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Commando303 10-23-09 10:21 PM

"How do We Get Bikers to Obey Traffic Laws"? (Article)
 
http://www.slate.com/id/2232555/?gt1=38001

Stop Means StopHow do we get bikers to obey traffic laws?
By Christopher BeamPosted Friday, Oct. 16, 2009, at 12:44 PM ET
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Heading home from work yesterday, I ran five red lights and three stop signs, went the wrong way down a one-way street, and took a left across two lanes of oncoming traffic. My excuse: I was on a bike.

I'm far from the only menace on two wheels. A colleague was recently slapped with a moving violation after breezing through a stop sign. My roommate was pulled over 30 feet from our house for the same infraction. And driving around Washington, D.C., recently, I saw a cop scribbling out a ticket to a bewildered biker.

Illustration by Rob Donnelly. Click image to expand.I had never heard of a biker getting ticketed in D.C. Has there been a sudden crackdown? "I'm not specifically aware of any stepped-up enforcement," says Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Kenny Bryson. Eric Gilliland, a lawyer for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, disagrees with the policeman's take. Bike ticketing "comes and goes in waves," Gilliland says, but the rate has gone up over the last five years.

Something felt wrong. It wasn't injustice, exactly—all of these bikers broke the law. But was their behavior any great public-safety risk? Even after hearing about the spate of tickets, I haven't changed my behavior. What's the point of traffic laws for bikes? And if there is a point, is there any way to get me and my stop sign-flouting cohort to follow the rules of the road?

Bikes occupy a gray area of the law. They're neither cars nor pedestrians. Most states do carve out special laws for bikes, but not enough to avoid confusion. Take this scenario: I'm approaching a stop sign on my bike. There are clearly no cars coming from either direction. Do I come to a complete stop? Can I cautiously slide through? The traffic laws say full stop. But in practice, few bikers hit the brake, put their foot on the ground, and then start pedaling again. Are they criminals?

The D.C. Code recognizes the special status of bikes. Bikes shall follow all traffic laws, the code says, except for rules that "can have no reasonable application to a bicycle operator." Presumably, this refers to laws governing highways, some sidewalks, and other non-bicycle-friendly turf. It doesn't apply to the stop-sign scenario, even though some bicycle advocates argue that stop signs "have no reasonable application to a bicycle operator."

"If there weren't cars, we wouldn't need stop signs," says Andy Thornley of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. "They're not there for bicycles." Bikers can safely slow down, look both ways, and proceed without sacrificing the momentum necessary to keep cycling, says Thornley. Lawmakers tend to favor the full-stop, in part because not all cyclists are skilled enough to judge the safety of proceeding through an intersection. During a debate in the Oregon state legislature, one representative admitted that he doesn't like stopping at signs. "But I do it because it's the law," he said. Plus, if bikes can cruise through stop signs, why not cars? Why do bikes deserve special treatment?

The reason, say cycling advocates, is that the traffic laws were designed without bikes in mind. It was not always so. After all, bikes were here first. In the late 19th century, a group of bicyclists called the League of American Wheelmen lobbied local governments to pour asphalt on their roads so bicyclists could cruise around more easily. This "good roads movement" paved the way for cars. It wasn't until after World War II, when nearly every American household had an automobile and Eisenhower pushed to build the interstate highway system, that modern traffic laws evolved. "You didn't need stop signs until cars were in common use," says Thornley. "You just looked in the eyes of the other guy and it sorted itself out."

In this history, bikes are the American Indians to the car's Christopher Columbus. Everything about our road system, from the lanes to the signs to the traffic lights, is designed for the car, often at the expense of the bike.

What to do? Today's cycling activists generally split into two groups: "vehicularists" and "facilitators." Proponents of "vehicular cycling" believe bikes should act as cars: occupy full lanes, stop at red lights, use a hand signal at least 100 feet ahead of a turn. That's the best way to make cars—and policymakers—aware of bicycles and to respect them as equals on the road. When it comes to making roads safe for bikes, vehicularists tend to favor training, education (most cities offer bike safety classes), and enforcement. Cyclists should not grouse about moving violations, the vehicularists argue. It is a sign that they're being treated as equals.

