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Bicycles are Vehicles

On the Stanford University’s News Website is an article on bicycle safety, which begins with the statement:

Nearly 100 collisions between bicycles and vehicles were reported on campus between 2003 and 2007.

Within this opening line lies a large part of the problem. Bicycles are vehicles and until people grasp that concept, there will always be an obstacle to improving safety on public roads. "Cycling in traffic" is another common phrase. The statement is obsolete, bicycles are part of traffic.

Only when drivers of motor vehicles see a bicycle as just another vehicle on the road, another person simply trying to get from point A to point B by a different means of transport, will attitudes have a chance of changing.

By the same rule, people who ride bicycles need to see themselves in the same light and behave accordingly. How many times do I see a person on a bicycle (POB.) at an intersection, waiting at the extreme edge of the road when they intend to go straight? Then they wonder why they get “Hooked.”

Bicycles on sidewalks are another problem. Bicycles are a vehicle and belong on the road, sidewalks are for foot traffic. That’s why they are called sidewalks. They are supposed to be a safe haven for pedestrians. A place where there are no vehicles.

If everyone viewed the bicycle as a vehicle and behaved accordingly, there would be no need for separate bike lanes and other special accommodations.

When a person decides to commute to work on a bike, or even just ride as a form of exercise, most of these people have already driven a car and know the rules of the road.

The only difference is, on a bicycle you can’t afford to be a sloppy driver. You have to drive defensively, the way we are all supposed to drive our cars.


Reader Comments (17)

I hear what you're saying, Dave, but I have to disagree about not needing any special accommodations for bikes if everyone treated them as vehicles.

Most of our roadways (at least here in the US) are designed around the idea that everyone has a large motorized vehicle that can keep a constant speed. Generally that speed is significantly above what cyclists can maintain. If you've got a narrow roadway signed at 35 MPH that consists of one lane in each direction, and a cyclist who acts like any other vehicle and takes the full lane, you'll start seeing other vehicles piling up behind the rider, who is probably traveling between 8 and 14 MPH. So we end up with the cyclist hugging the right side of the road, and cars whizzing past at a 20 MPH differential (the current situation when there are no bike lanes). Add a row of parked cars along the side, with magically opening doors, and you've got a typical commute situation!

Something would need to change for this to be a tenable and safe situation -- either moving the bicycle outside the flow of motorized traffic (bike lanes), reducing the speed to that which a bicycle can easily maintain (perhaps 10 MPH), or something. I just don't see a massive behavioral shift happening among drivers, where they're happy to travel at the speed of cyclists. I'd love it if they would, of course!

March 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Ong

Even given the acknowledged speed difference, I still stand by the comment:

"If everyone viewed the bicycle as a vehicle and behaved accordingly, there would be no need for separate bike lanes and other special accommodations."

but will agree it is wishful thinking on my part.

March 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDave Moulton

It's horses for courses. Bicycles are vehicles, the same as anything else, but they are indeed a special kind of traffic, just like commercial vehicles, left turns, city buses, etc. Every street plan needs to address all of these variables, even if the accommodation is nil.

And welcome back, by the way :)

March 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChamps

Welcome back Dave!

March 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterD Dau

Dave-Welcome back!

I agree with you. As a person who commutes 40 miles roundtrip per day by bike, I see a littel bit of everything, from city streets with bike paths to semi-rural winding narrow roads on the outskirts of Philly.

I think the point in your article that makes the speed differential moot is this: "The only difference is, on a bicycle you can’t afford to be a sloppy driver. You have to drive defensively, the way we are all supposed to drive our cars."

I think if everyone drove and pedalled responsibly speed difference wouldn't matter.

I average about 20-22 mph on my commute. Speed limits on the roads I ride on range from 25-35. People drive on average 15 mph over the speed limit. Instead of me being just slightly slower than the speed of traffic I am instead being passed quite unsafely by dirvers far exceeding the speed limit. And, since everyone does it, 50 in a 35 is the new normal speed; the police don't seem to mind

March 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

Gee, I had a LOT of bicycle questions while you were gone. Now you're back and I have nothing to ask. Good to read you again.

