Thursday, April 9, 2009

Abuse of power

Today I expected to ride north with a strong south wind and make it a 10 mile out and back, but when I stepped outside with my bike and the wind was blowing about 20 MPH from the west! So east it is.

I choose a familiar loop that will dump me onto state highway 34 for the west-bound leg back to Ennis and the headwind portion.

Highway 34 is signed 55 MPH with a single 12 foot lane each direction, with occasional improved shoulders. The traffic was moderate, and I was overtaken by four semi-tractor trucks during the three and a half miles.

I was also overtaken by an off duty cop, unfortunately. He tried to bully me into obeying his view of how things ought to be.

He drives up beside me (on the shoulder) in a small car with a young female child sitting next to him, paces my speed and when I look at him, he displays his badge and orders me to pull over.

So he gets out of his car and a lecture ensues. He tells me I can't ride so far in the lane. (I was positioned in the left tire track.) I tell him I need to for my safety and the law permits it. He says I need to keep on the shoulder because I am "impeding traffic" and violating the far to the right rule. I ask him if he is going to cite me. He says no. I then ask him if I can be on my way then. He says he didn't order me to stop- he didn't flash any red lights... I cut him off with a raised voice; "You stopped my under the color of law by flashing your badge at me!"

I mark that as the point that the "traffic stop" became something different- more of a conversation than a confrontation. I'll try to describe it in broad strokes rather than specifics, but some of his assertions are real gems.

So he tells me I can proceed, and I turn to mount my bike. He then said; "But don't be riding out where you were or I will have to call one of my on duty friends to meet you." I am about to retort "You had better call him, then!" when he asks if we could talk for a minute. I calm myself down and face him, and agree to talk.

He now asserts that he is just concerned for my safety. We discuss the relative merits of riding on the shoulder and in lane. It is impossible for him to imagine that I would be at greater risk of inattentive drivers when riding on the shoulder. I tell him that there are no restrictions on where I can ride in the lane if the lane is less than 14 feet wide. He asks how wide I think the lane is, did I measure it?

I tell him it is easy to get an accurate estimate. (Most cars about six and a half feet wide, can two of them travel side by side within the lane?) At this he laughed, and he said he knew quite well they were less than 14 feet from accident investigations.

He says; "Maybe it's within your right to ride there, but you'll end up dead right." (Yes, he actually did!)

We talked about the danger of distracted drivers drifting onto the shoulder, I quoted to him the law and we realized neither of us would persuade the other.

So I was compelled by a law officer who took it on himself to enforce (through intimidation) laws that only existed in his car-centric prejudices.

Sec 551.101.
(a) A person operating a bicycle has the rights and duties applicable to a driver operating a vehicle under this subtitle

(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
(B) too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to safely travel side by side.


  1. I have mixed feelings about that LH tire track. Here's why:
    #1 - it tends to be smoother at the center of the lane
    #2 - a vehicle passing is closer (on average) if one is traveling in the LH tire track, this is simply due to the fact that the road is only so wide.
    #3 - a vehicle passing has less total time to get back into the proper position the further it has to move to pass
    #4 - if I look at the Sousa data, passing separation is best when traveling in the RH tire track. That's consistent with the observation that one should position oneself so that the overtaking motorist makes a correct move with the minimum need for thought. Moving further to the left doesn't cause any added impact on the automatic motorist response.
    #5 - riding too far to the left encourages a pass on the RH side of the cyclist. This happened to me last week (at a stop sign no less).

  2. All good points Steve. I am about to purchase a camera so that I can give a better description of the roads I am traveling on. I will re-visit all of your points in the next week or so as separate blog posts.

    I am very pleased to draw you into this conversation!

  3. my experience on some of the points may add to the overall picture.

    Some of the roads on which I ride are horrible in the center. I'm not sure why, but either tire track is better, especially with my triple-track velomobile, 30" width, one tire every 15".

    I agree with number two, but more to the left means more freedom of movement to the right when needed. If I'm in the right track, I'll get passes without lane changes, far too close for my comfort.

    Number three is not the responsibility of the cyclist. It is the responsibility of the overtaking vehicle to pass when safe, including the completion of the pass.

    Four is directly related to three. I do not position myself in the lane with respect to the overtaking motorist's convenience. I position myself in the lane with respect to the maximum level of safety for myself. Right track riding encourages unsafe passing without lane changes, in my experience.

    Number five does happen. I've got two clips on YouTube of a driver going completely off the paved roadway, into the grass to pass me on the right. I think it might have been the same had I been in the right tire track though. The center of the lane at that particular location is one of the bumpy middle portions mentioned above.

    As a triple-track operator, greasy, oily center-of-the-lane areas don't affect me as much as single-track riders. Motorcycle operators stay to one side or the other, especially after a rain begins, since it's dangerously slippery.

    ChipSeal, I'm looking forward to seeing your videos. It's encouraging to view others' successes in safe cycling practices.

  4. Fred, I always enjoy the videos you produce, and I am indebted to you and your wife for giving all of us access to the dialog you had with police. It has helped shape my thinking on these matters.

    The best I will be able to provide will be still pictures for the moment, and I seem to be inept at uploading them to this blog. Expect some fits and starts and weather delays in the days to come.


  5. Steve A says that "it tends to be smoother at the center of the lane", but as anyone who has ridden a motorcycle (or taken a motorcycle safety course) will tell you, that is also where grease, oil and other vehicle droppings tend to accumulate and can be the most dangerous portion of the lane. They tell motorcyclists to stay in the left tire track, why would a bicycle be any different?