Law-abiding cyclists can't control redlight runners, and other scofflaws
Editor’s note: Ken Clark was the author of a guest column on bike lanes and bicycling laws that appeared Aug. 1 on AnnArbor.com.
Well, I definitely missed it. Back in February of this year, Ann Arbor’s City Council took the long overdue step of gutting Ann Arbor’s out-of-date bicycle ordinances. I’ve only heard from one cyclist that knew about the changes, and from the number of motorists still driving in the bike lanes on Plymouth Road, not many motorists know about the changes either.
What changed? The best change was that Ann Arbor’s anti-bicycle “mandatory side path” ordinance is gone, possibly the last in the state. It basically said that if the City Council wanted to, they could declare any sidewalk to be a “mandatory side path”, and cyclists would be forbidden to use the roadway there. Council never declared any sidepaths to be “mandatory,” so the ordinance never had any teeth, but it didn’t stop motorists from seeing “Sidewalk Bike Route” signs all over town and assuming that cyclists in the road were breaking the law.
The first time I was ever pulled over by an Ann Arbor Police Officer for bicycling in the street, the officer told me, matter-of-factly, that according to Ann Arbor ordinance, any sidewalk wider than 4’ was mandatory use, and I had to get off the road. Unfortunately for me, I believed him for a few months after that, and ended up with my worst ever bicycle crash as a result. It turns out biking on sidewalks is twice to four times as likely to result in a crash as biking in the street with traffic. It also turns out that the officer was confusing the wording of the ordinance, and there were no mandatory-use sidepaths in Ann Arbor.
Also gone is Ann Arbor’s “harass me with your horn” ordinance. Bicyclists are allowed by state law to ride two abreast - that is, side-by-side. The Ann Arbor ordinance had an unfortunate provision in it, that if a motorist honked their horn, the cyclists had to move to single file. This basically gave free rein for motorists to blast their horns whenever a cyclist was on the road, and probably contributed to Ann Arbor’s reputation for harassment.
At the same time, Ann Arbor City Council passed a new ordinance (10:146) that makes it illegal for a motorist to operate or park their vehicle on or across a bicycle lane. There are a number of common-sense exceptions, including entering and exiting driveways, crossing over to turn lanes, and buses picking up or dropping off passengers. My only concern is that violations are only civil infractions, unlike the misdemeanor recommended by the State Police. I suspect there was a reason the State Police recommended the greater punishment. However, this is a welcome change that hopefully will eventually encourage bicyclists to stop using sidewalks and use the safer roadway. ‘ Now I’d like to address some important points that commenters made about my last letter. I completely agree that a large minority of bicyclists either don’t know or don’t care about some traffic laws, particularly stopping at stop signs and stopping and waiting at traffic lights. Unfortunately, there’s next to nothing us law-abiding bicyclists can do about that. Likewise, the large minority of motorists who break the speed limit laws, tailgate, stay in the left lane after they’ve passed someone, and stop in crosswalks are also a problem, and there’s nothing we law-abiding motorists can do about that either.
Please remember that bicyclists can’t do anything to get other bicyclists to obey the law. I’ve tried yelling at redlight runners for years, but it’s never done any good. There’s no bicycling club we can vote them out of, we can’t take away their bicycling license (it would be great if we could), and only the police can issue tickets. Just do us a favor and don’t blame all bicyclists when you see someone do something illegal like that, any more than you'd blame all motorists because someone just cut you off. It makes many of us cyclists mad too, and we can’t make them stop either.
Ken Clark Ann Arbor