A reply to comments on my previous post…

In a comment on my previous post, Khal Spencer asked whether the extension of a bike lane in a bike box is in fact a lane, or whether on the other hand, the bike box is more like a crosswalk. Let’s have a closer look at that issue.

If we consider the bike box to be like a crosswalk, rather than the part which continues the bike lane to be a lane, then pedestrian rules should in theory apply. In section 11-502 of the Uniform Vehicle code, I read:

(b) No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close as
to constitute an immediate hazard.

Massachusetts state law establishes rules for motorists at crosswalks but doesn’t have a rule for pedestrians — one of the many gaps in our law, which was never conformed to the Uniform Vehicle Code. Code of Massachusetts Regulations 720, established by the Highway Department (now part of MassDOT) fills in the omission, but only applies to state highways. I can just imagine the officials at the Highway Department taking a look at the state law, maybe proposing revisions which the legislature didn’t pass, and then promulgating this regulation, with the intent, “not on our watch!”

9.09 (4) Pedestrian Crossings and Use of Roadways.

(a) No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a sidewalk or safety island and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield the right of way.

On the other hand, in case we don’t consider the bike box to be a crosswalk, the regulations state

9.09 (5)

Crossing at Non-Signalized Locations. Every pedestrian crossing a roadway in an urban area at any point other than within a marked crosswalk shall yield the right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway. At a point where a pedestrian tunnel or overpass has been provided, pedestrians shall cross the roadway only by the proper use of the tunnel or overpass.

These rules for pedestrians are the closest Massachusetts has to a law which applies to the bike box. There is no law which applies specifically to the bicyclist’s swerving into a bike box, People who promote bike boxes in the USA don’t concern themselves with establishing a legal framework for them. In any context affecting public safety and which draws appropriate intellectual scrutiny, this would be regarded as wanton recklessness, but bicycling doesn’t draw that scrutiny. The law, to the degree these people concern themselves with it at all, is a problem. “The law is for cars,” — most usually, an excuse for noncompliance by individuals, extended to a license for installations which also pay no regard to law. We aren’t talking about the honored tradition of civil disobedience here, we are talking about opportunistic bicycle operation, sometimes in reasonable ways, such as failing to come to a foot-down stop at a stop sign, sometimes in more important and perilous ways, such as overtaking unsafely on the right. Thsi opportunism expands its scope into disregard for the law by government itself. The installations come first, and changes in the law can wait till later once the installations are a fait accompli. I have discussed this same issue before, in connection with some “Yield to Bikes” signs which Cambridge has installed. Laws to accommodate unsafe movements will consist of reduced burdens of proof and increased penalties for motorists, for colliding with defenseless cyclists — in installations which have rendered the cyclists defenseless, where only the motorist can prevent a collision — and can only prevent it using extreme caution.

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