Bike-related signage in Louisville
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Bikes seem to always be in the news. For good or bad, as society comes to terms with more and more bikes on the roads and as more and more people decide to pick up their own and hit the streets, we’re going to be hearing about them for a while. The point here is to help understand how cyclists maneuver streets obviously not designed for them while gaining acceptance as a legitimate form of traffic. This story is about biking, safety, and the law, but news of another local biker in the hospital today in serious condition brings more importance to the story.

Today’s tragedy probably couldn’t have been averted easily, as a drunk motorist and repeat offender intentionally ran over a cyclist and through a fence near Sixth and Oak Streets in Old Louisville and then fled the scene. The driver had 15 citations since 2005 and was arrested three times since April. The story is tragic and hopefully the cyclist will recover quickly. Perhaps soon, we can bring back the proposed “One Road” HB88 that would more easily hold reckless drivers accountable for such infractions. There are plenty of details about the attempted murder over at the Ville-Voice and WLKY.

Riding a bike with cars on a major street can be daunting, and we’ve all heard the back and forth between bikers and motorists for as long as we can remember. Cyclists say drivers don’t (or don’t know how to) give them attention and drivers complain bikers don’t follow the rules. The story is well illustrated by last month’s Critical Mass ride through town as a pretty substantial group (for Louisville) of local riders took to the streets, most for the first time on an organized ride.

The ride was a sort of microcosm of the bike-car drama as riders and drivers grappled with how to behave on the road. The group dynamic threw in a few interesting wild cards like how do you treat a stop light about to cut the group in half? There’s also the play of experienced riders hoping to “take back the streets” and the new riders just trying to manage traffic. Everyone wanted bikes to be accepted on the roads.

For the most part, the ride went smoothly and all traffic laws were obeyed. A few times, the tail end of the group went through a red light to stay as a single unit, but the leaders stopped if there was clearly not enough time for everyone to make it through. There were some angry and aggressive drivers who pulled some dangerous stunts, but no one was injured.

Obeying all current laws is definitely going to keep everyone safer and help traffic move along. Here’s why you should ride with traffic and running a stop sign could really end up hurting you in the end. Education is going to be key. But how can we begin to change the system to offer a solution that works for both cars and bikes? If we’re going to start actively pursuing road education for bikers and drivers, we should first set an end goal. It’s useless to educate a society, then change the rules.

We’re big fans of the “Idaho Stop Law” that provides a unique set of traffic operations for bikes. Watch this video if you’re unfamiliar with the term. Essentially, stop signs become yield signs and stoplights stop signs. Erratic and dangerous behaviour is still illegal, but the law forms to a bike’s terms. The idea is about momentum, and the ability of a cyclist to keep the built up energy going that would have been lost with a full stop. That inability to “keep going” became readily apparent on the Critical Mass ride when the group hit every red light on a road timed for cars.

In a world where every law isn’t going to be enforced, for cars or bikes, there will be infractions. (and it seems a little pointless when overly stringent laws are applied haphazardly.) A Washington, D.C. bike blog, the Wash Cycle, hopes safety is enforced above all. There’s a rundown of top causes of bike-induced accidents, and the author draws a few problems that should be eliminated:

From this, I think we can make some decisions about what should be enforced to encourage safety.

For cyclists it would be making a turn from the wrong lane, failing to yield the right of way, wrong way cycling and not having a front light and/or rear reflector.

For drivers it would be failure to pass with the proper passing distance (3 feet), running stop lights/signs and turning from the wrong lane (which would be the bike lane and not turning from the bike lane when one is present). More speeding enforcement would be great too.

As we move forward, we should first establish a system that works for everyone to create real changes. There’s no one-size-fits-all traffic law solution when we’re dealing with pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers. What solutions could be implemented to tailor our traffic laws to modal differences? Proper infrastructure like bike lanes certainly helps, but how can we win the education front by having worthwhile traffic law system?

Anyway, May 15 is Louisville Bike To Work Day and we encourage everyone to try to make it onto a bike at some point during the day, whether it’s a full commute or just a ride around town. If you’re hesitant to go it alone, there are groups making the trip together.  One of the best parts of the Critical Mass ride (or any organized ride) is the group dynamic. Riding with many other cyclists instantly makes you feel like you belong on the street and helps with the feeling of safety (and it’s fun and social). So-called “bike trains” are catching on in other parts of the country, and Bike to Work Day features several of its own. Here are the routes for Louisville.

