Cure for the Bicycle Ban Virus: Communication

By now, almost every person who rides a bicycle from Portland to NYC has heard of the little Town of Hull, WI  Population  5,597 and their local ordinance that could ban cyclists from the roads.  Just outside of Stevens Point, Hull, like many other small towns near larger cities in our state, is blessed with miles of low traffic, scenic paved roads, ideal for riding bicycles, jogging or even walking the dog.

Nearby Stevens Point is a very active community with a great running and bicycling culture. The University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point has a history of fielding national caliber runners. Home to the Hostel Shop, a nationally recognized leader in recumbent bicycle sales,  Stevens Point actually has the highest percentage of people who bike to work of any city in the state, nearly 8% according the last census data. Add in Heartland Bike and Ski Club and all the regular folks who just enjoy going for an occasional bike ride and you have a prime example of why the League of American Bicyclists ranks Wisconsin as the 3rd best state in which to ride in the country.

This only becomes a problem when enough people don’t behave well and their failure to obey the rules of the road draws the attention of the good people of Hull. Residents of Hull are annoyed by motorists who ignore speed limit signs as they zoom through their quiet town.  They are angered when bicyclists don’t even slow down for stop signs. They are inconvenienced regularly when groups of runners take up a whole lane of their narrow town roads.  Those problems are then compounded by a lack of communication and the annoyance grows. Before you know it, the town has created a public safety committee with few ways to solve the problems other than enforcement. Whether you think it is misguided or not, they decide it will add clarity and make it easier to enforce the state laws if they adopt those same laws in a specific local ordinance.

Before they could write such an ordinance, the committee directs the town attorney to research all the state statutes relative to bicycling and report back to them so they have a better understanding of the laws.  When they read the report, they discover that the same existing state statutes that allow them to designate bike lanes and bike routes also allow cities, towns and villages to prohibit bicycles, pedestrians and even people on roller skis (take note Birkie trainers).  So they insert that language into their early draft of the ordinance.

Enter a reporter from the local paper who, in keeping with all the principles of journalism, writes a story that highlights a news angle of a possible ban on bicycles.  Like most papers, the story is also published on their digital version with all the options to share it through the usual social media.  Before any bicyclist actually talks to anyone from the committee, the headline “Town of Hull Proposes Ban on Bicycling” has gone viral and the inbox for the town chairman is jammed with emails from angry bicyclists from all corners of the country.

Now you may call me old, a Luddite or a technophobe, but I remain a firm believer in the power of a good old-fashioned conversation to clear up problems.  My office is in Milwaukee, and while I prefer a face-to-face meeting, a phone call saves a lot of time and gas.  Earlier this morning I was able to spend an hour or so on the phone talking with and listening to John Holdridge, Chairman of the Town of Hull.

While they fully intend to proceed with their local ordinance, I think the good news that came from that conversation is that at this time the Town of Hull safety committee has no interest in banning bicycles or demanding permits for small group rides or runs.  The Chairman told me the primary purpose of their draft local ordinance is to improve safety and increase compliance with the laws for all road users.  That begins with reducing speeding by motorists (they are looking at traffic calming), getting pedestrians to walk opposite the direction of traffic and expecting bicyclists to obey stop signs, ride single or double file, etc.   He emphasized that their local ordinance will be in complete compliance with all state laws.

John told me his wife rides her bike most every day on the roads in the Town of Hull, and they both take daily walks on those roads as well as on the Green Circle Trail. They are clearly not “anti-bike” or “anti-pedestrian.” The safety committee members are attempting to address complaints and concerns about scofflaws in cars, on bike and on foot while maintaining the quality of life in their community.  To that end, I offered the assistance of the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin.  Through our state ambassadors, our partnerships with event organizers and the WisDOT funded Share & Be Aware program that we manage, we are now capable of doing quite a bit of education and encouragement.

