Shall bicyclists obey the Vehicle Code? Not always

Akos Szoboszlay

The vehicle code was original intended for safety and efficiency of traffic. It is increasingly being used for another purpose: discouraging cars from roads. Because no differentiation is made between cars and bicycles, it also discourages bicycles. A simple example is the placing of "No right turn 7-9AM" signs in my neighborhood. Obviously, safety or traffic efficiency is not served. The increase in travel time for bicycles decreases its usage. The problem could have been solved by placing "Except Bicycles" on the signs, but many traffic engineers conveniently ignore bicycles.

The most common sign for discouraging and slowing down cars are stop signs. The majority of 4-way stop signs are for this purpose. In my neighborhood, most intersections recently became 4-way stops, as a result of political action by certain residents whom many others disagree with. 4-way stop signs are probably the most ignored signs by bicyclists, and justifiably so. Because accelerating takes much longer for a bicycle, and takes "human" energy, 4-way stop signs discourage bicycling more than car usage. There are methods for discouraging automobiles that do not impede bicycles. These should be promoted..

In Santa Clara County, California, bicycles were prohibited from many county roads (even when these have paved shoulders). In most states, bicyclists are prohibited from interstate highways when these are much safer than an alternative of narrow, winding county roads. The Vehicle Code's intent of safety and efficiency of traffic is not served. The reason for instituting prohibitions was to maximize the market share of automobiles in the transportation market. Streetcars and electric trains were prohibited in the past for the same reason. (Destroying electric rail transit is the same as prohibiting people from using it.)

The implementations of the Vehicle Code as it relates to bicycles can be put into three categories:

1) safety and traffic efficiency,

2) discouraging of bicycles resulting from a poor implementation of policy that discourages automobiles from certain routes (a recent trend), and

3) prohibiting bicycles because they are competitors to automobiles. Usually, it's the safest and most direct route that is prohibited.

Instead of ignoring all laws (which is unsafe), bicyclists need to differentiate between laws created for safety and traffic efficiency, and those for the other two reasons. The latter is a result of a bastardization of the original purpose of the vehicle code.

Experienced bicyclists already know what implementations of the vehicle code need to be ignored. For inexperienced bicyclists who, for example, ride the wrong way, the solution is education, not ticketing by police. Bicycle riding education is rarely taught in schools, yet, they teach car driving. Bicycle education also needs to teach the purpose of traffic laws and signs so people can categorize the laws into the above three categories.

The advocation of police ticketing of bicyclists by certain people in the bicycling community is completely contrary to the interests of that community. Most bicyclists routinely ignore certain implementations of the vehicle code which correspond to categories (2) or (3) above, and justifiably so. The fear of getting a ticket increases the compliance with signs that have nothing to do with safety or traffic efficiency, but make bicycling considerably less efficient, and sometimes less safe. This reduces the market share of bicycles in the transportation market, and increases air pollution.

Advocating ticketing of bicyclists is a misguided attempt at increasing safety. It can actually decrease safety. The way to increase safety is by education, not by ticketing.

Also see: list of bicycle articles.