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Bicycle Friendly Fiendish Communities

— NOT so Friendly to Cyclists —
by Fred Oswald, PE, LCI #947

4 — Enforcement — What About Fair Laws and Enforcement?

Protecting our right to use the roads must be a close second priority, right after education.  We find it inexcusable that some cities ban cyclists from main streets but were still given the award.

Awards given to the undeserving

In 2004, the award was given to Fort Collins, CO (“gold”), which bans bicycles from four miles of U.S. 287/College Ave. a stretch of road that has two of the city’s bike shops!  If you want to do any business in that area, you’re required to ride on the sidewalk in areas with significant turning traffic (or walk).  The photo at right shows one of the signs (marked by yellow circle) along College Ave.

Ann Arbor, MI (“bronze”) received the award in 2005 despite its prosecution of cyclist Ken Clark in 2002.  The case included mendacious testimony by Assistant City Attorney Kristen D. Larcom.  She quoted a portion of John Forester’s book Effective Cycling out of context.  Forester was sarcastically criticizing an earlier California case in which a cyclist was convicted of violating a law requiring he ride “as far right as practicable” because he did not swerve in and out between parked cars.

I’m reading from the book, and certainly you can read it after I do.  It says, according to court decisions and to traffic law experts, the word practicable is defined as possible with the available means, a law that therefore requires a cyclist to ride as far right as possible without having to carry a shovel to fill in the potholes at the edge of the roadway.  That’s what’s stated in the book.

Ms. Larcom was trying to claim that even Forester agrees with her extreme interpretation that the law requires riding as far right as possible, no matter if unsafe.  Fortunately, the judge was not fooled; Clark was found “not responsible” (not guilty).  However, so far as we can tell, the city of Ann Arbor has never apologized for this attempt to require unsafe operation nor have they refunded Mr. Clark’s legal expenses.  Presenting a cycling award to Ann Arbor after such inexcusable conduct by a city official is a serious insult to cyclists.  LAB should be ashamed.

In October, 2007, there were two fatalities in “Bicycle Friendly” Portland, OR (“platinum”), land of the “blue” (and very dangerous) bikelanes.  Both involved trucks making right turns across a bike lane.  Besides the concern that these bike lanes put cyclists in harm’s way — by putting them on the wrong side of turning traffic, the police in “Bicycle Friendly” Portland refused to cite the drivers for obvious violations of state law, ORS 811.050.  Then in Nov., 2007 after a non-fatal crash (a “right hook”), no citation was issued because the crash did not “meet the criteria for an investigation.”

Portland’s dangerous “blue bike lanes” are doubly onerous because Oregon law requires that cyclists use them.  Portland has prosecuted cyclists for leaving a dangerous bike lane, even for their own safety.  This fact makes this human experimentation even more irresponsible.

Chicago, (“silver”) home of door zone bike lanes and deceptive bike lane plans also has some nasty local ordinances, including a bike ban on Lake Shore Drive, a mandatory sidepath ordinance, a single-file rule and a requirement to ride “all times giving the right-of-way to other moving vehicles.”

In Madison, WI (“gold”), cyclist Linda Willsey was “doored” in a door zone bike lane and then, while in the hospital, received a traffic ticket for violating a state law that required her to to allow “a minimum of three feet” between herself and the parked vehicle she passed.  However, the motorist who opened the door without looking received no ticket.  State law protects careless drivers but penalizes those they hurt.

Among other “honorees”, Tempe, AZ (“silver”) allows the city engineer to erect or place signs on any sidewalk or roadway, prohibiting the riding of bicycles thereon.

Schaumburg, IL (“bronze”) received the award despite a dangerous mandatory sidepath ordinance:  Whenever a usable path for bicycles has been provided adjacent to a roadway, bicycle riders shall use such path and not use the roadway.  Schaumburg also prohibits bicycle operation on any road where prohibiting signs are posted.  In addition, Schaumburg requires a bicycle license:  It shall be unlawful for any person to operate a bicycle in the village without having first registered such bicycle with the Police Department.  This is worded to suggest it may even apply to non-residents.  The penalty $100-750 is quite steep.

We have asked the LAB Executive Director to disqualify any community with bad ordinances that discriminate against cyclists or encourage dangerous practices.  All he would agree to do is suggest that city officials repeal these laws if the community applies for a higher level award.  But he didn’t take even this wishy-washy step.  In 2008, the Ft. Collins award was upgraded to “gold”.

We see inequitable enforcement in cities given the BFC award, such as Louisville, KY (“bronze”).  In 2007, cyclist George Cronen Jr. was struck and killed on a bridge over the Ohio River in Louisville.  Despite the fact that the crash occurred in broad daylight (~3 PM) the motorist was not charged.  A police spokesman said “It was an ‘accident’ …  He didn’t see him.”  Louisville fails to require fair enforcement by their police.

Enforcement — Work for Law Reform and Equitable Enforcement

Besides flatly disqualifying communities with bad laws, BFC should provide Model Local Ordinances for communities to copy.  Communities in states that have bad state laws must be strongly encouraged to lobby for reforms.  They should be expected to refuse to enforce bad laws.

Police must be trained in bicycle operation so they enforce the right laws and do it fairly.  Cities that have a bicycle patrol should be encouraged to ask bike officers to set a good example by riding on the roads rather than on sidewalks.  All officers, not just the bike patrol, must be trained to understand bicycle operation.

There are two programs for training police:

  1. International Police Mountain Bike Association training program for mountain bike police
  2. National Police Bicycle Awareness Curriculum developed through a grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Police should be our friends — protecting our rights to the road.  Unfortunately, police sometimes try to deny us access to the road or shove us off to the side, in the gutter.  Meanwhile, police usually ignore dangerous traffic violations such as riding on the wrong side of the road, without lights at night, blowing past traffic lights and stop signs, etc.

The Orlando Police Department is ahead of much of the nation in recognizing and protecting cyclists’ rights.  We need to bring other police departments up to speed.

Improperly trained police are likely to make errors in accident investigations, including failing to charge motorists for fatal crashes.


[1] John Forester photo.

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© Copyright 2003-2017 Fred Oswald and LAB Reform.  May be copied with attribution.
Some materials may have been reproduced under fair use guidelines or with permission of the original author.
The author is a Professional Engineer in Ohio and a certified bicycling safety instructor.
Minor update Apr. 2017