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When you say the Idaho Stop law "would save the states/district the expense of adding in detection loops that are sensitive enough to detect a bicycle," are you seriously suggesting it's okay to require cyclists to run red lights at intersections??

That is the current situation at a lot of sensor-activated stoplights in the suburbs (including several in that so-called bicycle friendly community, Arlington), and it strikes me as one of the most blatant and unacceptable failures of current infrastructure. It's unsafe and shows that cyclist use of these intersections was not considered at all.

I think every stoplight needs to either have sensors that detect bicyclists, or give all directions of travel a turn every light cycle. With or without Idaho Stop. I'm surprised you are not in agreement. Maybe I'm misinterpreting you?

Scott F, that's a fair point. You're right, we should not always require cyclists to run red lights to get where they're going. McNeese mentioned that as one of the advantages and it made sense until you pointed this out. Thanks.

Observation: I agree with Scott F.---As traffic signal operations and intersections become more complex, the lack of a functioning loop detector becomes more risky for a cyclist. Simple intersections without left turn pockets and constant signal patterns that alternate from one road to the intersecting road pose little problem. However, when turn pockets and arrows are added and signals no longer change in a predictable order, risk and frustration for a cyclist trying to get through an intersection increases because the cyclist is not sure which legs/lanes of the intersection have green lights. That's my experience; I live in Idaho.

Correction: "Bob" McNeese's first name is Mark, and he is no longer bike/ped coordinator for the Idaho Transportation Department.

So if I have one hand on the handlebars and other on my cell phone, is that ok?

If you aren't communicating with it it is.

If you aren't communicating with it it is.

Wait, why stop there? After all, bicycles aren't equipped with hands-free devices (like many cars) and most in-ear devices are hard to use with helmets. So let's give cyclists a pass on that, too.

By the way, the Maryland law does exactly what you call for: it recognizes that bikes *are* different from cars and that cyclists have to deal with things like balance and hand-operated brakes and are impaired when they are carrying objects under arms.

The problem is that "bikes are different from cars," while obviously true, isn't really an argument. It is a kind of sophistry that can be used to defend practically anything, from permitting cyclists to drink out of open containers of alcohol (they only hurt themselves) to denying cyclists the right to use roads at all (too dangerous!).

Well the "if you aren't communicating with it it is" line was a joke. As in if you're just holding it in your hand that isn't a problem, it's using it that is. think a little was making a call back to our discussion about cell phones and drivers.

True, "bikes are different from cars" is an inadequate argument by itself. Luckily that isn't all that I argued. I tried to explain how bikes are different and how the law doesn't make as much sense when applied to cyclists.

Under DC law, the hands-free law applies only to operators of motor vehicles. Cyclists are exempt. Ponder that before proceeding.

Perhaps the DOTs should switch over to using overhead/mast-arm-mounted vehicle detectors instead of using loop detectors in the pavement, as several Midwestern states (Minnesota in particular) do. VDOT has slowly started using these.

And I say this for the following reason: I know from personal experience that the overhead dectectors MnDOT uses will detect bicycles.


Luckily that isn't all that I argued. I tried to explain how bikes are different and how the law doesn't make as much sense when applied to cyclists.

You seem to have missed my point. This is not a question of law which "doesn't make as much sense when applied to cyclists." This is an example of law written for cyclists, as you sort of acknowledge in your original post.

As for your reasoning against the law, I'm sorry, but I don't think that "there is no passenger seat" on a bike is any more of an argument than "bikes don't have airbags so they don't belong on the roads."

It's one thing to argue that pretty much all laws applying to cyclists are pointless, since they discourage cycling and since cyclists don't have much impact upon the safety of other users of the road. I don't particularly like the argument, but it has the virtue of consistency. What I find grating is the endless half-baked, one-sided discussions of individual laws.

I'm not sure what we're arguing about here. Are you for the Maryland law? Are you against it? Or do you just think I'm grating and illogical?

My reading of MD 21-1206 is much different than yours. It seems to me to be a very reasonable rule, with the same practical effect as DC or VA's law. In MD, the transported package may not entirely prevent two-handed riding, but I do not read this as mandating two-handed or even one-handed operation. In DC or VA, it seems to me that you could ride with package even if it's impossible to place both hands on the bar. No need to change the law, except to eliminate the appearance of discrimination against certain disabled cyclists.

That may be right. It may be legal to ride with one hand in Maryland, or no-hands Breaking Away style even, as long as you CAN reach the handlebars. Kind of like you need to have a bell, but you don't have to use it.

But I think the MD law prevents carrying something in one hand, where as the DC and VA laws do not. I'm not particularly passionate on this one. But I feel like one way or the other is better (there is nothing unique about Maryland that makes two-handed cycling necessary while in VA and DC it is not). I feel like the DC/VA law is better and so MD should match them. But if the MD one is more reasonable than they should match it. My gut says one hand is better.


