Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

Detroit bicycling in 1898: No other city compares

Monday, March 4th, 2013

1898 Detroit Official GuideWe recently purchased the Detroit Official Guide from 1898.

The city was growing then and it appears this guide was intended for newcomers. Most of the pages list “reliable merchants”, including sixteen bike shops around the downtown area, nine of them on Woodward Avenue.

Beyond the retailersr, bicycling has a prominent place in the guide. The appendix lists city officials first then bicycling information.

And it speaks very highly of Detroit’s cycling opportunities. Detroit and Brooklyn were America’s best cycling cities in 1898? We’d like to think so, but it could just be visitor’s guide boosterism.

From the Guide:

With perhaps the exception of Brooklyn, noted for its cycle paths, no other city in the country can compare with Detroit in the facilities which it offers for pleasant bicycle runs. The suburban runs are especially fine. Elsewhere mention has been made of the streets and avenues of the city, and they need only be referred to here in passing. Miles of excellent macadam extend in all directions leading to scenes of beauty and interest. The course around Belle Isle is famous but that is only one. In reaching the Island you ride past some of the finest homes in the country beneath a canopy of foliage of trees planted more that a century ago, on a perfect asphalt pavement. To write of the attractions of the various cycle paths would be to write a long story. Suffice it to merely point them out:

Going out Fort St. West, rides may visit Ecorse, 9 miles; Wyandotte, 12 miles, Trenton, 17 miles; Flat Rock, 25 miles.

Michigan Ave. — Dearborn, 10 miles; Inkster, 15 miles; Wayne, 18 miles; Canton, 23 miles; Denton’s, 26 miles; Ypsilanti, 30 miles; Ann Arbor, 38 miles.

Jefferson Ave. — Grosse Pointe, 10 miles; McSweeney’s Club, 24 miles.

Woodward Ave. — Highland Park, 5 miles; Whitewood, 7 miles; Royal Oak, 12 miles; Birmingham, 18 miles; Bloomfield Center, 21 miles; Pontiac, 28 miles; Drayton Plains, 31 miles; Waterford, 33 miles; Clarkston, 35 miles; Orchard Lake, 32 miles. The road out Woodward Avenue is always good.

Grand River Ave. — Greenfield, 8 miles; Farmington, 10 miles.

And the bicycling ordinances? There weren’t many. Remember there were no stop signs, traffic lights, one way streets, or expressways. To the 1898 cyclist, the condition of the road surface was the most important information needed for a productive ride.

Of course the ordinances were important as well — and they were quite simple. We especially like the ordinance permitting businesses to have bicycle racks.

From the Official Guide:

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Another helmet law to bite the dust?

Monday, January 14th, 2013

Kensington Metropark

We wrote about this in 2009: Milford Township has an ordinance requiring bicyclists to wear a helmet on the paved trails at the Kensingon Metropark.

And to be more specific, bicyclists must only wear a helmet when the paved trail is 10 feet wide.

Biking on the roads at Kensington or unpaved trails? No bicycle helmet is required.

This ordinance came about in 1996 after an inline skater had a fatal crash going down a long downhill section of trail. That segment of trail was changed and made less steep to reduce speeds, but the ordinance remained.

It may not remain for much longer according to this Observer & Eccentric article.

Huron-Clinton Metroparks has asked the township to drop the regulation, in effect since 1997, because of “inconsistencies” between the Kensington trail and adjoining trails that don’t have the rule — as well as enforcement issues, said Denise Semion, metroparks chief of communications.

“When the trail was built, it wasn’t connected to all the other trails (like it is today). It was a different time back then. Now we got people enjoying a bike ride, not required to have a helmet anywhere else, and they ride into Kensington and suddenly they have to have a helmet. It’s inconsistent for cyclists, it’s difficult to enforce. And we haven’t really been enforcing it that much (anyway),” she said, likening it to having a seat belt law in some communities, but not others.

One other issue with this ordinance is people in wheelchairs have to wear bicycle helmets.

Motorists and Actor-observer bias

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Certainly you’ve read the public comments whenever the media write about making this area a better place to bike.

It’s quite common to read stereotypes of cyclist as law breakers — and that’s an excuse for cyclists not to have safe facilities.

You may also read cycling organizations stress that bicyclists should follow the rules of the road, to be ambassadors, to not play into this stereotype.

Both responses are malarkey with perhaps the latter being more disappointing since it’s coming from the same team.

Does AAA tell motorists to be ambassadors while driving to reduce scorn from non-motorists and to ensure safe facilities get built? Of course not.

The hypocrisy of motorists stereotyping cyclists as law breakers is clear. Which road user is causing the majority of road fatalities, personal injuries, and crashes? Aggressive driving, distracting driving, drunk driving — notice the common word?

Police believe it is optimal setting speed limits at the point where only 15% of motorists are speeding. Top safety experts have admitted to us that speed limits are fairly worthless because drivers ignore them.

Furthermore, since 2004 no cyclist has caused a crash in Michigan resulting in the serious injury of death of a motorist or pedestrian. We checked.

So why the cycling hate?

The best explanation we’ve found is Actor-observer bias. According to Wikipedia:

People are more likely to see their own behavior as affected by the situation they are in, or the sequence of occurrences that have happened to them throughout their day. But, they see other people’s actions as solely a product of their overall personality, and they do not afford them the chance to explain their behavior as exclusively a result of a situational effect.

In other words, a motorist can justify their speeding because the speed limit is too low, or 5 MPH over is socially acceptable, or because they’re in a hurry.

However, when a cyclist on rolls through a stop sign, it’s because they are lawbreakers. This latter judgement is also called a Fundamental attribution error.

