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.
- Bike Etiquette Explained With ‘Idaho Stop Law’ (Broken Sidewalk)
- ‘One Road’ Bill Could Hold ‘Reckless’ Drivers Accountable (Broken Sidewalk)