Thursday, December 24, 2009

Pay No Attention To The Costs

Country Club road has a sharp turn near the airport property.

It is a trap that catches incompetent drivers.

It caught another one the other day.

After destroying the gate, the motorist fled in his red vehicle.

This is part of the hidden costs our society pays in exchange for tolerating low driving competency. The costs are somewhat random and most often fall on the innocent, like this gate owner.

We protect the perpetrators of these injustices because it might hurt their feelings to point out that they are a menace to our ordered society. Their victims are faceless and without a voice.

This gate owner may have been eyeing the prospect of buying a new suit. Perhaps now he will be unable to afford it. If this were so, the tailor is also a victim of this drivers inability to keep his automobile on the road.

The dislocation of resources from wealth creating activities to replacing the premature losses of property is one of the hidden and unnoticed costs of these unskilled drivers. Our whole community is poorer for it.

They are a destructive force in our midst much like a runaway fire.

We need to find ways to identify the incompetent drivers and keep them from getting behind the wheel until they can demonstrate a higher skill set before they are unleashed on the public again. Our attitude toward their behavior needs to viewed with more alarm than the present compassionate coddling.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


In a footnote in this essay, I said that I thought it could be argued that a cyclist in Texas only had the rights as driver of any other type of vehicle when he was operating on the roadway, and these rights [1] did not extend to operations on the shoulders.

I made those statements hastily, and I have spent some time considering it anew, and I was wrong.

Sec. 551.001. PERSONS AFFECTED. This chapter applies only to a person operating a bicycle on:
(1) a highway; or
(2) a path set aside for the exclusive operation of bicycles.

All well and good, but what does "highway" mean?

Sec. 541.302. (5) "Highway or street" means the width between the boundary lines of a publicly maintained way any part of which is open to the public for vehicular travel.

I am now convinced, after ruminating on it for some time, it means in a more plain way this: "Public maintained property with a roadway, from fence line to fence line".

This definition is structured this way to exclude publicly maintained property such as a high voltage power line’s right of way or parks and recreation areas.

I therefore retract my public speculation that our road rights end at the edge of the travel lane.

[1] Sec. 551.101. RIGHTS AND DUTIES. (a) A person operating a bicycle has the rights and duties applicable to a driver operating a vehicle under this subtitle, unless:
(1) a provision of this chapter alters a right or duty; or
(2) a right or duty applicable to a driver operating a vehicle cannot by its nature apply to a person operating a bicycle.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Something I'm Wondering About

If cycling two abreast is rude behavior and a crime against humanity, why are we then expected to travel two abreast with an automobile?

That is, if it is bad behavior and wrong to cycle side-by-side with another cyclist within a travel lane, why is it then expected that we should ride side-by-side with all motorists within the lane? Who is being rude in that circumstance?

Friday, December 18, 2009

It Is Hard To Plan For Traffic Stops

So when I was done with the things I had to do in downtown Ennis, I headed out to Waxahachie for an appointment I had there. With a 18 mile trip before me, I figured that an hour and a half would be plenty of time.

I figured wrong.

This happened on Tuesday December 16.

I took Hwy 287; a four lane road with a center median and all the look of a limited access freeway except for all the driveways and cross streets. No signal lights for ten miles. Sixty five mile per hour posted speed limit. A shoulder of varying width from six inches to ten feet. A rumble strip straddling the transition from a resurface job, which in practice meant that the inside of the rumble strip was a couple inches higher than the outside edge. An occasional right and left turn only lane. Twelve foot wide travel lanes. Real smooth pavement on the roadway. [1]

My appointment was at three in the afternoon, and I rolled out of downtown Ennis just after one thirty.

As is usual when I take the lane on a road with a shoulder, I was frequently honked at. Isn’t the freedom of expression great? It makes it so much easier to spot the idiots!

What was unusual is that about half of the commercial trucks chose to identify their IQ! That is way high in my experience. As a percentage, maybe five to ten percent of private vehicles honked. The usual number chose to pass me on the right on the shoulder which is a crime in Texas. [2]

The First Stop

After a few miles. A State trooper’s vehicle passed me. He slowed and used a crossover to wait for me. As I passed his location, he got on his PA system and said; “For safety’s sake, will you please ride on the shoulder?”

I emphatically shook my head no and continued on my way.

When traffic permitted, he pulled onto the roadway and displayed his lights. I stopped and waited for him. [3] I regret that I am unable to remember his name.

“It’s dangerous to ride out there” he said.

“It’s even more dangerous on the shoulder.” I said. “Do you think drivers are so incompetent that they will run over objects in their path?”

“That’s what the rumble strips are for- to protect the idiots from themselves!”

He then painted a preposterous scenario. He said that if someone panicked and traffic backed up then I would be guilty of impeding traffic.

I pointed out one of Texas’s laws in the Texas Transpiration Code (TTC) and we discussed it for a while. I am reluctant to share it here until after my ticket is resolved with the city of Ennis. I see no point in helping the DA in convicting me by pointing out statutes I will defend myself with.

He then asked me for my ID. Good for him! He didn’t ask me for a driver’s license! I promptly began digging into my backpack to get it.

He asked me where I was going. “That away”’ I said, indicating down the road. He didn’t pursue the issue, as it was really immaterial to the traffic stop. [4]

Handing him my ID, he said that he would be writing me a warning.

“What is the charge?” I asked.

“Impeding traffic.”

“Will you be citing the section of the transportation code?”

“I’ll have to look it up for you”

As he returns to his vehicle, I pull out my camera. His dashcam is taking pictures of me, I am taking pictures of him.

About then another police unit pulls up. Officer XXX of the Ennis police department gets out and walks up to me.

What’s he saying to you?” he asks, indicating the trooper.

“He thinks I should be riding on the shoulder.”

Sergeant Joe Sifuentes informs me that Ennis police are getting a lot of calls complaining about me. Then, deciding the state trooper has things under control, wishes me a Merry Christmas and leaves.

The Texas Trooper returns and says that he can’t find the statute he was looking for, and he tells me I am free to go. He urges me to ride on the shoulder where he believes I will be safer. I thank him for his concern and wish him a Merry Christmas, and at the next gap in traffic, I merge onto the roadway again.

I found the State Trooper’s demeanor to be exemplary. He was polite, friendly and professional. Nonetheless, I think he felt it was his greater duty to enhance traffic flow rather than to expect road users to follow the rules.

The Second Stop

Soon enough, business 287 peels off of Hwy 287. It becomes a narrow two lane 55 MPH shoulderless chipsealed road for about two miles, and then it changes into a 30 mph narrow two lane residential road. It was on this residential part when a Waxahachie police officer pulls me over.

This young officer seemed to be in his mid twenties. He asked me to step off the roadway so he could talk to me safely rather than standing in front of his cruiser in view of the dashcam.

“Are Waxahachie drivers so incompetent that they can’t avoid a pedestrian on the street?”

I think this question derailed his agenda. He took a moment to get started again.

“Are you coming from Ennis?” I nod in affirmation. “We have been getting a lot of calls about you, they say you are wandering all over the road.”

“I wasn’t wandering at all, I was riding in the center of the lane, just like they were.”

“Your supposed to ride on the right half of the lane.”

I deny that his understanding is correct. “You should refresh your memory. The part you want is section 551.103.”

This rattles him as well, and he is now clearly uncomfortable with the conversation. He quickly ends the traffic stop, and I again resume my trip. Alas, I am too late for the meeting and my trip was for naught.

I strike up a conversation with someone while I rest, and perhaps get too involved in it, as it is dusk when I begin my return leg. I re-trace my path onto business 287. Only a couple of idiots identify themselves.

I turn on my rear blinky just before I merge into traffic on Hwy 287.

Another ten miles of serial rudeness ensues.

The Third Stop

As I exit Hwy 287 onto the business 287 near Ennis, I am again pulled over for a traffic stop. It is Sergeant Joe Sifuentes again! He doesn’t even bother to get out of his cruiser. He is polite and professional, but he is responding to the urging of dispatchers. I doubt he would've pulled me over on his own initiative.