March 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChuck Boyd

A child chasing a ball is not a vehicle. A child has MORE right to the road than a motorist. Kids and pets, entitled to streets, can’t be licensed or regulated. The only people calling bicyclists VEHICLES are motorists and pelaton racers who misuse streets as race courses (which is illegal in most states).

All onus for safety is on motorists; there should be stiffer penalties for noncompliance, like license revocation, and mandatory imprisonment for driving without.

Instead of arguing semantics, bicyclists should fight to repeal those ordinances that pertain to them. In many countries and states there are already more laws regulating cycling than motoring. All traffic code as written to PROTECT BICYCLISTS AGAINST the deadly momentum of motored vehicles. They've certainly turned those tables over time. Drive and ride defensively, to be sure. Watch your back.

Bad infrastructure kills both bicyclists and motorists. Breakdown lanes ease interactions among varied road users; they are disappearing to additional, narrow motoring and turning lanes. The FWHA and USDOT haven’t fulfilled their promises after 10 years: $200,000 for motoring versus $1 for bicycling. There’s no doubt that road fatalities are a sacrifice to greed that too many people take for granted. You don’t have to buy in. They should penalize cities that don’t provide bike-ped accommodations required by federal and state law; let taxpayers know that leadership neglect will cost them big.

Several states have passed legislation to fine motorist who pass within 3 feet of bicyclists. Instead of placating fearful cyclists with an unenforceable law, cyclists should back legislation to ban cell phone use while driving. The proactive things you can do to improve cycling are: Be seen riding, demand compliance from politicians or recall, and vote your conscience.

Labann: Author of Bike & Chain, available free on-line:

I've linked my blog to this one.

March 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLabann

I don't think anybody is saying that cyclists should ride in the middle of the lane as if they were an automobile (except in situations where "taking the lane" makes sense).

Slower vehicles, motorized or not, need to stick to the right. But stops at intersections are different. If you are going straight through, you should be in the same position relatively-speaking as if you were in a car intending to cross straight through, so you don't interfere with and aren't interfered with by right turning traffic. Once you're off and across, then you bear right once again. Otherwise, if you wait on the side like most ill-informed cyclists do, you're going to get the right hook eventually, or you're going to have to wait until all the right-turning vehicles have turned.

It's really all just common sense, and if everybody had some, there wouldn't be any need for cycling-specifinc lanes. I don't think I've ever seen any cycling lane that doesn't engender confusion of both cyclists and motorists at intersections with other streets or roads. But on the other hand, we do live in the real world.

March 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPierre

Pierre, are you aware that most pedestrian fatalities occur where there are no crosswalks or sidewalks? Many bicycling fatalities occur when motor vehicles overtake them. It's already the law that streets be built from the outside in, that is, with sidewalks, parking, bike lanes THEN motoring lanes. Opinion notwithstanding, the lack of proper accommodations kills people.

"Stick to right" is an unfortunate phrase. It's the law in most states that bicyclists ride in the right 1/3 of the travel lane, not gore areas, gutters, or parking spots. For safety sake, they should track a straight line, not weave. But they are totally entitled to use ALL of the road, for example, when turning left. You should ease across to center of road before you get to the intersection. Otherwise, "sticking to the left" would mean abruptly turning across multiple lanes at busy intersections. This is not what you'd expect of a motorist, either.

Yet the magnitude of the problem is small. Bicycling is ~250 times safer than motoring. The faster you go, the more likely you'll crash. The narrower and more plentiful the lanes, the more motoring fatalities, too, simply because of space challenges.

March 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLabann

I'm not sure we're in disagreement, Labann, but let me say this.

