including greenway paths and neighborhood streets. In combination with this, they need to learn to ride in a reasonably straight line, without suddenly swerving, so that other bicyclists and automobile drivers can travel beside them and pass them safely. They should choose an imaginary straight line down the roadway that keeps them safely away from surface hazards and parked cars. Prior to making an adjustment in their lateral position on the roadway, such as when noticing a parked car ahead, the bicyclist must look back and scan for traffic that may be about to overtake them, and only make the lateral movement when it can be made safely. Simply riding in a straight line well out into the roadway is not hazardous to bicyclists of any age, especially on the neighborhood streets where most children ride. What is hazardous is suddenly moving into that position unpredictably when a driver is too close to reduce speed.
Supervising as Wingman
Positioning yourself to the left of your child encourages drivers to pass at greater distance. It also allows you better vantage of potential conflicts and makes it easier to communicate as you coach.
When riding with a child to supervise their bicycling, an ideal riding position is slightly behind and to the left of the child, with the child setting the pace. This position allows the parent or instructor to watch and communicate with the child, while also diverting overtaking traffic to pass at a larger distance from the child. The extra passing distance provides the “wiggle room” the child may require as their skill develops and makes the ride more comfortable for them.
Children between the ages of 7 and 10 can develop the traffic and handling skills to operate safely on low speed, low traffic two-lane residential streets. By their early teens, they can develop the skills to handle multiple lane streets. Although some cyclists may prefer more direct, important roads depending on their travel objectives, low traffic streets and greenways are often the most enjoyable places to ride for a wide variety of cyclists. Some cities provide maps that highlight low traffic streets and greenway routes; these can be of tremendous value in finding an enjoyable route for recreation or transportation. Google Maps includes most of the local greenway trails, which can be used when generating travel routes for bikes. The satellite and street view features of Google Maps are useful for determining the cross section and character of a street when choosing a route.
Older cities often have a grid of low traffic streets that provide alternatives to busy roads. This is less common in some newer suburbs, but many progressive municipalities now actively pursue development of collector street networks and local street connectivity to provide redundant travel routes and to disperse traffic bottlenecks. This allows many bicycle trips to be made on lower speed limit roads and two lane roads with wide pavement that afford easy passing at safe distance. Some cities have also developed an extensive interconnected system of greenway paths in their own rights of way. By combining pleasant streets and greenways, a wide variety of enjoyable low-traffic cycling routes becomes available for family cycling.
Older children can develop intersection negotiation skills that greatly expand the range of routes available to them.
Even after learning good cycling practices, kids usually start taking risks and short-cuts when they leave their parent’s sight, and are quick to emulate the bad habits of their peers. Parents can reinforce good practices by riding frequently with their children and discussing the reasons behind the rules. Parents can also monitor their children’s cycling behavior alone or with peers by catching up to them with their own bikes at unexpected times. Lastly, parents should always model good behavior when operating any vehicle.
Thanks to the tireless volunteer work of John Allen, Robert Seidler, and of course Keri Caffrey, we now can share the first video from the I Am Traffic Colloquium. In this presentation, Keri lays out our take on the core bicycling-related problems we see in our traffic culture, the ill-advised “fixes” that many are promoting, and our own vision for real solutions based on a clear understanding of the problem. 26 minutes of information that will make you really think.