He too proposes a preposterous analysis. He asked me why all those cars were taking evasive action, changing lanes, slamming on their breaks and swerving onto the shoulder? I said it was because the drivers were incompetent and impatient.

No, he said, it was because of you! I denied that it was my fault that they were passing me illegally; On the right and on the shoulder. Who’s fault was it then, he asked, incredulous at my reply.

I said that I had no power to steer an automobile. Those motorists have a legal duty to observe my right-of-way.

He then asked me for my name and such, as he needed to write a report of the stop so they have a record of my behavior in case something were to happen to me.

I laughed out loud at this. “So that I can be blamed if someone runs into me?”

Just at this point, our communication broke down due to an unfortunate collection of events. I spoke something to him and laughed again. He said something to me at the same time (cross-talked) and so I did not hear what he said, and some traffic passed by further muddying the sound for each of us. But he got angry that I laughed, thinking I was reacting to what he said.

I was realizing at that moment that his “windshield view” common sense was going to prevent him from ever believing that being legally in the way was safer than being out of the way on the shoulder. I was laughing at the absurdity of my attempting to convince him. Sadly, it caused him to harden his attitude toward me.

“Will you be laughing when someone runs you down?” He asked sharply.

“Do you ride a bicycle?” I asked him. He said he never does. I said; “I have ten thousand miles on that very bicycle right there, ridden in just this same way, and I am still here to talk about it. In this conversation, one of us is an expert at cycling and the other one is not.”

After a few more sage words of advice for me along the lines of the futility of being right but dead, he returned my ID and I continued on my way.

Reflections About These Events

Ignorance about most traffic laws is widespread in my community, and when it comes to bicycle specific traffic law the ignorance is even more acute.

It is first made apparent by the honking. For example, on the two lane near Waxahachie, a motorist a fair distance back honks at me. Short and polite: Honk-honk. After a moment, again: Honk-honk. And then, when I don’t disappear into thin air (It is hard to know what this motorist expected, as we were traveling on a ten foot wide lane- he would have had to encroach onto oncoming lanes no matter where I was laterally in the lane!): HONK hooonk hoooonk!

Many honk at me while sailing past me, unhindered, in the left lane. Perhaps they are expressing joy at finally coming across someone who is driving on the public road in a lawful manner!

In my presence, many many traffic laws were broken. But it was me, one of the few legal drivers, who was pulled over.

The State Trooper pulled me over on his own initiative, perhaps with genuine concern for me. I am sure that when he initiated his stop he was certain I was breaking some law, and he may have even had one or two in mind that failed to pan out.

The traffic stop by the Waxahachie police and the stop (Two stops?) by Ennis police were in response from phone calls dialed in to 911 lines. But once my behavior was observed, neither attempted to cite me for any offence. They just tried to convince me to ride where I believe it to be a compromise of my personal safety, for the purpose of enhancing the convenience of automobile drivers.

Mind you, I had no choice to opt out of the lectures. I had to stop under penalty of law. Bicyclists are just out for a lark anyway, right? It is folks in automobiles that are going somewhere important.

None of the illegal driving by licensed motorists were cited. Sergeant Joe Sifuentes even notes that he saw such behavior himself. He ignored all that, and pulled me over instead, even though he had not observed any unlawful behavior on my part.

Two officers commented that their departments had received many calls from motorist complaining that I was driving my bicycle in a legal manner. Why did that require a response by a patrol officer? Once the officer observed my driving, why did they continue with the stop?

Why couldn’t dispatchers tell motorists that bicycles are allowed to drive on the roadway?

The reason is that the whole of them are ignorant to what Texas law says. Because bicycle driving is uncommon, it is assumed that it is uncommon because it is illegal.

The result is that law abiding citizens are delayed, harassed and abused by law enforcement and by mistakenly outraged motorists. Meanwhile, the Texas Bicycle Coalition spends it’s legislative activities trying to pass new laws that are a simply a re-statement of current law.

Perhaps our bicycle advocates could work to change the real discrimination we Texas cyclists face. You know, something that would actually make Texas better for their constituents. (I know, I’m making crazy-talk again.)

Conquering the Frontiers of Ignorance

Perhaps our local police could become familiar with bicycle specific law if they are going to do something about scofflaw cyclists, and if they intend to respond to the uninformed opinion of angry Texans on the other end of a phone line.

I’ll even help them with a heads up for where to look:
Sec. 551 with a special emphasis on Sec. 551.103 (a)(4)(A) – I would suggest you read that part two or three times.

You should also become familiar with these sections which are important to understand when you are dealing with slow vehicles on the public road: Sec. 541.301, Sec. 545.002, Sec. 545.051, Sec. 545.058, Sec. 545.060, and Sec. 545.363

Ignorance can be defined as not knowing what you don’t know. One is not doomed to remain in ignorance forever. Those statutes there can start you on your path to enlightenment, if you want it.

[1] I am using the legal definition of the word “roadway”. From the TTC:
Sec. 541.302. (11) "Roadway" means the portion of a highway, other than the berm or shoulder, that is improved, designed, or ordinarily used for vehicular travel.

[2] Sec. 545.058

[3] Note to SteveA. I watched to see if he was pulling onto the shoulder before I crossed the edge line. As I did later as well.

[4] In Texas, one is required to tell a law enforcement officer his real name and his current address. We are not required to produce ID of any kind, but the officer is allowed to detain you until your identity can be confirmed. When you are operating a motor vehicle, you must be able to produce a driver’s license on demand.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Thoughts From My Youth

I grew up in Southern California, in a house on a hill that overlooked Interstate 10. `

We could hear the tires as endless streams of traffic flowed by. The freeway was like a living thing. It sang a loud and busy song during rush hours, and a lonely and mournful one before dawn that was punctuated by gaps of silence. The sound of the freeway was a background presence that ebbed and flowed across our days.

I would often wonder at the ceaselessness of it. Where are all those people going? Each vehicle representing one person or more, caught up in their own activities, thinking their own thoughts, each being pressed by their own individual, and yet also collective concerns. It filled me with wonder, and knowing that I was only observing a mile or so of the freeway, the thought of it quickly became too big for me to wrap my mind around.

“Our” part of I-10 was at the foot of a grade. They widened and improved the freeway when I was about ten years old, expanding it from a six lane to a eight lane freeway, and an extra slow lane on the uphill parts on each side of the hill.

With all those lanes to choose from to go over the hill on, nearly every truck grinding up that hill would collect two or three automobiles behind it. They would be unable to find a big enough gap in the next lane to merge into so that they could go around. It seemed surprising to me, because it was so consistently common.

The grade shouldn’t have been a surprise to any of them, because it was visible to travelers for more than three miles during their approach to it. Just as it is now, there was no concept of “stay right except to pass”. Every lane was “available” for the motorist to choose from. So why were so many drivers caught behind slow trucks in the rightmost lane?

Some of the hapless motorists were caught out attempting to pass traffic on the right. They had overestimated the trucks speed and were unable to reach the gap in the next lane they were aiming for. Their own aggressive driving backfired on them.

Most, however, were just not paying enough attention to avoid being in the right-most lane at the base of the hill.

Were the drivers of the cars in the second lane being rude to not merge left and provide a gap for the trapped motorists behind the trucks? Do they have some obligation to help them out of their jam? Should there be an expectation that they do so?

In short, what is the obligation of a lawful traveler on the public street to make it easier to for faster traffic to overtake him?

There is the legal requirement to maintain one’s course and not speed up then being passed, but is there some other unwritten moral obligation? What is it, and who gets to determine what that moral obligation is? What is the principle behind such a notion?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


…about where they should position themselves within a lane.

Most traffic lanes are designed to accommodate a single line of vehicles. Motorists rarely have more than a few feet of lateral movement available to them within that single travel lane. It never occurs to them to consider where in the lane they ought to be laterally, their only concern is that they remain within the lane itself.

