Tag Archives: law

Lessons of Spruce Street

I’m posting this in connection with the video I shot of a ride on Spruce Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, already embedded in an earlier post. Spruce Street is a one-way street with parallel parking on the left side, and a bike lane on the right side except for a couple blocks where there is parallel parking on the right side also. Here’s the video. You may click on it to enlarge it. It is a high-definition video, best viewed full-screen.

Now, I’ve quite often been accused at times of being a militant vehicular cyclist.

Militant vehicular cyclists are stereotyped as disparaging all bike lanes, always preferring mixing with motor traffic.

In fact, in my ride on Spruce Street, I was being pragmatic: using the bike lane when it worked for me, leaving the bike lane when the general travel lane worked better. The bike lane worked quite well for me when I chose to use it. It safely allowed faster motorists to overtake me, and me to overtake slower motorists, between intersections.

But now, a Philadelphia cyclist, K.K. (I’ll just use initials) has turned the vehicular cycling complaint on its head, accusing me of being subservient to motorists, because I did not always stay in the bike lane on Spruce Street in Philadelphia. I’m going to try to probe the rationale for this.

What would explain K.K.’s complaint? She doesn’t say. I can only speculate. So, I’ll do that.

I spent a bit more time waiting than if I’d always ridden up to the intersection in the bike lane, but I don’t think that is the point. Assertiveness, for K.K., amounts to territoriality, as in: “the bike lane is my part of the street, and by not using it 100% of the time to get ahead, you are failing to stand up for cyclists’ rights.”

It also appears to me that K.K. thinks that militant use of the bike lane sends a message that will lead to improvements in motorists’ behavior so they respect bicyclists more, and safety will improve — the “safety in numbers” argument. Perhaps. But don’t count on it to save your life.

And it also appears that she thinks it is actually safer to stay in the bike lane, which is a sad situation, because people are getting killed by riding in the bike lane up to the coffin corner before intersections. Large trucks have been turning right from the next lane, knocking bicyclists down and running over them.

Topping off the irony, the remedy to the coffin-corner crashes now being proposed by the Philadelphia Bicycle Coalition is to force bicyclists into the coffin corner by placing a barrier between the bike lane and the general travel lane, creating what is ironically called a “protected bike lane.”

If you would like to see the specifics of K.K.’s complaint, and my responses, they are here. Yes, I know that a logical dialog doesn’t work with people whose minds are closed. But it may be useful for others to get a taste of how such minds work.

Spruce Street, Philadelphia

Bicyclist Emily Fredericks was killed, crushed by a right-turning garbage truck, on Spruce Street in Philadelphia on November 29. Another bicyclist, Becca Refford, was similarly right hooked a block away on Pine Street on December 8 and suffered serious injuries. I happened to have video of a ride I took on Spruce Street, including the crash location. I put editing of this video onto the fast track, adding narration about how to ride safely on this street, in the interest of preventing future such tragic and avoidable crashes. Please share with friends in Philadelphia.

This is high-definition video and is best viewed in YouTube at 1080-line resolution, or the highest resolution your monitor will support, if less than that. Click on the video to bring up the link to the version on YouTube.

Dutch Strict Liability Myth

A commenter on Facebook made a statement which is often heard in the USA:

“A Dutch lady said they have so few hurt because drivers are guilty unless they can prove they weren’t.”

Well, this doesn’t quite amount to fake news as such. I don’t expect that there was any intention to deceive, but it is hearsay.

The actual situation with liability in the Netherlands is more complicated, as described in the flow chart below, from a Bicycle Dutch blog post — which cites the Dutch traffic law, in case you would like to take your exploration of the topic further. You may click on the image to enlarge it.

Dutch strict liability flow chart

Dutch strict liability flow chart

I’m simplifying somewhat, but Dutch strict liability works much like no-fault auto insurance in the USA, and applies only to compensation for injuries, not to penalties.

Chicago Bike Lane Guide, a Blast from the Past

The Chicago  Bike Lane Design Guide, published by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center of the University of North Carolina in cooperation with the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation and the City of Chicago, is available online on the NACTO site.

