Interesting Stuff

Bikers Need Enforcement Too


Early Thursday morning, before the sun came up, a 12-year-old South Jr. High student was hit as he rode his bike to school, by a motorist. As of this writing, he’s in the hospital with what are described as life-threatening injuries. (He was riding in the dark, wearing dark clothes, no helmet, and no lights or reflectors. The poor lady who hit him was distraught.)
Bike wheel.jpg

It was all over the local TV news. The police and school spokesman Dan Hollar agree – it’s a good “wake up call” for everyone – for motorists to be on the lookout for cyclists, and for cyclists to ride carefully, visibly and legally.

Great advice. But – I wish it were in my power to further extend that wake-up call to the law-enforcement agencies.

As my “handle” might suggest, I ride a bike. It’s been pretty much my exclusive transportation – in Boise – for 22+ years now. And every day I see fellow cyclists who are doing illegal, stupid things. Running red lights. Riding 2-up (mostly kids). Riding unlit at night. And – all the time – RIDING AGAINST TRAFFIC! Blatantly, black-and-white illegal – and stupid! (It’s dangerous, and it confuses and stirs up resentment on the part of motorists.)

How many tickets have the police issued? I’d be surprised if they’ve written one! (Unless an accident is involved.)

I’ve called the BPD to complain about lack of enforcement of bicycle traffic laws. I’ve been told flat out, “That’s not a priority for us.” They’ve apparently got more important things to do than make the streets safe for cyclists!

I hear people complain all the time about law-breaking, dangerous idiots on bikes. And I join them! But WHO is doing something about it? You can probably guess the response I get, if I tell somebody else on a bike that they’re riding dangerously and illegally. It’s usually “Be fruitful and multiply!”… only not in those words. (An old Woody Allen line there…)

I sure hope the kid gets better, and is soon back on his bicycle. There is NO more efficient or elegant form of transportation! (It’s a shame so few kids ride bikes any more; they estimated 50 out of 800+ kids regularly ride to South.) And I sincerely hope that perhaps our police will revisit their bike-law enforcement policies, and quit electing NOT to enforce the law except when somebody smashes up.

(I called and left a message on this topic on the Mayor’s hotline.)

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. I also feel sorry for the young boy and his parents. So sad when this happens.

    But you are right about the Law enforcment.
    (That’s not a priority for us) Same with controlling the traffic offenders. When do we start getting some control on the speeder, those following to close, running red light. It just seems we are out of control on the roads these days. When do the police start paying attention to these problems. (That’s not a priority for us) Maybe we need leaders that pay attention to these priority’s.

    EDITOR NOTE–Education, courtesy, and common sense also help. Tickets are not the only answer. Cops can’t solve all of society’s problems.

  2. Bikeboy, Doing a brief search for local low cost/free helmet programs in Boise yielded little. The news reports or Ryan Buzzini, BPD officer interviewed, did not even mention there might be such programs out there.

    I found the BPD has a Free Helmet program for “kids in need”, contact Lt Pete Ritter at (208) 373-5441. St. Lukes has something called Safe Kids Treasure Valley. I will do some more research when I have time this afternoon.

    Education is the key to solving this problem more so than enforcement. The sad thing is studies show free helmets do not neccessarily guarantee use.
    This studies was done in low income areas, which applies in Boise as we have schools that are over 70% free and reduced lunch.

  3. Guardian – you are right. Enforcement alone isn’t the solution. But it HAS to be a component – an incentive, if you will – for people to exercise more common sense and courtesy.

    As Robert points out, there are many speeders and light violators, and it seems to be getting worse. (I cross Front and Myrtle on 13th almost every day on my bike… I’d sure never go just because I have a green light!) But I’m sure those folks are casting furtive glances, hoping the cops don’t see ’em. When some Gomer is riding his bike up the street the wrong way, against traffic, he can go right past a cop with almost total confidence that he won’t get hassled… it’s not a priority violation. (Huh?)

    A parent who has bad bicycling habits (or none at all) is not likely to teach his kid good bicycling skills. So good habits are not being taught OR enforced.

    I was a charter member of the ACHD Bicycle Advisory Committee. The ITD and ACHD placed a joint order for thousands of copies of a FANTASTIC little booklet called “Bicycling Street Smarts.” You can get one from those agencies, or at many local bike shops, REI, etc. (An online version can be seen at .) We also intended for police to carry them in their cars to hand out to law-breaking cyclists as an education effort. I hope that’s being done.

