Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Lane Control and Public Policy

Note: This essay is from the pen of John Forester, and I am grateful for the clarity of his thinking. -ChipSeal

The issue regarding control of lanes by cyclists, precisely stated, is:

1: Cyclists should have the same legal right of lane control as other drivers of vehicles. This can be called the slow vehicle law case (SVL).

2: Cyclists should be assumed to have no right to control lanes, but must always act to allow the easiest overtaking by any potential faster traffic, unless failure to control the lane is dangerous. This can be called the Far To the Right law case. (FTR) That's the issue.

2.1: The FTR case has been public policy for decades, and it has been supported by three arguments:

2.1.1: Cyclists are not capable of obeying the normal rules of the road, and therefore are endangered if they don't stay at the edge of the roadway.

This is an assertion based on the notion that cyclists are young children, who are assumed to be safe only if they stay at the edge of the roadway. Both parts are false. Most roadway cyclists are not young children, but are sufficiently old to obey the normal rules of the road.

Furthermore, roadway cycling safety requires that cyclists often operate away from the edge of the roadway, so that those who do not know how to do this safely are endangered. Cyclists need to be trained to operate properly.

2.1.2: Having cyclists operate at the edge of the roadway keeps them safe from fast traffic.

This argument assumes that fast motorists will always leave sufficient room at the edge of the roadway to accommodate bicycle traffic, which is false, and it exonerates motorists who are so careless that they drive right into slower vehicles, which is seriously unlawful behavior.

2.1.3: Having cyclists operate at the edge of the roadway, despite the exceptions for safety, will produce less delay to motorists than allowing cyclists to operate as drivers of vehicles.

This argument is very weak. The only condition in which the cyclist's lateral position on the roadway might be changed to allow a motorist, who has no other safe choice than to stay behind the cyclist, or overtake within the lane, is if the cyclist is using a lane that is wider than standard.

If the lane is standard-width or narrow, which is the typical case, the cyclist can do nothing to make safe overtaking possible within that lane. Only if the cyclist is operating in a wide outside lane, might there be adequate width for safe overtaking.

Only in the limited case when there is adequate width in the outside lane for safe overtaking, does the FTR law require that the cyclist stay far right to facilitate overtaking by faster traffic. That is all the advantage that the FTR law can provide.

2.2: The FTR case has been public policy for decades, and it has produced the following ill effects:

2.2.1: The common public belief that staying at the edge of the roadway is both necessary and sufficient for cyclist safety even persuades cyclists that they should not leave the edge of the roadway and, therefore, would not benefit from better knowledge and skill in operating according to the rules of the road.

2.2.2: Motorists falsely believe that there is always room for cyclists to move aside safely, simply because the FTR law says that there is.

2.2.3:Some motorists believe that the FTR law expresses the right of motorists to always travel faster than bicycles, that bicycle traffic is prohibited from slowing down motor traffic.

1: The slow vehicle law case has been public policy for decades for all drivers except bicyclists.

1.1: The SVL has worked satisfactorily without ill effects.

1.1.1: The slow vehicle law has worked satisfactorily, for it has not had to be modified in decades. There is no reason why it would not work as well if applied to cyclists.

1.1.2: The slow vehicle law provides the same opportunities for motorists to overtake cyclists as does the FTR law, as argued in 2.1.3. There would be no difference when either law is applied reasonably.

1.1.3: The slow vehicle law, being applicable to drivers of all vehicles, has to be administered and enforced in the way that is applicable to all drivers. Enforcement according to the views of 2.1.1, 2.1.2, and 2.1.3, which apply only to bicycle traffic (even if not true) would be found unacceptable by the courts.

1.2: The SVL would not produce the following ill effects.

1.2.1: The SVL could not be interpreted as protecting children and the elderly.

1.2.2: The SVL could not be interpreted as demonstrating the superiority of motorists over cyclists.

In the light of the preceding discussion, there are two issues.

3: The FTR law is based on, and allows the expression of, and encourages the behavior in accordance with, views that are both false and socially undesirable.

3.1: People who ride bicycles are not capable of operating lawfully and therefore should be limited as much as possible.

3.2: People who ride bicycles are much less important than people who drive automobiles, and therefore should demonstrate their subservience by keeping out of the way.

3.3: Expression of either of these views increases the danger of bicycling, by persuading cyclists to act incompetently and by encouraging motorists to act aggressively.The only operating issue between the FTR and the SVL laws concerns operation in wide outside lanes. In all other circumstances, safety demands operation according to the other rules of the road for drivers of vehicles.

Therefore, the only real issue concerns who or what determines the safety of lane-sharing in wide outside lanes. The FTR law declares that it is always safe to share wide outside lanes. (Unless the cyclist can demonstrate, after the fact and to others, that it would have been dangerous.) The SVL law leaves it up to the cyclist to determine whether lane-sharing would be safe and, then, whether courtesy suggests that the cyclist move over.

Clearly, the FTR law encourages the oppression of cyclists by people with both little knowledge of the fact and other contrary interests.

Equally clearly, the SVL law is based on determination of the facts by the person in the best situation to know them (the cyclist is naturally in the best position to determine the relative safety of different paths on the roadway) and the application of normal courtesy by that person.

Which is most desirable, discriminatory oppression or safe courtesy?--

John Forester, MS,

PEBicycle Transportation Engineer
7585 Church St. Lemon Grove
CA 91945-2306
www.johnforester. com

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