Many states have codified it into law. Texas demands that a driver “shall drive as nearly as practical entirely within a single lane”. [1] So with only being required to keep it between the lines, few if any auto drivers have thought about where they ought to be within that lane.

Motorcyclists and bicyclists have broader choices about what it means to travel “entirely within a single lane” than automobile operators. Many common traffic hazards can be avoided with proper lane position for such narrow vehicles. On the other hand, improper lane positions can increase the hazards they are exposed to.

People who only drive automobiles would never think that it would be proper or safe to share any travel lane side-to-side with a truck, with another car or even with a motorcycle. And yet they expect to share the lane side-to-side with bicycles all the time.


Because our streets, roads and traffic laws are based on the principle that a travel lane is for a single line of vehicles, “sharing the lane” means, in most instances, that you travel behind the vehicle in front of you until it is safe to pass.

To enhance traffic through-put, slow vehicles are required to use the rightmost lane then available. That is, to form a single line of vehicles in the right-most lane. There is no motor vehicle, anywhere, that is required to share a lane side-by-side with another vehicle other than the bicycle.

It is against the law to share a lane side-by-side with a motorcycle.

Singling out bicyclists as a vehicle that must share a lane side-by-side with other traffic was obviously an attempt to make motoring more convenient. But the lane sharing law has exceptions, lest the rule imperil cyclists.

Many conditions exist that make sharing a lane side-by-side dangerous for a cyclist. It is often things like debris, potholes at the side of the lane, parked cars and the like. These sort of things can make what appears to a motorist as a wide lane to actually be narrowed for the cyclist, that is, making it a narrow lane.

The share the lane side-to-side rule cannot be interpreted to compromise a cyclist’s safety.


A narrow lane is a lane that is too narrow for a large vehicle and a bicycle to share side-by-side, or two small cars to travel down together side-to-side. A lane that is wide enough to share when the speed of both vehicles is slow may not be safe to share side-by-side at higher speeds.

The slower moving vehicle has the right to refuse to share the lane side-by-side if that driver deems it unsafe. It is always the duty of the faster vehicle to overtake the slower one in a safe manner and with due care. Even if the bicyclist chooses a lane position that encourages overtaking within the same travel lane, it is the passing vehicle that is at fault if the cyclist is hit or is caused to fall.


Perhaps you are a motorist, and you are wondering what are some of the considerations that go into why a cyclist chooses the lateral lane position he does. Or perhaps you are thinking of riding a bicycle on the public streets, and this is all new for you. Here are some of the things we are concerned about as cyclists when deciding where to ride in the travel lane. It has been adapted from the Texas Motorcycle Operators Guide.

In some ways the size of a bicycle can work to your advantage. Each traffic lane provides a bicycle with three paths of travel; The right tire track, centered in the lane and the left tire track.

Your lane position should:

• Increase your ability to see and be seen.
• Avoid others’ blind spot.
• Avoid surface hazards.
• Protect your lane from encroachment from other drivers.
• Communicate your intentions.
• Avoid wind blast from other vehicles.
• Provide an escape route.

Select the appropriate position in the lane to maximize your space cushion and to make yourself more easily seen by others on the road. In general, there is no single best position for riders to be seen and to maintain a space cushion around them. No portion of the lane need be avoided–including the center.

Position yourself in the portion of the lane where you are most likely
to be seen and you can maintain a space cushion around you. Change
position as traffic situations change. Ride centered or on the right tire track if vehicles and other potential problems are on your left only. Remain centered or in the left tire track if hazards are on your right only. If vehicles are being operated on both sides of you, the center of the lane is usually your best option.


The greatest potential for conflict between you and other traffic is at
intersections. An intersection can be in the middle of an urban area
or at a driveway on a residential street–anywhere traffic may cross
your path of travel. Cars that turn left in front of you, and cars on side streets that pull into or across your lane, are the biggest dangers.

There are no guarantees that others will see you. Never count on “eye contact” as a sign that a motorist will yield. Too often, they look
right at a cyclist and still fail to “see” him. The only eyes that you can count on are your own. If an automobile can enter your path be ready to avoid them if they do. Good drivers are always “looking for trouble”– not to get into it, but to stay out of it. For bicycle drivers, that means ignoring traffic behind you and concentrating your attention to where the dangers lie- ahead of you.

Increase your chances of being seen at intersections. Ride in a lane position that provides the best view of oncoming traffic. Provide a space cushion around you that permits you to take evasive action.

As you approach the intersection, select a lane position to increase your visibility to motorists. Be where they are scanning for traffic. Select the right-most lane for your destination. If there is a right turn only lane, for example, ride in the center of the right-most through lane. Watch out for oncoming left turners who will be inclined to “shoot the gap” in any traffic in the lane next to you. Cover your brakes to reduce reaction time.


If you approach a blind intersection, move to the portion of the lane that will bring you into another driver’s field of vision at the earliest
possible moment. For example, on a street with curb side parking, move to the left portion of the lane–away from the parked car–so the driver on the cross street can see you as soon as possible. Remember, the key is to see as much as possible and remain visible to others while protecting your space.


Many cyclists ignore these precepts without coming to harm. Which helps illustrate how safe cycling in a prudent and lawful manner really is.

Proper lane positioning will make a trip on a bicycle less stressful and more relaxing. You will be amazed at how courteously you will be treated by motorists when you claim your rightful place on the public road.

[1] Sec. 545.060.(a) An operator on a roadway divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic shall drive as nearly as practical entirely within a single lane and may not move from the lane unless that movement can be made safely.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Unrepentantly Rude

When I travel on the public roads, I am a chronic obstructionist. I am always in the way of others. I hold them up. I delay them. But so what? That’s what happens when I am riding in an automobile. It happens all the time. On every trip.

You do understand that I am talking about traveling in a automobile, don’t you? Curiously though, no one thinks it is rude when I obstruct them, when I am in their way, holding them up and delaying them when I am in a car!

My style of cycling, however, is described as rude. I ride my bicycle in the center of the street, the same place everyone else travels on the public road. You know, in the lane. And I do it in a rude way! Faster traffic has to change lanes to get around me! Ha!

I admit it. I am a serial road ruder.

When it comes to speed limits, I am an underachiever. Around here, they are not set low enough for me to break them. In fact, I often am not aware of what the speed limit is. (Or gasoline prices, but I’ve been told it’s rude to point that out as well.)

I commonly ride my bicycle on roads where the posted speed limit is fifty five miles an hour, and sometimes on a road that is posted at sixty five miles an hour. Not that motorists consider a mere speed limit a restraint on their behavior! **

If there were a minimum speed limit, I would violate that one. But there isn’t, so too bad for you. Boo hoo!

I am a social anarchist. I single handily smash down social norms and rip up social contracts!

Failing to meet the expectations of others to yield my right-of-way to them is a public scandal!

I arrogantly act as though my business on the road was as important as those of the motorists! (Oh what a cheeky fellow I am!)

I obstruct traffic while I use the very roads that gasoline taxes were used to build! I am without a doubt an unapologetic, selfish, free-loading prick!

I expect that I will be hearing from you the next time I take to the road. But if you wish to avoid being a hypocrite, stay out of the way of faster traffic. Pull aside when they approach, won’t you?

** Hey, y’all seem free to express your criticisms about how I drive my bicycle. Ain’t the freedom of speech fun? I get to comment on your competency as a auto driver!

You are operating in public, you know. Did you think I wouldn’t notice your barely adequate skill? I would say that the biggest contrast between your driving and mine is that I drive my vehicle lawfully.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Slow Vehicles and Lawful Lane Position

The following is a guest blog from Bob Shanteau.

