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    An article on Slate about the reality and history of bicycle traffic laws. Read the article, then come back and discuss!
    • CommentAuthorsfbee
    • CommentTimeOct 20th 2009
    I suppose I'm more of a vehicularist than a facilitator, though I'm not 100% on board with either.

    I agree with their stance (to a degree) on bike paths and bike lanes. Bike paths are fantastic for the casual rider, but are usually littered with garbage, and trafficked by pedestrians. Most of the bike lanes in Houston are poorly maintained, and usually contain dangerous debris, road kill, and other dangerous obstacles that force you to constantly weave in and out of traffic to avoid potential wrecks or flats. Essentially they're just gutters.

    I pretty much never ride to the right of the road, just because I've known folks who have suffered serious injuries from being clipped by reckless drivers. I feel that my life is worth the miniscule amount of energy it costs a driver to pull completely into the next lane while passing me, so I have no problem riding in a manner that forces them to do so.

    I agree with the "idaho stop" law. Cyclists should not blow through stop signs or lights, but they should be able to slow down and continue if the coast is clear. More often than not, drivers get impatient with the fact that they have a cyclist in from of them at a light or stop sign, and will put themselves and others (including the cyclist) at risk in an attempt to quickly pass them either inside of or after the intersection. I find that getting a head start mitigates this by allowing the drivers behind me to have sufficient room to safely pass, rather than having them throw a fit while riding right up on my ass.

    "You know who else liked bike paths? say vehicularists. Hitler."

    Wow. That's harsh
    • CommentAuthorlatron
    • CommentTimeOct 20th 2009 edited
    Here's a video was produced for the campaign to legalize the "Idaho stop" in Oregon. The measure lost, but the video's points are all still good. Know many of you have seen this already, but it bears reposting.

    Bicycles, Rolling Stops, and the Idaho Stop

    • CommentAuthorSkidMark
    • CommentTimeOct 20th 2009 edited
    The way I look at it, as long as cars are smashing into us and getting away with it (if/when it's their fault) is as long as I will take traffic laws with a grain of salt, when riding a bicycle. My attitude on a motorcycle is similar, but it's more because it is so much fun to drag your knee around corners on twisty backroads, with no cars, no cops, and no pedestrians. The only person I'll hurt is myself. I don't ride like a loon all the time, but if the opportunity presents itself...

    Even the smalllest car is big and bulky enough to justify the traffic laws imposed on it. An old Austin Mini is just as capable of killing a pedestrian, bicyclist, or motorcyclist as an 18-wheeler is.

    Of course this thread is already over, as Godwin's Law has already been realized.
    • CommentAuthorfilthpunx
    • CommentTimeOct 20th 2009
    the thing that complicates this is experience and knowledge. some of us can roll through a light without even knowing it, but have executed enough thought to know you can, with no effort. but then there are those who will wait for the green...then BAM!!! hit by sumthing,be it a bike, car whatever whilst doing all in theyre power to avoid it.i feel theres way too many humps to get over to do anything soon.. all we can do is start the cycle. as the cycling community we need to establish OUR OWN traffic rules first,so we can all learn to ride safley amongst each other(ex. stay on your own side of the road).as far as i know everyone has theyre own definition of safe, so we need to establish the best of all our rules then put em in a pot,and pick the best ones. if we can come up with an excellent list, then follow it and set an example on the road, then we can tackle establishing our forever owned right to the road, amongst "motor" vehicles. bickering amongst each other about clothing, bike appearance,or even what kind of bike it is seems to set us back further than we will gain.fuck the hipster shit, roadie shit, tarck shit, we have to unite as CYCLISTS, get over our differences , smile at each other and fix this mess of a world we live in
    The Idaho Stop is what I — and I hope most of us — do anyway. It would be nice to have it in place as a law, though.

    I guess my feeling is that bicycles are different from cars and traffic laws need to reflect that. I ride pretty far out in the road when it's the safe thing to do, like when there are cars parked along the curb or when it's dark, but I want cars to pass by unhindered otherwise — having a nervous nellie hovering on my ass doesn't make me feel safe either. But just like that's "obstructing traffic" in the worst situations, a motorist honking at a cyclist is a threat and should be treated as such.

