BPAC Meeting, 200908

August 19th, 2009

The second meeting of the NCTCOG Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee was held today. Turnout was much better than I had expected; representation by bicycle advocates was more dismal than I suspected.

As with the previous BPAC meeting, NCTCOG offered a web seminar to interested parties prior to the general meeting. This month’s topic was “Safe Routes to School”. Due to work obligations, I was not able to make it to the seminar and can offer no summary. If the past is any indication, the accompanying documents will be available at the BPAC website in the next day or so.

The BPAC meeting began five minutes late and commenced with introductions. Though there was ample representation by the various municipalities, other governmental agencies and NGOs, the only group even remotely affiliated with bicycle advocacy in attendance was the Texas Trails Network. Though I was the only individual who identified themselves as cyclist, there were at least three others who simply gave their name and no affiliation. Both principals from Bowman-Melton Associates were in attendance as were representatives from TBG Partners and an ambiguous entity known as “SGK Associates”. There were also representatives from the Injury Prevention Center of Dallas and DART.

Topics discussed at this meeting were Safe Routes to School, the Cottonwood Trail and a Regional Veloweb update.

Safe Routes to School

The Safe Routes to School discussion began with an overview presentation by COG staff, followed by comments by TxDOT staff and a short Q&A session. Some highlights from my notes included comments by COG staff on the following subjects: pedestrian injuries third leading cause of death among children and mention that a large number of schools no longer “allow” children to bicycle to school; even going so far as to remove racks.

I challenged the comments by COG staff by posing a couple of questions. Though intended as rhetorical, they were couched in such a manner as to solicit a response to verify the obvious. Citing the statement pertaining to pedestrian injured being the third leading cause of death among children, I asked whether this statistic was specific to school zones or a general rate. Staff confirmed my suspicion that this was an overall rate and could not cite what proportion was specific to school zones. Since the discussion centered around the benefits of the Safe Routes to School program and its benefits, I offered that this would be the more pertinent statistic.

When asked to further explain the finding that many administrations no longer “allowed” students to bicycle to school and were actually removing racks, I posed it as a dichotomous inquiry: was the reasoning paternalistic oversight or a disuse/maintenance issue? The answer fit closer to the first. The justification cited dealt with the perception of liability on the part of the school district if a student were hit and injured while riding a bike on school property. I countered that the Safe Routes to School program deals primarily with providing enhancements to protect pedestrians and cyclists off-campus, en route to school. Implementing changes  on these fronts would do little to mitigate the potential for injury on school property.

During the course of the staff presentation, revenue generated by the sale of “God Bless Texas” and God Bless America” specialty plates was cited as a source for funding Safe Routes to School. Figures of $44 million dollars in infrastructure allocations and $2.4 million in non-infrastructure funding were mentioned. My final question was directed at the TxDOT staff.Citing SB161, I asked how non-infrastructure funding would be affected by the passage of this legislation given that the average annual distribution of funding for 2007 matched almost exactly the revenue cited during legislative testimony as being shifted from TxDOT to a “designated statewide nonprofit organization”. Admitting their ignorance of SB161 and after having explained its ramifications to them, the TxDOT staff indicated they had no knowledge of how the specialty plate revenue had been utilized in the past or how it would — being shifted, for all intents and purposes, to TBC — in the future. Don Koski, the committee chair, suggested this might better be answered by the statewide coordinator, who would be participating in a supplemental SRTS gathering at NCTCOG in September.

Cottonwood Trail

The Cottonwood Trail presentation offered little more information than is available through the coalition website (link above). A query from another attendee wondered about the meandering nature of the trail, if it is intended as a transportation facility. The presenter, Jonathan Toffer, acknowledged that issue, offered no real rationale, but cited other sections which were (or would be) more linear in nature.

Annie Melton rightfully criticized one section of the trail, running along Spring Valley and Coit, which is defined only by a seven foot sidewalk. Potential issues cited were concurrent use by cyclists and pedestrians. The only solution offered by the presenter was that cyclists could convert to pedestrians or make us of the roadway. Present company excepted, all involved in this aspect of the discussion seemed to think cyclist peril too great to consider the on-street option.

Regional Veloweb

The final segment of the meeting dealt with a summary and future survey of progress on the Regional Veloweb. Use of the phrase “transportation route” was repeated several times, as if the presenter was seeking to convince either themselves or others in attendance that this is the primary intent of the network.

During the Q&A period, I repeated my oft proposed suggestion that surveys be conducted to gauge the actual transportation sue of the Veloweb. Given that Federal air quality mitigation funds are being used in its construction as a alternative transportation network, it seems obvious that COG would have an interest in determining whether it is being used for its intended purpose. I cited The Katy Trail as an example of a failed implementation of this paradigm. This portion of the Regional Veloweb has been referred to as the “Central Expressway of bicycle commuting”. However, in truth, there are only a half dozen or so regular, documented transportation cyclists who make use of it in this manner. Furthermore, given the congestion created by pedestrians, travel upon The Katy Trail is rarely expedient — certainly approaching nowhere near the 25mph design speed. The millions of dollars in CMAQ funds spent to build this trail seems misplaced for the benefit of only a few cyclists. Those monies would have been better directed at education and training many more on vehicular cycling techniques.

