Monday, April 22 2013 @ 10:32 PM EDT
Contributed by: B' Spokes
BY DAVE SCHLABOWSKE, Wisconsin Bike Fed
I can’t tell you how many times people complain about “cyclists” who run red lights, blow through stop signs, ride without lights at night or and don’t pay for the roads. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me that cyclists should be taught the rules of the road and given a test like motorists, I could retire and move to Copenhagen where those things actually happen.
To the credit of our citizen advocate, who had the support of a Bike Fed staffer and one of our paid lobbyists in the meeting, she responded with facts and a rational argument that all road users have a right to expect people in cars to obey the laws. In fact the group did such a good job making the case for Vulnerable Users Law, that the legislator eventually apologized and said he would likely support the bill if it comes to a vote on the floor. While that is great, and it shows the importance of talking to the people we vote for about issues we care about, it also points to a genuine public relations problem bicycling has.
There seems to be an almost universal perception that as soon as someone puts a leg over a bicycle, they stop obeying traffic laws. I think this is because the laws that are easy to break and get away with on a bicycle are much more obvious. Having studied traffic safety for more than a decade, it is my contention that people break the traffic laws they can get away with, no matter what mode of travel they are using. People in cars know they can get away with driving 5-10 mph over the speed limit and that they don’t have to stop for someone trying to walk across the street in a crosswalk. People walking know they can cross against the “Don’t Walk” light at a signalized intersection if no cars are coming, and people on bicycles know they can run red lights or stop signs in similar situations. But what are the actual statistics? Are people on bicycles more likely to break laws than people in cars?
So what did these studies find? Get ready for a big shock, but my studies found that in general, people riding bicycles tend to be more law-abiding than people driving cars. The percentage of people riding bicycles that made illegal maneuvers (ran red lights, rode on sidewalks, or rode against traffic) through the intersections where we did the counts varied from 11% to 48%. To say it another way, the majority of people who ride bikes obey the law. This definitely runs counter common perceptions.
What about people driving cars? How law-abiding are motorists? Milwaukee DPW has done a lot of radar speed studies because so many people complain about speeders on the street where they live. The results of the speed studies vary, but in almost every case the results show a bell curve shifted to the right of the posted speed limit, as in this speed study to the left.
There have been a couple pretty good studies done to check the effectiveness of these signs. The first study was done in Whitefish Bay by Bay Ridge Consulting. In that study, before Whitefish Bay installed the in-street yield to pedestrian signs, 94% of motorists failed to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.