Bicyclists are often criticized for not obeying the laws. I argued in a recent post that people riding bicycles actually are more law-abiding than people who drive cars. That said, I ended that post with a plea that those of us who do ride bikes could make life easier on ourselves if we were even more law-abiding.
I try to live by that philosophy myself and strive to obey all traffic laws whether I am walking, biking or driving a motor vehicle. It is actually pretty easy to obey the law when I drive a car, because the laws were written with motor vehicles in mind. The signals are timed for cars, the speeds are posted for cars, most of the signs are for cars and except for the occasional bike lane, the lines are painted for cars.
So what is a person on a bicycle to do when the shoulder of the road is paved, but diagonal cross hatch lines are painted across that shoulder, as they are on State St in Wauwatosa? According to the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, CROSS-HATCHED (diagonal) lines mark pavement areas where driving is discouraged, such as gore areas, painted medians, obstructions in the roadway, and other “safety zones.”
So if I am to obey the law on State Street, I should be riding my bicycle in the motor vehicle travel land as far to the right of the as is practicable, but to the left of the cross-hatch painted shoulder. This would block motor vehicles and force them to wait to pass me by crossing the center line. I assume that was not the intention of the traffic engineer who designed the road when it was recently resurfaced, so I ride illegally in cross hatched area of the paved shoulder. It bugs me every time I do it.
There are many other examples where because traffic engineers forgot to include all legal road users when they designed a road, people on bicycles are forced, or encouraged at least, to break the law. Right turn only lanes are used all over the place, but they never say “Right turn only except bikes.” So technically, if a person on a bike is to obey the law, they should move into the next through travel lane, even if there is no car in the right turn lane. Miller Park Way through West Milwaukee has a number of such right turn only lanes.
Where would you ride in on the street below? In the curb lane, even though it is marked right turn only, or in the through motor vehicle travel lane?
Traffic signals are timed so the queue of stopped cars can clear before the platoon of cars traveling at the speed limit reach the intersection. That often means a person riding a bicycle hits a red light every block. Furthermore, we need traffic signals and stop signs only because of cars. Even high volumes of bikes and pedestrians can negotiate intersections safely without traffic signals and stop signs. Is it any wonder many people on bikes blow through red lights?
I do stop for red lights and stop signs, but for my own safety, I ride illegally in the cross-hatched shoulder on State St. and through the “right turn only” lanes on Miller Park Way. When I break these laws, I do it so as not to inconvenience people in motor vehicles, but because no motorist is inconvenienced or annoyed, they don’t complain about it. St. Augustine said an unjust law is no law at all. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached it is our moral obligation to break an unjust law. These oversights by traffic engineers certainly don’t rise to the level of unjust laws in the sense that Dr. King was talking about, but they certainly make it difficult to ask people on bicycles to obey the law, when they were not considered when it was written.
I will continue to do my best to obey all traffic laws whether I am on foot, on a bike or in a car, but it is not easy.