Cyclists and Motorists: Sharing the Road

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After writing about the road rage incident in Brazil I came across this article by James D. Schwartz the editor of The Urban Country. With his permission I have reproduced the article below.

BICYCLISTS MUST OBEY LAWS IF THEY WANT TO SHARE THE ROADS

Photo of a hectic intersection in Groningen, Netherlands by tup wanders

 

A common argument made to justify actions like Friday’s terrible incident in Porto Alegre, Brazil is that people on bicycles have no right to share the road and don’t deserve any courtesy from drivers until they obey all traffic laws. This is also a common argument made to argue against building proper bicycle infrastructure.

I always enjoy hearing this argument, because I actually get a laugh out of it because it is such blatant rubbish. The hypocrisy in this argument is astounding – particularly when argued by a motorist.

Although amusing, this argument lacks substance and unfortunately contributes to stifling any progress towards making bicycling safer in our cities.

To make matters worse, this argument is sometimes used even by people who would consider themselves *bicycle advocates*. They say they feel awful every time they see another bicyclist roll through a stop sign or red light, because we can never expect to be accepted on the streets unless we obey all of the rules.

Rubbish.

If you honestly think that bicyclists need to obey every rule of the road in order to be “accepted” and not be intimidated by angry drivers, then you have bought into motorist propaganda and you are making excuses for road rage.

You have been fooled, and you are contributing to distracting the public from focusing on measures that will improve safety for bicyclists.

In fact, the notion that motorists have the right to threaten and intimidate all bicyclists because they saw a rogue bicyclist run a red light last week is completely absurd and unacceptable in a civilized society.

Motorists are angry because they are stuck in traffic. Traffic that is created by other automobiles, not by bicycles. They are angry at bicyclists because bicyclists take up less space and can bypass automobile traffic jams. They are angry because they don’t think it’s fair that a bicyclist can move forward while they are sitting idle in our congested cities.
These are the real reason they are angry, and telling you they are angry because some bicyclists break the law is simply an attempt to justify their own rage.

Motorists disobey the law every day

Imagine for a moment that the tables were turned, and we told motorists that they aren’t allowed to use the roads unless they obey all traffic rules. We would not have ANY automobiles on the road. None. Zero. Zip.

Motorists disobey the rules of the road every single day. Here in Toronto you would be extremely hard pressed to find a *single* driver who *never* goes over the speed limit (excluding in traffic congestion). I once drove the speed limit (100km/h) on highway 401 (equivalent to an interstate highway) and people were angrily honking at me because I was going too slow. And this is in the far right lane of a 12-lane highway.

Virtually every driver on our highways breaks the law every single day. If you told me you knew someone who never breaks the law, I honestly wouldn’t believe you.

And it isn’t just the speed limit that drivers disobey every single day. I often ride my bike through side streets littered with 4-way stops to commute 10 kilometres to a client office in mid-town Toronto.

At these 4-way stops, you would be very hard pressed to find a *single* driver who makes a full stop without rolling through the stop sign. The rare time that you do see a driver make a complete stop only seems to be when another driver, bicyclist or pedestrian is impeding the motorist.

And the list doesn’t end there. Motorists too frequently dangerously roll quickly through red lights while making right-hand turns. It’s also illegal here to hold a cell phone or electronic device while driving, and a day doesn’t go by where I don’t see several motorists on their phone.

These motorists *are breaking the law*.

Society turns a blind eye

Our society has decided to turn a blind eye to these minor infractions because we feel the risk doesn’t warrant the additional effort required to enforce it. But it’s still breaking the law, plain and simple.

So to say that cyclists must obey the law if they want to use the roads is disingenuous and hypocritical.

The police have the means to hand out tickets to both drivers and bicyclists – and they often do. In fact, here in Toronto running a red light will cost you $315 – the same fee for both motorists and bicyclists.

However, the bicyclists that I see running red lights are doing it at quiet intersections when there is nobody in the way. They aren’t putting anyone’s life in danger, and they have an intrinsic incentive not to die so it’s in their interest to be aware of everything around them.

Cars can be dangerous weapons

On the other hand, when a motorist runs a red light, they are putting other people’s lives in danger. Cars can be dangerous weapons. So if an officer decides it isn’t worth her time to write a ticket for a bicyclist at a quiet intersection, it’s probably because the risk was so low (the same applies to pedestrians).

But that’s not to say that bicyclists don’t get ticketed here. Just a few days ago I saw a bicyclist getting a ticket for running a red on my way to work. It’s not uncommon for police to hand out tickets here – and “blitzes” to crack down against drivers and bicyclists come and go.