The current slow moving vehicle law is discriminatory in the following way:



Drive on right side of roadway exceptions

(a) Upon all roadways of sufficient width a vehicle shall be driven upon the right half of the roadway, except as follows:

1. When overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction under the rules governing such movement;
2. When an obstruction exists making it necessary to drive to the left of the center of the highway; provided, any person so doing shall yield the right of way to all vehicles traveling in the proper direction upon the unobstructed portion of the highway within such distance as to constitute an immediate hazard;
3. Upon a roadway divided into three marked lanes for traffic under the rules applicable thereon; or
4. Upon a roadway restricted to one-way traffic.

(b) Upon all roadways any vehicle proceeding at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic, or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, except when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road, alley, or driveway.

(c) Upon any roadway having four or more lanes for moving traffic and providing for two-way movement of traffic, no vehicle shall be driven to the left of the center line of the roadway, except when authorized by official traffic-control devices designating certain lanes to the left side of the center of the roadway for use by traffic not otherwise permitted to use such lanes, or except as permitted under subsection (a)2 hereof. However, this subsection shall not be construed as prohibiting the crossing of the center line in making a left turn into or from an alley, private road or driveway.

The reason for this discussion about clarifying UVC section 11-301(b) appears to be confusion over the phrase: "any vehicle proceeding at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic, or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway", in particular the meaning of the word "or" in that phrase. Note that it is only necessary to satisfy one of the conditions in order to comply with the law (otherwise the word "and" would have been used). Let's call the conditions A and B:

Condition A = driving in the right-hand lane then available for traffic
Condition B = driving as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of roadway

On an unlaned roadway, condition A cannot apply, leaving only condition B. So the driver of a slow moving vehicle on an unlaned roadway who drives as far to the right as practicable is in compliance with UVC 301(b).

On a laned roadway, the right edge of the roadway usually coincides with the right-hand lane then available for traffic. The exception would be for a right-hand preferential lane, such as a bike lane. If there is no preferential lane, then the right side of the right-hand lane coincides with the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, in which case Condition A and Condition B are not mutually exclusive. In fact, on such a roadway Condition B is a subset of Condition A, meaning that by meeting Condition B you also meet Condition A.

So the driver of a slow moving vehicle on a laned roadway who drives in the right-hand lane then available for traffic is in compliance with UVC 301(b). If that driver were also required to drive as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of roadway, UVC 301(b), Condition A would not even have been necessary.

In fact, that is exactly the case for UVC 11-1205(a):

Position on roadway
(a) Any person operating a bicycle or a moped upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations:
1. When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
2. When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
3. When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge. For purposes of this section, a "substandard width lane" is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.
(b) Any person operating a bicycle or a moped upon a one-way highway with two or more marked traffic lanes may ride as near the left-hand curb or edge of such roadway as practicable.

By not containing Condition A, UVC 11-1205(a) deprives slow moving bicyclists of the same right to use the right-hand lane as other drivers. That is, someone driving a vehicle slower than other traffic in the center of the right lane, even though it would be practicable to drive further to the right, is in compliance with UVC 11-301(b), but a bicyclist who does the same thing is in violation of UVC 11-1205. In 1975-76, when I helped write the exceptions that became law in California and later became UVC 1205(a), I thought that we were establishing that bicyclists had the same lane rights as other drivers, but now I realize I was mistaken.

This lack of equality in the law's treatment of the operators of vehicles and of bicyclists is one of the things bicycle advocates ought to focus on. The most straightforward way of eliminating the inequality is simply to repeal UVC 11-1205, in which case bicyclists would be subject to the same slow moving vehicle law (UVC 11-301(b) or the equivalent) as other drivers.

If one argues that bicyclists should be required to move to the right side of the right lane in order to facilitate faster traffic for no other reason than that they are riding bicycles, then that would be the same as saying that bicyclists should not have the same road rights as other drivers and that there is no such thing as "driving your bicycle".

When I used to advocate for separating bicyclists from other traffic with bike lanes, I used to think that way. But I abandoned that way of thinking when I decided to drive my bicycle instead.

Robert M Shanteau, PhD, PE

Consulting Traffic Engineer (I became a traffic engineer over 30 years ago through bicycle advocacy)

Expert Witness

Member, Institute of Transportation Engineers

Member, Society of Forensic Engineers and Scientists

President, Monterey County Bicycling Advocacy Group

Ex-secretary, California Association of Bicycling Organizations (1973)

Ex-president, Santa Clara Valley Bicycle Association [Now Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition] (1972-1974)

Ex-president, East Bay Bicycle Coalition (~1978)


"Are Sidepaths Included in the Definition of Class I Bikeways (Bike Paths)?" presented to the California Bicycle Advisory Committee, August 2, 2007

"Meeting the Challenges of Sidepath Intersection Design", presented to the California Bicycle Advisory Committee, October 6, 2007

"Proposed Revisions to the Caltrans Highway Design Manual to Address Sidepaths", presented to the California Bicycle Advisory Committee, December 6, 2007

"Detecting Bicycles and Motor Vehicles Using the Same Loop Detector", presented to the California Department of Transportation Electrical Systems Branch, October 16, 2007

Dr. Shanteau's Blog

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Texas Maximum Speed Law Explained

In my continuing quest to roll back the frontiers of ignorance, and bring understanding and light to the masses, I present to you Texas’s "maximum" speed law.

The Texas maximum speed law consists of three parts. An overall definition –part (a), a two part more specific definition –part (b)(1) and part (b)(2) and then five specific examples where slower speeds would be necessary.-Part (c) 1-5 We shall look at all of this in turn.

Part One

Sec. 545.351 (a)  An operator may not drive at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the circumstances then existing.

When the term "operator" here is used, it is a reference to the vehicle the person is using. [1] Thus, this statute applies to drivers of automobiles, bicycles, horses, motorcycles, delivery trucks and ostriches. How fast a operator can go varies due to circumstances, and the operational capabilities of the vehicle under consideration, and even the skill of the operator himself.

A prudent speed for one type of vehicle may be far more or less than another type of vehicle. Say a 1976 Jaguar XJ6C compared to 1985 Yugo GV, for example.

A particular speed that is prudent for one driver may not be the same for a different driver in that very same vehicle. Perhaps the route is more familiar to one than the other. A prudent speed at night is different for that same trip in daylight.

Reasonable does not mean "common" or "normal" by the way. You don’t have to go very far on the public way to witness common behaviors that are anything close to reasonable, in the light of what this section of the law demands.

It is not reasonable to expect your automobile will be able to stop fast in snowy conditions just because you have four wheel drive.

Thus one is expected under the law to act in a reasonable and prudent manner.

Part Two

Sec. 545.351 (b)(1)  An operator may not drive a vehicle at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard for actual and potential hazards then existing;

This part is very similar to part one, but with the addition of a qualifier for "reasonable and prudent" that goes beyond current conditions. One must also act with regard to hazards. One must drive slow enough to allow for hazards that could potentially exist.

Again, reasonableness is at play here. In the wee hours of the morning it is reasonable to find a polecat when crossing a creek bottom, but it would not be reasonable to drive with the expectation you would have to avoid a meteor.

Sec. 545.351 (b)(2)  An operator shall control the speed of the vehicle as necessary to avoid colliding with another person or vehicle that is on or entering the highway in compliance with law and the duty of each person to use due care.

This informs those who wish to lawfully use the public road, that one may not go so fast that you would be unable to avoid crashing into slow vehicles on the roadway.

And this portion of the law introduces a new standard of conduct; That public use of the streets imposes on each of us a duty to exercise due care.

Due care refers to the effort made by an ordinarily prudent or reasonable party to avoid either causing property damage or physically harming another person, taking the circumstances into account.

When operating a vehicle on a public street, we need to be sure our vehicle is in working order. We need to be sober and alert. We need to avoid distractions so that we may properly pay attention to our driving. All of this is part of exercising due care on the public way.

Part Three

Sec. 545.351 (c)(1) An operator shall, consistent with Subsections (a) and (b), drive at an appropriate reduced speed if the operator is approaching and crossing an intersection or railroad grade crossing.

