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An Open Letter to Governor Crist on HB 971

Governor Crist signed HB 971 today. Though I had called before, I wrote a last minute letter to him that was clearly of no avail. I wanted to share it with you so you are aware of some of the issues this bill brings up, and the changes it will now mean. If you are one of the ones with questions about what the problem is with the mandatory bicycle lane law, please give this a read. Remember that this was written before the governor signed it, so the “ifs” and “will be’s” are now givens. I now propose we push for a repeal of the mandatory bicycle lane law.

Governor Crist,

I am writing to ask that you veto HB 971. Several provisions in this bill create serious safety concerns for roadway users, from allowing DUI repeat offenders to get their driver’s license back, to allowing golf carts on sidewalks, to requiring bicyclists to use a bicycle lane.

The provision that allows a fourth time DUI offender to get their license back is preposterous. For anyone who has such a clear history of carelessness and blatant disregard for the law, allowing them back on the road makes it expected that they will violate the law again. The ignition interlock device required is far from foolproof, as any other person could blow into the device in order to allow the drunk to drive. If we want to test these devices out, the proper way to do it would be at the first or second DUI, followed by permanent revocation of your license by the time you get the third or fourth. Supporters of this bill also falsely assume that driving is somehow necessary to get around. Most cities in Florida have public transportation, and most people have two legs that allow them to walk or ride a bicycle to get where they need to go without putting innocent people at risk. We should be looking at ways to encourage and educate DUI offenders to find other modes of transportation, rather than trying to allow them back behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. It may be more difficult, but we make lives miserable for sex offenders by restricting where they can live. There is nothing wrong with restricting how criminals can get around when they are repeatedly endangering people’s lives by driving a several thousand pound vehicle while impaired. Driving is not a right, but a privilege that can and should be revoked permanently for certain people.

The provision that could allow golf carts, mopeds, motorized scooters, or miniature motorcycles on sidewalks is problematic as well. I grew up in an area where many elderly people regularly ride their golf carts on the sidewalk, near schools, a college, and a large church. The sidewalks got considerable use by pedestrians, but the golf cart drivers didn’t seem to care. Often there would be a group of four or five pedestrians walking down the sidewalk, and someone in a golf cart would come along and force them to step off the sidewalk so they could continue along. The drivers expected everyone else to get out of their way, much like motorists expect everyone to get out of their way.

That is precisely the opposite of what it should be. Pedestrians should always have the right-of-way. Walking is the primary mode of transportation that basically everyone uses, and people on foot are not protected by steel cages or anything else in the event of a crash. Anyone else using a sidewalk, such as bicyclists, should yield to pedestrians. Florida statute acknowledges this for bicycles in 316.2065 Section 3.(11): “A person propelling a bicycle upon and along a sidewalk, or across a roadway upon and along a crosswalk, shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and shall give an audible signal before overtaking and passing such pedestrian.” Operationally, bicycles usually have room to pass a pedestrian on a sidewalk, but need to give warning so a pedestrian knows a higher speed vehicle is approaching behind them. Golf carts will have difficulty with passing even if they were required to give a warning, especially where pedestrian volume is higher or sidewalks are narrower. The proposed legislation in HB 971 offers no such provisions for golf carts or other motorized vehicles operating on the sidewalk, however. The consequences will be much like the chaotic situation I experienced before, with golf cart drivers forcing pedestrians off the sidewalk.

The provision requiring bicyclists to use the bicycle lane makes the road less safe for bicyclists. The chief purpose of bicycle lanes is to keep bicyclists out of the motor vehicle lane in order to keep motor vehicle traffic moving at high speeds. Bicyclists are generally comfortable using bicycle lanes when they don’t make things any more dangerous. There are times, however, when bicycle lanes are not safe for the operation the bicyclist is performing. These occasions include left turns or similar operations, places where the bicycle lane is poorly designed, and areas adjacent to on-street parking. I’ll explain how the bicyclist might need to leave the bicycle lane in these situations.

Bicyclists can make left turns as an automobile, from the left turn lane. But bicyclists cannot just dart out across one or more lanes from the right to enter the left turn lane. They have to change lanes and shift over well in advance; much like a motorist would shift into the leftmost lane well in advance of an intersection in order to make the turn.