Given the fact that bicycle advocacy groups have been disenfranchised from the BPAC process, it should be little surprise that so few representatives were in attendance. It is disappointing, nevertheless. Having been a decade+ member of its predecessor, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Task Force, I am disinclined to abandon the cause. I will continue to attend these gatherings, if only to hold the committee executives and COG staff accountable to the facts of the matters. As with today’s gathering, offering half-truths and engaging in disingenuous discourse — whether intentional or not — won’t escape unchallenged.

“Cyclists criticize Texas Gov. Rick Perry over veto of safety measure”

August 7th, 2009

For the past several years, standard practice for the Dallas morning News is to be a day late and a dollar short when it comes to reporting certain issues. This was highlighted one again yesterday, when an article appeared on the subject of the fallout over Perry’s veto of SB488. The correspondent employs all of the tricks of sensational journalism. Mentioned are the TBC petition protesting the veto, comments submitted by the father of an individual accused of running down cyclists in Grand Prairie and the FOIA request by a misguided employee of the Bicycle Sport Shop in Austin.

I was somewhat surprised to see my own comments… ahem… quoted in the story.

Herman May of Garland implored Perry to veto the measure.

“As a vehicular cyclist with close to twenty years of daily experience dealing with traffic in the Dallas area, I can assure you additional legislation is not the answer to this solution …,” May wrote.

“At its core, the primary result of this proposed legislation will be to convey a false sense of security to uneducated cyclists.”

The misquote gives the impression of incoherence. What I actually said was,

…I can assure you additional legislation is not the answer to this solution in search of a problem.

Upon further consideration, it would have been more succinct to have stated, “I can assure you additional legislation is not the answer to this non-issue.” Certainly, doing so would have left little room for ambiguity and butchering by shoddy journalists.

Equally interesting is the fact that the correspondent then proceeds to basically paraphrase other arguments from my correspondence with the governor and pass them off as his own. Few members of either side of the argument were highlighting §545.053, wherein it states that,

An operator passing another vehicle shall pass to the left of the other vehicle at a safe distance; and may not move back to the right side of the roadway until safely clear of the passed vehicle.

As I have stated from the outset of this debate, the only “safe passing” statute required is to flesh out the definition of what constitutes “a safe distance” and apply it to all vehicle classes. Demanding special consideration of cyclists as particularly “vulnerable” and lumping us with various, facultative pedestrian classes does little to protect our travel on the roadway. The statute as proposed would have been nearly unenforceable and would have served only to diminish the standing of lawful, competent vehicular cyclists as a recognized operator class.

“One Foot in Each Camp”

August 5th, 2009

An interesting post appeared on EcoVelo last month. The author presents a case for why he feels his position on bicycle advocacy represents “one foot in each camp” of the debate between separated facilities advocates and competent vehicular cyclists. From the outset, this premise if flawed. Just as religion and science are incompatible, facilities advocacy and vehicular cycling are mutually exclusive when it comes to transportation.

The author does and admirable and largely accurate job of defining hallmarks of the two sides. Vehicular cyclists do believe that the existing “road network [is sufficient to the task of accommodating competent, skilled cyclists] and [since] bicycles are already classified as vehicles, …all we need to do is maintain our rights as road users and educate [less experienced] bicyclists on the techniques of riding a bicycle as a vehicle.” This viewpoint has many decades of experience to back it. Knowing the law, knowing the rules of the road and applying both concepts to operation as a vehicle is a proven philosophy for competent vehicular cycling.

In the other camp are those who “[argue] that until we do more to separate bicyclists from motor vehicles we’ll never see the numbers of bicyclists in the U.S. that we see in some European countries.” This perception is accurate for the most part, but ignores the influence a lack of skill and timidity bring to the equation.

From this point forward, the argument begins to disintegrate. One cannot, in my opinion, have “thinking [which] falls somewhere in the middle between these two extremes.” Being fundamentally  incompatible, it is a sign of a conflicted mind to suggest that one can be an effective advocate with “one foot in each camp.” The very concept of conceding a need for separated facilities is incompatible with the tenets of vehicular operation. The misconception within the facilities community is that vehicular cycling is an inherent skill, learned primarily in one’s youth and which needs no specialized training to employ. Separated travel conduits — whether by grade or Magic Paint — serve only to protect the novice and timid, while providing a so-called “training ground” for future competence.

The truth is that these ideals are laced with irrational perceptions and goals. Few cyclists, once indoctrinated into the facilities paradigm, ever venture outside the perceived zone of protection and become fully fledged as competent vehicular cyclists. Instead, they become dependent upon the facilities crutch and demand ever more of these unsafe, segregated zones.

