01 July 2008

Cyclist Facts

FAQ – Common questions regarding cycling by non-cyclists in Blue, 
with responses in black italic.

[2013] Shouldn't cyclists pay for insurance?
One must consider the general danger to the public at large a cyclist poses vs. that of a motorist.  A typical auto weighs 4,000 lbs, a bicycle including the rider about 200 lbs.  The Utah state minimum insurance coverage which most carry is only $25,000.  

Even if a cyclist causes a crash, the property damage is usually small in the 2-3k range, and very rarely involves personal injury.  Many automobile coverage's also cover the cyclist while they are riding their bike for 3k of personal injury.  

Now, if a motorist causes an accident with a cyclist, the chance of property damage is low, but personal injury is very high, often way over that 25k limit which the insurance pays.  

So, what happens to the rest?  It becomes a civil lawsuit either way and the greater risk is born by the cyclist in this case than the motorist, even with the motorist's insurance.  If the loosing side ends up filing bankruptcy on a large case, the victim ends up paying all their medical bills and lost time.

I’m curious why cyclists are allowed to ride on roads with speed limits of 45-50 mph and virtually no emergency lane?
In most states bicycles are classified as a vehicle and have the same rights as any other vehicle.  As such they are allowed to use the regular traffic lane, and use the entire lane if the lane is too narrow for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to share the lane safely.

Why are cyclist allowed to ride in the car lane when the emergency lane disappears?
Cyclists are actually not “required” to use the shoulder.

Why are cyclist allowed to cross car lanes, move into the left turn lane, and turn with cars?
Cyclists are treated as a vehicle and may move to the left and use the left turn lane just as any other vehicle.

Why do cyclists ride on the white emergency lane line or left of the emergency lane line?
Cyclists are allowed to ride in the traffic lane, even if there is a shoulder.  Furthermore, the white line is generally the smoothest place to ride and debris are easier to see on the line.  Many factors place a cyclist close to the fog line with a wide shoulder including: parked cars including the door zone (bikes are safer keeping a straight line rather than weaving in and out), pebbles and other road debris, garbage cans, potholes, un-even pavement or cracks parallel to the direction of travel, drainage grates, and vehicles from side streets and driveways.

Why are cyclist allowed to ride two or more abreast?
Cyclists can ride two abreast as long as they are not “impeding the normal and reasonable flow of traffic.”  So in light traffic where it is easy to pass, or more than two lanes, they are generally not impeding the “normal and reasonable” flow.  Also, in a narrow lane where it is not safe to pass anyway, a cyclist may ride in the center of the lane, so having two bikes is not impeding a driver any more than they would riding by themselves (Colorado recently passed laws clarifying this issue)

Do cyclists pay a yearly tax on the bikes, as I do on my vehicle to use the roads?
Most cyclists also own motor vehicles and pay the same licensing fees as others.  As many cyclists commute by work, those also owning vehicles are actually paying more per mile on their car than others who don’t ride for the same vehicle.  A bicycle causes an un-measurable amount of wear to a roadway compared to motor vehicles.  Roadway repair dollars come from many sources, not just gas taxes, but from property and income taxes as well which we all pay.  In all fairness, a cyclist generally pays a greater share given the amount of wear-and-tear and usage they require. 

(June 2011: In a recent report to the city of Taylorsville, the amount from fuel taxes cites get only pays for about 1/2 of the repair costs related to their roadways, the rest for repairs and maintenance [and new construction] comes from other sources including property taxes and sales taxes which we all pay about 20% overall).

Are cyclists going to be allowed to ride their bikes on the freeways?
Actually, cyclists are allowed to use the shoulder on limited access roadways, except in urban areas where there are reasonable alternatives.

Why do cyclists disregard stop signs and red lights?
Why do drivers not stop at stop signs and do other distracting things while driving (eating/cell phones) while operating at 4,000# vehicle?  Sometimes a bicycle does not trigger the magnetic sensors designed for cars for the lights.

Are there laws and regulations for cyclists?
Yes, there are a few specific to cyclists, but in general they have the same rights and duties as operators of any other vehicle.

Do cyclists take a test regarding the laws and regulations?
No, but we are working on getting more of this curriculum into the schools.  There are bicycle traffic safety education classes available in most communities.

Are the laws and regulations enforced?
Yes, law enforcement does give tickets when appropriate to cyclists.  Even though the action of the cyclist has less of a public danger when they disobey the traffic laws, they get the same fines as motorists.

