Friday, November 27, 2009

Rules of the road for cars and bikes

In many places where cars and bikes share a road, they customarily (if not legally) follow different rules. In England, a trial program will allow bikes to travel the wrong way down some one-way streets: Cyclists will be given green light to ignore one-way signs.

"Cyclists will be permitted to ride the wrong way along one-way streets under a change intended to encourage more people to give up their cars or use them less.
The Government will announce today that cyclists will be permitted to ignore no-entry signs: a practice already followed by many, including David Cameron, the Conservative leader.
The Department for Transport is authorising a trial in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, Mr Cameron’s home authority in West London, in which a small plate saying “Except cyclists” will be attached to poles carrying no-entry signs.
If the trial is successful, the department intends to extend the policy to the rest of Britain and permit thousands of one-way streets to become two-way for bikes. It believes that long diversions around one-way systems are a significant deterrent to new cyclists, who might be less confident about breaking the rules."

On this side of the pond, Brookline MA is trying something similar, although not on the roads that I ride to work: Right way or wrong way? Brookline tries out new bike lanes

Lynne Kiesling at KP has a nice post on whether cars and bikes should obey the same rules of the road: Roads and paths as common-pool resources, and the problem of governing them

The rules of the road are a relatively recent invention: 2009 marks the 100th anniversary of Boston’s first traffic regulations, as issued by the Board of Street Commissioners. Peter DeMarco of the Boston Globe reports A century ago, driving laws tamed Boston’s wild streets.

"Back then there were no street signs, no stop signs, no traffic lights, no double center lines, no traveling lanes, and no yield signs. Automobiles had to battle horse-drawn carriages and wagons, bicyclists, trolleys, and pedestrians for space on the road. And while we joke today about how infrequently we obey traffic laws in Massachusetts, a century ago, there were scarcely any laws to obey."

Of the new laws adopted in 1909 he says:"A number of the laws are still very much in use today. Boston got its first one-way streets, adopted a new rule requiring drivers to “signal if about to turn,’’ and began requiring drivers to pass on the left - all in 1909. Parking within 10 feet of a curb was prohibited, double parking was outlawed (well, at least on paper), and police, fire, and other emergency vehicles (including postal carriers and doctors) were given the right of way.
But the rules also show how little our state’s first motorists actually knew about driving, and how Boston streets were really a free-for-all. Drivers had to be told not to stop in the middle of the street, not to park on sidewalks, and not to drive in reverse. The regulations include basic diagrams, reprinted in newspapers for all to study, explaining how to properly make a right turn, a left turn, and a U-turn - revolutionary stuff in 1909, when license exams consisted of a paltry 12 questions."
"Most cars were rudimentary, lacking not only turn signals, brake lights, and treaded tires, but also speedometers, windshields (thus the need for driving goggles), roofs, shock absorbers, power steering, and heat (necessitating leather driving coats and gloves). Steam-engine cars could explode, while hand-crank starter rods could spin back and break your arm. To apply brakes, you pulled hard on a lever. Seat belts, alas, didn’t exist."

Update: a column in the London Times suggests that bike riders will have to become more law abiding if London is to become more like Amsterdam, with high volume bike traffic: Time’s up, bike bandits

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