In the final two paragraphs of his discussion, the author reveals his true nature. By stating he, “fully agree[s] that the fear of auto traffic is one of the main obstacles we have to overcome before we’ll see a dramatic increase in bicycle use in the U.S.”, it is plain to see he is, in fact, not a competent or an experienced vehicular cyclist. Fear of motor vehicle traffic is irrational and reflects a lack of vehicular cycling skill. The idea that the US, with its penchant for urban sprawl and dependence on the motor vehicle will ever approach the adoption level of European cities is folly. The proponents of beliefs such as these are totally out of touch with reality.

The final paragraph is, perhaps the most salient.

Bicycling may be a relatively safe activity, but the perception that bicycling is dangerous is extremely pervasive in the U.S. and it’s unlikely we’ll change that perception through logical arguments or statistics.

As I cited and argued in a discussion on this issue elsewhere, stating that…

We must find a way to build more separated facilities to make bicycling less intimidating to beginners and non-enthusiasts. We also need more training in vehicular cycling techniques to build rider skill and confidence for dealing with the realities on the ground as we build those new facilities.

…is indicative of logical disconnect between reality and fantasy. Why does he feel facilities and education are equal imperatives? Likely because, deep down inside, despite his stated beliefs to the contrary, he is not particularly as competent or experienced as he believes  himself to be. Like many fearful cyclists, he cannot reconcile the psychological from the physical; discriminate the imagined from the real.

The realm of bicycle advocacy is plagued by those who have little or no credentials to support their work. They have been convinced by others that the issue is one of “butts on bikes” at any cost. That cost can be dear. As groups lobby legislators for special protections and facilities, they surrender — whether willingly or through ignorance — not only their rights, but those of others as well.

Impediment

August 3rd, 2009

One of the common arguments employed by some to justify discrimination against those who choose a bicycle as transportation is that the presence of a cyclists constitutes an impediment to the normal and reasonable flow of traffic. Were it limited to selfish, uneducated motorists, it would be bad enough. However, quite often it is law enforcement officials and even cyclists themselves who harbor this perception.

Here is what Texas law has to say about impediment in general,

Sec. 545.363(a).  MINIMUM SPEED REGULATIONS.  An operator may not drive so slowly as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law.

There is mention of the responsibilities of cyclists with respect to impeding the normal and reasonable flow of traffic. However the context differs from that which most might believe.

Sec. 551.103(c).  OPERATION ON ROADWAY. Persons operating bicycles on a roadway may ride two abreast. Persons riding two abreast on a laned roadway shall ride in a single lane. Persons riding two abreast may not impede the normal and reasonable flow of traffic on the roadway.

In fact, the Texas Transportation Code excepts consideration of a bicycle operating in a vehicular manner as an impediment with the following language,

Sec. 551.101(a)(2).  RIGHTS AND DUTIES.  A person operating a bicycle has the rights and duties applicable to a driver operating a vehicle under this subtitle, unless a right or duty applicable to a driver operating a vehicle cannot by its nature apply to a person operating a bicycle.

Bicycles are defined as vehicles. Physical and physiologic limitations make it all but impossible for a cyclist to maintain a velocity much above 35kph. The average is closer to 25kph. If the operator of a bicycle is making effort, to the best of their ability, to travel at a reasonable speed, there is no impediment. A notable exception being those conduits which have a minimum posted speeds, but those are few and far between. Otherwise, the law and reasonable accommodation favor the cyclist.

Similar analyses have been shared by other competent, experienced vehicular cyclists. Mighk Wilson did so in May and couched it under the same statutory framework. An earlier example includes a piece written by Bob Mionske, in 2006, responding to correspondence he received from a Minnesota cyclist in VeloNews. The simple fact is that cyclists cannot be guilty of impeding other traffic so long as every attempt is made to maintain a reasonable pace and accommodate the needs of other vehicles to the extent that is safe and logical. As a legally recognized vehicle, bicycles have the same rights and responsibilities as any other operator.

Practicability

July 31st, 2009

There seems to be a great degree of confusion surrounding the term practicable. It is often misconstrued as meaning possible or, perhaps slightly more plausible, nevertheless erroneously, as practical. In reality, all three of these words have strikingly different meanings, which, particularly in the context of vehicular cycling principles, is an important recognition, which leads motorists to demand acquiescence and many cyclists to comply.

The OED defines possible as,

That [which] is capable of being; that may or can exist, be done, or happen (in general, or in given or assumed conditions or circumstances); that is in a person’s power, that a person can do, exert, use, etc.

Furthermore, practical is defined as,

relating to practice or action, as opposed to speculation or theory; capable of being put to use. Frequently designating that area of a particular subject or discipline in which ideas or theories are tested or applied in practice.

