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Posted on Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 7:02 a.m.

Law-abiding cyclists can't control redlight runners, and other scofflaws

By Letters to the Editor

Editor’s note: Ken Clark was the author of a guest column on bike lanes and bicycling laws that appeared Aug. 1 on

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 Back in February of this year, Ann Arbor’s City Council took the long overdue step of gutting Ann Arbor’s out-of-date bicycle ordinances.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



Thu, Aug 19, 2010 : 12:59 a.m.

@Scooter, just so you know...I bike in Dexter all the time. I stop for every stop sign and red light and wait for green. I agree that most cyclists don't and it ticks me off. Fine em all. In re to riding two abreast, the law only says no more than two may ride abreast, other than on a bike path... at MCL 257.660b. Here: However if I were to ride alongside a cyclists and a car approached from the rear I would fall back or ahead and get over, for two reasons. One, out of courtesy and two, so that I will not have to argue against an officer in front of a judge about restricting traffic flow. The statute is somewhat vague.


Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 11:40 a.m.

"In Chelsea if I am not mistaken it is illegal to ride your bike or skateboard on the sidewalk." Still illegal to ride a skateboard downtown Ann Arbor isn't it?

Blue Eyes

Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 8:35 a.m.

If bikes want to be treated equally on the roads, then they need to obey the laws equally - none of this stuff about going slow and being able to see what's coming at an intersection. If you don't want to stop, don't ride! 15 years ago a Huron High student was driving up Huron Pkwy when a cylist decided he didn't need to stop for a red light at an intersection with a sight obstruction. The result was the driver with the green light couldn't see the bike running the light until they collided. The UM student cyclist died instantly after being thrown on the windshield. The 16 year old will forever carry the memory of the cyclist on the windshield as well as being interrogated by police for something they determined he was unable to avoid. Cyclists who don't obey the laws do die.


Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 8:32 a.m.

Matt P. has touched on another dangerous practice that, in my experience, too many motorists exhibit. It has been my understanding that when traveling on a two-lane, solid double-yellow marked road, and you encounter an impediment in your lane (i.e. a bicyclist), that you are required to slow down (even stop if necessary) and maneuver around the cyclist ONLY when this can be done safely. Not, as so often happens, pull into the opposing lane when there is on-coming traffic. To these drivers who assume that they have the right to whatever lane they want I say - WAKE UP! The driver of the on-coming vehicle may not realize that you have decided that the entire road is yours, or perhaps they dont have any room to move over to allow for your foolish, inconsiderate, and dangerous behavior. (Does anyone know the legal verbiage concerning this type of situation?) I drive on Huron River Dr. twice a day on week days and frequently on weekends. Some things that I keep in mind when driving: Compare the minor MINOR - inconvenience of having to safely pass cyclists to that of causing an accident. The edges of roads (Huron River Dr. - prime example) are often in bad shape and it is not always an option for a cyclist to pull over (Wouldnt bike lanes be great?). To cyclists: Dont assume that even though you are within your rights that others will know and respect these rights. Ride self-protectively. The average metal-clad motor vehicle weighs 4,000 pounds versus your weight Final thoughts: Add a section to obtaining a driving license that explains laws concerning vehicles vs. bicycles. Maybe an addition to the Share the Road signs - a brief statement that bicyclists have right of way to an entire lane and are allowed to ride 2-abreast.


Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 8:24 a.m.

"I encourage cyclists to have cameras at the ready (license plate and driver) - the police will need those to make a report the prosecutor can use. I think the only way to really get drivers to pay attention to these laws is to enforce them." I think I'll put a camera in my car to photograph all the bicyclists that ignore the law...oh but it won't do any good because BICYCLES do not have license plates. I can't tell you how many near heart attacks I have had on the road because of biker's that don't follow the rules. I try really hard to be respectful of bicyclists. I slow down, sometimes to the point of the person behind me getting right on my bumper and flashing their lights at me repeatedly. I wait until I can get way over in the other lane to pass. I follow the rules of the road. If I don't follow a rule, the bicyclist can take my license plate down or take a picture of me, my car and my license plate...what can *I* do if a bicyclist nearly causes me an accident (or actually causes one?) I can take a picture of them and their bicycle but there won't be a way to track them down.


Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 8:10 a.m.

In Chelsea if I am not mistaken it is illegal to ride your bike or skateboard on the sidewalk.


Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 7:15 a.m.

The problem here is that bicyclists want to be treated 'special'. In that they really do not want -- and actually attempt to divert --responsibility. Bicycles ARE considered another vehicle on the road. Yet bicyclists switch from riding on a sidewalk - and then jump down into a crosswalk -- look over there shoulder and cross the street and head in the opposite direction of traffic. Hmmmmm never have seen a car do this -- I have seen many bikes do this conduct. Drivers need to have car insurance -- why not bicyclists? Cars are fined regularly -- and specific patrols set up for this -- why not for bicyclists? Why is it that bicyclists whine so much yet they pay--monetarily-- so little for the demands that they make -- yet see not problem in forcing others to pay --ie bicycle lanes. Until I see a concerted effort on the part of these bicycle organizations to bring these riders in compliance with the law and more courteous on the road we should ignore their complaints.


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Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 10:43 p.m.

I ride my bike to work, and take back streets all the way into campus. I follow the rules of the road, and see other cyclists running 4-way stops all the time. In one instance, one passed me and made a left (dodging cars) as I waited my turn at the intersection. I know our police force is short-staffed, but I for one, would love to see some of the idiots on bikes get ticketed. No helmets, no lights, dark clothes at night, and often no reflectors. It's a wonder that more of them are not run over. When I drive, I give cyclists plenty of room when I pass. Ann Arbor is not a bike-friendly town, no matter what some think. However, the attitude of too many cyclists is that of pure insolence, and I have given up trying to set others straight. I just do my thing and watch the crazies.


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 10:04 p.m.

Macncheese Get off the public roads and ride your bicycle in one of the many beautiful parks the county has to offer. Ride safely in a park where you can pretend to be lace armstrong and ring the bell on your bicycle. I hope you were being facetious. What you don't realize is that many of us use bikes as a main mean of transportation to work, for shopping, etc. We are not just riding bikes once a week on a Sunday afternoon or a pretty fall day. We are riding them daily. As to stopping at lights, stop signs, etc. I think I get a double-take from drivers when I signal for them to go at four-way stops. On the other hand, I really hate to come to a complete stop on a bike. A biker going 5mph approaching a stop sign can see/hear traffic, just like the jogger who likely runs through the same intersection without stopping.


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 7:24 p.m.

People who rudely bike through stop signs are also likely to drive aggressively, as well as step in front of moving vehicles as pedestrians. Such personalities are often multi-talented in their ability to exhibit displays of discourtesy and general disrespect. In this sense, the problem is cultural, rather than specific to any particular mode of transportation. No one is obliging the people of southeast Michigan to consider the roadway as a competitive battle zone wherein the first one to get to their destination wins. As a legacy of this region's former industry heritage, we've got all these auto-centric roadways in place. Conflict will ensue when trying to graft increased pedestrian and bicycle usage back onto this infrastructure, given the cultural background of tolerance for rude and aggressive behavior on roadways. So, we'll spend years retraining the population on how to willingly share the road, instead of conceding space to others only as an act of reluctant surrender. (If we try really, really hard, we can one day become Wisconsin....) Later on, the travel infrastructure can be gradually rebuilt to assume multiple travel modes, like the Netherlands per the earlier comment. This is, after all, a country which once considered it exquisite to design suburbs without sidewalks, something now more wisely discouraged. ------------------ One evening years ago in Boston, we noted how some other drivers would regard us as rude and inappropriate for not running a red light when there wasn't much traffic on the intersecting street that had the green light. A few horns blared, urging us to treat some reds as "pause before proceeding."

Bubble world west

Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 12:37 p.m.