I wonder how the phrase "appropriate reduced speed" interacts with the posted speed limit? In other words, you MUST slow down when approaching every intersection, to a speed that is appropriately less than what is posted. Traveling at the speed limit is not a reduced speed from the maximum posted speed limit. Unless one wishes to argue that reasonable and prudent speed (consistent with due care) is faster than the posted speed limit!

Sec. 545.351(c)(2)  An operator shall, consistent with Subsections (a) and (b), drive at an appropriate reduced speed if the operator is approaching and going around a curve

Sec. 545.351(c)(3)  An operator shall, consistent with Subsections (a) and (b), drive at an appropriate reduced speed if the operator is approaching a hill crest

Sec. 545.351 (c)(4) An operator shall, consistent with Subsections (a) and (b), drive at an appropriate reduced speed if the operator is traveling on a narrow or winding roadway;

I will group these three in one section because my comment addresses them all similarly.

Together, these three clauses mean that operators must not drive so fast that they cannot stop in the distance that they are able to see ahead of them. As you drive, imagine that up ahead, just beyond the point that you can see, there is a stationary obstruction in the road (perhaps a log, or even worse, an injured child). You cannot drive so fast that you cannot stop before reaching the object. It does not matter whether the hazard is hidden due to a curve in the road or the crest of a hill, you must be able to stop. It also does not matter if the posted speed limit is higher than the prudent speed or if your autimobile is capable of handling the road at a higher speed. You simply cannot lawfully drive faster than you can see. [2]

Sec. 545.351 (c)(5)  An operator shall, consistent with Subsections (a) and (b), drive at an appropriate reduced speed if a special hazard exists with regard to traffic, including pedestrians, or weather or highway conditions.

Now most of us are good at recognizing inclement weather as a condition requiring reduced speed in order to be prudent, and potholes and downed trees seem self evident. In fact slow traffic being a condition that requires slowing down goes without saying. But look again at what Texas law says is included in "traffic"! Yes, pedestrians.

The maximum speed at any particular place is the speed that the slowest vehicle present is traveling. I think its important to emphasize that the posted speed limit is the maximum speed ever allowed under perfect conditions, with good sight lines, no intersections or traffic conflicts. Drivers must go slower than the posted speed limit for any conditions then existing at that time and particular place that mar that perfection. In fact, the posted speed limit under this statute is too fast if even the potential for a hazard is present!

Such conditions include but are not limited to weather, surface conditions, pedestrians, nightfall, animals and slow or stopped vehicles. If, for example, there is a stopped bus in the lane, the safe speed at that point is zero! If there is a front loader or horse drawn wagon, it sets the reasonable and prudent speed. If there is a bicyclist, he sets the reasonable and prudent speed in the lane he is using at that location. [3]

I am positive that many of you will be shocked at the implications of this plain and straightforward reading of this law. Either this standard for behavior is outlandishly high, or we as a society have fallen a very great distance indeed!

During the holiday season, I am reminded of this sad state of affairs we are in when I again watch the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life. In one place in the film, a despondent George Bailey (James Stewart) drives through a snowstorm with the idea of suicide in his head. As he draws close to the bridge, he loses control of his automobile and crashes into a great tree. I am always struck at the scandal this causes. George Bailey stumbles away from the crash while the property owner is shouting after him; "Who’s going to pay for the damage to my tree?"

The injured tree, suffering a small gash at the most, will have little more than a scar. It is a small scene, and it goes by fast. But it is made clear that a crime has just happened. Good citizens are expected to keep control of their vehicle on the public street. George Bailey has broken yet another public trust.

This law was written in the spirit of that public trust, yet it is universally neglected. Today it would be a scandal if this law were enforced! It is not even deemed applicable when two people die when the maximum speed limit law is broken.

When civility returns to our streets, one part of that will be an awaking of this public trust, and an expectation of it’s observance by our fellow citizens again.

But the good news is, you can be a lawful operator without waiting for it to become fashionable! Yes you can -and ought to- obey this law now! You now know that it is both your moral and legal duty to drive with due care, and alas, you cannot undo the knowing of it.

You will be breaking the law if you travel at the posted speed limit in anything less than the perfect conditions. Think of the awful consequences of being a responsible motorist! You will have to leave for your various destinations earlier than before. You will experience less stress and anxiety. You will have less wear and tear on your automobile. You might even save on some gas.

On the other hand, you will annoy many of your stressed out scofflaw and irresponsible fellow citizens who routinely act without due care. They may say mean things to you. They may honk their horns. They may even try to communicate with sign language, if you get my drift. You could get your feelings hurt.

So there it is. The gauntlet has been thrown down at your feet. You can resolve to do the hard but right thing, or you can give in and continue to be part of the problem.

If you have stuck with this post so far, gentle reader, please go and read this essay too. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Now think about what you would rather have for your children to inherit. The culture of speed, or the culture of trust?

Then take a moment to dream. Dream big dreams. Dream that it can happen here.

Let the dream begin with you.
[1] Sec. 545.002.  In this chapter, a reference to an operator includes a reference to the vehicle operated by the operator if the reference imposes a duty or provides a limitation on the movement or other operation of that vehicle.
The maximum speed law (Sec. 545.351) imposes both a duty to use due care, and a limitation on the movement (Speed, obviously) of vehicles. Therefore this statute applies to all things that are vehicles under Texas law.
Sec. 541.201. (23)  "Vehicle" means a device that can be used to transport or draw persons or property on a highway.
This definition is rather inclusive, but it is narrower than the definition of "traffic";
Sec. 541.301.  TRAFFIC.  In this subtitle "traffic" means pedestrians, ridden or herded animals, and conveyances, including vehicles and streetcars, singly or together while using a highway for the purposes of travel.
There are some curious crossovers in the two definitions. Traffic includes herded animals, but if the herded animal is being used to carry property, it will now fit the definition of a vehicle. Put bells on your sheep, and they become vehicles!

[2] Adapted from Bicycles and the basic speed law by Bob Shanteau 12/31/2007 Concepts and phrases are his and used with permission.

[3] Wayne Pein, e-mail dated November 24, 2009 Adapted with permision.

I have a lot to be thankful for. Beyond the obvious (but so normal we overlook it) like health and mobility, though perhaps I suffer from a touch of feebleness of mind! I have been reflecting this week on paying attention to good things around me.

So of course I thought of you.

After engaging in cycling issues on forums and commenting on bicycle blogs, I was invited by P.M. Summer to be a guest blogger on his CycleDallas blog. I hope I didn’t drive away very many regular readers of his!

His blog is bicycle advocacy oriented, and I desired to write a bit more personally than was proper as a guest on his blog, though I am sure P.M. would have tolerated it.

I was looking for an avenue of expression and for that end this blog has been very satisfying. But I was not expecting a new social network. I was not seeking a group of new friends. My what a wonderful surprise you have been!

I have met some of you in person (And to your credit, you hid your disappointment from what you found compared to your high expectations!) and others of you just online. Most of you are new friends to me this year, and the rest were just distant virtual acquaintances. There are so many of you! How abundantly I have been blessed!

I have tried to persuade you to my point of view, but I think my views have been re-shaped even more by you. For example, I have learned to appreciate "Dutch" style bikes, mixte framed bikes, the inadequacy of reflectors and "be seen lights". I now think that in certain circumstances, parking lot shortcuts are fine. You can be hardcore without ever riding in the rain to prove it.

I have lived 49 years without ever knowing that milk can come in bags. (I am nearly cosmopolitan now!)

I have been persuaded to slow down and sometimes even stop and get off my bike -Sacre bleu!- rather than focus on my average speed for the trip. You shared your world with me and so I purchased a camera to show you mine.

I have been schooled by your fine writing- winsome, inviting and inspiring. I long to do writing of similar quality. You have been unfailingly generous with your praise, time and advice. Thank you.

You make sport of me, and I of you, lest we think more highly of ourselves than we ought; But I have the highest respect for you, and I love you dearly. I am thankful to have such friends as you.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Honk Report From Ennis

Four honks in twenty miles! And that is only counting the geese wanting to overtake, not the honks from annoyed motorists in opposing lanes.

