Thursday, July 31, 2008

Surprised me

Yesterday's post about riding as close to practicable to the right side of the road went a little crazy. There were 1,029 visits to The Chief's Corner, just edging out 1,024 on September 7, 2007 as the highest number of daily hits in the life of the blog. Apparently a good share of North Platte read this very short post from September 5, 2007 when a local online newspaper put up a link.

I've got to admit, the flurry of activity yesterday caught me by surprise. When I was writing the post yesterday morning, I thought it was pretty lame, covering a old topic that would be pretty apparent to the people who read The Chief's Corner. I figured that critic who nails me from time to time with the nonsensical comments about "mustard and onions" (as a means of mocking, I think, what he/she believes to be stupid posts) would hit me again, and that I'd deserve it.

Little did I know.

Despite the heavy traffic and accolades, the tone of the comments concerned me a little bit--sort of a "finally, there's a police officer who understands" theme. Thanks for the compliments, but I think my remarks were awfully obvious, and hardly a revelation to police officers. Frankly, I think cycling enthusiasts miss the pretty obvious fact that lots of police officers are cycling enthusiasts themselves. I suspect that cyclists are significantly overrepresented in police departments, in comparison to the general public. That's always been my experience. This is probably true of other fitness activities, too--running, weight training, and so forth. I think you'll find plenty of police officers just about anywhere who commute, train, and participate in triathlons, adventure races, and so forth. I can only recall a couple of road racers, but those numbers are very small in the general population as well. Suffice it to say that our bike racks at work have no cobwebs.

Stow the stereotypes, and I suspect you'll find that most police officers are well aware of the content in yesterdays post, would render the same advice, and are generally inclined to support and defend cyclists rights to use the road like any other vehicle, as established in their State and local laws. I realize there is a strong undercurrent of doubt and suspicion among cycling enthusiasts concerning the police and cycling, and I've never really understood that. That same suspicion was there 25 years ago and doesn't seem to have changed much. Maybe the occasional horror story about a bike-hating officer somewhere gets blown out of proportion and generalized as the norm. It's not, based on my 34 years of observation.


Anonymous said...

Chief, your post yesterday made me laugh when you mentioned bicycle riders staying away from parked cars by the width of the door on a Monte Carlo. I had a 1975, and the door seemed like it was about 11 feet long. It sagged from it's own weight so bad that it took a "lift and slam" approach to close it. The vinyl roof was pretty awesome, too.

Anonymous said...

Is the mustard and onions thing about the special sauce at TB and KFC

Midland Lutheran College said...

"Mustard and onions"?

Not sure he's mocking... that sounds like a good combination on top of a brat.

Maybe he's offering recipes?

Fluxus said...

I've never had a problem with a police officer while biking in Lincoln (or a problem any other time, for that matter). And like some of the comments yesterday, I've never had a serious problem with a driver in Lincoln, either--most of the drivers here are very courteous, kind, and patient.

However, the occasional honks and yelled comments I do get seem to indicate that more education for drivers regarding the kinds of situations cyclists face on the road is helpful. It's a matter of drivers just not knowing or understanding why a cyclist might occasionally be out in a lane of traffic. For people who don't bike, those situations probably just don't make sense.

Every bit of public information to help drivers to understand the nature of bike traffic is very helpful, and for that I most sincerely thank you.

Tom Casady said...


How come I always find your 1975 Monte Carlo parked about six inches from my car when I've parked at the end of a half-empty parking lot to avoid door dings on my new ride?

Anonymous said...

Chief, As an avid cyclist I have a question regarding what the proper course of action is that I run into on a regular basis.

Is the walk signal necessary to legally cross an intersection if the traffic is moving parallel with the way you are crossing? Example, Bike path that runs along Hwy 2 at 33rd St. The crossing doesn't show the walk signal unless the button is pressed. So if I arrive 2 seconds after the traffic signal on Hwy 2 turns green, I get a red do not walk signal. Do I need to stop and wait for the next cycle before legally crossing?

What is the protocol for when a crossing is configured to automatically engage the walk signal, like most do downtown, and not, like most anywhere else? If traffic is parallel with the crossing and doesn't have a green arrow for turning traffic, why wouldn't you want it to go through the walk/blinking red/red cycle without user intervention?

Are there any bicycle accident/ticket stats that you could share for Lincoln? I'd be interested to see accident statistics involved bicycles and if there is an upward trend with what I perceive to be a growing bicycle commuter base.

Anonymous said...

@anon 6:43

Simple. Red means stop, green means go.

BobS said...

You're too generous. Some law enforcement officers don't get it. Here's an example from Silicon Valley California:

My employer sponsored a round table conversation between cyclists and the local PD's traffic officers. The Sergeant identified himself as an active cyclist.

One of the employees had recently received a citation for impeding traffic while on his bicycle. He was riding just left of the stripe, outside a narrow door zone bike lane. In the session we pointed out that California permits cyclists to ride outside the bike lane to avoid "hazardous conditions". The Sergeant said that would be believable if there were a door already open, but otherwise it's just a potential hazard. He said he's been both doored and rear-ended as a cyclist, and he prefers to ride to the right "so he can see a problem better because it's in front of him". He said his department will continue to enforce the requirement to stay in the bike lane and not obstruct traffic. I noted his preference conflicts with the published collision statistics, and he said if I don't like the laws I should go talk to the Legislature.

I continue to ride (and to teach riding) where it's safe, outside the door zone, regardless of the location of the bike lane stripe. I hope someday to draw a citation so it can be tested in court.

Tom Casady said...