Facilitators, meanwhile, say we should change the laws and the environment to recognize the innate differences between bikes and cars. That means special facilities like bike lanes, bike paths (elevated trails separate from the road), and even Copenhagen-style traffic lights for bikes. It would also mean changing car-centric laws that don't make sense for bikes, like the rule that says you need to come to a complete stop at a stop sign.

The beauty of this approach, say facilitators, is that it creates compliance from the bottom up rather than from the top down. Bike-friendly pathways encourage more people to bike. More bikes create peer pressure for bikers to follow the law. (In Copenhagen, for example, you'll see long lines of bikes stopped at traffic lights.) When more bikers follow the law, the heavy hand of enforcement becomes less necessary. Roadway design also influences bike design. City bikes in Northern Europe are heavier and more durable—in other words, more carlike—than the hybrids and racing machines you see in American cities. (Slate's Seth Stevenson provides a handy guide to European bikes.) The result is a relatively slow, comfortable, and civilized riding experience.

Vehicularists see the potential transformation of America into a Euro-style bike paradise not just as a far-fetched utopia but as an insult. Dedicated bike paths are an admission that the cyclist deserves pity and should be walled off from the world. Bike paths are separate but unequal—a way for motorists to get bikers out of their way. John Forester, the author and engineer known as the intellectual forebear of vehicular cycling, traces the philosophy back to a set of laws introduced in 1944 that relegated bikes to the far right of the road, prohibited cycling outside of bike lanes, and banned them from the street if bike paths were available. (These laws were part of the Uniform Vehicle Code, a national model on which states base their own traffic laws.) Since the rise of the automobile, vehicularists have seen any attempt to treat bikes differently as a civil rights violation.

The debate rages on. Facilitators point to the aesthetic benefits of bike paths. Vehicularists point to statistics that bikeways actually increase the number of accidents. (Partly because segregating bikes makes it more dangerous for cyclists who stay on the roads, partly because intersections involving bike paths can be especially hazardous.) Facilitators say bike paths create more bikers. Vehicularists say the push for paths is the result of more bikers, not vice versa. Facilitators say bike paths are helpful for beginners and older cyclists, who might not want to brave the open road. You know who else liked bike paths? say vehicularists. Hitler.

The strongest argument in the vehicularists' favor is realism. Building bike paths is expensive, and state budgets are already hurting. Who's going to want to put taxpayer dollars—and most taxpayers also happen to be motorists—into frivolous bike playgrounds?

Enter the Idaho stop-sign law. The rule, passed by the Idaho state legislature in 1982 and updated in 2005, essentially allows bikers to treat stop signs as yield signs. If a biker slows down and sees no cars coming, he or she can roll through a stop sign—a so-called "rolling stop." The "Idaho stop" has become a rallying point for vehicularists and facilitators alike—a sort of Great Compromise for bicycles. Many vehicularists like it, because it acknowledges the proper role of bikes on the street rather than on silly pathways (although purists will say that it should apply to cars as well). Facilitators like it because it recognizes a core difference between cars and bikes: the importance of momentum. As this great video explains, riding a bicycle becomes a lot less efficient as soon as you have to start making regular, complete stops.

For motorists who see bikers as law-flouting pests, this momentum argument will certainly sound like a self-serving justification for breaking the law. Perhaps that perception explains why no states have followed Idaho's lead and made their traffic codes more bike-friendly. (A movement to bring the Idaho stop to Oregon failed earlier this year.) Skeptics say that the rule would lead to more crashes. But a follow-up study of the Idaho statute found that accidents involving bikes actually decreased the year after the law was passed and haven't varied much since.

