Thursday, September 27, 2012

And for Comparison to Texas...

I give you excerpts from the Louisiana Drivers Guide for Classes "D" and "E" description of sharing the road with bicycles...

Sharing the Road with Bicycles
...Many drivers find it hard to know how to react to bicyclists riding in the street.  For the safety of both drivers and bicyclists the following precautions should be taken while driving and bicycling.

• Be aware that bicyclists not traveling in the extreme right of the lane may be trying to avoid gravel, debris, bad pavement, sewer grates and other obstacles.
• Be cautious of bicyclists moving legally into the center of the lane because of road hazards or into the left lane because of a left turn.
• A three foot distance must be present between the passing automobile and slower traveling bicyclists.
• Railroad crossing can cause bicyclists to slow down and possible [sic] zig zag in order to cross the tracks.

Bicycling Safety
• Obey the instructions of official traffic control signals and signs.  Stop at stop signs and for stoplights just like a motor vehicle
• Ride on the right hand side of the road with traffic.  if you are making a left hand turn, ride on the left side of the turn lane.  You may ride in the center of lane [sic] to avoid hazards
• Be predictable by riding in a straight line and follwing traffic laws

Now, none of these things are untrue.  But they give an incomplete picture, and make cyclists sound like deer crossing the road at night; you never know quite what they are going to do.  And this does little to explain the obligations and responsibilities of car drivers and bicyclists.  I should note here that the laws that govern cycling in Louisiana are virtually identical to those of Texas, and of every state in the Union.  They can be found here:

The most glaring exception is the 3' passing rule.  I've heard both sides of the argument for this rule, I come down against it,  mostly because people aren't good at discerning distance, especially at higher speeds.  Many people dont realize that the stripes on the road can be as long as 10', and struggle to park closely to the curb while parallell parking.  Just for fun, ask your friends to show 3' with their hands and see how close they are.  Now imagine showing 3' with a moving vehicle.

I think Louisiana could do a much better job of explaining the rights and responsibilities of cyclists in this handbook.  It's just an example of what Texas does right that Louisiana does not. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

From the Texas Drivers Handbook

You know, the document that every pimply faced teenager reads and must understand before successfully completing the drivers test?  Without further ado [commentary in brackets]...

Sharing the Road with Bicycles
Bicycle Rules for Motorists
1. A bicycle is a vehicle and any person riding a bicycle has all of the rights and responsibilities as a driver of a vehicle.

2. Bicyclists are required to ride as far to the right as possible only when the lane can be safely shared by a car and a bicycle, side by side [i.e. when the lane is wider than 14'].  Even then, there are certain conditions that allow a bicyclist to take the full lane such as:
     a. The person is overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction [In heavy traffic, this does happen from time to time, especially around city busses that make frequent stops]
     b. The person is preparing for a left turn at an intersection or onto a private road or driveway
     c. There are unsafe conditions in the roadway such as fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, pedestrians, animals, potholes, or debris [It's like they wrote this one with Dallas in mind...]
    d. The lane is of substandard width [which describes the majority of roads in and around downtown Dallas] making it unsafe for a car and a bicycle to safely share the lane side by side.  When this is the case, it is best for the cyclist to take the full lane whether riding single file or two abreast.

3. Bicyclists are not restricted to the right lane of traffic.  One-way, multilaned streets are one example.  Another instance is when the bicyclist is changing lanes to make a left turn.  The bicyclist should follow the same path any other vehicle would take traveling in the same direction.

4. Motorists should merge with bicycle traffic when preparing for a right hand turn.  Avoid turning directly across the path of bicycle traffic.

As you can see, it's right there in the drivers handbook, page 9-7, link is here:

Don't tell me you had forgotten about this already?

Friday, September 21, 2012

How Drivers Licenses Should Work

I like to pride myself in experimenting with a multitude of ground transportation options in Dallas.  So far, these options have included Walking, Cycling, Bus Riding, Driving and Train Riding.  Over the last five years, I've experimented with all of these, and with combinations of these to get where I am going.  Growing up in Louisiana, these options weren't really available or viable because public transportation was weak and destinations were sprawled out.  Within the next few weeks, I will be adding another mode: Motorcycling (more specifically, scootering :)

This inspired me to look at how licensing currently works in Texas, so first I looked at my drivers license.  I have a Class 'C' license that permits me to "drive...a single unit vehicle, or combination of vehicles that is not in  class A or B and a single unit vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of less than 26,001 lbs..."  Class A would include any vehicle or combination of vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 lbs with weight towed in excess of 10,000 lbs.  Class B is the same, but permits a person to drive a bus with a seating capacity of 24 passengers or more including the driver.  Motorcycles are a class M, and are 'off to the side' if you will, conferring the same privalages as the Class C, and is awarded in tandem with C, so licenses are class CM.

What this says is that there is some escalation of licensing for operating vehicles on the road.  Most users are Class C, but if you want to drive something more challenging, you need a higher classification, additional fees and testing; and this is exactly how it should work.  One should crawl before he or she walks.  But I think that we have skipped a few steps.

Shouldn't licensing be about operating within a public right of way, a road, and sharing that road with all road users?  I personally feel like people don't give driving the serious attention that it deserves, and often, the education for sharing the road begins at motorized vehicle use (excepting mopeds and motorcycles in Texas).  I think that there should be at least two steps of escalation prior to obtaining  a class C license.

First, people should learn how to be pedestrians.  I know this sounds stupid, you put one foot in front of the other, right?  You'd be surprised how often you see pedestrians do things that compromise their rights and safety as pedestrians within the city.  Crossing against a signal is a popular one, often not even looking both ways before doing so.(Sec. 552.002)  Another is crossing mid block, where technically drivers that already occupy the lane have the right of way (Sec. 552.005).  It may not be illegal to cross mid block in certain circumstances, but pedestrians must yield the right of way to do so.    There also seems to be confusion about crossing the street at uncontrolled intersections, especially where a all-way stop is not present (hint:  pedestrians should look both ways).  One you see in my neighborhood is using the streets for walking or jogging which is against the rules if a sidewalk is present. (Sec. 552.006, walkers and joggers have my sympathy, our sidewalks are very poorly maintained by the city of Dallas)  If we can't be pedestrians, how can we expect to drivers to operate safely with pedestrians in the same roadway?

Second, people should learn how to safely operate bicycles in the street.  This is another class of road users with whom automobile drivers will need to share the road space.  This is a big step because this is the 'lowest' form of vehicle that has to obey traffic laws that apply to automobiles. (Sec. 551.101...I hesitate to use the form lowest, perhaps lowest cost, lowest impact to roadways...)  This is the first opportunity for someone to understand the flow of traffic, the navigation of right-of-way.  There is no age limit, insurance requirement, and the barrier to entry is very low.

I don't think pedestrians or cyclists should require a license because the consequences of failing to follow the rules mostly rest with either the pedestrian or the cyclist.  However, I do think that a demonstration of knowledge of both should be required before obtaining a license to operate an automobile.  There should be a mandatory class for children in school to learn first how to be a pedestrian.  The rules are simple and the consequences of failure are apparent.  Then they should take a test to prove an understanding of the concepts.  Likewise, there should be a kind of driving school for cycling that is mandatory for children, and again a test should prove an understanding of the rules of the road.  Only after successful completion of these should a young person be allowed to operate a 2,000 lb machine that is potentially a deadly instrument on the road.