Finally, practicable is defined as,

Able to be done or put into practice successfully; feasible; able to be used; useful, practical, effective.

While all three of these terms are adjectives, their similarity ends there. The statute mandates practicability, while almost universal interpretation is to understood the word to mean possible. Practicality allows for the use of evaluative discretion when adhering to application of the rule. An accepted rule of operation is to maintain a distance of at least one meter from the curb face as a base alignment. If there are extenuating circumstances, then the cyclist is permitted to ride further left …even to take the entire lane. This concept is covered in more detail elsewhere. The focus of this discussion is comprehension.

Interpreting practicable as meaning possible does a disservice to cyclist and motorist alike and derives from selfish wishful thinking and ignorance. Any belief that a bicycle must be operated as near as possible to the curb compromises the safety of he cyclist in myriad ways. Gone is any route of escape if some sort of serious pavement damage is encountered. Whether it be a large pothole, a seam separation, uneven surface or other blemish, if the cyclist is aligned as near as possible to the curb, there is no choice but to meet the defect head-on. Deviation to the right will likely result in a crash, as the cyclist rides into or upon the curb. Meanwhile, movement to the left risks severe injury or death due to the great potential for intercepting an overtaking motor vehicle. These scenarios are dangerous to the cyclist and contribute to the psychological issues afflicting the unskilled and inexperienced.

Any confusion between practicable and practical is due entirely to deficient reading comprehension. Inasmuch as they exist as near homophones, one could be excused for confusing the two words. However, the definition of practical exempts it from consideration for logical application to vehicular cycling principles. Riding to the right of faster, overtaking traffic can be a practical application of the rules and regulations governing vehicular operation. However, one cannot ride as far to the right as practical.

The misinterpretation of practicable as meaning practical or possible is yet another example of the harmful effects of general ignorance. Whether manifest as a motorist who barks at the cyclist to move further right or get on the sidewalk or the cyclist who cowers at the right-hand edge of the roadway, cringes at the close proximity within which overtaking motorists pass and whines for separated facilities, the misunderstanding resulting from this confusion of intent has the potential for compromising the right to operate a bicycle as a vehicle on the roadway. Some have suggested that “laws are only interpreted in our favor by [vehicular cyclists]“. This is a dangerous supposition, which, if true, opens the door to revocation of the standing of bicycles as legitimate vehicles, especially if legislators, the courts and law enforcement follow suit.

All parties involved must become enlightened regarding the definition and intent of the law as it currently exists. It is only through this comprehension that respect and coexistence can follow. More importantly, vehicular cyclists — as well as those who claim to act as lobbyists and advocates on our behalf — must work to have the FTR rule removed from statutes. It is a redundant regulation, existing elsewhere in statute as applicable to vehicle operation in general. Bicycles are legally recognized vehicles; so, once is enough.

FTR

July 29th, 2009

The far to right (FTR) rule describes the mandate that a bicycle operator ride as far to the right as practicable on the roadway. This language appears, in one form or another, in the transportation code of just about every state. It is also the most misunderstood and misquoted statutory snippet.

a person operating a bicycle on a roadway who is moving slower than the other traffic on the roadway shall ride as near as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway…

By far the most important term in this passage is also the most misinterpreted. Almost without exception, the word practicable is misrepresented, in conversation and print, as meaning possible. This fact has always been puzzling. These terms are not synonymous.

Practicability is a concept permitting the consideration of safety and efficacy when determining alignment. It allows one to ride further to the left if there are any of a number of hazards or potential hazards which would present the potential for unpredictable, unsafe or erratic operation. Examples include collected debris, standing water, deterioration or erosion of the road surface, uneven pavement, et cetera.

The misinterpretation of practicable as meaning possible is, perhaps, the most egregious mistake made by cyclist and motorist alike. Law enforcement is guilty of the same. It is this very misunderstanding which leads annually to crashes like the one last week in Austin, another in early June in Dallas, and many others.

A serious mistake often exhibited when citing this passage of law is neglecting to consider the exceptions. The following exclusionary criteria exist in the Texas statute with respect to the FTR rule governing bicycle operation.

(1)  the person is passing another vehicle moving in the same direction;
(2)  the person is preparing to turn left at an intersection or onto a private road or driveway;
(3)  a condition on or of the roadway, including a fixed or moving object, parked or moving vehicle, pedestrian, animal, or surface hazard prevents the person from safely riding next to the right curb or edge of the roadway; or
(4)  the person is operating a bicycle in an outside lane that is:
(A)  less than 14 feet in width and does not have a designated bicycle lane adjacent to that lane; or
(B)  too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to safely travel side by side.

Many of these are obvious and, frankly, redundant. Compare exceptions one through three to section §545.051 of the transportation code covering general vehicular operation.