I have come close to side swiping other cars when a cyclist moves into the car lane. Doesn’t it make sense to restrict cyclists to roads with adequate emergency lanes, on roads where the speed limit is 40 mph or lower? A residential road, where the speed limit is 25 mph, is a perfect example of a street where cars and bikes can share.   
Most destinations which cyclists are travelling to cannot be completed solely on these types of roadways.  In a perfect world we would have bike lanes on every roadway like in Amsterdam, but we don’t.  Unless the cyclist unexpectedly merged into your lane, you must change lanes and/or wait your turn just as you would passing any other vehicle, and pass at a safe distance of 3’ or greater.

Why do some cyclists ride in the middle on the lane?
A motorist needs to give a cyclist at least three feet clearance (from right mirror to the left arm). On many roadways, the right lane is only 11-12’wide.  The cyclist takes up about 3’ of space and generally rides 2’ from the shoulder/edge.   A typical mid-sized car takes up over 6’ including the mirrors.  That comes to 14’, more for large trucks and SUV’s. 

Many times if the cyclist is riding too far in the lane to the right (or even just over the fog line) motorists either don’t see the cyclist or miss-judge the passing distance and try squeezing by.  Also when the cyclist is closer to parked cars, and other obstacles, it is harder for them to see and be seen by drivers coming out of side streets and driveways.

A cyclist who is riding in the middle of a narrow lane is more likely to be seen by motorists further back, this allows them to signal and merge into the next lane without slowing or more time to adjust to pick a gap in opposing traffic.

More on Licensing
The bicycles right to use the roadway is the same as it is for anyone else to use the roadway.  The US Supreme Court has ruled that freedom of travel upon the public roadways is a right given to everyone.  The Court further states that the “right of free movement” of its citizenship is protected against discriminatory State action.  The argument in this case is that specifying the mode of travel upon our roadways would in effect “curtail the right of free movement of those who are poor or destitute.”  Edwards v. People of State of California.

As for licensing of bicycles vs. motor vehicles or commercial vehicles, in various cases where the driver was cited with a revoked license, the defense repeatedly fails because the courts judged motoring to be inherently dangerous to other road users, thus requiring regulation and sometimes revocation of privileges, and that other, common means of travel such as walking and cycling were sufficient to preserve the right to travel for those who could not drive.

In my view in summary, the right to use the public roadway is a freedom we ALL enjoy.  Not licensing cyclists is concurrent with both statements herein in that the threat to public safety is not generally endangered by a cyclist’s improper operation in the same way of someone operating a 4,000-6,000# vehicle, and freedom of movement is a fundamental right.  (The cases where a cyclist was proven to be the significant cause of injury of someone in a motor vehicle are extremely rare.)

Both Cyclists and Motorists have duties when using and sharing roadways.  Just because some don’t obey the traffic laws, does not dismiss either group’s right to use the roadways.  We must all remember however, inattentive actions by a motor vehicle driver have FAR greater consequences than that of a cyclist and have a greater duty to operate that vehicle in a safe manner; however,  it still does not excuse poor driving/riding habits of either group.

25 March 2008

Sharing our Urban Canyons
(Originally Published in Cycling Utah April 2008)

Urban Canyons are a great place to ride. They usually offer great scenery, generally slower motor vehicle traffic and are close to the areas which we live. The convenience of these canyons also comes with some trade-offs.

Many hazards and challenges are presented to us when riding these canyons. Some have better shoulders than others, some are narrow, some are wide, some have rock-fall and some have intermittent natural light.

Many modes of transportation are frequently used in these canyons. In addition to cyclists other users include: drivers in motor vehicles, runners, equestrians, hikers, motorcyclists, those just on a scenic drive, dogs and the occasional moose. In order for each user group to be safe, we must all respect each other’s right to use the roadway corridor in a safe and thoughtful manner.

Shoulder Use
Many canyons have a useable paved shoulder. The up-hill cyclist should utilize these as much as possible (provided that the shoulder is reasonably free of debris and obstacles such as garbage cans, large rocks and parked cars). However, a cyclist should not ride so far to the right as to be “invisible” to residents pulling out of their driveways or being hidden around right bends to other drivers cutting over the fog line (white shoulder stripe).

Utah State Code 41-6a-1105 requires the cyclists to ride as far to the right as is “practicable,” gives some examples as to why the cyclist could or should move from that position, and when it is “legal” to ride two abreast.

Riding Two Abreast
For the purposes of riding in these canyons, law enforcement is currently including the shoulder when determining if riders are riding two abreast if at least one is in the traffic lane. To my knowledge, this has not yet been challenged in court. Their opinion is that if it is safe for the rider to ride in the shoulder, then the 2nd rider is un-necessarily “impeding the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.” For canyons such as Emigration Canyon in Salt Lake County, the County installed a widened shoulder striped on both sides of the shoulder which could be taken as being part of the “roadway.” There are arguments both
sides of this issue which we could discuss, but that is for another venue.

