Bike law change #7: Drivers should bear full responsibility for any accidents that occur in a designated bike lane

October 18, 2008

I was riding along Main Street in Santa Monica this morning when I met cyclist. You know how it goes — I’d pass him, then a few blocks later, he’d pass me; eventually, we struck up a conversation and started riding along together.

We were both riding in the bike lane, exactly where we were supposed to be, when a car pulled into a driveway just ahead of us. As we rolled past, the driver suddenly shifted into reverse and started backing up — just missing my new riding companion.

And it wasn’t like we were easy to miss. A couple grown men on bikes, one in a bright red jersey and the other bright yellow. But as he put it, for some reason, drivers just don’t seem to see us.

But let’s face it. There’s just no excuse for that.

The mere existence of a bike lane implies the presence of bikes. Which means that it should be the responsibility of the driver to anticipate cyclists, and be on the lookout for them. The bike lane should serve as a warning to any driver not to enter that lane for any reason without scanning every inch of that lane for bicycles.

There is simply no reason why any driver should ever turn into the path of a rider in a bike lane, back into a parking space without first checking for oncoming bikes, or opening a door a rider because he didn’t check his mirrors first.


So let’s make it clear that those few feet of asphalt to us, and it is the responsibility of the driver to enter, cross or stop in the bike lane safely — not the responsibility of the rider to avoid him. And as a result, the driver should bear 100% of the responsibility for any accident that occurs with a cyclist riding safely, and legally, in any bike lane.


Alex reports on 50 cyclists who rode to reclaim the Ballona Creek Bike Path and score some serious tacos. LA Bike Rides ponders whether changing these laws is enough to get people out of their cars, or if there’s simply a perception that bikes are for kids, and grown-ups drive cars. And a rider in Montana wonders what it takes to make a Western state bike-friendly.


Bike law change #6: Require that bike lanes be maintained in their original condition

October 16, 2008

This is the other side of the bike lane problem. So many times we’ve seen roadwork done on a bike lane — maybe they have to dig it up to fix some underground problem buried beneath the roadway, or it could be something to accommodate construction on the side of the road. Or maybe it’s just a city crew fixing a pothole or crack in the road.

Then once the work is done and the lane is patched, it’s usually in worse condition — often much worse — than it was before the work started. The crews seldom take the care necessary to smooth their patchwork and level the road surface, resulting in uneven ridges or dips in the roadway. It may not seem like a significant problem, and it’s one that most drivers wouldn’t even notice if they happened to roll over it. But for a bicyclist, those seemingly minor imperfections can make for a jarring, and potentially dangerous, ride.

The solution is simple. Just require that anytime roadwork is done on a designated bike path, bike lane or bike route, the road surface must be returned to it’s original — or better — condition. Just take a few extra minutes to smooth out the patches, and fill up the dips. Honestly, is that so hard?


Will responds to the letter writer who complained about all those damned high-speed bikes interfering with her ability to walk on the Chandler Bikeway. Yeah, what’s wrong with that picture? Streetsblog reports that Metro is reversing their policy and making room for bikes on their trains. Ciclovia comes to Miami and El Paso; I’d like to report that L.A. is sponsoring its first car-free event, but Hell hasn’t frozen over yet. A 73 year-old woman in upstate New York was killed when a truck entered the intersection and struck her bike; no tickets were issued. Why am I not surprised? And finally, Colorado Springs riders try off-road racing on their Barbie bikes.

Bike law change #5: Prohibit unnecessary blocking of bike lanes

October 15, 2008

Here’s one of my pet peeves: You’re riding in the bike lane along a busy street, when suddenly up ahead there’s a film crew with their trucks parked on the side of the road (this is L.A., after all). And even though none of the trucks extend into it, they put up safety cones to block the bike lane, forcing riders to take a lane — and risk their own safety — for no reason other than their own convenience.

Or maybe it’s a delivery truck double-parked in the bike lane. Or some utility workers — like the ones I encountered in Santa Monica this morning — that for some inexplicable reason needed to pile the dirt from the hole they were digging in the bike lane, rather than the parking space in front of their truck. But at least they put up a “Share the Road” sign before forcing me out into the traffic lane.

