“Urban Legends” of Cycling (Motorist Pamphlet)

Recently I had the idea of compiling a list of “urban legends” — maybe there is a better word or phrase — that many motorists tend to think or say about seeing us cycling on the road.

I was thinking … maybe to organize this into some kind of pamphlet that could be given out (stocked at bike shops, given out during Bike Week, maybe even placed at DMV offices!!).  I’d keep something like this in my bike bag to hand to a motorist who uttered any of these “legends”.

Want to help out?  Here are the six most often heard “legends” (my top 6 anyway) that need to be dispelled, along with a rough outline of some ideas for answers.   Help me flesh these out with ideas (please link* sources for good text if you know of any!) and see if there is anything missing, or other “legends” you can come up with.

The Six Urban Legends of Cycling Held by Motorists
(as most often yelled or expressed in newspaper comments)

1) “What are cyclists doing on the road anyway?”

  • FL statutes — bicycles are vehicles

2) “They are so slow — why don’t they move over?”

  • FL statutes do not require cyclists to move over in MOST cases
  • Safety reasons why a cyclist should not move over
  • Share-the-Road Philosophy: First Come First Served (be patient!)
  • The onus is on the PASSING vehicle to pass safely (3 foot law)
  • It is legal to cross double-yellow to pass

3) “They should ride on the sidewalks!”

  • Safety issues with riding on sidewalks (pedestrians, driveways, intersections)
  • Local City Ordinances against riding on sidewalks (sometimes actually illegal)

4) “Well, if they want to ride on the road, they should be licensed and pay road taxes like motorists do!”

  • Tax monies for roadwork do not come from licensing of autos
  • Testing and licensing of heavy/fast vehicle operators is done for public safety (not to pay for roads)
  • Local roads are paid for with sales or property taxes, which all citizens pay
  • Bicycles cause very little wear and tear on roadways (for example when compared to heavy trucks)
  • Fuel taxes pay for limited access highways where bicycles are often prohibited

5) “Why aren’t they using the Bike Lane?”

  • Fl statutes do not require use of a bike lane
  • Safety issues with bike lanes (debris, car doors, intersections)
  • Not all space to the right of a white line is a bike lane (legal definition of shoulder vs bike lane)

6) “Why do cyclists ignore traffic laws?”

  • running red lights (not all cyclists do)
  • riding the wrong way on a road (not all cyclists do… most do so out of fear of motorists)
  • no lights or reflectors at night (not all cyclists do… some cannot afford proper equipment)
  • not all motorists follow traffic laws 100% of the time either!

I want the tone of this to be educational, not confrontational.  For instance, relating to licensing a bicycle I do not want to say “Sure — let’s pay by the pound per year. I’ll pay $20 for my 20lb bike, and you can pay $3,000 for your one and a half ton SUV.” I’d rather point out (educationally) that road taxes don’t come from licensing anyway.

I’m hoping to figure out a folded pamphlet design (help Keri!)—like a tri-fold 8 1/2 x 11″ sheet of paper with this info on it, and also referring for more information to this site and the FBA site (of course would want to get their input and approval as well.)
So … comments please.  And thanks.
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23 replies
  1. Steve A
    Steve A says:

    Two points:

    #1 About the lights – when you can get reliable “be seen” lights for $10, there’s no excuse, not even poverty, other than that CPSC misleads cyclists into thinking the CPSC lame reflectors are adequate. Cyclists without a proper front LIGHT and a rear reflector should be pulled over & ticketed at night because they should NOT be on the road at all. Does not apply to those useless wheel reflectors which are inexplicably required by a few states.

    #2 I would HAPPILY AND JOYFULLY pay registration and undergo a licensing test if I were relieved of discriminatory anti-cycling operating statutes (any of us could come up with a long list), and if motorists were actually prosecuted for endangering cyclists beyond the unusual exception that applies currently. Considering an appropriate registration fee based on the road damage caused and the danger cyclists present to other users, it’d be nominal and unlikely to cover the costs of collection. Cyclists DO present a danger to other users, but it’s pretty small because of their speeds & weight. I wouldn’t be so joyful if the fee were used to build “cyclist only” inferior facilities – see discriminatory caveat. Registration would encourage education more than the current situation. Perhaps we should not attempt to rebut the registration request?