A two-fold solution

First, bicycle advocacy organizations need to make the rules of the road work for bicyclists. Contrary to what you may read, the League of American Wheelmen nor any other bicycle advocacy organization were at the table when the automotive industry crafted the basis for today’s rules of the road during the 1920s. We need these rule templates changed at the national level. The Idaho stop law should be the U.S. bicycle stop law.

We don’t want the same laws for bicycling. We want better laws.

Second, we need to get more people on bicycles. Doing that should give more motorists a better understanding and perhaps empathy for cyclists. We need more motorists understanding why treating stop signs as yields or jumping red lights can be safer for us. Not every motorist will become a bicyclist, but their family members and co-workers could.

It’ll never be a complete harmonious relationship between motorists and cyclists, but the first step is to recognize the social psychology driving motorists’ perception and make real improvements for a safer future.

Courts reduce road agency liability

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

It’s already difficult to sue road agencies under state law for the quality of the road beneath your tires.

MCL 691.1402 GOVERNMENTAL LIABILITY FOR NEGLIGENCE

Each governmental agency having jurisdiction over a highway shall maintain the highway in reasonable repair so that it is reasonably safe and convenient for public travel. A person who sustains bodily injury or damage to his or her property by reason of failure of a governmental agency to keep a highway under its jurisdiction in reasonable repair and in a condition reasonably safe and fit for travel may recover the damages suffered by him or her from the governmental agency. The liability, procedure, and remedy as to county roads under the jurisdiction of a county road commission shall be as provided in section 21 of chapter IV of 1909 PA 283, MCL 224.21. Except as provided in section 2a, the duty of a governmental agency to repair and maintain highways, and the liability for that duty, extends only to the improved portion of the highway designed for vehicular travel and does not include sidewalks, trailways, crosswalks, or any other installation outside of the improved portion of the highway designed for vehicular travel. A judgment against the state based on a claim arising under this section from acts or omissions of the state transportation department is payable only from restricted funds appropriated to the state transportation department or funds provided by its insurer.

Remember that in Michigan bicycles are not vehicles, therefore road agencies can’t be sued for defects in bike lanes or on paved shoulders.

That’s both good and bad. It’s good for countering road agencies arguments that bike lanes raise their liability. They don’t. In fact, they can reduce it. That’s not our opinion. That’s the opinion of the Michigan State Attorney General’s office.

The bad part is this lack of liability removes a motivating factor for keeping them well maintained. Then again, the roads aren’t in all that great a shape either.

Gravel doesn’t count

Last week the Michigan Supreme Court clarified the road liability a little more. They said the Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC) could not be sued for gravel that accumulated on a road. That gravel allegedly caused a motorcycle crash.

From the Spinal Column:

“Basically the law states that a defect must be in the traveled portion of the road and the higher courts interpretation is that it must be in the road bed itself and the gravel was simply a dusting on the surface of the road that you would see anywhere on a daily basis,” [RCOC attorney Paula] Reeves explained.

Michigan law established that if snow and ice are on a roadway, the RCOC is not liable for any damages. Subsequently the Supreme Court last week issued an opinion stating under Michigan Law the agency is not culpable in this incident since RCOC is responsible for keeping the roadway in “reasonable repair,” and loose gravel on a roadway does not fall under this definition.

“The courts took this logic and extended the law to apply to gravel,” Reeves noted.

This ruling could likely be applied to a bicyclist crashing on gravel in a vehicle travel lane.

Again, this is good and bad for the same reasons mentioned earlier.

However, if reducing the liability means more bike lanes, we’ll take it.

We’ll deal with the occasional gravel.

 

Rochester Hills doesn’t have some basic traffic ordinances

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

This story started with a trip on the Clinton River Trail through Rochester Hills. The trail crosses Crooks Road midblock. There’s a stop sign for the trail users and a crosswalk, but no stop sign for road users.

There’s another sign for trail users: Cross traffic does not stop.

This is odd for two reasons. First, it’s not the intended use of this sign according to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). These signs are for two-way stops that users might mistake as four-way. That’s not the case here.

But secondly, road users are supposed to stop when a user is in the crosswalk. If you’re going to invest in signs, shouldn’t they tell the motorists to yield to those in the crosswalk?

Not in Rochester Hills

Most cities adopt the Uniform Traffic Code (UTC) in their city ordinances which includes a provision for motorists and other road users yielding to pedestrians.

Rochester Hills apparently forgot to include this. It appears as if it used to be in Article III of Chapter 98 according to one of the park ordinances. It’s not there now.

The Rochester Hills City Council did just update these ordinances and included the Michigan Vehicle Code, but they must have overlooked the Uniform Traffic Code. Or did they?

What does this mean?

In Michigan, the “rules of the road” have been divided between the Michigan Vehicle Code and the Uniform Traffic Code. Among many other rules, the Uniform Traffic Code includes:

  • Road users yielding to pedestrians in the crosswalks (Note that state law requires yielding to pedestrians and bicycles only when turning through a crosswalk.)
  • Prohibiting jaywalking and hitchhiking
  • Prohibiting littering on streets
  • Prohibiting driving on sidewalks
  • Requiring pedestrians to yield to vehicles outside of crosswalks
  • Requiring vehicle drivers to exercise due care around pedestrians, but especially children
  • Treating skateboarders, roller skaters, or in-line skaters as pedestrians and prohibiting them from roads

We’re not suggesting you try all these, but if you are struck by a car that fails to yield on a trail crossing in Rochester Hills, don’t expect city ordinances to help.

As for the rest of the Clinton River Trail, Auburn Hills, Pontiac, and Rochester have adopted the Uniform Traffic Code. Sylvan Lake has not.