Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Major Step In Austin!

Congratulations to the City of Austin - on Thursday, October 22, 2009,
Austin became the first city in the State of Texas to adopt a Safe Passing
ordinance! This means that Safe Passing will now be the law of the land in
Austin, TX.

Thanks to the Austin City Council, especially Mayor Lee Leffingwell and
Councilmembers Mike Martinez and Chris Riley, and city staff for working with
BikeTexas to make this a reality.

This is a major step, but it is only the beginning. BikeTexas intends to
work hard to duplicate this success in cities and towns all over the state
before the next legislative session.

So trumpets the Texas Bicycle Coalition. (TBC) With such wonderful successes, TBC is in danger of becoming irrelevant, because what they define as a success looks exactly the same as what went on before!

I know it is fashionable lately to pass laws without reading the actual text of the legislation, but words do matter. The devil, they say, is in the details.

Into the weeds

The city ordinance reads:

PART 1. Section 12-1-35 of the City Code is amended to read:
In this section, a Vulnerable Road User means:
a pedestrian, including a runner, physically disabled person, child, skater, highway construction and maintenance worker, tow truck operator, utility worker, other worker with legitimate business in or near the road or right-of-way, or stranded motorist or passenger;
(2) a person on horseback;
(3) a person operating equipment other than a motor vehicle, including, but not limited to, a bicycle, handcycle, horse-driven conveyance, or unprotected farm equipment; or
(4) a person operating a motorcycle, moped, motor-driven cycle, or motor-assisted scooter.
An operator of a motor vehicle passing a vulnerable road user operating on a highway or street shall:
(1) vacate the lane in which the vulnerable road user is located if the highway has two or more marked lanes running in the same direction; or
(2) pass the vulnerable road user at a safe distance.
(c) For the purpose of Subsection (b)(2), when road conditions allow, safe distance is at least:
(1) three feet if the operator’s vehicle is a passenger car or light truck; or
(2) six feet if the operator’s vehicle is a truck, other than a light truck, or a commercial motor vehicle as defined by Texas Transportation Code Section 522.003.
(d) An operator of a motor vehicle that is making a left turn at an intersection, including an intersection with an alley or private road or driveway, shall yield the right-of-way to a vulnerable road user who is approaching from the opposite direction and is in the intersection, or is in such proximity to the intersection as to be an immediate hazard.
(e) An operator of a motor vehicle may not overtake a vulnerable road user traveling in the same direction and subsequently make a right-hand turn in front of the vulnerable road user unless the operator is safely clear of the vulnerable road user, taking into account the speed at which the vulnerable road user is traveling and the braking requirements of the motor vehicle making the right-hand turn.
(f) An operator of a motor vehicle may not maneuver the vehicle in a manner that:
(1) is intended to cause intimidation or harassment to a vulnerable road user; or
(2) threatens a vulnerable road user.
(g) An operator of a motor vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any vulnerable road user on a roadway or in an intersection of roadways.
(h) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under this section that at the time of the offense the vulnerable road user was acting in violation of the law.

Well, it could've been worse! They could've repeated every section of the Texas Transportation Code! (TTC) They relented and only repeated some of them.

Even deeper into the weeds- comparing the new to the old

(b)(1) An operator of a motor vehicle passing a vulnerable road user operating on a highway or street shall: (1) vacate the lane in which the vulnerable road user is located if the highway has two or more marked lanes running in the same direction.

This is covered in the TTC by 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 (2) may not move from the lane unless that movement can be made safely. and by 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.

(b)(2)An operator of a motor vehicle passing a vulnerable road user operating on a highway or street shall: pass the vulnerable road user at a safe distance.

This is amply covered in the TTC this way: Sec. 545.053. (a) An operator passing another vehicle: (1) shall pass to the left of the other vehicle at a safe distance; and (2) may not move back to the right side of the roadway until safely clear of the passed vehicle.

(d) An operator of a motor vehicle that is making a left turn at an intersection, including an intersection with an alley or private road or driveway, shall yield the right-of-way to a vulnerable road user who is approaching from the opposite direction and is in the intersection, or is in such proximity to the intersection as to be an immediate hazard.

How is this any different from the TTC? From Sec. 545.152. To turn left at an intersection or into an alley or private road or driveway, an operator shall yield the right-of-way to a vehicle that is approaching from the opposite direction and that is in the intersection or in such proximity to the intersection as to be an immediate hazard.

Oh, it changes the word "vehicle" to vulnerable road user. But bicycles ARE vehicles in the TTC, [*] and it is a violation of the TTC to strike pedestrians on the roadway as seen in 545.351. (b)(2) above.

(e) An operator of a motor vehicle may not overtake a vulnerable road user traveling in the same direction and subsequently make a right-hand turn in front of the vulnerable road user unless the operator is safely clear of the vulnerable road user, taking into account the speed at which the vulnerable road user is traveling and the braking requirements of the motor vehicle making the right-hand turn.

This provision, besides being overly wordy, is also redundant. Sec. 545.103. An operator may not turn the vehicle to enter a private road or driveway, otherwise turn the vehicle from a direct course, or move right or left on a roadway unless movement can be made safely. The biggest difference is that Austin's law applies exclusively to motor vehicles, but the TTC applies to all vehicles. Is that really a difference that matters?

(f) An operator of a motor vehicle may not maneuver the vehicle in a manner that: (1) is intended to cause intimidation or harassment to a vulnerable road user; or (2) threatens a vulnerable road user.

