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Cycling & Traffic

I don't usually do posts like this, but cycling & traffic has been part of the local conversation lately, and I think it's worth clearing a few things up.

It's a common misconception that cyclists don't help pay for roads. We do. Depending on where you live, local road maintenance only gets about 40% of it's funding from car-specific taxes and fees. The rest (~60%) typically comes from the local general fund, which is fed via sales tax. The sales tax on a bike pays for that bike's share of road use, extra bike lanes, etc, and then some. The sales tax on my two bikes would pay for 40 years of the wear and tear I put on local roads.

It's also fashionable to say that "everyone should play by the same rules." I agree that ideally, cyclists should obey the law. But that's sometimes tough: current laws and roads are built to support motor vehicle traffic. Magnetic sensors at stop lights aren't sensitive enough to detect a bicycle, so cyclists must wait... and wait... until a car comes along and triggers a change in the light. Lanes are often striped such that a cyclist wishing to go straight through an intersection must either go straight from a right-hand-turn lane (illegal) or leave the bike lane and occupy a traffic lane that's going straight (dangerous, unpopular, and possibly illegal).

Stop signs are trickier. I personally come to a full stop and put a foot down whenever I reach a stop sign where there's motor traffic. But I figure there's no harm in a bike rolling a stop sign on a lonely road.

However, you'd think that the more crowded the road, the more important it is that cyclists obey the law. But that's demonstrably untrue as well. A San Francisco cyclist group recently staged a "civil obedience" protest where all cyclists scrupulously obeyed all traffic laws. The result was a horrendous traffic snarl.

Sure, there are plenty of cyclists who do stupid stuff. But the vast majority are just trying to keep everything moving, and moving safely. Often, they're bending the rules because the rules are made for cars.

Several states have enacted laws allowing cyclists to treat stop lights like stop signs, and stop signs like yield signs. That's a great solution, and one we should enact nation-wide. It's good for safety, and good for traffic.

And, in my wildest dreams, we'd start seeing protected intersections, using the design shown in the video, everywhere.

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