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.

One Response to “Practicability”

  1. […] I have on traffic dynamics and impedance must be credited to Mighk Wilson, Keri Caffrey and Herman May who have done most of the heavy lifting for […]

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