Take my daily commute as I am approaching work as an example. When I am driving my car I am generally in the left lane when I stop at the light before the intersection where I turn left. There is no way I can safely cross over three lanes of heavy traffic in the short distance between the two signals, so I get in the left lane in anticipation of my turn. When I ride my bicycle, I do the same thing. While the road has a bicycle lane, there is no way I can stay in the bicycle lane until I reach the street where I turn left, as I have to cross over three lanes of traffic. When that light is red, a large amount of traffic builds up in the queue, waiting for it to turn green. Everyone is stopping for the light, so I can easily get over into the left lane without fear of getting rear-ended by a fast moving vehicle. At that point, I’m not turning left until the next signal, so no one seems to understand why I am in the left lane instead of the bicycle lane.

Here’s an aerial of the intersection that might make it clearer. The road has six lanes, three in each direction. The left turn lane where I want to turn begins maybe 600 feet after the intersection on the right. There is a bicycle lane the entire way, but for most of this portion I would not use it. The red arrows mark the path I follow to make my left turn, whether in a car or on my bicycle. The orange arrows are approximately where I need to leave the bicycle lane when I am cycling, in order to prepare for my left turn. The yellow arrows represent the other two lanes of traffic that I have to cross in order to get to the left lane.

The new language in HB 971 requiring me to ride in a bicycle lane would seem to indicate that my safe cycling left turns will be illegal. Any roadway with more than 4 lanes could suffer the same problem as this one, where the cyclist will need to leave the bicycle lane well in advance of their left turn.

Left turns are not the only place where a cyclist may need to leave the bicycle lane. Bicycle lanes adjacent to parallel parking are notorious conflict areas. The width of an opened car door can be as much as 42” (3.5’), which would take up the majority of a 5’ bicycle lane. Bicyclists needs 3.5’ of operating space, so they would be forced to suddenly swerve out into traffic or hit the door whenever someone opened a car door and they were riding within the bicycle lane. Accidents like these can be fatal to cyclists. The safe solution that the careful cyclist often chooses is to ride outside the bicycle lane in the travel lane. If HB 971 is signed into law, this riding style that can make the difference between life and death would be considered illegal.

Another issue that often arises is improperly designed bicycle lanes. Per state and federal standards, bicycle lanes are to be between a through lane and a right turn lane. Often a bicycle lane is installed to the right of a right turn lane, which creates a conflict for thru bicyclists and right turning motor vehicles. This is an accident waiting to happen, and a savvy cyclist will leave a bicycle lane that is improperly designed such as this one and ride in the thru lane. Again, HB 971 would make such an action illegal, and require the cyclist to put his life in danger in order to follow the law.

As a transportation engineer I can tell you that I have recently seen plans proposing the installation of a bicycle lane to the right of a right turn lane, so this is not only a problem with existing roads. Even if roadway designers all knew how to properly design a bicycle lane, cyclists need the ability to deal with unsafe bicycle lanes when they occur.

Some cyclists prefer to practice “vehicular cycling,” riding with traffic much like a motor vehicle. If you sign HB 971, some of these cyclists that used to have options on where to ride will begin protesting against the installation of bicycle lanes. As a transportation engineer, I would prefer to see roadways designed that do not create restrictions on cyclist behavior, so I will do what I can to stop installing bicycle lanes if you sign HB 971. I realize this will make many people upset who have been fighting for more bicycle lanes, but cyclist safety is a top priority for me. The better solution for us all is to veto HB 971 and leave bicycle lanes as optional use lanes.

Florida recently ranked 12th overall in the League of American Bicyclists’ ranking of Bicycle Friendly States. I hope that as governor you are interested in making this state, so often ranked as the most dangerous for bicycling, into a place that is recognized for being even more bicycle friendly. The Bike League broke down the rankings into specific categories, one of which is Legislation. In the Legislation category, Florida tied with nine other states at number 15 (see http://www.bikeleague.org/programs/bicyclefriendlyamerica/pdfs/bfs_ranking_2010.pdf). The Bike League has informed me that if HB 971 is signed into law, it will hurt Florida’s ranking in the future. If the law had been in effect this year it would have lowered our overall ranking. We need to pursue legislation that makes Florida safer for bicyclists, not create legislation that makes things tougher. Please veto this bill.

(Second photo by flickr user roland.)