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Branden Klayko

10 COMMENTS

  1. Good post. I agree wholeheartedly that education is key. But I can’t believe this sentance:

    CRITICAL MASS
    “For the most part, the ride went smoothly and all traffic laws were obeyed. ”

    Obey FAIL. That ride was a rolling avalanche of broken traffic laws. From the very first stop sign, to virtually every traffic light, to the long slow ride down Broadway, traffic laws were broken constantly and brazenly. Lets review:

    Stop signs: every vehicle needs to stop at a stop sign. ONE bike is ONE vehicle. A HERD of bikes is a HERD of vehicles, not one big sloppy amoeba vehicle. Every vehicle must come to a complete stop at a stop sign. Kentucky is not Idaho.

    “A few times, the tail end of the group went through a red light to stay as a single unit, but the leaders stopped if there was clearly not enough time for everyone to make it through. ”

    Maybe you weren’t in front. At most of the red stop lights encountered by the head, people blew through the red and kept going.

    Furthermore, plugging the intersection is ILLEGAL. There is a perfectly legal manuver that can keep the group together in this situation: parallel parking. It wouldn’t hurt the head to stop and wait for the tail legally. It is not like speed is important in Critical Mass. In fact, its actually better to be going slowly.

    Main Street: On straight sections of road, slower vehicles keep right. Fleet speed was 6mph. Most everyone used the leftmost (passing, fastest) lane for 16 blocks. The average traffic speed was higher than 6mph. Thus the lane choice was illegal.

    Main Street again: there was a bike lane. Under Kentucky law, a cyclist must use a bike lane if doing so is feasible.

    “There were some angry and aggressive drivers who pulled some dangerous stunts”

    Yes, Yes there were some angry drivers. However, I never saw a driver get angry for no reason. In every case I witnessed, the driver’s reaction was a direct result of illegal AND inconsiderate behaviour of the part of the riders.

    Look, I ride those streets a lot. I know that when you obey the law, you give respect, and you get it back. On critical mass, we went 3 miles and got 2-3 people shaking with rage. That’s about how many irate motorists I can expect in 3000 miles of lawful solo bicycle travel. Law compliance cuts down angry motorists by roughly a factor of 1000.

    For some of those cyclists that are afraid to ride by themselves on Bardstown Rd or Main Street by themselves, they may never know that it is not like that in real transportation riding. They now are going around thinking that one road rager per mile traveled is typical. Are they going to cycle more or less because of this?

    Furthermore, we were issued a warning by a police officer. That’s highly irregular, to say the least.

    So overall what’s my opinion of Critical Mass? Well, on the one hand I’m not above letting people know about their rights, and the rights of others. On the other hand, we’re kidding ourselves if we think we’re changing minds (for the better) by being lawless. We’re just reinforcing the stereotype of cyclists-as-scofflaws.

    Picking the route better could result in both a route that its legal to ride on AND will let some motorists wonder why it is they’re going so slow. Main street, with its 5 lanes, is not a good place to do a critical mass, because the speed positioning law and the bike lane law both limit the amount of lane space the cyclists can legally occupy. I much prefer the part of the protest on Bardstown Road. There the door zone and narrow lanes force lawful and safe cyclists into the center of one of a middle lane. Faster traffic has no choice but to pile up behind. The length of the long train prevents cars from passing on the right at intersections. Thus the whole ride could be legal, and also have a high visibility factor.

    If we were harassed for going “too slowly for traffic” there are many good talking points there: “but sir, we’re passing slower traffic (gesture at parked cars) on the left, like we’re told to do. Why don’t you arrest the parked cars for taking up a lane that’s CLEARLY needed for transportation.”

    BTW, there are some pictures of the mass here: http://cartky.org/node/288

  2. good post, dave. note mine of 29 april which basically argues the same: give respect, get respect.

