News article: Sharing the road: FPD launches bike safety campaign.

photo: Jake Bacon/Arizona Daily Sun
photo: Jake Bacon/Arizona Daily Sun — yes, this bicyclist is literally riding IN the gutter.

[ Grrr,  Dec 2015 article Despite safety campaign, Flagstaff bike collision stats unchanged (referring to this report) the Sun ran same offensive picture again, with similar misleading safety/law advice ]

8/2/2015 News article: Sharing the road: FPD launches bike safety campaign. About 75% of this article is OK. And the good news is Flagstaff is setting up a bicyclist diversion program. I would normally consider this an unalloyed good thing, however some that other 25% gives me reason for concern about what might be taught at such classes.

The huge picture and headline set the tone for the offensive and unnecessarily bad 25%. The slogan “sharing the road” can often go awry, especially when promulgated by weak advocates, and this article doesn’t disappoint. We see that some or much of what is either incorrect, or at best easily misconstrued is sourced to an Officer Needham. Although Officer Needham is now a LAB LCI, these same sentiments were clearly expressed in Flagstaff BAC minutes years ago, and I imagine have never changed. The general tone of the article is that bicyclists must share the road by staying out of the way of motorists (oh yeah, unless there’s a sign). It’s not clear whether or not he knows best practices and/or the law and chooses not to share them; or whether the article got mangled. It’s therefore not clear what sort of “training” cyclists will receive from FPD.

Most of what bothered me about the content of the article (the picture, reproduced above, speaks for itself) is contain in these few sentences:

Under Arizona and Flagstaff law, cyclists are subject to the same traffic laws as motorists. In addition, they are required to stay as far to the right of the roadway as safely practicable. In some parts of town, there is signage allowing cyclists to take an entire lane…. In exchange, vehicles must provide at least three feet of space when overtaking a bicycle.

  1. same traffic laws as motorists ? Bikes are not motor vehicles. Bicyclists must follow the same traffic laws as drivers of vehicles. If you don’t know what that means, or why that’s important, see here.
  2. Required to stay far to the right? Well, yes, theoretically sometimes — but without even mentioning the exceptions to 28-815A this is pretty much just misleading; and even ironic given that Flagstaff in 2011 added additional exceptions, one for snow and ice and another for wherever a right turn is permitted.
  3. In some parts of town ? Bicyclists may use full lane whenever the lane is too narrow to share (one of the several exceptions to 28-815A. None were mentioned); I am sure Flagstaff has many streets with narrow lanes not marked with BMUFL signs.
  4. In exchange… ? I could write this one off to a rhetorical flourish; but I find this particularly offensive. Because that’s exactly the thought process that harassers use to justify illegal, dangerous, and even criminal behavior. Drivers of overtaking vehicles have a duty to do so safely and at a minimum of three feet. There is no quid pro quo.

Words have meaning, a cyclist who read the article and none of my commentary drew this quite reasonable conclusion: “I think most cyclists are aware of the laws and are forced to break them in order to maintain proper safety”. This conclusion is completely wrong, but there you have it. Arizona’s traffic laws do support safety for all, but it’s easy to draw the wrong conclusions by reading the article.

Is misconstruing laws a necessary element to being or becoming a Bicycle Friendly Community (Flagstaff is silver-level BFC)? And if enforcement is supposedly a major scoring component for BFC, how is Flagstaff silver?

How should “far to the right” be explained?

[It should go without say (so I’ll say it) that bicyclists, like all drivers of vehicles, are required to prepare for and make left turns from the left-center of the roadway]

There’s no one correct way, but a far better suggestion for training materials is found at The explainer should acknowledge the exception is the rule — here is how cyclingsavvy explains it in a couple of sentences:

Most roads have lanes that are not wide enough to be safely shared by cars and bikes operated side-by-side. (Bicyclists) are allowed the full use of a lane that is not wide enough to share. (Bicyclists should) Ride far enough to the left in the lane to communicate to motorists that the lane is not wide enough to share. Motorists may squeeze past you within the lane if you don’t.

The non-exceptional cases are un-interesting: e.g. most unlaned roads, where it would be required to rides as far right as practicable, are low speed residential streets, or very low volume country roads where overtaking is never or rarely an issue.  In other cases where a designated bike lane is provided are likewise probably uninteresting; despite the fact that Arizona has no mandatory BL use rule (probably too-advanced a topic for a newspaper article), virtually all bicyclists will chose to ride in the BL if it’s properly designed and maintained, and unobstructed.

Roads with shoulders can be problematical for a number of reasons both safety and legal, and unlikely to be explainable in a newspaper article (see shoulder use); the brief explanation is shoulders aren’t part of the roadway, and  drivers of vehicles, regardless of speed, aren’t required to operate on them. This is compounded in places like Flagstaff where the gov’t actively pretends that designated bike lanes and shoulders are interchangeable. They are not.

Flagstaff FUTS
Flagstaff FUTS: sometimes idyllic, other times nothing more than a two-way sidewalk sidepath, with all the attendant conflicts.

Because of Flagstaff’s affinity for sidepaths (“FUTS”), is should be explicitly stated that AZ has no mandatory sidepath law, and use of the FUTS is entirely optional. (AZ did have such a law, it was repealed in 1989). Many of FUTS are really just sidewalks with all their attendant problem involving riding and not being seen by drivers, Cute little Yield signs on the FUTS/sidewalk along Route 66.




For more about why “Share the Road” isn’t a good basis for any traffic safety campaign, see what happened in Delaware, and why sharing isn’t always a good idea.


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