Why Are Cyclists Included in Distracted Driving Bill?

bill introduced last month by State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto),
who has been a steady advocate for reducing the dangers of distracted
driving, would increase first-time and repeat fines for drivers who
text while driving or who don’t use hands-free devices, and would
extend the prohibition of cell phone use to cyclists. This last move
has cycling advocates baffled and on the defensive.

State Senate Bill 1475
would amend the California Vehicle Code so that, “a person shall not
ride a bicycle or drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless
telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured
to allow hands-free listening and talking, and is used in that manner
while riding or driving.” The bill would increase the base fine for
illegal use of a cell phone while driving or riding a bicycle from $20
to $50 for the first offense, and increase the fine from $50 to $100
for each subsequent offense.

"This was something
that was an oversight from the initial enactment from 2006, which took
effect in 2008," Simitian explained in an interview with Streetsblog.
He said he waited a year after the law took effect to make changes,
which include the increased fines, adding a point to a driver’s record
for the infraction, and using a portion of the fine to create an
education fund for the dangers of distracted driving. Simitian also
said the motivation for adding cyclists to the bill did not come from a
dramatic incident nor a trend of increased cycling collisions due to
cell phone use.

"Common sense tells us it’s not a safe habit, given all the risks that cyclists have to contend with," said Simitian.

The California Bicycle Coalition (CBC),
which was an early supporter of the original distracted driving
legislation, was not thrilled about the inclusion of cyclists in the
bill. CBC Communications Director Jim Brown said that he was confused
about the motivation for extending the same level of fines to cyclists,
particularly absent data showing distracted cycling as a public safety

"The consequences of a distracted driver are
considerably more serious than the consequences of distracted cycling,"
said Brown, adding that safe riding should be encouraged at all times
and that talking on a cell phone or any other practice that distracted
a cyclist from riding would not be advisable.

As for the actual
danger to the public of distracted cycling, Brown said the data didn’t
support the presumption of risk the law seeks to redress. "There are
theoretical risks and there are actual risks," he said. "As far as I’m
aware, there is no accident evidence that points to a problem. In the
absence of any evidence against bicyclists, this law seems premature."

Neither spokesperson for the California Highway Patrol nor the San
Francisco Police Department could point to a trend that showed an
increase in distracted cycling. SFPD Lt. Lyn Tomioka said she had never
heard of an officer ticketing a cyclist for riding and talking on a
cell phone, nor did she say it was a concern in the department.

Tom Rice, Research Epidemiologist at UC Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research and Education Center,
said the issue could be one of data and the definition of a collision.
"Unless there is also a motorized vehicle involved, it won’t make it
into traffic collision reports," he said. The traditional databases,
such as the CHP’s Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS),
don’t capture bicycle-pedestrian injury collisions or fatalities. "The
data are hard to come by. It’s not a nice, easy reliable data set,"
said Rice.

bike_and_phone.jpgPhoto: Bryan Goebel

According to Wendy Alfsen of California Walks, a
pedestrian advocacy organization, all road users should be "aware of
our circumstances, particularly when there’s a potential conflict of
interest between myself — whether I’m a driver, a cyclist, or a
pedestrian — and another roadway user."

Alfsen said she wasn’t
aware of statewide statistics showing an increasing trend of cyclists
injuring or killing pedestrians, but she said in Berkeley over the past
15 years, with an average of three to four pedestrian fatalities
annually, only one was caused by a cyclist.

"I don’t really
think pedestrians or bicyclists or drivers can hold another roadway
user to a higher standard," she said, though she argued, "the
consequences to drivers should be higher because they can cause a much
greater degree of harm to others and to themselves."

Given the
difference in the potential danger posed by drivers and cyclists,
regional bicycle advocates were concerned that the bill would equate
the danger of each.

"It’s obvious to even the most casual
observer that the potential damaging effects of driving a car while
distracted far outweigh those of bicycling while distracted," said
Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Corinne Winter.
"It’s my own feeling that enforcement needs to focus on unlawful
behavior that is potentially lethal or damaging."

Andy Thornley,
Program Director for The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, agreed with
Winter that lumping cyclists with motorists in this law was not good
policy. While the SFBC "teaches and preaches safe, respectful, and
mindful bicycling," said Thornley, "we’re very leery of any equivalence
of penalty when punishing a guilty cyclist or driver for the same

"Even worse, we wonder whether bicyclists would be
cited more often than motorists because it’s so much easier to spot
someone texting while pedaling," he added. "It’s already a problem of
perception that individual bicycle riders seem to be noticed being
naughty more than motorists, comfortably anonymous within their glass
and steel boxes."