DRIVING ON RIGHT SIDE OF ROADWAY.  (a)  An operator on a roadway of sufficient width shall drive on the right half of the roadway, unless:
(1)  the operator is passing another vehicle;
(2)  an obstruction necessitates moving the vehicle left of the center of the roadway and the operator yields the right-of-way to a vehicle that:
(A)  is moving in the proper direction on the unobstructed portion of the roadway; and
(B)  is an immediate hazard;
(3)  the operator is on a roadway divided into three marked lanes for traffic; or
(4)  the operator is on a roadway restricted to one-way traffic.
(b)  An operator of a vehicle on a roadway moving more slowly than the normal speed of other vehicles at the time and place under the existing conditions shall drive in the right-hand lane available for vehicles, or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, unless the operator is:
(1)  passing another vehicle; or
(2)  preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.

The wording is almost identical: §551.103(a)(1) is nearly verbatim with §545.051(b)(1); likewise §551.103(a)(2) is quite similar to §545.051(b)(2); and §551.103(a)(3) is an aggregate of sorts for §545.051(a)(2). Revisiting the redundancy represented by SB488, these statements largely reiterate existing language applicable to general vehicle operation as it pertains specifically to bicycle operation. Given that a bicycle is a legally recognized vehicle in Texas, one is prompted to question why lawmakers felt the need to single out cyclists for specific reiteration. It constitutes a compelling reason for the Texas Bicycle Coalition to focus their efforts on repeal of the FTR rule during future legislative efforts, rather than their seemingly persistent endeavors to augment redundancy.

Unique to the statutes governing vehicular bicycle operation is 551.103(a)(4), “unless the person is operating a bicycle in an outside lane that is less than 14 feet in width and does not have a designated bicycle lane adjacent to that lane; or too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to safely travel side by side.” Understanding this language is critical to the discussion, because, by far, the majority of outside lanes in metropolitan settings are less than fourteen feet in width. This sub-section of the code specifically entitles a vehicular cyclist to claim full possession of the lane. So long as at least one additional inside lane exists — into which an overtaking motorist may safely move to pass — occupation of the entire lane does not constitute an impediment. Where only one lane exists in either direction and it is not wide enough to share, the cyclist — by virtue of physical and design limitations — effectively sets the prevailing speed. In circumstances such as the latter, it is at the discretion of the cyclist determine whether it is safe and efficacious to pull aside and allow motorists to pass. If more cyclists were able to comprehend these concepts and employ them on a regular basis, the entire argument pertaining to a perceived need for safe passing buffers would be moot.

As citizens, we are taught from a young age that ignorance of the law is no excuse. By the same token, ignorance of the meaning of the law is not an acceptable defense either. It behooves motorist and cyclist alike to become familiar with the terminology employed in legal discourse. It could save your life!

“as close as he could get”

July 27th, 2009

A recent news story in the Austin American-Statesman epitomizes one of the major problems faced by vehicular cyclists: untrained or novice cyclists who lack the knowledge and skill to operate in a competent manner. The correspondent provides an overview of the conflict, which resulted in the cyclist sustaining injuries, in part, because he was riding too far to the right. Worse is the fact he seems to use this as evidence he was operating in a safe and courteous manner.

The cyclist, Ross Clurman, told police he was within a few inches to the curb – as close as he could get – when he was hit.

This incident was, of course, completely avoidable. Even if other circumstances had predisposed the conflict to occur in some manner, had Clurman been operating in the left third of the outside lane – rather than “within a few inches of the curb” – he would have had plenty of room within which to serve as an escape route and probably mitigate personal injury or avoid the incident altogether.

The recurring theme with incidents like this is that vehicular cycling requires the same sort of operator knowledge and skill as does operating a motorcycle. In fact, both of these operator modes are identical. The only difference being the motorcyclist has the potential for much higher velocities. One does not see a motorcyclist operating “within a few inches of the curb.” Why do bicyclists feel the need to exhibit this dangerous positioning?

Texas law is quite clear in this respect:

[A] person operating a bicycle on a roadway who is moving slower than the other traffic on the roadway shall ride as near as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway, unless the person is operating a bicycle in an outside lane that is less than 14 feet in width and does not have a designated bicycle lane adjacent to that lane; or too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to safely travel side by side.

This has to be one of the most misunderstood passages in the Transportation Code. However, misunderstanding is not due to a lack of clarity or intent. Problems result from a lack of comprehension due to illiteracy. Practicable is almost always equated with practical or, worse yet, possible. All three of these terms reflect different concepts. It shows a decided lack of skill and sophistication to perceive the law as requiring a cyclist ride “within a few inches to the curb” or “as close as [they] could get” to it. The words of John Forester should always be frontmost in the minds of all cyclists operating on the public roadway,

Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.

The victim in this crash, Ross Clurman, maintains a  personal website and has posted a summary this incident. Though specifics are lacking, one seemingly apparent fact is that Clurman is not a transportation cyclist. He states the crash occurred while ” coasting the last 100’ of a 20 mile bike ride that I do about 3 times a week.” No mention is made that this was a commute, only that it is a periodic training or recreational ride. Combine that with the statement above, that he was “within a few inches to the curb – as close as he could get” indicates he is, perhaps, partially responsible for the mishap.

