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  1. #1
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    The intent of this post is to start a discussion on the topic of vehicular cycling (VC), what it is, how it relates to making cycling safer and traffic cycling more fun, how it forms the basis for why cyclists should opposes bike lanes, where you can learn more about it, etc.

    I'll start with a brief introduction.

    VC stands for Vehicular Cycling.

    Vehicular Cycling is cycling in accordance to the principle that "cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles" (coined by John Forester)

    Some people when they first are introduced to the principle (and some for many years later), make the mistake of thinking the principle means that cyclists "are the same as cars". It doesn't. The principle is simply based on the recognition that cyclists have a choice - to ride in accordance to the vehicular rules of the road, or not, and that if they do, they are more likely to "fare well" than if they don't. "Fare well" in this case generally means getting from A to B reasonably safely and in a reasonable time.

    Now you may be able to get there faster (by running red lights, not riding to be visible and predictable, etc.), but that's at a higher risk of getting involved in a collisions, which is generally understood NOT to be faring well.

    Similarly, you can also ride at ped speeds on sidewalks and walk your bike across cross walks, but that also generally means not faring very well since it would take so long to get from A to B.

    The idea is that a cyclist will generally not "fare as well" if he rides according to any other sets of rules other than vehicular rules. The basic reason for this is that everyone else is used to everyone else operating under vehicular rules, and that if you operate under them too, the others will know how to safely interact with you.

    Note that "operating under vehicular rules" does not necessarily mean going as fast as other vehicles. Just because the speed limit is 55 doesn't mean you have to operate at 55 mph to be "vehicular". After all, a basic vehicular rule is "slower drivers keep to the right".

    This is just the tip of the iceberg on this topic. One can actually write a book on the topic, and luckily a few people already have (arguablly, the posts I've made on this topic on this forum could comprise a book in themselves!). The "bible" of VC is the book Effective Cycling (EC) by John Forester. Actually, the 600pp covers a lot more than VC, much of it kind of dated and some of it pretty strange. But even critics of John Forester's style and some of his positions (like being against bike lanes) like Jeffrey Hiles, who wrote the essay "Listening to Bike Lanes", acknowledges that "The 85-page section of Effective Cycling that describes riding technique is arguably one of the most lucid and thorough guides to cycling in traffic in print." Any cyclist should read at least that part of the book for that reason alone. You should know that the other publications that cover VC very well are the book Cyclecraft by John Franklin (though he writes with a left-bias since he's British), and the pamphlet Street Smarts by John S. Allen, which you can find on the internet and download.

    If you take a cycling safety class (called "Road 1") from the League of American Bicyclists (http://www.bikeleague.org), they will teach you techniques in accordance with the VC principle, as well as other material that essentially comes from Effective Cycling.

    I invite others to post further information about, or questions of, vehicular cycling in this thread.
    Last edited by Serge Issakov; 03-04-05 at 02:22 PM.

  2. #2
    Science Fanboy KrisPistofferson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Christopher Hitchens
    What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.

  3. #3
    Senior Member royalflash's Avatar
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    so we should ride in the road and stop for red lights- now tell me something I don´t know-

    I am not being argumentative but I am not in a position to take a safety class from the Leage of American bicyclists and am interested to know more (but not so interested that I will go out and buy any books).

    Most of what I have read in the forum about vehicular cycling just sounds like basic common sense to me (though I would not be quite so dogmatic about it).
    only the dead have seen the end of mass motorized stupidity

    Plato

    (well if he was alive today he would have written it)

  4. #4
    Ride the Road Daily Commute's Avatar
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    Royalflash, you have it right. VC is basically common sense. I think there are some people who would play Russian Roulette if they heard that VC said that was a bad idea.

    And don't buy the book. Check it out from the library. If you want a great book, get Hurst's "The Art of Urban Cycling." It's in paperback. It's better written. And it agrees with Forester about 95% of the time. (Actually, most cycling theories agree with each other about 95% of the time.)