What would be a cyclist’s safest line of travel in the situation shown? Safest would be in line with the motor traffic, as counterintuitive as that may seem. Every credible bicycling education program advises this. That is where motorists have a good view of cyclists and interact with us according to the normal rules of the road. On the street shown, with only one lane for motor vehicles in the bicyclists’ direction of travel, riding in line with motor traffic would, certainly, be inconvenient for the motorists. So, perhaps a better solution would be to choose another street. Chicago is a grid city and offers many choices. Different street improvements might also be considered.

But, what does the cover show? Here it is.

Cover of the Chicago Bike Lane Design Guide

Cover of the Chicago Bike Lane Design Guide

There are some oddities about the photo — I’ll describe them first, before getting to my main point.

  • The bicyclist’s helmet is too far back on his head, and so, not strapped on securely either.
  • The saddle of his bicycle is too low, and he is pedaling on the arches of his feet, making pedaling inefficient and suggesting that he does not know the best technique for stopping and restarting.
  • His trouser leg is not secured against catching in the chain.
  • I’d prefer that cyclists wear cycling gloves and brighter-colored clothing, though I don’t indulge in finger-pointing against cyclists who don’t.

All in all, the cyclist looks awkward. It appears to me that the photo is intended to show that a newbie, awkward, timid bicyclist can find relief from anxiety by riding in a bike lane. Or maybe the people who did this photo shoot didn’t know any better — and that is troubling on the cover of a guide published by the organizations it identifies as its creators.

This is a posed photo shoot. If the cyclist had kept riding, he would have collided with the photographer. Even the bus probably was recruited, stopped so its picture could be taken. Choices in staging this photo, not only in selecting it,  were intentional.

But here is the main point: though knowledgeable bicyclists had been warning about riding within range of an opening door of a parked car for decades, the bicyclist shown is riding in the middle of a bike lane adjacent to a parking lane, in the door zone. The bus shown passing the bicyclist carries the implication that the bike lane makes this interaction safe.

An opening car door throws a bicyclist out into the street. The same year the Guide was published, a cyclist in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a brilliant and accomplished graduate student, was doored and thrown against the side of a city bus. She fell under its rear wheels and was crushed to death. I wrote about that incident shortly thereafter. Many similar incidents have occurred over the years, and their number continues to increase.

I have posted comments on the Chicago Bike Lane Guide’s approach to the question of the door zone on another page.




An undertaking undertaking

I answered this question on the Quora question-answering site.

Who is at fault if a driver undertakes you from behind you while you are safely making a left turn on a one-way road?

First, let’ define “undertaking”. That doesn’t mean that the vehicle is a hearse. It means that the vehicle passes between yours and the edge of the road when you are near the edge and turning toward it. Since the question mentions a left turn, the questioner is probably in a country where traffic keeps left by default and normally passes on the right. The term ‘undertake” is more commonly used in the British Isles than in North America in any case. But the question could apply to a left turn from the left side of a one-way street anywhere.

Usually, the driver who undertakes is at fault. Generally there is not room for another dual-track vehicle to pass between the turning vehicle and the edge of the roadway, though there may be room if more than one lane allows left turns, or room for a single-track vehicle (motorcycle, motorized bicycle, bicycle). A driver might also undertake on a highway shoulder or by driving off the road. In any of these cases, it is illegal.

Some countries place a bicycle lane or barrier-separated bikeway in the path of the turning traffic, and if the undertaking driver is a bicyclist, the turning driver is held at fault. The resulting conflict may be not mitigated at all, or mitigated in any of several ways — with warning signs, street geometry, street markings or traffic signals. The intention of this arrangement is to relieve bicyclists of the burden of mixing with motor traffic to travel straight through the intersection, and so, placing all of the responsibility for avoiding collisions on the motorist.