I am glad that these behaviors are now prohibited in Austin! But if they were already illegal, why was this language included in the ordinance? Does this give license to pedestrians and roller-skaters to intimidate or harass others? Or are motorists the only citizens in Austin that are restricted from being a bully?

(g) An operator of a motor vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any vulnerable road user on a roadway or in an intersection of roadways.

As before, Sec. 545.351. (b)(2)

What to make of all this

All of these provisions found in the TTC are available to protect cyclists in every city in Texas right now. The question really is, in the light of the above comparisons, why are our advocates spending time, energy and treasure in passing laws that mirror those already present but are not being enforced? Is this really the path to better cycling conditions on Texas roads?

So if the TBC is doing what is obviously not going to do anything meaningful for Texas cyclists, why are they doing it? Who benefits? Aside from TBC doing make-work and calling it a "major step" in order to spice up their fund-raising literature, what have they achieved of lasting benefit for Austin cyclists? I accuse the TBC of doing nothing of substance for those they claim to represent with such useless laws.

We need better advocates.

We need advocates that demand that the traffic laws already on the books be enforced by local police before writing and passing redundant legislation.

We need advocates that demand local district attorneys uphold all of the laws, as is their duty.

We need advocates that demand judges follow the law, as is also their sworn duty.

We need advocates that will work for cyclist's equality under the law. Now that Austin cyclist's ability to recover damages is contingent on their ability to demonstrate they were operating lawfully, (Paragraph h) will the TBC work to have bicycle traffic laws enforced too? Or does the TBC have no more responsibility for their actions once the laws they shepherd through legislative bodies are passed?

We need advocates that are willing to do the hard work of building broad-based and inclusive coalitions to change our
social acceptance of inattentive driving. We are all stake-holders in a more civil public road, even if we are automobile drivers only. Besides the obvious economic benefits of fewer wrecks as expressed in property damage, broken bodies and broken lives, there would be more resources available for progress rather than just cleaning up the mess. Car insurance costs would decline. Less treasure and talent used in emergency rooms patching up the injured can mean more resources available for the sick. More faces around the dinner table.

We need bicycle advocates that address the root problem. We need advocates that can dream big dreams. We need advocates who understand that our streets are for people- all the people- and see that making our streets better for all of us make it better for cyclists too.

We need advocates who want to do big things. To make changes that will matter.

The Texas Bicycle Coalition thinks this new ordinance in Austin is a major step.

How pitiful our advocates are!

*The TTC defines a bicycle as: Sec. 541.201. (2) "Bicycle" means a device that a person may ride and that is propelled by human power and has two tandem wheels at least one of which is more than 14 inches in diameter. 

This is a subset of the larger category of "vehicle: Sec. 541.201. (23) "Vehicle" means a device that can be used to transport or draw persons or property on a highway.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Utah's Bleak Finances Are Even Worse Than Previously Thought

What is a state government to do when it is facing revenues that are sixteen percent less than they had projected three months ago- and those projections supposedly factored in the Great Recession we are enduring?

Consider the words from this article:

Salt Lake County's mayor is now asking for a $13.4 million property tax increase, despite nixing a similar proposal from the county council months ago.

Peter Corroon said the county simply can't cut anymore after trimming jobs, wages, 401(k) contributions, open days at county outdoor pools and Sundays at 10 county recreation centers.

"At some point you have to say there are things we won't sacrifice," Corroon told KSL Newsradio in an interview Wednesday. "I said I won't sacrifice public safety and I won't sacrifice programs for our seniors and our children, so that's where we drew the line."

The 2010 budget would provide for the operation of the newly reopened Oxbow Jail and the Salt Lake County Fair.

Corroon said Salt lake County is now "in the eye of the storm" when it comes to the economic downturn. The 2009 county budget was $801 million. The proposed 2010 budget stands at $638 million.

If you were expecting some new bicycle facilities to be built for you in Salt Lake County, do you think they would've survived the one hundred sixty three million dollar budget cut? Yeah, I don't either.

More locally:

Texans continue to spend and buy less, as the state reported a 12.5 percent drop in sales tax revenue in September.
The decrease matches August’s decline, the largest this year.
The state comptroller’s office announced Friday (October 9, 2009) that it collected $1.47 billion in sales tax in September, compared with $1.68 billion in September 2008. The collections are for sales made in August.

Note, Texans enjoy being relieved of any state income tax.

One theme I have noticed in all of the news is a continued mantra that the bottom is in, we will be up and out next year. I believe this is wishful thinking in the face of contrary evidence.

It was reported today that last week alone, there were more than half a million folks who lost their jobs. The four week average of new job losses is more than five hundred thousand pink slips handed out each week.

The government hands out a report today that trumpets the economy grew last quarter, but the internal data shows that disposable personal income decreased in real terms quarter over quarter by 7.4%! That is an enormous swing in purchasing power and not in the right direction.

Other claims of new housing starts and exports in the report seem to be false as corroborating data (Sales at Home Depot and Lowe's, and truck/train freight and port activity show no corresponding improvement.) cannot be found. Swings of twenty percent quarter over quarter seem implausible as well.
The American consumer is in hibernation, and I do not yet see any sign of spring. There is way too much of everything in the economy except for debt.

This elected officials are hearing the siren song of the headlines and subsequently engaging in hopeful denial. They hope that if they can hunker down the revenue stream will improve and they can avoid the painful choices that must be faced. The truth is, they will not be able to to put it off any longer.

