Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Bicycling 101 for Non-Cyclists

There's no denying it – a rift exists between motorists and cyclists. Motorists tend to see cyclists as obstacles and road hazards. Cyclists tend to view motor vehicles the same way.

Most cyclists – at least adult cyclists – know the motor vehicle traffic laws, because they have driver's licenses and drive cars. And that means at some point in time, they had to take the test.

But many motorists (and cyclists, too) seem to be ignorant of traffic laws as they pertain to bicycles and their riders. After all, many have either not ridden a bike since childhood, or they ride bikes recreationally, but steer clear of the roads. (Bicyclists who ride on the roads have no excuse for not knowing bicycle traffic laws!)

I've collected some driver statements and complaints about cyclists below. (Most were harvested from the local newspaper's forum-board; people commenting about bikes-in-the-news. Hopefully the anger and hostility on display isn't felt by the vast majority of road-going citizens.)

I've composed responses to many of them. Please note that I'm being very civil. And I hope common-sensical. (Traits that are absent in many online postings.) My only intention is to clear up misunderstandings about traffic laws, and hopefully help drivers understand the view of the world from the bike-saddle. I've also included some links to resources that might aid in shedding light.

Also note that my comments are based on Idaho's traffic laws. And laws tend to vary from place to place. (The laws of common sense are much more uniform than the statutory laws, however. If a behavior is totally stupid in Idaho, I bet it's equally stupid in Iowa, or New Jersey, or even Denmark.)

The statements and complaints of others are in yellow (copied exactly as posted); my responses are in white.

You might want to read it in its entirety, or you might just want to scroll down and look for the ones that you, too, may be confused on.

I would encourage feedback, particularly if you think I'm making mistakes. I would also be honored if you shared this with people you know, who might benefit.

Well… here we go.

It's a miracle that more bikers don't get killed, the way they ignore stop signs and blow through red lights.

If a cyclist "blows through" a stop sign or a red light and is involved in an accident, it will almost certainly be his fault.

In Idaho, a cyclist can "coast" through a stop sign, if it is safe to do so. He must yield to cross traffic. A cyclist is required to stop at a red light, but after coming to a complete stop, he may proceed cautiously after making sure the coast is clear.

"Why is it different for cyclists?" you ask.

There is some unusual common sense in play here. It's almost as though these variations were crafted by experienced bike riders!

In the case of stop signs… it is much easier to maintain momentum on a bicycle, than to build momentum from a complete stop. (It's easy in a car – you just step on the gas.)

In the case of traffic signals… many of them are triggered by a loop of metal embedded in the pavement – a low-tech metal detector. And often it isn't sensitive enough to detect a bicycle.

A conscientious cyclist will always wait for the light to turn, if there are also cars waiting. And will avoid "close call" intersection situations. (I don't want motorists, driving 4000-pound metal missiles, to resent my presence on the road!)

Link: Idaho State Code

IMPORTANT NOTE! Idaho's stoplight / stop sign rules are very unique; if you're elsewhere, please check your local rules. (And encourage your lawmakers to look at Idaho's rules… IMO, they are uncommonly sensible.)

It's hard to see these Bicycle riders when it's as dark as it is in the Morning. When a rider is dressed in dark clothes, makes them even harder to see.

I agree! A cyclist's survival depends on being seen.

A bicycle must legally have a headlight and a rear reflector, if it is operated in the dark. But common sense would dictate further precautions – several lights both front and rear, reflectors on all sides, light-colored and/or reflective apparel, etc.

When I'm riding, day or night, I always assume that if a motorist sees me, it's unlikely he'll run into me. If he doesn't see me… all bets are off.

Link: Idaho State Code

[This comment was posted in response to a story about a 14-year-old kid who got a ticket, after he got hit by a car while illegally crossing a street on his bike.] You have got to be kidding me!!! So being hit by a car isnt enough the police had to give him a ticket as well??

I was happy to see that the kid was ticketed. If you break the law, you should get a ticket. The prospect of getting a ticket should deter people from breaking the law.

Here in Boise, the police declare that bicycle violations "are not a priority enforcement issue." In other words, they tend to ignore bike violators, unless an accident is involved. Since there is little or no enforcement, there is rampant ignorance and violation of the laws. Which leads to resentment on the part of motorists.

Every morning, I see cyclists who think they own the road. That they are entitled to make me run someone-another car off the road because they want to ride in the street, though there is a sidewalk that is paved just for them!

The facts aren't on this commenter's side. Bicycles are legally entitled to use the road, not only in Idaho, but in all 50 states. Furthermore, sidewalk riding is either illegal or discouraged in most places, because of its inherent dangers.

Most states have a law that says something like this: A bicyclist "should ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, except when passing, or preparing for a left turn, or avoiding hazards."

Boise's law further clarifies that "Every person operating a bicycle upon a two-way roadway shall be entitled to use the right-hand lane and shall proceed in the same direction of travel as other vehicles in that lane. On one-way roadways a bicycle may be operated in any existing lane."

How about sidewalks? Aren't they safer than the roads?

