City Government

Cyclists Call For Enforcement of New Law

Guest opinion

With last summer’s three fatalities still painfully in mind, bicycle enthusiasts turned out to testify at Boise City Council’s Tuesday meeting in favor of bike laws aimed at increasing safety.

City Council considered – and passed with minor but significant amendments – some new laws recommended by the mayor’s Cycling Safety Task Force. I like to think we all recognize the value of having a “bike friendly community.” (At the “bronze” level… but hey, it’s better than nuttin’!) And that all of us are dismayed when we hear of tragic accidents resulting in cyclist injuries or fatalities.

– It’s a misdemeanor to throw or “expel” stuff at cyclists or pedestrians, or to threaten or harass them.
– Cyclists have to get off and walk, on crowded sidewalks.
– Cyclists can now be charged with misdemeanor “reckless cycling.”
– Motorists must leave a safety buffer of at least three feet when passing a cyclist.

Essentially all of the testimony generally favored the new laws. The last lady to testify was the exception. She told some harrowing tales of near-misses with irresponsible sidewalk-riding cyclists, and wanted mandatory registration of bicycles and mandatory display of a registration number, so citizens could better identify the scofflaws when complaining. (I’m sympathetic – bad cyclists are the very worst thing for the responsible cycling community!)

I testified that it’s meaningless to pass new laws, if there’s little enthusiasm about enforcing those laws. (In the past, the stated position of the Boise Police Department has been, “Bicycle violations are not a priority.” I’ve not seen anything to indicate that position has changed.) I told the Council members they could do more to make cycling safer by enforcing existing laws. (But I can also support the newly-passed laws.)

Councilors Shealy and Eberle both stated, “we can’t legislate respect and courtesy.” I hope respect and courtesy can nonetheless be maintained, for everyone’s safety and sanity.

The Task Force also recommended stepped up enforcement and education. If I were in charge, those would be my areas of emphasis.

EDITOR NOTE–The GUARDIAN has long been an advocate of bike licensing to aid in the recovery and return of stolen bikes. With bikes now costing as much as used cars, it is silly to just sell abandoned bikes at auction–or junk them. Most bikes are not really stolen, they are “borrowed” and left abandoned for the next thief.

Comments & Discussion

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  1. Rod in SE Boise
    Jan 13, 2010, 12:13 pm


    My experience is that when there is a bike lane, riders tend to ride on the left boundary line of the bike lane, thereby not leaving a three-foot buffer between themselves and cars. I guess now we are supposed to follow the bike (without passing) until the bike moves over into the middle or right side of the bike lane?

    Then there is the more common situation where there is no bike lane and never a three-foot buffer.

    Bikes and cars are like alcohol and gunpowder. They just don’t go together. It’s frustrating for both.

  2. I agree with councilmen saying “we can’t legislate respect and courtesy.”

    We also can’t legislate common sense and personal responsibility.

    As a 40 yr. recreational cyclist having had a near fatal run-in with a dump truck and other close calls, I am appalled by the behavior of “social cyclists” in our town.

    Bicyclists should never ride abreast. The only reason to do so is to communicate, and talking while riding is as dangerous as texting while driving. Survival
    is enhanced more by attentiveness than blind luck.

    Defensive riding requires a rear view mirror and choice of routes that minimize vehicle conflicts.

    The byword should be: reduce all possible negative outcomes on the road. You might think that is the other guy’s responsibility, but it is yours. Otherwise you just might end up representing Darwin at work.

  3. I have had personal experience with a brand new bicycle my daughter had to have while attending BSU. The bike was “borrowed” after a lock was cut at a student housing apartment on Boise Ave. The bike has never been seen again. New stuff is stolen…old stuff is borrowed and left for the next thief.

    Cops will make virtually no effort to try and find the owner of a “found” bike. Even when a report with the frame numbers is given to them. When “found” bikes go in the storage lot on Barrister and sold at auction to the highest bidder.

    Owners of lost bikes can go down and walk through all the bikes and try to find the one that got stolen but it is generally not done as most of the stuff they collect is junk.

    The Auction Company makes a 15% buyer premium for conducting the auction and the proceeds go ???

  4. On Crescent Rim we have a ton of bikers and walkers everyday. Even in the winter. The speed limit is 20 mph.

    Our last traffic study showed the AVERAGE speed to be 31 mph! We have asked for better enforcement but the police refuse to come write tickets. They say that, “it might help for a day then everyone will just speed again”. Pretty poor excuse for putting bikers and walkers in danger.

