What Police Need to Learn about Cycling


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

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

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

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

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

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

What is a Courteous Cyclist?


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

Defining Courteous

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

The Golden Rule

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

First Come, First Served

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

Assisting Overtaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Multi-Lane Roads

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

Passing on the Right

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

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

Stopping in Groups

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

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

Courtesy to Pedestrians

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

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

Disagreements about Courtesy

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

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

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

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

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

Dealing with Harassment

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

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

Ask i am traffic: Bicyclist Licensing

An i am traffic reader asks via email:

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

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

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

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

Danger to Whom?

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


Self Protection

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


Government Overhead

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

Unintended Consequences

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


Police Enforcement

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

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

Toronto Conclusions

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

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

Right to Road

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

What to do?

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

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


Overcoming Obstacles & Finding Freedom

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.

deaf cyclistI 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.

groupSo 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.

CyclingSavvy is an excellent course on safe cycling, which is available here in Maine. John Brooking is the instructor.  I took it soon after I bought my first trike and it still helps me to be a safer and more responsible cyclist.

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.

by the waterSo, 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 with Children


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.

Risk Management

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.

Riding Right

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

riding with children-01

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.

Route Selection

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.

Keeping Tabs

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.


CyclingSavvy Works

It’s not Effective Cycling repackaged with a new name.

A common criticism of cyclist education is simply that “it doesn’t work.”  Presented with such a statement, I suppose we first have to ask, “work at what?”  Those making the claim seem to be saying it doesn’t work at getting more people to ride bikes.  I don’t think many are claiming a trained cyclist is just as likely to crash as an untrained one.

Perhaps they may be right that it doesn’t get more people to ride bikes; but on the other hand I know individuals who have most certainly increased their cycling due to education. They have said so themselves.  No doubt the “it doesn’t work” claim is based on a belief that few people will take a traffic cycling course.


This debate is at the core of how our society decides to promote cycling.

Do we take an ends-justify-the-means approach in which almost any strategy which encourages people to bike is deemed okay, or do we help each individual maximize their safety, comfort and competence through means which are as ethical as possible?  Those who argue for “getting more people on bikes” use cycling as a means to various ends: health, climate change, community livability, etc.  Certainly those are all worthy goals, but it has led proponents to take some liberties with science, and misled many people about what factors are important both in increasing the number of cyclists and improving safety.  They argue that increasing the numbers of cyclists will make cycling safer in spite of hazards created by some types of bicycle-specific infrastructure.

While it’s true that an increase in the numbers of bicyclists reduces the overall crash rate, the same is true of auto use and walking.  Analysis of one study of a Danish bikeway found that the decrease in crash rate was less than would be predicted by Smeed’s Law.  To put it in a more direct light: the number of crashes went up more than it would have if there had been no bikeway.  Increasing numbers of bicyclists can improve safety, but only given the right circumstances.  And even if safety in numbers through facilities does reduce the injury and fatality rates, if those same facilities actually cause some injuries and deaths, then we must question the ethics of such a strategy, especially if other strategies are available which would be less likely to cause harm.

What’s more, proponents assert that the right types of facilities significantly increase cycling.  But the scientific support for this is also debatable.  There are numerous factors that affect bicycle mode share, including climate, demographics, density, street network connectivity, terrain, the costs of owning and operating a motor vehicle, and most importantly, the presence of a college or university in a community.  Do places with bicycle facilities get more cyclists, or do places with more cyclists get more bicycle facilities?  It may be both.  But if increases in cycling are due in large part to factors other than bikeways, then any reduction in the crash rate is indirectly due to those other factors, not to the bikeways, and if those bikeways cause or contribute to conflicts and crashes — which they do — then providing bikeways as means of increasing use and improving safety does not work and is in fact unethical.