But even if we can't create our own private Idaho—you hear that groaner a lot among San Francisco bikers—we can still get pretty close. Despite the anecdotal increase in bike-related ticketing in Washington recently, police rarely crack down on bikers who execute a rolling stop. (I tested one out in front of a cop car just the other day.) In the end, the legal gray area is everyone's friend. It allows cops to avoid stopping every last biker who rolls through a stop sign. (Some will know this as the paper bag theory of law enforcement.) And it allows bikers to ride knowing that safe, reasonable behavior will not be punished just because it doesn't follow the letter of the motor vehicle law. Even if you do get the occasional ticket, $25 is a small price for the increased freedom you have as a cyclist.

As a biker, my wish would be for police to crack down on more dangerous behavior, such as riding at night without a light or tearing the wrong way down a one-way street. Yes, I committed the latter crime just yesterday, and I admit I was in the wrong. If cops started handing out more tickets for one-way infractions, bikers like me would probably clean up their most-outrageous behaviors. Once that happens, maybe all of us—cyclists and car people and activists and cops—could agree to leave the rolling stop alone.

jeffpoulin 10-24-09 12:03 AM

Nice article. I'm definitely in the "facilitator" camp, one that sees bicycling, walking, and all other forms of human powered transportation as distinctly different than motored transportation, and should not be subjected to the same laws. Still, I ride on the roads and therefore must conform to some generally established rules. I stay to the right as much as possible, yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, and stop at red lights when there's traffic. However, I admit I also roll through most stop signs if it's safe to do so and if I stop at a red light and there is no traffic to yield to, I'll simply go through it and continue on my way. Above all, however, I like dedicated bike paths which separate me from traffic. I find it's not only safer, but prettier and the air is cleaner too.

whatsmyname 10-24-09 12:16 AM


Originally Posted by Commando303 (Post 9915446)
"If there weren't cars, we wouldn't need stop signs," says Andy Thornley of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition...Even if you do get the occasional ticket, $25 is a small price for the increased freedom you have as a cyclist.

Thornley's point is singularly unconvincing: if there weren't pedestrians, we wouldn't need pedestrian crossings either; if there weren't trolleys, we wouldn't need trolley lines...but there are, so we do. And his later arguments that "we didn't need stop signs in the old days because it was so quiet" and "cyclists don't need to stop, they just need to slow and look properly" are respectively irrelevant (well, now it's not quiet) and equally applicable to cars (any stop sign could really be a yield and still safe if it weren't for the morons that don't slow and look properly, so everyone has to stop - and since there's no monopoly on morons, this applies to cyclists too).

Also, if you get a moving violation as a cyclist, it can cost you more than the fine if you still need auto insurance by bumping up your premium (right?), which many of us here still do.

imi 10-24-09 01:55 AM


Originally Posted by jeffpoulin (Post 9915683)
Nice article. I'm definitely in the "facilitator" camp, one that sees bicycling, walking, and all other forms of human powered transportation as distinctly different than motored transportation, and should not be subjected to the same laws. Still, I ride on the roads and therefore must conform to some generally established rules. I stay to the right as much as possible, yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, and stop at red lights when there's traffic. However, I admit I also roll through most stop signs if it's safe to do so and if I stop at a red light and there is no traffic to yield to, I'll simply go through it and continue on my way. Above all, however, I like dedicated bike paths which separate me from traffic. I find it's not only safer, but prettier and the air is cleaner too.

^^^ this sums it up for me too... well put jeffpoulin :)

tcs 10-24-09 05:25 AM

"How Do We Get Cyclists to Obey Traffic Laws?"

I dunno. How will we get motor vehicle operators to obey traffic laws?

tcs

whatsmyname 10-24-09 07:59 AM


Originally Posted by tcs (Post 9916031)
I dunno. How will we get motor vehicle operators to obey traffic laws?

The same way for both, I expect: ticket ticket ticket ticket ticket (ticket).

