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.