I'm a frequent pedestrian as well as a cyclist. Walking legally on a downtown sidewalk last summer didn't prevent me from being hit by a sidewalk rider. I was almost run over by a bike just this afternoon while walking on a pedestrian-only street just under a no bikes sign - seriously. People just don't always follow the rules, and that applies to everyone, walkers, cyclists and drivers. All in all, I'm a vehicular cyclist, but I'm also a defensive cyclist (just as I'm a defensive driver when behind the wheel). I would have to say that I feel safest when riding on streets or roads that are just wider. I like scenic bike paths for a lot of my more relaxed riding, but I have no confidence whatsoever in urban bike lanes. Nobody respects them as such, so they end up being pretty much useless, if not actually more dangerous. If that wasn't enough, they are virtually never cleared of accumulated road debris, and even other cyclists ride the wrong way on them.

March 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPierre

well said.
I just came across your blog, will visit often
ride on-

March 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermeligrosa

Pierre, we do agree on most points. Bikes don't belong on sidewalks, truly, but for a different reason. Collisions with pedestrians are trivial. Lack of good sight lines is major. The reason to be well into the travel lane is so motorists can SEE you, especially those intersecting or merging. Using a rear view mirror helps so that you can ease right to let following traffic pass. This is not obligatory, though. You have the right to use the lane and not relinquish it. But its not defensive riding to hog the lane, either.

Bicycling is like dancing, but not backwards in heels. Collectively, roads, even in the city which I pass through constantly, are often empty. We are talking 1 - 10% of your ride time dealing with traffic, depending greatly upon where you ride. And, yes, cars sweep the debris and sand left through municipal negligence. It's a symbiosis.

It's a sad fact that, despite vehicular cycling suggestions, bicyclists are being banned from more roads than commercial trucks and tractor trailers. How can that be? You don't even need a license to ride a bike, and all streets are publicly shared space. It's tantamount to banning you from your living room. Vehicular fails as a notion. More, random and unpredictable work better to get motorists to notice cyclists.

March 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLabann

QUOTED (from Labann)
More, random and unpredictable work better to get motorists to notice cyclists.

The problem with that idea is that random cyclists endanger other cyclists. Some of my closest calls on my urban rides are caused by other bicycles doing things in a random and unpredictable way. If everyone used common sense, that would be fine, but common sense seems to be in short supply nowadays.

March 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPierre

Sorry to add another post, but it's impossible to edit an already posted one. I just want to add that when I said something about staying to the right in a previous post, I was saying it in the context of a vehicular cyclist, not in the context of a POB (adopting Mr. Moulton's term). I didn't mean it in the sense of riding in the gutter at all times, or in line with potential car door openings. Of course, cyclists should ride towards the right generally, but they shouldn't hug the curb, and they shouldn't hesitate to "take the lane" whenever it's appropriate.

March 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPierre

I've given up hope on common sense. I rely on science.

Curb hugging can be observationally discredited. The most important safety rule of bicyclng is "see and be seen." Whatever you have to do to accomplish this you should do. Dress brightly, take the lane, increase angles of "sight lines", swing wide at corners. This is a good reason to avoid recumbent bikes, too. I am very concerned about small child bikes, worse, those mini-motorcycles they sell for even less than bikes to kids who aren't instructed in road safety. It's one thing for them to be riding around self propelled, but triple the speed and it's a recipe for tragedy. There are no safe venues for kid-choppers. They can't be used on bikeways, must be confined to enclosed tracks. Manufacturers ought to be responsible for building those venues in communities where they sell kiddie vehicles, although they mostly come from Asia, where they could care less about public safety here.

I've been knocked off my bike by other riders, but I wasn't seriously hurt. Just as often, I've been tapped by motor vehicles; luckily the damage was minimal. Any fall could result in a fractured collarbone poor skull with potentially fatal results. Gutter riding at least quadruples that likelihood.

March 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLabann

Before I read past the 1st paragraph of D,Moulton ---- I will give My Logic Theory (MY Quote, that I give in other discussions):
"Most cyclists are nothing but off-duty car-drivers/motorists."
As most do not use a bike as their only form of transportation.

March 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermike

In what "Pierre" said about the bike lane environment that he prefer to ride in ------
he must not be able to put up with the driving environment in California.
Althugh many "Californians" are transplants. Not natives.

March 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermike
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