Sunday, November 23, 2008

Study Finds Cyclists Disobey Traffic Laws

This study from Hunter College did not survey a random sample of cyclists in New York City, so its accuracy is questionable. That doesn't stop people from reaching conclusions on the basis of this questionable data, however, so let's make fun of them.

First up - helmets. I guess the idea is that if more cyclists wore helmets, they'd obey traffic laws. I get a headache trying to connect those two ideas as a logical sequence because they're utter nonsense. Maybe if cyclists wore helmets they'd be better equipped to survive doing something stupid and contrary to traffic law. But if they adhered to the law in the first place, maybe the helmet wouldn't be entirely necessary. Think of it this way - a helmet is a good thing to have in that instant between something bad happening and something worse happening. Our goal in promoting bicycling education is to prevent something bad from happening in the first place. I still use the seat belt in my car, but I don't want to find out how well it works.

Then there's this bit from Wiley Norvell of Transportation Alternatives. “It doesn’t surprise me to see high rates of traffic infractions on streets that do not have provisions for bicyclists.”

Excuse me? Streets which are expressly designed for motor vehicles see high rates of traffic infractions by drivers. How does engineering for bicyclists magically improve their adherence to traffic law? Do bike lanes or the currently fashionable 'cycle tracks' deter wrong way cyclists or red light runners, or are we seeing wishful thinking substituted for valid information?

(On a side note: My apologies to regular CycleDog readers for being so lax in posting new items. The kitchen is almost done - thankfully - so I may not be completely exhausted in the evenings. I have vacation coming up this month and next. Also, my work will be seeing the usual winter lull after Christmas, though we're losing 8 people to early retirement and gaining 13 replacements. I feel like Alice, running as fast as I can just to stay in place!)

Study Finds Cyclists Disobey Traffic Laws

By Sewell Chan

Hunter College study found that many cyclists improperly ride against the direction of traffic.

Updated, 12:50 p.m. | New York City is witnessing an upsurge in the number of cyclists, but many of them do not obey traffic and helmet laws, according to a observational study by students and professors at Hunter College.

Among the more important findings of the study, which was released on Wednesday:

* Nearly 57 percent of the cyclists observed failed to stop red lights.
* About 13 percent of cyclists (and a quarter of cyclists under the age of 14) were observed riding against traffic.
* Almost 13 percent of cyclists (and more than half of cyclists under the age of 14) were observed riding on sidewalks.
* Nearly 14 percent of cyclists did not use a designated bike lane when one was available.
* Only 36 percent of cyclists wore helmets. About half of female riders wore helmets, compared with just about one-third of the males. Nearly half of the children under the age of 14, and nearly three-quarters of commercial cyclists — like messengers and delivery workers — did not wear a helmet, even though the law requires that both groups use helmets.

...Professor Milczarski said that “greater adherence to these traffic laws” would help to reduce reports of “conflicts between cyclists and motorists.”

One methodological drawback: The observations were not a random sampling of all city cyclists. However, Professors Tuckel and Milczarski said the cyclists observed represented a broad cross-section of them.

...A study by the Bicyle Helmet Safety Institute found that nearly all cyclists who died in New York City were not wearing a helmet and that only 13 percent of those seriously injured while cycling were wearing a helmet.

...Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for Transportation Alternatives, a leading advocacy group for cyclists and pedestrians, said, “It’s our philosophy that good street design gives us better behavior.” Dedicated bike lanes will encourage cyclists to stay off the sidewalks, he said, noting that children under 14 are permitted to ride on the sidewalks.

“Obviously it’s incumbent for cyclists to obey the laws: they have the same rights and responsibilities as pedestrians and motorists,” Mr. Norvell said. “The most important rule is to yield to pedestrians, always, no matter what. It gets under my skin if a bicyclist doesn’t yield to a pedestrian.”

As for running red lights, Mr. Norvell said, “It doesn’t surprise me to see high rates of traffic infractions on streets that do not have provisions for bicyclists.”

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Blogger The Unabashed Blogger said...

"It gets under my skin if a bicyclist doesn’t yield to a pedestrian."

That's funny, it gets under my skin when cars don't yield to anything, pedestrian or bicycle.

9:29 AM  
Blogger danc said...

Ed and dear Cycle Dog readers:

Remember New York has restrictive laws regarding Cyclist rights to the road those include: Far To Right (FTR), Mandatory Bike Lane (MBL) and Shoulder Use (MSU) Laws (see § 1234). Oklahoma has FTR and Mandatory Side Path (MSP) Laws (see §47-11-1205).

For more info on Cyclist Road rights, see Bicycle Driving:

Cyclist Rights to road vary widely from State to State!


7:18 PM  
Blogger Ed W said...

Most states have some form of FTR, even if it's the section that pertains to motor vehicle traffic. Slow vehicles must use the right hand lane. A few years ago, the FTR in Oklahoma was re-worded to "as far to the right as is safe" as opposed to the older, more confusing "as far right as is practicable."

The MBL provision here says that where the facility is present AND local law requires it, a cyclist must use the sidepath. My town has a MBL on the books, but it has no bike lanes or side paths. Tulsa had a MBL law some years ago, but due to the persistence of some local advocates, it was repealed.

Still, none of this addresses the assumption that cyclists will somehow obey traffic law if only they have bike lanes and sidepaths. It's an absurd assumption, particularly in light of the fact that such facilities are touted as a means of physically separating cyclists from motor traffic. If they're not going to be part of normal traffic there's no need for them to learn how to deal with it. And as we all know, eventually every bike lane ends. What happens when that unskilled, uneducated cyclist has to use the road network?

8:14 PM  

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