Wanting to Sit at the Dinner Table But Unwilling to Dress for It

Background Reading


And yet. (Kate Hinds)

And yet. (Kate Hinds)

There is a scene in Downton Abbey where Tom Branson (the husband of Sybil) has managed to elude the authorities in Ireland and has returned to his wife’s home without her. The Irish Civil War is underway and his wife is returning on her own. Since dinner at the Abbey is a formal affair it is customary to dress in a formal way for the affair. Branson does not have the necessary garments. Furthermore he is conflicted at the very thought of having to honor the rigid social codes of the English gentry. He even decides at one point to take his meals downstairs with the servants!

Urban Cyclists are struggling with a similar sort of quandary. They demand a seat at the transportation table but do not wish to dress for it. They want the rights of owners of the roads but are literally unwilling to pay for it. They neither want to be taxed, nor do they wish to be regulated in terms of how their bikes should be equipped or for that matter the manner in which they are operated.

Cars, buses, and trucks are all subject to fairly strict regulations governing how they are (a) manufactured, (b) how they are operated. On our nations highways we note that state troopers routinely pull over trucks for operating infractions. Trucks must have tarps over the open bed of their trailer to ensure that materials being hauled do not flood the roadway behind them and endanger other drivers by blocking their view of the road.

Every car, truck and bus has to have working head and tail lights. Cars must use seat belts for adult passengers. Children in  car seats must be strapped in with certain safety ideas in mind. Cars on the open road must have brakes that stop them in the event of an emergency. Windows are supposed to transmit enough light for the driver to see at night.

Every vehicle must properly display a license plate that is lit from behind. All turn signals must be working. You can indeed be stopped for a burned out tail light or the failure to use them when making turns.

Urban Cyclists Want To Be Treated With Respect But Do Not Wish To Have Anything Imposed On Them

Michelle Stenzel wrote these words in describing her attitude towards demands that cyclists too follow guidelines when operating their vehicles:

I believe that the sight of widespread helmet use in a city is detrimental to encouraging bicycling because it sends the message that bicycling is a sport, it’s dangerous, and it requires special equipment. If a bicyclist is killed by a driver, the mainstream media often notes whether she was wearing a helmet or not – especially if she wasn’t – even if an SUV ran her over, and a little plastic on her head wouldn’t have made a shred of difference. The insinuation is: Didn’t wear a helmet? Tsk, tsk, she was asking for it.

I think that advocating for people to wear bright orange safety vests while riding their bike isn’t optimal because it puts the onus on the bicyclist to look clownlike in an attempt to be more visible, when the real responsibility is held by the people maneuvering their enormous motorized vehicles to look where they’re going.

I think it’s unfortunate that bicyclists (not just women, either) might have to ride on a stressful main arterial route and not be able to take quiet side streets because of the criminal element present in the out-of-the-way areas. So, we’re going to let violent people force us to choose between getting attacked in a quiet area, or having to mix it up with 18-wheelers on Western Avenue? And anyway, it doesn’t matter in the end even if you do choose the “safer” option, as proven by Allison Zmuda’s horrible recent experience on Milwaukee.

The day is rapidly approaching when there will have to be a debate over the operating requirements for the vehicle we term a bicycle. You can easily find a description of the various German Bicycle Laws which been in place for quite some time. I have our bicycles equipped with German made hub generators that meet the requirements for illumination on the roadways in Germany. They are not nearly as bright as the commercial battery driven lights made for the American market but they work rather well and do not require battery use. In fact they can charge cell phones during the daylight hours when touring.

We Yanks need some basis for determining the proper design and operation of bicycles on our roadways. We have a very minimalist notion about things like riding a bicycle in the dark. All that is required in most states is a rear red reflector and a white one on the front. There really is nothing else that dictates what should be done regarding the quality and type of reflective clothing or helmets. In fact if some American cyclists have their way any cyclist would be able to ride helmet-less while dressed as a ninja on a bicycle which has not brakes or lights and presumably no reflectors either. This is a bit insane in that we already know that having a vehicle meet minimal safety requirements saves lives. And to listen to the likes of Ron Burke saving lives is what drives our need for pretty green lanes and PVC bollards all over town.

But there is nothing that really speaks to how a bicycle should be operated in terms of its design and equipment. Cyclists in many states demand that trucks have mirrors which prevent them from missing a cyclist properly waiting in a Protected Bike Lane and yet crushed to death when the truck makes a right turn. Yet there are no requirements that any bicycle ever have mirrors to allow the rider to see rearward. And given that cyclists need to see both sides of the road, there should probably be a mandate for two mirrors, same as cars, buses and trucks.

Here are some of the rules set down for German cyclists. This is an excerpt from a site which presents an abridged version of German cycle law with comments:

Bicycles traffic laws in Germany are worth knowing. Generally, the laws of Germany are quite similar to those you are used to in the US. E.g., do not kill anyone, ride on the right side of the road, and obey all traffic laws as if you were driving a car.