In Idaho, cyclists by law must behave like pedestrians if they are on the sidewalk.

There is some danger of bike-pedestrian collisions – and non-cyclists tend to think such a danger is much more benign than the danger of a bike-car collision. And they are right.

The danger in sidewalk-riding is the increased likelihood of a bike-car collision. At every intersection, curb-cut into a parking lot, etc., etc., a sidewalk-rider is potentially conflicting with a motorist. Frequently neither the cyclist nor the motorist is anticipating a conflict, or watching for it. Pedestrians move substantially slower than cyclists, and are much less likely to move into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

(Riding a bicycle against traffic sets up similar conflicts; thus it is illegal. Sidewalk-riding is illegal in many places, but not anywhere in the Boise area, far as I know.)

Links: Idaho State Code; Re: Sidewalks

Yes, cyclists have a right to ride on the road. However, there are some cyclists who ride 2 or 3 abreast and invariably invade into the normal car's zone.

There is an amazing amount of hostility regarding 2-abreast riders. I rarely ride with other people, so I'm confident I'm not contributing to the hostility. And - I wish that whoever is would knock it off!

What does the law say about riding two abreast?

Actually, in Idaho it's legal. But not more than two abreast. And "shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic."

Some bike-snobs seem to interpret that differently than I do. If you're riding 2-up and holding up traffic, you are being very poor ambassadors for transportation cyclists, even if you're within the law. Knock it off, you jackasses! (Pardon my French…)

Link: Idaho State Code

I have no problem with cyclists sharing the road, as long as they follow the rules. Like, pull over when you back traffic up. If you are in a car, you can't hold up traffic (though, it seems to be rarely enforced).
I am a driver. I am not into riding bikes, but as a kid, I used to love it, so I understand the love of riding bikes. What I hate, are the morons that won't let cars pass. I KNOW technically, they have the same rights... but they can, and do hold up traffic. THANKFULLY those morons, are very few, and far between, but they REALLY give all other cyclists a REALLY bad name. (and there is nothing like going 50mph down a country road, and come up a rise, and find 3 bike riders abrest, all the sudden).

I liked that comment. It had a sympathetic tone to it, while simultaneously doing a good job of pointing out the frustrations many motorists feel.

I bet if he (she?) tried riding bikes as an adult, he would discover that it's just as fun as when he was a kid!

I hope that when he says "pull over when you back traffic up," he means "keep to the right." I'll stay as far to the right as I can, but I won't get off the road and stop and wait for the traffic to go by. (If I'm riding as far to the right as I safely can, it's rare to delay even one car for more than a few seconds.)

I sure would like to see the statistics that supposedly indicate that it is safer for a bike rider to be riding on the street rather then the sidewalk. I have yet to read a report of a bike rider dying as a result of a collision with a pedestrian. Perhaps if bike riders belong on the street they should be subject to the same laws vehicles must adhere to such as headlights,stop lights ,turn signal lights etc. Also they should be required to travel the speed limit within reason as any motor vehicle. Also they should contibute to the cost of roads by purchasing license plates and be required to obtain drivers licenses as well as liability insurance.

That comment was made by a poster with the handle "Dann."

I already commented on the sidewalk issue. (He's right – you rarely hear about bike/pedestrian fatal collisions. But there are plenty of fatal collisions between cars and bikes, in which they conflicted at a sidewalk or crosswalk. In such cases, it's usually the cyclist who is dead.)

I actually posted a response to his other points, as follows:
- With a couple exceptions, bicycles are subject to the same laws as motor vehicles.
- Bicycles are (legally) required to have headlights if operated at night. And reflectors.
- Bicycles aren't required to have turn signal lights... but neither are cars. (Cyclists are required to signal with an arm gesture, unless they need both hands to safely operate.)
- Most roads don't have a minimum speed limit, only a maximum one.
- Regarding contributing to the cost of roads:
a) A meaningful percentage of road budgets comes out of the property tax, and most cyclists live in houses, apartments, etc.
b) Most cyclists also own motor vehicles. I know I have a couple. Since they are licensed but sitting in the garage when I'm riding my bicycle, I could argue that I'm paying more than my share, compared with somebody who's actually using his licensed vehicle on the road.
c) How much wear and tear will a bicycle cause to a roadway, compared with, say, a Ford Excursion? Or even a Geo Metro?
(Of course, as with all laws, bicycle laws are subject to change. If you feel strongly that bicyclists aren't paying their fair share, you should make your opinion known to the movers-and-shakers.)
- Liability insurance: If there were a meaningful number of accidents where the cyclist was found at fault, and the resulting property/medical expenses to the other party were substantial enough that the cyclist (or his estate) were unable to pay, there would probably be a requirement for liability insurance. But such a scenario is quite uncommon, thank goodness.

["Dann" made this separate comment later on. Sounds as though he's convinced that bicycles shouldn't be on the roads.] If bikes ride on street... Perhaps I should be able to ride my horse down the street. I could mount an LED light between his ears and a flashing light from his tail or reflectors and of course I should be intitled to a full lane also.

