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By Forrest Hershberger
View from the Handlebars 

Lowering the Expectation, But At What Cost

 

August 24, 2022 | View PDF

Several years ago, I was scolded by a friend when I did a u-turn on a street I thought was empty and he didn’t see my bike.

Oddly enough, some time later, I almost laid down the same bike to avoid a collision in a very touchy intersection.

No, it wasn’t a motorcycle. It was the other two-wheeled variety. It wasn’t clumsiness. It was the risk of riding on a city street. (P.S.: I don't ride that bike much anymore.)

Not long after that I heard a proposal for cyclists to have softer rules at an intersection… in Colorado. A motorized vehicle approaches a stop sign, the driver is expected to stop. A bicyclist approaches a stop sign, if the intersection is clear he can ride through like it’s a yield sign.

Similar changes for light-controlled intersections.

For cyclists, it sounds like another level of freedom, that point where bikers and cyclists share ideology. Enjoy the wind in your face and the freedom of the road.

Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but for the moment, they are at the same place.

Again, it sounds good, until you look at the proverbial other side of the street. What do you say to the driver and the cyclist who met by accident, (reference intended)? What do you say to the parent who visits his son or daughter in the cemetery for not following safety and the traffic code?

People have asked me about the concept, family and friends, and cycling friends. Its one of those discussions that doesn’t have a one-and-done answer. I can cite names of riders who have ridden thousands of miles without even a close-call with a motorized vehicle, and I can supply a longer list of children and adults who cycle as if the existing traffic code is little more than a suggestion, that they are living a bullet-proof blessed life and ignorantly or arrogantly stare death in the face like a challenge.

I can easily say the thought of reducing the expectation of cyclists is a bad idea. The rest of the answer is why. Many would look at me with this unstated question of “would you rather stop at an intersection?”

The answer is no, but I do want to come home at the end of each ride. My answer to this thought is, controlled intersection or not, I check the intersection before entering; never assume the awareness of the other driver.

The concept, many forget, including the lawmakers favoring this idea, is that most laws are written for people who don’t try to follow safety, and right and wrong.

Traffic codes are written for the same reason there are no smoking signs near gas pumps. From traffic laws on up, the idea of law and order addresses those who are too carefree and almost anarchistic in spirit to respect their safety and the safety of others.

The laws are written for that personality who looks for the line in the sand and challenges it. So back to where we started: why soften the expectation for a group that could be legally right and just as injured, or worse, if they lose a contest with a car or truck? Better licensure of cyclists? It has been discussed as well, but why if lawmakers soften the law?

The expectation is for cyclists to follow the traffic code, just as an automobile driver. Inconvenient at times? Yes. But it is the safest of alternatives, except riding designated bike paths. Ultimately, Colorado needs to leave the law alone, and Nebraska lawmakers need to be wary of anyone who proposes allowing cyclists to blow through an intersection legally.

 

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