Because the bill was introduced on February
19th, it won’t go before committee until April at the earliest, at
which time there will likely be significant interest and debate among
advocates for safe roadway conditions.

As for supporting the
bill, Walk California’s Alfsen said, "As a safety organization, we
should be in favor of cell phone prohibitions applying to all roadway
users, although the penalty should probably differ because of the
degree of harm that drivers can inflict."

The CBC’s Brown said
that his organization wasn’t taking a position on the bill at present
but that they would work with Simitian as the legislation moved forward
so that the penalties would be commensurate with the public safety
risks associated with driving and cycling.

The SFBC’s Thornley worried the law could have unintended consequences, such as a reduction in cycling.

concerned that this law might find an inordinate proportion of bicycle
riders to target, missing the real danger on the streets and further
alienating the bicycle as a legitimate mode of transportation in
California," he said.

Simitian defended his record of support for cyclists, citing his
work as mayor of Palo Alto to build that city’s bicycle boulevard and
numerous initiatives that improved cycling conditions. He also said he
would be open to reviewing the fine structure in committee if that was
a significant issue.

been an advocate for cyclists for 25 years for full rights to the road,
but with those rights come a certain degree of responsibility," he

Bryan Goebel contributed reporting to this story.

  • Anon.

    This wouldn’t be the first or worst time the government passed a law to protect citizens from themselves. That’s why doing hard drugs, even if you’re locked in a closet and a harm to no one, is still illegal.

    And that assumes any accident caused by a rider on a cell phone wouldn’t cause broader harm (further collisions by cars in traffic, running into a pedestrian, etc).

  • la rider

    Yeah, let’s go after the cyclists for using phones while they ride!!! They could really hurt somebody, maybe even themselves.


    Another unenforcible law? Why don’t we start enforcing the first one. Not one day goes by when I don’t see somebody on their cell phone driving a car.

  • The law taketh away mandatory licensing only to bringeth back this anti-cell phone bike rule.

    It is unsafe to ride with a cell phone while riding a bike. I guess the penalty is what sucks the most, as riding a bike with a cell phone doesn’t seem to match the relative risk to others that driving a car while talking on a cell phone does.

  • katenonymous

    As someone who drives, bikes, walks, and rides transit, I see a wide variety of behaviors. Biking while holding a cellphone is just dumb, and does pose a hazard to others as well as to the cyclist. I know that on more than one occasion I’ve been crossing the street and have nearly been run down by a cyclist more intent on his phone (so far it’s always been men) than on his surroundings.

    So, OMG, the law is going to apply to us, too. Suck it up.

  • I am disappointed with the advocacy organizations being more concerned with matters of image and perceived equity rather than safety.

    The perception is that the biggest threat to cyclists is cars. This is not true. The biggest threat to cyclists is themselves. This is because a majority of cycling collisions and upsets are caused by cyclist error. Cyclist error comes largely from inattention. And inattention is increased when the cyclist is on the phone.

    I think advocacy groups would do far better focusing their attention on helping cyclists be better cyclists than on raging against perceived slights and discrimination from a law that, if enforced, would make drivers and cyclists safer.

  • I think it makes sense for this to apply to both drivers and cyclists. If the state really wants to help make the roads safer, it’ll have to focus on funding traffic calming and toughening hit and run laws though.

  • UrbanReason

    Interesting the initial commentary on this story here on the LA streetblog. Over at SF streetsblog, seems like the vast majority of comments (including my own) are strongly in support of having this law apply to cyclists as well.

    LA Rider… no offense but riding while on your phone is (in my opinion) equally as dangerous as driving while talking. Especially if you follow the law and ride in the street. Most front breaks are on the left side of the bike… most people are right handed… put two and two together and you have a pretty damn dangerous situation – especially traveling 10-20mph with traffic. Unfortunately I speak from experience. Are we then going to argue – “well if a cyclists flips his bike because he’s on the phone, it’s the drivers fault for being irresponsible if he runs over him!”?

    “The SFBC’s Thornley worried the law could have unintended consequences, such as a reduction in cycling” – this comment outrages me EVERY time I see it. This is the same argument pro-smoking restaurants and bars have been using for years. Give me a freaking break, pull over and put your foot on the damn ground if you need to talk on the phone.