On the route I needed to traverse today, I could have predicted two of them, because Texans think a cyclist ought not be in the travel lane if there is an improved shoulder. But the other two were extremely rare.

In chronological order:

First Goose; This fella had the bad luck to come up to me at place where he could not pass me safely in the 55 MPH signed speed limit road, shown here.

He stayed behind me and honked as if I were the one without the right of way. I guess he failed to remember the rule when he first got his driver's license that the faster traffic has a duty to overtake slower traffic in a safe manner in with due care. Perhaps he needs a refresher course!

Rather than passing me on the blind hill like many of his neighbors do, he waited until we got over the rise to pass me. He came up beside me on my left in the other lane, and slowed to set me straight about how to ride a bicycle. He had to occupy the opposing lane to do this because I was maintaining my position in the left tire track. If anyone cares, he was driving a recent model heavy duty red pick-up truck. Oh, and I spat in his direction as he began to overtake me. SOP. [1]

Middle aged red pickup driver: "You need to stay out of the road, someone’s going to run you over!" These words were not said in a angry tone, just a raised voice to be heard over the truck’s noise.

Middle aged bicycle rider: "So you admit that you are such an incompetent driver that you would run into a bicycle in the middle of your lane?" Yes, I really did ask him that.

Middle aged red pickup driver, after a pause; "It’s really dangerous to ride like that!"

I then studiously ignored him until he continued on his way.

I very rarely get honked at (Or even shot, for that matter!) on these two lane roads. That alone was unusual. But this fella, after being annoyed that I was causing him a trivial delay, adds 40 seconds or so to his delay by pacing me!

Silly goose!

Second goose;

On north Kaufman, traveling north, just after it is reduced from a four lane to a two lane, this goose honked multiple times. Then he passed me on the improved shoulder at this spot:

As he passed, I spat in his direction, SOP. As he re-entered the roadway, realizing that he had been insulted he slammed on his brakes, coming to a complete stop, and marking the road like this:

I avoided him and came to a stop beside him. This is the hardest position for a motorist to strike you with his car.

Rolling down the passenger window he communicated to me.

Angry automobile driver; "You can't ride in the middle of the road, you are in the way of cars!"

Calm and witty cyclist; [2] "You have a duty to pass slower traffic in a safe manner and with due care."

Angry automobile driver; "Your not supposed to be in the way of traffic!"

Calm and witty cyclist; "One of us here has operated in a legal manner, and the other one has not."

Angry automobile driver; "I haven't done anything wrong! Your the one breaking the law!

Calm and witty cyclist, as traffic begins to work their way around us on the shoulder; "You don't call a panic stop in the middle of the lane reckless driving?" I suppose it should be noted that his right front fender was crumpled as was his left rear fender. I suppose he could've used working anti-lock brakes. Just say'n.

This comment seems to get him worked up. The angry automobile driver then said, roughly translated; "I have a good mind to hurt you in a bad way and make sure you stay at the side of the road!"

The calm and witty cyclist said; "Four seventy-five ex eitch are."

Confused automobile driver; "What?"

Calm and witty cyclist; " Your license plate number, four seventy-five ex aitch are."

As he speeds off, I re-enter the traveled portion of the roadway and continue on my way.

After being so upset by my having delaying his trip that he broke the law by passing me on the shoulder, [3] he recklessly stops in the lane to spend over a minute "speaking" to me.

Silly goose.

Third goose; Now traveling south on north Kaufman, I ride into a construction zone where Kaufman's four lanes have been reduced to two. Another motorist honks like in a futile attempt to improve the situation. As the road expands to normal lanes I do not spit, being unsure of which driver following me had poor impulse control. I pull up to a stop behind them at the next light.

Silly goose!

Fourth goose; As I nearly complete the final part of my ride, on the 55 MPH signed speed limit two lane that connects to my driveway, while safely overtaking me in the oncoming lane, the elderly man honks as he goes by. Did he know about my SOP?

Silly goose!

It is uncommon that anyone ever honks at me on a two lane without a shoulder. Both honking and passing on the right are expected on a two lane with a shoulder. Four same direction honks and two opposite direction honks in twenty miles is considerably odd.

Two of them were sufficiently outraged by my lawful behavior to interrupt their trip to publicly chastise me. They were not satisfied with simply being ignorant of the traffic laws. In their certitude, they were determined to make sure everyone was aware of their ignorance!

[1] SOP: Standard Operating Procedure

[2] Hey it's my story, and I can tell it any way I like.

[3] He illegally passed on the right: Sec. 545.053.(a) An operator passing another vehicle shall pass to the left of the other vehicle at a safe distance.
He illegally traveled on the shoulder:
Sec. 545.057.(b) An operator may not pass to the right by leaving the main traveled portion of a roadway except as provided by Section 545.058.
Sec. 545.058.(a) An operator may drive on an improved shoulder to the right of the main traveled portion of a roadway if that operation is necessary and may be done safely, but only:
(1)  to stop, stand, or park;
(2)  to accelerate before entering the main traveled lane of traffic;
(3)  to decelerate before making a right turn;
(4)  to pass another vehicle that is slowing or stopped on the main traveled portion of the highway, disabled, or preparing to make a left turn;
(5)  to allow another vehicle traveling faster to pass;
(6)  as permitted or required by an official traffic-control device; or
(7)  to avoid a collision.

He operated his vehicle in a reckless manner without due care: Sec. 545.401.(a) A person commits an offense if the person drives a vehicle in wilful [sic] or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.

Curiously, this is the statute he accused me of violating. To whom does it most accurately apply to? Sec. 545.363. (a) An operator may not drive so slowly as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

An open letter to the City of Manor

I have, this evening, sent another email inquiry to the stewards of the city of Manor Texas. I am making the email public because I am perceiving a certain amount of unresponsiveness from the city Fathers about this. I have asked some old questions that have gone unanswered, and I have added some new ones that are a bit more pointed.

The statements attributed to the city manager are alarming, and there is an unseemly odor to these proceedings. I hope that these questions will be answered to everyones satisfaction quickly and completely. Perhaps a little sunshine will help us all to see more clearly.

Dear Judge Haisler, the Austin American-Statesman has published an article about the bicycle ban in Manor. In it, the reporter quotes Phil Tate as saying:

"Enforcement will begin at the end of the month at the earliest, Manor City Manager Phil Tate said. Violating the ordinance will be a misdemeanor subject to a fine of up to $200, according to the ordinance.
The two-lane road is narrow, has heavy traffic and is in bad shape with huge cracks, Tate said.
The "City Council has found that prohibiting the use of bicycles on Brenham Street east of FM 973 to the City limits is necessary to protect the public from harm," the ordinance says.
"It's a poor place to be riding bicycles," Tate said. There are several other roads where bicyclists can ride, he said.
Tate said there are no immediate plans to repave or rebuild the road."

Naturally this is alarming to to those who are fond of the "public" part of public road.

1) Did this reporter correctly quote the good city manager?

2) If not, would you please clarify the situation for me? What he is reported to have said is at odds with our previous correspondence.

3) Is it the city's position that some roads are "too narrow and have too much traffic" on them to safely accommodate all legal vehicles?

4) Because pedestrians are not prohibited from this section of the road, do you anticipate that the shoulder-less road will accommodate cyclists walking through that section?

5) If the road surface conditions are as bad as some eyewitnesses have reported, why has the city seen fit to continue to allow motorcycles and other two wheeled vehicles access to this section of the road?

6) Is it the city's opinion that this road beyond their jurisdiction is also dangerous for cyclists, and have they alerted any other jurisdictions of such existing conditions?

7) What is causing the road outside your jurisdiction to be constituted a dangerous condition? (Is it a surface hazard as well or are cyclists simply annoying the local motorists by impeding their progress?)