  3. Thanks for the explanation of local bike law and great photos, Dave. Part of the reason for this post was to bring up topics you mentioned, archintent, so we could hopefully have a larger and productive conversation (not sure what ride you saw but sounds like it was a lot more reckless than the CM ride). I consider myself an intermediate level cyclist, but the help with current law is very informative. What I found interesting about the Critical Mass ride was the discussion that was going on about cycling and the law. There were a few riders who were at times aggressive and others who wouldn’t break a traffic law for anything. I was mostly comfortable on the ride and had a lot of fun and only saw a couple of things that would have upset me as a driver or cyclist (can’t speak for others, though). As the ride progressed, everyone began stopping at just about every light (partially because people were getting tired I think). The large contingency of the group was actively concerned about the image of cyclists on the road and wanted to set an example of good riding. The only noticeably belligerent activity I saw was when a few people rode in every lane of Main Street for a few blocks. The group chastised them and everyone clumped back together. That was the incident that caused a police officer to stop I believe. There were cars I saw who acted out aggressively on their own, and a couple that responded to the bikes as you noted, but responding to illegal/impolite behavior with more illegal/impolite and much more dangerous behavior can’t be accepted either.

    That’s part of the discussion I am hoping for here. Current law is the law and should be followed for safer streets, but I believe it is imperfect in its current form and would like to figure out how to fix it. Kentucky is not Idaho, but should we be looking at a system like their bike law? As you mentioned, it’s illegal for a bike to travel in the “fast lane”, but do we want our urban streets to have fast lanes? Sure, East Main Street with its 5-6 lanes might not be an ideal choice for a large ride like this, but it’s obviously so poorly designed that it’s unsafe for anything but cars and doesn’t serve its surrounding neighborhoods (the bike lane works pretty well and much better than no bike lane, but it’s often obstructed). Rounding Baxter onto Main deposits a bike into the left-hand lane and its often daunting to get all the way to the other side for the bike lane.

    I think most people can agree now that it’s important to follow current law, but with any mode of transportation, it’s going to be broken every once in a while. Cyclists still seem to draw more anger per infraction than cars, though. Ultimately, what is a bike compared to a car or a pedestrian? How should the rules respond to these differences? I hold pedestrians on the highest plane with bikes just beneath and cars farther down the hierarchy (even though I drive every day). A pedestrian might cross on a do not walk sign (or in the middle of a block) and most people won’t think anything of it as long as it wasn’t reckless or belligerently out of turn. An idea like the Idaho Stop Law codifies an equivalent behavior for bikes.

    Here are a few extra links with useful local information:
    Advocacy page from the Bike Courier-Bike Shop and All the current local bike laws.

  4. i know it’s a pipe dream, but i long for smart streets like those in rotterdam where everyone has a proper place made for their mode of transportation, whether that be train, bus, car, bike, or feet. it works SO well and – once you see it in action – is so NOT radical. it’s just right.

  5. the threshold for getting a driver license is so low… i think it’s a lot to ask most drivers to have multiple sets of rules in their heads for different modes of transport. the default now is that there is ONE set of rules which all are supposed to follow – whether that happens or not.

    special pedestrian rules and cyclist rules that drivers have to know (assuming cyclists and pedestrian already know the driver rules, here) will only add confusion and make cyclists and pedestrians LESS safe rather than more. i’m not for deferring to drivers, but i’m also not for overestimating the habits of most drivers, me included, and our ability to quickly respond to someone small and vulnerable doing something unexpected.

    …and, yes, what was going on 1 may was against any alternative cycling laws of which i’ve heard.

  6. “Rounding Baxter onto Main deposits a bike into the left-hand lane and its often daunting to get all the way to the other side for the bike lane.”

    And yet no motorists complain about that merge. Why is that? Its because motorists are expected to be competent at changing lanes. Lane changing skills are a mandatory part of the mandatory driver licensing. Complaining about that merge being “daunting” would be tantamount to admitting that one is no longer able to pass the driving exam administered by the state of Kentucky. It would reveal more damaging information about the driver’s skills than about the intersection.

    A legal lane change consists of three parts: (1) see if it is safe, (2) if other vehicles are affected, communicate with them, (3) physically move the vehicle a lane over.

    On a bicycle nothing is different about the road or the law. The only thing that is different is our Conventional Wisdom that says its acceptable for cyclists not to know this. That’s probably because our Convention Wisdom says that bikes shouldn’t be on the same roads as cars. Conventional Wisdom is wrong on both counts. All cyclists who use public, multi-lane roads should know how to properly change lanes, and cycling on public multi-lane roads is perfectly safe.