But police also have the means to hand out tickets for drivers doing 15km over the *maximum* speed limit. But do they? Not here in Toronto. You won’t get a speeding ticket unless you are doing at least 20km over the speed limit on the highway – and even that would be a stretch because so many people drive 30-40km over the limit.

Thus, the police have deemed 10-15km over the speed limit to be not worth their time to enforce, so they let it go.

So next time someone tells you that you don’t deserve to use the roads with your bicycle until bicyclists obey all the rules of the road, ask them when they last obeyed all the rules of the road.

They will either become quiet, or they will be lying.

* To be clear, I am not advocating for breaking the law. Being courteous to other road users is important in a civilized society, so using common sense and courtesy to others is extremely important for us all to co-exist peacefully. However, when a motorist tells you that you don’t deserve to use the roads because some bicyclists don’t follow the rules, you should ask them to get their house in order.

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Critical Mass Brazil- Tragedy February 2011

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I am not a big fan of critical mass protests.

There is no doubt that many motorists do not have any respect for cyclists and maintain that we have no right to be on their roads. But adding to the grief a motorist already suffers as the car crawls inch by inch out of the city. All the motorist want to do is get home . He does not need to encounter a cycling protest to further impede his progress on a Friday evening.

These protests just give motorists another excuse to abuse cyclists when they encounter them.

But there is absolutely no excuse for the actions of this driver in Brazil last week (February 25, 2011)

According to local reports and witness statements, the motorist had been encroaching at the back of ride and was asked by riders to back off, but was increasingly agitated by the ride moving slow and had been driving at cyclists before breaking suddenly. Moments later the driver of course carried his act of a madman and attempted murder.

From the Going Going Biking blog

UPDATE

The driver of the Volkswagen Golf intends to give himself up to local Porto Alegre police but is claiming self defence as his motive for piling through the cycle riders at the critical mass event.

The driver has been named locally as Richard Neis, a 47 year old resident of Porto Alegre. A statement made by Mr Neis’ lawyer, Luis Fernando Coimbra Albino, contends that Mr Neis ploughed through the cyclists after being threatened by riders at the back of the ride.

Mr Neis was travelling with his 15 year old son in his car and Mr Albino said the instinct to protect his son may have motivated Mr Neis’ actions.

According to reports in Brazilian newspaper Zero Hour, Mr Neis’ son said that a number of cyclists had been banging on the sides of the Golf and his father had driven away at speed to get away from those people.

Mr Albino said Mr Neis would fully cooperate with any police investigation on the incident.

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Light up and be seen

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While I was going through my twitter feed today I was alerted to this You Tube video that has been around since November 2008 .

VACC, Momentum Magazine and B:C:Clettes present Let’s Get Visible. A spoof on the 80’s hit to encourage winter cyclists to be visible when cycling in the dark.
It serves as a great reminder that at night cyclists need to be seen to be safe.

It really does not matter what time of year it is, cyclists need to make sure that drivers of other vehicles can see them. This serves as a reminder, and if you like the tune that is all the better.

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Audio Opinion

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This week I decided to try an audio blog rather than a written opinion piece.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Links referred to:

My despicable stance on segregationism– Carlton Reid on Quickrelease.tv

The Amy Gillett Foundation

Would Strict Liability Work in Australia – Bicycle Victoria Forums

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Module 5.2 Flows – A week in Twitter

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I expected to see the hash tags randonee, randonneuring and randon in use. Randon being the title of a popular long distance discussion group on Google groups.

I did find that the term audax was regularly used by randonneurs in Australia and the United Kingdom as well as supporters of the Chilean football team Audax Italiano. The most popular tag used is simply #cycling which is used to convey a wide range of messages from the latest cycling news to general chat among casual cyclists.

Tweets

After two recent endurance rides I wrote a blog asking the question “ How do you know when to stop? I then linked this blog to a tweet.


 

I also tweeted a further two articles. One related to heart issues on endurance events and the other related to an endurance charity ride.

 
 

My blog was subsequently retweeted by a cyclist in the UK It was interesting to find that this did not follow the generally accepted format of RT @user message

boyd, Golder and Lotan do point out in Tweet,Tweet,Retweet:Conversational Aspects of Retweeting on Twitter that there are different syntax to mark retweets (boyd, Golder, & Lotan, 2010),

Retweeting others


I retweeted two items. The first was a tweet on carbo-loading that was retweeted with the additional comment that it also relates to randonneurs
The second item retweeted gives good advice for riding in the rain for Audax riders.

