Should the Rules of the Road Be Amended for Cyclists?

7_14_08_sf.jpgVia Carectomy, a San Francisco CBS affiliate reports that the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission is considering whether to revise the rules of the road to better accommodate cyclists. The changes would make it legal for cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs, and stoplights as stop signs.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Carectomy commentary comes down against the idea, saying the change would merely reflect how cyclists already behave, and that more tangible steps are necessary. While there’s no denying that better infrastructure for bikes would bolster cycling more than a rule change (and would cut down on ped-bike infighting), a logical legal framework is nothing to sneeze at.

The way things stand in California, New York and the rest of the U.S. — except Idaho
— countless cyclists are scofflaws according to the letter of the law.
Who sits at a red light for a full cycle after coming to a stop and seeing the coast is clear both ways? Even if the cyclist is not issued a summons
(likely, though no guarantee), this safe and reasonable choice is
still stigmatized. Changing the rules would legitimize normal cycling
behavior, and, as the San Francisco Bay Guardian pointed out last month, make cyclists’ decisions more predictable for all parties involved.

It
would also acknowledge, in a codified manner, some of the fundamental
differences between bikes and cars. Namely, that a person on a bike
poses far less risk to those nearby, and can maneuver more easily, than
a person encased within a multi-ton vehicle.

Photo: BikePortland/Flickr

  • This would be a disaster unless liability was assigned to whomever was using a larger, faster, and heavier vehicle.

    If a cyclist burns a red light and gets killed or injured by a car – who is at fault when the cyclist has the right to run the red, but made a bad decision?

    If liability were assigned by weight of the vehicle, or if vehicle drivers were assigned liability automatically in a crash with a bicycle or pedestrian, I think you’d have a rational set of policies when combined with this “Stop sign=Yield” and “Red light=stop sign” bicycle law change.

    Otherwise this is going to be fought out in the courts after people get annihilated and sue for damages – and who knows which way things will go from there.

  • Assigning liability to the weight of the vehicle is absolutely stupid, especially at night. If that bicyclists with no lights or the drunk patron staggering out of the bar in his black trench coat gets hit, and I am driving the speed limit, you better believe I’m not liable.

    Stop signs as yield signs is OK because that’s what many car drivers treat them as anyway, and in a four way stop situation, a cyclist can just ride in tandem with a car crossing the street so that they don’t occupy a cycle of their own. In addition, pedestrians can cross stop sign controlled intersections without even (legally) yielding, so that’s fine. I am less thrilled about bikes running red lights, since most intersections have pedestrian push buttons so that they can get a cycle. Yes, it is lame that construction of intersection design have eliminated some of the usual four corner crosswalks, but perhaps allowing bikes to be picked up by the loop detectors, or bike push buttons like the horse push buttons you see in some areas, would be the answer to that, not having some car speeding down an expressway hitting a bicycle because he was too lazy to push the walk button.

  • calwatch, if a cyclist or a pedestrian hits your car, who ends up worse for the wear?

    There is an attitude infused in our culture that the car can do no wrong, and every concession is made to allow motorists to get off for murdering or maiming other people.

    The street would be would be safer if the heaviest and most powerful vehicles were held accountable for any crash they may get into. You may not think it is fair, but that is the truth.

  • Of course, doing that would literally slow down commerce to 20 mph during the day, 15 mph at night, since everyone would be forced to stop on a dime for any pedestrian or bicyclist that crossed, even if they don’t make them visible for a car to stop, or were bent on suicide, or drunk, or mentally unstable.

    Take a look at this guy.

    Key points from the article:

    “Police believe the man in the wheelchair might have been under the influence of alcohol.

    He was dressed in dark clothing and his wheelchair was without lights or reflectors, according to the CHP report.

    He was not in a crosswalk nor was he crossing the street at an intersection, Van Valkenburgh added. There are no street lights where the incident occurred.

    The man was taken to Citrus Valley Medical Center Intercommunity Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead. ”

    Are you saying that the drivers should be responsible? If so, then that is completely absurd.

  • Marcotico

    Calwatch, You are using exceptions to make your point. I don’t know a lot of pedestrians or cyclists who dart out into traffic or make a point of riding dangerously, but I do know many, many drivers (myself included) who are often distracted (fiddling with radios, dialing cel phones) and generally oblivious to anything other than other cars. The beauty of driving is that it is easy to do, and most people drive with about 25% of their brain power engaged.

    I don’t know if you ski, but skiing etiquette dictates that up hill skiers are responsible for downhill skiers regardless of skill level or speed. In other words you can see them but they can’t see you therefore it is your responsibility to slow down or gain control to avoid an accident.

    This is analogous to this situation. You are the driver of 3 tons of machinery. You are responsible for the killing power of your vehicle. The two thought experiments you cite are highly counter-intuitive, and are exceptions to the norm, therefore they would best be left up to the discretion of the courts, not the broad reach of policy.

    You also frame it such that you are driving the speed limit. I don’t know if you’ve tried driving the speed limit on surface streets when there is no traffic, but you’d be surprised at how slow it feels, and how aware you are of your surroundings. In your example, if you were driving the speed limit (no judgment of you personally, but based on my observations of most people, that is highly unlikely) you would probably have time to see the cyclist, even in the dark, and react accordingly.

  • The following comment was made: “Who sits at a red light for a full cycle after coming to a stop and seeing the coast is clear both ways?”
    .
    Uh, I do, and I expect other drivers, including cyclists, who have the same rights and duties as other drivers to obey trafic controls, to do likewise.
    .
    How can we cyclists be taken seriously as responsible road users if we act irresponsibly and only follow rules when it is “convenient” for us to do so. If you want to be treated like a driver, then you first have to act like one by following traffic laws!
    .
    BTW, the current CA stop sign law requires that drivers stop and then yield to any traffic already in the intersection. If no one else is around, how difficult is it to slow to a crawl, or balance while properly yielding (checking to make sure you didn’t miss another cyclist or a car) before proceeding?
    .
    If one’s goal is to amend law to really help cyclists, then please work to eliminate special and discriminatory laws that trade cyclist safety for motorist convenience. Start by repealing CVC 21202, the discriminatory far to the right law, that forces cyclists, and no other slower drivers to abandon control of travel lanes.
    .
    Neither motorcyclists (narrow like cyclists) or motorists have to abandon control of a lane and move to the right when they are slower. So when traffic is congested, motorists moving slower than cyclists don’t have to move to the right edge and let us pass on the left, yet when a group of cyclists is slower, we are expected to move right edge to let motorists pass on the left. How fair is that?
    .
    Cyclists not road slaves (think n-word) to motorists, and shouldn’t be subject to this type of “Jim Crow” discrimination for the convenience of motorists. The same goes for CVC 21208, the mandatory bike lane law; another law requiring cyclists to relinquish travel lane control and space for the benefit of overtaking motorists.

    When it comes to traffic movements, cyclists really only need two laws:
    1) CVC 21200 that grants cyclists the same rights and duties as other drivers, thus requiring cyclists follow the CVC, and having the same road rights as other drivers.
    .
    2) CVC 21 which requires uniformity of state traffic laws, thus preventing cities from restricting cyclist road access to any non-freeway road open to motorists, or from creating custom, and usually discriminatory traffic laws.

    So let’s start a drive to restore cyclists’ driver civil rights by repealing discriminatory movement laws such as 21202 and 21208 which place cyclists in a lower traffic caste than other drivers.

    Sorry for the long comment, it’s just that the topic of cyclists’ rights is both important to all cyclists and a passion of mine…

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