Road rules are for cars, not bikes.

Road rules are for cars, not bikes.

Historically, people on bicycles have always been able to negotiate their movements between each other, pedestrians, horses and carts, via commonly understood conventions, and by a look, a subtle hand signal, a quick negotiation. This kind of negotiation can be seen as commonplace here, particularly at 4’10”. “It all looks like chaos, but in the end it all works, everyone does what they are supposed to do”.

When the motor vehicle was introduced the very first thing that was required was a man walking in front of the vehicle waving a red flag, signalling danger. We should have heeded that warning.

Since then more and more rules and restrictions have come into force to manage and control these dangerous vehicles. Red lights, for example – which are routinely ignored by drivers, resulting in horrible crashes. Enormous tracts of public land devoted to the movement of cars, and dividing our parks and neighbourhoods. Rat-running motorists infest our local streets making them so dangerous that our children can no longer play on them.

My view is that the road rules as we have them now have been written with the motor vehicle and its particular limitations and dangers in mind, and with no consideration that bicycles are in fact a completely different kind of vehicle. Cars are heavy, fast (in a straight line), large and very limited in manoeuvrability . Bikes are light and fast in traffic because of their inherent manoeuvrability and permeability through the shared public spaces.

The current road rules fail to recognise the nature of the bicycle, and in many cases mitigate against safe and efficient riding. There are many instances for example, where it is much, much safer for a bicycle to pass through a red light than to wait on the road space with the traffic building up behind.

1. Riding on the footpath.

Currently it is illegal for a cyclist to ride on the footpath unless accompanied by a child under 12, or the footpath is a designated shared path for pedestrians and cyclists. I believe this law should be changed to allow cyclists on any footpath at any time.

Most shared paths are actually no different than any other footpath in terms of width, design, presence of street furniture, crossings etc.
Let me give an example:
Surrounding the beautiful Carlton Gardens (also known as the exhibition Gardens) is a footpath along Victoria St, Nicholson St, Rathdowne St and Carlton St. They are all identical in width and character, but only the Nicholson St path is gazette as a shared bicycle pedestrian path.

Nicholson St actually carries a great deal more pedestrian traffic than any of the others, and yet it is deemed to be suitable as a shared path, and a legal cycling zone. It makes no sense to allow cycles from shared spaces that are identical to one where cycles are allowed. Obviously the same applies to pedestrian crossings, zebra crossings, etc. where in some cases bikes and pedestrians cross legally and easily together, for example at the Park and Nicholson St crossing, and yet cannot do so legally at any other crossing. It doesn’t make sense – and that is because it is inconsistent.

Pedestrians and cyclists are generally very well able to manage a shared space environment, and it is my view that if all footpaths were shared spaces that would actually be safer for all concerned.

There are a number of roads across Melbourne where it is just too dangerous to ride on the road as legally required. Bell St. and Maribyrnong rd., particularly heading West into the afternoon sun, are two that come to mind.

Probably the most intense pedestrian/cyclist shared space in Melbourne is the Southbank area. This is a major tourist precinct, and is also a part of Melbourne’s major trail network, the Capital City Trail,  that describes a great loop around the inner North area.

In general, pedestrians and cyclists get along just fine here. The exception is at peak hour when some cyclists are travelling too fast through the shared space, and creating anxiety amongst all other users. This behaviour is to be discouraged, and the City of Melbourne and the police are working on it with their Share Our Streets program.

Cities that have a high proportion of cyclists manage shared space easily. Amsterdam and Copenhagen are the two iconic examples, but there are plenty of others, such as Tokyo, Hamburg, and Portland.

I had a friend over from the U.S. asking me about the on-road lanes that disappear just before an intersection (these are all over Melbourne). “Does that mean we ride on the footpath”? – “No – that is illegal”.

It’s a stupid law, because it means cyclists are unable to take control of their own safety and ride on the footpath where necessary. In any case most cyclists will prefer the roads and the various other options such as bike paths where available.

2. Red lights

Traffic lights were invented to control motor vehicle movements. For cyclists they are unnecessary and redundant – cyclists are perfectly able to negotiate their space without signals.

In situations where cars and cyclists must mix, there are many instances where a bicycle should stop at a red light, and they are very obvious to any cyclist. But there are also many instances where it is much safer for a cyclist to pass through a red light, which are equally obvious.

Making a left turn against a red is commonplace for bikes and cars in some jurisdictions. This particular allowance requires the motorist or cyclist to stop and assess the situation. When the through traffic is clear, then they may proceed with the turn.

 (work is in progress on this posting).

Actual crash data at intersections, cyclists making legal right turns hit by cars.. not by running light ..hook turns,

Motorists obsession with “red light running” and outgroup heterogeneity confirmation bias…

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2 thoughts on “Road rules are for cars, not bikes.

    • Thanks Katie. That’s right; my thought is that if there are more pedestrian and more cyclists on the footpaths, then drivers exiting and entering driveways may become more aware of others.

      The law as it stands requires motor vehicles give way to pedestrians and cyclists on footpaths. In practice it’s a good idea to walk or ride defensively.

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