Unfortunately neither generated a conversation.
 

Reflections on Twitter.

I found that #tags are generally popular during specific endurance events. For example #pap1200 was used recently to follow riders in the 4th Perth-Albany-Perth 1200km randonée.

But there needs to be a general agreement for a common tag before the event.

 
 
 
 

Next August the 17th Paris-Brest-Paris even will be held and the #pbp2011 is expected to be used by participants as well as support crews to keep friends and family updated. This hash tag has been set up and is in use.

140 characters to deliver a meaningful message is quite demanding. It reminds me of the newspaper headline writers who must grab a reader’s attention and at the same time indicate what a story may contain.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Reference:

boyd, d., Golder, S., & Lotan, G. (2010). Tweet, Tweet, Retweet:Conversational aspects of Retweeting on Twitter. Paper presented at the HICSS-43 Kauai, Hawaii.

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How do you know when to stop?

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The 1st of November is the beginning of a new Audax riding season. The Australian calender has been published on the web and a paper copy has been sent to all club members. Normally at this time of the year I have set out my annual riding goals and penciled in the rides I plan to complete. It is more important this season because in August 2011 the 17th edition of Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) is to held. As previously mentioned, in order to enter this event, it is necessary to ride a qualifying Super Series (see Glossary ) as well as putting in the training to be able to comfortably complete this endurance event.

But something is different. I have not yet thought about the rides I want to complete and I have not yet committed myself to PBP. This is unusual, in 1999 and 2003 I knew that I would be back in four years to ride this pinnacle of Audax rides once again. After a difficult 2007 edition I left my options open, hoping to return, but knowing that it was not a certainty.

Since the 2007 PBP , I have completed 3 other 1200km rides ( The Great Southern in 2008, the Gold Rush and Granite Anvil in a 6 week period in 2009) as well as many thousands of kilometers on club and training rides.

In early October I completed the 1200km Perth-Albany-Perth (PAP) and over the last two weeks I have finalised the 2009/2010 Super Series, by completing a 400km ride in Gippsland and started the 2010/2011 season by riding a 300km randonée from Shepparton. It was during these last two rides I started to ask myself : ” Do you really want to keep doing these long rides?” I did suggest to a friend of mine that I was getting to old for this s….

At first I thought that I had not fully recovered from my PAP effort or the cold that I suffered in the weeks following this ride. But as I rode the last 100km of each of these rides I really questioned my enjoyment of the long hours in the saddle. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the early part of the ride, but the ride eventually became a chore to be completed.

I imagine that there comes a time when all athletes go through his stage. For many years we have been committed to our sport, often to detriment of our family. In some respects I have been lucky, my wife has been very patient and supportive of my efforts but even this eventually wears off. The other day I wanted to walk into a bike shop to have a look at equipment, my wife put her foot down, saying something like “you always think and talk about bikes.”

So how do you know when the time has come to stop doing ultra distance rides (greater than 200km)? Here are a few reasons that I have come up with:

  • You no longer enjoy all of the ride.
  • You have nothing left to prove
  • It becomes more difficult to prepare yourself mentally for a long (greater than 200km) randonée.
  • During the ride your positive self-talk is harder to maintain
  • You are unable to set your annual goals with any certainty.
  • You are too old.
  • On the other hand, it may be that I am stale and need to take a break from ultra distance cycling for a few months. It is possible that as January comes around and fellow riders talk more about PBP that I may once again be enthused?

    Or is this putting off the inevitable?

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    Cycling Products

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    Today I was alerted to two very different products. One I think is cool, the other I needed to check the calender to make sure it was not April 1st.

    Dave Moulton’s Blog described a product for those cyclists that refuse do not like to wear helmets. The product is an airbag for cyclists who refuse to wear a helmet. A collar that inflates in 0.1 seconds on impact to cover the head and neck.

    The airbag is made of durable nylon fabric that can withstand scraping against the road, the firm claims


     
     
     
     

    As Dave points out, if a person refuses to wear a helmet, what makes the manufacturers think that they would wear one of these. But it does look rather stylish in a weird way.

    On a more serious note, safety on the road is a major concern. My own view is that all road users must be properly educated before being let loose. There is no easy solution. Dave makes some very good points about how advertising lulls motorists into a false sense of owing the road. But pedestrians and cyclists also need to take responsibility for their own safety.
     
     
     
     
     
     

    The other product I was alerted to were some cool T shirts made by UK outfit Spokeshirts. The T shirt that grabbed my attention was the Audax shirt. If you no longer want to explain what you do every weekend, just wear the T shirt. It really does say it all.
     

