Obey the Traffic Laws!

02 March 2007 · 10 comments

I almost hit a pedestrian this morning.

I was driving along, listening to my “chillout” music, lost in the drone of darkness and rain. I was in the right lane. I slowed as I approached a red light on McLoughlin, but the light turned green while I was still a couple hundred feet away. I accelerated.

“That’s odd,” I remember thinking to myself. “Why aren’t the cards in the left lane moving?” There were four cars just sitting there, as if the light were still red.

Then it dawned on me, just as I was about to enter the intersection, and I braked hard before I even knew there was somebody there. And there was somebody there: a man in a hooded jacket, head down, ambling across the far crosswalk, oblivious to everything around him.

A very close call, and not the kind of fright I like first thing in the morning.

This is why you’re not supposed to cross when you don’t have the walk signal. This is why you’re not supposed to run red lights. This is why we have traffic laws.

One morning about a decade ago I was making sales calls in Salem. I was in the right lane, coming down the hill next to the library toward downtown. I was behind another vehicle. As we approached the red light at the bottom of the hill, we slowed. But just as we reached the intersection, the light turned green. The car in front of me proceeded through the intersection, just as I would have done in its place.

You see where this is going: the car in front of me t-boned a pickup that had decided to risk the yellow light.

The thing that amazed me was that the other drivers who stopped as witnesses — the drivers who were in the left lane waiting for the light to turn green — all swore that the guy in my lane had run a red light. That’s not the case. I was watching the light, too, and know for a fact that it went green just moments before we got to the intersection.

I have no idea how that accident resolved, but I fear the driver in front of me got screwed.

Have I complained about stupid bicyclists lately? Or walkers?

I have no problem sharing the road. I walk a lot. I bike a lot. But, for the most part, I follow the rules of the road, which can be summarized as follows:

  • When walking on the road, walk against traffic.
  • When biking on the road, bike with traffic.
  • In almost every location it is illegal to bike on sidewalks.
  • Bicyclists must obey traffic signs.

Eighteen months ago I wrote about seeing a bicyclist get pulled over for violating traffic laws. I wish it happened more often.

Last month I made a right-hand turn onto a side street. My view of the street was obscured by a fence and by parked cars. Imagine my shock to find myself face-to-face with a bicyclist riding on the left side of the street. (Better yet, imagine his shock!)

Seriously: when you’re biking, there are few things more dangerous than biking on the left side of the street or riding on the sidewalk. Personally, I’m guilty of not stopping at lights and signs. Out here in the country, especially, I blow through stop signs on my bike. (Someday that’s going to get me killed.) Finally, please please please don’t let your kids ride on the sidewalk. And don’t do it yourself!

1 Lance Lavandowska March 2, 2007 at 11:25

gotta disagree with you on this last bit; when I was a kid the only times I nearly got hit was when I was on the road (always very careful crossing streets from the sidewalk).

The only streets with sidewalks around here have a speedlimit of 45 and people often drive 10 mph faster; no way I’m letting my kids bike on those roads.

2 Blogeois March 2, 2007 at 12:08

I disagree with the “bike with traffic” part; always had, always will.

Back when I was a biker, I was sideswiped and knocked off my bike four separate times within a span of several years. Each one after the first left a lasting impression. At least two of those times, the event was purposeful (once with a hard butt slap that was more like a punch, and once with a baseball bat).

None of the times resulted in the offender stopping. All of the times I was left lying in the road/gutter with scrapes and bruises, luckily without anything worse. None of the times did police get involved because back then, they didn’t consider that a crime.

It may get me killed in the future (should I ever ride again or even have space to own a bike again) but the next time that kind of thing happens, I prefer to look the event dead in the eye and see it coming.

Loved and agreed with the rest of your post on biking through.

3 audrey March 2, 2007 at 12:55

When I lived in Grand Rapids, MI, I rode an old, rusty one-geared Schwinn and couldn’t keep up with traffic. The roads were real narrow and hilly with cars parked along the street. I always road on the sidewalks, even though it was illegal, and kept a vigilant watch at cross roads and driveways. I think healthy people on nice bikes with multiple gears should ride in the street. But kids, old people and people with crappy bikes can’t keep up with traffic and sometimes there is just no room for cars to get around them. I’d rather get a ticket then have some roadrage SUV driver run me over.

4 Alan Bluehole March 2, 2007 at 13:13

I think you’re wrong about the illegality of biking on sidewalks.

5 Michael Rawdon March 2, 2007 at 16:08

I’m with you on pretty much everything, JD, right down to not always stopping at stop signs when I’m on my bike, even though I should. (I am very observant of stopping at stoplights, though, even if there’s no competing traffic.)

One reason that pedestrians should walk against traffic and bicyclists should bike with traffic is that then they can see each other, since they are often in the same lane. Pedestrians (including joggers) going with traffic cannot see me when I’m biking or driving and coming up behind them (and if I’m on a bike, or they’re wearing headphones, or the traffic around us is loud, then they can’t hear me either, sometimes even if I call out to them, as I try to do).

Bicyclists should bike with traffic so that pedestrians can see them, and because they can usually hear cars coming up behind them, and because sometimes bicycles are actually going faster than the cars! And because bikes need to obey the traffic laws, which means observing proper lane changes and so forth, which is nearly impossible to do when biking against traffic.

(Not to mention that given a choice, I would rather be sideswiped by a car than hit one head-on.)

I will say, though, that whether it is legal to bike on the sidewalk differs from place to place. Sometimes adjacent cities have different laws on the matter. The main reason to not bike on the sidewalk, of course, is that maneuverability is limited, and you must yield to pedestrians. If it is legal, then sometimes it is warranted to do so, but it’s usually better to get off your bike and walk it.

(And also keep in mind that bicycling is usually also prohibited in crosswalks – sometimes even if it’s allowed on the sidewalks. So if you’re in a crosswalk, then walk your bike.)

I’m fortunate to never have had a collision on my bike with anything other than a stationary object.

6 john March 2, 2007 at 22:26

Strictly speaking, it’s illegal to pass a car that is stopped at a crosswalk.

811.020 Passing stopped vehicle at crosswalk; penalty. (1) The driver of a vehicle commits the offense of passing a stopped vehicle at a crosswalk if the driver:
(a) Approaches from the rear another vehicle that is stopped at a marked or an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection to permit a pedestrian to cross the roadway; and
(b) Overtakes and passes the stopped vehicle.
(2) The offense described in this section, passing a stopped vehicle at a crosswalk, is a Class B traffic violation. [1983 c.338 §546]

7 J.D. March 2, 2007 at 23:17

Interesting, John. But just to be clear, I wasn’t actually passing in either of the incidents I described. I was in another lane, and not approaching from the rear. I think passing, as described in the law you quoted, refers to cars in the same lane. I could be wrong, though.

8 jenefer March 3, 2007 at 20:49

JD, thanks for the reminder to pay more attention, whether you are the motorist, cyclist or pedestrian. We often forget to pay attention to everything around us. Glad you got the reminder without any damage. And we all got the reminder without the adrenalin rush.

9 Susan March 7, 2007 at 08:18

John is correct. I was stopped for this, and I am now meticulous about it. Passing is simply moving through an intersection or a crosswalk when another car going thru the same intersection or crosswalk is not moving. If you were in the right lane, and there were 4 non-moving cars in the lane to your left, and you moved past them, then you passed them.

I grew up in Berkeley, where the pedestrian is king.

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