Monday, June 14, 2010

Should bicyclists be ticketed in Newton?

This Newton TAB op-ed on contains a few factual and analytic errors, but offers an opportunity to make a point I've been meaning to make.

The op-ed is by Jason Clevenger, a director of a local masters-level bicycle racing team, 545 Velo. Mr. Clevenger joins the chorus of those frustrated with cyclist scofflaws. It's gotten to the point, Mr. Clevenger seems to suggest, that bicyclist need to be ticketed:

As a complicating factor, it seems as if the police in our communities are not willing to ticket bicycles, so this wanton disregard for safety goes unpunished and unofficially endorsed.

This suggestion has made me bristle in the past. But, you know what, there are laws on the books that govern bicycle riding on public thoroughfares. If this community thinks that it's time for a crackdown on bicyclists, then crackdown the police should.

But, those calling for writing up bike-riding law breakers ought not just make the case that bike riders should be ticketed, but that spending the time and effort to ticket a) will make a difference and b) is a high-priority use of limited police resources. There is little dispute that only high-intensity, sustained enforcement changes driver behavior. Why would it be any different with bicyclists?

In order for the police to start ticketing bicyclists, they would need to re-allocate resources from other activities. (Anybody think that the police don't have enough to do already?) And, despite Mr. Clevenger's assertions, there is no evidence that bicyclists pose a particular harm to others*.

As for me, I think we'd be better served if the police focus on the unending stream of motor vehicle violations, which pose a larger threat (by virtue of vehicle size and speed) to our safety and the comfort of our neighborhoods.

*Bicyclist/pedestrian conflicts don't make up a very large number of deaths or injuries, but cyclists who ride in a way that make pedestrians uneasy or anxious should be treated strictly. Taking a cue from the rules of the sea, all operators should be take special care to make the smaller and slower both feel safe and actually be safe. But, the best solution is probably to provide separate facilities for bikes so that they aren't the same opportunities for conflict.


Anonymous said...

I think the boat analogy is tiresome and inappropriate. Boats can't turn on a dime, and the smaller boats must know that they just can't get in front of a larger vessel whenever they feel like it, otherwise there would be a lot more accidents. You can demand the right of way, all you want, it doesn't mean you get to be reckless, and it doesn't mean that the cyclist won't be at fault. As you've seen from recent accidents. Cambridge gives out tickets, see that other post on your other comment. Anyone ride in Cambridge, has it affected your riding, or wallet?

Sean Roche said...

Anonymous, you're exactly right. The rules on the water don't create a force field around smaller boats. Smaller boats need to exercise care and avoid putting themselves in harm's way. But, the rules of the sea recognize that larger boats, because of the harm they can inflict, have a duty to look out for smaller craft.

In two out of the three recent serious accidents, based on the information in the police reports, it appears that the bikers bear the responsibility for the crash.* In the incident where the cyclist was run over (on Comm. Ave.), the cyclist was behaving as the law allows him. A more attentive driver might very well have avoided the accident.

*I wouldn't rule out equipment failure in the case of Andy von Guerard. There's something that just doesn't add up about his crash.

Anonymous said...

Never give up an opportunity to repeat your mantra. And a more attentive cyclist would have likely avoided the accident too.

Sean Roche said...

Absolutely. A more attentive bicyclist would have avoided the accident. Indeed, a more aggressive bicyclist might have also avoided the accident.

One of our goals, however, is to make roads not only safer, but more forgiving to cyclists. Bikers should be alert at all times. But, it ought to be safe enough to survive less than 100% attentiveness.

Anonymous said...

I ride in Cambridge, and after twice seeing ticketing blitzes for bikers on Hampshire Street, I became more attuned to red-light running. That is, I had already noticed (in Cambridge), that you don't get anywhere faster by blowing through lights, but did it anyway -- afterward, even though I was not ticketed, I was much more cautious.

On the other hand, bicycle misbehavior is almost exclusively an issue of perception, not of personal safety. Cyclists know they lose, and lose big, in collisions with cars, and therefore run lights only when they know they can get away with it (safety-wise). Like others, I'd rather see better education and enforcement of laws protecting cyclists and other road users from cars (such as entering the bike lane; cutting off bikes; making illegal turns; speeding, etc).

Anonymous said...

You start off with a premise that isn't really good, and the attitude of entitlement just tends to shine brighter the more you talk. If people took you seriously, you're going to get someone killed. But I'm sure you'll be right there to point the finger at the driver. Regarding :"But, it ought to be safe enough to survive less than 100% attentiveness." So, a cyclist should be permitted to be less attentive because he can do less harm, but a driver must be 110% more attentive because they can kill someone. On the other end of the spectrum, a pedestrian should be able to not pay attention at all. That kind of thinking is just irresponsible. Whatever happened to taking some responsibility for your own safety?
A driver should be attentive, but a cyclist should clearly understand their vulnerability, and should be 120% attentive. So, should a pedestrian. How many people should walk into a crosswalk before they see the cars actually stopping? How many bicyclists should zip through an intersection when there are gaps, and cars could be turning? Both would be totally within their rights according to the law. Should a car stop in both cases, sure, but it just doesn't always happen. The cyclist has to be ready to stop too. Even more ready, because he/she can be killed. Your argument is absurdly one-sided. The aldermen should know better, but I can now understand the reaction if you were trying to do the convincing. You need education on both sides. Would you ever suggest that your child cross a street aggressively to avoid an accident? It's a ticket to disaster.