    Over half the traffic is cut-through from Capital to Emerald. I see cops giving tickets to people coming up Americana – which is nuts – 4 lanes and sidewalks on both sides…yet they could care less on a street where people have to walk in the street.

    No amount of law will help if our mayor and police do not enforce the basics of speed.

    It would also help if the crescent rim condo developer would pay the money he owes to help with traffic control – rather than saying he does not want to pay and does not have the money. Just because you are mothballing your condos and just because no one wants to buy your condos does not mean you do not owe the money as a part of your CUP! Time to pay up Mr Clark.

  5. Mr. Guardian:

    The topic of licensing/registration came up last night; it’s officially “voluntarily encouraged” by the Task Force. Jim Kerns of the BPD was asked (by new guy Thomson, I believe) if they had an estimate on how much it would cost; he said it wouldn’t be significant.

    There’s already a registration form on the BPD website:
    (For the record, I registered my bike there, and it was stolen in September. So far, no recovery, or at least the registration hasn’t resulted in their contacting me.)

    I fully support either voluntary OR mandatory registration of bikes (as long as the cost is only to cover the administrative expenses, NOT to raise revenue).

    The folks who call the local call-in radio show also advocate licensing for cyclists, based on the notion that it would result in better-educated cyclists. (Conveniently ignoring the dubious results among licensed DRIVERS.) If people would ride and drive smarter, I’d be all in favor of an operator license.

  6. I thought the classic comment came from Eberly about law are created to become a point of education and not enforcement.

  7. It is hardly a secret that I am very vocal in my distaste for the current mayor and city council. I also believe they need to be applauded when they do something good for the city. The moves taken last night were definitely good! This is an excellent start and should be expanded. Although we may not be able to legislate respect and courtesy, we can, and should, make it very expensive for those that don’t show it.

  8. Rod… regarding cyclists riding at the left edge of the bike lane. (That’s a frequent point of consternation for drivers, but there’s an explanation.)

    1) Bike lane or not, the closer you get to the edge of the pavement, the more debris (goatheads!) you deal with.
    2) Visibility is a major point of danger for cyclists. (Motorcyclists, too! How often does somebody plow into one or the other, then lament, “I just didn’t see him!”??) The closer to the edge, the more likely to blend into the landscape along the side of the road. AND – the less likely you are to be noticed by cross-street traffic; folks who are looking at the traffic lanes.

  9. I think that this is a great opportunity for new taxes and larger government… all in favor raise you right hand and say “we’ve been duped again”.

    A bunch of laws and taxes will not fix the problem… Bikes and cars don’t mix well. Never did, never will. If you ride your bike in traffic and want to improve your odds of survival… you need to be very very visible. And you need to avoid breaking the laws of physics even when you have the right-of-way. Good luck!

    I think the real problem is the same as with motor cycles… but worse. The small moving target is hard for our human sensors to notice… we were designed for about 2 mph in almost every way including sight.

  10. Zippo: Bikes and cars don’t mix well. Never did, never will.

    Zippo, what do you base such a blanket statement on?

    As a dedicated transportation cyclist for going-on 25 years, year-round, in Boise, Idaho, I dispute that. As a general rule, I can mix in total harmony with motorized traffic! I’m where I should be; the drivers can see I’m doing my best to avoid delaying them. I’ve always tried to be highly visible, but I’ve stepped it up, with hi-viz/reflective, thanks to the example of Bob T. I ride legally, defensively and assertively. I have a rearview mirror on my helmet, and stay aware of my surroundings. I respect the laws of physics. I regularly take evasive measures to avoid an inattentive or incompetent motorist; that’s a price you need to be willing to pay.

    So, if a half-dozen motorists honk or holler at me, over a year and 350 days, 5500+ miles of riding… is it more likely my fault or theirs? (I sincerely thank everybody else for your courtesy and patience!)