  5. #5
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    Most of what I have read in the forum about vehicular cycling just sounds like basic common sense to me (though I would not be quite so dogmatic about it).
    Yes, when you first learn about it it definitely sounds like common sense and like you more-or-less already do most of it. At least that's the way it was for me.

    Even as I was reading Effective Cycling, I wasn't very impressed. That's because I was already basically doing what Forester was advocating. Or so I thought.

    What I still can't get over is how significant are the small seemingly insignficant things:
    • Riding a little bit further to the left than most cyclists.
    • Not waiting for a gap, but creating one when you need one.
    • Starting your left turn merge earlier.
    • Treating the bike lane as a temporary "pull-over" passing zone (not something Forester explicitly advocates, but I think falls out logically from the VC principle).
    • The body language/communication effect of looking back over your shoulder behind you.
    • Obeying "first come; first served" by waiting in your place in line.


    That's off the top of my head. It's hard to explain. But in the end all these subtle changes add up to a complete mindset change, and that's the most important part: it's about seeing yourself as an equal user of the roadway, not a second-class citizen, and riding your bicycle accordingly.

    There's a self-esteem component to it. Have you heard of general self-esteem and specialized self-esteem? Somone might have high specialized self-esteem at work, but not in social situations, etc. Learning vehicular cycling helps with your cycling specialized self-esteem, if you will, especially riding in traffic. It helps you learn to feel "appropriate" in traffic among other vehicle drivers, not like an outsider borrowing whatever pavement the "legitimate" users happen to not be using. Even if you don't recognize that's how you look at it, most cyclists ride as if they do, and are treated accordingly. And, just like in any other area, achieving high self-esteem has a liberating effect.

    That's enough for now...

    Others?

  6. #6
    Al noisebeam's Avatar
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    I guess this is as good a thread to discuss my situation as any.
    I ride VC and also do try and follow all road laws (with some exceptions for 4-ways stops)
    Every morning I ride thru an active 15mph school zone - it is a 3/4mi stretch of road. The posted signs says "15MPH - NO PASSING"
    There are bike lanes on each side of the road and several x-walks (each with crossing guard) and left and right turns.
    I of course ride in the center of the main lane (not the BL) and go about 15mph, basically keep up with traffic, if the car in front of me is going 17mph, I go 17mph. If crossing guard stops traffic, I stop.

    The bike lanes have kids riding in correct and incorrect direction. Mostly the kids are on the sidewalk though.

    1. Is is legal for the cars to be passing the bikes who are using the BL? (It is a no passing zone) Is it legal for me in main lane traveling at 15mph to pass kids riding 8mph in bike lane?
    2. The stop guard will stop traffic (including me) and let kids on bikes make left turns from the right BL while some kids go straight. If I instead rode in the BL (slowly) I could go straight and not have to wait behind cars - and this would be controlled by a crossing guard who stops cars from turning right. I would not have to wait in line behind cars.
    3. Cars get guidance from crossing guards, as soon as guard puts stop sign down, cars will immedately go and have left hooked me because of this. The x-guard of course only protects the BL and x-walk and drivers see it as they get right of way over me when x-guard puts down stop sign, even if I technically have right of way.

    In reading the above it does not seem like much of a big deal, but the fundamental of the question is that in this 3/4mi stretch in the presence of the school zone and crossing guards make BL users primary users of the road and cars secondary. Which leaves me feeling like a third class road users when riding VC thru this area in the main lane and its a weird feeling and often results in the closest call I ever have with cars on my whole commute.

    Al

  7. #7
    Senior Member royalflash's Avatar
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    Yes - I must admit that the more I cycle the more I have come to apply the principles that you list above. In effect you are recommending that cyclists ride assertively. All good points if applied with caution. At least for experienced, confident and competent cyclists.

    I still think there is a place for the odd bike lane (with appropriate caution) and maybe even a bit of scurrying around like a rodent though (it can be fun in moderation).
    only the dead have seen the end of mass motorized stupidity

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  8. #8
    Senior Member closetbiker's Avatar
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    It just seems like common sense to me too.

