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Posted by on May 22, 2010 in Uncategorized | 9 comments

So much ignorance, where do I begin?

Today’s Sentinel editorial is in support of the mandatory bike lane law. The Sentinel shows a clear lack of understanding of pretty much all the issues of law, safety and road design as it pertains to bicycling. But hey,  don’t let your complete ignorance of a subject get in the way of expressing opinions about it in the newspaper.

You can read the whole thing here (and give it a well-deserved thumbs down).

Let’s begin at the beginning.

Before Mr. Crist buys what the bicycling advocates are selling and vetoes House Bill 971, he should take a deep breath and look to Oregon, the state commonly considered the strongest advocate for bicycling. Three of its cities, Portland, Salem and Eugene, are ranked among the best in the nation for cycling and positive biking conditions. And Portland leads the nation in people who pedal to work.

He should look there because Oregon’s cycling enthusiasts value the state’s impressive network of bike lanes. And, by and large, appreciate the state’s law that, like the one awaiting Mr. Crist’s signature, requires that cyclists use them. Most of the time.

Beneath the yellow tarp lies the body of a 19 year old girl who was following the Oregon's mandatory bike lane law and Portland's bike lane design.

Oregon has a discriminatory law requiring cyclists to use side paths and bike lanes. That law was partly to blame for the deaths of 2 young people just two weeks apart in 2007. Both were staying in the bike lane as required (when an educated/empowered cyclist would not have) and were run over by turning trucks whose drivers could not see them. Portland has systematically monkeyed with both bike lane design and law in an attempt to overcome the inherent safety problems with bike lanes. Each new level of modification brings new problems, and the need for more solutions. It is an endless spiral of unintended consequences originating with the flawed concept of segregating vehicles. When you segregate traffic by vehicle type rather than direction of movement, you exacerbate crossing and turning crashes at intersections and driveways. Period. No way around it.

The law allows for exceptions driven by common sense. For example, it provides that riders may move out of bicycle lanes to avoid hazards.

The law does not have bike-lane-specific exceptions. There are many exceptions to riding in bike lanes that are not listed in the exceptions to riding as far right as practicable. Even for the FTR (far to the right) law (316.2065–5), the exceptions are inadequate and most often ignored. Having been pulled over while riding 100% within the law twice in the last few months, I can attest to the fact that law enforcement does not understand the exceptions. At least I do and can articulate them. Putting the average cyclist in a position to constantly defend safe cycling practices is no way to promote cycling. No other driver is so harassed for legal and safe driving.

“The safest place [to cycle] is where [motorists] are driving,” not in bike lanes, says Bike/Walk Central Florida’s Brad Kuhn. Florida Bicycle Association’s Mighk Wilson says cyclists need “freedom to do what they need to be safe.”

Brad and Mighk speak the truth. The safest place for a cyclist is in the flow of traffic. Everything farther right creates increasing risk. Sometimes that risk is minimal, sometimes it is intolerably high. Sometimes the bike lane designs make one wonder if they’re trying to kill us.

But the Sentinel disagrees with the experts. Not because the editor has any understanding of traffic dynamics, the best practices of bicycling safety, experience with competent traffic cycling, or experience with law enforcement. No, he simply has an unfounded opinion and the paper to print it on.

Come on. Mr. Wilson’s concerned that by requiring cyclists to stay within lanes designated for them — even though they could exit them to avoid unsafe conditions like fixed objects, parked vehicles and surface hazards — police would unfairly target them. We think anyone trained in the law would know a parked car and pothole when he sees it, just like any cyclist, and know that veering outside bike lanes to avoid them is OK.

Come ride a mile in our shoes.

Mr. Wilson also fears motorists not versed in the new law’s exceptions would become enraged any time they see cyclists breach the bike lanes, creating prickly or potentially unsafe road conditions. But bike lanes exist precisely to make our roads safer. They signal to motorists and cyclists alike that cyclists are supposed to ride as close to the right-hand curb as possible. Motorists know not to veer into the bike lanes, and cyclists know that if they keep to them, they should be free of motor traffic.

WOW!

Even the facility advocates make no claims that bike lanes are safer. Why? Because they aren’t safer and no one with half an understanding would dare to make such a false statement. Bike lanes are promoted as making fearful people feel safer. Also known as a false sense of security.

Bike lanes get cyclists out of the way. That is what they were designed for. It is all they will ever do. In most cases they get us out of the way at our expense. Cyclists are NOT supposed to ride as close to the curb as POSSIBLE. EVER. But yes, bike lanes do reinforce the belief for both cyclists and motorists that we should stay out of the way. And that’s the only message they convey, which is why people get doored, and hooked and crossed and t-boned in bike lanes. Bike lanes don’t teach people to ride safely. They actually inhibit the learning of safe cycling practice. Which is why we see things like this and this.