  11. The new laws will change little if anything regarding the current situation.

    I have lived in Boise for over 40 years, and to be honest, I have had more bad encounters with bicyclists in the last two years than the previous 38 all rolled together. I drive AND bike all over town and am absolutely appalled at the growing number of bicyclists who have obviously no consideration for anyone else on the rode other than themselves and maybe their buddies. I am not making a blanket statement about all bicyclists BUT there is a growing number of them that engage in reckless and outright stupid behavior. There is an obvious lack of enforcement and I do not see how passing or changing laws will ever change that as long as it is so low on the priority list. In addition, many police officers are poorly versed in what the actual laws are, so many infractions get ignored. Some of the new ordinances are laughably unenforceable such as the sidewalk rule which is so open to interpretation that it will get thrown out of court nearly every time.
    In my opinion, even though they may have laws ‘protecting’ them, bicyclists should be far more defensive on the road as a matter of common sense and practicality. Yes, as a bicyclist you do have rights. But your rights will not protect you one bit as you are bouncing off a 2-ton vehicle. You may not like that, but it’s a more realistic approach to saving lives than passing laws that will be ignored by 99% of the drivers and bikers.

  12. I base it on common knowledge, common sense, and the statistical likelihood of the person on the bike getting the short straw if and when. Riding in traffic is putting your life in other people’s, not so capable, hands. I think you are a shining example of how to survive ridding in traffic, but as you know you are hardly the standard.

  13. And adding taxes to the bikes will do what? That’s like last years tax on my chest-wader/float tube.

  14. Many many more web sources explaining the dangers of riding in traffic if you don’t like that one.

  15. Good for the Boise council to enact some laws(it would help to enforce the ones already there) that make it a little safer for bicyclists. May I suggest that the BPD use their bicycle cops during the spring, summer and fall to target high cyclist areas (Greenbelt by BSU, Crescent Rim, etc…) and issue citations there as it would be a cyclist issuing the other cyclist the ticket?
    Just a thought frmo a Boisean in D.C., where we are fortunate enough to have a great bike path system.

  16. The Boise Picayune
    Jan 14, 2010, 2:47 pm

    RE: 3 Foot Rule

    Unfortunately, unless it’s caught on video or the motorist is stupid enough to admit it, even a 4th Rate Lawyer from a 3rd World Law School oughta be able to kill that charge.

    Even Eye Witnesses – who, as any Prosecutor or Defense Attorney will tell you are notoriously unreliable – won’t change that dynamic.

    It’s window dressing for the general public, and a distraction from genuine – albeit costly – solutions

    But hey… “It’s betta than nuthin!”

  17. I DO aplaud the councils efforts to try something even if it will be unenforcable and thrown out by the courts. Here as I see it is the main reason this is not workable. Several years ago when I was an officer there I helped craft language for the statewide “move over” bill requiring cars to vacate the lane next to emergency vehicles. Now, like the judges told us then, “what if the car can’t,due to traffic, weather, lane construction, etc move over? We would have to rule against the police on enforcement”. The same thing will happen here, first, how in the world can the officer prove beyond a reasonable doubt it was less than 3 feet? Heck many judges rule against officers now AFTER someone rearends someone in an accident that they were NOT following too close, so kinda hard to prove. Second, I agree with many posters here, stepped up enforcement of current laws is always preferable to even more worthless legislation even if done for a worthy cause.

    Now with that said, I DO think that councils actions help tremendously with the education portion of the equation. For that I give them kudos. Too bad that once again a traffic based problem did not involve traffic officers, traffic engineers or transportation planners but rather bicycle advocates, bicycle officers and bicycle haters. Oh well, after 20 years as a traffic officer in the valley what did I expect? Good try by all, now buckle down and do the hard thing. Find the money through pedestrian/cycle grants for engineering changes to fix the problem. For a problem DOES exist and a real solution is needed.

    As for my DC neighbor, I work down at DOT headquarters in the District and the bike engineering is great, but I live outside Manassas and in Virginia I think they just paved a few cow trails!! No shoulder let alone bike lanes or paths. Fortunately we have a half mile paved driveway at our place for my kids to bike on because they will NEVER be allowed out on the road here! Be courteous and patient cyclists and motorists and best wishes in finding a permanent and workable solution.

    PS Bikeboy…good article and good testimony. Something is better than nothing and at least some attention is being paid to the problem. Keep up the good work.

  18. 3 feet is a lovely, generous buffer. I think of it on those rare occasions when I risk N. Cole and get off the sidewalk (filled as it is with utility poles, overgrown shrubbery and trash cans).

    I’ve got a road bike with 16″ wide handlebars and a hybrid with 25″ bars, add 6″ or so for the best you can do tracking a straight line (assuming you’re not staying off of badly sloped, partially broken pavement near the curb, or debris, which you always are), and 3 feet makes… close to SIX FEET, the width of my outstretched arms.

