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Should Cyclists Be Treated Like Pedestrians, Motorists — or Cyclists?

12:35 PM CDT on August 15, 2013

In places where cities accommodate multiple modes of travel, such as the Netherlands, cyclists and their bikes have their own space, just like pedestrians and motorists. This is not nearly as common the U.S., where dedicated infrastructure is scarce and the rules on where cyclists "belong" -- whether they should behave like pedestrians or drivers -- differ from state to state, city to city, or even block to block.

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Shaun Jacobsen at Network blog Transitized has given it some thought, and he thinks cyclists are a lot more like pedestrians in some important ways, though planners in the U.S. more often tend to lump them in with cars.

Bikes are now normally given the same green cycle as cars and are expected to comply. Sometimes, pedestrians are given a “leading interval,” giving pedestrians a head start. People on bikes have heightened senses of their surroundings since they are standing upright and have full, unobstructed view of their surroundings -- like pedestrians -- and should be permitted to use the leading pedestrian interval as their “go,” or deserve their own traffic signal at intersections.

Bikes are also expected to comply with stop signs (except in Idaho) by coming to a full stop. However, pedestrians don’t have to stop completely at a stop sign when they want to cross the road. They can see all around them and hear oncoming cars, and are better-suited to make the decision whether it is safe to cross. A runner that can see along the street they are trying to cross should not be legally forced to stop if it is safe to proceed without crossing. Similarly, a person on a bike should not be forced to stop themselves to proceed through a completely safe intersection, since people on bikes have situational awareness at a level closer to a pedestrian.

Too often, bikes are placed in the “car” infrastructure category and given the treatments engineers designed for cars -- leading to unsafe conditions reserved only for the most confident bike riders. It is time that engineers and planners stop planning bike infrastructure and routes as if cars were using it.

In related posts on the Network today, Reno Rambler reviews an article aimed at educating law enforcement officers on bike laws, and the Green Lane Project wonders if there should be more emphasis on making cyclists feel comfortable, rather than just safe. Also: Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space comments on a trend among public service providers, like libraries, that are conducting outreach on bikes.

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