Further, we are always working to expand our membership, and that is the very best way to build a community of people who ride bicycles in a responsible manner. As long as the Stevens Point area must live with the “curse” of being a great place to ride bicycles, the Bike Fed will be there to help in any way we can.  I ended my conversation with Chairman Holdridge feeling that we had a mutual understanding and would be working respectfully together in the near future.

Thursday night the Town of Hull Safety Committee will be meeting to discuss their draft ordinance, and I know many people from the Stevens Point area intend to attend. I would encourage all who attend to go into the meeting with a cooperative attitude.  At this point, I think it will be more productive to offer assistance dealing with any real safety or public relations concerns rather than argue that the ordinance is not needed. As a cycling community, I think we are all interested in policing ourselves and setting good examples. As long as the ordinance simply reiterates state law, I see no reason why the Bike Fed would not want to work with the town to increase the rate of compliance with those laws among our members in the area, even if that means additional enforcement.

Towns do have the legal right to ban bicycles, roller skiers and pedestrians on their town roads according to Wisconsin statutes.  That statute is bothersome to many of our members and many in the running, roller skiing and bicycling community in general, but it does us little good to fight that issue at this local level. If we agree that is an issue we want to take up, it can be most effectively dealt with at the state level through new legislation. But as I said before, after my conversation with Chairman Holdridge, I am not worried about that issue in Hull at this point.

Moving forward with better communication and policing our own ranks is the real answer to bans on bicycles. While the Town of Hull roads are clearly under their jurisdiction, they are part of a larger wonderful network of paved town roads across the state (thank you dairy industry) that help make Wisconsin one of the best places in the country to ride a bicycle.  With your help, I am confident that we can share the message that bicycling is as good for the residents of the Town of Hull as it is for Wisconsin’s economy and our individual health. As long as we can make that message heard, the residents and visitors across Wisconsin will be able to continue to enjoy their rides, runs and walks on our wonderful local road system.

If any of you have specific concerns or questions, please comment below and I will be happy to respond.  I have posted the relevant Wisconsin Statutes below for reference. You can find other statutes on our post What is the Law Anyway and an analysis of who breaks the law more often, people in cars on bikes or on foot in Scorchers and Scofflaws, Just the Facts Please.

Please also consider joining the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin.  While our entire staff cares deeply about keeping our roads open to bicycles, the only way we can afford to spend time on important issues like these is through the funds generated by donations and our general membership. Help keep Wisconsin a safe and enjoyable place to ride a bicycle.

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349.23  Authority to designate bicycle lanes and bicycle ways.
(1) The governing body of any city, town, village or county may by ordinance:
(a) Designate any roadway or portion thereof under its jurisdiction as a bicycle lane.
(b) Designate any sidewalk or portion thereof in its jurisdiction as a bicycle way.
(2) A governing body designating a sidewalk or portion thereof as a bicycle way or a highway or portion thereof as a bicycle lane under this section may:
(a) Designate the type and character of vehicles or other modes of travel which may be operated on a bicycle lane or bicycle way, provided that the operation of such vehicle or other mode of travel is not inconsistent with the safe use and enjoyment of the bicycle lane or bicycle way by bicycle traffic.
(b) Establish priority of right-of-way on the bicycle lane or bicycle way and otherwise regulate the use of the bicycle lane or bicycle way as it deems necessary. The designating governing body may, after public hearing, prohibit through traffic on any highway or portion thereof designated as a bicycle lane, except that through traffic may not be prohibited on any state highway. The designating governing body shall erect and maintain official signs giving notice of the regulations and priorities established under this paragraph, and shall mark all bicycle lanes and bicycle ways with appropriate signs.
(c) Paint lines or construct curbs or establish other physical separations to exclude the use of the bicycle lane or bicycle way by vehicles other than those specifically permitted to operate thereon.
(3) The governing body of any city, town, village or county may by ordinance prohibit the use of bicycles and motor bicycles on a roadway over which they have jurisdiction, after holding a public hearing on the proposal.
349.235  Authority to restrict use of in-line skates on roadway.
(1) The governing body of any city, town, village or county may by ordinance restrict the use of in-line skates on any roadway under its jurisdiction. No ordinance may restrict any person from riding upon in-line skates while crossing a roadway at a crosswalk.
(2) The department of natural resources may promulgate rules designating roadways under its jurisdiction upon which in-line skates may be used, except that no rule may permit a person using in-line skates to attach the skates or himself or herself to any vehicle upon a roadway.
History: 1993 a. 260.
349.185  Authority to regulate certain events and pedestrians. The authority in charge of the maintenance of a highway may by order, ordinance or resolution:
(1) Regulate community events or celebrations, processions or assemblages on the highways, including reasonable regulations on the use of radios or other electric sound amplification devices, subject to s. 84.07 (4).
(2) Regulate the traffic of pedestrians upon highways within its jurisdiction, including the prohibition of pedestrian crossings at places otherwise permitted by law and the erection of signs indicating such prohibition.
History: 1977 c. 116 ss. 14151989 a. 311991 a. 83.