    Unfortunately, I expect that we’ll quickly go back to business-as-usual, until the local media can show another kid’s mashed bike and tennis shoe with a circle spray-painted around it on the pavement. Maybe a little blood. The viewers like to see blood.

  4. Thanks Guardian who I assume is the editor of Bikeboy’s guest post. I agree that the onus should not exclusively be upon the cops. Bikeboy and Robert are right that the cops’ excuse is lame considering they have bike patrols. In addition they don’t have to ticket all transgressors, just a verbal warning ought to do the trick for the most part. There would be no paperwork and the cops would still be enforcing the law. But I think bikers ought to do more to police ourselves.

    This morning I encountered a mom taking her child downtown and when we got to a lighted intersection she blocked the right turn only lane waiting to proceed straight at the light. She should have lined up with the rest of traffic in the proper lane like I did. I’m sure she thought she was safer staying to the right but all users of the roadway have a right to expect the other users to follow the law and common sense. Things like that give bikers a bad name. And really it would benefit all of us to point out when other bikers are giving us that bad name. As Bikeboy notes its not easy, will be interpreted as arrogant, and the lack of tact may result in an unpleasant confrontation but putting all responsiblity on the cops is just passing the buck on making ours a better community.

    I felt so bad for all parties when I heard about the accident. Kids have been riding their bikes to school for weeks in sunlight but with the planet tilting the south pole towards the sun darkness stays later in the morning until one day the kids are riding to school in the dark. This accident should warn all parents to light up their kids, equipment as necessary as a helmet. In addition there is a free pamphlet on the proper rules of the road for bikers available at most bike shops in town so ignorance should not be an excuse.

  5. I agree with all the above.
    One reason, though, that cops are hesitant to crack down on bicyclists is that it’s impossible for a police car to stop a rider who doesn’t want to be stopped. The bike can zip through traffic jams, go between houses, onto sidewalks, around barriers etc. that a car can’t handle. And if a cop is chasing a kid and the kid freaks out and zooms out in front of a semi …

    Also, what do you do if you do stop the kid? Talk to him and let him go? Might work with some; others will take it as, aw, heck, the cops ain’t gonna do anything to me anyway. Give ’em a ticket? Kid probably has no money to pay it even if he wants to, and probably doesn’t want to and won’t. Then what? Yank him out of school and lock him up in the juvie facility with the ones in for burglary, assault, drugs, whatever? Is that likely to improve him? Hold the parents responsible — and teach the kid he can do whatever he wants and his folks will pay the fines or whatever?

    No, I’m not saying cops shouldn’t try to enforce the laws; I’m just looking at some of the difficulties of the situation.

    I rode for many, many years — got hit a couple of times by errant drivers (lucked out with very minor injuries), but had thousands of close calls from drivers who simply don’t see a bike, or don’t think it ought to be out there, or think their vehicle and the skinny bike can both fit in the same lane (they can’t).

    As for riding against traffic — OK, I’ve quit doing that, but I still think anyone riding with traffic could be arrested for attempted suicide. You can’t see or hear that speeder zooming up behind you until it’s too late.

    Education, etc., are the best steps. Another would be bike lanes wide enough that you can ride in them without having your left handle bar out in traffic.

    As for helmets — yep,, I wear one, both on a bicycle and on a motorcycle, but in all the bike crashes (with cars and without a vehicle involved — holes in the street, slipping on gravel, etc.) over my many years, I’ve never hit my head. And when a ton or two of steel and plastic slams into a rider, the helmet offers little hope.

    Still, lights and reflectors are a must! (Although all the times I’ve been hit by cars and other vehciles — while on a bicycle, a motorcycle, a horse, a motor scooter, in a car, in a truck — were in broad daylight, with drivers just not paying attention and coming on so fast that I had no chance to get out of the way.

    Perhaps heavier fines for drivers who are clearely at fault might help a bit (although in the present case, it appears there’s no way the driver could have seen the bike and avoided it), heavy cop pressure on bicycles without lights at night, etc. should help some anyway.

    And on that subject: How about reflective stripes on cops? Several times I’ve nearly hit an officer who stops someone on the highway, then steps out of his car right into the traffic lane without even looking back to see whether anything’s coming. And, in those dark uniforms, they are basically invisible when beside the car with all the flashing lights blinding drivers anyway. Argh!

    Every so often the Statesman publishes a letter from someone telling cyclists to ride facing traffic. I don’t mind all the kook letters that newspapers publish, but that kind of letter really bothers me, because it endangers people. Yes, there’s such a thing as free speech, but there’s also this little matter of ethics…

    Do the math, ride bikes on the RIGHT side of the road.

