Monday, March 24, 2008

Traffic School For Bikes

Santa Cruz, California has just begun a traffic school for "errant" bicyclists.

Perhaps it's too early to venture an opinion on this but my instinct says this is a really stupid idea. Why? Well, for one thing, the reasons bicyclists get cited for traffic violations in the first place only makes sense if you accept the premise that roads are mainly for automobiles and bicycles are an equivalent technology.

In downtown Santa Cruz for instance, bicyclists often get ticketed for riding in the opposite direction on the one-way streets. Now, if you're in a car driving the opposite direction down a one-way street, clearly this poses a hazard to public safety. A bike on the other hand is less of a problem; anyone who's been on Pacific Ave knows it's a very slow moving street (cruising speed) and there's ample room for bicyclists to safely pass a car coming in the opposite direction. During busy hours, any lack of space really stems from having cars parked on each side of the street. A simple solution to this would be to ban parking on one side of the road and designate it a bike lane. (Such an alternative path has already been established on lower High St, with a buffer zone).

Then there's the issue of running stop signs - Any honest bicyclist will tell you that they stop when cars are present. If not, we treat them as yields - and rightly so. Once again, a car running a stop sign in a residential area clearly poses a public safety hazard. A bike? Who are we kidding?

There are many people out there that will say cars often can't see bicyclists and it's for our own safety that traffic laws designed for cars should be equally applied to bicyclists but they're forgetting one important factor - Bicyclists, are always aware of the presence of cars, and it's not just because we don't have windows and an engine buffering us, it's because cars are really loud. In traffic, our own safety is always a high priority but the traffic laws being touted as our saviors really make little difference in the grand scheme of things.

Of the two bicycle deaths reported in the Santa Cruz Sentinel article (they left out bicicleta bandito Benjamin Mora, who was killed by a drunk driver just off Soquel Ave last May), both deaths had nothing to do with stop signs, riding on the sidewalk, or one-way streets. John Myslin, was riding WITH traffic when a semi-truck made a right hand turn and crushed him like an ant. Lucian Gregg, was riding WITH traffic when he collided with a truck (the vehicle and driver still haven't been found). And at the beginning of this month, 2 San Jose weekend warriors were killed while riding WITH traffic when a police officer ran his patrol car head on into them.

You'd think people would wise up by now and acknowledge that maybe it's the cars that are the problem, not the bicycles.

Sadly enough, Santa Cruz's ample supply of middle class liberals will probably view the bicycle traffic school as a boon for bicycle advocacy. After all, $35 at a one-day class is a lot more palatable than $100-200 ticket. My point is though, we shouldn't be getting ticketed in the first place.

Rather than take an apologetic approach with the dominant car-culture, bicycle advocates should challenge the premise of existing laws and see how they can be reformed (simplified?) to accommodate those utilizing non-motorized transportation technologies. Anything less, only serves to increase the bureaucracy and power of the state, and ultimately does little service to those who need the most advocacy.

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