Six categories of bicyclist/motorist interaction

Let me propose six different categories of cyclist and motorist interaction. This is a first try, so it’s open to modification.

1) Vehicular — to quote John Forester, who developed the concept of vehicular cycling, “bicyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.” In vehicular interactions, bicyclists and motorists alike use lane positions as described in the traffic law for vehicles, and reach those positions by merging. Purely vehicular operation  is, however,  to an extent a red herring category, because nobody, Forester included, has ever claimed that bicyclists can merge across heavy, high speed motor traffic.

2) Mostly vehicular, but with greater recognition that high-speed motoring is more compatible with bicycling if there is width for motorists to overtake without having to merge, and that bicyclists (including operators of motorized bicycles and mopeds) can’t manage to merge on roadways with high speeds and heavy traffic, making special treatments appropriate in some cases.

3) Motorists may merge across designated bike lanes. Bicyclists travel these lanes, stop for traffic lights and stop signs, but are  are (in theory) not required to merge into or across motor traffic.  In theory, because double-parked vehicles, people getting out of parked cars, slower bicyclists etc. often require bicyclists to merge out of a bike lane anyway.

4)  Neither bicyclists nor motorists merge. They only cross each other’s paths by making crossing and turning movements at designated locations. Essentially, bicyclists are treated as pedestrians. Motorists must yield to bicyclists as they do to pedestrians, and bicyclists must slow and stop as needed so motorists have time to yield. This is the typical treatment where a designated multi-use path crosses a road.

5)  Motorists must drive at pedestrian speed or come to a complete stop to avoid collisions with bicyclists they can not see, but there are special signs or markings to make motorists “aware of bicyclists”. — meaning, “aware that there might be a bicyclist.” Examples: bike lanes to the right of right turn lanes, bike boxes, blind entrances from driveways where conflict zones are indicated by colored paint, signs etc.

6) ) Motorists are required to drive at pedestrian speed or come to a complete stop to avoid collisions with bicyclists they can not see, but there are no special signs or markings to make motorists “aware of bicyclists”. Example: “shared space” plazas where direction of travel is not defined by curbs or lane lines, and traffic may travel in any direction.

These categories are in order of decreasing demands placed on bicyclists until we get to the last two, where the demands placed on motorists become excessive and so bicyclists must anticipate more motorist mistakes.

These categories also are in order of decreased efficiency of use of roadway space and of increased travel time.

As to safety, that depends on behavior, but  there is a tradeoff of safety against efficiency with all of these.

3 responses to “Six categories of bicyclist/motorist interaction

  1. A good start for the conversation, John.

  2. Do you find (4) actually practiced in the US?
    My understanding is that the mandatory bike lane use laws in Somerville MA and Chicago explicitly require bicycles to yield to other traffic. In Philadelphia most motorists I’ve seen won’t merge in the bike lane to turn right and many have told me bicyclists are required to yield to cars.

    While I suspect the Somerville MBL may violate state law, it seems to express the city’s intention that bicyclists do not have the right of way. Similarly, as Philadelphia installs bike lanes without regard for right turns, motorists seem to think the solid lines indicate space is separated, and that bicyclists never have the right of way.

    In my observation of practice on the PA/DE/MD, paths don’t cross (as in 4), but city councils and LEO explicitly give the right of way to motorists (even when turning) not bicyclists.

  3. @Angelo Dolce

    Thanks for your comment and question. Do I find (4) actually practiced in the US? Yes, at path/road crossings, at least in some states — certainly Massachusetts, where stop signs typically face the path, but the crossing is striped as a crosswalk. The path and crosswalk carry pedestrians as well.

    I have elevated some of my comments on crosswalks to a new post on this blog.

    As to the Somerville, Massachusetts mandatory bike lane law: it is impossible to obey and in conflict with the General Statutes. It will be struck down if put to the test in court. As to Chicago, I don’t know; maybe someone else can provide an answer.

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