Friday, February 19

Fine Lines and Smart Riding

Lots of Motorists Think a Cyclist Ought to be Riding on THIS Shoulder
I Disagree, Even Though SOME of the Motorists in Question Were Police
Still, What Would A Motorist Jury Say? The Road
DOES Have a Single Traffic Lane and "No Passing" Stripes
Technically, Any Overtaking Traffic Has No Legal Way to Pass a Cyclist
That is Controlling the Lane.
As I Read the Law, This is MY Call and I Favor the Traffic Lane Here
I Rarely Ride this Road Nowadays. Instead, I Ride a Busy 6 Lane Road With NO Shoulder
Doohickie weighed in on the ChipSeal arrests. Mostly, I agree with Doohickie's analysis, which he obviously thought through very carefully. My own comment was brief. Both are here.

HOWEVER, true to my promise, here's my boring blog post in lieu of my boring blog comment.

Doohickie missed one major element. In all the laws cited, there is the element of choice and cyclist judgment. In truth, in the real world, there are places where a cyclist truly WOULD be a fool to attempt to vehicularly operate in the right hand traffic lane. Two examples should illustrate that point.

Example one. Cyclist rides down I-635, in the RH traffic lane, headed toward downtown Dallas shortly before traffic bogs down into stop and go. I drove that road in the Land Rover when I went to meet Keri Caffrey last year and it was stressful in a vehicle that'd crush most the other motorists if it came to a real crash. Example two. Cyclist rides down I-5, in the RH traffic lane, in the San Joaquin Valley of California, with foggy conditions, in marginal visibility. This is an area where 40 car crashes are not uncommon. While I won't go into details, John Forester emphasizes this point with another example in which he was truly frightened on a road with no shoulder due to the combination of speed and volume of the motor traffic.

OTOH, it's easy to cite examples where almost nobody would quarrel with a cyclist riding assertively in almost any position he/she chose. Anybody wants, I'll do another post citing a dozen such examples. In the Chip case, the first arresting officer actually stated that he felt Chip would NOT be impeding in the part of 287 that lacked a shoulder. That surprised Chip and I was also surprised by this since any real delay experienced by motorists was identical regardless of any shoulder or not, but it IS consistent with Doohickie's analysis.

In between these extremes, there is a boundary. I belive it's why all those laws that Doohickie cites say "may" and "necessary" and so on. I'm pretty sure my boundary, when riding is more aggressive than Doohickie's and not as aggressive as ChipSeal's. I think all three of our boundaries are more aggressive than what a typical motorist would expect. That variance in opinion is really why ChipSeal is in the cross-hairs of the local law enforcement community. None of them are bicycle cops. They drive patrol cars and that is their perspective.

What Doohickie missed in his evaluation, in my opinion, is that extremely wide discretion should be left to the one most affected by that boundary. That one is the cyclist making the call. While overtaking motorists are also endangered in theory, with modern safety equipment in cars, mostly the news story reads that "the motorist was unhurt." THAT is something I'm not convinced that the jury sitting in judgment fully weighed. If Chip makes the wrong call, it is HIS butt that gets mashed. The motorist has to take his car to a collision repair center. Absent evidence of insanity, I'll vote for the one on the line unless he's gotten to the point of the extreme examples where no reasonable person would go. Still, if a seasoned cyclist such as Practical Pragmatist tells me he routinely rides down the RH traffic lane on I-5 in the fog near Bakersfield, I'd like to hear details. IMHO, I think he, and pretty much every other cyclist (including Chip), agree there's some combination of heavy traffic and high speed that makes a bicycle in even the RH traffic lane a danger. The rub is there isn't a consensus as to where that boundary lies, and there's almost NO serious real safety data. Lots of expert opinions, but opinions are like armpits. People that don't ride think the boundary is FAR from where an experienced cyclist believes. Most cyclists are aware that if they get squished, the law will usually go out of its way to not call the other party into criminal proceedings unless things are pretty obvious. Chip knows this as much as any other cyclist that's ridden a lot. In truth, our real safety lies in the societal taboo against deliberate and premeditated mayhem against a stranger. If I get run over by a car, it'll most likely be my wife or one of my engineers at the wheel. I've told my engineers that if they want to run me over, they better make a clean job of it or else their performance reviews will be real ugly thereafter. Luckily, my wife is wonderful, though she did get a little irritated tonight when I kept interrupting the Olympics. I COULD think of this post as a safety measure. Why is it that women get irritated when we don't talk to them and then get even MORE irritated when we do?

Today, I polled my Aggie engineers about the wide improved shoulder, often known locally as the "Aggie Passing Lane." They all said that the decision about whether to pull onto that "lane" resided with the one being overtaken and should not be criticized absent obvious cussedness.

Was ChipSeal obviously cussed? Not having had to ride down 287 myself, I'd vote "no," but I'm obviously not a typical juror. As I told Chip while the jury was out, I wanted him charged for failure to signal his intent properly before he pulled off onto the shoulder. GUILTY OF SLOPPY SIGNALING! No appeal would be made. Perhaps Whareagle has turned me into a bike signal fanatic.