I assume he's being facetious. But I'd support his right to ride his horse down the street if he can do it cooperatively. (And who knows? In Idaho, I wouldn't be too surprised if indeed it is legal!) If he's concerned about cyclists not having liability coverage… think of the potential liability of riding a 2000-pound animal around on the streets!

People riding bicycles and not obeying the law is their own fault. Sure I ride a bike from time to time and yes I do know Idaho laws regarding this. Yet I do not follow the laws altogether as I follow my own law. Watch out for the cars as they do have the right away.

That comment speaks for itself. I resent people who ride bikes and disobey the laws because they are "following their own law." I see it all the time.

[This comment was posted as a response to the news that ground was broken for a new velodrome in the area.] Good, maybe it'll keep the spandex wearing retards off the streets!!!!

This is obviously somebody who thinks bikes are toys or hobbies – not transportation.

If I'm not wearing spandex, will he know I'm a retard anyway?

I live in Eagle and wish some of these bike nuts would obey the law and stop when there is a stop sign. It makes me wonder how many of these accidents reported in the paper were caused by poor biker judgment!

Yep – we all (motorists and cyclists) should know and understand the laws, and we need to watch out for each other. ("Stop sign" law previously commented on.)

It only takes getting hit by a car once and you realize the fight isn't fair. I've always wanted to just bump the rear tire of a cyclist who's in the left lane on state street. The speed limit is 45 mph and they do about 15 mph and they think they own the freakin road. I don't car that there isn't a bike lane. Get in the right lane and if you need to make a left turn go to the next intersection and walk you bike across the street.

I hope this poster can control his anger and hostility while on the road, for everyone's sake. (And if the offending cyclist is attempting to make a left-hand turn, this fella should be patient and wait for him, just like he would if the guy was in a Hummer.)

Last I checked, gas tax pays for roads and cars are big - There is no good reason to share the road with a bicyclist. It is too dangerous.

As previously commented, gas tax (and vehicle registration) is only a fraction of the road-construction-and-maintenance funding pie. My contention is that when you figure the amount of wear-and-tear on the infrastructure, and the tax burden, cyclists are paying their fair share or more.

"Cars are big." No, semi-trucks are big! Cars are puny! Should the "big" traffic get special dispensation on our roads? (Drivers of "big" vehicles sometimes seem to think so. Except for professional truck drivers – as a rule, they are the best, most courteous, law-abiding drivers on the road.)

I agree 100% besides all the money they put into makeing bike lanes is paid by automobile drivers. Alot of the bikers have no respect on the road anyway.Stay on the side walk.

I believe this poster is agreeing with the previous guy. And - deep down, I bet he thinks drivers are footing the bill for sidewalks, too!

Kids sure aren't learning spelling, punctuation, and grammar any more, are they?

(I'll give him a pass… he might be punching it in on a candy-bar-size keyboard, or typing while simultaneously playing World of Warcraft.)


Motorists say they see lots of idiots on bikes. But if they stop and think about it, I bet they'd admit they see lots of idiots in cars, SUVs and trucks, too.

I ride a bike, and see lots of idiots in cars. But I see plenty on bikes, too.

Idiots get around in or on every type of vehicle. Hopefully we can all understand and follow the rules, and watch out for each other… especially the idiots! (They need all the help they can get. After all, they're idiots!)

Additional links:
- Idaho Driver's Manual (PDF)
(Chapter 5 has stuff about bicycles. It's brief, but quite comprehensive.)
(The Idaho Driver's Manual is also available in "audio" version here – is that for the blind drivers?)
- Idaho Statutes regarding pedestrians and bicycles
- Boise City ordinances regarding bicycles (PDF)
- "Bicycling Street Smarts"


bud said...

I like this article very much, so much so that I am going to do some research of the NC Vehicle Code pertaining to bicycles and do a similar article in the future for my blog. Thanks for the hard work and the article idea that I am going to steal.

Anonymous said...

Bikeboy, as always your points are well-written and can not be refuted by any reasonable, law-abiding person. Have you ever considered submitting a "Reader's Opinion" to the Statesman addressing some of these issues? With all of the recent bike related incidents they might be willing to publish it.

Anonymous said...

Excellent, excellent, excellent! I live in Japan where both drivers and bikers dispaly their own brand of stupidity in stride. Although I still side with those without the added protection of 2000lbs of steel, I am constantly horrified by what the other bikers are doing out there and in awe of the fact that more cars are not wearing them as hood ornaments. Keep up the good work. We need more people like you giving us a good name!


Lazy Bike Commuter said...

I am in favor of groups riding two abreast. It makes cars more likely to go into the other lane when passing (permanently taking the lane), and it also makes groups easier to pass because cars only have to pass something half as long.

It just seems safer overall (besides, the speed is higher in a good paceline and it will "hold up traffic" a lot less.

Anonymous said...

Central Texas town (not Austin), I get to play dodge car. Had one hit my elbow with a mirror.

Motorcyclists call enclosed drivers cage drivers. They should be made to ride a mile in my shoes. I am afraid it would not help.

I would ride to work everyday were it not for the traffic and enough close calls that I cannot risk it.