Thursday, March 8, 2007

Same Roads, Same Rights ... Same Rules (??)

You've probably heard the slogan: "Same Roads, Same Rights, Same Rules"
This slogan is popularly used to advocate the desire for cyclists to be accepted as legitimate users of the public roadways. For example, see

Same Roads: Cyclists have the right to use public roadways in the same manner as any other vehicle, be it automobile, pickup truck, tractor, or horse-n-buggy.

Same Rights: Cyclists have the same protections under the law as any other vehicle, be it automobile, pickup truck, tractor, or horse-n-buggy.

Same Rules: Cyclists have the obligation to obey all applicable traffic laws, just the same as any other vehicle, be it automobile, pickup truck, tractor, or horse-n-buggy.

Most cyclists are happy to enjoy the privileges that "Same Roads, Same Rights" bring but many are not so keen on following the "Same Rules." If you don't believe me, just browse through the comments on this blog. Many of these comments are cyclists criticizing the law-breaking behavior of other cyclists. The biggest peeve seems to be running red lights, which I think we all can agree can be dangerous in most situations.

However, one could argue that there are some times when following the "same rules" is counterproductive. Example: A cyclists uses an unoccupied right-turn-only lane as a de facto "bike lane" in order to not hold up faster traffic in the adjacent straight-through lane, then continues through the intersection on the left edge of this right-turn-only lane. Against the rules? Technically yes. Dangerous? maybe. Courteous to faster traffic? quite possibly.

When a cyclist disobeys the rules of the road, it can cause problems not only for himself (i.e. injury or death), but it can cause problems for the cycling community at large. If the community sees us as a group of law-breakers, it becomes more difficult to convince the public to support improvements in public infrastructure that make cycling safer and more efficient.

So let me pose a couple of questions for the local cycling community:

1) What are the most serious violations of traffic law that you regularly see from cyclists in Los Alamos?

2) What situations have you encountered where obeying the "same rules" principle is not practical, or even downright dangerous?

3) How do we educate cyclists who insist on violating the rules of the road that they should change their ways?

I would ask that we keep this a discussion of behavior and not an indictment of individuals, Thanks.


Anonymous said...

I am impressed!

Scott Doebling said...

Impressed by the article or just impressed that I actually posted something? :)

Jimbo said...

I know I'll get flamed for this, but the way I minimize my chances of getting squooshed by speeding cars and trucks driven by cell-phone addicted stress monkeys is to stay on the trails (mostly) and sidewalks (as little as feasible) wherever possible. The great thing about Los Alamos is you can do a lot of commuting on trail. Once I hit the bridge, it's sidewalk for me.

The real solution would be for the County to create an off-road (paved if they wanted) pedestrian and cycling path from Barranca Mesa to TA-3. At one time there actually was talk of doing so.

Unfortunately, most public policy caters to cars and parking lots.

Neale said...

No flaming here, that's not what the blog is for.

Trails are nice, I'll agree. I think they provide an incentive for people to ride bikes, since they are typically less noisy and more scenic than roadways.

However, they are not more safe. Even if a trail never crosses the roadway—a near-impossible feat with driveways and intersections—it must still be repaired of roots and potholes, plowed for snow, and swept for dirt and debris, to be as well-suited for wheels as the roadway. Not to mention other sidepath hazards like rollerbladers, pedestrians on cell phones, kids running after balls, and cyclists going way too fast.

These factors are why a recent study found multi-use trails to have a Relative Danger Index three times that of roadways with bike lanes. You may be interested to know that sidewalks came out 11 times more dangerous than sidepaths; 39 times more dangerous than bike lanes!

Jimbo said...

I wouldn't have believed that study unless I had seen it, but now that I looked, I'm amazed. Who'd a thunk it?

'Course round here, riding on the sidewalks is particularly dangerous after 7 p.m. You can get creamed when they're rolling up if you're not careful ...

ALBERT said...

For me the cyclists that run red lights are the worst for giving all cyclists a bad name. My general tact has been if I witness the behaviour and I catch up to them, I will ask them if they run red lights in their car. If they answer no, then I ask them why they think it is ok to do it on their bike. Most of them just stand there with a dumb look and never answer me. A couple of smart asses have replied that they run red lights in there car and they don't care.

On the issue of a bike path, they never remain bike paths. They will be used by joggers, skaters, walkers, etc. and are much slower for commuting purposes than the road. Another danger is that if you put in a bike path, then most drivers expect you to use it and stay off the road. I have been yelled at in Phoenix while riding on the road next to a bike path by a driver telling me to get off the damn road.

