Riders’ rights and responsibilities – have your say.

There’s a fight going on between the ‘vehicularists’ and the ‘facilitators’.

These are not like the crips and the bloods,

or even the sharks and the jets.

The ‘vehicularists‘ reckon bikes are vehicles, and should have every right the same as cars.  They say bike lanes make cyclists look feeble, submissive and inferior.  They are the ones boasting about how they stop at every red light, and how they ‘take the lane’ at every opportunity.

The ‘facilitators‘ reckon that bikes are a different breed. They take all the advantages they can get: cruising in the bike lane, splitting lanes of traffic and running red lights. They point out that before the car was invented, there was no such thing as a stop sign.  They demand as much separate infrastructure as possible

Vehicularists are channeling Rosa Parks, the Reverend Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. They ask: Can separate ever be equal?

Facilitators reckon the vehicularists are in denial.  Bikes go slower than cars.  People feel unsafe being passed by traffic. Let’s not insist on rights that aren’t in our interest.  Bike lanes are popular, especially with female cyclists.  Let’s go with what people want, not what we think they should want.

Vehicularists hate facilitators because they include people like Carl Scully – bikeway advocate, former NSW roads minister, and bike hater; and the Nazi party.

It makes for a dramatic set-up, but is this a fair dichotomy?

Unless we move all the buildings back, bike lanes can only be added at the expense of cars or pedestrians. IT’s a zero-sum game. In the end, this means that cyclists and cars will have to share many roads.

So, are these categories helping or hindering thinking about these issues? I’m not sure, but if not, I can think of two other ways of looking at the issue:

1. Asking whether cycling is more like driving or walking.

Society agrees driving is a privilege, not a right. Being a pedestrian, though is a right not a privilege.

Now obviously a bike is a vehicle. But unlike a family sedan or b-double rig, it can also be a piece of luggage. Like a transformer, the cyclist can morph into a pedestrian with a large item in tow. To me, this matters.  It means the cyclist approaches the road more like a pedestrian approaches a footpath.  They try to fit in the gaps, they’d rather not queue at lights, they are disinclined to stop unless there is something coming.   The perceived ‘right to ride’ causes marginal road rules to be ignored.

2. The economist in me has something to say about it too.

We make cars stop at red lights because the cost of their accidents don’t just fall on them.  There are external costs.  If a car breaks the law, others may be seriously hurt.  But if a bike breaks the law and its 80 kg gross mass hits a one-tonne car, the cyclist is likely to sustain far greater damage.

By this logic, the bike should not be as tightly regulated.  (However, bikes can still hurt pedestrians, and other cyclists.)

I think the readers of this blog can be the wisdom of Solomon in this debate. I reckon we can synthesise  a bill of rights and responsibilities that protects cyclists, and promotes cycling, while acknowledging their differences from cars, and the impact that cyclists have on drivers.

Here are some problem areas (or, if you will, areas rich in potential for change!) for road rules / infrastructure / bike culture:

Riding on the footpath?

Group riding

Lane splitting

Stop signs and pedestrian crossings

Turning left on red at intersections

Freeways and major roads that bikes are excluded from




Lights, bells, an agreed way of communicating with cars (and not just smacking them on the side panel when they nearly kill you)

One way streets and going the wrong way in bike lanes.

And here are some scenarios to spark some ideas:
1. bike is in lane, cars need to go around but can’t.
2. bike goes past cars stopped at light. Cars then overtake bike. repeat.
3. bike breaks traffic rule. noone is hurt but car drivers get cranky.

Put your suggestions for a bill of rights below.

cheers, Jason.

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

24 thoughts on “Riders’ rights and responsibilities – have your say.”

  1. Good post.

    I think cyclists need the right to sustain their momentum. Starting and stopping all the time drains cyclists more than drivers. So they should be able to treat stop signs like give way signs, and turn left on red.

    Re: responsibilities, I’m not so sure. I think we’re doing enough for the environment as it is. I don’t know if you’d want to make cyclists obey any more rules about not passing cars stopped in traffic, and definitely wouldn’t want to make them have to get registered! where would you put a number plate on a a bike??


    1. sustaining momentum this is another bullshit excuse – get fitter.

      if this is a reasonable point, the same logic should apply to cars, cars use more fuel and wear parts quicker by starting and stopping frequently in traffic.

      it terms of total carbon emissions, a cyclist stopping for a car is far more efficient than vice versa…


  2. facilitators? what a pile of garbage, by all means acknowledge the fact that you are irresponsible, selfish pricks and that is why you hop the curb/run red lights/riding on the wrong side of the road… but don’t try to legitimise your actions with this stupid concept.


    1. But if you exercise judgment, you can do all of those things safely. These are rules that are designed for cars, and apply to bikes only because they meet the definition of a vehicle. Am I wrong?


      1. Bullshit. Judgement? what a crock! the fact that one could use the same argument to justify running a red light in the car (ie, the road rules should only apply to those who don’t use their judgement). Clearly this is bullshit!


  3. I’m a woman, so clearly a facilitator. Unlike your analogy between black and white people, bikes and cars are actually different. We want people to use their bike to ride to the shops or work, but most people aren’t going to use it on the freeway. The modes are different and used for different things.
    As for rules, I think riding on the footpath is out – pedestrians have a hard enough time as it is and they don’t need you whizzing past them. Same with pedestrian crossings.
    But I’m all for give way instead of stop sign and left turn on red. If a car keeps overtaking you then it just shows that the traffic’s bad enough to warrant them being on a bike too.