    There are also some other cool T shirts for after cycling wear. I did spot a testimonial asking them to stop designing such great T shirts, because the writer was running out of money.

    My only interest in Spokeshirts was to point out the cool Audax T shirt. I have not yet purchased any products from them, however I will check with the Finance Manager.

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    ENTERING THE CONVERSATION

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    Today I posted the following reply to Rider Redux’s post on Perth Albany Perth – bad but good

    James Joyce wrote, “Mistakes are the portals of discovery”. But I think that this is the wrong way of looking at the situation.

    I am not an expert, but over the years I have formed the view that in any endeavors we need to always focus on the positives. You did not make any mistakes. You succeeded in riding 750km.

    In the time that I rode with you, at some ungodly hour in the morning, you were riding strong and remained focused on getting to the next control for a sleep break.

    Each brevet ride is different and our bodies will react in different ways each time. The important thing is how we handle each situation.

    I like the attitude that champion cyclist Jens Voigt has. He just talks to the various parts of the body and tells them to “shut up”.

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    BE SEEN, BE SAFE -2

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    This article reported on a study by Queensland University of Technology optometry professor Joanne Wood, which looked at whether clothing influenced cyclists’ visibility. Much to my surprise the study found that fluorescent clothing was not as effective whilst cycling as one may think. This is the opposite of what I had been thinking for over 15 years.

    The study found that only 15 per cent of drivers saw a bright color and just 2 per cent saw a rider wearing black. However drivers saw riders wearing a reflective vest and reflectors on their ankles and knees 90 per cent of the time.

    But bright colored or reflective clothing is not a requirement of the road rules. According to rule 259 of the Victorian Road Safety Road Rules 2009 riders must not ride at night unless the bicycle or the rider has a white light (flashing or steady) on the front, a red light (flashing or steady) at the back and a red reflector at the back.

    But crashes still occur in spite of cyclists’ best efforts to be visible to other road users. In Cycling injuries in Australia: Road Safety’s blind spot? Garrard, Greaves and Ellison reported that cyclists accounted for about 1 in 40 crash fatalities and 1 in 7 serious injuries. Fatalities and injuries for all car occupants have declined over time while cyclist fatalities have remained the same and injuries have increased. (2010, p.37).

    So what else can be done to minimize the risk to cyclists? The Amy Gillett Foundation funds a campaign that encourages motorists to give cyclists a metre. They suggest that governments legislate a minimum distance when passing a cyclist. I am not sure that such legislation is a good thing. Cyclists want nothing more than to be treated as legitimate road users. If Governments continue to create an impression that cyclists are different by having separate legislation, then there is little hope of being respected on the road.

    In Cycling injuries in Australia: Road Safety’s blind spot? Garrard et al. put forward suggest that some condition that are likely to lead to improved cycling safety. Apart from improving infrastructure, they suggest placing a greater responsibility for traffic safety through the legal system on those road users who have the potential to cause the most harm to others. They also recommend education and training for drivers and cyclists aimed at improving skills, attitudes and behaviours.

    It is important that we as cyclists take responsibility for our safety on the road by doing all we can to be more visible to other road users. Just as important are education programs to build relationships between all road users, particularly an improved recognition of cyclists as legitimate road users.

    References:
    Fox, T. (2010). The Amy Gillett Foundation ‘A metre matters’ campaign and other initiatives. Journal of the Australasian College of Road Safety, 21(3), 22-23. Retrieved from http://search.informit.com.au.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/documentSummary;dn=344636418005688;res=IELHEA

    Garrard, J., Greaves, S., & Ellison, A. (2010). Cycling injuries in Australia: Road Safety’s Blind Spot? Journal of the Australasian College of Road Safety, 21(3), 37-43. Retrieved from http://search.informit.com.au.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/documentSummary;dn=344729582861979;res=IELHEA

    Gough, D. (2010). Reflective strips help cyclists shine like a beacon at night. The Age (online). Retrieved from http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/reflective-strips-help-cyclists-shine-like-a-beacon-at-night-20101016-16odw.html

    Legislation:
    Road Safety Road Rules 2009, 94/2009 Stat. (2009).

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    Be Seen, Be Safe

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    The following headline in theage.com.au on Sunday 17th October certainly made me sit up and take notice.