    So seriously, to anyone who’s going to fight about this: This is seriously bad PR for cycling advocates, and it hurts all of those who want more respect and comprehensive infrastructure to have prominent whiners out there complaining about it. If we want equal rights and responsibilities, this should be no exception. As @katenonymous says – stop acting like some entitled bike snob and suck it up.

  • Yoshiyahu, your opinion is not backed up by data. I think it is fair to also say, with all due respect, that you are full of sh*t.

    Focusing safety campaigns on cyclists is counter-productive for several reasons. First, “safety in numbers” is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to make bicycling safer in an area. Campaigns that focus on the dangers of cycling tend to stop people from riding their bikes, and remove “safety in numbers”. Second, the tone-deaf attitude and poor marketing perspective that making cycling “safe” has to do with putting the fear of God into cyclists fails to prevent reckless cycling and strengthens the cultural bias against listening to cyclists’ concerns and interests.

    Take a trip over to Copenhagenize and see why safety-focused campaigns are a shitty idea when it comes to advocating for bicycles.

  • UrbanReason

    @Yoshiyahu, Yeah I’m going to second Umberto Brayj on this for the most part: with the exception of the epidemic of cyclists riding in the street against traffic that I’ve seen in LA (more so than any other of the multitude of cities I’ve spent time in).

  • Erik G.

    I am required to carry a driver’s license when operating a motor vehicle. What form of ID am I lawfully required to present when riding a bicycle? When stopped on said bicycle for using a cellular telephone?

  • katenonymous

    Erik, in every state I’ve lived in, I’ve been required to carry a driver’s license or a state-issued ID at all times, regardless of whether I’m driving.

  • BB

    You only need to give your name and address, and follow their orders. Ask to leave. Then ask for their badge number and name. Keep asking that you want to leave. However if I die I want some form of ID :).

    This law is a good example of stop signs. Something that is totally not needed for one specific user, but nope can’t have that. I don’t need a stop sign I have a 3,000 pound moving object with my name on it.

  • UrbanReason

    Erik G – you can already get stopped on your bike for riding against traffic or disobeying traffic signals while riding in the street… not sure how your question is relevant to the cell phone issue specifically?

  • David Galvan

    I see no problem with holding cyclists to the same standards as drivers on this issue. IF the cyclists are sharing the roads with drivers, a distracted cyclist could certainly behave in a manner that would force a car to swerve or stop-short to avoid the cyclist, leading to a greater accident.

  • Umberto, a quick google reveals that this rude thing is your usual posting style, so I’ll not take your response personally. This time. But please — do not tell me I am full of sh*t. I am getting involved in more and more cycling advocacy stuff in Long Beach and LA, and I sure we will eventually meet in person on a ride, and when we meet, I want it to be a pleasant interaction for you.

    I am not making up facts and figures. I am basing my comments on well-established statistics, and thinking from people like Ken Kifer (http://www.kenkifer.com/bikepages/health/risks.htm). The data I am referring to is also taught by the League of American Cyclists.

    Your attitude is that we can’t have cyclists learn to ride in the street safely because it will send a message that cycling isn’t safe. Um, Umberto? People already have this perception. That’s why so few people are riding, and why the people who ARE riding tend to be riding on the sidewalk, where they FEEL safer, but are far more likely to get hurt.

    Your solution is apparently to get LA to build lots of infrastructure to get people to feel safer and ride their bikes. And I agree, things like bike boulevards and sharrows and lanes have their place in encouraging more people to ride. But you can’t put separated bike infrastructure over the whole city. People still need to know how to ride their bikes safely. And on your separate infrastructure, surely you don’t want people riding down the wrong way on the segregated bike lanes. There has to be a place for rider education.

  • Erik G.


    It will be interesting to see how this plays out when a minor is finally pulled over, given that most minors who ride bikes do not have ID or a Driver’s License.

    Actually, this is a good place to post a link to the ACLU Bust Card:


    And here is a list of the 24 states with stop and ID laws:


    And remember the magic words: “Excuse me officer. Are you detaining me, or am I free to go?”

  • UrbanReason


    A commendable retort!

  • katenonymous, most american states do not require you to carry an ID. If you are stopped, you have to provide correct information but dont need an ID to back it up.

    I fully support the law being extended to cyclists.