Houston is bankrupt. That city is broke. They will never be able to pay all of their obligations. They now have no alternative to bankruptcy court to unload them. Each Houston citizen owes five thousand three hundred thirty eight dollars. For comparison, each California resident owes two thousand five hundred twenty eight dollars each. (Their financial peril is somewhat different, as states have no recourse to bankruptcy court.)

In fact, municipal budgets throughout this country are so strained by pension obligations alone, they may not even be able to fund infrastructure maintenance projects like filling potholes. (Not that anyone would notice a decrease in service!)

So if painting lines on the streets, painting sharrows in the door zone or paving long narrow recreational playgrounds is what you are advocating for, how can you do to remain relevant in this environment?

May I make a few suggestions? Work to make traffic laws equitable for all vehicles on the public way. Get rid of far-to-right laws and discriminatory mandatory bike lane laws. Either repeal mandatory helmet laws or make them mandatory for all who operate any kind of vehicle on the road.

Demand that the laws that already exist be enforced. In Texas, the due care clause of the maximum speed statute. (Sec. 545.351) Enforcement of illegal lane position by motor vehicles. (Sec. 545.060) The safe passing law already on the books. (Sec. 545.053[a][2]) Demand accountability from our police, district attorneys and judges for failing to perform their sworn duty to uphold these laws. And yes, demand enforcement of scofflaw cycling behavior. [*]

In these difficult times, can we do nothing about the daily carnage on our streets? Can we not form coalitions with interested parties to change the general incivility on the roadway? What civic group is so callous as to not be a part of such a movement? What insurance company likes paying so many claims? What medical or religious group would back away from such an effort that would benefit everyone in out community? Don't lobby the legislators, start a media campaign!

Bribe the new cyclists on the streets with gifts like lights or helmets for attending bicycle skills seminars. A skilled newbie is more likely to enjoy cycling and stick with it. More butts on bikes and all that.

Or maybe you have even better ideas! Good, because the old way of asking for special treatment and infrastructure won't advance anything for a while.

* I find it astonishing that so-called advocates think that asking for crackdowns on the most dangerous behaviors on public street by cyclists is bad form. I thought you were the ones who really cared about your constituents well being!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Interactive Blogging II

A note to my readers: This blog entry has nothing to do with cycling. I do not foresee this blog wandering off of the bicycle road (As it were) on a regular basis. We will return to regular programming momentarily.

Where this conversation stands now. Feel free to jump in!

I started it out this way:

I took a walk the other day with my dog, Shawlee, and I came across this unusual sight. In fact, I had walked away from it when I began to wonder about it.

So I turned back and took a few pictures of it.

How did this happen? We had many hunters in the area while dove season was open, and we will have more again for duck season. Perhaps the ejected shotgun shell fell in such a way as to land on the tip of the branch, unnoticed by the distracted hunter. Pure chance.

Could this plant have grown from a sprout with this shotgun shell atop it, raising it ever higher as the plant grew? Pure chance.

What do you, my beloved readers think? What is the most likely scenario what explains how this came to be? My favorite theories presented here, or something altogether different?

Rantwick: "I like your theories much better than mine. Somebody found that rusty casing on the ground and jammed it on the branch just for the heck of it."

"Not being a romantic like ChipSeal, my theory is a hunter set it on the branch, meaning to put the spent shell back in his pocket. Distracted, he walked away - and there it will remain until a strong wind blows it off.

Or perhaps it was left there as a sign to us, by the Little Lame Prince, that he's still well."

Big Oak: : "I like the theory of the little seedling growing and lifting the expelled shell - further evidence that human's influence on the landscape is only temporary. But alas, that would not be at all possible since the origin of growth for woody plants would not survive very long being covered up as it is.

Some kid put the shell on the branch. However, this is your blog, and you, and only you, have the right to say which reason is which!"

ChipSeal: "Isn't it interesting that your minds immediately turn to purposeful actions by a sentient being as to having caused this simple phenomenon?

But if we exclude the possibility of a purposeful act, what is the best explanation for this shotgun shell being on the end of a twig?

For such a simple thing, isn't chance a reasonable way to explain how this could have happened?"

Friday, October 23, 2009

BABBLE Trip Report

I have either cleverly waited to see what the other bloggers would say about BABBLE so I could have a unique take on the event, or I have been lazy and slow to get around to it.

It seems I had an earlier start for the event than most of the participants. I rolled out of my rack at four thirty in the morning with the aim of getting on the road at five thirty. I wanted to get to the nearest DART station to board the seven forty nine departure time to be sure I made the connection onto the TRE. Two hours and ten minutes ought to be sufficient to traverse the twenty five mile distance even if most of it would be in the dark.

It has been cloudy at night for the past ten days or so, and I was unsure which phase the moon was in. Alas, no moonlight to speak of. This lack of light led me to my first mishap.

It has been wet in this part of the world, so wet that standing water remains even today after five days of warm nice weather. The area between my doorstep and the driveway is a spongy, muddy mess. There is a "path" that will allow one to traverse it, even at the high water stage without filling ones shoes with water. But it is not a straightforward path. In addition, it was cold that morning, around 55 degrees. (It will be even colder soon, but it has been in the low eighties in the mornings until this month. We are all scrambling around trying to remember what clothing we are comfortable wearing in these temperatures. March seems so long ago...)

Because I don't want to pack my cleats with mud, I wear sneakers to cross the lawn and change into my cycling shoes on the driveway. In a lapse of judgment, I chose to carry my stuff outside without bringing a flashlight. I did not stay on the high ground very well! So it's back to the house to grab a towel to dry my feet before I put on my shoes and socks out on the driveway.