In Europe, everybody rides or has ridden bikes and drivers are tolerant of the challenges all bike riders have. Here are a few guidelines. This page contains is my best attempt to provide accurate information about bicycle laws in Germany.

In 2011, there is a move afoot to create a law that would find the cyclist responsible if that cyclists causes an accident by not obeying traffic laws.

The following is extracted using Google Translations from the actual bicycle laws of Germany. I am not a fluent speaker of German so there may be a mistranslation or simply misinformation. Therefore, Tim and Maxa Burleigh and BicycleGermany LLC have to disclaim the accuracy of the information on this page.

The translation is in conversational style not legalese. It is a little easer to read and understand. Any humor below is mine and certainly not a part of German laws. Ever know a funny lawyer? If I deviate from translating the law, I will try to use [brackets like these.]

First of all regardless of whether you are riding a bicycle or driving, you must obey all traffic laws when you are on a street or road. [That probably is no surprise to any adult but might not be understood by kids.]

We Americans cyclists are struggling with the notion that all traffic laws apply to us. We believe that they certainly apply to all motorists and pedestrians. But we are a bit like Tom Branson when it comes to dressing for dinner. We want all of the privileges of bike ownership and none of the responsibilities. We want to be able to ride in the “Door Zone” at high rates of speed on a bike devoid of brakes and yet be able to claim no blame should a motorist open a door into the “Door Zone” that we cannot either stop for or evade to avoid collision. And when we do collide we want the names and addresses of the motorist plastered all over the internet to shame them into compliance with our wishes.

Basic understanding: One of the guiding principles of traffic behavior is the Trust Principle; That is to say that drivers (of cars, bicycles, and other motorized vehicles) trust the behavior of other drivers and cyclists. The only exception to this basic rule is that bikes ridden by impaired people or motorized wheelchairs, etc. driven by impaired people.

In Germany the notion is that all vehicle operators are part of a team. You do things that everyone else expects and that in itself makes it easier for others to respond in a safe manner.

Two or more abreast ridingRiding side by side is forbidden on streets and roads. You must ride single file; even in bicycle lanes marked out on the streets. [The good news is that on a cycle path that is not part of a road (such as one separated from a road by a concrete barrier or completly independant from a road or a sidewalk) one can ride side by side.]

All cycle paths are at least separated from a road by a concrete retaining wall (Jersey barrier), a grass strip. A cycle path separated by a painted line is part of a road and is not a separate cycle path that allows side by side riding. Cycle paths also include those delineated on sidewalks where a curb separates the sidewalk path from the road or street.

Some field cycle paths through farming country (Feldwege), one occasionally sees a car but more often you see tractors and farm equipment. The tractors have the right of way and they typically take up the whole path. Cyclists should stop and get off the path.

Before his death my riding partner of a many years Manfred Smolibowski a German immigrant found it odd that we did not provide separated riding paths for our bicyclists. For that reason he was very reluctant to ever ride streets.

Arm signalsYou must give a hand signal for all turns. [In America, one signals a left turn by bending the right arm at the elbow and raising the forearm as if to point over your head. That does not work in Germany. They point left with their left arm and point right with their right arm. The signal for stopping is one arm extended and the forearm pointing down (this at least is just like in America). [For the stop signal, it is best to use the arm most likely to be seen by the traffic you want to know that you intend to stop.]

Yield to traffic on the rightUnless you are on a major through street with the yellow diamond, (see signs below) marking the way, you must yield to vehicles and cycles from the right. This is especially true on residential streets where arterials streets are rare.

In Europe there is no right turn on red; you have to wait for the green light (unlike in the USA it is legal to turn right on a red light if you stop first).

The number of times I have seen Urban Cyclist use hand signals is so seldom that it startles me when they do. What is far more noticeable is that American cyclist in the city are as likely to weave around cars into the center section of the roadway and even likely to cross the yellow line in the process. In city situations cyclists are quite likely to ride between lanes of cars in order to reach the white line up front. And that does not mean merely traveling down the bike lane but rather they will ride to the left of buses and trucks while in the center lane of a five lane street (if you count the two parking lanes) like Jackson Boulevard.

Stop: A stop sign means stop; even if you are from California. [Enough said.]

Emergency vehicles have the right of way: [An ambulance with lights and horns is not there to pick you up after they have driven over you. They probably have a first to call, first to serve policy. They will keep going leaving you to pick yourself up.]

Pedestrians always have the right of way: Normally, they cannot hear you coming unless you verbally announce yourself or ring your bell. Pedestrians in crosswalks (Zebrasteifen) always have the right of way even if they can see you. An intersection with only one painted crosswalk means that you may have to use that crosswalk. You may not cross wherever you want to. Also, if you walk your bicycle across, cars are required to stop for you and most cars do so. If you ride your bicycle across, you are no longer a pedestrian and laws relating to pedestrians no longer relate to you. If you cause an accident while riding a bicycle, you can be held responsible.