  • I have no problem with extending the prohibition on hand held devices to bikes. More than once I’ve had to ride far out into traffic to get around someone riding slowly and unsteadily as they talk on a cell phone — and don’t get me started on the fools who lean on the handlebars with both arms, so they’ll be free to text with both hands.

    And while it’s true that cyclists face the greatest risk in a collision, let’s not forget that careless or reckless riders can cause accidents, as other people are forced to brake or swerve to avoid them.

    Frankly, the kneejerk reaction from biking groups disturbs me. The only valid argument I’ve heard against extending the law to cyclists is that we could be ticketed more often because are our actions are more visible.

    The easy solution is to do what I do your phone rings. Just find a safe place to pull over and clip out of your pedals before you say “hello.”

  • M

    Out of curiosity, why not make this apply to pedestrians as well?

  • la rider

    @Urban Reason

    My point was that instead of adding to this law. Let’s start enforcing it first. I completely agree that one should not be using a cellphone while riding, especially with no hands, which I have personally seen before. But, that is beside the point that I was intending to make. Let’s get the bastards in cars first then we can tack on the cyclists.

  • UrbanReason

    la rider – I see where you’re coming from, in the last several months I’ve narrowly avoided multiple accidents with distracted drivers who were talking on the phone. But this isn’t about creating an initiative to add this to the law, it’s about advocating to prevent it from being put in the law. There are so many more important things in the cycling community to spend our energy on and it is frankly embarrassing to see prominent groups react against this legislation demanding special privilege while simultaneously advocated for equality on the road. Cycling groups should be 100% behind this legislation, imho. Whether or not cyclists will be unfairly targeted should really be beside the point, it’s unsafe for everyone involved to be moving at a high speed (or with high-speed vehicles) and talking/texting. As many people as I currently see riding against traffic in the street on a daily basis (right past cops too!)… I seriously doubt the concern for bias against cyclists is grounded in reality.

    As for the comments people are making about pedestrians talking/texting… I think you’re going a little to far. The law is currently designed to distinguish between pedestrians and cars/bikes… so unless we’re prepared to give pedestrians equal access to the roadways, I’d say just let sleeping dogs lie.

  • I agree with this law. There have been a couple times that I both as a driver and another cyclist had to navigate near a cyclist who is using a cell phone… A cyclist can be a danger on the roads if only because they themselves may cause another motorist to swerve in a knee jerk reaction and next thing you know another collision happens between a couple cars or even more dangerous a car to pedestrian / cyclist collision.

    Just pull over to the curb, finish your conversation – or have a coffee at the local shop you pulled over at and sit there looking sexy. Then when you are done you can be serious about your ride. Seriously. I know it feels like one of those laws…. but we have to give it up on some issues otherwise the cycling community starts to lose credibility. This law is fair.

  • And for the record… I want more than equality for cyclists. I want special treatment and privileges like cyclists enjoy in Europe. The US and especially Los Angeles should really consider facilitating short trips of less than 5 miles by bicycle. Imagine the big box parking lots that could melt away into parks or playgrounds… tra-lalalalalala! seriously though…

  • Rich Alossi

    Look, cyclists are to hazards to pedestrians, just as cars are hazards to pedestrians as well. There have been many times I’ve been almost careened into by some asshole bicyclist while walking Downtown, because they decide to blow through a red light or just weren’t paying enough attention. I’ve known people who have gotten slammed into by bicyclists, one of whom had severe injuries after being forced into a wall by a fast bike. I don’t know if the bicyclist was on his cellphone at the time, but he was obviously distracted. I support the law.

  • I used to ride long distances with music coming through headphones. It was terrific inspiration for those long hills.

    It was idiotic. I was am idiot.

    Inattentive riding by bicyclists is a big enough problem in L.A. — ignoring traffic signs, riding on sidewalks and blasting through crosswalks, etc.

    Good legislation from a smart senator.

  • Evan

    I, and I think many others, would want to be treated with the same respect when riding my bike on the road as any driver (well, considering the respect that most drivers show to their fellow man…not exactly the same, but you get what I mean). This is one of those situations where if cyclists complain, it makes us look bad in the eyes of others: “oh, so you want the same rights as drivers, but you don’t want to follow the same rules, huh?” Arguing against this is a trap. Besides, it’s common sense to not do something that distracts yourself AND takes one hand off of your handlebars while you’re being passed by cars on the road.

    Enjoy the ride. Talk or text when you get where you’re going.