An anonymous commenter left this message on my blog:

"I have some insight as to the condition of this stretch of road. On Aug 30 while riding with friends, I hit a large crack in the road about a yard long, 4 inches wide and about a foot deep. No shoulder. There were lots of these cracks or crevices. I suffered many injuries -- broken hand, torn hamstring, ripped face and mouth, etc.... (I was wearing a helmet, which got cracked.) It is extremely unsafe for bikes."

This new information has spawned a more questions.

8) To your knowledge, is the described road condition by Anonymous the reason for restricting bicycle use on that road?

9) Is Anonymous the only person who has been injured by this road hazard?

10) Is his description of the hazard accurate?

11) Is this particular road condition also a hazard for motorcyclists?

12) What steps are being planned or implemented to fix the problem.

13) What is the tentative time-line for those repairs and the estimated time of completion?

14) If road conditions present such a clear and present public danger to warrant the banishment of an entire class of vehicle, why are you waiting seven weeks from passing the ordinance to enforce it?

There my dear reader, we await a response. Are there any questions you have that have not been addressed in light of the information we have?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Steps of the Dance

Most of us use the roadway system as we do our common everyday electronics—we tend to take for granted what makes them function. There is a practical elegance to the way our streets and roads operate, and a greater awareness of it would make us all more civil, safer and cooperative citizens.

There are two overarching principles that are the basis of our uniform traffic code. These two principles lead inevitably to six basic rules of traffic that govern nearly all of our daily traffic experience.

While they are known subconsciously and perhaps intuitively, most folks who operate motor vehicles on our nations roadways are unfamiliar with this more formalized expression of these principles. Even so, they operate by them when following the traffic laws and the traffic control devices found on their way.

Here are the arch-principles and the six basic laws of traffic that follow from them.

Travel to the right

Early roads had no lanes, and the width of the entire road could be quite narrow. It became customary in the United States that traffic would stay to the right to reduce chaos, perhaps following established maritime law. Other countries developed a stay to left tradition. From this arch-principle flows these two basic laws of traffic;

1) Always operate on the right-hand side of the roadway, not on the left.

2) When approaching an intersection, position yourself according to the direction in which you want to go. Right-turning drivers are at the right, left-turning drivers are at the left, close to the center of the roadway, and straight-through drivers are between them, as conditions allow.
We practice this every time we take to the public road, but few of us have been exposed to the formalized stating of it. The second basic rule as stated presumes multiple lanes in each direction, but even on streets without lanes we turn right from close to the curb and turn left from the center area of the street.

First come, first served

The public space is a finite resource. How is it to be distributed to the public in a fair way? This arch-principle addresses that. It epitomizes the meaning of public in "public road". Everyone has the right to travel in the public space, and they have a right to a reasonable amount space in front of them, behind them and to their sides in order to travel safely.

3) When two operators are traveling in the same direction in a travel lane, the one behind the other must leave enough space to avoid colliding with the operator in front of him.

Most of us today think of this rule as part of the driver’s prime directive; "Thou shalt not hit things". But it is also a fundamental expression of the right of way on public roads. One cannot simply crash into slower traffic, we must overtake them when it is safe and to do so with due care.

4) When approaching a road that is larger than the one you are on, or carries more traffic, or faster traffic, or is protected by a stop or yield sign, you must yield to traffic on that roadway. Yielding means looking left and right until you see that no traffic is approaching so closely as to constitute a danger.
A person traveling down a road has "the right of way", meaning you can’t just pull out in front of someone and put them in danger. We must allow him access to a reasonable amount of space in front of him to avoid a collision. We operate under this principle all the time, and we have an expectation it will be observed by folks pulling onto the road in front of us. The law grants us the right of way, and the lawful operator respects it.

5) When intending to move your line of travel either left or right upon the roadway, you must yield to traffic in the new line of travel. Yielding means looking in front and behind until you see that both directions are clear, that there is no traffic approaching so closely as to constitute a danger.

We have the right to the space we are occupying within a lane of travel, and it should not be encroached upon.

6) When operating between intersections, drivers position themselves according to their speed relative to other traffic. Parked vehicles are next to the curb, slow drivers are next to them, while the fastest traffic is to the left, next to the centerline as conditions of the roadway allow.

This is the speed positioning rule. It implies that overtaking shall be done on the left, and passing on the right is discouraged. The fastest traffic should return to the right lanes when slower traffic has been cleared.

These six basic rules interact with one another. For example, it is unlawful in many states to change lanes within an intersection. Someone entering the roadway at the intersection may proceed into the lane someone is merging into, inadvertently violating his right of way.
The uniform traffic code, adopted in whole -or with few exceptions to the body of it- by the various states means that a person driving into an unfamiliar place anywhere in the country will be able to operate with little difficulty. The local streets and their working function will seem normal to him.

This system functions just fine without an explanation of the underlying principles; As a result, most people have never thought about, or clearly understood them, as long as the other traffic around them has similar operational characteristics.

What do you mean by traffic, anyway?

Our society has seen fit to divide "traffic" into three basic types; Pedestrians, human powered vehicles and motor vehicles. The vehicle laws make some exceptions and special rules for each class to reflect their differing operational characteristics on our public roads.

Motorists and cyclists must yield right of way to pedestrians crossing the roadway at a crosswalk, for example. [3] Cyclists are often restricted from using limited access highways because they are not capable of maintaining the minimum speed required for safe operation. People who wish to operate motor vehicles on the public way are subject to licensing and insurance requirements due to the potential damage and injury that the misuse of such vehicles can do to others.
Because motor vehicles are the overwhelming majority of traffic on public roads, people tend to think of "traffic" as only consisting of automobiles and the like. But most states define what they mean by "traffic" in the highway codes to include a much broader variety in modes of travel than just motor vehicles. (Because I am a citizen of Texas, and as I am most familiar with their codes, I will now be speaking less generally and more specifically of the Texas Transportation Code. [TTC]) The TTC defines "traffic" as; "pedestrians, ridden or herded animals, and conveyances, including vehicles… singly or together while using a highway for the purposes of travel." [1]

I doubt most Texas drivers think of horse drawn wagons when they think of traffic! And yet, the law recognizes and allows for a horse drawn wagon to have the same right of way as an automobile, that is, a reasonable amount space in front of them, behind them and to their sides in order to travel safely on the public road.

The traffic laws apply to all these different road users as the nature of their vehicle allows. [2]
Thwarted expectations lead to anger.

Perhaps because motor vehicles are the most common form of traffic on public streets today, there is a popular expectation that people ought to proceed at or above the speed limit regardless of prevailing conditions.

The necessity of putting a limit on the maximum speed one can travel is almost entirely a creation of the automobile itself. As automobiles became more powerful, all societies determined that speed limits were necessary to protect the innocent public from the destructive power of such fast heavy vehicles. While an out-of-control bicycle can cause severe injury, it can never approach the damage potential of a 4,000 lb. vehicle.

But a maximum speed limit is just that; A cap on how fast a motor vehicle can operate on a public road in perfect conditions, for the purpose of public safety.

Certainly upon a moments reflection, one can describe dozens of conditions that would prevent operating at maximum speed; Inclement weather, poor road surface, blind corners and hills, animals on the roadway, construction activity, slow traffic, trains at railroad crossings, emergency vehicles and even traffic lights! These conditions and more inhibit our forward progress endlessly.

So is it any wonder that a motorist going about with an expectation of traveling at top speed is constantly frustrated and annoyed? Is not this foolish expectation a source of his angst?

This anger often finds a scapegoat when the impedance is non-standard traffic, like a cyclist. A few of our fellow citizens take advantage of their position of power and anonymity inside their automobile to bully and harass lawful travelers on our public roads. Incivility abounds.

Right of way and impeding others.

Not understanding the six basic rules leads to a misunderstanding of the difference between lawful impedance and unlawful impedance.