Due to increasing calls to the Sheriff’s office in Salt Lake regarding Emigration Canyon, by both motorists and cyclists, they are increasing their enforcement efforts and citations in the canyon. The Canyon Patrol Deputies will generally watch to see if you were just passing or having an extended conversation while keeping two abreast. If you can both safely keep in the shoulder, you can ride two abreast. If you do get stopped, be polite! And it does yourself and the rest of us no good to lie to them about how long you were riding two abreast.

The Major Issues
In State law, the right to ride two abreast includes not “impeding the normal and reasonable flow of traffic.” Dropping back once the cyclists sees a motorist could be taken as violating this rule as the motorist has likely already slowed down. As the driver now has to accelerate (up-hill), it takes them longer to safely pass, and the longer they are near or over the center-line, the longer the safety is reduced to both the motorist and cyclist.

The number one issue for residents in the canyon is “large groups” riding together. Even though we all have the “right” to use the canyon, please be cognizant of the rights of the other users as well. There is little drafting advantage in riding in large packs uphill and unsafe at downhill speeds. In addition to the fact that large packs have a tendency to ride two or three abreast (see above), they are much harder to pass safely on narrow canyon roads due to their extended length. “We all want the same thing, for all users to enjoy travelling the canyon safely,” - Joe Smolka, Chair, Emigration Township Council.

Rider’s Duty to Share the Road
By being good stewards of the roadway and avoiding riding in large packs and two or more abreast when it is not necessary, motorists have less reason to get impatient. This can decrease passing when it is less safe to do so, either by crossing the double yellow line or passing to closely to the cyclists. Although, the “un-safe” pass by the motor vehicle isn’t excused by the cyclists breaking the law, the cyclist can ease the tension by making reasonable efforts to share the roadway when safe. The cyclist has the most at risk as being the more vulnerable vehicle; this includes recognizing when even a single rider may be delaying a long line of motor vehicles due to the terrain.

As for other areas of the canyons: constantly be on the lookout for bottlenecks and other hazards, such as narrow lanes with no shoulders, going around turns, hidden rock-fall around turns coming down the canyon, and other incursions by vehicles and pedestrians. Extra caution is needed when travelling down the canyon at higher speeds; at these higher speeds, it is more reasonable to ride further to the center of the lane, so that you’ll be seen more as a vehicle by cross traffic and have a better view of the roadway looking for debris.

In Salt Lake County, we are working with the County to provide more frequent sweepings of the canyons, re-examining the signage for both motorists and cyclists, evaluating and repairing the shoulder and other portions of the roadway used by cyclists, and working with the Sheriff’s office on reasonable enforcement issues. The Township is also working with the County and residents to make the canyon safer by keeping obstacles such as garbage cans off the roadway. No matter where you live, communicating with your government and local officials mends many fences, but it all starts and ends with the cyclist’s behavior on the roads, we must each take responsibility for our own actions first.

Here are some general tips to help keep us all safe in the canyons:

Ride Single File
When riding up narrow canyons, ride single file as much as possible. Always be on the lookout for motorists behind you. Remember you are traveling much slower in this direction. Allow faster traffic to pass when it is safe to do so. Avoid riding in large groups which are harder to pass, even in single file.

Riding Down
When riding down a canyon, watch your speed, you can be ticketed for speeding as well as motorists and only ride a speed that you are comfortable with for the given conditions and your riding ability. If riding less than the speed of other traffic, you still must “ride as near as practicable to the right-hand edge of the roadway” as conditions permit; however, your safety comes first.

Use extreme caution when braking and going around turns, you want to do a majority of your braking BEFORE the turn. Hard braking during a turn can result in your bike swerving into the oncoming lane.

Use caution around narrow curves, especially where rock fall is common, Utah law allows cyclists to ride towards the center of the lane when: “a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.” (Do so sparingly, but your safety comes first)

Obey All Signage
Obey all traffic control devices (stop lights, stop signs, single file signs etc.)

Be Courteous
Remember the roads and trails belong to everyone. Be a "Bicycle Ambassador," wave to others to acknowledge others who recognize and give you the right-of-way, whether they were required to or not. There is a difference between “our right” and “doing what is right.”

Utah and Salt Lake County bicycle related laws can be found at www.safe-route.org/laws For information on taking a “Cyclist ED/Vehicular Cycling” course, please visit www.slcbikecollective.org.