I hit the road late, closer to six than I would've liked. It is so dark I adjust my route on the fly, choosing a longer route, but one that avoids smaller secondary roads. I will be riding faster in the dark than I had planned, and I am worried about potholes.

It is daylight when I reach the Ledbetter DART station, and it is warmer, I am over-dressed. That gets fixed on the way to the TRE connection on the DART train.

On the platform of the TRE, I see four other cyclists boarding the train, and I join them- they look like they know what they are doing. At this point, even Keri has more experience riding the TRE than I do! It turns out this is the first TRE experience for all of us.

I am dismayed to find out that these three fixed gear cyclists are going to Fort Worth to join the BABBLE ride. I have visions of a critical mass style mob. Every one knows the fixed gear crowd is just a bunch of anarchists, right? If there are four of them on my train car, how many more will be showing up via different transportation?

I decide to make the best of it, and put my best foot forward.

This is Eric, who was egregious and generous.

This is Nate on the left and Alicia on the right. Their other companion wished to remain an enigma.

We got along quite well. I would later learn that they are advocates of vehicular cycling! Zounds! As the day progressed, I was very impressed at their bike handling skills and traffic judgment. I would be proud to ride anywhere with any of them. They are accomplished ambassadors for our sport.

The rail car was nearly empty save for the five of us, but all the train stations were crowded with football fans going the other direction.

When we exited the train, there are other cyclists getting off. I don't recognize any of cyclists, but I do recognize Frankenbike!

At the meet-up, we all basically do two things, take pictures and drool. As I look through my photos, I discover to my horror that I have taken picture after picture of the back of peoples heads. I imagine I am taking great photographs like Christopher does. Sigh. Believe it or not, these are the best I have, there are loads more that are even worse!

Once again, Christopher is out of step from the crowd! (He's the chap who's face you can see.) As you can see with this next shot, I am a genius for not getting ANY faces in the picture!

To the right is Richard, and with his back to me is Steve and Frankenbike. By looking at shadows you can see that I positioned the shot perfectly to completely obscure Christopher! Sigh.

Maybe if I move around I will get some faces...

While the adults were drooling, Rose waited patiently for her ride to start. "Giddy-up Daddy!"

Here is Rose and her father Ray, as Rose wonders what it would be like to sit on the trike.

Just around the corner from Colonel's Bicycles there was another football game scheduled, TCU and Colorado. I spotted this pedestrian, who goes by the name of Alexander, and he granted me permission to take his photograph and use his name on-line. Curiously, he is the only one in this post that has given me permission... Lady and Gentlemen, call your lawyers!

As I stopped to get Alexander's photo, the ride continued on without me, which didn't alarm me. there were fifteen of them (Counting Rose) and they were going at a moderate conversational pace. I'd have no difficulty catching up.

I sprinted up to the next signalized intersection I saw them at, and I expected to see them just up the way. No one in sight! So I start off up the street in the overall direction the ride had been heading and put my head on a swivel. How far could they have gone? I didn't tarry for long with Alexander!

Well, it turns out that Colonel's Bicycles was just around the next corner, and looking over my right shoulder I spot them them milling about parking their bikes as proceed through the intersection. So now I am riding away from the group in heavy traffic. (The TCU vs. Colorado game!) So I turn right into the gasoline station on the corner thinking I can cross the street at the other entrance to join them across the street.

There is a solid line of cars queued up for the light, and I realize I will have to go around behind them- even though they are backed up more than halfway up the block- did I mention there was a football game nearby? So I swallow hard and -Steve, Paul, Herman, Keri, I hope you are sitting down!- I ride the wrong way down the sidewalk! (ChipSeal blushes with the memory of it!) I reach the end of the line of cars and pull into the street behind them, and only then realize that there is a median curb there!

So I line up in the left lane intending to make a u-turn at the signal and then ride back to the Bike shop and the group about mid-block. I spot a sign as I am approaching the intersection that prohibits u-turns! Jeepers! Changing plans again on the fly, I execute a left turn (No Steve, I did not signal) proceed down the road to where I can make a safe u-turn so I can get back to the group. A tiny unnoticed drama, and I out myself on-line!

In this photograph, I manage two profiles and one face shot out of six people in the photograph. Really, I am pathetic at this! The ride paused here because the planned route included a very steep downgrade. It didn't seem that it was wise to route fixed gear folks and folks who had rod brakes down such a steep hill. We were all enjoying each others company so much, we hardly seemed to notice the pause.

We continued on down the Trinity multiple use trail (MUP). This was the most uncomfortable part of the ride for me. There were a few of the blind corners that seem to be so common for these sub-standard facilities. I was surprised at how many cyclists bomb down them at top speed. Taking the lane on hwy 287 seems safer to me than this narrow bi-directional MUP.

I had to devote far more attention to where I was positioned on the narrow path and oncoming traffic while on the MUP then when we were on the public streets. Not only is the MUP narrow for bi-directional travel, especially with club cyclists hammering toward each other with closing speeds of more than forty MPH. In many places there is a lip, or drop-off, that presents a "high penalty for failure" risk if one should wander off the edge. On the streets there are rules and far more space. (And perhaps, traveling on public streets is so familiar to me and the MUP unfamiliar, perhaps much of the work of being aware of hazards on the roadway are being performed on a more sub-conscience level for me.) I don't find MUPs relaxing at all.

I did manage to to have a sporadic conversation with Myles on the MUP, and it was good to get to know him.