Biking in Ann Arbor can be very pleasent...until cars show up. More bike lanes certainly help, but there aren't enough to get AA onto any top ten list. This is one area where other cold weather hippy cities got far ahead on. In the end, for biking to be safe, more people in the community need to get out of cars and onto bikes. Understanding the dangers of biking should make for more considerate drivers. Of course, as other commentators have pointed out, there are many in society who only consider their own needs, whether biking or driving a car.

Ryan Munson

Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 11:23 a.m.

When I bike down two lane curving roads, I help motorists get around me because I can often see ahead of them and let them know when it is safe to pass. Earlier this year I was driving down Huron River Dr. from my parents place and an awkward situation arose. There were runners and bikers on both sides of the road. I was able to safely pass and going around a curve I saw a car in the opposite lane coming that obviously could not see what was to come. Behind me was a car that was also passing as I did. I signaled the oncoming car to slowdown--not that they were speeding--to allow for safe passage. All I can say is if I had not done that the oncoming car would have most likely hit someone or the other car coming behind me a bit back. I was thanked with an extended arm wave. We can all do a little bit to help each other make the roads safe instead of berate and feel we are affiliated with a certain group because "that is what we do". Awareness for all is the key goal and will help us achieve sharing the road, however, there are always those that will choose to not be more aware or courteous. It is to those we must by example model through action of awareness to instill a safer environment for all.


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 11:08 a.m.

Ken. Thanks for this follow-up. I bike to work everyday and it has changed my life.

scooter dog

Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 9:34 a.m.

I don't think I have ever seen a cyclist STOP for a stop sign. I wasent aware of any law abiding cyclist at least not the ones who ride in the Dexter area

Peter Baker

Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 9:14 a.m.

"However I would submit that when it comes to showing some respect/consideration for the other a much larger percentage of motorist give way to cyclist than the other way around." As it should be when one of those things can kill the other, but not the other way around. I'm tired of people trying to equate bikes and cars when it comes to traffic law. Bikes are self propelled, the factors involved in slowing down, speeding up, getting out of the way, etc, are all different than something that only requires a slight push of your foot to get 8 cylinders revving underneath. It's unfortunate that most of the streets in Michigan were only designed with cars in mind, and most sidewalks for only pedestrians (a lot of the frustrating interactions would be moot if we had Dutch-style *actually separate* bike lines, with a curb between the car lane and the bike lane). But if we're serious about pushing Michigan into a more diverse transportation mindset, I don't think it's a negative thing to tailor some policies that benefit the greener, safer, healthier forms of transportation over motor vehicles (and yes, I drive my car plenty too).


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 8:40 a.m.

"Just do us a favor and dont 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" Sounds fair enough. I am guilty of making blanket statements about cyclist. Just as a large majority of cyclist are guilty of making blanket statements about motorist. However I would submit that when it comes to showing some respect/consideration for the other a much larger percentage of motorist give way to cyclist than the other way around.


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 7:57 a.m.

Uh Lorie? I didn't demand anything, when i slowed down i was almost rear-ended by the car behind me, i was just wondering why the cyclist didn't understand that she didn't have the luxury of being that far out in the road at that point in time. I was worried for her safety as well if the car had hit me it might have caused a domino effect where my car would have hit her.I used to ride that same stretch of road, and i used a helmet mirror to see when someone was coming up behind me, and if the situation indicated that i should pull over, i did.I understand there are a lot of lousy drivers as well, so that makes it ok for the cyclists who are running stop signs, etc. to do so? If you read my posts carefully they merely pointed out that there are situations where it is dangerous for cyclists to not adapt how they're riding if only temporarily, I agree that there is the mindset that motorists think they own the road and there will never be enough of them that will change that way of thinking to make a difference. This is one of the reasons that i quit biking on the road, the fact that i had rights didn't seem to matter to a lot of the drivers. Do you have a valid complaint that cyclists rights aren't being heeded? Yes, now try to correct that situation. I listened to the callers for 2 hours on WXYT the other day and they were screaming for laws to get the bikers off the road altogether, sharing them didn't seem to be an option. I didn't agree with them. I do agree with you about the camera thing, i want to sit down somewhere on campus and shoot video of all the cyclists that fly through stop signs.