Aside from the debate about whether or not bikeways improve safety, the need for cyclist training is essential.  Florida emergency room data shows that two-thirds of adult bicyclist hospital admissions do not involve a collision with a motor vehicle.  A significant portion of bicyclist/motorist crashes occur on local streets which will never see any sort of bicyclist-specific accommodation.  Crashes involving turning and crossing conflicts occur whether one is cycling on a cycle track, a bike lane, a sidepath, a sidewalk, or on a road with no special accommodation at all.  Training cyclists reduces their crash risk for all of these circumstances.

I — and other proponents of bicycle driving — am often assumed to be against all types of bicyclist-oriented infrastructure.  That is not at all true.  I support and very much enjoy shared use paths that run through independent rights-of-way. Short paths that connect local street networks.  Bicycle boulevards.  Bike routes and wayfinding that help people stay off of heavily traveled arterials.  Shared lane markings on those arterials.  Ensuring traffic signal systems detect bicyclists.  Well-design traffic calming that keeps motorist speeds down or diverts motorist traffic.  Even sidepaths can be a good solution in the right context.  None of these treatments (if properly designed) encourages bicyclists to violate the rules for vehicular movement.

A Failure of Marketing, Not a Failure of Education

Another problem with the “it doesn’t work” claim is that it assumes cyclist education and training to be quite limited in definition.  Adult cyclist education is presumed to be all the same.  For many years, adult education was limited mostly to the League of American Bicyclists’ Traffic Skills 101 course and other descendants of John Forester’s Effective Cycling program.  All other adult-oriented courses tend to be lumped together with them.

When detractors say, “We tried education; it doesn’t work (at getting enough people on bikes),” what they are likely seeing is not a failure of a particular curriculum, but a failure to effectively market a curriculum.  Marketing is not merely advertising, it is determining what kind of product or service to provide in the first place and how to deliver it to the marketplace.  And that, I believe, is where earlier bicyclist education programs have failed the most.

A number of years ago when Keri Caffrey and I were discussing what we’d like to see in adult cyclist education, we were frustrated with the materials we had to work with (the League curriculum) as well as with those who said education was of little value.  We knew from direct experience teaching people that education had great potential, but also saw it fail for many individuals.  To us that meant the problem was the teaching strategy, not education per se.  Sitting in League education meetings and reading posts on the League Cycling Instructor email list, I saw how they were nibbling around the edges trying to incrementally improve a marginally effective curriculum, or arguing endlessly over minutiae such as whether or not to use a mirror.  Hardly anyone was asking who their students were, what they want, how they learn best, how they want to manage their time, and how much they might value good training.  The League’s curriculum seemed to be based more on what they wanted to teach than on what the customer wanted.

The League’s course is based on the original Effective Cycling curriculum developed by John Forester; many of the long-time League instructors have wanted to return to it.  Effective Cycling was originally a 30-hour course, developed in the 1980s. It was intended to make someone into a highly competent sport rider, interested and capable of doing long-distance rides at higher speeds.  The League whittled that down into two 10-hour courses, initially named Road I and Road II; later renamed Traffic Skills 101 and 201.  While thousands have taken Road I and Traffic Skills 101, only a tiny number have followed up with the second course.  TS 101 attempts to achieve the same goal in 10 hours — making an individual into a competent sport rider — as did the original 30-hour course.  To do so, students are given a significant amount of information on bicycle components, bike fit, special clothing, minor repairs, hydration and nutrition, cadence and gearing.  This leaves relatively little time for learning traffic skills.

For the average person who just wants to bike around his or her community at a comfortable speed, to run errands, visit friends, bike to work, or just have fun, most of those sport-cyclist-oriented topics are wasted time, and make cycling seem more complicated and elite than they want it to be.

CyclingSavvy was designed from the outset for the average adult who wishes to bike around his or her community at a comfortable and sociable speed; who prefers to avoid busy arterials but occasionally needs to use them for short distances to get to a destination or another quiet, low-volume street.  Observers of our courses will see very few Lycra shorts or club jerseys, and quite a few bikes with raised handlebars rather than dropped ones.