Because of the speed with which bicyclists travel, the turning driver is required to look to the rear to the side toward which he or she is turning, rather than only first merging to the lane position for the turn and then yielding to pedestrians who are standing on the corner or walking in the crosswalk. Looking to the rear imposes an additional task burden on the driver at a time where attention to the front and sides is also in demand, and may even be impossible, depending on the geometry of the intersection and the design of the turning vehicle. Unless drivers know to expect this conflict and mitigating factors are in place, this is a risky situation, often resulting in what is called in the USA a “right hook” collision. It also reduces the throughput of intersections by requiring additional waiting — sometimes by motorists, sometimes by bicyclists and sometimes by both.


The “Dutch Reach”

I have sent the following message to Dr. Michael Charney, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, promoter of the “Dutch Reach”. The “Dutch Reach” is motorists’ opening the drive’s side door with the opposite hand, so they must look back for bicyclists riding within range of an opening car door.

Dr. Charney —

Have you studied the literature of bicycle crash causation and prevention, see for example Paul Schimek’s study of Boston bicycle crashes — or had any instruction in best practices for safe cycling,  for example through the CyclingSavvy program or the League of American Bicyclists Smart cycling program?

Sure, the Dutch Reach will prevent doorings as long as the motorist remembers to use it.

It probably works reasonably well in the Netherlands, where bicyclists have great political influence, where enforcement against motorists is draconian and where bicyclists’ squeezing through tight spaces is unavoidable on crowded, narrow streets that date back to medieval times.

Promotion of the Dutch Reach at least acknowledges that bicyclists riding at normal speeds are unable to stop in time to avoid an opening car door, as hasn’t been universally acknowledged in advice given to bicyclists.

Car doors aren’t the only problem with riding close to parked cars. There are also ride-outs, drive-outs, merge-outs and walk-outs, all of which, as well as dooring, are avoidable by riding far enough from parked vehicles to see, be seen, and have maneuvering room. Every motorist who gets out of the car on the street side is also going to walk out around the front or back of it to get back in, and merge out to drive away. The resulting risks are avoidable only by riding outside the door zone, or if in it, very slowly and cautiously.

Bicyclists who are in a position to be doored also are often overtaking on the right, subjecting themselves to risks of right-hook and left-cross collisions. The “Dutch reach” addresses only dooring.

Promoting the Dutch Reach as if it would make door-zone bicycling safe promotes the false belief that most car-bike crashes on urban streets are overtaking crashes. In fact, these are rare. Bicyclists still have the other problems which result from edge-riding, and become uneasy. These bicyclists’ beliefs either trap them in the door zone or lead them to quit bicycling.

Bicyclists who rely on the Dutch Reach are defining themselves as helpless victims, expecting the same motorists they fear to take all of the responsibility for their safety. Self-definition as a victim prevents bicyclists from understanding that they can take actions to improve their own safety.

Promoting the Dutch Reach perpetuates the idea that bicyclists are second-class citizens, motorists have a superior right to use the road, and promotes the construction of door-zone bicycle lanes which codify that belief.

Most media outlets cover the Dutch Reach — as is usual with bicycling issues — out of context. Once again, as with helmets, bike lanes, etc. etc., a single measure, which has benefits and also which can fail, is described as if it is a be-all-and end-all and draws attention away from what could be a comprehensive and reasoned approach to bicyclists’ mobility and safety.

Would you as an MD advise your patients to come in for a yearly doctor visit and dismiss things they can do for themselves: healthy diet, avoiding smoking, exercise, monitoring for symptoms of serious disease? Would you ignore research which shows the importance of these practices? No, but you are promoting a single practice which can address only one of many safety issues facing bicyclists, and whose promotion unfortunately reinforces common misconceptions and distracts from comprehensive solutions.

Thank you for your attention.

About the bicycle radar reflector Kickstarter campaign

This article has been translated into Portuguese. Brazilian flag
This is commentary about a Kickstarter campaign for a radar retroreflector integrated into a bicycle taillight assembly.

An image from the Web site:

Image from Ilumaware Web site

Image from Ilumaware Web site



One nice thing I can say about the product is that it is quite inexpensive, so I’ll say that first. The reason is that this is not a high-tech product. This is a low-tech component of a system whose high-tech component is in cars.