    Unfortunately, we coddle cyclists who could not pass the Kentucky driver’s test on their bicycles. Until they learn lane changing skills, they have not yet learned to ride a bicycle at an adult level.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gAyJ37DBbg

    You’re right to point out that it is a daunting intersection for those that don’t have the basic skills. The fault lies not in the intersection, but in the lack of skills.

    With a well-prepared teacher can teach this skill to a group of ten riders in under 30 minutes. The idea that an adult needs to learn how to “ride a bike” when they already have learned dynamic balance is a strange notion to many, and it turns a LOT of people off. But as you say, it is all about education. And we also need to increase the expectation of education.

    “[East Main is] obviously so poorly designed that it’s unsafe for anything but cars and doesn’t serve its surrounding neighborhoods”. Well, I agree that the bike lane is a failed design and should be removed or reworked. But my opinion is that the street is fundamentally safe for cyclists. Synchronised lights limit the motor vehicle platoons to 20-30mph. Huge gaps in the platoons allow even riders without adequate lane change skills to change lanes in safety.

    “Here are a few extra links with useful local information:
    Advocacy page from the Bike Courier-Bike Shop”

    Aaaah! Please don’t propagate that link. Because he continues to advance flawed arguments without posting reasonable objections, he should not be considered a reliable source. The most important section is this:

    DISCLAIMER
    “The above was written by Jackie Green. Jackie is not an attorney. He has, however, survived as a car-free cyclist on the streets of Louisville since 1999.”

    He fails to mention that many, many experienced cyclists disagree strongly with him on this.

    The most ludicrous claim he makes is that a city ordinance has (1) the authority to overturn a state law saying that bicycles must obey traffic laws and (2) the law actually overturns the bicycle’s obligation to obey traffic laws. When challenged to put his money where his mouth is, he “doesn’t have time” to arrange a test case in the Metro court system. But he does have time to fill the heads of others with his cultish interpretation.

    He also vastly overestimates the dangers of rear-endings of bicycles. Forester, who he mis-quotes, and who did the good early work on bicycle crash profiles, has this to say about Jackie’s “mythical” rear-ending:

    Effective Cycling, p270-1:
    “New cyclists fear that they will be hit from behind by fast motorists, almost to the exclusion of any other fear of motor traffic. This fear is created by parents, teachers, police officers, motor vehicle driver education, and other social forces. However, this fear is entirely unwarranted, because about 90% of car-bike collisions are caused by conditions or actions in front of the cyclist where they can be seen and therefore avoided by proper avoidance actions. Of the 10% of accidents that are caused by conditions behind the cyclist, 6% are caused by the cyclist swerving in front of the car and only 4% by the overtaking motorist. Of this 4%, half are caused by motorists who do not see the cyclist (generally in the dark) and often by motorists who have been drinking; some by motorists who misjudge the width of their vehicles, and very few by motorists who are out of control.”

    He worries deeply about “Chain Reaction Casualties”. He cites a series of crashes, but at only one of them were cyclists involved. Chain reactions are cited as a rationale to run from intersections. While I agree that intersections are dangerous places, I disagree that standing still at intersections is a statistically important threat. It doesn’t appear measurably in Forester’s numbers. What does appear in Forester’s numbers is bikes failing to obey red lights and stop signs, which account for 8% of car-bike collisions. If systematically running red lights halves chain reaction casulties, yet doubles the chances of car-bike from red light running, overall lives are being wasted. Of course by ALWAYS stopping at red lights and stop signs, this particular cause of death won’t be halved, it will be zeroed.

    Jackie is a great person and his heart is in the right place. I have learned and continue to learn from him, and I consult him on major decisions. However, his cycling strategy is developed without input from very many people or very many miles traveled or much diversity of rider type. There are larger groups of people that have many more miles traveled and have taught cycling to way more types of people, and in general these people have better ideas about cycling.

    So please don’t propagate that link!

  7. While any transportation device traveling on a public street is going to have some basic rules to follow in common, bikes and cars are inherently different devices, provide different transportation goals, and operate in different ways. I am not going to go easy on drivers (me included) who think that there's already too much to handle when driving. If we already have special rules for bikes that mandate what lanes and where on the street they can be, we can have other rules custom-made for bikes, too. If a driver can't handle it, perhaps they shouldn't be behind the wheel of a dangerous piece of heavy-machinery. I love driving. I love biking. I love them for very different reasons.