As we go about our daily travels, we are impeded at every turn. That is, someone using the public road manages to be in the way of faster traffic, forcing us to slow down to avoid hitting them. Nearly all of these conflicts are a lawful interruption of your forward progress. In fact, most traffic conflicts are so common we hardly consider them an impedance at all! That is, as long as the impedance fits your definition of traffic!
If it is an automobile in the lane ahead of you waiting for oncoming traffic before executing a left turn that is causing you to slow down and even stop, it is no big deal. But if it is a cyclist in the lane ahead of you, well, that is a horse of a different color! "Doesn't he know that the roads are designed for cars!" is an oft heard complaint. (Actually, most roads are designed so that trucks can operate on them. Should we be glad truckers deign to allow us to drive our cars on them?)

All operators of vehicles have the same rights and duties on public streets. Parking a vehicle in a travel lane would be against the law, (unlawfully impeding traffic) unless the vehicle was broken down and unable to move out of the way. Traveling unreasonably slowly can also be an illegal impedance, if the vehicle is capable of keeping up with the faster traffic around him. And this is the notion that creates allot of the animosity toward bicycles: Aren’t bicycles impeding traffic because they are moving so much slower than other traffic?

If the cyclist is traveling at a reasonable pace for a bicycle, then it not an illegal impedance. He is operating a slow vehicle, and one that drivers of fast vehicles must give way to as they would to any other slow traffic. You know, buses, farm equipment, street sweepers and the like. The automobile operator has the obligation to respect the cyclist’s right of first come first served, just as he would the driver of any other slow vehicle.

Doesn’t the operator of a bicycle have an obligation to stay out of the way of faster traffic?
Sometimes, but rarely. Most states require cyclists to ride as close to the edge of the roadway as practicable. (Yes, practicable!) This is a reflection of the unique characteristics of the narrow profile of a bicycle. It is the only vehicle on public roads that is required to share a lane side-by-side with automobiles in some circumstances. And it is the only vehicle that is directed by law as to where in the travel lane he must operate.

But because operating within the same travel lane side-by-side with faster traffic is often neither safe nor practicable, the law has made exceptions to those rules. In Texas, those exceptions include, but are not limited to, a condition of the roadway, pedestrians in the lane, surface hazards, parked cars, and if the travel lane is less than fourteen feet wide. [4]

It may not be obvious to the motorist why the cyclist is not operating closer to the edge of the roadway than he is, but that is really immaterial to his performance of his duty to use due care. If there is not enough room to pass a cyclist with reasonable safety within the lane, the faster traffic must change lanes to pass him. (It is illegal in Texas to straddle the lane.) [5]

One or more exceptions to the far-to-right rule is present on almost every road in Texas.

Motorists will often get extremely angry when two cyclists are riding abreast in a traffic lane, even though the travel lane is too narrow to allow a car and a bicycle to travel side-by-side. Before slandering the character of the cyclists in front of you, please consider whether you would be able to pass a solo cyclist without changing lanes.

Some have told me that a cyclist must ride on an improved shoulder alongside a roadway if one is available, but a careful reading of the statutes shows that this is false in Texas. A cyclist is permitted to ride on an improved shoulder, but this is not mandatory. [6] In fact, it could be argued that doing so removes a cyclist from many legal obligations and protections. [7] I am of the opinion that riding on the shoulder is more dangerous than operating in the roadway. [8]

Access to the roadway space is allocated on a first come, first served basis for every form of traffic. So if you see a cyclist in the travel lane ahead of you, don’t be afraid to touch your brakes. Calm down, it is really not that hard to pass a cyclist safely! Just treat them as you would any other slow moving vehicle. With but a moments delay, you will be speeding off to the next traffic conflict or red light in no time!

Acknowledgments. I am, as it has been said, standing on the shoulders of giants! The basic principles spring from John Forester, but I have added to his list of five the one about following distance.

Any clarity I have on traffic dynamics and impedance must be credited to Mighk Wilson, Keri Caffrey and Herman May who have done most of the heavy lifting for me.

Thanks also to P.M. Summer and everyone on the ChainGuard mailing list who have unlocked many mysterious traffic engineering concepts for me.


[1] Sec. 541.301.  TRAFFIC.  In this subtitle "traffic" means pedestrians, ridden or herded animals, and conveyances, including vehicles and streetcars, singly or together while using a highway for the purposes of travel.
Sec. 541.201. (23)  "Vehicle" means a device that can be used to transport or draw persons or property on a highway.

[2] Sec. 545.002.  OPERATOR.  In this chapter, a reference to an operator includes a reference to the vehicle operated by the operator if the reference imposes a duty or provides a limitation on the movement or other operation of that vehicle

[3] Sec. 552.003. PEDESTRIAN RIGHT-OF-WAY AT CROSSWALK. (a) The operator of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing a roadway in a crosswalk if: (1) no traffic control signal is in place or in operation; and (2) the pedestrian is: (A) on the half of the roadway in which the vehicle is traveling; or (B) approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger.(b) Notwithstanding Subsection (a), a pedestrian may not suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and proceed into a crosswalk in the path of a vehicle so close that it is impossible for the vehicle operator to yield. (c) The operator of a vehicle approaching from the rear of a vehicle that is stopped at a crosswalk to permit a pedestrian to cross a roadway may not pass the stopped vehicle.

Sec. 552.005. CROSSING AT POINT OTHER THAN CROSSWALK. (a) A pedestrian shall yield the right-of-way to a vehicle on the highway if crossing a roadway at a place: (1) other than in a marked crosswalk or in an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection; or (2) where a pedestrian tunnel or overhead pedestrian crossing has been provided. (b) Between adjacent intersections at which traffic control signals are in operation, a pedestrian may cross only in a marked crosswalk. (c) A pedestrian may cross a roadway intersection diagonally only if and in the manner authorized by a traffic control device.

[4] Sec. 551.103.  OPERATION ON ROADWAY. 
(a)  A person operating a bicycle on a roadway who is moving slower than the other traffic on the roadway shall ride as near as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway, unless:
(1)  the person is passing another vehicle moving in the same direction;
(2)  the person is preparing to turn left at an intersection or onto a private road or driveway;
(3)  a condition on or of the roadway, including a fixed or moving object, parked or moving vehicle, pedestrian, animal, or surface hazard prevents the person from safely riding next to the right curb or edge of the roadway; or
(4)  the person is operating a bicycle in an outside lane that is:
(A)  less than 14 feet in width and does not have a designated bicycle lane adjacent to that lane; or
too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to safely travel side by side.
[5] Sec. 545.060.  DRIVING ON ROADWAY LANED FOR TRAFFIC.  (a)  An operator on a roadway divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic shall drive as nearly as practical entirely within a single lane.

[6] Sec. 545.058.  DRIVING ON IMPROVED SHOULDER. (c)  A limitation in this section on driving on an improved shoulder does not apply to: (3) a bicycle

[7] The rights and duties spelled out in the TTC only apply to operators of bicycles riding on a "highway". Sec. 551.001.  PERSONS AFFECTED.  Except as provided by Subchapter C, this chapter applies only to a person operating a bicycle on: (1)  a highway; or (2)  a path set aside for the exclusive operation of bicycles.
The TTC defines a highway as "Sec. 541.302. (5)  "Highway or street" means the width between the boundary lines of a publicly maintained way any part of which is open to the public for vehicular travel." Which seems to mean from fence-line to fence-line, except for the part about "open to the public for vehicular travel".
The TTC defines a shoulder as; "Sec. 541.302. (15)  "Shoulder" means the portion of a highway that is: (A)  adjacent to the roadway; (B)  designed or ordinarily used for parking; (C)  distinguished from the roadway by different design, construction, or marking; and (D) not intended for normal vehicular travel."
I must conclude then that a shoulder is not a part of the highway, and so, under this interpretation, the rights enjoyed by a cyclist on the roadway may not extend to those riding on the shoulder.

[8] With the many distractions inside the cabin of the modern automobile, and the tendency of a distracted driver to drift to the right, I am more comfortable in the lane in front of the distracted driver where I am more likely to be noticed than on the shoulder and overlooked. There are many other reasons as well, but isn’t this one sufficient all by itself?