    Boise is a good town to ride a bike. The roads are wide enough most places, the weather allows it most of the time, and it’s mostly flat. I loved it when I rode from Milwaukee and Fairview to downtown in the morning, and beat the traffic. Hehe…

  7. Now that I’m driving a little one to school so she can be there at 7:55am, I’m wondering about the wisdom of scheduling children to start school that early anyway. I find myself driving in the dark carefully avoiding kids waiting at the bus stops. In other words, it isn’t just kids on bicycles that are endangered while trying to get to school in the dark. For instance, not everyone has turned off their sprinkler so there have been a few icy spots in the neighborhoods on these cold, dark mornings. Even people driving may have a little trouble.

    We could re-schedule the time change to make it lighter in the morning or we could let children start school a little later in the morning – or both.

  8. It feels really strange to say this but it actually felt safer to ride a bike in San Francisco than in Boise. After I moved back here I had a few too close calls with mirrors on pickup trucks and really inattentive driving. I can’t ride a bike anymore but even if I could I would choose my route very carefully.

    Why bikers like Hill Road is beyond me – it is seriously unsafe because of the narrowness of the bike lane. I use that road a lot, in my car, and try to give the bikers all the room they need, even if I have to go really slow for awhile until there is room to pass safely. I have seen some really odd behavior on the part of bikers too. All I can say is that they need to remember that cars have a really big weight advantage – don’t take chances even if you are in the right. And thanks for not adding pollution to the valley. 🙂

  9. About two weeks ago, St. Lukes and various other agencies, sponsored “bike rodeos” at two local middle schools. Bike inspections, qualifying courses and coaching by one of the local bicycle groups were provided. Helmets were required to be on the course and if a participant didn’t have one, they could purchase one for 5 bucks. Brand new! The turn out wasn’t that great but it is definitely a worth while program.

  10. I agree that more enforcement of bicycle laws would be one component of a safety program. However, we in traffic enforcement refer to this as the 3 E’s (Education, Enforcement and Engineering) Better engineered bike lanes, better education for both bicyclists and drivers and then stepped up enforcement efforts. I do know though that several of the day traffic officers with BPD do stop bicyclists routinely for violations. I would say that the number is lower than what everyone would like to see but there is some enforcement. One of the things that we at BPD face though is manpower shortage. Due to limited manpower the neighborhood traffic team (A Sgt. and 8 officers) had to be reassigned to patrol duties over a year ago.

    Compared to cities our size using any generally accepted numbers we are 50-100 officers behind where we should be. (Goes back to that growth thing!) With all of that being said I still maintain that we can do better and I will make an effort to get the word out to our officers to take the time and at the least issue warnings when they see dangerous and/or illegal behavior regarding bicyclists. If you have specific concerns regarding areas of town, etc. that are repetitive please feel free to call BPD and leave me a message and I will help where I can.

  11. I remember when I was in grammer school, all the ” cool” kids rode a bike to school.There were yearly annual inspections of our bikes and licensing. Every kid had a book of bike safety that they had to read and there were very few accidents ( this area was 10 miles due west of NYC. It was a smaller town but there were traffic cops at every school crossing and primary importance was given to getting the children to and from school safely.

    In contrast, Boise is a large city, where everyone owns a car, but with streets made for the 1950’s. Rush hours resemble NASCAR rallies and the downtown area often looks like a parking lot. The mayor and city council should ask the police to see that all bike riders are helmeted and obey all traffic laws or be fined . We have, since Bush took over a plurality of police agency’s; perhaps one of them could be put to work on the above. The life you save by doing something positive here might be someone in your family!

  12. junkyard dog
    Oct 23, 2006, 8:27 am

    I agree with what everyone else has posted and recall, too, as a kid those annual inspections and licensing and so forth for those of us who rode bikes.
    However, one thing to remember is that kids simply will be kids and are very unpredictable. This is why residential and school zones have 20 mph speed limits and why motorists must be ever vigilant in these areas.

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve had kids swerve directly in the path of my car — and avoided hitting them because I was going the posted 20 mph speed limit and was anticipating they might do something foolish.

    All the training in the world isn’t going to prevent kids (particularly adolescent boys) from horsing around and all motorists have a responsibility to drive defensively, especially in areas that are school routes.