Anonymous said...

I saw a good one today. Heading east along the golf course at 5:30 pm, near the 16th green, a White Truck is pull off the road. A cyclist rides up, chats with the driver (cyclist barely off the road). Then the cyclist tries some sort of bunny hop, goes over the handle bars, and plows his face into the asphalt. The bikes comes down and falls into the road. Not sure what the hell that was all about. He looked like a seasoned comuter.

Anonymous said...

It's too simplistic to say "same rules". I find myself constantly compensating for roadways built only for cars. I got pulled over running a red light at 6:00 AM. My bike and butt together wouldn't trip the traffic loop. There were no cars in sight to trip it and I would have looked like Rip Van Winkle by the time the light changed. I say when it makes sense follow the rules, but ride in a fashion that takes into account poor road design and keep it fun.

I once got run off the road by a Hollywood, Fl cop in his cop car. I caught him at the light and his response was, "get off the road".

Sorry, but I ride like I want.


Neale said...

One time I got pulled over because a cop had a bad day. I just got a "warning" even though he couldn't explain what I had done wrong. I just sucked it up and thanked him for being lenient. Sometimes it pays to kiss the glove.

It's not too simplistic to say "same rules". The rules are made to cover everyone. It would be too simplistic to say "same techniques", but Scott didn't make that claim. For example:

Signal loops are most sensitive at the corners. Position your bike over the corner of the square or on the edge of the circle of a traffic loop to have the best chance of triggering it. If a traffic signal doesn't change for you, it's malfunctioning, and you have the legal right to treat it like a stop sign. As far as I know that's the law in all 50 states, and it doesn't matter if you're in a gravel truck or a horse-drawn carriage.

We all have scary stories to tell about traffic, even people who've never been on a bike. That incident with that cop having a bad day happened to me while I was driving a car, but it didn't turn me into an outlaw, disregarding the rules of the road. I still stop for red lights, drive on the right side, etc. People obeying the rules keeps traffic from getting crazy disorderly, and by clearly showing your intention and riding predictably, other drivers get the chance to avoid hitting you.

commuter said...

A cop stopped me once on my bike once -- rightly -- for a dangerous left turn. Instead of riding behind the car, I was on his right. Okay, I was wrong there because it's dangerous to turn that way.

But the funny part is when the cop pulled me over, lights blaring, he got out and immediately asked for my driver's license. Too funny.

Anonymous said...

I've been riding on the road for over 40 years in all kinds of locations and countries. Yes, I ride on the proper side do all the little things drivers expect. But, at a certain point it takes creativity to remain safe. I'm really not too interested the "correct" way to ride. I'm sure I give everybody else a bad name, but I intend to keep my riding fun.


ALBERT said...

As I read the comments and think about it more, I've come to the conclusion that most cyclists will do what they want and think they can get away with, so nothing "we" say will change their behaviour. Perhaps aggressive enforcement by the local police for the most blantant violations and the accompanying hit to the wallet may change some minds.

Anonymous said...

I’m hoping this blog is tolerant of alternative views.

The point is there is plenty of room for all kinds of riding styles. I’ve been practicing mine year round for over 40 years safely in all kinds of weather, day and night. I don’t feel the need to be “educated” by the enlightened few. I’m aware of my surroundings at all times and ride accordingly. As a tangent, traffic loops don’t always work for a bike when the temp is in the single digits.

The smugness that goes with those fish lure imitation clothes that “serious” cyclists wear creates as much contempt in the mind of the motoring public as does my occasional blasting of red lights when they don’t serve my purpose. Most of my friends that don’t cycle laugh at those clothes.

There is a part of that mischievous ten year old present every time I get on a bike. I hear all the talk about gear ratios, heart monitors, carbon fiber, the correct way to ride etc. I can’t help but think that pure joy is missing from those conversations. It reminds me of the time the grown ups tore up the BMX track the kids built about six years ago. Then the grown employed engineers, lawyers, safety experts and other nonsense only to build something that didn’t really fit what the kids wanted.

I think you’ll find a more receptive audience if the conversation is one of learning from both points of view rather than seeing your way of doing things is “correct” and the rest of us nothing more than the unwashed masses.


Neale said...