Only a Real Neanderthal, or Bubba's Regressive Brother Would Harass a Cyclist Riding Down
the Middle of THIS RH Lane. Riding in This Position, Cops Give Me a Friendly Wave Even if They are Feeling Crabby
Someone Riding Point-to-Point Has to Take All Types of Roads. Every Situation is Different

5 comments:

Doohickie said...

Doohickie missed one major element. In all the laws cited, there is the element of choice and cyclist judgment.

Actually, in the court that convicted ChipSeal of impeding traffic, that element of choice was made by the jury. I think this is a key part of this issue; we are interpreting the laws through the eyes of reasonable cyclists, but when it goes to court, the people passing judgment are reasonable drivers and passengers. They simply cannot accept the concept that taking the lane by a cyclist is a safe condition.

Doohickie said...

I think all three of our boundaries are more aggressive than what a typical motorist would expect. That variance in opinion is really why ChipSeal is in the cross-hairs of the local law enforcement community. None of them are bicycle cops. They drive patrol cars and that is their perspective.

I agree 123% with the above statements.

What Doohickie missed in his evaluation, in my opinion, is that extremely wide discretion should be left to the one most affected by that boundary.

Should is not the same as what's legal. In this case, what's legal has been decided (to date) by law enforcement officers, the prosecutor and the jury. Maybe you're right and it should be made clear in the law the cyclist exercises that discretion, but that's not the current situation.

Doohickie said...

I'll vote for the one on the line unless he's gotten to the point of the extreme examples where no reasonable person would go.

However, the average driver/passenger would place Chipseal's, and even my, riding style as "examples where no reasonable person would go." I get that all the time at work; people cannot believe that I ride my bike on the road with the (OMG!) cars.

They all said that the decision about whether to pull onto that "lane" resided with the one being overtaken and should not be criticized absent obvious cussedness.

Take it a degree further: Ask them whether they would, as a juror, uphold a traffic ticket that a police officer issued for a slow moving vehicle impeding traffic. I suspect at least some would say that the decision of the police officer trumps the position of the SMV operator, simply because of the common perception that, "If someone has been hauled before a judge, he must have been doing something wrong." The few times I've sat on jury selection panels (I've never actually served through a case), I heard that comment or variants of it repeatedly.

Doohickie said...

Oh... one more thing: I am not stating that I think the tickets issued to Chip are reasonable; I don't think they are. However, since they have, in fact, been issued, I don't think all the enlightened cyclist thought in the world will overturn them. I think arguing from the standpoint of the cyclist is the wrong tack; instead, I think arguments need to be made that consider those hearing, and judging, Chip's arguments are drivers, and that cyclist logic should be abandoned in favor of driver logic. Unfortunately I'm not quite sure what driver logic could be used to defend his position. But I think that discussing these issues, that maybe the collective "we" can help ChipSeal figure out what arguments would be most effective.

Steve A said...

Crimeny, we're in violent agreement! The real task for Chip is to figure out how he can bring a non cycling judge to see that boundary so that he was within it, at least to within a reasonable doubt. I think PP will also be in agreement on this, and I don't think we'll hear about his ride down the middle of that traffic lane on I-5, in the fog, somewhere north of Bakersfield. If he does, I want to hear a report on it. I have no doubt that many times, such a ride would progress all the way to its destination with no incident at all, despite the less than optimal conditions. Most motorists do not drive as I did on that road in my younger days. However, I was not the "one in a million" outlier my wife accused me of being. Fortunately, no cyclists were ever riding down the traffic lane at such times so we'll never know.

It really OUGHT to be the cyclist's call. I do think that even motorists may understand THAT concept if it is put that way, though they may well think they'd make an entirely different choice. Any motorist knows that it is the one making the left turn that has to make the decision on when it is safe to actually step on the gas. The charge is whether they believe that Chip made a REASONABLE choice, not if he necessarily made the same choice they would have made. The defense case needs to be simple and clear. He was trucking along as fast as was practical for him and he was riding where his experience told him they'd see him and adjust their actions as soon as possible. He'd have moved over to the shoulder if he'd felt it was more sensible, but he knew that most cyclists get clipped from the side. And that's exactly how he WAS riding. His task is to show that it was reasonable for him to feel that moving on to the shoulder could not be done safely. The "necessary" part is irrelevant if moving onto the shoulder is not safe. Nobody would quibble if there were an 18 wheeler parked on the shoulder. Piles of debris, likewise. An occasional driveway - gets more difficult. Arguing "may" verus "must" is tougher since that word "necessary" is hanging there, without a lot of context.

It's why they have courts. The laws are not like recipes on how to boil water.

I do not believe that motorists in judgment of cyclists need be contrary to cyclists' views, despite having personally witnessed the ChipSeal case. There is a lot of truth to the "behave as a vehicle, be treated as a vehicle" principle. It's one reason I'm CRAZY about signals. Much more than stuff like helmets, it sends a "here's a legitimate vehicle operator at work" message to motorists. People that ride on sidewalks and shoot through red lights don't do turn and stop signals. Mostly, motorists respect that message and they'll actually cut the cyclist more slack than they would another motorist. That's true even if they have no clue what the signal actually means. It's one reason "Keri Waves" work so well.

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