We Don’t Have the Same: Cycling Edition

October 31st, 2011 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

bikepieces“It’s not fair!” (Add foot stomping.)

Just the latest sensible, cycling-related bill to go to the MA legislature is certain to piss the puerile in the public and body. It highlights the fundamental and extremely strong hostility that delays any transportation laws related to two wheels.

This one is a simple amplification of existing law. Rep. William Brownsberger (D-Belmont) proposes codifying crosswalk regulations to make it plain that mowing down a cyclist in one should carry the same penalties as failing to yield to a pedestrian in one. That would be H408, An Act providing for the safety of bicyclists traveling on bicycle paths.

As has happened to me numerous times, far too many motorists see a cyclist on a bike path heading to a crosswalk that continues the path and lose it. They drive at the cyclist, blow their horns, fail to stop back of the crosswalk or stop in it to prepare for their turn (another moving violation), and curse at the cyclist screaming they and their car/SUV/truck have right of way. They don’t, they shouldn’t, they need to be aware of it, and the law should make it plain that threatening a cyclist with maiming or death like that comes with a $200 fine, a moving violation, and an insurance surcharge.

The bill is presently in Joint Committee on the Judiciary hands. It may never come out and may require repeated introduction. Having been through the hearing process, testifying on a bike-related bill, I’ve seen and heard expressions of that underlying issue.

Too many motorists, including those in the General Court jealously guard what they think are inalienable rights to road fairness…as they define it. Unless they also bike, they are almost certain to go all childish if they think anyone, particularly pedestrians or cyclists is getting some privilege denied to them.

That attitude reminds me of my lads when they were in nursery school. Early on, a key academic and social lesson is fairness. The little kids get so excited when they can recognize and exclaim when, “We have the same!”

Unfortunately, MassBike put all its marbles in the bag marked Same Roads. Same Rules. On the face of it, equating cyclists and drivers should greatly benefit bikers.

The central idea is that cyclists obey lights, signs and regulations, and that drivers treat bicycles as the law defines them, other vehicles on the road. Of course, in practice far too many drivers want and demand the first but not the second.

To see the ensuing hate fest and understand the raw emotion that leads so many drivers to buzz, scream at or otherwise threaten cyclists, visit any online site that has a cycling-related article or post. The vitriol and absurd generalization goes far beyond irrationality and into mania. Despite buckets of statistics proving otherwise, a shocking number of drivers hold that cyclists (and their weaker demon siblings pedestrians) are the causes of injury, collisions and deaths on our roads. It is, they hold, the 25-pound, non-motorized bike that is the danger, not the ton and one half metal shell.

Real differences

I’ll have to do a few more posts on this, particularly pointing out flaws in the same-roads/rules shtick. There are many times and conditions calling for different rules. In fact, the future needs to incorporate different laws and rules in many cases, as bike-oriented countries and cities in Asia and Europe do. They are not as unobservant as we seem to be.

For a teaser, most non-cycling drivers don’t notice or think that bicycles fall over at a stop unless the cyclist puts a foot down or does some skillful tracks moves. Yet, bikes have very little inertia to overcome as they leave a stop. Cyclists can’t safely ride on shoulders or even narrow bike lanes when those are full of sand or gravel or glass shards.

Each of those factors has implications that literal minded, it’s-unfair drivers may find troubling, things that don’t fit in we-have-the-same molds. A bike leaving a stop for example, can freak out drivers. They should be able to move in coordination with a cyclist on the right, but often veer either way and seem to panic. We need instead to head to either having a bike box at the front of the intersection behind the stop sign or to let cyclists leave ahead of the drivers, maybe on a red after stopping. That lets the driver overtake the cyclist and feel in control — safe for everybody.

Likewise, for the shoulder/path rubble. Drivers are often angry if cyclists are in “their” road. When cyclists cannot ride to the right of the main travel lane safely, they may and should take as much of a travel lane as they need. A duty of drivers is to watch the road ahead for unsafe conditions. It doesn’t take a lot of sense and smarts to see the glass or sand to the right of the fog line.

There are many situations and physical differences that put the lie to the same-road/rules platitudes. Unfortunately, that program gets invoked whenever a sensible bill or enforcement call arises.

Facts are, for safety of everyone, we have to make it plain where there are differences. Many nations have done this, but we are still in the beginning of it. Short- and mid-term the burden will fall to a few savvy, safety-minded legislators and to the various cyclists and their groups. We can’t count on drivers to become observant suddenly, but we can inform them repeatedly of the physical realities and distinctions.

“We have the same!,” works when you’re four. As you age, you need to know more and be more discerning.


2 Responses

  1. Uncle says:

    Back in the 80s, Bicycling magazine ran a piece I’ve never forgotten, called “Ride fast, hog the road, act like traffic.” It was the antithesis of Same Road-Same Rules in every way, and a lot of that article still makes sense. Richard Ballantine suggested too that most drivers do see bicycles through the eyes of their inner 4-year-old. He said that’s why they can’t gauge a bicycle’s speed. It may also be why they act like 4-year-olds in these arguments.

    My personal same-road-same-rules peeve is use of the automotive right-hand-turn signal. It’s literally a horse-and buggy holdover that means nothing to any driver who has had a licence over 10 minutes. A Bicycling item of similar vintage advocated just pointing right. I’ve done that ever since with great success. Yea pragmatism; nay platitudes, and a different hand signal to motoring hissy fits.

  2. Mark says:

    Shared lanes with cyclists keeping right are safer for cyclists because motor vehicles blow aside sand and debris that cyclists can’t do on bike lanes. Law changes to make bicycles vehicles allows them to take lanes rather than keep right. Cyclists want it every which way, including also being considered pedestrians.

    H.408 is highly flawed and deceptive. It applies to all crossWALKs, not just bike path crossings of roads. Currently, vehicles traveling on the larger road have right of way. Bike paths are small roads, hence vehicle operators (cyclists) on bike paths at grade crossings are to stop and yield to vehicles on the road. Often drivers yield to cyclists when they should not and cyclists go without right of way – people don’t know the law. If a cyclists dismounts to become a pedestrian, they then have the right of way and motorists need to then yield.

    The danger of H.408 is that cyclists can break the law and be at fault in an accident and still sue the motorist! Andrew Fischer is the lawyer who wrote the bill submitted by Brownsberger. Business is much better when both guilty and innocent clients can sue! H.408 also redefines cyclists as pedestrians and puts pedestrians in danger in their crossWALKs. One state has a similar law now, by cyclists in crossWALKs must ride at walking speed. H.408 has no such safety provisions.

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