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Monday, July 21, 2008

Rules of the Road

Over the couple of weeks, I've been doing a lot of thinking about cyclists and their obligations to follow the rules of the road. One of the reasons why I do a lot of thinking about things like that is my role in leading one of the St. Louis area's largest group rides, the Tour de Stooges, and other smaller rides for the Belleville Area Bicycling and Eating Society.

Here's what got me thinking:
  • A post over on Gene Bisbee's BikingBis blog about the Cascade Bicycle Club issuing "traffic tickets" to participants on the Seattle-to-Portland Bicycle Classic on July 12-13.
  • The riding habits of some cyclists on Tour de Donut in Staunton, Ill., on July 12.
  • An article by Dean Schott of the League of Illinois Bicyclists about the recent rise in bicycle fatalities in the state.
  • And, finally, an article at MSNBC titled "Deadly Tension on the Roads: Cars vs. Bikes."
Gene reported a while back that Cascade Bicycle Club Executive Director Chuck Ayers said one of the biggest complaints from motorists, staff and other cyclists during STP has been about participants who don't follow the rules of the road. To curb the problems, the club had patrols looking for cyclists disobeying the rules of the road and issuing $25 "tickets" with the money going to the group's education foundation.

"Those tickets don't carry the force of law, of course," Gene wrote. "They do imply, however, that your peers on the bike ride think you're riding like a jerk and you need to pay attention."

The Cascade Bicycle Club also has been pushing a "Single File Is Safer" program this year. The club contends riding single file ultimately is better for cyclists and motorists because it means cyclists don't have to go three or more abreast to pass slower riders and motorists can more easily pass a single-file line of cyclists than groups of two or more abreast.

That leads to what I saw on the Tour de Donut. The Tour de Donut is a unique situation because of the mass start. Cyclists receive a police escort through Staunton at the start of the race, but the problems become evident when they turn off Illinois Route 4 onto Renken Road toward Prairietown, the first donut stop.

Groups of three to five cyclists often take up the entire lane, forcing faster cyclists to cross the yellow line to get around them. Even when a slower cyclist is riding alone, he or she often takes the middle of the lane, making it difficult for people to pass him or her.

Before the start, I heard Boeing Employee's Bicycle Club President Dave Sweeney try to tell riders before the start of the ride that the roads beyond Staunton were not closed to motorists, but I don't know how many people actually heard him.

Most of the local motorists know about the Tour de Donut and adjust their driving with the realization there are going to be lots of cyclists on the road that day. Also, the club and its volunteers from the Staunton area do a great job of monitoring the key intersections. Still, I wonder if we can make things a bit safer for everyone by following the rules of the road and keeping in mind it is illegal to ride more than two abreast on nearly all Illinois roads.

That leads us to the recent League of Illinois Bicyclists article. Here how it starts out:
The headlines have not been good for bicyclists this spring in Illinois. The recent rash of bicycle fatalities has us all alarmed about our safety on the roads.

My words of advice for bicyclists are twofold: Obey the traffic laws and expect the unexpected from motorists.

Some of us consider stop signs and traffic lights nuisances which can be ignored. Besides it being the law, bicyclists should stop at signs so that they can see oncoming traffic and the traffic can see us before proceeding safely through an intersection. ...

When riding in groups, bicyclists should not ride three or more abreast, blocking traffic, which can fuel the road rage of motorists. In heavy traffic, cyclists should ride in single file to let motorists pass safely and avoid bottlenecks.
Finally, the MSNBC story talks about how bicycling has become a more popular mode of transportation because of high gasoline prices. Here's a brief excerpt from that story:
Experts welcome the trend for all of the reasons you might expect: Transportation planners like that fewer cars clog the nation’s highways. Environmental activists like that fewer tons of greenhouse emissions are pumped into the atmosphere every rush hour. Doctors like to see more people pedaling off more pounds. But in the months since motorists began pedaling in droves, it has become clear that all those cyclists on the streets pose a significant problem: all those cyclists on the streets.

“I believe it’s definitely going to cause some problems, because people don’t know how to share the road with cyclists,” said Kirk Hendricks, director of advocacy for the group Idaho Cycling Enthusiasts. “[Drivers] need to know that we have as much right as an automobile even though we’re not as big.”
But the article goes on to say that bicycle accidents are on the rise. For example, New Jersey reported 12 bicycle fatalities in all of 2007. So far this year, that state has had 11 bicycle deaths.

Pam Fischer, director of the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety, told MSNBC "in almost every case, the bicycle was doing something that put them at significant risk.”

As I've said before, and I'll say it again, cyclists and motorists share equal responsibility for knowing the rules of the road. Although I try to educate cyclists of the rules of the road on the Tour de Stooges map, I often wonder how I and the rest of the cycling community can do a better job of getting the word out.

For those of you who live in Illinois and Missouri, here's a couple of resources:

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