  • Hey @UrbanReason, I get furious every time I read that line as well: “The SFBC’s Thornley worried the law could have unintended consequences, such as a reduction in cycling” . . .

    No, I don’t believe that this law would lead to a reduction in cycling, I really don’t. And to be clear, the SF Bicycle Coalition does ~not~ oppose Senator Simitian’s bill, we’d only just heard about it, but we’re definitely in favor of cell phone and “distracted driver / rider” prohibitions that create safe streets for all users, no special forgiveness for folks on bikes. The SFBC teaches and preaches safe, respectful, and mindful bicycling, and we’re fully in agreement with the motives of this law, and its predecessor already in effect. The concerns I expressed to Matthew Roth about the proposal are not whether bicycle riders should follow the same rules as everyone else (they should), it’s whether a distracted SUV driver and a distracted bike rider should be fined the same amount, given the enormous disparity in their destructive potential. Everybody, pull over and stop if you need to talk . . .

  • Ray


    I agree.

  • @Yoshiyahu,

    A guy in Amsterdam responds to a comment about a ban on cell phone use:

    “In Cali and elsewhere in the US the initial reaction is usually to ‘correct’/restrict people on bikes and not look at the bull in the China shop. Over here, we enjoy decades of legal protection, putting responsibility solely on the car driver, not the more vulnerable cyclist. It makes a world of difference.”

    Have you seen the new ad for Rotterdam, host of the start of the Tour de France? The film starts off with a kid riding his bike talking on a cell phone.

    You’ve expanded my argument into an absurdity.

    The truth still remains, “safety” campaigns focused on punishing cyclists and “training” cyclists do not get more people riding. Getting more people riding is one of the surest ways we have of increasing safety for cyclists overall.

  • Re-reading your “retort” is so frustrating, because you’re not responding to what I wrote: “Focusing safety campaigns on cyclists is counter-productive.”

    The link you provide is notable for its vehicular cycling slant – a type of cycling not accessible to my mom, me with a cargo bike, and all the little kids I know. So, yes, I think that protected on-street bikeways are the way to go in many cases. I am a big supporter of a Dutch style system here in L.A.

    Your initial comment was as follows:

    “The perception is that the biggest threat to cyclists is cars. This is not true. The biggest threat to cyclists is themselves. This is because a majority of cycling collisions and upsets are caused by cyclist error. Cyclist error comes largely from inattention. And inattention is increased when the cyclist is on the phone.”

    I’m sorry, but this statement is NOT TRUE! The biggest threat to cyclists is cars – as they are involved in the majority of cycling fatalities and injuries! This argument is FULL OF SHIT.

    Further, I am not an internet tough guy. If I see you on a ride, IRL, etc. is a very different context that The Internet. None of this online crap matters when you meet someone face to face. I’m making my comments based on what you typed into a little box, and not about who you are as a person. I hold no animosity towards you.

  • Umberto — you say that cars are involved in the majority of cycling fatalities and injuries. I said that cyclist error causes most collisions and upsets. The two facts aren’t mutually exclusive. I think that your conclusion, that the biggest threat to cyclists is cars, is not warranted, however. Yes, I cite VC sites. I am a VC advocate. And I believe that cycling is much safer than you do, because I believe that the biggest factor in cycling safely is simply cyclists being educated on how to cycle safely. I believe that the biggest impediment to more people riding is the myth that cycling on the road is dangerous because cars are going to get you. And I don’t believe that we have to wait for government to create infrastructure for us to ride safely. I believe we can all ride safely on roads right now with a little education, like http://www.bikexprt.com/streetsmarts/usa/index.htm – John Allen’s ubiquitous Street Smarts booklet, VC at its most concise.

    And I disagree with your assertion that Vehicular Cycling won’t work for your cargo bike. Why wouldn’t you be able to ride your cargo bike on the street? I don’t get it. As to your mom? The little kids you know? I think they’d both benefit from the LAB’s classes. They have classes specifically for parents and their kids.

    As to your core argument that focusing efforts on cyclists is counterproductive — let’s take a look at a research paper that laud’s Amsterdam’s system — http://www.aaafoundation.org/pdf/bikeuse_PBA.pdf

    This study talks about the Netherlands conducting extensive training for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians, and cites that education, along with other factors like infrastructure and disincentives to drive cars, as being a reason for Amsterdam’s high bike share. Perhaps it’s not fashionable to look at Amsterdam as a result of what comprehensive education can achieve, but it seems that education — including educating cyclists — is a bigger piece of the puzzle than many like to let on.