At the restaurant, we were joined by Chandra at last, and and a few of the group chose to end their participation in the event then. There was plenty of bicycle parking due to a wide raised walkway with railing in front of the building. In spite of bicycles locked two deep along the railing, there was plenty of room for three deep pedestrian traffic. I chose to leave my lock at home, and relied on the generosity of Steve to share his lock. I was not careful to note who else shared with whom, but Steve and I were not the only ones who were sharing locks. This was a generous group indeed!

Inside jokes were shared all day, and finding Chandra's bike locked at the railing generated a memorable one. Steve and I were tempted to go through Chandra's handlebar bag as soon as we noted he did not have his "keep out" sign displayed! And of coarse we poked fun at Rantwick- proving that our group is not limited by geography or even international borders.

Of the many pictures I took in the restaurant, these two are the only ones that are salvageable. In the bottom photo, that is (Right to left) Chandra, Steve, Myles, and Paul. I have six more photos of this end of the table, taken while I held the camera extended over the center of the table at arms length, and ALL of them caught Myles in some sort of head movement that completely blurred his features. I'm sorry Myles, but this is the best of the bunch!

I would like to point out that I had inadvertently caught Steve making the the only blog post that was posted during the event! That is him doing the deed! Some of us are dedicated bloggers, but none of us hold a candle to Steve!

As the meal broke up, Steve offered to give a personal sightseeing tour of downtown DFW, and Candra and I eagerly accepted. We were full on ready to do the tourist thing! So after a bit, as the group made a right on their way to the Water Gardens, the three of us peeled out of the group, surprising Eric, who did a great job of avoiding conflict with me. Thanks for yielding for me Eric!

Now for someone who is a snow skier from Seattle, Steve sure knows plenty about Fort Worth! (I suppose he could've made all his narrative up on the spot!) That was great Steve, thanks!

We met up at the Water Gardens with the remaining remnants of the group, most of whom were making plans to further enjoy Fort Worth. Steve, Chandra and I rode back to the TRE station to head home on the same train, each of us getting off at different stops.

The wind that day was six to eight MPH from the north. Great for me on my way home from Dallas going south, but even more work for Christopher on his trip back to Sanger. Between waiting for connections with DART and a stop for liquid refreshment (Diet soda at a Taco Bell) I rolled onto my driveway just before sundown.

A more dissimilar group would be difficult to arrange. Each of us had a unique expression of the sport of cycling. We were all interested in each others style, without judgment. There were no hidden advocacy agendas. We weren't riding to protest lack of facilities or or the dominance of cars. We came to share time with others who love riding bicycles. To put a face and voice to the bloggers we have in our favorites folder. To see the smile we perceive in the words they post.

We had a lot of common ground before we met, and more now that we have parted.

Each of us knows, in our own unique way, that it is the journey that is as important as the destination. And we find joy in journey.

A journey made sweeter with the companionship of new friends.

Friday, October 9, 2009

What Rantwick Said!

I find it hard to believe that anyone who sees my blog would be unfamiliar with that eclectic Canadian bicycle blogging genius known as Rantwick. His blogs are always a good read, even when he is only talking about automobiles. In fact, he can make not having anything to say interesting!

He once
said; "Just give me smooth pavement, and I'll be happy to do the rest regarding my safety and access."

Amen, brother!

Around here, some roads are so bad, local governments go out of their way to deny responsibility for them.

Here is a case in point. Prachyl Road is so poorly maintained, it is now a hodge-podge of nearly interconnected filled in potholes. If you were to remove all of the "fixed" potholes, there would scarcely be any road at all!

The surface here resembles cobblestones, but without the uniformity afforded by them. It is a disgrace to whichever road department that thinks this is an acceptable level of maintenance for the long-suffering taxpayers of Ennis. Ellis county is officially denying any responsibility, and they have even put up a sign to make sure you know!

In the photos above, I took them from the same spot but pointing the camera in the opposite direction.

Operators of automobiles are often annoyed that they are not able to proceed at their desired speed on the main roads. They have told me to use more of the secondary roads to make their trips more pleasant.

The answer, of course is the same as this one posed to the motorists; "why don't you use those secondary roads?" Cyclists prefer the busy main roads for the same reason motorists do.

Secondary roads are not as direct between popular areas as the main roads are.

Secondary roads are poorly maintained, as local governments siphon away dollars dedicated to maintenance for other things.

Secondary roads have more stop signs and uncontrolled intersections and junctions. Often with an extra helping of poor sight lines to boot. They have lower speed limits for a reason.

You want me to ride off of the main roads? Make them more attractive to cyclists then.

I am not asking for special lanes and infrastructure. I am simply asking for better roads. I won't even mind if you use them too!


Last Saturday, while on the way into town, a came upon a Salmon cyclist traveling in the same direction I was traveling.

This fellow fit a common stereotype, which I shall describe, but I really do not know his actual circumstances. He was Hispanic, riding a cruiser style bicycle, and he was wearing street clothes. His seat was properly positioned, and his rear wheel had slight wobble.

Now I ride a high-end fancy racer style bicycle. I wear Lycra bicycle specific clothing. I was wearing a helmet. I should have been a snob and zipped by him without even a glance in his direction. (That's how it is done, isn't it?)

But then all the stereotypes fail.

I shout, but in a pleasant tone; "Hello! You should be riding over here." I point to my side of the street. I am riding about six feet from the curb.

It seems to take a moment for him to understand. I am slowing down and I am slightly ahead of him.

"Over there?" he asks.

"Yes, with traffic, it's safer."

To my surprise, he swings across the street to my side of the street, and he says "Thank you!"