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

25 thoughts on “Cure for the Bicycle Ban Virus: Communication

  1. Good article. I am already too aware of the situation since I do most of my road biking in Portage County.
    If Hull enforces 349.23(3) (The governing body of any city, town, village or county may by ordinance prohibit the use of bicycles…), would 100 bikers WALKING their bikes down a ridiculously forbidden road in opposition to the law (and ordinance) be USING their bikes? That’s not how I use my bike! 349.23(3) needs lots of work, or revocation.

    • That is a good point, but as I mentioned, at this point, it is not their intention to ban bicycles at all. They are merely restating all state laws in a local ordinance, and that is a state law. I think the real issue is the state law itself.

  2. The statutory prohibition authority is one that should be eliminated, especially in light of the fact that everyone in the state helps pay for many local road projects. From DOT:

    “Established in 1991, the Local Roads Improvement Program (LRIP) assists local governments in improving seriously deteriorating county highways, town roads, and city and village streets. LRIP is a reimbursement program, which pays up to 50% of total eligible costs with local governments providing the balance.

    General Requirements [Excerpt]:

    • The town road funding is a bit different. They get less than that typically. But I agree with your argument in principle. The political issue of decreasing local control might be a tricky one to get passed.

  3. Although Wis. Stat. 349.23 (3) may potentially allow prohibition of bicycles from a “roadway”, bicycles cannot be banned from shoulders under that statute.

    Wis. Stat. 340.01 (54) defines “roadway”

    “Roadway” means that portion of a highway between the
    regularly established curb lines or that portion which is improved,
    designed or ordinarily used for vehicular travel, excluding the
    berm or shoulder. In a divided highway the term “roadway” refers
    to each roadway separately but not to all such roadways collectively.

    See also Reyes v. Lawry, 33 Wis. 2d 112, 146 N.W.2d 510, (1966), holding, “…it is apparent that under any circumstances the shoulder of the roadway is excluded from the term ‘roadway.'”

      • I would also argue that any law prohibiting all bicycles during all times from all roadways in a community (with no exceptions) is unconstitutional because it is overbroad and violates the right to travel. In addition if the purpose or the effect is to prevent groups of bicyclists from riding together, I would argue it violates the first amendment right to assemble.

        The Wisconsin Court of Appeals held that a cruising ordinance in West Bend did not violate the right to travel but that ordinance was narrowly tailored-was limited to a designated area, time span, and allowed exceptions. See: Scheunemann v. City of West Bend, 179 Wis. 2d 469, 507 N.W.2d 163 (Ct. App. 1993)

        • Thanks for the added clarity Clayton. I have also wondered about the issue of right to travel. Perhaps if we feel that state statute is unconstitutional, we should look into changing it in the near future based on constitutional grounds. That would take a very well planned legislative effort and is not something to be taken lightly. Politics as well as the law and the effort required need to be considered.