That generally makes for safer travel, and that’s why cities from San Francisco to Chicago to Boston are creating more of them.

No, that’s not why those cities are creating more of them. They are creating more of them because they think they can convince people to ride bikes by pandering to their fear of overtaking traffic. Some northern cities already have a lot of cyclists (because of congestion, expensive parking and other motivating factors), those cities are creating more bike lanes to keep the existing cyclists out of the way.

We agree with Mr. Kuhn that motorists opening their parked cars’ doors or pulling into traffic can create hazards for cyclists in adjacent bike lanes. But Florida’s proposed law specifically allows cyclists to pedal outside them when unsafe situations present themselves. That’s similar to Florida’s existing cycling law, which requires cyclists to ride near the road’s side, unless safety hazards present themselves.

Clearly, they didn’t bother to actually read the law, instead they are making this up. See above.

HB 971 addresses a host of transportation issues, spanning golf carts to drunk driving. Mr. Crist shouldn’t block its path because of this one.

Wait, are you saying Crist should NOT block the passage of a bill allowing golf carts to invade pedestrian space and 4-time DUI convicts to get their license back?

Beyond all the ignorance and inaccuracies in this editorial, the sentiment is probably the most egregious. The person in the best position to determine his/her safety is the cyclist. Not a law, not law enforcement, not some impatient motorist. A mandatory bike lane law is one more nail in the coffin, one more pressure acting against a savvy cyclist’s interest. The cyclists who are most hurt by it are the responsible ones — those of us who have taken the time to learn to drive our bikes safely and legally.

9 Comments

  1. Where do you begin? Letters to the editor. Lots of them. Summarizing this post. And Brad or Mighk should respond with a guest editorial. Get on it! Good luck!

    • And a link to this post too.

  2. Measured, controlled, fact-based responses to this editorial are appropriate. That said, it’s unlikely this editorial will have any impact on the governor’s decision. The newspaper doesn’t have that much clout in Tallahassee. But I’m wondering what prompted the Sentinel editorial board to select this topic. If the editors support the many provisions of HB 971 (like allowing drunk drivers to get their license back after four offenses), they would have cited these and explained their merits in a compelling and convincing way. But HB 971 — an 81-page bill — was barely mentioned. No, this editorial board is not in favor of HB 971, which BTW the Sentinel political writers barely covered during the session. They’re in favor of mandatory use of bike lanes and all that it entails. Which begs the question why…why now?… and makes me wonder who — or what — is really behind this editorial.

  3. I have come to realize that the people who know the least about a subject talk the most and the loudest.

    My co-workers are amongst these so called “experts on the issue”. I have YET to get one of them to ride with me in the bike lane.

    Apparently, they KNOW the truth and are trying to save face in a cowardly way. It goes like saying “I am the man of the house……when my wife is not around.”

    One must have an idea of the TRUE reality of the situation is, but most folks just will not take the opportunity or expend the effort to be anything other than an armchair QB or backseat driver.

  4. Thumbs down!!

  5. If they want to force cyclists to stay in bike lanes (in any jurisdiction), the first step would have to be to ban right turns and parked cars along any bike lane. If they can’t take that simple step (which I’m sure is a non-starter), that alone should help them to understand why cyclists need to stay out of these bike lanes most of the time.

  6. Re: LisaB’s comment, it strikes me that it would be worthwhile for someone to contact the Tallahassee newspaper’s editorial board and try to sound out their position on this bill and/or its mandatory bike lane provision.

  7. Keri,
    Where do you begin?
    Here’s my answer. (It’s easy for me to say, somewhat less easy for you to do.) Run one of your new classes (which you need a name for!) for newspaper staffers. They probably have a few sports writers, active outdoor writers and columnists who would be interested. Request very strongly that the editor who wrote that editorial attend too.
    The ignorance behind the editorial is analogous to someone who’s never seen the inside of an anatomy book telling people how to conduct surgery. Tell them they need a day’s worth of instruction in anatomy.

  8. mark lane, of the Daytona News-Journal wrote a column in Sunday’s paper about the change in the law. It was more-or-less wishy-washy, but in a favorable direction. He is a “cyclist” but I don’t think he’s taken any training, as is the case for so many riders. He’d probably look quite favorably on getting additional education, but that’s an unfounded opinion, aka a feeling.