    This article reported on a study by Queensland University of Technology optometry professor Joanne Wood, which looked at whether clothing influenced cyclists’ visibility. Much to my surprise the study found that fluorescent clothing was not as effective whilst cycling as one may think. This is the opposite of what I had been thinking for over 15 years. My objective on the bike is always to be seen. This study found:

    that older drivers failed to see riders dressed in black or in fluorescent clothing. Younger drivers were more likely to see a rider in fluorescent clothing, but overall only 15 per cent saw a bright colour and just 2 per cent saw a rider wearing black.
    Drivers saw riders wearing a reflective vest and reflectors on their ankles and knees 90 per cent of the time. (Gough, 2010)

    But bright colored or reflective clothing is not a requirement of the road rules. According to the Victorian Road Safety Road Rules 2009:

    The rider of a bicycle must not ride at night, or in hazardous weather conditions causing reduced visibility, unless the bicycle, or the rider,
    displays—
    (a) a flashing or steady white light that is clearly visible for at least 200 metres from the front of the bicycle; and
    (b) a flashing or steady red light that is clearly visible for at least 200 metres from the rear of the bicycle; and
    (c) a red reflector that is clearly visible for at least 50 metres from the rear of the bicycle when light is projected onto it by a vehicle’s headlight on low-beam (Road Safety Road Rules Vic, rule 259).

    The starting time for longer randonées is generally before dawn or late in the evening thus requiring randonneurs to spend many hours cycling in the dark when they are most vulnerable and it is in their best interest to be seen by fellow road users. The picture below, taken in the early hours of the morning at the start the 1200km Perth-Albany-Perth earlier this month, illustrates this be seen attitude. All the cyclists are wearing reflective gear and have the correct lighting.

    But crashes still occur in spite of cyclists’ best efforts to be visible to other road users. In Cycling injuries in Australia: Road Safety’s blind spot? Garrard, Greaves and Ellison reported that cyclists accounted for about 1 in 40 crash fatalities and 1 in 7 serious injuries. Fatalities and injuries for all car occupants have declined over time while cyclist fatalities have remained the same and injuries have increased. (2010, p.37).

    Admittedly not all bicycle crashes involve motor vehicles. Cyclists can fall off the bike after hitting a pothole in the road or colliding with an animal or pedestrian. It is also possible that poor cycling infrastructure can be blamed for crashes, just as there is poor motoring infrastructure.

    So what else can be done to minimize the risk to cyclists? I am a fan of road user education, both motorist and cyclist. The Amy Gillett Foundation funds a campaign that encourages motorists to give cyclists a metre. The Queensland Government has been petitioned to legislate a meter as the minimum prescribed distance when passing a cyclist (Fox, 2010, p 22). I am not sure that such legislation is a good thing. Cyclists want nothing more than to be treated as a legitimate road user. If Governments continue to create an impression that cyclists are different by having separate legislation, then there is little hope of being respected on the road.

    Greaves et al. suggest that following conditions are likely to lead to improved cycling safety:

    • more extensive, high quality and well-maintained cycling infrastructure, including separated cycling facilities
    • basing priority systems on needs of vulnerable road users (where appropriate), rather than car occupants
    • improved interactions between cyclists and drivers in the form of mutual respect, courtesy and willingness to share public road space
    • education and training for drivers and cyclists aimed at improving skills, attitudes and behaviours
    • urban speed limits based on human tolerance to injury in collision with a motor vehicle
    • placing greater responsibility for traffic safety through the legal system on those road users who have the potential to cause the most harm to others. (2010, p. 42)

    It is important that we as cyclists take responsibility for our safety on the road by doing all we can to be more visible to other road users. Just as important are education programs to build relationships between all road users, particularly an improved recognition of cyclists as legitimate road users.

    References:
    Fox, T. (2010). The Amy Gillett Foundation ‘A metre matters’ campaign and other initiatives. Journal of the Australasian College of Road Safety, 21(3), 22-23. Retrieved from http://search.informit.com.au.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/documentSummary;dn=344636418005688;res=IELHEA

    Garrard, J., Greaves, S., & Ellison, A. (2010). Cycling injuries in Australia: Road Safety’s Blind Spot? Journal of the Australasian College of Road Safety, 21(3), 37-43. Retrieved from http://search.informit.com.au.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/documentSummary;dn=344729582861979;res=IELHEA

    Gough, D. (2010). Reflective strips help cyclists shine like a beacon at night. The Age (online). Retrieved from http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/reflective-strips-help-cyclists-shine-like-a-beacon-at-night-20101016-16odw.html

    Legislation:
    Road Safety Road Rules 2009, 94/2009 Stat. (2009).

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