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10 Comments

  1. Cyclist says:

    To argue that you have to get into the left hand side of the lane before the intersection is nonsense. I would argue that the ride pattern you diagram is already illegal under the FRAP

  2. Sandra says:

    It’s amazing and great

  3. JM Palacios says:

    OK, then, how would you make the left turn? There’s no way you can cross three lanes of traffic after that light turns green. I don’t run red lights, so that method is out. Would you make the turn pedestrian style, in the crosswalk? If there is one thing I’ve learned it is that cycling like a pedestrian is DANGEROUS. Ride more like a motor vehicle and you have far fewer potential accidents. That’s how a car would do it, so that’s how a cyclist should do it as well. In a car I would get over sooner, but as a cyclist I wait until I am close to this intersection in order to let the cars maintain their speed.

  4. Rider says:

    This is not so good. Very well put JM and I am saddened that Gov. Crist didn’t see it in Florida’s interest to veto this bill, or at least send it back for revisions. As a cycle commuter I enjoy the liberty of taking a lane, whether it be the far right, or the left, the general rule of thumb is be in the right most lane of the direction you need to go in.
    I’m pretty sure this will come back, it does not make sense to leave the law vague, dangerous, and confusing.

  5. daniel says:

    I’m glad he signed it!!

  6. This is why... says:

    This is one of the reasons why statutes such as this are signed into law:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwbKNSkGGyw

    If we as cyclists can not govern ourselves, we will be governed. Unfortunately, these group riders are having a negative impact on small group riders, solo riders and cyclists who commute.

    In fact, team and group riders go against every argument a commuter makes:

    Energy conservation: you dont conserve energy by puttting your cervelo on your thule, driving your automobile 50 to 100 miles to your favorite training location, then driving your automibile home. For goodness sake, ride where you live if at all practicable and if you dont, dont argue how environmentally friendly you are.

    Following the law: I see very few commuters who break the law egregiously or knowingly. They typically are more law abiding than motorists and especially more law abiding than group riders, who, as the video shows, ride four abreast, dont pay tolls (yes, in most cases they are supposed to), and blow stop signs and red lights.

    Commuters are typically going about a task, ie: going to work. With rare exception of the professional rider, group cyclists are doing nothing more than doing a hobby. In other words, responsible cyclists have much to lose relative to group riders.

    The post is too long already, but I think its time cyclists stop being our own worse enemies, and responsible cyclists need to take a stand against illegal riders…those whom this article correctly points out will actually oppose new bicycle lanes.

    We need to examine the catalyst of this verbiage, otherwise, more restrive laws will be come to pass.

  7. JM Palacios says:

    daniel: you’ll be really glad when you get doored riding in a bicycle lane next to parking, as required by law.

    this is why: it’s not those who ride illegally who will oppose new bicycle lanes. Vehicular cyclists are the ones who may oppose new bicycle lanes, and these are those who seek to ride in accordance with the law in order to cycle similar to a motor vehicle. I haven’t taken any “effective cycling” classes or anything like that, but my riding style tends more that way. I try to follow the law, but this law makes it unsafe to do so in certain cases. If I and other cyclists who oppose this law didn’t have a problem breaking the law when riding, then we would have no reason to oppose another law.

    Begun, these bike lane wars, have. Well, OK, the wars between those who want to cycle as a motor vehicle and those who think bicycle lanes are the only solution have been ongoing since the 70s. (Check out John Forester’s page on the history of cycling for reference.) This is just another lost battle in making cyclists second class citizens of our roadways. It has and will reignite the bicycle lane debate not just between bicyclists and motorists, but between different bicyclists.

    Thank God that we at least got shared lane use markings and “Bicycles may use full lane” regulatory signs in the latest MUTCD.

  8. I am neither happy nor unhappy this got signed. I still don’t see what the furor over the bike lane use is. The wording of the law still allows for us not to use them when not practicable, and as far as left-turns go, it would take a super-strict reading of the law, and a willful disregard of the “practicable” principle to argue that we cannot move onto the left lane while riding if it is practicable to do so. With arguments like what erupted over this bill, all we’re showing is that bicycle advocacy cannot get their act together: we cannot be arguing for the installation of more bike infrastructure then argue over the fact that we’d have to use said infrastructure.

  9. (Gah, hit Submit by mistake)

    I think there were far more objectionable items in this bill over which to call for a revision than the bike lane points.

    Was it right for these bike-related issues to be slipped in right towards the end, without notice to the Florida Bicycle Association for a consult? No, but then again neither is lumping a crapload of issues into a single bill, IMO. That’s bureaucracy for you.

  10. Dave says:

    This is yet another example of Charlie Crist’s a long and proud history of pandering to big business and big money at the expense of average Florida citizens. Clearly, big oil and automakers benefit from house bill 971 at the expense of the safty of ALL Florida citizens. This is truly sad.

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