Core Concepts

Fear was of course an essential issue we had to battle for those intimidated by the thought of cycling amid motor vehicle traffic.  That fear is based on beliefs, not on an objective assessment of clearly organized data, so belief-change became a core goal of the curriculum.

As anyone who has waded into some of the hot-button issues of the day can tell you, beliefs don’t get overturned merely by presenting facts.  How those facts are presented are at least as important as the facts themselves.  So Keri and I did a lot of reading on how to influence people. The most important strategies are getting students to “own” key concepts by discovering the information themselves, and by having them publicly break the taboos of traffic cycling in a peer-supported setting.  These strategies are unique to CyclingSavvy.

The other critical strategy was focusing on right-brained learning.  Bicycling is a four-dimensional, kinesthetic and social experience, so learning must take place in all of those modes.  Few people can fully translate a written or verbal description, or even a static illustration, into a coherent four-dimensional model in their heads.  Animation and video get us much further with students.  Story-telling in the classroom and the group road tour make it social, and of course on-bike training brings in the essential kinesthetic component.

How CyclingSavvy Differs From Effective Cycling

Since the rules for vehicular movement are nearly universal, especially in North America, the similarities between CyclingSavvy and Effective Cycling are far more prominent than their differences.  But the differences do matter.  They matter because most people want to minimize the amount of time they spend cycling on high-speed arterials.  Depending on where one lives, much of one’s cycling can be accomplished on lower-speed, lower-volume streets.  We like cycling on such streets as much for their ambiance as for safety (or the perception of safety).  We can ride side-by-side and talk to one another.  They tend to be more shaded (important here in the subtropics of Florida).  There’s more to see and enjoy.

But sooner or later we need to cross or use a stretch of arterial to get to our destination or to the next network of quiet streets.  CyclingSavvy’s strategies show cyclists how to use these arterials in the most stress-free ways possible.  Examples include:

  • Turning right on green even when a right on red is allowed.  Doing so gives the cyclist the road to herself for blocks at a time.  This can be enough time to get to the cyclist’s target intersection without having to negotiate lane changes with high-speed, high-volume traffic.
  • Recognizing how traffic flows on the approaches to and exits from intersections.  Early lane changes and strategic lane positioning can minimize the interaction and negotiation cyclists must do with motorists while changing lanes.

We also teach a strategy we call Control and Release which is only used for narrow, two-lane streets with significant traffic, or briefly near signals on multi-lane arterials.  No-one likes to be the slow vehicle driver with the long line of faster drivers stewing and fuming behind them, but we also don’t like having cars and trucks squeeze past us at unsafe distances and speeds.  So we control the lane so motorists don’t try to squeeze past in an unsafe manner, but then, if conditions allow, we move over and strategically allow motorists to pass at lower speed, or at locations where we get some extra width to work with.  A similar strategy is also taught for multi-lane arterials when one gets stuck at the front at a red light, and a long queue of cars gets backed up behind us.  We simply control the lane going through the intersection with the fresh green, but then pull over into the nearest driveway and let the big platoon of cars go by.  After usually just 15 to 30 seconds the road clears out and we have it mostly to ourselves, and we can control a narrow lane without having traffic backed up behind us.

No Need for Speed

A criticism against “vehicular cycling” is that it requires cyclist “go fast” in order to integrate effectively with motorized traffic.  While there are some proponents of integrated roadway cycling who hold that belief, Keri and I do not.  The strategies we teach work just as well at 10 to 15 mph as they do at 20 to 25 mph.  Indeed, a key point we make during the course is that slower speeds confer some key benefits to drivers of any type of vehicle: a more comprehensive view of the environment, better reaction time, and shorter braking distance.

Speed differential is a very over-rated factor.  To a motorist driving 45 to 50 mph, it matters very little if a cyclist is going 10 mph or 20 mph.  A 30 mph closing speed requires about 200 feet of perception, reaction and braking distance, while a 40 mph closing speed requires about 325 feet, but motorists can easily see cyclists from much farther than that.  We’ve illustrated how unimportant this speed differential is with one of our students on a large, high-speed interchange between a high-speed arterial and a freeway.  Lateral positioning in the lane is far more important than the relative speeds of the cyclist and motorist.