  4. I was at tonight’s meeting in Hull gavel to gavel, and I’m holding a copy of the draft ordinance in my hand. While the committee members and audience took a collaborative tone, just as chairman holdridge did during your conversation, it is interesting that the ordinance states some of the state statutes (ability to ban bikes on roads, requirements for lights at night, etc), it says nothing of motorists responsibilities (e.g. requirement to give 3 ft berth,etc), and the chairman shrugged these concerns off as “already covered by state statues.” I guess I don’t see what Hull hopes to accomplish by restating some state statutes pertaining to cyclists’ and pedestrians’ responsibilities, without stating reciprocal responsibilities of motorists. This is particularly interesting given the professed goal of cyclist safety, as many cycling-related accidents (some of which you’ve detailed on this blog) have to do with failure of motorists to share the road (e.g. not giving three feet, failure to yield).
    In any event, I’ve biked thousands of miles all around the country and the world, and I’ve learned that attitude trumps infrastructure every time. In other words, I’ve ridden spacious american roads with nice marked bike lanes terrified and nearly killed by motorists who feel (and sometimes shout) that I shouldn’t be out there on a bike. Conversely , I’ve ridden other roads (e.g. France) hardly wider than a bike path with no shoulders, bike lanes, full of bikes, pedestrians, cars trucks and motorcycles in perfect safety because everybody there looks out for everybody else there, each recognizing the other’s right to be there. Seems to me the town of Hull would best use their well-intended efforts by fostering this attitude rather than by passing lopsided ordinances.

    • Thanks for the update on the meeting Tom. Was there any discussion of traffic calming or additional enforcement to slow speeding motorists? If not, that is disappointing and I guess I would agree that restating only the laws relating to bicycles and pedestrians seems a bit lopsided. That said, I read the article in the Stevens Point Journal and I found the quotes from the chairman and members of the committee encouraging:
      “Town Chairman John Holdridge said at Thursday’s meeting that it would be unlikely the town would require a permit for groups using town of Hull roads, but he wanted better communication with those groups. He said many groups, such as those that put on events such as the Frostbite Road Race and the Run, Bike, Unite Duathlon, already talk with the town before using town roads, and he’d like to see similar communication from the other athletic groups in the area.

      He said while the ordinance does reiterate state laws about the town’s ability to restrict biking and pedestrian use on their roads, it was unlikely the town would ever do that.

      “This would be an extreme measure,” Holdridge said.

      Task force member Randy Kruzicki said the purpose of the task force was to make the town roads safe for all users, not edge one group or another off the road. He said the task force is concerned about a few individuals who don’t follow the rules.

      “Our issues are not with the bike organizations and bike groups,” Kruzicki said. “They are some of the most respectful groups, and I respect them highly.”

      Given that attitude, whether the ordinance seems unnecessary or unfair to people on bicycles and on foot, the Bike Fed staff remains committed to working with the Town in a cooperative manner into the future. At this point in time it is very important t may be that we need to set a better example than motorists. I would like to get to the point where anyone seen wearing a Bike Fed t-shirt, jersey, hat, socks, etc., is seen by the general public as an ambassador for bicycling. It would be great if we were all known as respectful and law abiding and people started to talk more about motorists as the bad guys. I know that people are people and they tend to break laws they can get away with breaking if it gets them where they want to go faster, no matter if they drive a car, pedal a bike or walk. If you read my earlier post “Scorchers and Scofflaws: Just the Facts Please” you know that I have the studies to prove bicyclists are no more likely to break the law than any other road user. Add that when we break the law, we primarily put ourselves at risk, where as when motorists break the law they put others at risk, and it seems like these efforts are a poor use of people’s limited time and resources.

