"The law should be strictly enforced against bicyclists"

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Saturday, October 29, 2005
By Rachel

The following letter to the editor appeared in the August 18, 2005 edition of the Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY):

"In most respectable communities, there are ordinances against people walking the public streets indecently attired. Not in Kingston, where the latest fad has males walking Broadway and its intersecting streets exposed from the waist up. This is offensive and should be curbe [sic]. It indicates a lack of breeding and affects the sensitivities of others who are repulsed by it. If there is no law against such indecent and common behavior, one should be enacted. Also, bicyclists utilizing the public highways and streets are required to observe the state traffic laws (Sections 1231-1238). One would hardly know it by observing the huge number of bicyclists who ride irresponsibly throughout Kingston without regard to the danger they present to themselves and motorists. The law should be strictly enforced against bicyclists. Walter R. Byer, Kingston, wbyer@hvc.rr.com"

A fad is something that is embraced for a brief period of time. I do not consider 25 years (the number of years I recall men walking around nude from the waist up) a brief period of time. Also, I think Byer intended to write "a lack of good breeding," since he likely has the belief that these "vulgar" (after all, they are walking on Broadway) men breed all too often, and their offspring grow up to ride their bicycles irresponsibly while nude from the waist up. I was a pedestrian, motorist, and cyclist when I lived in the Kingston area from 1995 until 2002. I do not recall irresponsible bicycle riding, but I do recall irresponsible driving. Byer's remarks remind me of remarks made by CarFree listserv members who defend the use of a car and irresponsible motorist behavior with as much passion as a room full of alcoholics openly sipping from bottles of alcohol during an AA meeting while declaring their sobriety. That is, Byer sounds like he's the problem.

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I don't have any problem with strict law enforcement, provided the officers actually KNOW cycling law and have some practical experience at applying that to riding in traffic. Of course, if they're going to stop cyclists for running stop signs, it's not much of a stretch to expect they'd stop motorists for the same offense.

But NO ONE stops at stop signs! At best, they're treated as yields within the neighborhood. People actually will stop where a minor road meets a major road if there's cross traffic. Otherwise it's a rolling stop, at best. I watched a motorist roll through a 4-way stop this morning at about 15-20 mph, just a block from the police station.

One evening, an officer parked his patrol car at the top of my street and stopped one car after another for running the stop sign. His black-and-white was plainly visible, yet people didn't stop! They were in the habit of running that stop sign, and the habit got them all tickets.

So the problem isn't just cyclists. It's habitually ignoring stop signs and ignoring the law. MOST of the time we can get away with it, but eventually a habit like that can get us ticketed or worse.

It would help if local governments replaced many stop signs with yield signs, but that's unlikely for a couple of reasons. First, it makes sense, and how often does local gov't do something that sensible? Second, it's expensive. Finally, many neighborhoods prefer stop signs, despite the near-universal practice of ignoring them. Go figure.
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