One need only read the student stories on the CyclingSavvy website to see that speed is of little consequence in getting the average non-sport cyclist to be confident in traffic..

Lane Width and Lane Position

Forester in Effective Cycling and the League of American Bicyclists in their curricula tell cyclists to drive in the right wheel track when the lane is too narrow to share.  What we have found, and what has been confirmed by research done by Dan Gutierrez and Brian DeSousa in southern California, is that the right tire track can sometimes be the worst position, particularly on higher-speed, multi-lane arterials.  When motorists are driving at 45 mph and more, their decision zone — the range of distance behind the cyclist during which they are best able to decide whether to remain in the lane or change lanes — is quite a ways back due to the speed differential.

 The problem is that from that distance, when a cyclist is driving in the right wheel track, it looks as though there is enough lane width for the motorists to pass within the lane.  So some motorists will stay in the cyclist’s lane instead of changing lanes at the first opportunity.  As they get closer to the cyclist they realize the width is not as great as they thought, but may have now lost the opportunity to change lanes.  So they slow down a bit and pass within the lane. This results in a close pass at relatively high speed.  Moving towards the center of the lane or left tire track makes it clear from a great distance that the motorist must change lanes to pass safely, so they do so at the earliest opportunity.  By doing so they draw attention to the fact that there is something going on ahead, so the next motorist in the lane also sees the cyclist from a distance, and also changes lanes.  This is best explained in this video.

Lane positioning is not a simple matter of either keeping right when the lane is wide enough to share or moving into the right wheel track when it is not.  In a 9-foot lane the right wheel track is only about 6 feet from the left side of the lane, so the following motorist can see there’s not much width left in which to fit his vehicle.  But in a 12-foot lane the right wheel track is about 8 feet from the left side, so many drivers will see that space as adequate.  In CyclingSavvy we teach students to focus on how much space is available to his or her left, not to the right.

Changing Lanes

The lane changing instructions in Forester’s Effective Cycling strike us as overly complicated.  They are also presented as though wide, sharable lanes are the norm.  Lane changing is presented as first moving from the right side of the lane to the left side, then to the right side of the next lane, then to the left side of that new lane.  That’s three movements with motorists passing on either side.  How many would want to put themselves in such a situation?

What is far more common is for all the lanes to be too narrow to share.  So the cyclist is already in the center of the right lane; scans, signals and then moves to the next lane, driving in the center of that one.  One move, no lane sharing, very clear.

We also recognize that changing lanes when speeds and volumes are high is daunting and difficult for many people, so we provide a number of left turn strategies that eliminate the need to change lanes and negotiate with high-speed traffic: the “jughandle,” the “box turn,” and yes, even the pedestrian-style dismount-and-use-the-crosswalk (not recommended for Florida and other states where motorists treat pedestrians poorly).

Merges and Diverges

The League system waits until their second course (Traffic Skills 201) to teach strategies for merges and diverges.  We include them in the core CyclingSavvy course because we think it is very unlikely that people will take a second course (a position clearly supported by the miniscule numbers of TS 201 courses taught).  The fact that our students handle these features with ease during our road tours shows the wisdom of this approach.  Interchanges and complex intersections can be enormous barriers to cyclists, so teaching them how to handle them is critical for attaining full mobility in their communities.

Our strategies for these features are very different from the League’s and Effective Cycling.  We focus on helping the student read how traffic flows through such features, show them how to minimize converging paths with motorists and help motorists flow around them smoothly.  Effective Cycling-based strategies have cyclists negotiate with motorists who are trying to change lanes or pass, often at relatively high speeds, all while sharing lanes.  This strategy results in cyclists waiting too long to move into a defensible position and can in some circumstances create more traffic disruption and frustration among motorists.  This is very stressful and intimidating for the cyclist.

ivanho intrch (800x600)We show cyclists how to change lanes early so they have control of the lane they wish to be in well before the merging and diverging movements begin.  This means motorists are more likely to flow around the cyclist on either side with ample clearance, rather than force negotiation with converging paths.  As you can imagine, this is better explained through graphics and video than through text.