I think I agree with the sergeant. I followed your links, and you have a law in California requiring you to ride in a bike lane when one is present, even though the bike lane poses a hazard of its own.
It looks a little vague to me, in that it has an exception that lets you stray out to avoid "hazardous conditions", but I don't think any court is likely to accept the argument that the entire concept of a bike lane abutting a parallel parking lane is a "hazardous condition", so that you can ignore the bike lane law altogether if you choose.

I suppose that the mandatory requirement to use the bike lane is a function of the dense traffic in California. There's nothing similar here in Lincoln, where people generally complain on the rare occasion that their 13 minute daily commute took 16 minutes today due to construction.

As the sergeant said, "change the law." The links you provided make a pretty convincting case that these kinds of bike lanes are risky. Those legislators get elected, and cyclists vote.

I also agree with the sergeant, that personally I would rather have a potential hazard in front of me, within my field of vision, rather than behind me. I'd rather have neither, of course, but if I've got to choose....

There are lots of dumb laws that I don't like, but that I am still obligated to enforce--and to obey. Don't expect police officers to use their discretion to negate the ill-conceived legislative actions of city councils or state legislatures.

slowbiker46 said...

I agree, bicycling laws need to be changed.

I was hit and run over while in a crosswalk on a bike with a "Walk" signal. The vehicle was making a right turn on a red and the driver was looking the opposite direction for a "gap" in traffic, then proceeded. I was subsequently hit and run over. I was then issued a citation by the attending officer. The citation was for failure to yield the right of way because I was on my bike rather than walking in the crosswalk.

The officer was not sympathetic to the situation.

Fluxus said...

slowbiker, that's why sidewalk riding is dangerous: street transitions. Notice that it's called a crossWALK. Cars aren't realistically able to look for such fast-moving traffic as bikes approaching streets from sidewalks or trails, and that's how accidents happen. Personally, I wouldn't be in favor of changing that law--it's much safer to either stay on the streets or walk your bike in crosswalks if you're not already riding in the street.

Anonymous said...

The cop wasn't 'sympathetic to the situation' because even though you had the green light in the crosswalk you should have been walking your bike instead of riding it across the street in the crosswalk. The unsympathetic cop was doing his/her job and enforcing the law.

It kills me when people walk or ride right out in front of cars even if they have the right of way. A car is much bigger and stronger than a human and they should be watching out just in case the driver doesn't see them. It might be the driver's fault if you get hit, but it will save a lot of pain and suffering because you might get smashed up or killed.

Rick in Texas said...

Tom, I enjoyed your blog and thought you did an excellent job writing it. I am an officer who rides and also commutes to work by bicycle. I follow the letter of the law when commuting and have never had a problem with a motorist. Being Effective Cycling trained has helped significantly as EC taught me to ride safely in traffic (downtown San Antonio, downtown Ft Worth)
I like riding with other cyclists, but I'm torn between the "mob" mentality of training rides, and that of riding legally. From a law enforcement and traffic safety point of view, a paceline, peleton, or echelon is illegal and dangerous . Most cyclists either do not understand this or choose to ignore the dangers. I like a smooth running paceline as much as the next person, but they are illegal and dangerous.
"Bobs" mentioned the bike lane danger next to parallel parking vehicles. I agree with "Bobs" there is a potential danger from an opening door, and that should be enough of a hazard to ride out in the regular traffic lane. Unfortunately there is a mandatory bike lane law. The intent of the law has to be looked at. Hazards such as dangerous potholes, debris or other obstructions in the bike lane would necessitate moving out of the bike lane for safety sake. The fact the bike lane was engineered adjacent to parallel parking vehicles would indicate traffic engineers did not consider parked vehicles hazards. So the only option here is - Change the law.
For several years, I have been fighting with my city (and other cycling advocates) not to build bike lanes due to the natural hazards bike lanes produce. A well known cycling/pedestrian consulting firm gave a presentation of the virtues of bike lanes and "bike" paths. Only problem was their presentation inadvertently displayed several unnecessary bike lane induced hazards. The city and cycling advocates still bought into it as it will help bring economic growth.
Different people have their own interpretation of the law and officers are no exception. I have had difference of opinions with other bike officers, who were trained the same as I. One which comes to mind is what constituted as "far right as practicable". Downtown we have angled street parking. A fellow officer believed riding as far right as practicable meant riding in the right tire strip in the roadway. My version was riding in the left tire strip reasoning someone backing out will see a cyclist sooner, there by react sooner to the cyclist. We went back and forth on this issue for some time, eventually he ceded to my view. Different people have their own interpretation of what the law allows. Judges are the same. Interpretation of "as far right as practicable" is seen from the cyclist's point of view, just be prepared to justify your actions in court.
Tom, again, a great blog

Adriel said...

Here in Austin, TX we do not have any mandatory bike lane rules, and we are legally allowed to ride two abreast.

The laws here are great. The problem is enforcement. Many cyclists and pedestrians have been killed and injured by careless motorists, and the officers failed to even issue a ticket, even though the bicycle had the right of way.

I would say that a number of traffic police here in Austin are great, and reasonable, but there are some that think that as far as practicable to the right means your tire should be 2" away from the curb on a 9 foot wide roadway. Anyone who has learned EC should know how dangerous that is, and as the law reads "as far as practicable unless the lane is too narrow for the lane to be shared by a bicycle and a motor vehicle", a 9' lane gives the legal right to do the safe thing, which is ride down the center of the lane, to prevent motorists from trying to share the lane.

I hope they never pass a mandatory bike lane law here in austin. Fortunately we have our own group here that keeps an eye on the laws.

In conclusion, I like the laws here, and I do not think they need to be changed, I think the officers and the juries here need more education about cycling. And I think the average motorist needs to know that "bikes belong there".

Our safety is more about motorist expectations than a can of paint.

Anonymous said...

Here is an interesting link highly related to law enforcement and bicycles.