      It is important that we continue to make that statement. Spread the word that everyone breaks laws, and people on bicycles less likely to hurt anyone. At the same time if we work to police our own ranks we can position ourselves as the good guys. We can say, “People riding bicycles are the most law abiding road users out there.” The Bike Fed has a few ideas relative to proving that statement. Stay tuned to this blog for more details if you are not a member. If you are a member, you should expect to get an email next week with more details about this new campaign.

      • dave-
        thanks for the note. First of all, yes, traffic-calming maneuvers were discussed –an engineer had studied some key intersections and crossings and had some suggestions which seemed well recieved although folks seemed cognizant that “this would cost money”. I should also say that the share and be aware yard signs were arrayed around the front of the room and were helpful by setting a good tone, sharing information, and reminding those present that the bike fed is a helpful resource in all this –so good job. You are also correct that the committee did not seem anti-bike and seemed anxious to include runners and bikes on the Hull roads, and many of the non-bikers (eg Randy Kruzicki) even made some comments to suggest that most bikers are the “good guys” (e.g. “the best kind of people” “courteous” “the do everything right”).
        As I said this all leaves me confused as to why they still seem motivated to pass an ordinance so one-sided—it truly does not match the inclusive tone of their conversation.– I’ll stay tuned, and thanks to the bike fed for their involvement. Unrelatedly, I’m also a milwaukee taxpayer (my daughter just moved to the third ward) and thanks also to the bike fed for some real positive directions in the cycling accomodations there (i can’t wait to bike the Hoan!)

        • That is all really great to hear. I am particularly happy they displayed our Share & Be Aware signs. Personally I don’t really see much value in reiterating the state statutes in a local ordinance, but if we use this as an opportunity to improve the dialogue between non-motorized road users and the residents of Hull, that is a good thing. I will continue to try to make lemonade out of this situation. Thanks for keeping the rest of us informed and for positive influence you can have with others you many know who ride as well as those who don’t.

  5. Most bad bicycle law, ideas and attitudes result from ‘we’ bicyclists being our own worst enemies. It is those that disregard the current laws that tend to even bring about these discussions by communities/towns/state to need to take action to correct ‘the problem’.

    I would much rather see bicyclists stopped, ticketed and prosecuted as motorists are when they break the law (running lights/stop signs, unsafe and reckless driving/riding, rarely speeding – but if done give ’em a ticket too) than to see bad bike laws.

    • Charlie,

      I think most of us agree that bicyclists should obey the laws and the laws should be enforced, but be careful not to be too hard on people riding bicycles compared to other road users. How many people do you know who drive the speed limit? Police don’t even enforce the limit below 7mph over because the percentage of motorists who violate the law is so high. Also, try to cross a busy street in a marked crosswalk at an uncontrolled intersection and see how many motorists yield the right of way to you. Our studies in Milwaukee typically show 90% of motorists violate the law, even during pedestrian safety week when we have police officers try to cross the street. And how many people do you know who always wait for the walk signal, even when there are no cars?

      My point is that many people, perhaps the majority, break the laws they can get away with if it gets them where they want to go faster. Motorists have a culture of failing to yield to pedestrians, and bicyclists have a culture of failing to stop for stop signs. So while our scofflaw reputation is indeed a result of our own behavior, I think it is unfair and inaccurate to portray people on bicycles as any worse than people in cars or on foot. We are just a smaller subset of the larger group of road users, so we are easy to pick on.

      That said, we have the opportunity to be better. We have a pretty tight knit community as members of the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin and can try to self police and encourage our friends who ride to obey the laws. Through the Bike Fed’s state ambassadors, our staff in two offices, our Share & Be Aware program, our website and our publications, we can set the benchmark for law abiding road users, on our bicycles and in our cars. I’m not too popular in cars because I always drive the speed limit or slower and I bug people about speeding when I am a passenger. On group rides, I always stop for stop signs and wait for red lights. I tell people I am going to do that ahead of time.

