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The Rules of the Road Are Everyone’s Responsibility

7:57 AM PDT on June 9, 2009

I've been trying a little experiment lately as I ride around town on
my bike: doing my level best to follow the letter of the law. I've been
inspired by both the carrot and the stick. In the carrot department,
Transportation Alternatives' new Biking Rules
handbook has made a very nice case for more rule-based cycling in the
city: "the simple principle that our responsibility to others on the
street increases in relation to our potential to cause harm. With
Biking Rules, NYC cyclists are taking the lead to create safer, saner
streets." I would like to be a part of that sanity, even if I think it
would be more appropriate for law enforcement to take the lead by
enforcing the laws that apply to motorists. So I'm giving it a shot. So
far I've gotten thanks from two pedestrians for stopping at red lights,
and that felt pretty good.

Officers ride the Hollywood/Vine crosswalk until they defer to the
primacy of the motor vehicle and ride out into the oncoming traffic.
Photo by SoapBoxLA.

the stick department was the $50 ticket I got for riding on a path in
Madison Square Park a couple of months ago. The Parks Department
employee who wrote it didn't care that there were no pedestrians within
50 yards of me, or that I had chosen to ride through the park rather
than on 23rd Street because of the hazardous mash of traffic conditions
(buses stopped diagonally across the lanes, construction vehicles,
double-parked cars, etc.) that existed there at that minute. She was
just enforcing a rule, and I had to admit that I had broken it. (She
also suggested that I fight the ticket, which seemed just bizarre to
me. I paid it instead.) 

I've tried this experiment before, back in the dark ages of the
late '80s, when I was commuting by bike from Morningside Heights to the
Gramercy Park area. As I recall, Mayor Ed Koch had told the cops to
crack down on cyclists, and tickets were being handed out rather
liberally. I was poor and didn't want to get one. What I got instead,
as I waited for the light to change one day near Grand Central, was
rear-ended by a taxi that evidently expected me to run the light. I
wasn't badly hurt, but I did need a new rear wheel, and I've been
skeptical of being law-abiding ever since.

As I read the posts from bloggers around the country about cycling and the law,
I'm continually struck by the confusion and misinformation that seems
to prevail almost universally. Today we're featuring a post from SoapBoxLA that discusses a tragic case in which a woman riding a bicycle was struck and killed in a crosswalk:

TheLAPD's Public Information Officer confirmed the report that the LAPDconsidered the cyclist the "primary cause" of the incident because shewas riding a bike in a crosswalk which is a violation of CVC 21200which requires a cyclist to obey the rules of the road. The PIOexplained that a cyclist must either dismount at crosswalks or ride onthe right side of the road with traffic.

I asked if he had everridden the Orange Line Bike Path or the Chandler Bike Path or any ofthe City's bikeways facilities that actually direct cyclists into thecrosswalk at intersections. The PIO paused and then suggested that Ispeak to the investigating officer.

I called the LAPD'sSpecialize Collision Investigation Detail (SCID) and spoke to theinvestigating officer assigned to this case who also explained thatcyclists must obey the rules of the road which prohibit riding a bikein the crosswalk. I asked for the actual vehicle code or municipal codethat prohibits cyclists from riding in the crosswalk and he simplyreferred to CVC 21200 and repeated the claim that cyclists mustdismount before using a crosswalk.…

I believe we have anobligation to be accurate in applying the law to this incident and itis either illegal for a cyclist to ride a bike in a crosswalk or it'snot. That is a simple issue that can be settled quickly and if theLAPD's appraisal of this incident is based on that ruling then it isvery important that we are accurate in applying the law.

Icontend that it is not illegal to ride a bike in the crosswalk. Itmight not wise, it might not be advisable, but it is definitely notillegal. cyclists are not required to dismount at intersections or atcrosswalks.

The fact thatthere is confusion over such a simple issue demonstrates the real needfor specific training for the LAPD on bicycling activities andapplicable regulations and laws.

Alternatives has the right idea with the Biking Rules initiative. But
in order for a truly law-based cycling culture to emerge in New York or
anywhere else, law enforcement, prosecutors and drivers all have to be
educated as well.The burden of doing things the right way -- and
knowing what the right way is -- shouldn't fall primarily on cyclists.

Bonus: Today on Greater Greater Washington,
Stephen Miller writes about the opening of the fabulous Wilson Bridge
active transportation crossing between Virginia and Maryland -- and the
baffling lack of bike access to the National Harbor on the Maryland

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