Monday, January 2, 2012

Traffic Laws for Bicycles

Once again, my Monday blogging date falls on a legal holiday.  So once again, I’ll try to be brief, allowing you to return to the activities you’ve planned for the last day of the holiday week, whether you’re putting away holiday decorations or watching college football.

A key feature of new urbanism is reduced reliance on cars, which in turns means increased reliance on alternatives such as transit, walking, and bicycling.

In many ways, bicycles are the most controversial of the alternatives.   The operation of a bicycle is fundamentally different than of a car but, under vehicle codes, bicycles are expected to follow much the same rules as cars.  For bicyclists, whose operational imperative is the preservation of hard-won momentum, conformance to the vehicle code can be seen as an irrational infringement on their efforts to live a more petroleum-free, environmentally-friendly existence.  From the occasional civil disobedience of Critical Mass in San Francisco to neighborhood youths running stop signs, there are frequent sources of friction between bicyclists and drivers.

On this subject, Atlantic Cities recently reported on a study of bicycle behavior by Portland State students.  Not surprisingly, the students found that bicyclists are far more likely to run red lights than drivers.   The study methodology seemed lightweight and perhaps not worthy of coverage by Atlantic Cities.  However, the comment chain became interesting.  In particular, one commenter provided a link to  The linked article provided information on how some states have tried to reconcile bicycle operation with the vehicle codes.

The most significant fact was that Idaho, almost thirty years ago, adopted several amendments to the vehicular code regarding bicyclists.  Although the amendments are a bit more complex than this, they are often described as allowing bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and red traffic signals as stop signs.  Intuitively, the changes seemed logical to me.  Also, I was pleased to see that Idaho doesn’t believe that bicyclist injuries haven’t increased as a result from the changes.

Although I have respect for those who try to live their daily lives by bicycle, I’m not a bicyclist, or at least I haven’t been one for many years.   Therefore, I’d appreciate thoughts from any readers who ride on a regular basis.  Were you familiar with the Idaho vehicle code revisions?  Do you think that similar revisions should be implemented by other states?  Are there additional changes that you’d recommend to accommodate bicycles on the roads?  I’m interested in your insights.

Best wishes for a great New Year.  We hope your plans for 2012 include checking in regularly with this blog. 

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

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