Brodie Lane is a four-lane roadway divided by concrete and grassy medians in the vicinity of this crash. Neither his own summary of events, nor that of the newspaper indicate whether he was heading south or north. Regardless, had Clurman been riding in a position placing him in the center to left third of the lane he would have been more visible to the motorist. The lanes on this stretch of roadway are around eleven feet in width – more than sufficient to qualify as under fourteen feet and thus permitting full use of the lane.

Despite all of the above, responsibility for this crash lies entirely at the feet of the motorist. The article cited above leads with the following statement,

[Gregory Feazell] was charged with failure to stop and render aid, a third-degree felony, after police say he hit a cyclist Tuesday evening.”

The mere fact that the motorist collided with the cyclist on a wide open stretch of roadway, in broad daylight, with excellent site lines, indicates that he was not only in violation of §550.021 (failure to stop and render aid), but also in violation of §545.053 (failure to pass at a safe distance). Some are criticizing the police for not issuing a citation for the latter as well. However, violation of §550.021 is by far the more serious infraction and will likely drive any prosecution.

This incident is yet another example of the need for more education for both motorists and cyclists. The motorist was clearly negligent in the operation of his vehicle. Whether driving too fast for his abilities or preoccupied with some other activity, it is not a legitimate defense to say “I did not see him.” On the other hand, the cyclists could have done much more to make himself visible — chief among them riding more conspicuously, further out in the lane. The reality will be that cyclists will use this as yet another rationale for pushing “safe passing” legislation, while motorists will argue the cyclist should have been on the adjacent sidewalk. No lasting relevant action will result, because neither side involved will recognize the contributing factors of each participant.

In addition to Clurman’s account, additional comments and analysis can be gleaned from MTB Law Girl and Cycle*Dallas.

Transportation Committee Meeting – NCTCOG (200908)

July 24th, 2009

Let your voice be heard. The Senate Transportation and Homeland Security committee will convene a public hearing at NCTCOG in late August. Here is your opportunity to share suggestions and concerns with members of this important committee.

See the notice below for the agenda and other information.

——————————————————————————–

SENATE
NOTICE OF PUBLIC HEARING

COMMITTEE:   Transportation & Homeland Security

TIME & DATE:  10:00 AM, Thursday, August 20, 2009

PLACE:            NCTCOG offices, Arlington, Texas

CHAIR:            Senator John Carona

The Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security will convene in Arlington, Texas, at the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) offices on August 20, 2009.  The NCTCOG building is located at 616 Six Flags Drive, Arlington, Texas, 76011, and the Committee will meet in the Transportation Council Room on the first floor. The Committee will receive invited testimony from entities including:

  • - The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security
  • - The Governor’s Division of Emergency Management
  • - The Texas Adjutant General’s Department
  • - The Texas Department of Public Safety
  • - The Texas Department of State Health Services
  • - The Texas Department of Transportation
  • - The Texas Transportation Institute (TTI)

Topics to be discussed may include, but are not limited to, border security, traffic safety, the H1N1 virus, the TxDOT management audit, HOV lanes, stimulus funding, high speed rail, transportation finances, the TTI Mobility Report, and updates on agency activities.

The Committee will also receive public testimony.  If you would like to testify, please limit oral remarks to 3 minutes.  If you would like to submit written testimony, please submit 15 copies, with your name on each copy, to the Committee Staff at the hearing.

SB2041

July 22nd, 2009

Citing as another example of their lobbying success during the 2009 Legislative Session, the Texas Bicycle Coalition is boasting of their influence in passing SB2041. This legislation, since signed into law and taking effect 01 September, will require “that questions testing the applicant’s knowledge of motorists’ rights and responsibilities in relation to bicyclists are asked of every applicant for a Texas driver’s license.”

The entire concept that motorists have any rights in relation to bicyclists is condescending and dangerous. Both classes of vehicle operator are afforded nearly identical rights and duties to access and make use of the public roadway for the purpose of transportation from one point to another. Neither has a codified right toward the other.

Furthermore, the only responsibility a motorist has toward a cyclist is to respect their aforementioned, legally recognized right to free travel upon the roadway. §525.001 of the Transportation Code mandates the “Department of Public Safety shall include motorcycle and bicycle awareness information in any edition of the Texas driver’s handbook.” In addition, §551.101(a) states that “[a] person operating a bicycle has the rights and duties applicable to a driver operating a vehicle.” No expression that one or the other operator class was any right or responsibility in relation to the other — only the inferred responsibility that motorists recognize cyclists’ right to operate a bicycles as a vehicle.

Chapter 13 of the current Texas Driver Handbook is dedicated solely to the topic of Bicycle Vehicle Law and Safety. Its content is reproduced below, in its entirety, for reference.

