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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

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Alison

Oh, I love this. Biffle and I were talking about this just yesterday, and I agree with you completely. I do just what you're describing here every day: roll to a very slow almost-stop at intersections and then push on through if there's nobody coming. And although in every other area of my life I'm an almost obsessive rule follower, in this realm it really seems that the rules don't always make sense.

And like you, I suspect there will be more ticketing of bicyclists for breaking the rules than there will be ticketing of cars for harassing and terrorizing bikers.

Monty

Dan, you have failed to mention the biggest impediment to the adoption of bicycle transportation in Charleston. I referring, of course, to the menace known as "swamp ass".

acline

Good post.

Are you aware that some states allow cyclists to treat stop signs and red lights as if they are yields? There's much to recommend this approach.

But I question your advice to pass on the right. Do you use a bicycle as basic transportation? I do. And on the right of a line of cars is exactly where I DO NOT want to be. The right-hook accident is one of the biggest killers of cyclists.

Just take a look at this: http://cycledallas.blogspot.com/2008/12/warning-redux.html

You're absolutely right that cars and bicycles are different. The law argues that they are the same. Physics argues otherwise. I prefer physics. And I prefer a separate system of transportation for bicycles that gives them priority over cars (e.g. The Netherlands).

Until that day comes (probably not in my lifetime), however, we are better off in traffic acting as much like cars as is possible.

Coturnix

Oooh! That is one of my pet peeves. Unfortunately, arguing with the traffic cop that my breaking of the rules, according to mathematical models of traffic flow combined with cognitive psychology of driving, was safer than following the rules, falls on deaf ears. But cops are stereotypical rechtshaffen in any society. Self-selected for the job.

Dan

First, let me highly recommend that "pet peeves" link in Bora's comment. And let me agree that there are certain jobs that tend to self-select their personality types.

To Andy's point about riding on the right (illustrated very well in this link you can find by following the URL in his post), some clarifications:

1. If you're a bike commuter, you understand that your health depends, ultimately, on your alertness, not on the laws that are supposed to protect you. To ride regularly is to understand that close calls are a routine part of the experience.

2. I routinely pass STOPPED cars in traffic, but only rarely pass a moving car via anything but an open left lane.

3. When passing cars on the right in an urban setting, the big risk to cyclists comes from PARKED cars along the curb. If someone swings a door open from the driver's side and surprises me, at least one of us is going to the hospital.

4. Consequently, there are some important safety rules for passing stopped traffic on the right:

Unless you're going uphill, brake as you begin to pass and then roll slowly and alertly through the open lane;

Stay slow enough that you could do an emergency lock-up on you brakes without injuring yourself;

Keep an eye on the parked cars and treat any car with someone in the driver's seat as an immediate threat;

If the opening narrows to the point that you need to be precise to "squeeze" through it, stop;

And finally, don't push it. Riding in a way that it forces anyone else to alter the way they're walking or riding or driving unnecessarily isn't just obnoxious, it's probably illegal for all the right reasons.

In two years of regular bike commuting in Charleston (and previous years in Chapel Hill), I've had to stop twice for people who suddenly opened their car doors as I was passing stopped traffic. Even though each was a surprise, neither was a particularly close call, because I ride cautiously.

Ironically, the REALLY close call I had came one day while riding down Upper King Street, keeping to the right, riding normally as cars passed me in the lane on my left. A woman in an SUV with tinted windows swung open her door while she talked on her cell phone, and since I was pedaling at speed there was no way for me to stop. I was able to swing around her because I was lucky not to have a car immediately on my left at that instant.

To me, THAT'S the reality of the situation: Cars stopped along the street are ALWAYS dangerous, but at least when I'm rolling past slowly I can stop quickly.

5. The right-turn risk described in the link above is really a separate issue, and it's just worth a reminder: Whether it's a driveway or a side street, you'd better watch that car that just passed you, because about once every two months the driver is going to brake and turn right in front of you. Just remember: the answer is to brake and turn hard to the right.