I have a stop sign, and he is close behind me. I put my foot down to wait for him.

I try again to explain that it is for safety, and to follow the law. I do not know how much of that he understood, he would only say"Over here?" and thank you three or four more times.

So I continued on ahead, paying close attention to demonstrate best practices. I hope he will ride on the correct side of the road long enough to prefer it. If so, it will be better for him and our whole community.

This is the first time in my experience that an appeal to ride correctly was not received with hostility. It was quite a surprise, and gratifying as well.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

And Now, For Something Completely Different...

Some time in August, I noticed some strange paint on the road attached to my driveway.

Markings on the road are strictly regulated, lest traffic control devices become confused and non-standard. Uniformity across regions enhances public safety.

These curious marks appeared about every one hundred feet from the north end of FM 1722 to the bridge across Lake Clark. Surveying stakes and cryptic messages appeared at various spots. Something was afoot!

So one day, I spotted a survey crew doing what surveyors do, and I stopped to ask them what the project was. They said that it was the first step for adding shoulders to the roadway. Well now!

I took their pictures with their permission, but alas, those photos are trapped on my crashed hard drive. (I mention this not to whine, but for the opportunity to use "alas" in a sentence.)

So I ask myself, "Self, why would they want to put an improved shoulder on this road?"

One purpose of an improved shoulder is to protect the roadbed from eroding. An extra two to three feet of pavement beyond the normal travel lane will reduce the frequency of requiring repairs. Could this be the reason shoulders are being considered for this road?

As you can see, there is evidence that a shoulder would be helpful on this road to preserve the integrity of the travel lanes.

In conversation with one of my neighbors, they reckoned it was because of the four or five drive-off wrecks that occurred in the past few years. I know for certain that two of them were a result of DUI and another involved a teenage driver. There has been considerable evidence of automobiles leaving the roadway without wrecking as well.

So the theory they propose is that shoulders are needed to make it easier for incompetent drivers to stay out of the ditches. I hope this is not the motivation to add shoulder to this road. We need to get incompetent drivers off the road, not further along it. We need to expect that automobiles be steered with at least enough skill that the vehicle stays within its lane. It is expensive and wrong to accommodate the incompetent.

As a society, we have the wrong attitude about near-misses. When we drop a tire off the edge of the road, when we just miss side-swiping another vehicle, when we inadvertently swerve into the oncoming lane, these should be warning flags. We should see them as a bright red sign that we have a skill deficit that needs to be addressed.

Also, we ought to be ashamed.

We should pride ourselves in the skillful and safe handling of an automobile.

We should scorn those around us who fail to demonstrate such skill. We should despise those who fail in their duty to exercises due care. Those who have poor driving ability and poor judgment, why do we tolerate it? If we make the roads safer for them, will the roads be safer for us?

An awful lot of people have died this year in automobile wrecks. More than an awful lot of people have been injured in automobile wrecks. The amount of property damage inflicted by automobile wrecks is greater still.

We have tried to make our roads idiot proof. How high must the cost be before we admit that idea is a failure?

We need to look in a mirror. We need to prize superior driving ability in ourselves. We need to stop seeking a hardware solution (Safer roads, cars and devices.) for a software problem. (That stuff between the ears.) We need to have the courage to face the ugly truth: It is not the roads that are dangerous, it is us.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

It Is More Important To Me Than to Them

SteveA says this is my advantage in getting my ticket resolved in my favor. Passion.

I stopped in at the Ennis Police Station see what the procedure is for getting clarification as to the Texas Transportation Code (TTC) statute that I have been accused of violating. It is hard to tell, because there is no "impeding traffic" section in the TTC.

I spoke with a Ennis Police Department (EPD) officer who was also exemplary in his demeanor. After he explained what steps I had to take next, he indulged me with a wide ranging conversation on police work, the law, some of the forces that affect an individual officers discretion in enforcing the law, police priorities and such.

He demonstrated good professionalism by being careful not to imply advice for my particular situation, and he and I avoided talking about Officer Watson's conduct, other than my making it clear that I was impressed by his low-key non-confrontational style. (I was complimentary about Officer Watson.)

I was disheartened by some comments made by this officer. I have had very few hassles from police in all of my Texas travels on two-wheels. I had thought this was due to the clear simplicity of Texas law. Texas has codified one of the least restrictive bicycle laws in the nation. It is something all Texas cyclists should be grateful for. (It would no doubt be better with the far-to-right language removed.) Cyclists enjoy unusual liberty in Texas.

When I tried to express how police priorities place traffic flow issues above safety, and it would be in EPD's best long term interests to crack down on scofflaw cycling, he told me that the community and officers feel that enforcing bicycle law was "harassment" and lead to many formal complaints. (Every formal complaint must be investigated, documented, and adjudicated, eating up a tremendous amount of resources and man hours.)

And then, when speaking about operating a bicycle on public streets, it became clear that none of them think a bicycle should be on any public street. He insisted that bicycles, for example, must ride on the shoulder of the road, "just like slow cars are required to" to avoid impeding traffic. Sigh.

As I will show below, this is an understanding from our speed dominant car-centric culture, not something derived from the TTC. The idea of public roads accommodating none-motorized traffic is crazy-talk. When they think of road use, they are thinking in terms of private automobiles equals public use. I guess they don't remember how "traffic" is defined in the TTC: "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."

When someone is riding their bicycle on a public road, they are traffic. They are in fact "normal and reasonable" traffic.

So if his perspective is true, I would be hassled at every turn except for the the low priority placed on enforcing bicycle law! I thought it was because I work so hard at riding in a lawful manner.