The number of cyclists with horns or bells is very few. I can seldom if ever remember hearing even voice notifications from cyclists who are attempting to pass. Urban Cyclists are more fond of the ninja style in both manner of dress as well as vehicle operation.

Making turnsIf you are riding with traffic, turn out of the proper traffic turn lane. Again, you must obey automobile laws.

AutobahnBicycles are never allowed on the Autobahn. [Do not even think you can ride your bicycle on the Autobahn.]

Bicycles are legal trafficThey must be on the street with traffic riding in the direction of traffic. However, children up to age 9 must be on the sidewalk, not in traffic. Children may ride on the sidewalk up to age 10.

If there is a cycle path, you must use it and not ride on the street or road with traffic. There may be an exception for racing bicycles. [In traffic, keep a safe distance from parked cars that may open their doors in your way at the second you approach. You cannot share time and space with a car door. Injury will result. The door will probably survive, but we cannot say the same for you.]

You also need to keep a safe distance from the vehicle (auto or bicycle) ahead of you. [That goes along with what you learned in kindergarten – do not hit anybody.]

The above said, there are many times when the cycle path is on the sidewalk. You will see a round blue sign telling you that you should share the sidewalk with pedestrians. The sign on the left means there is a separate part of the path for cycles and another for pedestrians. The sign on the right means you share equally. Remember pedestrians always have the right of way.

If you are on the sidewalk you have to cross intersections with a walk signal. Get off and walk your bicycle across. [This is true even if there is no traffic but most cyclists ignore this often unenforced rule.]

Obey all traffic laws, especially speed limits: That said, there are special speed limits for bicycles even if the automobile speed limit is greater (however unlikely). The special speed limits are: Never exceed 50 Km/h in built up areas like cities and towns; and never ever exceed 100 Km/h [anytime anywhere. A little known law that I have not seen enforced is that when in an intersection, the bicycle speed limit is 10 Km/h. It does make some sense to slow down so if a car turns in front of you, you can stop. Remember, you are hard to see, especially in some lighting conditions, in fog, or during rain.]

Speed limits are never obeyed by cyclists. How do I know this? I have yet to see a cyclometer on an Urban Cyclists handlebars. Given their aversion to brakes and helmets why would they spend money on a cyclometer?

Now this next section is laughable given that ChainLinkers have actually written threads in which they ask other fellow cyclist to help them find their bikes when after drinking themselves into a near coma they were unable to find it to ride it home:

Alcohol consumptionDo not drink and drive. Do not drink and cycle either. If your blood alcohol exceeds the limits below you can be fined and you can lose your driver’s license. [Arrest and penalties happen to residents, aliens or citizens. I do not know what they would do if you were a short term visitor and your driver’s license is from your home country.]

The following penalty apply to violation of the alcohol limits: Criminal records in violation September 1, 2009 Criminal Fine Amount in Euros From 0.8 per thousand (0.4 mg/l Breathing air or 0.0084 ) €800-€3,700; From 0.12 Percent (0.6 mg/l Breathing air) €1,200-€4,400; From 1.6 per thousand (0.8 mg/l Breathing air) €1,600-€5,900; Denial of alcohol breath testing €1,600-€5,900. [The legal limit is measured differently in Europe than in the USA. In the USA the limit is .08 Blood Alcohol Level but in Germany it is about .05 Blood Alcohol Level. Less if your behavior is impared. Maxa says my behavior is usually impared but that has nothing to do with drinking.]

More information about fines, and other traffic violation information for inquiring minds can be found athttp://www.howtogermany.com/pages/traffic-violations.html. Also http://www.howtogermany.com/pages/traffic-violations.html.

About drug useIf you drive [or cycle] impaired by drugs, you will face a fine between €800 and €3,700. Also Note: Police can arrest you if you pedal erratically and/or your blood alcohol limits exceed .05%.

Bike Equipment

Under German law the following is true:

Equipment on Bicycles sold as new, each bicycle must provide the following equipment:

  1. Brakes: Two independently acting braking devices.
  2. Bell / horn: For dispensing acoustic warning.
  3. Lighting: Non-blinking front headlamp to illuminate the road of white or pale yellow color. A red rear taillight that stays lit when stationary.
  4. Reflectors: front with a white with a red rear reflectors that may be connected to the lights and/or connected to the pedals. At least two yellow reflectors on each wheel.
  5. In daylight and good visibility bicycles may be used without lights.
  6. Racing bike exceptions: Racing bikes are not required to meet the above rules. However, if riding at night, all bikes, including racing bikes are required to have lights and reflectors.
  7. A Racing bike is defined as less that 12 kg, with drop handlebars, a rim diameter at least 630 mm diameter, and a rim width not more than 23 mm. Mountain bikes are not road bikes so are exempted from certain requirements (unless ridden at night on the roads). [NOTE: I do not know if they are exempt from the equipment list if they are ridden on the roads during the daytime.]