DataJunkie 10-24-09 09:20 AM

Y'all are going to need to increase funding for the police.

lil brown bat 10-24-09 02:20 PM

A&s, p&r, m-0-u-s-e.

BarracksSi 10-24-09 02:53 PM


Originally Posted by tcs (Post 9916031)
"How Do We Get Cyclists to Obey Traffic Laws?"

I dunno. How will we get motor vehicle operators to obey traffic laws?

tcs

The next time I hear this complaint about motorists, I'm going to expect to see a sh*tload of evidence that they regularly break traffic laws.

If you can't produce it, then STFU and don't ever waste our time again.

BarracksSi 10-24-09 02:54 PM

And I mean a LOT of breaking traffic laws, like at so-and-so intersection, 50% of drivers ran the red light and went straight through the intersection.

Again, it's a stupid point to try to use in an argument.

lambo_vt 10-24-09 03:09 PM


Originally Posted by BarracksSi (Post 9917853)
The next time I hear this complaint about motorists, I'm going to expect to see a sh*tload of evidence that they regularly break traffic laws.

If you can't produce it, then STFU and don't ever waste our time again.

whoah!

BarracksSi 10-24-09 03:14 PM


Originally Posted by lambo_vt (Post 9917914)
whoah!

Really, I've had it up to *here with that poor attempt at a counter argument, no matter who says it (tcs just happened to be the most recent one).

If I weren't busy watching a football game from the patio of my neighborhood sports bar, I could have sat there and faced the other direction to watch traffic and see who really broke laws on their way through the intersection.

I'll bet that, of the several hundred vehicles that passed through, maybe one or two would have broken a law. Maybe.

The saying about throwing stones in glass houses comes to mind.

Oregon Southpaw 10-24-09 03:27 PM


Despite the anecdotal increase in bike-related ticketing in Washington recently, police rarely crack down on bikers who execute a rolling stop. (I tested one out in front of a cop car just the other day.)
This is interesting to me because I used to be the type of cyclist who had the entitled attitude that the world was my own personal criterium. Then I wisened up and realized the truth of the old adage about "old" or "bold" bicyclists. Now I'm really sensitive to people disregarding traffic laws, and I get seriously upset by bicyclists who sidewalk, nearly hit pedestrians, etc.

I used to flagrantly blow lights/signs/signals in front of cop cars knowing they'd never do anything to me. When I was dumb, I at least should have feared repremand enough that I wouldn't be that blatant. But it is a sign of how it is.

I was really happy when I saw a bike-cop yesterday politely inform bicyclists about their errored-ways, flagging them down after blowing a stop sign near campus. That being said, it made me cringe everytime the bike-cop dumped his bike off the curb each time to do it. The local tax fund must be going to lots of back wheels :/

lambo_vt 10-24-09 03:49 PM


Originally Posted by BarracksSi (Post 9917929)
Really, I've had it up to *here with that poor attempt at a counter argument, no matter who says it (tcs just happened to be the most recent one).

If I weren't busy watching a football game from the patio of my neighborhood sports bar, I could have sat there and faced the other direction to watch traffic and see who really broke laws on their way through the intersection.

I'll bet that, of the several hundred vehicles that passed through, maybe one or two would have broken a law. Maybe.

The saying about throwing stones in glass houses comes to mind.

Around here of those several hundred vehicles you'd have seen 75% roll the stop sign, lots speeding, the huge majority not properly yielding to peds in crosswalks. Not that that means anything, really. The two arguments are apples and oranges.

DataJunkie 10-24-09 04:02 PM

BarrackSi must live in utopia. Everywhere I have lived speeding is an acceptable rule to break and stop signs are generally roll stopped. Peds are treated like crap. I have family here that are car free and they have a worse time than the cyclists.

BarracksSi 10-24-09 04:12 PM

Speeding and rolling stops are hardly the most dangerous things that any driver does.

Y'all get back to me when you see drivers regularly running red lights.

lambo_vt 10-24-09 04:17 PM

I dunno, I'd say speeding is one of the most dangerous things the average driver does.