    A question – it hadn’t occurred to me that it was OK to run red lights. Am I ignorant here?

  2. Keri
    Keri says:

    It’s not OK to run red lights… the point is that motorists often make blanket statements about “all” cyclists as if that gives them the right to disrespect us.

    I’m not sure how else we answer that criticism… since we can’t control the actions of other cyclists.

  3. Keri
    Keri says:

    There are plenty of ninja cyclists who don’t have lights for nefarious reasons, or maybe because they’re too damned lazy to get lights or replace batteries, or they had no idea they’d be out this late, or maybe they’re weight weenies… But I see a lot of people who look as though $10 might be the difference between eating and going hungry for a few days.

  4. ChipSeal
    ChipSeal says:

    Do point out out that the roads and streets are “public”. That is, space available and to be shared by all. Just because motor vehicles are the most common user of the road doesn’t mean it is unavailable to other public uses.

    Blowing through stop signs and lights by cyclists is as common as motorists disobeying other laws- from speeding to inattentive driving. We each have an obligation to observe ALL traffic laws, right? Yet motorists and cyclists frequently don’t follow the law when they feel the risk of being injured or caught is less than the benefit of ignoring them. Neither side has much room to boast on this issue, and both are being human.

    Irregardless, municipal budgets are going to be so strained by the faltering economy, that all of them will be writing as many citations as they can to increase revenue. We would be wise to be on our toes going forward!

    “The onus is on the PASSING vehicle to pass safely.” As I prefer to say; Everyone has both a legal and moral duty to pass slower vehicles with due care and in a safe manner. Even if the slower vehicle is not driving properly.

    Sidewalks are equally available for all vehicles to use! Motorists and vehicles like bicycles may cross them with due care when exiting or entering the roadway, otherwise they are for the exclusive use of pedestrians for their safety. Bicycles are vehicles, not two wheeled pedestrians.

    Tailwinds on this project Keri!

  5. Mighk
    Mighk says:

    A while back I read something about the downside of repeating “myths,” even if you’re refuting them. I like that you haven’t presented it that way. Focus on what you want people to understand and be as specific as possible (while also trying to keep it brief). For example, on sidewalks: when I do the Alternative Transportation courses I explain that 90 percent of crashes involve turning and crossing conflicts, and that cycling on the sidewalk aggravates those conflicts.

    I think people respond better to the practical requirements of safety than what the law says. I routinely hear people say, “I don’t care if it’s legal, it’s stupid to ride in the road.” I’d use the law to support the practical (which is what the law is supposed to do anyway).

    As for scofflaw cyclists, I think “motorists do it too” will not go over well. They of course are justified in their lawlessness [snark]. Simply state the fact; that law enforcement doesn’t write enough citations for law-breaking cyclists. However, it might be worthwhile to say something about loop detectors and signals.

    (Sidebar: one of the guys in the bike co-op group said he was riding his triple-height freak bike recently and was stopped by OPD because “he was a distraction to motorists.” (But she couldn’t write him up for anything because there was no statute covering that.) I wonder how many wrong-way cyclists or unlit ninjas that officer has let pass in her career?)

    Now for the big question. Assuming such a document is produced, how will it get into the brains of people who need to understand it?

  6. Julius
    Julius says:

    Similar to cyclists not being forced to use bike lanes, it’s also important that we don’t necessarily have to ride to the rightmost area of the road. When there isn’t too much traffic, cyclists are allowed the full lane, or as far right as is safely possible.

    Also, what’s the local law say about riding in groups? Single file? Two abreast? I usually ride single file when its a two lane road and a car needs to pass, but if traffic is low, and its a multilane road, I usually don’t worry about the formation, as long as we stay in one lane.

  7. Julius
    Julius says:

    “Why do cyclists ignore traffic laws?”
    I agree with Mighk in that replies should not be confrontational. In that respect, why people are breaking the laws is missing the point. The reply to this should be that both cyclists and drivers alike need to be educated. Not everyone is aware of the all the laws that apply to them.