    When I read Effective Cycling, it just confirmed what I already felt.

    When I investigated causes of bicycle accidents in my area, once again the cyclists who were involved in accidents with motor vehicles were not following VC principles.

    Reports by government agencies to improve conditions for cyclists recommend cyclists following VC principles.

    It's a no-brainer for me.
    "My two favourite things in life are libraries and bicycles. They both move people forward without wasting anything" -Peter Golkin
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    I still think there is a place for the odd bike lane (with appropriate caution) and maybe even a bit of scurrying around like a rodent though (it can be fun in moderation).
    Bike lanes are generally not a problem for vehicular cyclists: we know to treat them as if the stripe does not exist. If factors/conditions determine that we should be riding where the BL happens to be, we do; if they don't, we don't. The main real problem with BL's is that when we do ride in them, the stripe generally encourages passing motorists to encroach on our safety margin space more than they would if there was no stripe.

    The relevance of BLs to VC is in how thinking behind the alleged need for or value of bike lanes hinders the adoption of VC, since BLs foster "separation cycling" (the idea that cyclists should be separated from vehicular traffic), and inhibit the natural learning of VC.

  10. #10
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    I've done VC when cars are going slow. Here's my question. On my last leg to work in the morning I need to make a left turn on a high speed road with big groups of cars. The cars are going about 45, and usually have a 2 car gap between each car. I'm lucky if I'm going 15. Should I just put my arm out, turn and hope I make it? Little too scary for me. I usually wait it out. I say usually because I have done it before with big gaps between cars.
    question everything.

  11. #11
    Science Fanboy KrisPistofferson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Daily Commute
    If you want a great book, get Hurst's "The Art of Urban Cycling."
    I second that. Good book.
    Quote Originally Posted by Christopher Hitchens
    What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.

  12. #12
    Al noisebeam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mmerner
    I've done VC when cars are going slow. Here's my question. On my last leg to work in the morning I need to make a left turn on a high speed road with big groups of cars. The cars are going about 45, and usually have a 2 car gap between each car. I'm lucky if I'm going 15. Should I just put my arm out, turn and hope I make it? Little too scary for me. I usually wait it out. I say usually because I have done it before with big gaps between cars.
    Stick your arm out, turn your head and look right at driver and only go when you note car has slowed and/or driver has given some sort of feedback that its OK to merge in front of me. Is the left turn at an intesection where these 45mph cars sometimes need to stop? Practice really helps I've found.
    Al

  13. #13
    Riding is Praying Shorty's Avatar
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    Ok, I too have found myself obeying these rules as I ride more in traffic, the one thing I don't follow are stop signs and stop lights at quiet intersections. Part of this, I admit, is my desire to get where I'm going, but the other part is that instinctually I want to ride solo without cars around me. On a busy urban street with a lot of lights I can drop cars easily and I feel a lot safer having done that. I am always careful when I do this, but I admit there is some risk. It just seems like it balances out. Does anyone else have some instincts to ignore some of these rules because they have the same sort of instinctual safety concern despite thinking most of them are great ideas?

  14. #14
    feros ferio John E's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by noisebeam
    Stick your arm out, turn your head and look right at driver and only go when you note car has slowed and/or driver has given some sort of feedback that its OK to merge in front of me. Is the left turn at an intesection where these 45mph cars sometimes need to stop? Practice really helps I've found.
    Al
    If the intersection is controlled by a traffic signal, simply do a two-part left turn. First, continue straight ahead, stopping a bit short of the far curb. If there is a right-turn-only lane, stop BEFORE you reach it. While standing, rotate your bike 90 degrees to point in your new intended direction, then complete the turn when you get the green light in this direction. It's simple, it's safe, and I know Serge hates the whole concept, but I use it frequently and unapologetically. If the intersection is timed, as many are, with left turn arrows preceding through green lights, you will often complete your turn sooner, i.e., more "effectively," than if you had fought your away across two or three lanes of fast traffic to make a vehicular left turn.
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    Sophomoric Member Roody's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by royalflash
    so we should ride in the road and stop for red lights- now tell me something I don´t know-

    I am not being argumentative but I am not in a position to take a safety class from the Leage of American bicyclists and am interested to know more (but not so interested that I will go out and buy any books).