The TTC has a lot to say about driving and riding on the shoulder, but it nowhere requires using it, and it most certainly discourages it's use.

First, some definitions.

"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. Sec. 541.302. (5)  
"Improved shoulder" means a paved shoulder. Sec. 541.302.(6)
"Laned roadway" means a roadway that is divided into at least two clearly marked lanes for vehicular travel. Sec.541.302.(7) 
"Roadway" means the portion of a highway, other than the berm or shoulder, that is improved, designed, or ordinarily used for vehicular travel. If a highway includes at least two separate roadways, the term applies to each roadway separately. Sec. 541.302.(11) 
"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 not intended for normal vehicular travel. Sec. 541.302.(15) 

Naturally, because politicians wrote it, it is a little confusing. Their definition for "highway" appears to include the entire right-of-way from fence-line to fence-line. The definitions for "roadway" "laned roadway" and "shoulder" clearly state that shoulders are not intended to be used as travel lanes.


(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.

(b)  An operator may drive on an improved shoulder to the left of the main traveled portion of a divided or limited-access or controlled-access highway if that operation may be done safely, but only:
(1)  to slow or stop when the vehicle is disabled and traffic or other circumstances prohibit the safe movement of the vehicle to the shoulder to the right of the main traveled portion of the roadway;
(2)  as permitted or required by an official traffic-control device; or
(3)  to avoid a collision.

(c)  A limitation in this section on driving on an improved shoulder does not apply to:
(1)  an authorized emergency vehicle responding to a call;
(2)  a police patrol; or
(3)  a bicycle.    

There are three portions to this law: What circumstances allow travel on the shoulder to the right, (7 of them) what circumstances allow driving on the left shoulder, (Two repeats and one new one) and the vehicles that are not bound by this law.

Now the statement made separately by two EPD officers was that "slow moving vehicles must use the shoulder" to allow faster traffic to overtake them in a more convenient way. Is that what the statute says?

It does no such thing! In fact, even beyond the obvious permissive word of "may" rather than the compulsory word of "shall", it sets up a host of conditions that, to my mind, would be unusual enough to make driving on the shoulder legally quite rare.

The twin pre-conditions of necessity and the ability to do the maneuver in a safe manner that have to be present will wipe out most scenarios for doing this that I can imagine. In fact, the necessity clause nullifies the permission to allow faster traffic to overtake you easier! After all, don't those who complain about cyclists riding centered in the lane object on the grounds that it is rude to inconvenience others? No one has ever argued with me that it is a necessity to overtake slower traffic.

So yes, Steve, it is more important to me than it is to them, for it is my liberty to use the public road in a lawful manner that is at stake.

This, as you say, is my advantage.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Nice Meeting You, Officer Watson

That is, if you are officer Watson. More about that later.

It was about 7:30 in the morning, Thursday, and I was traveling west on West Ennis Avenue after negotiating the angled parking area. Because of the dense traffic, I had to wait for a few automobiles to overtake me on the right before I could merge into the right lane. I was then the first person waiting at the light at Gaines Street.

I didn't notice that the car that pulled up next to me was a Ennis City patrol car.

The light turns green and I proceed through the intersection, and I then notice the patrol car because he has accelerated ahead of me. But he is obeying the speed limit, and that causes a larger than usual platoon of cars to form behind us. As we approach Clay Street the patrol car must come to a stop to yield to a vehicle waiting to turn left, and I zoom by him in the right lane. (This fact will be important.)

As West Ennis Avenue continues beyond Clay Street, the road's geometry abruptly changes. Both west-bound lanes make a ten foot jog to the right (In the intersection itself!) to make room for a suicide left turn lane that is created/terminated there. There is also the appearance of a varying width improved shoulder of between four and six feet that extends all the way to Waxahachi. The lane itself is about ten feet wide by my trained observation, but I will update this post with an actual measurement later.

I get about half way down that block before the first automobile overtakes me, and curiously, he honks. (Silly goose!) Then I hear the BLAAK of the police saxon, I do a head check and see flashing red lights behind me. Note to Steve: I moved to the right tire track, checked to see if the officer was on the shoulder, and then pulled onto the shoulder in front of him. I wanted to be sure he was pulling me over, not abusing his authority to get me out of the way.

As the Officer gets out of his patrol car, I put on my blogger journalist cap. I greet the officer with a question; "What time is it?"

He answers conversationally, checking his watch. I would like to note that this officers demeanor and tone was pleasant and un-confrontational through-out. He acted in every way professionally.

He asked me where I was going, and I foolishly answer, because I was so intent on reading his name tag for this post. I say foolish, because my purpose for traveling on that public road was none of his concern. Oh, there it is, above his right pocket, Officer Watson!

He says to me that I am impeding traffic. That back there (He must mean on the other side of Clay Street- he was pointing.) it is a 30 MPH zone and it changes up ahead there to a 45 MPH zone. I am not allowed to impede traffic at the slow speeds I am going.

I tell him it is doubtful that I would be able match the speed of the other traffic. But I am going to travel down the street in the travel lane. He is welcome to give me a ticket for any law he thinks I am breaking.

He says well, OK then. Can I see your drivers license? Any ID? (By Texas law, I am required to give any law enforcement officer my name and current address. I am not required to carry ID. An officer can, if he suspects that I am lying to him, detain me until my identity can be established.) He accepts my health insurance card and debit card, both without photos, as evidence enough, and goes to his patrol car to write the ticket.