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 7:55 a.m.

This is a great supplement to your pervious article Ken. This probably occurs all over the country - but Ann Arbor, perhaps reinforced by those outdated ordinances, has a minority with an intolerance for cycling. Notice the way I haven't said "all of Ann Arbor", in the same way an intolerant motorist shouldn't say "all cyclists run red lights". A small minority do, but it would take an idiot to think all do. Thank you so much for explaining the intermittent horn blaring that I have experienced while cycling in Ann Arbor. This has been a unique feature that I haven't encountered in other cities and countries. Obviously these people considered they were obeying a standard ordinance, commanding me off the road. Amazing. I never feel comfortable cycling 2 abreast, unless on a very quiet road. But it is nice to know that it is perfectly legal. Thanks for your informative follow up.


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 7:38 a.m.

Its the law that cyclists are to be considered other vehicles on the road and as such, it is not your right to demand they pull over so you can get by them - you do need to slow down and wait. No -- slow drivers on two lane roads are also expected to pull over and let lines of cars pass them. In rare cases, I even see them do it. I understand the cyclist viewpoint on Huron River Drive -- many drivers assume it is their right to pass you immediately, regardless of a double-yellow line, oncoming traffic, or a blind curve (and there are many on that route). I've been passed very close and seen near misses between between cars passing me and cars coming from around a curve the other way. It's bad. There's no excuse for a group of bikers holding a whole line of cars for miles. But there's even less excuse for a single car being unwilling to wait 30 seconds for a safe place to pass where there's adequate space and visibility. Inconsiderate bikers will, at most, inconvenience a few people for a little while. Unsafe drivers, on the other hand, can (and do) kill cyclists.


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 7:26 a.m.

Uh Matt? Its the law that cyclists are to be considered other vehicles on the road and as such, it is not your right to demand they pull over so you can get by them - you do need to slow down and wait. I know that is frustrating, about the same level of frustration as following a "sunday driver" going way below the speed limit. The law remains the same. If you choose to pass - its your choice and your responsibility, not the cyclist's. I agree that some cyclists are inconsiderate and that many blow off stop signs and don't bow to motorists wants as much as they should. However, my experience riding and driving on the roads here is that the drivers are lousy. Lousy driving skill, lousy understanding of the law, lousy understanding of the physical boundaries of their vehicles, lousy attitudes. Terrible decision-making. I have ridden in cities all over the US: Boston, Chicago, Madison, SanFran...really, even with crazy traffic those cities are ALL much better to ride in based on the competence of the driving public. I encourage cyclists to have cameras at the ready (license plate and driver) - the police will need those to make a report the prosecutor can use. I think the only way to really get drivers to pay attention to these laws is to enforce them.


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 7:14 a.m.

The sad truth is that all cyclists are going to be judged by the actions of the cyclists who break the law even if they try to distance themselves from them. They had a call in show on a Detroit radio station Saturday where the host and all the callers did nothing but bash bikers for 2 hours.That mindset is there, i don't think there is much that can be done to change that, Mr. Clarks efforts notwithstanding.


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 6:57 a.m.

Matt- I understand yur frustration- I have seen situations where bicyclists are rather inconsiderate. And they are being stupid too, exposing themselves to a potentially dangerous situation. However, as Ken says, there isnt much that law abiding bicyclists can do to modify the behavior of these bicycling scofflaws. Unfortunately.


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 6:33 a.m.

While it may be true that cyclists can legally ride side by side, i have seen a number of situations where it is not practical or even safe to do so, and the riders in question refuse to fall in behind the leader even if it's only temporary.I have even seen 3 bikers riding side by side by side on Huron River Drive that held traffic up for at least a mile until they pulled into Delhi Park. I've come up on bikers on other narrow roads that refuse to pull over enough to the right to let motorists get by, a car was coming towards me in the opposite lane, and there was a car right behind me.I was almost hit by the car behind me because I had to stop suddenly, all because the cyclist refused to be cooperative. I used to be a cyclist, i would always pull off to the right a little in these situations mostly due to safety concerns.