Ride Boldly!

Bikes, bicycling, and road safety.

Bike Events & “Obeying the Law”

There’s been a bit of kerfuffle in Oregon this week over a charity bike event gone somewhat awry. It’s been covered over on BikePortland quite a bit. Essentially, as the story goes, law enforcement in a small town on the route of a large charity ride had complained to the organizers in past year that cyclists were not obeying the law coming through town. Because they felt that their concerns had been ignored — either by the ride organizers, or by the cyclists — this year, they started issuing citations for blowing stop signs in the town. Allegedly, about 17 tickets were issued, carrying $317 fines.

There is a whole lot of he-said, she-said, bullying! law-breakers! rhetoric in this mess, but what stands out for me as someone who has organized bicycle events before is that everyone failed here.

  • The event organizers failed. Knowing that the town was getting cranky, they either needed to approach them to work out an intersection control scheme, or re-route the event around the jurisdiction. Putting up signs saying ‘obey the law!’ is going to fail out.
  • Law enforcement in this town failed. It’s nice to ask people to obey laws. Bicyclists SHOULD obey laws. Cyclists should not be riding six across or crossing the center line during a bike event in which roads are not completely closed. But to demand perfect stop sign compliance from several hundred riders moving through a small town (population 1,480) where intersections are stop sign controlled? Frankly, if all the riders did as asked, it would bollux up traffic even more. There is a role here for volunteer or police-department intersection staff to wave through groups, and provide traffic control when non-cyclist traffic wishes to move through.
  • In addition, because so many events do have intersection control, it’s not shocking if riders thought the cop was there to do intersection control. As I said: It’s common. It’s also common-sense, because getting several hundred bikes through a small, stop-sign controlled town is easiest done with a little bit of human traffic direction.
  • Riders failed. The stop sign thing is what it is, but the number of riders at these events who cross center lines of roads where traffic is open in the opposite direction is absurd and stupid. I’ve ranted about this before. Unless the road is absolutely closed and marked as such, you NEVER EVER cross a center line. Not alone, not in a group, not in an event. If there is significant reason (car wreck, flooding, crater) to do so, you do it slowly and with a lot of caution.

It is obvious that sending several hundred cyclists through an intersection one at a time (or two abreast) is going to bollux the traffic pattern and create a backup. It is a potential issue with other users of the intersection that cyclist free-flow through the intersection will create gridlock as well. The problem is easily fixed, and was not.

Instead of fixing a known issue, the event and its aftermath is becoming one of those affairs in which cyclists yowl about unfairness, non-cyclists or others yowl about entitled scofflaw riders, and the whole thing is ridiculous because it did not need to happen. What needed to happen was a serious discussion between the event organizers and staff and the law enforcement of the small town to determine how to add human control to trouble intersections. Period. It might have cost the event organizers a little more, but that’s a known expense when running such an event. Bad PR? Always has a higher cost, either for the event or for cyclists as a group. In this case, both have been harmed.

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Author: julie

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005. She is a past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association. She has 2 children and 4 bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations.

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