Tag Archives: League of American Bicyclists

Building bridges?

There’s lots of material about Boston in this League of American Bicyclists policy document about bridge access:

http://www.bikeleague.org/resources/reports/pdfs/bridges.pdf

I regard the document as good in its recommendations on advocacy strategies. It does overemphasize separate bikeways over shoulder and bike lane treatments — less expensive, sometimes no-cost solutions, and more suitable for use through winter — though they often accommodate only bicyclists and not pedestrians.

But — see pages 7. 11, 12, 18: Praise is heaped on Livable Streets, which is not a bicycling organization, though it is listed on the League’s Web site and is presumably, then, as of recently, a League member organization. There is no mention whatever of Massbike, which has a 35-year history in advocacy, which has been involved in the same bridge advocacy efforts, and whose President is on the League’s Board of Directors.

What message is League President Andy Clarke trying to send?

Bob Mionske on “Driver Sues Family of Deceased Cyclist”

In a Bicycling Magazine blog posting, Bicycling attorney Bob Mionske describes an appalling situation: a motorist driving over 80 mph in a 45 mph zone struck and killed a teenage bicyclist in Connecticut. The bicyclist’s family sued the driver — but then, the driver countersued the family, claiming that the bicyclist was negligent in not wearing a helmet.

Connecticut law excludes such claims. Mionske says that the Connecticut legislature, in its wisdom, excluded the claims because bicycle helmets cannot protect bicyclists in high-speed collisions with motor vehicles.

I seriously question Mionske’s explanation. The same exclusion exists in laws requiring seat belts and automotive child seats, which usually do protect their users in collisions. Also, bicycle helmets do protect bicyclists in many if not most car-bike collisions. Only a small percentage involve high-speed impacts. The bicyclist cut off by a crossing or turning vehicle, or sideswiped, may only be dumped onto the road or onto the hood of a car, and head injury may be survivable or even completely avoided if the bicyclist is wearing a helmet.

Any passive safety equipment — seatbelt, child seat, helmet — can sometimes prevent injury, but cannot prevent a crash. To allow the victim to sue the perpetrator, and to prevent the perpetrator from suing the victim, is a moral issue, not a technical one. This is even more important when a law is poorly understood and weakly enforced, as with bicycle helmet laws. Children often ride bicycles where parents can not monitor them. Distribution of helmets also is an issue, when a helmet can cost as much as a cheap bicycle. In states with contributory negligence statutes, it’s worse yet: a finding of 1% negligence on the part of the victim results in dismissal of a lawsuit against the perpetrator.

To my knowledge, I was first to raise the issue of the liability exclusion. Back in the 1980s, well-meaning safety advocates, most importantly Safe Kids USA, had begun promoting bicycle helmet laws. A law was enacted in Massachusetts, where I live, without a liability exclusion. As a member of the League of American Wheelmen State Legislative Committee, I campaigned for a better law, and it was enacted. The League’s Consumer Affairs Committee, on which I served, publicized the issue of the liability exclusion, and it was written into the laws of many states, including Connecticut.

The League remained neutral on the issue of helmet laws, as its members’ opinion on them was divided — also realizing that fighting helmet laws could look bad and might not succeed; but the League insisted that such laws include the same liability exclusion as other safety-equipment laws. To their credit, safety advocates responded positively, supporting laws with the liability exclusion and innovative penalty structures. Examples:

  • no penalty, but only a warning;
  • penalty waived if the violator purchased a helmet;
  • positive incentive, such as coupon for a free serving at an ice cream shop for a kid seen wearing a helmet.

The safety advocates also initiated helmet distribution campaigns for disadvantaged children. With time, the awareness became widespread that educational and promotional campaigns, more than laws, would be effective in increasing the rate of helmet use in the USA.

Helmets sometimes prevent injury and sometimes don’t — but that wasn’t the issue that propelled the campaign for liability exclusions. That a helmet would not have prevented injury could, quite to the contrary, point out the seriousness of a crash and make a persuasive argument that a bicyclist should recover damages!

Support petition candidates in League of American Bicyclists election.

Three League of American Bicyclists members are petitioning to run as candidates for the Board of Directors. They have asked me to post their message, and here it is. I have signed their petition and I suggest that if you are a League member, you also do.

Did you know that by next year, nearly half of the LAB Board (7 of 15 members) will be appointed? This means that seven board members will not feel a commitment to be responsive to members. The League board changed the Bylaws this July — without asking members whether they approve of having their influence weakened.

We think this is unacceptable in a membership organization. Please help us protect the rights of all members. Support candidates who will work to make all Board members elected and responsive to members, and who will work to re-direct LAB to better defend cyclists’ rights and represent members’ interests.

In addition to appointing the unelected directors, the Board controls who can get on the ballot. They accepted only one reform candidate, Bill Hoffman, who is currently on the Board. This means John Brooking, Eli Damon and Khal Spencer must collect over 1000 petition signatures to get on the ballot.

We hope you will sign our ballot petition. You can sign online at http://www.PetitionOnline.com/0league0/petition.html
If you want more information and especially if you would like to help us collect signatures, please see http://www.labreform.org/campaign/

We apologize if you get more than one request to sign our ballot petition. Time is critical — we must receive all petitions by October 20 and we need many signatures. We are contacting affiliated clubs, cycling lists, cycling instructors and anyone we can. You can help by forwarding this message and the petition link to any LAB members you know.

After you have signed and returned the petition, please let us know so can verify that all petitions are counted.

And please remember to vote for us and for Bill Hoffman when balloting opens on Dec. 1.

Thank you very much for your support and vote.

John Brooking

Eli Damon

Khal Spencer

Review of New York Times article of June 5, 2007

This is a review of the article Cars and Bikes Can Mix, When the Rules of the Road Are Clear, which appeared in the New York Times on June 5, 2007 and is available online.

