Home > Complete Streets, Safety Issues > Monday Morning Rant: Is Defining Fault or Finding Solutions Our Goal?

Monday Morning Rant: Is Defining Fault or Finding Solutions Our Goal?

Monday Morning Rant

A point not discussed at last week’s presentation & discussion about rules of the road for cyclists was the lack of education and perspective amongst law enforcement. The local media outlets were sure to print that “most crashes were caused by bicyclists” without challenging the presumptions by local officers or the magistrate. Solely from the briefs in the packet last week I saw two handfuls worth of cases that are deserving of at the least an eyebrow raise. As one reader commented in an email:

Took a glance at the report. Too many bikes riding into sides of cars stopped at intersections or driveways. Cyclist always at fault.” How does that happen?

In my experience, and the reader’s, those cases are typically caused by drivers not knowing they needed to stop behind the sidewalk and be certain the crosswalk is clear before proceeding. And, why would they? Many intersections lack the design to encourage them to do so and many of them come complete with blind spots that may actually encourage them into dangerous behavior. That said, more people on bicycles need to not ride on the sidewalks (despite poor design that encourages them to do so…). It is statistically far more dangerous as the majority of conflicts occur at intersections and driveways; riding on the sidewalk naturally decreases your visibility.

Back to the police reports: there needs to be more scrutiny. Ideally, this occurs internally, but externally assistance may need to be considered. There are too many questionable cases.

We’ve covered one of the incidents here and the first person account is drastically different from the police report. Earlier in the summer, the Northern Express made some heads turn with an account of what many feel to be an unjust ticket to a bicyclist who was legally taking his lane. And, I recently spoke with a rider involved in a reported crash along State St. She described an asinine situation where she was deemed at fault for not stopping because she did not have both feet “firmly” on the ground. I haven’t seen that in the Michigan Vehicle Code as the definition for a stop, so it appears the officer determined it on his own. To top it off, he ended with a parting shot, “perhaps you should drive a car.

Let me say that again, the officer actually said, “perhaps you should drive a car.

I’ve heard that phrase from an officer before and it is infuriating. In this situation, after someone has been in a crash with a two-ton machine, it is insulting. What kind of response is that from a public servant? To create a place where active transportation is inviting and encouraged, we will need to do better as a community.

Despite the tone last week that enforcement is some sort of panacea for reducing conflicts, it remains a reactionary focus. Often coming in after the fact and often with questionable responses. I actually liked Mayor Pro-tem Ralph Sofferdine’s suggestion that bicyclists who get tickets be given a choice between paying the fine or taking a traffic safety class for substantially less cost, but bigger preventive payoff.

However, we need to be certain that the police force also knows the rules and, given the broad interpretation afforded them, do so in a way that aims to protect the most vulnerable uses of the roadway. It would be a wrong path to take if the direction is out of some motive for equal justice when we should know by now that many of our problem areas have more to do with poor design that naturally creates dangerous behavior. Currently, I’m less concerned about who is at fault, than I am about an incomplete transportation network that ignores the basic fact that people will be there.

People will be there, design for them. More on that to come….


Below, last week’s presentation on Bicycle Rules prepared and presented by City Planner Russ Soyring and Lee Maynard of TART Trails. 

  1. Richard Miller
    August 29, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Legal question: is it legal to ride a bicycle “no hands” on a public street?

  2. August 29, 2011 at 11:11 am

    Good question. Slide 38 would suggest no, but that only defines it as a cyclist carrying something. There are city’s that have “both hands on the handlebar” rules, but I’m not aware of any states that do. I’d be surprised if there were, as we have no comparable rule for “both hands at 10 & 3 on the steering wheel.”

    As someone who spent hundreds of hours perfecting hands-free riding while circulating the series of empty cul-de-sacs in my subdivision while growing up, I’d be very disappointed.

  3. Greg
    August 29, 2011 at 11:51 am

    Why don’t bikers come to a complete stop at stop signs? Have only seen a stop happen once all summer. Am I unaware of some rules?

