Sunday, May 11, 2008

Bicycle Rules of the Road

Being a bicycle commuter, people are curious about how well I abide by traffic laws. In Minnesota, bicycles are governed by the same rules as cars -- they have a full right to use the road and are expected to obey all traffic signals. To tell the truth, I do not obey the rules on my bike the same way I do when I'm driving my car. I roll through four-way stop signs when no cars are present and, while I always come to a complete stop at red lights, when the coast is clear I will sometimes not wait for it to turn green (but this is a complete judgment call on my part, always erring on the side of caution).

As you are probably aware, there is a tenuous relationship between drivers and bicyclists around town. Bicyclists get upset when drivers don't notice them and drivers get upset when bicycles go through red lights and stop signs. With rising gas prices and environmental concerns, more people are biking than ever. Recently, during sweeps week, KSTP TV ran a story called "Bicyclists Breaking the Law?" and a couple people asked me if I had seen it (I hadn't).

I think the tenuous relationship stems from multiple sources. First, bicyclists are supposed to ride on the road because the speed limit on sidewalks is 10mph and serious bikers go faster than that. Sidewalks also offer all sorts of obstacles like runners, walkers, dogs on and off leashes, children, baby strollers, etc. Second, the obvious safety issues of bikes riding next to cars on the road. Third, when a bicyclist stops at a stop sign, he has to gear down and then use leg power to get going again -- a lot more personal effort involved than in stopping a car. And yes, I know the exercise is part of the deal, but the reality is that when you're out biking you'd prefer not to stop and go too frequently. Fourth, drivers see bicyclists who go through lights and stop signs as reckless (debatable) and as disregarding the law (which they are). After all, bikes appear to want the benefits of being legally the same as a car, but not the responsibilities.

Idaho, of all states, has come up with a potential solution. In Idaho, a bicycle is not treated exactly like a car, but is treated like a bicycle. Here's Idaho's bicycle statute. I think it makes a lot of sense and hopefully it will be adopted more broadly.

49-720. STOPPING -- TURN AND STOP SIGNALS.
(1) A person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle approaching a stop sign shall slow down and, if required for safety, stop before entering the intersection. After slowing to a reasonable speed or stopping, the person shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle in the intersection or approaching on another highway so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time the person is moving across or within the intersection or junction of highways, except that a person after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if required, may cautiously make a turn or proceed through the intersection without stopping.

(2) A person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle approaching a steady red traffic control light shall stop before entering the intersection and shall yield to all other traffic. Once the person has yielded, he may proceed through the steady red light with caution. Provided however, that a person after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if required, may cautiously make a right-hand turn. A left-hand turn onto a one-way highway may be made on a red light after stopping and yielding to other traffic.

(3) A person riding a bicycle shall comply with the provisions of section 49-643, Idaho Code.

(4) A signal of intention to turn right or left shall be given during not less than the last one hundred (100) feet traveled by the bicycle before turning, provided that a signal by hand and arm need not be given if the hand is needed in the control or operation of the bicycle.

3 comments:

Mikko said...

Interesting.

I like the Idaho distinction between car and bike.

Of course, I don't expect cyclists to stop at every stop sign everytime.

That said, I do think there should be a law banning cyclists from some city streets/roads.

Example: There's this stretch of Cretin between St. Thomas and I-94 that has NO SHOULDER at all. Someone on a bicycle at 20 mph basically forces that entire lane of traffic to go around him. Needless to say, it's dangerous and stupid.

Fortunately, most people are smart enough to avoid that stretch... but there still are some idiots.

90% of the city streets/roads have plenty of shoulder to ride.

I hate the super-aggro cyclists who insist on "sharing" the road on some of these treacherous stretches.

Still haven't seen someone try to navigate the Lowry Hill tunnel on a bike, but I wouldn't be shocked if someone's been stupid enough to try.

Mikko said...

Cretin Avenue followup...

I was driving home shortly after dark last night and there were two cyclists on road bikes on the previously mentioned stretch between Marshall and Summit.

No shoulder, they had the annoying "blinking" lights so we could see them (good idea given the way they were riding)....

....and they did the "I'm going to ride right down the center of the lane" trick that really super-aggro $hit road bikers pull.

They have no hope of riding at the 35 MPH flow of traffic (it was still quite busy-despite being after 9PM), so they hold up the whole avenue.

Because they "can" (bike=car)

Pisses me off.

Bike does not equal car.

Car hitting bike (regardless of stupid stuff some cyclists pull) = driver of car getting their ass sued.

/rant

Kirk said...

We don't want any heart attacks, Mikko. Be sure to get 8-hours of sleep every night and try not to get too worked up.