Sunday, September 16, 2007

A case in point...

Three weeks ago, I wrote about traffic laws, both real and imaginary. Last week, an article in the Edmonton Sun provided a perfect example of imaginary laws.

The article describes four incidents; in two of them, the cyclist apparently did nothing at all illegal. The writer apparently conflates his own impatience and lack of respect for cyclists with the requirements of the law. A number of points bear emphasizing here:

  • No road user has a right to go faster than the vehicle in front of them. That means:
    • Drivers who want to pass other vehicles have an obligation to do it safely. That obligation does not change when a motor vehicle passes a human-powered vehicle.
    • All types of vehicles take actions, legal, safe, and unremarkable actions, that slow down traffic. Cars turn left into side streets, tying up center lanes. Trucks park to make deliveries. Singling out cyclists for delaying traffic would not make logical sense, even assuming we accept the goal of moving motorized traffic as quickly as possible.
  • The Alberta Highway Traffic Act does require cyclists to stay as far to the right as practicable. Practicable, in this case, means safe, as well as practical. That means:
    • If staying to the right encourages drivers to pass unsafely, then a cyclist has no practicable alternative to taking the lane.
    • Obviously, a cyclists intending to turn left cannot "practicably" travel on the right.

One of the incidents reported in this article illustrates the problems with the writer's mindset. As the writer attempted to pass a cyclist, the cyclist moved out from the curb, possibly to avoid a pothole, and then the writer "had to pull around the cyclist and dodge dangerously into the lane of the oncoming car." The article does not explain why closing the throttle, stepping on the brake, and dropping back behind the cyclist would not have worked just as well. Nor does the author explain why simply slowing down until the lane clearly had enough room for both the bicycle and the car would not have worked.

I consider the conversation about road safety an important one for both drivers and cyclists. We have to talk about safety and legality. But we can't do that with motorists who insist on blurring the distinction between their wants and the public statutes, or between safety for everyone and convenience for them.

1 comment:

geoffrey said...