    I am all for teaching people the best and safest ways to bike, including merging into lanes and crossing five lanes of traffic to get to a bike lane on Main Street. A cyclist or a driver had better be able to evaluate risk or someone is going to end up hurt. A motorist might not be "daunted" at such an intersection as Baxter and Main because they are protected by all sorts of safety equipment and steel if something goes wrong. Even a cautious and well educated cyclist will have vulnerabilities, even if they are only perceived. And that perception is likely to linger.

    While education is the goal, it can sometimes be slow to educate an entire city when more and more cyclists are taking to the streets. Someone isn't as likely to decide to ride their bike for the first time, but take a class before they do. Many would more likely give it a try. Ride around. And then decide to better themselves with a class. There isn't a threshold someone must pass to be able to ride a bike; much of the education front comes from personal responsibility. We as a city must deal with the transition the best we can as education sinks in.

    I don't believe this is "coddling" any cyclist not to treat them the same as a car. Bikes are for everyone. Children and adults. Anyone over 11 shouldn't be on the sidewalk, but putting a 12 or 13 year old on the street with drivers on cell phones is going to present some problems. Not every cyclist on the street is going to be riding at an "adult level." It could be greatly improved if bike education began at an early age in school.

    I agree the street is safe for cyclists and it's where bikes belong, but there are still problems with many existing street designs in Louisville. The synchronized lights may hold some drivers at the back of the pack to 30 mph, the front runners on Main and Market are often not held by that limit. I see it every day on these streets as motorists hit the 35-40mph stride and shoot out of green lights like there's only open road ahead. (It also doesn't help that the turning lane is also the bike lane.)

    In the end though, we are trying to promote the same cause. Streets are for bikes and cars. Education is going to help with acceptance of multiple forms of transportation on a single street. (That last link is a good, concise rundown of safety tips.)

  8. "If we already have special rules for bikes that mandate what lanes and where on the street they can be, we can have other rules custom-made for bikes, too"

    In general we do not have special rules for bikes. There is one exception, which forbids bicycles from limited access highways and forces them to use bike lanes when doing so is "feasible". For WAY more information on why such laws are divisive of the bicycle community and bad for cyclists, come to Dan Gutierez's talk at the KBBC next Friday. For more information see: http://cartky.org/inclusive-bike . If you're going to ask for different laws, I strongly, strongly encourage you to make this talk, there will not be another like it, as the speaker is flying in from California. Its an amazing coincidence that he's here at the time this thread is coming about.

    Note that aside from that one aberration, we do NOT have laws that single out bicycles. The reason its illegal to ride on the left of a two lane each-way road depends only on the relative speed of the bicycle relative to prevailing traffic. If there is a line of cars queued up, it is perfectly legal for the bicycle to pass in a different lane. This just rarely happens because most bicycles have a top speed and acceleration lower than motor vehicles. Also, its obviously legal – nay encouraged – to get in the left lane to make or "catch" left hand turns. Getting over into the slower lane is something the cyclist should do when he has time and there's not a wave of cars passing him or her on the right.

  9. The real issue I am particularly interested in terms of bike-law change revolves around the Idaho Stop Law. Biking is gaining in Louisville, but it's still progressing, and I was curious to see if anyone else could think of ways to improve the system (versus the infrastructure, for instance) as we move forward. I am not particularly concerned in riding in whichever lane a cyclist chooses. The right lane is safest for many reasons, as we have been discussing. The majority of laws for road vehicles are going to be the same "rules of the road" as they are today, and in that regard bikes and cars are the same on some legal level. That doesn't mean, for me, that the two are bound to each other.

    Much of what frustrates me as a cyclist (and I presume inversely for a lot of motorists), is when road rules are broken. What degree can enforcement play in fixing these problems? That's one reason I am intrigued by the Idaho Stop Law, is that it provides for a common bike behavior (currently illegal) and attempts to codify it in a safer way.

    The Main Street-Baxter example is, I think, one of the more unique situations encountered while cycling due to the extreme width of the street and its one-way nature and the fluid merging of two major streets without a controlled intersection. I do think just discussing these issues of bike safety and law brings a lot of information to the table, though.

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