Retroreflectors work by concentrating light (or in the case of a radar reflector, radar signals) back toward the source. The product is a single cube-corner retroreflector. Optical retroreflectors are the insect’s eye version, with multiple smaller reflective elements, so they work at the much shorter wavelengths of visible light. The technology is described on another Web page.

As to the effectiveness of this product, I have no doubt that it improves the visibility of a bicycle to radar — but…

The product’s Web site repeatedly uses the term “OTR technology”, without ever spelling out the meaning of the acronym. I couldn’t find a definition anywhere online, either. This term makes the product appear more high-tech than it is. Indeed, the site claims:

Stealth techniques use radar reflection to make an object less visible and/or “invisible” to radar. We have reverse engineered this technique into a product used by a cyclist to make you more visible to a car. This is a revolutionary application of radar technology.

Reverse engineering is correctly defined as analysis of an undocumented product to develop specifications for a duplicate or similar product. Examples are the Wright brothers’ reverse engineering the flight characteristics of birds to design aircraft, and Linus Torvald’s reverse engineering the proprietary Unix computer operating system to construct the Linux operating system. The Kickstarter campaign uses the words “reverse engineered” inaccurately, so as to mislead people who do not understand it, as if to mean design of a product to have the opposite effect of an existing product. And when that product is a stealth bomber — wow, now the new product must be extremely high-tech! Again, the product is a simple cube-corner radar retroreflector, as has been used in boating for decades. The designers describe design and optimization of their product, but this is plain vanilla engineering, not reverse engineering.

A radar retroreflector which works in all directions is more desirable, (though it still will not always work, even if a car has radar, because the radar beam may not be aimed in its direction, and there may be a line-of-sight obstruction).

Radar alone as a robotic aid to a human driver is possible, but not very practical. Only a small percentage of cars have radar as of yet. A human driver uses visual cues. A fully-robotic car also must, because not every potential obstacle will be as large or reflect radar signals as well as a bicycle — think potholes, cats and dogs, etc.

The product, as shown on the Web site, includes an active taillight, but no optical retroreflector — though installed in the same location on the seatpost which is usual for one — following in the long tradition of new products promoted as a panacea for cyclists’ conspicuity problems while ignoring basic legal and functional requirements. Most states require a retroreflector or taillight, but any taillight can go out without the bicyclist’s being aware of that, and so any bicyclist who rides after dark should have a rear-facing retroreflector, not only a taillight.

The online promotion entirely fails to mention the need for a headlight, or the legal requirement for one. The Web site shows a bicycle with no headlight.

A bicyclist must always use a headlight at night, because an optical forward-facing reflector does not alert pedestrians or drivers who do not have headlights aimed at the bicycle (cars backing out of driveways, at stop signs in side streets, other bicyclists without headlights, etc.) Still, unlike the optical retroreflectors on bicycles, a forward-facing radar retroreflector is likely to be effective, because a car’s radar is likely to scan in more directions and its pulsed output is immune to interference from other sources. But the retroreflector here is only rearward-facing.

The online promotion also makes a number of inaccurate statements.

 Riding with a tail light [sic] is important regardless of the time of day.

While a very bright taillight can help to alert drivers — human or robotic —  during daytime, reducing the probability of a collision somewhat, there is no law requiring a taillight (or rear-facing optical retroreflector) when riding during daytime.

* “In 2015, more than 35,000+ collisions occurred between cars and cyclists in the U.S. Approximately every 3 minutes, world-wide, 6 people die and nearly 285 people are injured in collisions involving cars and bicycles. The majority of these accidents are from behind because drivers didn’t see the rider and it is NOT because they did not have a tail light.”

This is wildly inaccurate. While rural car-overtaking-bike collisions are disproportionately serious and fatal, only approximately 7% of car-bicycle collisions in the USA are car-overtaking-bike collisions. A very large percentage of these occurs to cyclists riding at night without a taillight! In urban areas, most of the serious and fatal collisions involve turning and crossing movements. No rear-facing conspicuity equipment —  optical or radar retroreflector, or taillight, will prevent most of these. Sure, many if not most car-overtaking bike crashes could be avoided, day and night, by use of a radar reflector, if cars have radar connected to a robotic crash avoidance system — but again, as of yet, only a very small percentage of cars is so equipped. Which takes me to my next quote:

* “In 2016 … there are 470 out of 566 unique car models sold in the U.S. equipped with radar (83%).”