  4. August 29, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    “perhaps you should drive a car.“

    That just blew me away…

  5. Max
    August 29, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    I’m not sure that statistics matter to me in the case of riding on the sidewalk. I still feel it’s safer for me there. I agree that intersections and driveways are the more dangerous spots, but still they are in front of me so I can see what’s happening there (most of the time anyway, there are a few places in town that I frequent that have blind spots where I’ve had some close calls and now I slow down and check before going through).

    I don’t want to ride in a gutter (8th) and hope that the people driving behind me don’t hit me. Drivers are so aggressive and distracted these days. I see it all the time on my travels around the city: people are texting, talking on the phone, looking in the mirror, eating, reading, turned around dealing with their kids in the back seat, fiddling with mp3 players and CDs etc … all while they are supposed to be in control of their vehicle which is rolling forward!

    That said, I would actually prefer to ride in the street. Usually the streets are more comfortable to ride on than the sidewalks as they are so much smoother. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part that’s true. When I go on my rides in the wee hours of the morning, I always ride in the street because it _is_ a much nicer ride.

    I just don’t believe it’s safe during the day, though. I can be more careful at intersections rather than taking the risk of a vehicle coming up behind me and my not being able to see whether I need to get out of their way because they are aggressive or distracted. I’ve had too many close calls now from vehicles behind me passing too close to believe it’s safe anymore.

  6. Raymond
    August 29, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    Perhaps all TCPD patrol officers should do a three month “rotation” on bicycle patrol. That would help them better understand the dynamics at play with multi-modal transportation on shared streets. It’s good to walk in another’s shoes.

  7. JohnRobertWilliams
    August 30, 2011 at 9:54 am

    Either my level of paranoia has gone up significantly, or there has become some un-written or unspoken level of motorist aggression toward cyclists. Not a day goes by that some driver yells at me. I’m hyper-vigilant, moving almost the posted speed of traffic, yet still, the shouting, the intentional cut off’s, the honking by the mastodons and dinosaurs continues to elevate. The lack of respect and the increased resentment of motorists toward cyclists is nothing short of alarming. “Share the Road” is a joke to motorists.

    I commute every day along the north sidewalk of East Front Street. I believe it’s just wrong to be riding in the street in front of the NMC great lakes campus, Holiday Inn, etc. The TART bayfront trail connects to this sidewalk. It has many driveway crossings and is a very dangerous stretch. The Holiday Inn Driveway seems to me to be the most dangerous non-motorized intersection in town. It’s the critical connection to the east and the peninsula, schools, NMC, parks, beaches and homes, yet is ignored by the city and MDOT. The foot-of-the-bay artery needs thought and action soon! I’m here to help.

  8. Max
    August 30, 2011 at 9:58 am

    Thank you for the comment, John. You’re definitely not the only one who has noticed a huge increase in aggression by drivers. I thought it was just me too, but I guess not. 😦

  9. rob
    August 30, 2011 at 11:42 am

    Check city ordinance …both hands on the bars.

  10. Max
    August 31, 2011 at 11:34 am

    Rob, could you point out where that is? I want to read it for myself, but I couldn’t find it on the TC website.

    I looked at this page: http://www.ci.traverse-city.mi.us/trafficord/410.pdf

    And found something saying you have to hold the handlebar with at least one hand, but that’s all I could find. Now I’m curious if there’s something else that contradicts that?

  11. August 31, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    From http://www.ci.traverse-city.mi.us/trafficord/410.pdf

    (c) MCL 257.661b. Riding position. (Added). This section is added to read in its entirety as follows:
    ANo person operating a bicycle shall ride other than upon or astride the permanent and regular seat attached thereto, or fail to hold the handlebar with at least one hand. A person who violates this section is responsible for a civil infraction.@

    I would be interested too if there is something else in the local ordinance that contradicts this.

  12. August 31, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Are unicycles legal?

    This discussion thread does remind me a bit of a creeping “nanny state” best avoided.

  13. rob
    August 31, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    I stand corrected..I thought it was both hands..should have read it again before posting.

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