    Now for the big question. Assuming such a document is produced, how will it get into the brains of people who need to understand it?

    I think this is the most important most overlooked aspect. Commuters need to know these things before they get on the road. Yelling FL statutes at drivers doesn’t really help when you’re riding down Mills.

  8. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    Julius, your comments make me wonder if you know the specific law about riding to the right. FL Statutes allow for full use of the lane if the lane width is less than fourteen feet. It has nothing to do with the amount of traffic, which is an important distinction. The statute also says that if a bicycle and motor vehicle cannot safely share the lane, the cyclist may occupy the lane entirely.

    The two-abreast rule is often misconstrued as well. If a single bicycle has the use of the entire lane, regardless of two-lane or multi-lane road, then two-abreast is also permitted. It is preferable in cases of many bikes, as it shortens the pack and makes passing easier for motor vehicles.

    I’m disheartened by most of the activities of the people I see on bikes. I recognize that so many of them are poorly educated in safe cycling habits, and unfortunately, too many of them are group or club cyclists. Running stop signs and traffic controls appear to be the greatest infraction, of course.

    I also wonder how to get the useful information into the right “hands”. I was surprised to see a public safety notice in the Orlando Sentinel recently. It was a “Share the Road” image with the statement that bicycles are entitled to the same rights to the road as other users. Very brief, but it inspires hope.

  9. Keri
    Keri says:

    Good point about why

    It’s usually expressed as: “Cyclists ignore traffic laws!” or “Cyclists never follow the rules!”

    I’m not fond of finger-pointing answers either, but I have read of people having success with shutting down the scofflaw discussion at meetings by asking how many motorists drove exactly the speed limit on their way… and made a complete stop at every stop sign… including that one at the end of your street where there is never any traffic…or… how many speed bumps are there in your neighborhood?

    I think Andrew is on the right track with this. Perhaps we should brainstorm creative methods of distribution.

  10. Andrewp
    Andrewp says:

    re: distribution

    Yes, I need your thoughts on how best to get this information out to the public.

    I’m hoping other cyclist-oriented web sites and blogs pick it up and make it part of their sites. This probably doesn’t reach motorists directly, but it mighte make it easier for other cyclists to find createive ways to pass on …

    I would like to see this info on permanent display at all local bike shops (each of us could carry to local shops and ask if they would display).

    Would local newspapers be interested in carrying this in some way? Maybe not now, but as we get closer to Bike Month and Bike Week, they might. No harm in asking …

    I’d love to see the State of Florida pick this up and (a) display on their web site and make available as a download/pdf print and (b) put in places like DMV offices where motorists go to get/renew their licences. Anyone know who we might contact to see if this is even a possibility?

    Other ideas? Thanks!!!

  11. ChipSeal
    ChipSeal says:

    Keri points out-

    “It’s usually expressed as: “Cyclists ignore traffic laws!” or “Cyclists never follow the rules!””

    One of the big problems that produces these attitudes is that the accuser is referring to laws that only exist in their imagination! (Uh, yeah, I’m breaking your imaginary “traffic law” that says I have to keep up with traffic if I am going to ride on the road! Wee!)

    Of the three most powerful forces in the universe, ignorance is in second place. (The first is apathy and the third is compound interest.) One must temper our expectations on the efficacy of any educational program.

    Taking the lane works just as well on the ignorant as the educated- when a cyclist in their path, they must react to your presence, whether they approve of it or not.

    Educating cyclists would seem to be both easier and more effective than trying to educate the general public. A better bang for the buck so to speak.

  12. Keri
    Keri says:

    Yeah, Reality (post ingestion of the red pill):
    Most of the problems (crashes, near-misses, things that make cycling feel dangerous) can be mitigated or eliminated by the individual cyclist riding assertively. Most of the social problems (harassment) would be mitigated/eliminated if most cyclists rode assertively—because it would become a norm.

    But you have this self-reinforcing problem of how to create a majority to solve the problem when the problem feeds the inhibition against the solution.

    One benefit of producing materials to educate motorists is that they have a side-effect of educating and, hopefully, empowering cyclists (many of whom share the same mythologies as motorists).

