Bicycling and finding balance in the rules of the road

July 26, 2009 | By | 5 Replies More

Via Daily Dish, here is a well written post from Steamboats are Ruining Everything regarding:

My principle became, roughly speaking, bike in such a way that even relatively inattentive drivers can be expected to see you and know what you’re going to do next. Also: don’t be annoying to pedestrians. I began halting at red lights and stop signs. (Later I relaxed this somewhat, almost to Idaho rules.) I made sure to bike in the bike lane, if there was one (or on the outer edge of it, if biking inside it was going to put me within swinging distance of the opening doors of parked cars). I stayed off sidewalks. And I never, ever biked the wrong way down a one-way street.

Since having this epiphany, “Steamboats” has loosened up a bit, including his approval of the “stop as yield” law used in Idaho.

I admit that I rarely stop at stopsigns such that my feet both come to the ground. At 1 am, I don’t sit there waiting for the light to change. On a particularly dangerous overpass, I ride on a sidewalk for a quarter-mile. On the other hand, I am aggravated by the bicycle riding behavior of many riders because it is so often dangerous, not because it’s a violation of a law. So often, when you see a cyclist violating a law, he or she is simultaneously breaking five laws. The person I have in mind is the wrong-way rider who violates a stoplight in the dark without any bicycle light, while not wearing a helmet, while failing to signal.

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Category: law and order, travel

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (5)

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  1. Dan Klarmann says:

    I've been accosted by a bicycle officer for riding on the sidewalk by a street so dangerous that the officers will only ride on the sidewalk. I've been chastised by a motorist for not coming to a complete stop at a 4-way.

    I generally follow 3 criteria, in order:

    SafePoliteLegal

    But my personal rule at a 4 way stop is, if no one could hit me if they tried, just keep going. After all, my cruising speed is what most drivers slow down to at an open 4-way.

    Unfortunately, vehicular laws are one-size-fits-all and designed with big steel box vehicles in mind. Many enforceable road laws make little sense for bicycles. Stop signs (as absolute stops) and quiet one way streets (with two unoccupied lanes) are rules I regularly break. But always with the awareness that I am bruising a custom. I assume that no one is expecting this behavior, and so have extra vigilance on my mind.

    The Dutch Rules make sense, to me. And my favorite line from the article was

    It would, after all, be swell if motorists paid more attention to the road.

  2. Dan Klarmann says:

    Excerpt from the comments:

    Comparing bike cultures between the Netherlands and New York–between the Old Amsterdam and the New–is like comparing apples and howler monkeys.

  3. Hank says:

    I have a relaxed but safety-conscious attitude to road laws when I'm biking. As mentioned, the road laws that apply to me on my bike are meant for cars: one and a half tonne steel boxes that can hit 100kph in seconds, can take dozens of metres to stop and can kill you instantly.

    My BMX and I together weigh maybe 100kg (perhaps as much as one fat dude). Through the city I can get to maybe 20 or 30 kph (if flat or downhill) and it takes me maybe five metres to stop. The potential harm I, being foolish, can do to a car and its occupants is negligible; the harm a car, being driven carelessly, can to do me is obvious. I could obviously hurt a pedestrian very badly, but I stick to the road most of the time, so it's up to them to look both ways before leaving the footpath. When/if I'm not on the road, I just don't ride fast.

    I've found being exposed as you are on a bike both makes you and requires you to be very alert: you can hear and see in 360-degree 3-D; you're up higher than most people in cars and you can make better judgements about where you can bend rules. You can see potential trouble far in advance and can assess risk and react to emergencies quickly. As such I ride within in the spirit of the law but not to the letter. Stopping at ped lights is optional, stop signs can be "interpreted", roundabouts can be ridden across, parks can be cut through, thick traffic can be carved up, footpaths can be hopped. I don't run red lights at 4-ways, I don't go against one-way streets, I stick to the bike lane where there is one and I always keep an eye out for pedestrians.

    It is indeed pedestrians, not cars, that have given me the biggest scares during my time riding around Melbourne. Swanston St, a major thoroughfare & shopping strip, is thin with car traffic at peak hour but always thick with city workers, uni students, cyclists, trams and sightseers. Countless times I've had to swerve madly or come to a sudden, expletive-laden halt to avoid cleaning up some fool who stepped into the street without looking both ways, whether halfway down the street or against a "don't walk" light. Of course then it's me who cops the abuse or the shocked expression, as if expecting someone to check the street before crossing it (and abusing them when they don't) is unreasonable. And this is in Melbourne, too, a city which is no stranger to bikes, whose cyclist population has been steadily increasing every year for the last decade and whose bike sales outstripped sales of new cars the last five years running. I've had close calls with inattentive drivers before, but they're in a metal box and I have safety gear. Pedestrians only have their common sense to protect them. If they weren't using that sense it's pretty clear who'd come off worse if my helmeted head and hurtling chrome-alloy bike collided with their naked face.

    My bike laws:

    1. protect yourself

    2. uphold the law where reasonable

    3. be vigilant – both for idiots and for cops. Cops aren't the enemy, but they may not see things quite the same way as you do 🙂

    Above all, the Golden Rule: ride like you'd have others ride around you if you weren't riding.

  4. Tony Coyle says:

    Hank:

    My BMX and I together weigh maybe 100kg (perhaps as much as one fat dude).

    I must object!

    I'm currently 104Kg (I'm 6'1", with a 48" chest). I'm not 'slim' but I'm carrying way less than 20% body fat (getting close to 10%).

    I'm overweight, but I'm not 'fat' unless you're measuring against 'performing athlete' as your baseline! (However, my BMI is completely borked [obese], since it does not cater to berserker-size skeletal frames)

  5. Hank says:

    So sorry Tony! No offense meant. I don't have an athlete's body by any means, but on my 5'8" frame and my small asthmatic chest 100kg would be, well, a lot. As far as body fat percentages go you're probably doing better than me – I have cholesterol over 5 and lazy eating habits! Apologies again.

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