This is very seriously overstated. Saying that a model is equipped with radar is not the same as saying that radar is standard. Adaptive cruise control is still often an expensive option. Only some adaptive cruise control systems include automatic crash avoidance. Some systems use laser ranging rather than radar. The fleet of motor vehicles turns over slowly. More even-handed estimates are found in this article in the Detroit News. Quote from that article:

IHS Automotive forecasts 7.2 percent of vehicles produced globally by 2020 will feature adaptive cruise control, up from 2.2 percent in 2014.

More details and a list of vehicles are on Wikipedia.

Why do promotions like this occur? Fundamentally, because regulation of bicycle equipment in the USA at the Federal level, where equipment standards are set, is a Wild West situation, harkening to the interests of the bicycle industry. That is another story, too big to cover here.










Lane Control on Lexington Street

Here’s a video showing a bicycle ride on a constant mile-long upslope, at speeds of 10 to 12 miles per hour (16 to 20 km/h), on a suburban 4-lane speedway with narrow lanes and no shoulders, the most challenging street in the community where I live. Motor taffic was very light, and auite fast. Points made:

  • Lane control is not about riding fast: it is about controlling one’s space.
  • Lane control is necessary so motorists will overtake at a safe lateral distance on a street with a narrow right-hand lane.
  • By requiring motorists to make full lane change, lane control lets a cyclist with a rear-view mirror confirm well in advance that motorists will overtake with a safe lateral distance.
  • With the light traffic on a multi-lane street, a slow bicyclist does not cause any significant delay to motorists.
  • Most motorists are cooperative.
  • A few motorists are abusive — even though they can easily overtake in the next lane —  but they too overtake safely.
  • American traffic law supports lane control.

Lane Control on Lexington Street from John Allen on Vimeo.

Ogden, Utah skateboarder stop

There’s plenty of confusion to go around here.


Deputy: “I don’t care, you’re right in the middle of the road.” No, the boarder was on the shoulder, at least in the part of the video the TV station broadcast.

Was that legal? Bicycling is allowed on shoulders in many states. I couldn’t find anything on that on the Utah legislative site section on bicycles, http://le.utah.gov/xcode/Title41/Chapter6A/41-6a-P11.html.

But the man was on a skateboard, not a bicycle. Under Utah law, the skateboard is defined as a vehicle, last definition here: http://le.utah.gov/xcode/Title41/Chapter6a/41-6a-S1105.html and so, under the law, the skateboarder should have been in the travel lane, not on the shoulder or a sidewalk, if any, as little sense as that may make.

So, the officer’s charge was false. If the boarder were defined as a pedestrian, then shoulder use in the absence of a sidewalk would be legal if the boarder was traveling opposite the direction of traffic (he wasn’t), — not that this is sensible when it would have required crossing to the far side of a multi-lane road. http://le.utah.gov/…/Title41/Chapter6A/41-6a-S1009.html.

There is a sidewalk, as shown in Google Earth and Street View images.

The TV station video is edited at 00:25. It doesn’t show the entire conversation between the deputy and the boarder before the boarder attempted to flee — so we don’t know about an opportunity to comply. Other question is how the boarder could comply if there was nowhere to go except up and down a road bordered by vegetation. The deputy ran after the boarder and attempted to stop him. Probably better to let him go. The boarder fought the deputy, violently. Not smart at all.

Translation of complete paper on German bikeways 1897-1940

I’ve prepared a full translation of the important paper by Dr. Volker Briese of the University of Paderborn in Germany about the history of German bikeways from 1897 through the start of World War II. This has previously been available only in German, or in a highly condensed version in English in the narrowly distributed Proceedings of the 1993 International Cycle History Conference. You may read the English translation here, and also find your way to the other versions as well if they are what you would prefer.