    I have the benefit of a beautiful bike trail here and a relatively bike-friendly area. The separate bike trail could use some legal thinking — if bikes are vehicles, how come all the stop signs face the bike trail and not the road? — but in general, I can get much higher speeds much more safely without worrying about cars. Wide, safe bike lanes (see Montréal) on roads would be great, too. That way, different types of traffic go different speeds safely.
    I like bike paths & lanes if I’m in the mood for a leisurely ride without the hassles of dealing with motorized traffic.
    However, I feel that if a cyclist rides on the road with other traffic that they should ride on the right half of the lane AND NOT on the shoulder & be treated with all the respect & rights that motorized vehicles have, PERIOD.
    Pete, the question is, if bikes are treated with the respect and rights of other vehicles as currently defined, then we have to do all sorts of silly things like not crossing at crosswalks, coming to a full stop at stop signs, and riding only one of us per lane. That is, if your town, like mine, has two lanes, I could be in the right lane and you could be in the left lane. It obviously makes very little sense, though, so cops don't pursue what little of bike law they know.
    • CommentAuthorMancha150
    • CommentTimeOct 21st 2009
    This is a very interesting article and is and will continue to be a very important debate. I think that there is both a bunch of hypocrisy and inconsistency within biking and traffic laws that needs to be analyzed overall. I think there is always going to be a trade off and everyone knows it. This seems to be most applicable to commuters since I believe the majority of people who ride for leisure have very different demands (bike paths, for example) which have very little to do with the individuals that depend on their bike as much as any driver depends on their car. The tradeoff is that we as cyclist want to be respected more and protected more (legally, that is), while at the same time most of us have become so accustomed to our own way of riding that we would not be too happy with increased formalities in commuter cycling. Any rational local government would accept to give more "rights" to cyclists if and when they comply with a set of rules which we would certainly find contradict the lifestyle and freedom we have become accustomed to on a bike. The reality is, as I am sure the bike messenger community can attest to (and this article mentions), what makes commuting on a bike a viable, efficient, cost effective and time preserving is precisely what goes against common traffic laws.

    While Mexico City is not a good place to begin any kind of debate regarding commuting on bicycles, I spent four years in DC, which gave me a reason to try and understand this article a little better. The city is small and compact, and traffic patterns, accompanied by city infrastructure and planning (streets and streetlights), are very distinct from other cities. I found it to be quite the bikers paradise: relatively tranquil, smooth roads, lots of one way streets, very wide sidewalks. As such, it is very easy to do things that would be highly against traffic laws if they were put in place formally. I for one have a hard time agreeing to the kind of trade off that increased formalization of commuter biking would cause. I ride my bike either because public transportation doesnt take me where I need to go, or because the commute is shorter in terms of time. I cut my travel time to class from an hour and 10 mins to 40 mins by biking in Mexico City, but I only achieve this doing things that completely disregard traffic laws (but who am I kidding, cars dont follow them here either). So I am a perfect example of this hypocrisy: I want to be protected and be able to seek recompense the next time I am run over by a cab who refuses to see me, but if this means signaling a turn with my arm, or having a license plate, I would find it an offense towards the freedom I feel on my bike now.

    I dont think there is any one solution to this problem. i agree with some earlier comments that bike paths would not really help. They are always unkempt, and cyclists compete with joggers who compete with walkers who compete with dogs. For the purpose of commuting bike paths are crap, and bike lanes i feel put the biker more at risk given their proximity to street-parked cars, alleys and intersection where cars make right turns on red. In my perfect world, we would be allowed to take over any lane just like a car (hey sometimes we even go faster than them), and receive the same treatment (both respect and legal protection) as cars. This obviously entails giving in to some demands from the other side. The reality is, I dont think any non cyclists will ever be convinced that we are good enough at what we do that we are not putting anyone at risk but ourselves, as skidmark says. My logic is, if you let motorcycles do all the shit they do (and the only difference between them and us is gasoline), weaving and some other things (which i realize are much more "illegal" in the States than in Mexico), why cant we be respected in a similar light? I find motorcycles to be way more dangerous and much more of a hazard.

    I think the Idaho move was a very symbolic first step. Its not even about immunity as much as it is about creating a legal AND cultural framework for commuting on bike. Cars and pedestrians this way become more aware of us because they realize we are both part of their world and at the same time, operate differently for obvious reasons. Then they slowly become jealous because we get to work faster and spend less of our income on gasoline or rising public transportation costs, and everyone owns a giant bowery.
    This seems to be most applicable to commuters since I believe the majority of people who ride for leisure have very different demands (bike paths, for example) which have very little to do with the individuals that depend on their bike as much as any driver depends on their car.

    Since bike trails, at least in southern New England, travel along old trail lines, they often go from town center to town center. They're very practical for commuting.