  13. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    Let’s not forget that you cannot ride a bicycle in the lane unless you can operate at the speed limit. This was told to me by more than one law enforcement officer. That one should not be left out of the FAQs for safe cycling myths.

  14. Andrewp
    Andrewp says:

    ChipSeal: You are probably correct …. but I hold out hope that if we can change just a few, it can have a multiplier effect. You know, say some people are riding in a car together, and in passing a cyclist one of them utters one of the myths. I’m hoping that the other would say “you know, I used to think that was true too, but I found out …..”

    Fred: That was a good one! Have to find a way to incorporate that into the “they ride too slow” myth … and you gave me another place to circulate the pamphlets — Police stations!!! 🙂

  15. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    Another urban legend encounter today, with an FL DOT officer! It started with me being told I can’t ride in the lane. He was receptive enough to pull out the book of statutes and find and seemingly accept that statute. He then dropped back to the “impeding traffic” statute. The funny part is he read it to me and the words “motor vehicle operator” are in the statute.

    More amusement in my YouTube post:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYxWulnxp_4

    Missing from the post on YouTube is a lot of dialog about his definition of impeding traffic. Operating at a speed of 17 mph (headwind) in a 45 mph zone is impeding traffic. Yeah, thanks for the myth.

  16. rodney
    rodney says:

    fred_dot_u, thanks for the laugh! Maybe if you pedaled a bit faster, say like 20 mph, he would not have pulled you over. hahaha!

    I could tell the other drivers were sooo inconvenienced with you occupying the lane and impeding traffic on a multi-lane road.

    Keep it safe and keep rolling!

  17. andrewp
    andrewp says:

    Fred: Out of curiosity, were you ticketed? Did you explain to the officer that you weren’t impeding traffic (by law) and did he finally accept that? Did you continue on your way back on the road?

    I ask, because I wonder if they could ticket you, and then if you got back on the road (after the ticket)have a reason to arrest. I know you have the legal right, but they could, could they not?

    How have you dealt with the “impeding traffic” interpretation?

  18. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    I was not given a citation and have been lucky in the dozen or so incidents so far. If I was threatened with arrest, I would have asked for a supervisor, and hoped for the best.

    Since I ride mostly on multi-lane narrow roadways, I suggest politely to the officer that I am not preventing vehicles from passing me and that my cameras record plenty of safe passing while I travel. (I’ve taken to calling them Rodney-Cams.)

    So far, only Flagler and this FDOT officer have used impeding as a possible charge. Flagler incident was on A1A which is narrow, two-lanes and traffic was very light and passed me easily.

    I suppose one of these days I’ll be looking for a bicycle-smart lawyer, since I would want to be able to submit videos of the ride at the time of the stop.

  19. Eric
    Eric says:

    Yes, I can hear the audio.
    I wish you would go ahead and post the whole thing.

    This is a rather “hot button” issue for me, since before the bike boomlet, I was occasionally stopped and lectured by the police here in Central Florida. I was never cited for anything because I was never doing anything wrong.

    It worries me that a law enforcement officer stepped out of his primary job (which is in FS 334.044 (32))

    “Officers appointed under this section have the primary responsibility for enforcing laws relating to size and weight of commercial motor vehicles; safety, traffic, tax, and registration of commercial motor vehicles; interdiction of vehicles defined as contraband under s. 319.33, illegal drugs, and stolen property; and violations that threaten the overall security and safety of Florida’s transportation infrastructure and the motoring public.”

    They have the power to cite for dangerous things that they see right in front of them, but that isn’t their primary purpose.

    I know what happened, he was curious. But once that curiosity was satisfied, he wouldn’t back down and pulled the “impeding traffic” routine. That’s really bad.

  20. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    Eric, once I can figure out (if I can figure out) why I can’t hear audio for these recordings, I’ll be able to compile more videos for viewing. It’s peculiar, since I can hear other YouTube videos with sound, just not these recent ones and not the raw video either. Frustrating.

    Thanks for posting that Statute reference. I understand why I was stopped. With my “violations that threaten the overall security and safety of Florida’s transportation infrastructure and the motoring public”, I clearly had to be stopped!

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