Steely, I suspect that if we got to know each other we'd have much more in common than you think. I encourage you to take the League of American Bicyclists Road I course. You may discover that some of the things you are doing are not only legal but encouraged by the LAB; an experienced cyclist such as yourself has undoubtedly over the years learned tricks to help guide the flow of traffic in such a way as to make it safer for yourself.

I'm never going to agree with you about blowing red lights, Steely. I've taken days upon days of AASHTO and LAB classes and seminars, and as a result am confident that unless the signal is malfunctioning there is just no excuse for running red lights under any circumstance. In my opinion this behavior enrages other road users far more than silly clothing.

I think Albert is right to a degree: penalties may be the only way to curb crazy cyclist behavior in certain populations of cyclists. But my hope (and reasoning for going through the trouble to become an LCI) is that education is a more effective means to the same end. Once people understand why riding on the wrong side of the street is dangerous, they'll be motivated to quit doing it even when they know there are no cops around.

Anonymous said...


The fact that we both ride bikes is probably enough to start and keep some good conversation going. At least we agree that some of that clothing is pretty silly.

I was never really offering excuses for the red light thing. They just don't serve my purpose.

It's great that people take the time to get certified and study the ins and outs of things like cycling. I think our society is too locked up in credentials though. Especially here in Los Alamos where initials at the ends of people's name multiply like rabbits in spring.

If you're riding in a manner that does not impact the flow of traffic or endanger others, I think the penalty thing is just another case of over regulation. Kind of like arresting adults for smoking marijuana in the privacy of their own home. A group of people decide something is wrong, it needs to be stopped, and enact penalties for it.


Neale said...

Agreed. I wouldn't actually push for local cops to start issuing traffic citations to cyclists, and I doubt Albert would want to bother them with that either. I don't think the police are even interested in doing so, they have bigger fish to fry.

Mesa Mike said...

Same Rights, Same Rules. Sure.

When I'm riding, you won't find me insisting on it. I'm too chicken. I want to see my children grow up.

Where there are no bike lanes, you'll find me riding on the sidewalk, and I never use the left turn lane. I prefer to cross 2 streets instead, keeping to the right curb on each.

OK, so bicycists have the RIGHT to the road just the same as cars. Insisting on it seems foolhardy in many cases.

Neale said...


80% of all bike-car crashes happen at intersections, and as mentioned before sidewalks come out to be 39 times more dangerous than bike lanes. I should also have mentioned that sidewalks are still 25 times more dangerous than a major road with no bike facilities.

Why? My theory is that every time a sidewalk crosses a driveway, it's an intersection. Left-turning and right-turning traffic, the top two most frequent types of bike-car crash, just don't happen when everybody's going straight.

Check out the study if you don't believe me. And take my Road I class if the thought of riding in the roadway scares you :)

commuter said...

Sometimes red lights don't serve my purpose when I'm driving my car either, but I still don't run them. Just because you're on a bike doesn't mean you can do whatever you want. It doesn't mean people are constraining you. It just means we're all trying to use the same roads and not get hurt. Clothes are a personal decision, and I laugh at some of those outfits, but you running red lights makes drivers mad at cyclists in general -- meaning my safety is in jeopardy because of your impatience. And traffic rules are the law for one main reason: safety.

ALBERT said...

The problem I see with the system is that a small subset of cyclists will exhibit behaviours that reflect badly on the whole population and in the grand tradition of this society, instead of addressing those few, the powers that be enact more stringent regulations on the general population which really doesn't work because the very people they are targeting are going to ignore them anyway. It just makes it harder on the rest of the "law abiding" population. If we take this to the extreme, as they come out with more and more stupid rules, more cyclists may chose to ignore them which then reinforces the perception that cyclists are all law breakers and bikes should be banned from the road entirely.

Anonymous said...


I guess I just don't buy the argument that drivers become unsafe around bicycles after watching a few run a red. Driving is a habit. People either have positive habits toward all things on the road or they don't. Do you hate people in white cars because you see a white car run a light or do you act the same toward every white car? Do you treat pedestrians differently because one flips you off or do you behave the same?

I think the argument that one cyclist's behavior endangers all others because he or she changes drivers' attitudes fails the smell test.

Now, I will agree that at any given red light there is someone upset with me. But, on any given stretch of road there is a driver that thinks I should get off it and his attitude has nothing to do with red lights.

I think it goes much deeper. We are a car society. We've built the entire social fabric since WWII around the car. That is what needs to be addressed. Not some schmoe giving no heed to the color red.