CHAPTER 13
BICYCLE VEHICLE LAW AND SAFETY

BICYCLE TRAFFIC LAW

1. “Bicycle” means every device propelled by human power upon which any person may ride, having two tandem wheels either of which is more than 14 inches in diameter.

2. “Vehicle” means a device, in, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn on a public highway, other than a device used exclusively on stationary rails or tracks.

3. A bicycle is a vehicle and any person operating a bicycle has the rights and duties applicable to a driver operating a vehicle, unless it cannot, by its nature apply to a person operating a bicycle.

4. A bicyclist should always obey all traffic laws, signs, and signals. Never ride opposite the flow of traffic. Stop at all stop signs and stop at red lights.

5. A person operating a bicycle on a roadway who is moving slower than the other traffic on the roadway shall ride as near as possible to the right curb or edge of the roadway unless:

a. The person is overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction.

b. The person is preparing for a left turn at an intersection or onto a private road or driveway.

c. There are unsafe conditions in the roadway such as fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, pedestrians, animals, potholes, or debris.

d. The lane is too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to safely travel side by side.

6. A person operating a bicycle on a one-way roadway with two or more marked traffic lanes may ride as near as possible to the left curb or edge of the roadway.

7. Persons riding two abreast shall not impede the normal and reasonable flow of traffic on the roadway. Persons riding two abreast on a laned roadway must ride in a single lane.

8. A person riding a bicycle shall not ride other than upon or astride a permanent and regular seat.

9. No bicycle shall be used to carry more persons at one time than the number for which it is designed or equipped.

10. No person riding a bicycle shall attach the same or himself to any streetcar or vehicle upon a roadway.

11. No person operating a bicycle shall carry any package, bundle, or article which prevents the driver from keeping at least one hand upon the handlebars.

12. Bicyclists may ride on shoulders.

13. Bicyclists may signal a right-hand turn using either the left arm pointing up or the right arm pointed horizontally.

14. Every bicycle shall be equipped with a brake which will enable the operator to make the braked wheels skid on dry, level, clean pavement.

15. Every bicycle in use at nighttime shall be equipped with the following:

a. A lamp on the front which shall emit a white light visible at a distance of at least 500 feet to the front of the bicycle.

b. A red reflector on the rear of a type approved by the Texas Department of Public Safety which shall be visible from distances 50 to 300 feet. A red light on the rear visible from a distance of 500 feet may be used in addition to the red reflector.

16. Hearing-impaired bicycle riders may display a safety flag.

BICYCLE SAFETY GUIDELINES

1. Although not required by law, it is highly suggested that bicycle riders wear an approved bicycle helmet.

2. When riding on pedestrian facilities, reduce speed and exercise caution.

3. Do not weave in and out of parked cars.

4. Move off the street to stop, park, or make repairs to your bicycle.

5. A bicyclist should select a route according to the person’s own bicycling skill and experience.

6. It is not required by law, but bicycles should be equipped with a mirror.

WET WEATHER RIDING

The visibility of motorists is greatly decreased. Wear highly visible clothing when riding on a bicycle. Water makes certain surfaces slick. Be aware of manhole covers and painted stripes on the road. Water obscures some hazards. Watch for potholes filled with water.

COMMON MOTORIST MISTAKES THAT BICYCLE RIDERS SHOULD KNOW

1. The most common motorist caused car-bicycle collision is a motorist turning left in the face of oncoming bicycle traffic. Oncoming bicycle traffic is often overlooked or its speed misjudged.

2. The second most common motorist caused car-bicycle collision is a motorist turning right across the path of the bicycle traffic. The motorist should slow down and merge with the bicycle traffic for a safe right-hand turn.

3. The third most common motorist caused car-bicycle collision is a motorist pulling away from a stop sign, failing to yield right-of-way to bicycle cross traffic. At intersections, right-of-way rules apply equally to motor vehicles and bicycles.

The reader will note that there is no reference to “motorists’ rights and responsibilities in relation to bicyclists.” In fact, the only reference to motorists at all concerns warnings to bicycle operators that “[t]he visibility of motorists is greatly decreased” during inclement weather and noting three “common” mistakes motorists make when interacting cyclists. Nowhere is a motorist right expressed, with respect to cyclists. Also lacking is any responsibility on the part of the motorist other than recognition that a “bicycle is a vehicle and any person operating a bicycle has the rights and duties applicable to a driver operating a vehicle, unless it cannot, by its nature apply to a person operating a bicycle.”

Yet again, an accomplishment TBC considers a feather in its cap is little more than successful implementation of unnecessarily redundant language in the Transportation Code. Had they worded the language of the bill in such a way as to promote requiring exam questions mandating bicyclist awareness, said accomplishment would have been meritorious. As it stands, though, they did little more than codify the inferential subjugation of bicyclists by motorists.