But are we talking dangerous acts or illegal ones? Just like there's a difference between the two for drivers, there's a difference for cyclists too.

lil brown bat 10-24-09 04:51 PM


Originally Posted by BarracksSi (Post 9918167)
Speeding and rolling stops are hardly the most dangerous things that any driver does.

Oh, okay, so now we're not talking about breaking the law, we're talking about breaking the laws that you deem important. Would you like to move those goalposts some more?

Mitchxout 10-24-09 05:28 PM

I believe bicycles deserve special consideration in respect to traffic laws. We ride unprotected in the wind and rain, ease congestion, don't take up parking spaces, save precious fuel for cagers, don't impact the roads and bridges, and so on. As long as it's safe, I say anything goes.

BarracksSi 10-24-09 07:00 PM


Originally Posted by lil brown bat (Post 9918320)
Oh, okay, so now we're not talking about breaking the law, we're talking about breaking the laws that you deem important. Would you like to move those goalposts some more?

Look, the point is, we've got people here who'll run red lights and stop signs, go the wrong way down one-way streets, use sidewalks, and all this other crap that drivers complain cyclists do, and then get all "eye for an eye" and whine that drivers break all the laws, too.

But if you stop and really watch drivers and cyclists, I'll guarantee that you'll see a lot more cyclists flagrantly breaking those laws than you will drivers.

*****ing and whining about what other people are doing, and then using those complaints as an excuse to stoop to their level, is friggin' preschool idiocy. I thought people were supposed to grow up.

JPprivate 10-24-09 07:27 PM


Originally Posted by BarracksSi (Post 9917853)
The next time I hear this complaint about motorists, I'm going to expect to see a sh*tload of evidence that they regularly break traffic laws.

If you can't produce it, then STFU and don't ever waste our time again.

Well put :thumb:

wneumann 10-24-09 07:35 PM


Originally Posted by Mitchxout (Post 9918489)
I believe bicycles deserve special consideration in respect to traffic laws. We ride unprotected in the wind and rain, ease congestion, don't take up parking spaces, save precious fuel for cagers, don't impact the roads and bridges, and so on. As long as it's safe, I say anything goes.

We also poop angels and belch glitter and faerie wings.

lambo_vt 10-24-09 07:39 PM


Originally Posted by BarracksSi (Post 9918877)
Look, the point is, we've got people here who'll run red lights and stop signs, go the wrong way down one-way streets, use sidewalks, and all this other crap that drivers complain cyclists do, and then get all "eye for an eye" and whine that drivers break all the laws, too.

But if you stop and really watch drivers and cyclists, I'll guarantee that you'll see a lot more cyclists flagrantly breaking those laws than you will drivers.

*****ing and whining about what other people are doing, and then using those complaints as an excuse to stoop to their level, is friggin' preschool idiocy. I thought people were supposed to grow up.

I don't think that's what tcs was saying at all, nor do I get the impression that people here justify bending the rules by saying that drivers do it too. But feel free to keep jumping down people's throats about it; you're really persuasive when you're like this.

People operating vehicles break laws. You seem to believe cyclists do it more. I and others think it's very common regardless of vehicle. Really, what does it matter? How does it affect your ride?

DataJunkie 10-24-09 08:06 PM


Originally Posted by BarracksSi (Post 9918167)
Speeding and rolling stops are hardly the most dangerous things that any driver does.

Y'all get back to me when you see drivers regularly running red lights.

I have personally witnessed in the time span of one week 4 drivers running red lights. Numerous more sneaking through on a yellow that turns red while they are in the intersection.

BarracksSi 10-24-09 08:28 PM


Originally Posted by DataJunkie (Post 9919183)
I have personally witnessed in the time span of one week 4 drivers running red lights. Numerous more sneaking through on a yellow that turns red while they are in the intersection.

Four out of how many hundred or thousand drivers?


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