    Lastly, thanks for taking the time to post your responses.

  • To clarify my point about cars not being the biggest threat to cyclists — sure, fatalities usually involve cyclists colliding with cars. In Long Beach, where I reside, the two most recent cyclists fatalities both involved cars. In one, a cyclist ran a red light and was struck by a car. In the other, a cyclist rode into a crosswalk at speed and struck the side of a truck as the truck turned right. However, in both cases, cyclist error was the proximate cause of their collisions. Had the cyclists been practicing Vehicular Cycling, their accidents would not have happened.

    I realize that there are accidents involving cars being at fault. But these are a small percentage of total accidents. A cyclist can avoid the large majority of accidents by riding safely.

  • My mom is in her late 50’s – VC is not an option for her.

    I ride a 100 lbs.+ cargo bike with my kid and groceries – VC is not an option for me.

    My neighborhood is filled with people for which VC is not, will not, and can not be an option.

    VC is an autocentric bicycling “advocacy”. Read deeper into Mr. VC’s books and internet postings and you will find the high regard he places on Traffic Engineering. This trade has developed by and for automobiles in the U.S. It is a road design school that is based exclusively on using streets as shit pipes for moving cars. VC is a coping mechanism for only a fit, well trained, cyclist operating in these conditions.

    VC has been around for a generation, and cycling numbers have done nothing but shrink until social movements like Critical Mass, Midnight Ridazz, and others filled a void in modern life and showed that cycling is a valid mode of transportation.

    Blaming cyclists does not produce better, safer, streets. Focusing on cyclist “education” (i.e. fear campaigns) decreases cycling rates. Focusing on the real dangers on the road (prima facie speeds, assigning liability, etc.) and promoting cycling as a healthy, safe, and fun activity increases the rates of cycling.

  • Umberto — you are making things up. Cyclist education isn’t a fear campaign that depresses cycling rates. Running around screaming about how dangerous the streets are, as you do, depresses cycling rates. When kids used to ride their bikes to school without helmets, the streets were not any safer than they are now. The only difference was parents not being paranoid, and accepting the small risk of their kid getting hurt for the huge benefits. Over time, parents started to freak out and get worried that their kid was going to get abducted and murdered or get hit by a car and die or get bullied. And parents started driving their kids. And schools started to do crazy things like ban bikes. And you continue this tradition with your attitude, which is that the streets are inherently unsafe for cyclists, and only when we change things drastically can we possibly have poor old mom and the kids on the streets, like we used to decades ago.

    By the way. I see that you are fond of trotting out your mother in your arguments. Does she know you are doing this? I would imagine she’d take umbrage at your characterization. She is only in her 50s, and you make her out to be an octogenarian on life support. Please. She may not feel comfortable riding in the streets, but her age has nothing to do with it. Your poor child, another frequent player in your arguments, certainly won’t feel safe on the streets if you don’t take her on them.

    And again, dude, seriously — why can’t you ride your cargo bike in the streets? I don’t get it. It’s heavy? So what? You are moving slow? So what? You have the right to a lane, so take it and ride your bike.

    Your attack on VC is inane. John Forester is not VC. The tenets of VC are sound, and are invaluable for cyclists. That’s why cycling instructors give out Allen’s booklet. And why the LACBC gives out copies of Allen’s booklet. And why the lauded Midnight Ridazz links to Allen’s booklet on their site.

  • Eric B

    I ride VC. I’m a young, fit male that has no problems holding my own on the road. I ride VC wearing lycra and street clothes. But my rule of thumb is generally that anything below half the speed limit is not comfortable for VC. Why? The speed differential between a car coming up on my tail at 45 and my riding at 15 is not safe. They are forced to brake significantly and risk getting rear ended or make a rapid and often unsafe lane change. My girlfriend is just starting out on the road and I took her out to teach her VC. (She’s concurrently learning to drive, so she is getting it from both perspectives.) She can handle it on some roads, but there is no way that she’ll ever be comfortable tottling on a major arterial at 13-15 mph. Nor should she.

