Cycling Along The Way...

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Silver City, NM, United States
Riders of the wheel. Racers, Roadies, Mountain bikers, Touring cyclists, Commuters, and others. Diamond frames, recumbents, trikes, and more. Sharing a web of connections often misunderstood or unappreciated by those who don't ride. Herewith, my attempt to share some of the more rational thoughts that flit around inside my head while bicycling, knocking back a brew or three, or just thinking about life. Reviews of bicycles, gear, touring, and more, plus some unsolicited posts about people, politics, and philosophy. Other things, too. Me: retired, gave up my TV in 1988, avid cyclist, several cross country tours completed with more to come. Your thoughts?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Discriminatory Bicycle Laws And Other Things That Don't Seem Right

Over the past few days, I've delved into the rights and responsibilities of cyclists.  To my amazement, there's a TON of stuff out there in cyberspace.  In my attempt to gain a clearer picture of at least some of the basics with this topic, I've noted a few things worth expounding on:
  • Rules of the road
  • Vehicular cyclists
  • Discriminatory bicycle laws
  • Bicycle facilities, i.e., bike lanes, bike paths, segregated bike paths, etc.
The above are but a few of the issues facing cyclists.  They do seem to dominate the conversation about rights, responsibilities,and where/how cyclists can ride their bicycles.  While they may seem distinct, each is co-dependent on the other.
  • RULES OF THE ROAD.  This seems to be the one point where there is some consensus.  Since most bicyclists are drivers of motorized vehicles, they all were educated somehow about these rules we all share.  While a consensus exists as long as the conversation is about about motorized vehicles, adding bicycles to this mix some see as akin to trying to mix oil and water.  And they're not happy doing that.  So, let's stick with the basics here: rules of the road.  A point we all have in common.
  • VEHICULAR CYCLISTS.  This is a breed of cyclists whose primary point is that bicycles are vehicles, albeit narrow and low velocity ones, but vehicles nonetheless.  A major point with this group is that cyclists have a right to the road.  Just as drivers of every other vehicle have.  They point out that it's less costly to adjust existing roadways and educate drivers of all vehicles (motorized and non-motorized) about the rules of the road than it is to build bike lanes, bike paths, etc.  It also has an agreed upon commonality...rules of the road...act like all vehicles on the road have a right to be there and adhere to the rules accepted by all "drivers" by virtue of being on the road driving a vehicle.  Education seems to be a major factor in this aspect of bicycle rights and responsibilities.  Possibly adding information about bicycles in those booklets that everyone has to read before taking their driver's license test?  Institute vehicle rules of the road in a bicycle education program for elementary schools?
  • DISCRIMINATORY BICYCLE LAWS.  These seem to be the "devil in the details" that really aggravate bicyclists.  Drivers of motorized vehicles seem to believe that roadways are safer only if bicycles are kept off the roadways, or that cyclists must ride as far to the right as possible, or that cyclists must be required to use a bike lane or bike path if those are present.  This is a viewpoint that excludes cyclists from enjoying equal rights on roadways.  The basis of this belief is that it's for the safety of all, but data suggests that may not be true.  That may very well be the focus of their thinking, but cyclists' rights are being trampled in this kind of thinking.  Legal issues enter the fray at this point.  For example, a cyclist is riding along the roadway and a bike lane/path is also present.  If the law requires cyclists to use said lane/path and the cyclist doesn't, the cyclist can be ticketed.  Additionally, should there be a bicycle/motorized vehicle collision, the cyclist can be cited for not using the available lane/path, even if the accident was the fault of the driver of the motorized vehicle.  Should the cyclist be injured or killed, there is limited recourse for the cyclist in this situation.  Often, there's limited recourse when a cyclist is struck by a motorized vehicle in many States regardless of ANY laws.  This doesn't even take into consideration whether use of the bike lane or bike path endangers the cyclist unnecessarily.  Are you starting to get a glimpse of this issue yet?  Isn't it the road to hell that's paved with good intentions???  Wonder if it has a bike lane?  Here's that map from the previous post about bike laws in the U.S.:
  • BICYCLE FACILITIES, I.E., BIKE LANES, BIKE PATHS, SEGREGATED BIKE PATHS, ETC.  These are "rose colored glasses" in the eyes of vehicular cyclists.  The belief that these facilities provide for a safer route/place for cyclists/bicycles is the basis for the widespread use of these throughout the country.  People in towns, villages, cities across the U.S. breathe easier after they've installed these under the belief, false or otherwise, that users of the roadways are now safer.  Data does not completely support this.  What seems to be undermined here is the "common ground" that the rules of the road seem to offer.  Now, in many States, cyclists can be requred to ride where it's more dangerous and the potential for accidents/injuries is increased exponentially.  All under the guise of making things safer for all.  Ironic, eh?  So, are these "facilities" really the way to go?  What happens when the law dictates to cyclists that they must use these facilities despite the fact that they are, or can be, more of a danger than a roadway where all "drivers" are following the rules of the road?  Picture getting clearer here for you?
So, a basic issue seems to be coming to an agreed upon consensus, but, with each State allowed to come up with their own consensus, this will be hard to do.  See the map above.  Those different colors speak loudly.  Yes, there are some national standards, but States, as well as towns, villages, and cities are legally allowed to create their own local laws.  Often, there are signs on roadways indicating what those laws are, but, frequently, this isn't the case.

At this point, I'll stick to the local issues here in Silver City and will be attending a few meetings, maybe even speaking up about what I think ought to be done.  In our town, the law does not require cyclists to use bike paths or lanes.  I can live with that.  For vehicular cyclists, they see these facilities as part of a "slippery slope"...sound familiar?  Abortion and gun rights advocates use the term a lot, too.  
Where do I stand on this issue?  Vehicular Cycling.  It makes the most sense and offers the most expansive common ground...Rules of the Road.  How this gets translated into "common rules" across the U.S. is another beast altogether.

A tune to get into your of my favorite singer/songwriters, Iris Dement, performing on Austin City Limits and singing, "Our Town".  Seems to be one of the constants..change.  What's new and improved, however, is not always better.  Where the sun sets in your town on the rights of bicyclists may need your input.