Saturday, September 25, 2010

Here Come Da Traffic Law Judge

Okay, so I'm not a judge, but I am an opinionated old goat, and in this day and age that seems to count just as much. I was taken to task by someone on another forum (someone who's opinion I usually respect) about my belief that some traffic laws currently on the books just simply are not safe for bicyclists to follow. This person feels that bicyclists should obey ALL traffic laws ALL of the time, and that is something I simply cannot agree with.

Y'all already know my take on riding on the sidewalk as a result of my comment about The Solidly Safer Sidewalk. I will say, without hesitation, that even if it were illegal to ride on the sidewalk in Phoenix (as it is in other communities around the world) I would still ride on the sidewalk and risk a ticket: in order to be safe, sometimes you just have to break a law which shouldn't apply to your vehicle in the first place.

The web site Bicycle Safety has this to say about Collision Type #10: The Rear End:

"A car runs into you from behind. This is what many cyclists fear the most, but it's actually not very common, comprising only 3.8% of collisions. However, it's one of the hardest collisions to avoid, since you're not usually looking behind you."

Uh, gee whiz, "only 3.8%," eh? Gosh, considering that there are around 600 bicyclists killed every year on American roads, 3.8% means we might have saved "only" around 23 lives every year if those folks could ride on the sidewalk. Not bad, eh? Unless, of course, you're one of a group of about 23 "special" people!

Here's a suggestion from Bicycle Safety about avoiding Collision Type #10: The Rear End:

"The best way to avoid getting Rear-Ended is to ride on very wide roads or in bike lanes, or on roads where the traffic moves slowly, and to use lights when biking at night." (Emphasis is mine.)

Note that NONE of those suggestions work for the road pictured in The Solidly Safer Sidewalk.

Here're some other comments from Bicycle Safety about Collision Type #10: The Rear End:

"Avoid busy streets. One of the biggest mistakes that people make when they start biking is to take the exact same routes they used when they were driving. It's usually better to take different streets with fewer and slower cars. Sure, cyclists have a right to the road, but that's a small consolation when you're dead. Consider how far you can take this strategy: If you learn your routes well, you'll find that in many cities you can travel through neighborhoods to get to most places, only crossing the busiest streets rather than traveling on them." (Emphasis is, again, mine.)

I would LOVE to find a different way to the destination of the photo in The Solidly Safer Sidewalk, but, no, my destination is on the south-west corner of an intersection of the busy north-south road you see in the photo and another, just as busy and bike unfriendly east-west road north of this location.

And that apartment complex you see on the right? Where that driveway is? If you think you could ride into the parking lot and exit out the back into the adjoining neighborhood you can think again: every single business or apartment complex south on this road, for over a half mile, has a solid, six-foot block wall running the entire length of their property.

The soonest you can get off of this road, to head west, is at that traffic signal you see about a quarter of a mile down the road. It leads into a credit union parking lot and from there into a neighborhood road.

Another law which I find inapplicable to bicyclists, for safety reasons, has to do with the one which proscribes "California Stops" at stop signs and stop lights.

I make no bones about my opinion on this: If I'm rolling up to a stop sign or a red stop light, and there is NO cross traffic, I will slow down but I will NOT stop.

The reason is simple: Starting and stopping are the two most vulnerable times on a bike. If these maneuvers ain't necessary, I ain't gonna do 'em, ESPECIALLY if some motorist is pulling up behind me in the traffic lane, and ESPECIALLY if it is dark.

Rather than go into my OWN, lengthy dissertation on this, I'll refer everybody to the excellent, informative and entertaining video presented by Urban Velo at Bicycle Rolling Stop Animation – Idaho Stop Law. (The ONLY quibble I have with the Urban Velo presentation is a minor semantic difference: they feel "blowing through a stop sign" is something you do at high speed, whereas I feel it is something you do as a result of disobeying the law at ANY speed.)

Most traffic laws were created by people who drive, but don't bike. As a result those laws do not take into account the special vulnerability of bicyclists, pedestrians and even motorcyclists.

Bring on the flames! I got my fire extinguisher at the READY!


  1. Politicians have given us too many stop signs where any reasonable person or competent traffic engineer would put a yield sign instead, no doubt about it. But IMO you should change your "no cross traffic" clause in your California Stop technique to "no traffic whatsoever" if for no other reason than to be self-consistent about your otherwise high level of concern for getting hit from behind--a car also California stopping at the same stop sign coming up behind you before turning left or right may not see you, same for an oncoming one, turning your mutual California stop into a messy California Roll. Also if anyone else is around your action motivated by well-reasoned traffic logic is just as likely to be perceived as one more damned cyclist who considers themselves above the law, and IMHO it won't pay off for any cyclists when some cyclists send that message. As for the sidewalk, though, we live in a state that legally considers it perfectly OK for you to ride as much as you want there in a safe manner, and while I do it for short distances too almost every day, it's generally too slow and too dicey a place for me to feel safe or satisfied to ride any distance, so I don't stay for very long. Crossing and entering scenarios are a high cause of bicycle - motor vehicle accidents, and sidewalks are really engineered for slow-moving peds and not faster flowing bikes. I'm slowly developing an opinion that many of our concepts of what seems "subjectively safe" are objectively unsafe, and I would prefer to be uncomfortably safe rather than comfortably unsafe.

  2. Yeah, JRA, I think --- at least I HOPE --- I was kind of alluding to that with the next paragraph, after the "NO cross traffic" statement, where I said I wasn't gonna stop "ESPECIALLY if some motorist is pulling up behind me in the traffic lane, and ESPECIALLY if it is dark."

    Your other point about "Those DAMNED cyclists!" is well taken, but I'm thinking those people think that ANYWAY, even if you and I are riding strictly following the the letter of the law ... which, BTW, THEY PROBABLY DON'T EVEN KNOW and think you and I being in the traffic lane IS illegal!

  3. Oh yeah, one other thing, JRA, I TOTALLY agree with you about sidewalk riding: it is tricky and not made for the faster moving bicycles. Like you, when I ride it I ONLY ride it for as long as conditions exist which tell me that is the safest place to be.

    The SECOND I have a chance to move down into the faster traffic lane of the street, I take it. After all: riding the bike is MUCH more satisfying and exhilarating if you're doing it at 15 mph or above!