    Great idea, but I’m not going to try holding my breath while I wait for observance, let alone enforcement. Strike up the chorus of “what am I supposed to do, slow down and WAIT?” What a nightmare that would be, huh?

    Some drivers are kind enough to change lanes when they’re utterly unobstructed. Some can’t be bothered to move over even HALF a lane even if there are no other cars on the road.

    Just inside the stripe of the bike lane often IS “as close to the right as practicable” Rod.

    As clear as your memory is of being irritated by cyclists, give it a moment’s thought and tell us what the ratio of your delay-from and annoyance-by for cars::cyclists.

    50 to 1?

    @Picayune: there’s more caught on video (and/or cell phone cameras) all the time. Don’t count out that kind of evidence so easily.

    This has got me to thinking about proximity sensors and data logging too, maybe there are engineering solutions we can come up with. 🙂

  19. serendipity
    Jan 14, 2010, 9:03 pm

    Someone said,
    “Defensive riding requires a rear view mirror and choice of routes that minimize vehicle conflicts.”
    How right he or she is. Harrison Blvd. should not be chosen as a main bike route. In fact, biking on Harrison Blvd. should be banned during commute hours because maintaining a three foot buffer between car and bike, while there are lots of cars parked on the street by the curb, is simply IMPOSSIBLE!!
    However, very few poeple WALK on Harrison during commute hours, so bikes should use the sidewalk, stopping for the rare walker when encountered, IF they MUST drive on Harrison.
    Instead, choose 18th street when going downtown. 18th St. is wider than most other north end streets. You can see what’s coming. It’s safer both for bikes and for cars.

  20. sam the sham
    Jan 15, 2010, 12:27 am

    As long as we choose to embrace an us vs them attitude not much will change.
    It appears that we lack a feeling of community anymore. I used to love biking around this town. My kids and I felt safe riding down Capital Blvd. Not anymore.
    Where is the sense of kindness? Did Boise just get too big, is that the situation? Honestly, I am really wondering what happened when kids can’t even ride their bikes to school anymore without fear of being run down just because they are on bikes – not being driven in a car.
    Most of Kootenai has no sidewalk, no place for kids to walk to school. And no safe place to ride (ever pass a parked car to have a door suddenly open?)

  21. I think the three foot rule is going to be used my a few on the bikes to block traffic. Is there also a rule that says if going below the speed limit you should make way? If not there sure should be.

  22. Good to hear from you Kip. I hope all is well with your change. Thanks for the input. Glad to see you are still in touch.

  23. Anyone else see a problem with experience vs. perception here? Most of the pro-motorist folks aren’t biking at all, while most of the pro-bike folks ALSO drive cars. Seems to really color some of the “facts” put forth…

    Case 1: Bikes and cars don’t mix well. Sorry, but if that’s your “common sense and common knowledge” at work, you need to take a trip outside the U.S. In Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa, autos and bikes DO work together in even the most crowded conditions. The U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Australia are the sad exceptions. The evidence is there — you just have to actually look for it.

    Case 2: However, very few poeple [sic] WALK on Harrison during commute hours, so bikes should use the sidewalk… Even better. So we need to be more visible, but we should buffer ourselves from traffic more? Go ahead and ride down a Harrison sidewalk at rush hour. If you can still type afterward, let us know how many close calls you had because motorists did not see you until the last second. Almost anyone who regularly rides will tell you that being on the street is safer.

    Are there better route choices than Harrison? Sure, absolutely. But just like motorists, some cyclists make bad route choices.

  24. Route choices:

    When I ride from the east end to Eagle I use North End streets as opposed to Hill Rd. I have greater vision, feel much safer and it is a much more interesting route. Of course I am not a speed rider and am willing to slow down at intersections and I enjoy seeing my city.

  25. db, I’m not pro-motorist. I’m pro-life. Riding a bike in traffic is more dangerous, as fact does show… probably even in the ideal places you mention, and for sure here. The biker’s life is damaged or ended as is the life of the driver involved… All you who ride bikes most often drive too… you too could be the unfortunate driver as well as biker. Bikes are hard to see, maybe even beyond the limits of the human brain to process. Possibly a great defense for someone with enough money for such a trial. I wish not one more ever happened but we all know it will. I think the biker not wearing BRIGHT colors is partially at fault… just like a hunter not wearing orange. I think the limits of the human mind to perceive the hazards needs to be explored and the roads and rules amended to meet the limitations.

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