A side note it that electrical bicycles (E-bikes) are limited to 400 watts.

Here are some minimum requirements:

Said in other words from another section of the law, bicycles (except racing bikes) must have the following at a minimum:

  1. Brakes: Two independently acting braking devices (mean deceleration on dry pavement m/sec2 4 at an initial speed of 20 km / h).
  2. Bell / horn: For dispensing acoustic warning.
  3. Lighting: Non-blinking front headlamp to illuminate the road of white or pale yellow color. A red rear taillight that stays lit when stationary and may blink (intensity 1 cd).
  4. Reflectors: front with a white with a red rear reflectors that may be connected to the lights and/or connected to the pedals. At least two yellow reflectors on each wheel. Alternatively reflectors may be part of the lighting system (light entry surface 20 cm2). Wheel reflective sidewalls can be alternatives to reflectors attached to the wheels. • In daylight and good visibility bicycles may be used without lights. The law says that lights must be firmly attached to the bicycle but experts say that battery powered detachable lights are permitted (light intensity 100 cd). [Whatever cd means.] The law requires headlights to be “light sensitive surface at least 20 cm2.
  5. Helmets: As of May, 2011 helmets are required by law for children under 13 years old. For older people, helmets are recommended but not required. The law provides the characteristics of a good bicycle helmet as: Hard outer shell made of reflective material Air vents, which are connected by wide, and air ducts Bars on the air vents to protect against insects [ever have a bee in your bonnet?] Closure straps which are fixed on the helmet and easy to open and close. Helmets should have the mark inside the shell that they conform to the ÖNORM EN 1078. Adults: Helmets improve visibility, if you don’t have other equipment, a helmet may be required. Children: Helmets are not mandatory but strongly recommended.

Pedestrian Zones: Bicycles can be used on both pedestrian zones if the zone is signed “Fahrrad Frei” or with a graphic of a bike and the word “Frei.” Note that in pedestrian zones, the pedestrians have the right of way always. [There may be a special speed limit so ride slowly.] One-way Streets: Normally, bikes cannot be ridden against the flow of traffic on one-way streets. That said, look for signs that indicate an exception for bicycles. For example a graphic image of a bicycle and the word “Frei.” [See signs below.]

Here are a few odds and ends in bicycle law that make some sense as well:

One Hand or No Hands RidingForbidden. Maintain full control of your bicycle at all times in traffic. [However, you will see kids and some adults doing this.]

Hazardous LoadingCarrying items on your bicycle that may cause an issue in traffic is forbidden. Such items include open umbrellas, saws, scythes, or other items that might cause damage or impaired maneuverability.

Parking of BicyclesBikes must be parked so they don’t fall over and impede traffic or damage property.

Bikes on Public Transportation: Bikes on public transport may be limited during rush hours. Baby buggies have the right of way. If necessary, bicycles can be required to leave the public conveyance. [See trains for specifics regarding bicycles in trains.]

Bicycle trailersThe load may in the transport of loads or persons shall not exceed: 250 kg, 100 kg in continuous inertia, and un-braked 60 kg. Trailers for bikes must be less that 80 cm wide. [Trailers are a pain in the neck to load on trains, busses, and streetcars.]

Other laws and suggestions: Many European streets are too narrow for cars to meet side by side and have a car parked in the street. What happens is that cars swerve out over the centerline to drive around parked cars. However, if a car is coming from the other direction and the parked car is in your lane, you must yield to the oncoming car. In other words, you must wait behind the parked car until the oncoming car (or cars) has passed before passing swerving out across the centerline to pass the parked car. This can get interesting when cars are parked on both sides of the road and cars must alternatively swerve in and out and wait and hurry. The locals have it down but it seems like pandemonium to me.

Blind cornersWhen you are about to turn a blind corner, ring your bell to warn other possible riders or pedestrians coming toward you around the corner that you are there.

These are common sense laws that help establish in the minds of everyone the “pecking order” of vulnerable users. They help everyone act in a predictable manner and thus avoid collisions. If Americans are to gain respect on the streets and find them safer to navigate (especially at night) we are going to have to establish some minimum requirements that are not only passive (i.e. reflectors) but proactive (i.e. lights front and rear).

As legitimate vehicle operators we need to be subject to the same rules of operation when it comes to physical impairment following the ingestion of drugs and alcohol as your automobile counterparts. It is not enough to claim that we are the only ones who get hurt if we drink and drive our bicycles. We must act as if we are responsible adults operating true vehicles, not merely toys.