Dan

As to Andy's preference for a separate system of road for bikes, I think creating separate thoroughfares for bikes is a GREAT idea... wherever possible. And the best option for this is often abandoned or disused rail lines. For instance, there's a rail line that runs from the Charleston Neck down to Hughes Lumber (which somehow got the right to build across it), and then proceeds down to John Street. Opening that to two-way bike traffic would be great, particularly if we were able to extend it safely north as a connection to North Charleston.

What would REALLY make that useful would be some bike overpasses, so that these separate thoroughfares wouldn't require stops at every intersection. Because do you really think that motorists are going to accept red lights for bike-only roads?

Unfortunately, that's about the ONLY route in Charleston that could put a separate bike route in place, and the fact is the city doesn't want to give that right-of-way to cyclists, because it's already coveting that route for a renewed light-rail link. And yes, that might be the better use.

Tom Bradford

Mostly, Right On! But as a long-time rider and a bicycling/walking advocate in Charleston, I'm counselling absolute Rechtschaffen, at least for now. Reason? There's so much in the Lowcountry culture to overcome, and scrupulous observation of the traffic laws (even if they're written for cars) will go a long way to demonstrate that bicyclists belong in traffic and can uphold their responsibilities there. In a while, after that's well established, perhaps everyone can relax a little more, and the wise bicyclist will be able to roll slowly, carefully through a "stop" without putting a foot down. BTW: CPD will actually cite cyclists breaking traffic laws in the very near future.
More, occasionally, at www.charlestonmoves.org and www.charlestonmoves.blogspot.com

Dan

Tom, I love what you're trying to do and I back most of it enthusiastically. But color me skeptical. Once the Rechtschaffen get their hands on anything they don't let go without a fight, and we're dealing with a city that sincerely thinks it's a good idea to put up a few attractive bike racks and then outlawing every other place you could lock your ride.

The Lowcountry changes slowly, and it needs groups like Charleston Moves. But it also needs wild voices crying in the wilderness like me to keep things fluid. That's how you move Overton Windows.

Carl Miller

My compliments on a well considered commentary! Your assessment of both the causes and implications of "richtshaffen" are very interesting indeed. I submit, however, that despite this (rightly attributed) condition of many public officials, they ARE susceptible to the desires of citizens. The challenge for advocates is to communicate messages that make sense to us, are sufficiently devoid of nuance, and are demonstrably supported by a significant number of voters. I propose that a dialogue between and among the local stakeholders could produce desirable outcomes. I'm certain that you are destined to be one of the "movers" in this effort! I look forward to working together.

larry english

only one detail:

cars accelerate quickly AND brake QUICKLY
bikes accelerate slowly AND brake SLOWLY

wle.

Dottie

Agreed - very well said!

Jeff

Robert Hurst has a great section in his Art of Urban Cycling. He proposes blending John Forester's "Vehicular Cycling"(acting as a car) and the "invisible rider". Hurst suggests going beyond both schools of thought, and riding in a consistant manner but using the advantages bikes have to offer. I have found drivers to be more negligent than hostile. Some are even overly considerate and create confusion and disruption of traffic flow.

Dan

I'm gonna have to look those up. Thanks for the suggestions. And I absolutely agree: Drivers who are overly considerate create risk by confusion and disruption of flow. The No. 1 lesson I tried to teach our teenage sons about driving was to drive in a way that was absolutely predictable: Accidents tend to come out of someone reacting poorly to a confusion situation, so don't go around producing them.

Dan Kelley

The "Idaho Stop" law allowing bicycles to roll through stop signs unless cars are cued at stop signs has been on the Idaho's books for 30 years with a safe track record. Now other groups like BikePortland are pursuing the implementation of the "Idaho Stop" law.

Check out the article, "The Physics and Ethics of the Rolling Stop" from StreetsBlog.org at http://www.streetsblog.org/2009/04/16/the-physics-and-the-ethics-of-the-rolling-stop/

or check out the BikePortland's animation of the rolling stop at http://vimeo.com/4140910?pg=embed&sec=

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