While on the road tour, we present students with numerous situations in which leaving the right edge, and even the right lane, is the best strategy.  In effect we “wean” cyclists from the curb.


cs dz demo (800x600)While we do spend a fair amount of time discussing problems that cyclists will encounter when using bike lanes (or cycle tracks or sidepaths), we do this in an objective manner devoid of politics and ideology.  The conflicts are real and we simply provide practical solutions.  Some of the students themselves, after learning of those conflicts, then question the wisdom of providing such facilities.

John Forester was openly hostile to bike lanes and sidepaths in his curriculum.  The League has been fairly neutral in its curriculum, but very supportive of bike lanes in their advocacy.  Some League Cycling Instructors have been frustrated with the contradictions between promoting integrated cycling on the one hand, while promoting bike lanes and other separate facilities on the other.

We must be clear though that we do not dismiss all bikeways.  We enthusiastically support well-design paths in independent rights-of-way, short connector paths which help connect local street systems, bike boulevards, wayfinding systems, shared lane markings, and other on-road treatments that help cyclists while also supporting integrated roadway cycling.  We’d even tolerate bike lanes on some arterials if they provided adequate width and a debris-free surface (but most don’t).


Rather than expecting motorists to be antagonistic towards cyclists, we strive to create an expectation of cooperation.  What motorists want most from cyclists is clear communication on our intentions.  We concentrate on communication strategies that assume the motorist is not clear on what we intend to do.  (After all, if we watch most cyclists we can see rather quickly why motorists would be uncertain.)

Motorists appreciate clear communication, and going beyond the necessary signals and including ones of appreciation is one of the best forms of advocacy we can imagine.

Skill Building

While teaching Road I and Traffic Skills 101 courses we were frustrated by a number of things.  We had only about an hour-and-a-half to teach a handful of skills, and the range of skills went from elementary to advanced.  Experienced cyclists were bored until they got to the later skills, and the abrupt climb in difficulty intimidated many novices.  Keri Caffrey and Lisa Walker had developed a series of skills for their women’s cycling club, the BOBbies (Babes On Bikes), which was more comprehensive and more progressive in pacing.  These skills were incorporated and modified for CyclingSavvy, extending the bike-handling section to three hours.  The sequencing of our skills provides interesting, fun skills for more experienced cyclists, while also building progressively enough such that novices are comfortable by the time they get to the more advanced skills.

As with the rest of our course, we strove to make this session fun, and most students report that it is.


cs orange ave (684x800)We don’t.  Most adults are not interested in meeting some score on a test.  They just want to enjoy cycling and feel confident.  Testing presents the opposite for many people; it creates an atmosphere of tension.  Some people learn well but test poorly.  Some test well, but don’t necessarily internalize the content completely.

Instead, we provide an experience out on the streets in real traffic.  It is a group tour, but the cyclists drive through with a number of segments on their own.  It is not merely a real traffic experience, but also a social experience.  Students get to prove for themselves that the strategies we’ve shown them in the classroom actually work, and that experience is reinforced by the other students in the tour.  Those who are concerned by an early, intimidating segment can always have an instructor accompany them, but they always volunteer to strike out on their own in later segments, and they all realize the kind of empowerment we’re striving to give them.  Those who don’t test well are spared the tension of answering questions and meeting a minimum score, and those who might not have completely bought-in to the concepts have them reinforced by their peers.