  4. I was almost poleaxed by a cyclist flying down the hill on Little Bourke St – the WRONG WAY. It’s a one way, one lane street, with no ped crossing, so I was looking the other way for cars when this bloke appeared from under my left armpit as I was halfway across the street. And he was travelling bike-messenger speed, disappearing with a limp wave before I could comprehend, let alone reprimand.

    You can’t perfectly predict how peoples’ expectations of traffic will make them behave (although I think my crossing the road was reasonably predictable), so bikes should obey fundamental road rules, like direction of travel.

    I am definitely a believer in jumping the curb and such, though, to get around traffic and off dangerous roads – bikes are not particularly welcome on either roads or footpaths, so using the least dangerous option to get where you’re going is OK, as long as you respect peds on the footpath (ie get off and walk around shops, etc) and avoid cars on the road.

    And James, try doing any of those things in a car – bikes do it safely, by and large, and mainly to get out of the way of cars. Jealousy is unbecoming – bikes never hurt drivers…


    1. wedge, you were right in the first paragraph, then you lost the plot…

      by the same rationale (ie. to avoid danger and bigger things), should small cars and motorbikes be able to bend the rules as they see fit?

      again these are bullshit excuses for you selfishness and irresponsibility.


      1. I don’t understand the vehemence with which you accuse me of “selfishness and irresponsibility” – my actions (coasting through the odd deserted pedestrian red light, jumping a curb to avoid gnarly traffic, etc) are not at the expense of anyone else, so they are neither selfish or selfless – just neutral, and faster.

        I’ve been thinking about this – clearly the reason to obey the rules just like a car is to foster a sense of legitimacy to bikes on the road, and respect from drivers. trouble is, its all about speed, as far as I can tell. A bike will never be any faster and a car, and therefore will always piss off drivers. getting out of the way (either by jumping onto the footpath here and there, or whatever) should make the happier, but apparently just further pisses them off. small cars and motorbikes, however, are equals to larger traffic with regards to speed, and therefore don’t engender the same kind of animosity (or just plain ignorance) from other motorists as do bike riders, and so such measures are not required.

        I just can’t see the harm (and therefore the justification for your righteous anger) of doing things that make me faster on my bike to the detriment of no-one else…


  5. Or we could exercise the wisdom of King Solomon as requested and split all bikes and cars in two. The two parts will then be welded together to form bike-car hybrids – ‘carcycles’ I like to think of them.

    That way, there will be one set of rules to govern one type of vehicle as opposed to arguing whether we should have one or two set of rules for two types of vehicles. Nobody will be happy – but at least everybody will be unhappy together.

    King Solomon – what a dude.


    1. Good point. I condone obeying the law. Point of this article is to ask whether road rules *should* apply to everyone.

      We observe lots of people not obeying the law. The options are 3 – continue to ignore it, which erodes respect for the law; step up enforcement; or change the law.

      Should it adapt in this case?

      In Idaho, they instituted ‘the Idaho rolling stop’ in 1982 http://www.streetsblog.org/2009/04/16/the-physics-and-the-ethics-of-the-rolling-stop/ . It allows cyclists to treat stop signs as yields (give way signs). It’s a recognition that cyclists were doing that anyway, and it seems to have been well received. In 2005 they extended the law so cyclists could treat red lights as stop signs.

      Sounds good, no?

      One of the big reasons cyclists advocate obeying the law is that disobeying ‘creates a poisonous environment for cyclists’ where drivers don’t respect cyclists because they don’t abide by the rules. If cyclists had specific rules that were more suited, this concern would be dealt with.


  6. I read the Scientific American article and agreed whole heartedly. However, it doesn’t give the whole picture. Near my house there is a pedestrain/bike path that runs along the river all the way t the CBD (about 15kms). In peak hour the BIKE path is dangerous as “professional” riders who commute to work here ride so fast and overtake so close that it is scary for those they are passing. Also, rarely ‘ding’ of warning does not help matters.
    So, sharing any road, path whatever creates fear in the slower, more vulnerable individual.
    But that path is less dangerous for them than the road, which has a designated bike lane.
    I like the idea of Idaho- bikes are different and have special needs, why else have a bike lane?
    Allow for a little freedom and flexibility. As long as you are not compromising safety, I’m ok with it. But, breaking the rules is wrong, so change the rules.


  7. I like bike lanes and as a scaredy-cat find them frightening enough – car doors flying open, buses zooming past a hair’s breadth from your elbow, yikes! I know stacks of people are even more scared than me. If we want to see more people on bikes then we need to create ludicrously safe bike routes, I mean Canberra-style, wide bike paths with no cars or pedestrians in the way. This makes the road rules point less relevant, I reckon we keep bikes as far away from cars and ‘roads’ as possible!
    The learned blogger makes the point that unless you’re going to move buildings you can’t make more space for bikes. That’s unless you ban cars from roads. Although Swanston St isn’t exactly a poster boy for safe cycling, it is a step in the right direction. Another example is the glory of Canning Street, running from the City to East Brunswick. It is so speedbumped, dead-ended and one-wayed that no car is foolish enough to stray onto it and it is a freeway of quiet cycling glory. Imagine re-zoning 10% the ‘overtake’ lanes in a given area to ‘bike-only’, enforced by rails and curbs. If only…


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