I then remember my camera is in my bag, and so I haul it out to document the stop. Smile Officer Watson!

So he comes back and asks me to sign the ticket, and I ask what I am signing.

He says, for impeding traffic. I didn't impede traffic, I protest in a conversational tone.

"No, no", he says, "you are just promising to appear on that date." So I ask him what law I violated, and he blinks in surprise. (He thought he had just told me!) So I asked him what part of the law, could he cite it to me?

I figured he would have to cite the section of the transportation code he was accusing me of breaking in the process of writing the ticket, but apparently not. I am sure he is thinking of sec. 545.363 which applies to motor vehicles, not bicycles. But he missed that opportunity to avoid embarrassment. I tried Officer Watson. I am sure that there are many places in the Texas Transportation Code (TTC) that you know better than I do, but I am confident I know my way around the bicycle parts, and you clearly don't.

So we part ways without rancor, and I resume riding centered in the lane.

So I get home and examine the ticket.

I am again surprised that there is no section of the transportation code cited. Do officers just make up the laws they "enforce" as they go along? In this officer's defense, I think he is sincere in his understanding of the law, just sincerely wrong. He will be educated about it soon, it just would have been less expensive for him if he had a little more humility.

Under the heading "VIOLATIONS" it says "CITATION VIO 1: Impeding Traffic" That is all that it says.

Then I discover another surprise. It says "Issued by SGT PILLOW, Badge#620" Huh? Who is that? Does Sgt. Pillow put someone else's name tag on his uniform? I will have to investigate this.

Then, another surprise! The citation is for impeding traffic in the 300 block of West Ennis Avenue! Hah! How could I have been impeding traffic there, when traffic was passing me on the right?

Alright, some observations. This is an example of traffic flow maximization rather than safety promotion. When I see people on bicycles in town, they are invariably scofflaws. The ones who I see riding lawfully seem to me to just be riding that way by chance- should I observe them five minutes later they would be back to their scofflaw ways. Salmon, sidewalk, parking lot ninja and night ninja behavior is the order of the day. These are the practices that are far more hazardous than a cyclist following traffic rules. Yet that lawlessness not an issue for the Ennis police department. Safety is not a priority, smooth traffic flow is.

From the one hundred block of West Ennis Avenue to the end of the three hundred block, it is a very wide single lane road that automobiles routinely share side by side, making it a de-facto two lane road each way. This is to accommodate angled parking.

The rest of West Ennis Avenue is is made up of two narrow lanes in each direction, with the addition of a suicide center left turn lane from the five hundred block to the three thousand block. The question is, can a slow moving vehicle on a multi-lane road impede traffic? Further, the automobile that caused the patrol car to come to a complete stop when it was waiting for a gap in opposing traffic to turn left onto Clay Street, was it impeding traffic?

Yes, they were impeding traffic! In fact, we are "impeded" all the time! We are impeded by school buses loading and unloading children, trains, signal lights, folks preparing to parallel park... you get the drift. We are impeded all the time when we travel about on the public roads. The real question then is, are all those impediments to traffic illegal? Why not? What is illegal impediment of traffic?

TTC Section 545.363; " MINIMUM SPEED REGULATIONS. (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."

"Normal and reasonable movement of traffic." Each word drips with meaning. What is traffic anyway? The TTC defines traffic as: "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."

If the traffic this morning was a horse drawn carriage, and not a bicycle, would it be an illegal impedance? Obviously, to say that a vehicle traveling at a speed that is reasonable for that vehicle, but will cause other faster traffic to slow down is an illegal impedence would ban them from operating on public roads. This then would be the effect if the views of Officer Watson/Sgt. Pillow were the proper reflection of the law.

Furthermore, because I was traveling in the right lane, faster traffic was not impeded at all by me, because they had a dedicated passing lane next to the one I was using! Here is the reason I think the TTC is clear on this specific point. The whole of the statute regulating lane position and impeding other traffic is this:

"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 a right or duty applicable to a driver operating a vehicle cannot by its nature apply to a person operating a bicycle.

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.
(c)  Persons operating bicycles on a roadway may ride two abreast. Persons riding two abreast on a laned roadway shall ride in a single lane. Persons riding two abreast may not impede the normal and reasonable flow of traffic on the roadway. Persons may not ride more than two abreast unless they are riding on a part of a roadway set aside for the exclusive operation of bicycles."

So, 551.101 means that a cyclist is "by his nature" unable to keep up with a motor vehicle, so he has no duty to obey the slow vehicle statute when he is traveling at a speed that is reasonable for cyclist.

And in Sec. 551.103 (c) that says two cyclists riding two abreast can be in violation of impeding traffic, but only if a travel lane is wide enough to safely share side-by-side with motorists and a single cyclist. If it is too narrow for a single cyclist to share, then riding two abreast is just as much an impedance as a single cyclist.

So as it stands now, I am charged with impeding traffic. Perhaps they will change it to improper lane position, seeing how there was that lovely shoulder over there I was ignoring.

I must give credit to some folks whose clear thinking and discussions have shaped this blog entry. My thanks to Mighk Wilson, Herman May, Keri Caffrey, AndrewP and fred_dot_u.

***An update! I found Sgt Pillow! I always write the blog and add the photos later. As I was cropping and manipulating my pictures in Picasa 3, I can see there is a person I did not notice during the traffic stop sitting in the passenger seat of the patrol car! Gee whiz!

I think my camera has distorted the features of Officer Watson. He seemed much leaner to me at the time of the stop. My apologies to him for any such distortion of his features.