Creating a Community

Rather than focusing on club rides which focus on speed and distance, we complement CyclingSavvy with social rides at low speeds around town: ice cream rides, cargo-bike rides to farmers’ markets, and simple social First Friday rides.  They are open to cyclists of all skills and speeds.  We give them structure and safety, so even those who haven’t taken a cycling 335419_10100656798637112_5107794_59643782_924924920_ocourse such as ours can see and experience what is possible.  They also learn some of the preferred back-street routes and “secret connectors.”  Some of those social ride attendees come to CyclingSavvy classes.  We are happy to use our area’s trails and connector paths, but prefer to avoid streets with bike lanes as they don’t allow us to ride side-by-side.  Bike lanes also present more conflicts for groups than they do for solo cyclists.

Perhaps this strategy — of leading people towards confidence and competence rather than providing facilities which make people feel safer without actually addressing the real conflicts — won’t get as many people on bicycles, or do so as quickly, but we can feel sure that we are supporting our principles rather than subverting them.

Education Is a Gift

“You have such gifts that are important.  Just like every species has an important gift to give to an ecosystem, and the extinction of any species hurts everyone.  The same is true of each person; that you have a necessary and important gift to give.” — Charles Eisenstein

The nature of a gift is “more for you means more for me.”  But look at how bike lanes and cycle tracks affect people.  Some non-cyclists see them as taking away from “their” roads.  Or they see them as something they were forced to buy (by the government) and give to someone else.  Then they encounter them, and the cyclists who use them, and find them confusing and frustrating, especially at intersections.  So bike lanes and cycle tracks take the “more for me means less for you” approach.  It becomes a turf war.  And of course they can only “work” where they are installed, so we “need” to keep taking more and more space from others to get more people on bikes.  I spent 15 years trying to prove that bike lanes could increase cycling while improving cyclist safety.  In the process I learn they do not.  (And other types of bikeways running alongside roadways are even more problematic.)

You cannot convince me something works when every day I see it not working.  I see wrong-way cyclists in bike lanes; I get right-hooked by motorists when biking in them myself; I see other cyclists setting themselves up for conflicts.  I see the crash reports.  While some of these problems are in spite of the bike lanes; many are, to varying degrees, generated by them.  And they don’t eliminate many of the real problems cyclists experience.  That is not a gift.  To anyone.

CyclingSavvy encourages cooperation between road users.  Once taught, a cyclist can figure out for herself how to manage any road or intersection.  Yes, some motorists get upset seeing cyclists take such an assertive approach, but they eventually realize such cyclists are predictable and cooperative, and that they only need to adhere to the same rules they’ve been following when interacting with other motorists.  We’ve also heard from many motorists who find our strategies predictable and cooperative from the outset.  So CyclingSavvy is not only a gift to cyclists, but to motorists as well.  Those who think cyclists should naturally be antagonistic towards “cagers” might do well to realize that virtually all the new bicyclists we might invite will be coming from the motoring population.  How do we convince motorists to become cyclists when they perceive cyclists as adversaries or incompetent?

Those of us who teach CyclingSavvy believe we have a gift we can share.  Those we’ve shared it with have thanked us in many ways.  That gift is the knowledge that they can hop on a bicycle at any time and go wherever they wish with confidence.  By getting on the bike they meet new friends, learn of wonderful new places they didn’t know existed, improve their health, spend quality time with their families, reduce their carbon footprints, and save money.  Rather than waiting for the government to provide facilities which don’t work as advertised, they gain all of those benefits as soon as they want them.

You cannot convince me something does not work when every day I see it working.  I see people who used to be afraid biking wherever and whenever they wish.  I hear their stories of enjoying life by bike.  I hear them exclaim how much easier and stress-free it is now to bike.  Real, sincere and practical gifts always beat white elephants.

Achieving a Vision

Presentation at CNU20:

In the video presentation above, I explain the root cause of the beliefs that inhibit bicycling in America, why the prevailing strategy can’t fix it, and offer a strategy that can. In addition to teaching people to be successful anywhere, this strategy includes many progressive infrastructure ideas that are cost-effective, versatile, expandable and supportive of successful bicyclists.

For more on this topic:

Strategy for a Cyclist-Friendly Community by Keri Caffrey