      Check out these earlier posts

      Be the Change We Want to See

      Ask Not What Motorists Can Do For You and

      Scorchers and Scofflaws: Just the Facts Please

      • I’m not disagreeing with either dave or charlie, but it bears mentioning (i think dave has mentioned it previously on this blog) that when a biker breaks a traffic law, he principally places only himself in danger, when a motorist breaks the same law, he places everybody in danger. I’m not making excuses for anybody, but trying to build the case for greater accountability of motorists on the road (the Hull ordinance does not mention motorists responsibilities at all)

        • Tom,

          I agree with all that you wrote, with the relatively rare exception of when a bicycle might cause a crash with a motorcycle. In that case the people on the motorcycle could very well be injured or killed. I like to think of our traffic safety problems as a trauma center with limited resources. We need to use triage to try to fix the problems that we have a chance at and ignore those we don’t. We also need to begin with the problems that will have the greatest impact on safety if we get improvement. Encouragement efforts within the bicycling community seem a wise use of resources, but adding money for more enforcement does not if you can’t get people in cars to stop speeding or to yield the right of way to pedestrians in crosswalks.

  6. I don’t live in Wisconsin, but tracked here through a Planetbike post.

    I think the idea of “self-policing” amongst bicyclists is always good if possible, but we all need to remember that nearly everyone falls into multiple categories – at different times I am a pedestrian, bicyclist, and driver. Each person who bikes dangerously or in a manner contrary to the law probably also drives that way and probably also ignores laws governing pedestrians. “Self-policing” isn’t going to work very well if the person is generally disrespectful of laws and regulations at all times, not just while on a bike.

    During group rides, when amongst friends, etc – definitely call people out for bad behavior. But the idea that one random person on a bike has great influence over another random person on a bike is somewhat ridiculous.

    • Hey Matt,

      I think the point is to look in the mirror first before we look to change the behavior of others. As an organization with a membership of people concerned with bicycle safety, the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin can try to work to get our own community to obey all laws as a start. That seems like the lowest hanging fruit. If we, as people who ride bicycles, don’t obey the law when we ride and we can’t stop texting, speeding or take the time to yield to pedestrians when we are driving cars, how can we expect people who don’t ride bicycles to obey the rules of the road?

      When it comes to people on bicycles obeying the laws, I would prefer we tried encouragement within our own ranks rather than spent more money on enforcement. Think of all the money that has been spent trying to get people to stop speeding or drinking and driving with almost no success. We need to look at other methods that might be more effective.

  7. I don’t wish to come off all preachy or “holier than thou” here OK? I have used my bike as my sole source of transportation for the last 4 years. My response to the cars and drivers who just don’t seem to care? I ride my bike (in town traffic you understand) exactly as if it were in fact a car. I wait at red lights, stop at stop signs and for pedestrians. And when I take to the sidewalk (because even my nerves have their limits) I become another pedestrian indistinguishable from those around me. Except for my bike, bag and helmet! Now I will grant you my town is quite small pop, 21,000 or so. But lots of traffic. When on the street I ride exactly as if I am driving a car. Its tough but doable. Just my 2 cents.

    • Thanks for the comments Arnold. Please don’t read anything into this question, but can I ask if you drive your car at the speed of traffic or if you are a stickler to drive the speed limit or slower? This is something I have wanted to survey our members on. I may actually create a survey monkey to check how our law abiding members report themselves to be. Most of my friends think I am a freak because I always drive the speed limit or slower, even when cars a piled up behind me. Many even argue that I am a danger on the road for obeying the law. I disagree, but many people do have that opinion.

  8. I have been bicycling for years, and have honestly never even been close to being in a traffic accident. I am also very considerate of other road users, and I run stop signs all the time. How does this work? I yield to whoever has the right-of-way, and if it’s me, I take it. As in the example of moving the speed of traffic rather than always following the speed limit, compliance with the letter of the law has little to do with safe travel behavior.