    Yoshiyahu, your tale misses the whole point: roads have changed. The roads I rode my bike on to school when I was in 2nd grade are different than the roads I would have to take here in LA to do the same. We advocate better infrastructure changes because the infrastructure has changed for the worse. A half-century of autocentric “road improvements” have made these roads inhospitible to nondrivers. I remain neutral on the paths vs. streets debate, but for sure the status quo is not adequate. The idea that any person, no matter how unfit or uncomfortable on a bike, can ride VC is simply wrong. A fraction of would-be bicyclists just need education, sure, but for an actual mode shift we need an 8 to 80 approach to bike planning. (Anyone ages 8 to 80 feels comfortable on the infrastructure.)

    It’s not a matter of education vs. engineering, it’s all of the Es in the right balance (Engineering, Edcuation, Encouragement, Enforcement).

  • Eric — I agree that it’s not Education vs Engineering, and appreciate your pointing out that false conflict.

    I will, however, point out no advocate of VC thinks that anyone who is unfit or uncomfortable on a bike should be out trying to ride in traffic. People who are uncomfortable or unfit riders should attend classes in how to ride a bike, and in how to ride in traffic, and become comfortable and fit riders. In addition, no VC advocate is going to tell your girlfriend where she should ride her bike. She should ride on those streets she feels comfortable on, based on her experience and preference.

  • I will, however, point out no advocate of VC thinks that anyone who is unfit or uncomfortable on a bike should be out trying to ride in traffic

    And this is how we will change the world by increasing the number of people cycling! I see it all now so clearly.

    John Forrester wrote the bloody book on VC.

    I am in favor of protected bike facilities because on a massive cargo bike I cannot ride in a VC manner at all times. I cannot move that vehicle faster than 10 or 12 mph unless I’m going downhill. Asking me to practice VC in that context is absurd.

    VC is a survival technique when roads are designed exclusively for automobiles. When roads are designed for bicycle use, the bar is lowered for all cyclists to safely use the streets.

    VC is a blame the victim approach to road design and bike advocacy, tacitly accepting that cars own the roads and it is up to us to cope with that fact.

    Marketing cycling, to increase ridership, should not focus on “safety”. It is not as effective as focusing on the positive aspects of riding.

    Please take a look at http://www.copenhagenize.com/ for more context.

  • Regarding the use of automobiles to transport minor’s to school, your blaming of sensationalist media is not correct. In the book “Urban Sprawl and Public Health”, as tudy done by A. M Dellinger and C.E. Staunton entitled “Barriers to Children Walking and Biking to School – United States, 1999” cites that, in descending order, the barriers to walkinf or biking to school are as follows:
    Distance, Traffic, Weather, Other, Crime, School Policy

    The way our cities are designed is in such a way that it is mortally dangerous for a child to use a bicycle or walk. Our pedestrian death rates have dropped in thge 1990 and early 2000’s, but so has the mode share of walking and biking nationwide.

    You are advocating the use of a survival technique developed for use on poorly designed roads. That is fine, and when I was fit, equipped with a racing bike, and only carried my person and at most 30 lbs of cargo in my backpack VC worked for me.

    However, to integrate cycling into everyday life you need to take in to account un-fit people, moving well below the speeds of automobile traffic. That is no propaganda – that is reality. High speed bike riding is pushed to the side in favor of moderate speed utility riding.

    Marketing this change to people by focusing on negative aspects of cycling “WATCH THE ROAD WEAR A HELMET RIDE THE RIGHT WAY ONLY!” does not attract people to cycling. If this technique worked, I would expect car companies to roll out their own ads in a similar fashion for their next years models.

    Fun, sex, beauty, joy, health, civility & civic duty – these are things that market cycling effectively in other parts of the world. These techniques really work!

    I don’t want to have to worry about aggressively taking the lane when I’m out on a date in Hollywood. I want to be able to relax, move at my own pace, and get around how I see fit. That is an effective strategy for marketing bicycling. That is why I said your argument about safety campaigns is full of shit.

  • Umberto- have you taken a VC-based class, like the LAB’s Traffic Skills 101?

  • David Galvan

    Interesting discussion!

  • Anonymous

    Yes, testing or talking on smart phone while biking … we need to either outlaw bikes or cell phones … possibly both.

    Could we get a report on why sticking your fingers into an electrical socket is dangerous?


CalBike Looks Back at This Year’s Legislative Efforts–and Ahead to the Next

The California Bicycle Coalition–CalBike–supports local bicycle advocacy efforts to build better bike networks. It does this in part through its work on state legislation that promotes bicycling and via its efforts to increase the amount of funding available for building better bike infrastructure. We liked their end-of-session legislative wrap-up, focusing on bikes–an important part of […]