Semantics are an important part of the legal process. One seemingly innocent mistake in verbiage can provide a loophole through which future lobbyists and legislators may seek to drive a Mac truck roughshod over the rights of cyclists to operate a vehicles.

SB161

July 20th, 2009

Based upon feedback and comments from the information pertaining to the Texas Bicycle Coalition’s 2009 legislative agenda, I decided to delve a bit deeper into the two Bills for which they are taking credit for getting passed. Since it seems to have raised the most ire, I will begin with SB161 — “Relating to specialty license plates supporting the Safe Routes to School Program.”

There can certainly be no doubt that TBC is the “designated statewide nonprofit organization” to which all proceeds from §504.633 (“Share the Road” plates) are currently directed and all proceeds from §504.648 (“God Bless Texas”/”God Bless America” plates) will be directed, effective immediately. They were instrumental in drafting the language used in HB2971 which led to the creation of the “Share the Road” specialty plate, the TBCEF is specifically referenced as the consulting group with which the TEA was to work when creating the design, and their yearly audits from 2004 through 2008 have line item revenue notations citing income from this plate.

Since 2003, TBC has earned at least $256,752 from the issuance of “Share the Road” specialty plates. The legislation creating this revenue source explicitly states 75% of all proceeds are to go to the implementation of “bicyclist safety, education, and access through education and awareness programs and training, workshops, educational materials, and media events”, with the remaining 25% being “used to support the activities of the nonprofit organization in marketing and promoting the share the road concept and license plates”. Where has the $192,564 from 2004-2008 been spent? Their audits do not offer specifics in this regard, only generalities such as “Public information/education”, “Conferences and meetings”, and “Other”. Given the number of timid cyclists whining for special consideration and facilities, their education and training programs appear to leave a great deal to be desired. Nevertheless, they will now be rewarded with up to five-fold additional funds to manage the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Program.

The original legislation for the “Share the Road” and “God Bless Texas”/”God Bless America” plates did not specify the individual impacts of each specialty plate to the General Revenue Fund; only a cumulative net revenue gain of $969,000 overall was forecast. Judging from the annual TBC audits, roughly $55,000 per year flowed into the coffers of the TBC from the “Share the Road” plates between 2004 and 2008. Fiscal analysis of SB161 suggests a projected revenue transfer (from the State Highway Fund to the Share the Road Fund) of an average $273,000 per year between now and 2015. A comment submitted in resonse to the “TBC Agenda” analysis mused as to whether this revision to the specialty license plate statute was a money grab. It certainly looks that way.

SB161 specifically states the revenue must be spent in support of the SRTS Program. The legislation creating SRTS — HB2204, the so-called “Matthew Brown Act” (77R) — did so under jurisdiction of the Texas Department of Transportation. Its original charter was to “establish and administer a Safe Routes to School Program to distribute money … to political subdivisions for projects to improve safety in and around school areas.”

Eligible projects included:

  • installation of new crosswalks and bike lanes
  • construction of multiuse trails
  • construction and replacement of sidewalks
  • implementation of traffic-calming programs in neighborhoods around schools
  • construction of wide outside lanes to be used as bike routes

Only items one and two could be logically considered to fall under the purview of an organization like TBC. Even then the oversight is not direct; only tangential, through lobbying. SB161 stipulates that revenue realized from the sale of plates “may only be used by the Texas Education Agency to support the Safe Routes to School Program of a designated statewide nonprofit organization whose primary purpose is to promote bicyclist safety, education, and access through education and awareness programs; and training, workshops, educational materials, and media events.”

Interesting. The TBC had a Safe Routes to School Program; it was created as a pilot project in 2004. Information is available on their website. (Pay particular attention to the dates on the linked pages – they have not been updated in nearly three years.) Since then it has gone nowhere and, in fact, ended in late 2007. They were expecting a grant from the Texas Transportation Commission to fund permanent establishment and expansion of the program, but were declined. In March of 2008, they make the following statement with respect to their participation with a nationwide bi-lingual bike safety program.

It is based on TBCEF work in Amarillo through the now-ended BikeTexas Safe Routes to School Program (funded by the U.S.DOE Carol M. White Physical Education Program from 2004 to 2007).

If TBC no longer has a Safe Routes to School, how will they be able to comply with SB161 and direct spending of the “God Bless Texas”/”God Bless America” revenue? Is there another “designated statewide nonprofit organization” to handle this task?

This is all very curious. Just what is TBC up to? It would seem no good. Given the relatively modest income generated by the “Share the Road” plates, when compared to their robust expenditures for lobbying, one is justified in asking what specific education and safety programs they have initiated and promoted. Now that an additional quarter million dollars per year is slated to flow their way, by law, it must be funneled into a Safe Routes to School program; something they no longer have. Assuming they are the “designated statewide nonprofit organization” in question, taxpayers and TBC constituents must demand to know what the organization is planning to do with this money.