“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.

One Response to ““as close as he could get””

  1. ChipSeal says:

    “…he is, perhaps, partially responsible for the mishap”

    In my opinion, Mr. Feazell is completely at fault for striking another vehicle in his path. Mr. Clurman could have operated in a manner that may have avoided the collision. but it was entirely the responsibility of the motorist to avoid him.

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