    I wish that we as the bicycling community would get over our submissiveness to laws that clearly make no sense for bicycles. Riding a bicycle is fundamentally different from driving a car, and laws (and our behavior) should reflect this. Our visibility is much better than that of motorists, as is our maneuverability, and a bicycle is less stable while accelerating from a stop than when merely slowing while proceeding through the intersection. On top of all of that, it is extremely unlikely that we will hurt anyone else in a collision.

    We really need to see the motorist concern about bicycles not following traffic laws as what it is – sour grapes that they feel they cannot do the same.

    • L.J.

      I would have to disagree with you here that cultural norms should rule over law. In our society, if we don’t like certain laws, we can change them. I think that is much better than breaking them if you think it benefits you personally. For instance, just because 99% of motorists won’t stop to let pedestrians cross the street, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to enforce that law. And speeding even by 5mph can mean an innocent pedestrian or bicyclist dies rather than is injured in a crash. I guess speeding on interstate highways could be viewed as similar to fights in hockey. There are no innocents and if you don’t want to fight, don’t get on the ice. But speeding on local roads dramatically increases the danger to non-motorized users and decreases the quality of life for residents. So if we are going to expect motorists to obey the law, we need to expect the same of bicyclists.

      If the laws don’t make sense for bicyclists, we have the opportunity to change them. The Bike Fed is trying to change the hand signal laws in Wisconsin right now because they were written for motorists who could only put their left arm out a window. Our new law will allow bicyclists to use either arm. In Idaho they changed the stop law for bicycles. There are other examples across the country. But unless you are a pretty strict libertarian or perhaps an anarchist, the rule of law must have value in a society.

      • I think you are misunderstanding me. I am not talking about cultural norms, but the physical reality of riding a bicycle (or driving a car). Speeding down a residential street has very real risks. Rolling through a stop sign when there is no cross traffic does not. And bicyclists, with their greater visibility and maneuverability are better equipped to use their judgment on the road than motorists.

        Nor am I talking about disregarding traffic laws. One does not have to follow the letter of the law to observe it. A stop sign is a signal to me that someone else has the right of way, and that if there were an altercation, I would be responsible. In this way, the traffic law serves a very useful purpose. Just because I would slow down, wait for the intersection to clear, and then roll through the stop sign does not mean that I am advocating lawlessness. Quite the opposite.

        I also agree that we can change traffic laws, but we must first acknowledge that many traffic laws designed for motorists make no sense for bicyclists. I see the submissive attitude of many bicyclists towards these laws as being harmful to the cause of ultimately creating a vehicle code that is more sensible.

        • OK, I think I understand better, and I agree that many laws were created for motor vehicles and don’t apply well to bicycles. I think the “official” position of the Bike Fed is that we should work to change those laws, but obey them until then. Another example of a law we are trying to change is the one that prohibits motor vehicles from passing very slow vehicles if they have to cross a solid centerline. In practice, no car waits to pass a tractor (or bicycle) just because there is a solid centerline if there is no oncoming traffic. We have legislation to change that law.

          I also agree that many “law abiding” people who ride bicycles have a submissive “we are guilty” attitude because motorists love to talk about the people on bikes run red lights and stop signs. Where we differ here is that I think we should obey the laws when riding bicycles and we should expect the same of motorists. So rather than become apologists for cyclists who ride through red lights, the Bike Fed points out studies that show people are people and they all tend to break the laws they can get away with if doing so gets them where they want to go faster. Motorists speed, fail to stop for pedestrians and often pass people on bicycles too closely. Our studies have shown that overall, people on bicycles comply with the laws at as high a rate or higher than people driving cars and people walking.

          One last thought is that the problem is not that bicycles should not be required to stop for stop signs, it is that we have WAY too many unwarranted stop signs. Many of these were not put in for right of way control, but to try to get people to slow down. Stop signs should not be used for speed control and they don’t do a good job of it anyway. I actually am a big proponent of removing traffic controls. Cities in Europe that have done that have seen dramatic decreases in crashes and speeds tend to drop, which makes the roads safer for all users.

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