That’s a good headline, except that the problem is usually with behavior, not the rules of the road. The author is an all-too-typical bicyclist who has not learned or been taught good information, and the article has a number of significant errors. It isn’t up to the Times’s standards.

The article mentions the League of American Bicyclists “Share the Road” campaign but without identifying it. The author would do well to attend a League Bike-Ed class.

The article leads with what bleeds, descriptions of fatal crashes. Fear factor is clearly at work here.

Pictures of crash types show them but not how to avoid them — useless information.

And now, I’ll comment on some specific statements in the article.

  • “Thanks to the proliferation of designated bike paths and the growing use of helmets, deaths among bicyclists have declined to around 600 a year from about 800. Still, 600 is 600 too many, as are the approximately 46,000 annual injuries that cyclists suffer in crashes with motor vehicles.” Bike paths don’t have a significant effect on the fatality rate; most riding is on streets. The 600 to 800 figure is about right for the USA, but the article confusingly makes several references to New York City. Cyclist fatalities per year have declined substantially since the 1970s, but largely due to a decline in cycling by children. There has been a small uptick in cyclist fatalities, along with other traffic fatalities, in the past few years.
  • “Prompted by organizations like Transportation Alternatives, the city has created hundreds of bike paths on or near city streets.” The facilities on streets are bike lanes, not bike paths. Hundreds of miles, I think, not hundreds of facilities. Paths adjacent to city streets, with few exceptions, should not be described as a safety improvement, as they have a poor safety record due to crossing and turning conflicts at intersections.
  • “Bicycles are legally entitled to use most roads, though they must ride on the shoulder when the speed limit exceeds 50 miles per hour.” Bicyclists are required to allow other traffic to overtake when safe in all states, but are required specifically to use the shoulder only in Maryland, Alaska, New York and Colorado. Each of these states has exceptions to the rule, for example to turn left or if the shoulder is not usable. See Paul Schimek’s guide to traffic laws.
  • The author advises motorists: “[w]hen turning right, signal well ahead of time, turn from the middle of the intersection rather than across the bike path, and make sure no bike is on your right before you turn. Do not pass a cyclist if you will be turning right immediately after.” Again, the author confuses bike lanes with bike paths. Her advice for motorists to turn right from the left lane is contrary to law, which requires that motorists merge into the bike lane. “[A]nd make sure no bike is on your right before you turn.” This is a problem when turning right from the left lane — the look to the rear can distract motorists from the traffic situation ahead in the intersection; and the bike lane can give bicyclists a false sense of security in moving forward into motorists’ right rear blindspot. Bicyclists best avoid this by merging left, or not advancing to the head of the bike lane when a vehicle is waiting there.
  •  “More than half of collisions occur when cyclists and drivers are on perpendicular paths,” Poorly stated, inaccurate and misleading. The expression “Perpendicular-path” collision apparently is an invention by the author. Most car-bike crashes occur due to crossing and turning movements — not necessarily perpendicular, for example if a motorist overtakes a bicyclist and turns right. What the author doesn’t say, apparently because she doesn’t understand it, it that only about 7% of car-bike crashes are the widely-feared rear-enders.
  •  “Signal all turns and stops and make full stops at stop signs.” The author gives rote advice which fails to convey the purpose of signaling. Bicyclists need to signal to indicate the desire to merge when preparing a turn, to overtake stopped vehicles and in many other situations. The law in most states exempts bicyclists from signaling when the hands must be on the handlebar for control. There is in any case no need to signal once in the position to turn — the bicyclist’s position makes the intention clear. Bicyclists can’t signal when using handbrakes. But there is generally no need to signal when slowing or stopping, as a following driver can see past the bicyclist, who is usually going slower anyway. The purpose of a bicyclist’s slow signal is generally to indicate to a following driver that it is unsafe to pass.
  •  “Never ride on the sidewalk – sidewalk crashes are 25 times as frequent than crashes that occur on major streets. Safest are streets with bike lanes.” The 25 times figure is from Moritz’s survey of adult bicyclists. Some other studies show sidewalks to be, whew, only 4 or 5 times as dangerous. The Moritz study shows streets with bike lanes to be slightly safer than others, but no study makes a valid comparison with all other things (available width, traffic volume etc.) being equal. In addition, there are certain particular hazards in bike lanes of which bicyclists should be aware — right-turn conflicts, car doors etc.
  • “Ride in a straight path. If you must pull out into the lane used by drivers, turn around first to be sure the coast is clear.” No, not “turn around” — look back, signal if necessary to get a driver’s cooperation, then look back again to be sure you have it.
  • “If you are stopped at a light or stop sign to the right of a car or truck, the driver might not see you.” Don’t go there. Stop behind the first vehicle. Stopping next to the front of a vehicle can be deadly, as the rear wheels can sweep across your path if it turns right. This is especially so with long trucks and buses.
  • “Try to make eye contact with drivers before you change lanes or turn left.” It helps to see whether the driver is looking toward you, if possible, but the real test is to make sure the driver has yielded to you.
  • “Wear brightly colored clothing in daylight (though I was wearing an electric blue running suit when I was hit and the driver still failed to see me);” She probably had positioned herself out of the driver’s view, or in a direction the driver wouldn’t normally look, or else the driver was lying.
  • “If you cycle at night, you are supposed to have a white headlight and red taillight (preferably a blinking one) so drivers can see you.” Not “supposed to” but the law, which in most states requires a rear reflector and/or steady taillight (though blinking ones work too) and in many states, requires additional reflectors. Additional reflectors are a good idea in any case.
  • “Scan the road 100 feet ahead for possible hazards.” Why 100 feet ahead? Scanning distance depends on speed, road and traffic conditions.

Whew.