I read the law as "Look Ma" does, and is seems reasonable enough to me, on the face of it (based on personal experience). Perhaps you could explain why you prefer the less restrictive VA and DC laws.

If you can control your vehicle, what business is it of anyone where you put your hands? Or feet for that matter.

In a similar vein, they should get rid of 1201.4: "No person shall operate or ride a bicycle other than upon or astride a regular seat attached to the bicycle." If I'm in control of my bike, what difference does it make what kind of seat I have or how I sit on it? If my seat gets stolen -- which has happened to me -- does that mean I can't ride standing up?

There is an incredible paternalism to some cycling laws, the assumption seems to be that cyclists are all children who have no clue what they're doing. When I take my 9-year-old out on the road, I tell him: two hands on the handlebars, two feet on the pedals -- and keep your butt on the seat. But I tell him a lot of things that don't need to be laws!

1201.7 Persons riding upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast except on paths or part of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles. Persons riding two abreast shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic and, on a lane roadway, shall ride within a single lane.

If (a) you're not impeding traffic, and (b) you're staying within a single lane, why can't three or more cyclists ride abreast? Why not allow as many as will fit in a lane?


The short answer to your question is that we use laws to enforce certain safety norms so as to protect others. Someone may insist that s/he can drive perfectly well after 6 beers or with severe cataracts, or at the age of 12. This may be true, but once we've determined the s/he can't in fact control the vehicle, it's too late. Society has a right to tell that person to sober up, get his/her cataracts removed, or wait until sixteen. These kind of laws benefit cyclists enormously.

The question is thus not whether it's anyone's business what you do, but whether specific laws are warranted or not. I happen to think that a law that requires that a cyclist have both of his hands free so he *can* put them on the handlebars if need be is reasonable, as it allows for much better control of the bike, and I have yet to hear much of counter-argument.

Here are my thoughts on the one hand/two hand issue:

In general it is a conflict between convenience and safety. That being able to ride with one hand available is more convenient is inherent. The implication is that no one would do so otherwise. The reason for the MD version would be that it is safer, but proving that is a bit more difficult. "Cyclist carrying something" does not show up in the crash type manual. Of course, that could be because cyclists so rarely ride in this manner. But the fact is that there is basically no data on cyclists riding with something in one hand. So we are left with our own empirical evidence.

That riding with one hand unavailable is less safe may be common sense. I'll concede that I think it is probably true. But less safe is different than unsafe. If less safe were the standard, we would require everyone to travel only by transit or something. Is riding with only one hand "unsafe"? I see no evidence to support that. And I believe the onus is on those who would restrict behavior to prove that said behavior is unsafe. I could not make a cogent argument that one-handed cycling risks the lives of other road users.

Making one-handed cycling illegal would move those planning to do so to do something else. They might take transit, walk, drive or not make that trip. Since I think driving is much more dangerous than all of those other trips, I feel that even a small uptick in driving would reduce public safety/health.

The fact that some states seem to agree means that I'm not too far from the public consensus on this.

And I believe the onus is on those who would restrict behavior to prove that said behavior is unsafe.

Bingo. Hence my comment about cycling laws often being paternalistic. They're written by non-cyclists, for the benefit of non-cyclists, and reflect a non-cyclist's notion of what cycling is like.

I agree that if there were no law, the onus would certainly be on those who wanted to impose one to make their case. The fact, however, is that the law exists, it's not patently unreasonable, and it would take political capital to change it. I, for one, would not be willing to spend one cent of that capital on this issue. I believe that we should pick our battles.

All of this raises an interesting question, however. Contrarian and Washcycle: can you cite some *good* laws (existing or otherwise) that would restrict cyclists in the interests of safety?

Well, the wish list isn't really designed to be a list of items that can be easily done or should be a priority even. Some things are just shy of impossible, and this particular law isn't really a big deal - has anyone EVER been ticketed for it? I doubt it. In this series, I moving from what I think are the least important categories to most important and in each post I start with what I think is the most important part of that category. So you've focused in on the least important element of the 11th most important category of 12 categories.

As for good laws that restrict cyclist behavior I'll name:

Laws requiring lights/reflectors at night
Laws against drunk biking
Laws against wrong-way riding
Laws against locking bikes to fire hydrants
Unlike Contrarian, I would include the requirement that a bike have a seat.
Laws against riding with more persons than the bike is designed to carry (as long as they allow for child seats)
Laws requiring cyclist to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians

Just to name a few. In later posts in this series I'll even propose adding limits on cyclist behavior.

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