    I for one have a hard time agreeing to the kind of trade off that increased formalization of commuter biking would cause.

    Well, so let's assume that bike traffic laws did what laws are supposed to do: formalize community standards. I mean, "Wait at a stop light, even when there's no one to wait for" doesn't make all that much sense when you're only going 10 mph, only weigh 200 lbs, and can stop in 12 inches. So let's say the law becomes, "Treat stop lights like cars treat stop signs, and treat stop signs like cars treat yield signs." And "Pedestrians have right of way over bikes, bikes have right of way over cars." "Bikes must travel no more than two-wide unless it's a single lane road, in which case they must ride single file." And so forth.

    i agree with some earlier comments that bike paths would not really help. They are always unkempt, and cyclists compete with joggers who compete with walkers who compete with dogs. For the purpose of commuting bike paths are crap, and bike lanes i feel put the biker more at risk given their proximity to street-parked cars, alleys and intersection where cars make right turns on red.

    Our bike paths are awesome. You tell someone "I'm passing on your left" from 75' away, they hear you and wave you past. Dog walkers keep their dogs close. They're certainly not as well maintained as the roads, but that's because they're not considered all that important. And still, they're safe, beautiful, and relatively speedy. If I were to make changes to them, I'd make the cars have to stop at some of the crosses, rather than leaving the onus on the cyclists, and I'd paint a stripe down the whole thing so people realize it works like a road. But that's a matter of evolving an existing system, not starting from scratch.

    Bike lanes need to be wide enough to clear car doors (or replace parking), lights need to be thought out with regard to cyclists, and so forth.

    It happens in some places. It takes money, time, and effort. But if there are enough voters to make a row, even a little one, folks can get it done.
    • CommentAuthorMancha150
    • CommentTimeOct 24th 2009
    I understand where you are coming from joshua. I think every city has a different situation, especially with regards to existing infrastructure and norms. I have never ridden in New England, so I will take your word for it that its in pretty decent shape, and that the culture is there. I think in most cities its different though. I didnt get to do too much riding in chicago before I left for school, but for example people who travel along the lakefront either coming from the northern suburbs or somewhere else in the city i think are very limited. Most people who have track bikes have them for the sake of simplicity, speed, and time saving. I think in chicago at least (and certainly in DC) having people ride through these paths on track bikes can be dangerous. There are a lot of "intersections" and crosses that were not made for quick cycling. But again, I need to see this beyond the urban cycling. Bike paths are great for people coming in from or going out to the suburbs. And if they are efficient (as in your town) then we can always hope this will pursuade people to try it out. And we all know having people try out commuting on a bike on a busy city street is not a great idea.

    On a side note mexico city apparently built a bike path along the beltway/highway system and people really never used it (or the bike trail going all the way to neighboring city Cuernavaca) because i guess people would actually knock you off your bike and steal it somewhere along the way.

    I definitely agree with what you are saying regarding evolving a system. I think as you said and I pointed out, there needs to be a distinction about what bikes are able to do relative to what people and cars can do. Once I move back to the states I hope to get more involved in this issue. Its not as expensive as people think to create some kind of framework for these issues, and one which satisfies both sides. There just need to be efforts on both sides: both urban cyclist in the case of cities and local legislators. Thanks for posting this story and article by the way. I think we have a responsibility other than buying aerospokes to make our communities better for what we love, so everyone can enjoy it as well.
    I think I don't look at it as a responsibility. A responsibility is something you're answerable for. This is something that directly benefits me and my community. The better the bike paths, the better (and safer) the biking, parking, noise, air cleanliness, and so forth.

    Like, a couple of years ago, there was this pedestrian walking along the middle of the path. I said, as I do, "I'm passing on your left", which she reacted to by jumping to the left. I said, "OK, passing on your right, then," at which point she jumped to the right. I hit the brakes and skidded until I was juuust pressing into her back with my shoulder, my back wheel in the air. She complained to me that my bike was too quiet, and that she can usually hear people coming. I said, "Thanks?"

    So, she was being a big idiot, sure, but there's an issue that there aren't lines down the middle of the path at that spot and people don't know what the law is. I've been talking with a local bike collective about making some signs, though (I'm a graphic designer), so everyone knows. It's not an abstract feeling of responsibility I have, though. It's that I don't want to run into people. I don't want folks to be afraid of cyclists because I don't want them to be afraid of me. I want to be able to ride smoothly back and forth from town. I don't want to crash.

    Enlightened self-interest isn't the only force for good in the world, but it is a force for good.

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