Sunday, November 20, 2011

Some more thoughts on Safe Streets and the "Idaho Stop" in Burlington

Recently, according to Local Motion, The Burlington Police Department has "changed their focus from education to enforcement" in regards to cycling in the city.   Apparently the Burlington PD has been a founding member of the Safe Streets Coalition and "for several years", as the article states, they have been working to educate cyclists about the rules of the road.  Well, As some one who cycles everywhere, all the time in Burlington and the surrounding areas I have not seen much from the cops that I would classify as attempts to educate cyclists.  The PD will now be slamming you with a $70 ticket for no lights at night and up $200 for running a stop sign or red light.  Local Motion assures us they are working with the police to "ensure that enforcement is focused on the most serious violations".  I believe in safe streets.  In fact It has taken me a long time to come to terms with my place on the road as a cyclist.  I think this comic from Yehuda Moon sums it up best.
I used to ride as aggresively as I could in the city.  Due largely to the comodification of Bike Messenger culture, "extreme" city riding has become popular anywhere cyclists and motorists share space.  Along with this comes phases 2 and 3 as related by Yehuda Moon.  The Rage comes from motorists treating you like dirt even when you are abiding by every law of the road and the self-righteousness comes from having to defend yourself at every intersection, along any block of parked cars, and any time a motorist passes you.  But lately, perhaps with inspiration from this comic strip, I have decided that slowing down just a little bit, pausing at stop signs, stopping at stop lights, and generally not riding like a jerk is way more fun and enjoyable than trying to break my best time from the Pearl St. to Main St. on S. Winooski Ave. 
Riding with lights is a great idea.  Slowing down and looking both ways, yielding to traffic with the right of way, at intersections is very important.  Riding the wrong way up a one way street (salmoning) is a terrible practice.   After all; cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians all have to do our parts out there in the mayhem of traffic.
However, I think this policy is misdirected.  Furthermore, I am disappointed that Local Motion is spending energy in this capacity.  I agree, there should be reprcusions for violations, but i think we need to rethink what constitutes a violation.  As it stands now, failing to put your foot down at a stop sign could land you a $200 ticket, even if there is no traffic in either direction and you happen to catch a cop having a bad hair day.  The fact is, I will argue that cyclists are a bit different than cars and we should be entitled to certain leniences in the law.  Take for example the law in Idaho.  In Idaho, Cyclists are required to treat stop signs as yield signs and Stop Lights as stop signs.  The exact language can be found here: section 49-720 .  What this means is that cyclists are afforded the right to slow when approaching a stop sign and if there is no traffic that demands the right of way the cyclist may proceed without a complete stop, however if there is traffic that has the right of way the cyclist must stop until it is safe to proceed.  With stop lights a cyclist is required to stop but if there is no traffic that demands the right of way the cyclist may proceed through the intersection without waiting for the light to turn green.  Again, if there is traffic the cyclist must wait until it is safe to proceed.  There are several articles on this law at the website here and here
This is the direction our city should be moving toward.   I believe that Establishing policies like this along with adequate infrastructure and city planning could increase the number of cyclists which will in turn make the streets safer for everyone.  Simply put, safe streets are not enough, we need *sensible* safe streets.   So, I guess what im trying to say is dont ride like a jerk (make sure you are visible, signal your intentions, ride confidantly, and yield the right of way to who rightfully deserves it) but also you are but one piece in a madhouse we know as traffic and by being out there everyday pedaling away you are making the world just a little bit better every second and you deserve all the respect and dignity in the world.

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