So stop it, already. Make it a clear violation of the law to block any bike lane or designated bike route unless absolutely necessary, and then only as long as necessary. Because those few feet of asphalt between the two painted lines exist for our safety, not their convenience.


Bike Girl gets stood up by her councilperson — perhaps he has a jealous spouse/significant other. Santa Clarita was awarded a grant to create new bike lanes and routes; nice to know someone around here is getting them. A writer in the Burbank Leader complains about speeding bicycles when she’s trying to walk in the bikeway, and about the riders’ “sense of ownership” regarding the bike lanes. She’s got a point; I have the same complaint about all those damn cars on the freeway.

Bike law change #4: Clarify the law allowing drivers to leave their lane to pass a bike

October 15, 2008

As a driver, I was taught to give riders plenty of clearance when passing, even if that meant briefly going into the other lane or crossing the yellow line. And I’ve always understood that the law not only allowed that, but actually encouraged it.

But I’ve noticed that while many L.A. drivers do just that, others are reluctant to pass a cyclist if it means even putting their left wheels on the divider line, let alone actually crossing it. Instead, they wait behind the rider, becoming angrier and more impatient with every passing moment. Or they zoom past at the first opportunity, whether or not there’s room — let alone if it’s actually safe.

So let’s clarify the law, so that every driver knows it’s okay to cross into the other lane or briefly cross the center line in order to pass a cyclist, as long as it can be done safely and there are no other vehicles in the way.

Bike law change #3: Ban the “I just didn’t see him” excuse

October 15, 2008

It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that cyclists and drivers sometimes try to defy the laws of physics by occupying the same space at the same time. And when that happens, the driver usually blames the cyclist, or claims he just didn’t see the rider — and too often, gets away with it.

However, the law requires that drivers be alert and aware of the traffic conditions around them. Which means that they are required to see, and take notice of, any bicyclists that are visible on the road around them.

There are situations where riders can be hidden behind another vehicle, of course, or riding where they shouldn’t be, like in the driver’s blind spot or on the wrong side of the road. But in the vast majority of cases, there’s no reason why an alert driver shouldn’t be able to see any cyclist who might be sharing the road with them. And if you can see the driver, he or she should certainly be able to see you.

So let’s put the responsibility exactly where it belongs, and prohibit any use of the “I just didn’t see him” excuse, unless it can be clearly demonstrated that it wasn’t possible to see the rider under the existing conditions.

Bike law change #2: Prohibit turning into the path of an oncoming cyclist

October 14, 2008

One of the most dangerous situations any rider faces is when a driver passes on the left, then makes an immediate right turn. Or when a driver tries to make a left turn directly in front of an oncoming rider.

Most of the time they get away with it. And sometimes they don’t, resulting in a serious, often fatal, accident in which the rider smashes into the side of the turning vehicle.

The problem is that drivers often underestimate the speed of the bike, and think they’ve got time to complete the turn. Or they just drive too aggressively, and assume they have the skill to pull off an exceptionally risky move — or want to send a message by forcing the cyclist to panic stop in order to avoid them.

The only way to stop it, and protect the safety of cyclists, is to ban it entirely — and require that drivers wait until any oncoming rider passes before making their turn, whether right or left.


Bicycle Fixation observes we’re getting closer to genuine critical mass (lower case). The Utne Reader discovers conservative cyclists aren’t a myth after all, while conservative #1 plans to open the way for mountain bikes in the national parks. Now if he’d just restore their funding before he makes his ungraceful exit in January.

Bike law change #1: Require drivers to maintain a minimum passing distance of three feet

October 14, 2008

As it now stand, the law only requires that drivers pass a bicycle on the left, and maintain a safe distance without interfering with the safe operation of the bicycle.

But what does that mean in the real world? To some drivers, that means giving a cyclist as wide a berth as possible — for which we are eternally grateful.

Other drivers interpret that as any distance which allows them to pass a bike without actually hitting it. But they may not realize that getting caught in the slipstream of their vehicle can make us lose balance and possibly fall. Or that coming too close makes us instinctively swerve to the right, even if that means running off the roadway or into parked cars. And it’s always possible for a driver to misjudge the distance and actually sideswipe a rider.

So let’s take the guessing out it, and require a minimum of three feet distance when passing a bicycle. And make it clear that drivers are allowed to briefly cross lane or center dividers to pass safely.


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