    Most of what I have read in the forum about vehicular cycling just sounds like basic common sense to me (though I would not be quite so dogmatic about it).
    Why are you unwilling to pay for knowledge that would quite likely make your cycling safer and more fun? Do you think that people with knowledge should give it away freely, or should they be fairly compensated? We are very lucky that Serge and others are willing to give us so much on this forum, but sometimes we should be willing to pay. If your "common sense" is also valuable, please give it to me freely. All you give here is your opinion--not knowledge.

  16. #16
    Sumanitu taka owaci LittleBigMan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by John E
    If the intersection is controlled by a traffic signal, simply do a two-part left turn. First, continue straight ahead, stopping a bit short of the far curb. If there is a right-turn-only lane, stop BEFORE you reach it. While standing, rotate your bike 90 degrees to point in your new intended direction, then complete the turn when you get the green light in this direction. It's simple, it's safe, and I know Serge hates the whole concept, but I use it frequently and unapologetically. If the intersection is timed, as many are, with left turn arrows preceding through green lights, you will often complete your turn sooner, i.e., more "effectively," than if you had fought your away across two or three lanes of fast traffic to make a vehicular left turn.
    Ya, these red, "no-left-turn" arrows can make you wait a lot longer to turn left.

    Almost makes me wish I could make that "two-part left turn" in my car!

    No worries

  17. #17
    Commuter JohnBrooking's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by noisebeam
    1. Is is legal for the cars to be passing the bikes who are using the BL? (It is a no passing zone) Is it legal for me in main lane traveling at 15mph to pass kids riding 8mph in bike lane?
    Consider a road that has two lanes in each direction. If it says no passing, does that mean that a car going 45 in the left lane is not allowed to "pass" a car going 30 in the right? I don't know the legal definition of passing, but it seems to me that it only applies to going around another slower vehicle that is in your own lane. So traffic moving at different rates of speed in their own lanes, even if one of them is a bike lane, I would not consider a violation of "no passing". As I said, just a layperson's interpretation.


    Quote Originally Posted by noisebeam
    2. The stop guard will stop traffic (including me) and let kids on bikes make left turns from the right BL while some kids go straight. If I instead rode in the BL (slowly) I could go straight and not have to wait behind cars - and this would be controlled by a crossing guard who stops cars from turning right. I would not have to wait in line behind cars.
    Sounds reasonable to me.


    Quote Originally Posted by noisebean
    3. Cars get guidance from crossing guards, as soon as guard puts stop sign down, cars will immedately go and have left hooked me because of this. The x-guard of course only protects the BL and x-walk and drivers see it as they get right of way over me when x-guard puts down stop sign, even if I technically have right of way.
    Had to read this a few times to understand what you meant. Am assuming you mean traffic coming from the opposite direction turning left (your right) into you as you attempt to go straight? So you are at the front of the line? (Otherwise, the cars in front of you would keep the left-hookers from turning.) Do you take the whole lane? I would. And while the x-guard has you all stopped, try to make eye contact with the first motorist across from you to make sure s/he sees you.


    Quote Originally Posted by noisebeam
    In reading the above it does not seem like much of a big deal, but the fundamental of the question is that in this 3/4mi stretch in the presence of the school zone and crossing guards make BL users primary users of the road and cars secondary. Which leaves me feeling like a third class road users when riding VC thru this area in the main lane and its a weird feeling and often results in the closest call I ever have with cars on my whole commute.
    That's an interesting switch, I never thought about it before. It's probably the unusualness of the situation which makes the motorists less predictable, too.

    I wonder if you talked to the crossing guard about it (is it often the same one, or small group of them?), he might alter his routine a bit to accomodate you. Like continue holding up opposing traffic while letting you go through. Or, she might just suggest you use the BL with the kids!