    Getting back to Joe’s comment about the licensing, as a kid, I rode my bike every where and never got hit, nor do I recall anyone else getting hit either. BUT back then, motorists drove the speed limit, yielded to kids on bikes, stopped at crosswalks, slowed down when passing cyclists, stayed in one lane instead of changing every 5 seconds, and didn’t race through red lights without looking.

    Ada County motorists are the worst drivers I have ever seen in my life and if any education needs to happen, it has to start with the people behind the steering wheels.

  13. curious george
    Oct 23, 2006, 11:25 am


    Idaho actually has one of the more progressive bicycle statutes on the books, 49-720 – pretty regularly quoted by out-of-state bicycle advocacy groups looking for similar statutes.

    This state law permits bicyclist to proceed through red lights after assessing the safety of the situation (sort of like treating it as a flashing red) – and even taking right-turns-on-reds and left-hand turns onto to one-ways against reds, if the intersection is clear.

    I ride a bike pretty regularly, and have the scars to prove it (three facial & dental reconstructive surgeries from one accident – the hardway to learn the value of a helmet). But what’s tough on cyclists in downtown is the number of one-way streets and alleys. If we could just adopt a ride-on-the-right regardless of the direction of motor traffic, it would be a lot easier.

    Who knows, maybe I lost more brain cells than skin & bone in my accident…

  14. One of the reasons we have bicycle accidents is because so many people regard bikes as toys for fun and not viable, lawful transportation. We have the Stars program for motorcycles. Why not a defensive driving course for bicycles?

    I think a lot of Idahoans would complain because for the most part, the drivers here wish the bikes were not using any road. I doubt I would commute to work on my bike in traffic here if there was not a Greenbelt. I have had too many ugly drivers rage at me for just using the road. I wish the canal roads could be paved and used for bike traffic.

    One also has to remember that risk is involved when using two wheel transportation. Here in Boise, just being a pedestrian is a risky form of transportation.

  15. George… Idaho’s bike LAWS are great, IMO… just rarely enforced except when an accident happens. (What’s the value of an unenforced law?) Boise’s bike infrastructure is great, too… there are very few roads I don’t feel comfortable on.

    Cyclists can coast through a stop sign (yielding, of course). Cyclists must stop at a red light. Then they can proceed cautiously after yielding. (It was intended as a work-around to non-responsive signals, NOT to allow cyclists to ignore the light. If cars are waiting for a light to turn green, I will ALWAYS wait with them. I’d rather work with motorists who don’t resent my presence. Gomers on bikes give ALL cyclists a black eye.)

  16. John asked why we don’t have a “defensive driving program for bicycles” (I assume that he means for bicyclists – I never did have much luck trying to train a bicycle). There actually is a bike safety course, developed by the League of American Bicyclists (see for more info). There are even two instructors in the Treasure Valley: myself in Meridian and Paul Greear in Nampa.

    I’ll admit that we don’t do a very good job of promoting the class though: I’m lousy at marketing. However the Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance (TVCA) has recently started helping with that. We recently put on a class in Boise, and plans are in the works to hold more classes in the spring.

    If you are interested in taking the class, keep an eye on the TVCA website: We’ll post the schedules for the classes there. Or even better, come join the TVCA an help us work on making bicycling better in the Treasure Valley.

  17. Kip Wills said that he would get the word out to other Boise officers “to take the time and at the least issue warnings when they see dangerous and/or illegal behavior regarding bicyclists.” Has that happened yet? The reason I ask is that today at about 4:00PM I was riding westbound on Emerald when a young woman on a bike passed me while I was waiting at the red light at Curtis. I was about the 4th vehicle in line, and a Boise Police officer was the 2nd vehicle. The young woman briefly stopped, then ran the light right in front of eastbound traffic that was turning left. She then proceeded on up Emerald. The BPD officer passed her on the overpass, and kept on going. He had the perfect opportunity to stop her and at least have a chat, but he just kept on going.

    I almost caught up with her at Cole, but she again ran the red light, again right in front of traffic turning left. This time the motorists definately had to hit their brakes to avoid hitting her. Then to top it off at Milwaukee she rode up to the light in the bike lane that is on the left side of the right-turn-only lane, then turned right onto Milwaukee, directly in front of a SUV that was in the process of making a right turn. She then cut across Milwaukee into REI, where I went in and chewed her out for giving bicyclists such a good name. Her excuse was that she was late for work. That makes it OK to be reckless?

    And how much time did this reckless behavior really save her, especially since this pot-bellied, balding, middle-aged gray-beard kept catching up with her?

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