    One last thought: As I understand it (only through reading other posts here), the two most basic principles of VC are visibility and predictability. In this situation, could it be that in the bike lane with the kids is where motorists expect you to be, and so where you should be? Could this be a situtation where VC dictates use of a bike lane? (Cue the timpani!) Still not in general, but because the preponderance of children on bikes, and the crossing guard, is actually making people even less likely to take bikes outside the BL into account? Yes, I know that's what some would say about all BL's, but is this one different enough to reach the opposite conclusion, that you should be in the BL? I don't know.
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  18. #18
    Senior Member royalflash's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roody
    Why are you unwilling to pay for knowledge that would quite likely make your cycling safer and more fun? Do you think that people with knowledge should give it away freely, or should they be fairly compensated? We are very lucky that Serge and others are willing to give us so much on this forum, but sometimes we should be willing to pay. If your "common sense" is also valuable, please give it to me freely. All you give here is your opinion--not knowledge.
    I am not willing to pay for common sense knowledge that I already know. I am just not interested in ploughing though a whole book and then at the end not really feeling that I learnt anything new. I just have better things to do.

    In any case the internet has changed the way that knowledge is disseminated forever. Knowledge is no longer the preserve of the privileged "man skilled in the art" to be hoarded and dispensed with an eye dropper and dependent on payment or to be passed from master to pupil freemason style. Knowledge is now more freely available and there is no going back. In my opinion this is a good thing. It liberates us and enriches our lives.

    You are right though we are lucky to have Serge and the other forum members. Without them and the influence of their posts maybe VC would not be just common sense. They make the bike forums what it is.

    I also try and contribute whatever limited knowledge I have on this forum whenever I can.
    only the dead have seen the end of mass motorized stupidity

    Plato

    (well if he was alive today he would have written it)

  19. #19
    Senior Member vincenzosi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by John E
    If the intersection is controlled by a traffic signal, simply do a two-part left turn. First, continue straight ahead, stopping a bit short of the far curb. If there is a right-turn-only lane, stop BEFORE you reach it. While standing, rotate your bike 90 degrees to point in your new intended direction, then complete the turn when you get the green light in this direction. It's simple, it's safe, and I know Serge hates the whole concept, but I use it frequently and unapologetically. If the intersection is timed, as many are, with left turn arrows preceding through green lights, you will often complete your turn sooner, i.e., more "effectively," than if you had fought your away across two or three lanes of fast traffic to make a vehicular left turn.
    That's exactly how I do it.

    Vehicular cycling only works when the traffic you're trying to be vehicular with recognizes you as a vehicle.

    Idealistic, but not realistic enough for my tastes. I prefer a more defensive posture. Being aggressive and acting "vehicular" isn't going to matter when you have a two ton SUV bearing down on you.
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  20. #20
    Ride the Road Daily Commute's Avatar
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    The two-part left turn is a last resort for me. I've done it once or twice (literally). The road would have to be a freeway in everything but name. But if it works for you, fine--as long as the government doesn't start requiring cyclists to do it or designing roads with the assumption that cyclists will have to dismount to get through.

    As to the cost, I checked out Forester's book and video from my library. I think the cover price of the book ($38 list, $25 at Amazon) isn't worth it. I find that reading about cycling technique helps me hone my common sense.

  21. #21
    Senior Member vincenzosi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Daily Commute
    as long as the government doesn't start requiring cyclists to do it or designing roads with the assumption that cyclists will have to dismount to get through.
    Since that's a stupid idea, you know it's only a matter of time...
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  22. #22
    feros ferio John E's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Daily Commute
    The two-part left turn is a last resort for me. ... The road would have to be a freeway in everything but name.
    Palomar Airport Road, on which I frequently execute this maneuver, has 3 lanes each way and a posted speed limit of 55mph, making it "a freeway in everything but name" for me. If I get a nice break in traffic, I'll take advantage of it to make a vehicular left turn, but there is now way I am going to "create" my own traffic break by working across three lanes of heavy 55mph traffic. The scenario that scares the cr@p out of me is to be in the middle of the three lanes, with a polite, helpful motorist behind me, and then to have some jerk pass this person and merge back into his/her lane before realizing that I am there. Vehicular cycling is a noble ideal, a wonderful theoretical concept which unfortunately cannot be put into practice 100 percent of the time. As always, don't let religious dogma get in the way of responsible pragmatism.

    Quote Originally Posted by Daily Commute
    As to the cost, I checked out Forester's book and video from my library. I think the cover price of the book ($38 list, $25 at Amazon) isn't worth it. I find that reading about cycling technique helps me hone my common sense.
    John S. Allen's "Street Smarts" and John Franklin's "Cyclecraft" are smaller, much cheaper, and just as helpful on the topic of traffic safety, which is the main reason to buy Forester, anyway. (As others have observed, his chapters on bicycle hardware need some serious updating.)
    "Early to bed, early to rise. Work like hell, and advertise." -- George Stahlman
    Capo [dschaw'-poe]: 1959 Modell Campagnolo, S/N 40324; 1960 Sieger, S/N 42624
    Peugeot: 1970 UO-8, S/N 0010468
    Bianchi: 1981 Campione d'Italia, S/N 1.M9914
    Schwinn: 1988 Project KOM-10, S/N F804069

  23. #23
    Senior Member Bruce Rosar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by John E
    The scenario that scares the cr@p out of me is to be in the middle of the three lanes, with a polite, helpful motorist behind me, and then to have some jerk pass this person and merge back into his/her lane before realizing that I am there.
    Dr. Steven Goodridge, Ph.D, wrote in an email on 13 Oct 2003
    The vast majority of car-bike crashes do not involve motorist overtaking; most involve junction maneuvers. In urban areas with the heaviest traffic volumes, the percentage of collisions that involve overtaking is the smallest. In Cary and Raleigh, that figure is around 5%. Speed difference is simply not a leading factor in real-world car-bike collision statistics. The leading causes are wrong-way cycling, sidewalk cycling, left and right turns, and driver/cyclist drive-out at junctions. Of the small number of serious overtaking collisions, many of them occur at night to unlighted cyclists.

    Competent cyclists who operate on roadways in travel lanes have the lowest crash rate per mile of any group of cyclists. Sidewalk cycling has a much higher car-bike crash rate and an injury rate over an order of magnitude higher than roadway cycling. Cyclists who operate according to the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles find their travel to be reasonably safe and efficient; operating by any other set of rules increases their crash rates. Bicycle transportation is safer, per mile, than motorcycle travel or pedestrian travel. Bicycle commuting, which occurs at times and places that many people think of as most challenging for cycling, is statistically one of the safest bicycling activities, because regular bicycle commuters tend to be better than other cyclists at following the rules of the road for drivers of vehicles.

  24. #24
    Senior Member Bruce Rosar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by vincenzosi
    Vehicular cycling only works when the traffic you're trying to be vehicular with recognizes you as a vehicle.
    If it looks like a vehicle (wheels, steering, brakes, drivetrain, etc.), maneuvers like a vehicle (doesn't pivot, backup or move directly sideways like a pedestrian), and is operated according to the Rules of the Road for vehicles, then the device is recognized for what it is (a vehicle). If it isn't operated according to those rules, it isn't recognized as a vehicle.

    Bruce Rosar
    Who's been pedaling vehicles in traffic for almost half a century (that's years, not miles

  25. #25
    Senior Member Bruce Rosar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JohnBrooking
    In this situation, could it be that in the bike lane with the kids is where motorists expect you to be, and so where you should be? Could this be a situtation where VC dictates use of a bike lane?
    There's already a better design, for all locations, that provides a lane for vehicles which are narrow; stripe a narrow travel lane. It will help other traffic pass the narrow vehicles more easily for the same reason that a bikelane does (i.e., passing drivers know that vehicles outside their marked lane aren't likely to cut them off because the striped line is there) without resorting to class discrimination.
    Humantransport.org: Advocacy on behalf of humans traveling under their own power

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