Monday, 7 July 2014

VicRoads cycling road rule review

Summary: VicRoads is conducting a review of Victoria's road rules relating to cycling, including a survey which asks various questions about current and potential cycling road rules. The survey takes a long time if completed thoroughly and the usefulness of the aggregate, quantitative responses will be limited. So in this post I will provide some brief comments on the specific current and potential cycling road rules the survey contained. Regardless, the best ways to reduce accidents or conflict and increase cycling rates is to redress the current car-centric norms and provide improved infrastructure, rights and priority for cyclists, pedestrians and public transport users.

pj doubles as a newpaper boy in this race
CC by 2.0 - Chainsawpanda

Related Posts:
How to avoid cycling fines with minimum inconvenience
How should avid cyclists behave to contribute to a more liveable city?
Where are Melbourne's real cycling danger spots?

Details:
1. VicRoads is surveying the public about cycling road rules with the purpose of reducing conflict and accidents and promoting more cycling 
Victoria’s road rules for cyclists could be changed based on the weight of public opinion about how motorists and cyclists ought to share the road. The government will survey the public over the next month about its knowledge of cycling-related road rules and its attitudes about interaction between people in vehicles and on bikes. The results, from a VicRoads online survey that will run from Sunday until July 27, will be used to inform a review of the state’s cycling-related road rules.
The Age: Cycling road rules up for review
One of the aims of the Cycling into the Future 2013-23: Victoria's Cycling Strategy is to increase awareness of road rules relating to cycling, to encourage safe and respectful behaviours from all road users and to ensure bike riders and other road users have appropriate rights and responsibilities. Therefore, VicRoads is currently reviewing and examining the Victorian road safety road rules and road safety legislation. The aims of this review are to:
- identify opportunities to make it easier for people to take up riding and for current bike riders to use roads, and
- better protect bike riders’ and other road users' safety.
- The survey link can be found on the Road Safety Victoria website.

2. Based on the road rules and questions in the survey there is little chance of radical changes
- Australia's Mandatory Helmet Law (MHL) is the single biggest and most obvious example of a road rule that is out of step with countries with much greater cycling rates and lower accident and conflict rates. Changing this law is clearly not being considered given the survey questions. See: When should urban cyclists wear a helmet?

- The goals of the survey appear to be:
(a) Identifying which cycling-related road rules are not well understood so that they can be better communicated.
(b) To gauge opinion on mostly minor changes or additions to the road rules that may improve safety, reduce conflict or make cycling more appealing.

- Unfortunately, goal (a) conflicts with goal (b) in that the survey doesn't clearly provide each of its targeted road rules and seek specific feedback as it also wants to test awareness at the same time. Collecting comments (not just multi choice selections) about each specific road rule (current or proposed) would be a far more useful way of obtaining quality feedback (rather than simplistic statistics).


An example of the typical survey question and format

3. Specific feedback on the current and potential cycling-related road rules
- The end of the survey does finally provide a list of the cycling-related road rules feedback is being sought on. This was the most interesting and relevant information in the survey so I've copied these sections below and included my comments on each specific rule (current or potential).

3a. Riding equipment
Here are the rules discussed under the 'Riding equipment' section of the survey.

Over 80% of infringements issued to bike riders by police relate to the use or misuse of cycling equipment. Cycling equipment can include bikes, brakes, helmets, lights, bells and horns.
VicRoads Survey: Cycling road rules review

The following statements are rules and requirements:
- Bicycles must be equipped with a bell, horn or other warning device (See rule 258)
- If riding at night or in hazardous weather conditions, a rider or their bicycle must have a white light visible from the front of their bike and a red light visible from the rear of their bike. Both lights should be clearly visible for at least 200 metres (See rule 259).
- Bike riders are not permitted to use a hand held mobile phone while riding (see rule 300).

The following statements are not rules and requirements:

- Riders must always use a warning device (e.g. bell or horn) on their bikes to warn other road users that they are approaching a pedestrian or another bike rider.
- Bike riders are not permitted to wear headphones or similar equipment when riding.
- Bike riders must not use a light fitted to their bike or themselves which dazzles, or is likely to dazzle, another road user.

Bells
Bells can be useful for signalling to pedestrians and other cyclists and there is likely little prospect of this rule being eliminated. However, the context for this being in the survey is the fact that 80% of the fines issued by police to cyclists relate to missing equipment - helmets, bells, lights and brakes. The fine for Victorian cyclists for a missing bell is $180 which is exorbitant given that motorists often injure (and even kill) pedestrians and cyclists and get away with no penalty at all.

It is common for the police to stop cyclists for what they perceive is dangerous or illegal riding (or just because they are on a bike "safety" blitz) and ultimately issue them a fine for a missing bell as that is the only technical non-compliance that is valid under the road rules. The practice of fining thousands of cyclists $180 for missing bells should end; the majority are perfectly courteous when passing.

As cyclists are not required to use their bell/horn or even voice when approaching a pedestrian or cyclist (this is listed as a potential road rule above) it seems a bit ridiculous to have a road rule relating to the carrying of equipment which does not need to be used. Cyclists often use their voice to communicate much more specifically and effectively. For example: shouting "on your right" when passing pedestrians on a shared path. Localities like Washington DC have changed road rules to enable cyclists to use their voices instead. See: The Bicycle Safety Amendment Act of 2013: Victory for DC cyclists

In most instances when passing a pedestrian or cyclist, even from behind, it is unnecessary to ring a bell as there is plenty of passing space and especially if passing at a slow enough speed. There is no clear meaning to bells/horns apart from "watch out" which often results in more danger as pedestrians or the other cyclist change direction or stop. Thus introducing a road rule requiring the use of a bell doesn't make sense. What is needed is a more considerate culture between cyclists and pedestrians or fellow cyclists.

However, the behaviour of a minority of cyclists and pedestrians on shared paths is quite discourteous in relation to passing. Educating users about consideration and predictable behaviour is what is most required. There is little rule-wise that can be done about the discourteous pedestrians. However, a potential road rule relating to safe passing by cyclists could then allow shared paths and other problem roads to be policed in a more targeted way to address the minority of discourteous cyclists.

Lights
Front and rear lights at night or in hazardous weather conditions are necessary and there is no good rationale for eliminating this requirement. However, the fine of $180 is very high and educating cyclists as to the necessity is more important than revenue raising. There is also no obvious rationale to changing the 200m visibility distance assuming that the vast majority of "be seen" lights on the market already meet this requirement and subjective judgements are not being used to issue infringements.

Some cyclists and pedestrians have complained about a few cyclists using very powerful lights, particularly if helmet-mounted or not pointed at the ground. Actually enforcing a new rule against "dazzling" is very difficult especially as most complaints are on shared paths. This is something better dealt with through education and communication between users.

Note that road rule 259 also requires a rear reflector in addition to a rear light. This is redundant and many bikes don't come with rear reflectors fitted or these are fitted on the seat post only and obscured by saddle bags which are commonly used. The rear reflector requirement should be eliminated if it is being enforced.
... and a red reflector that is clearly visible for at least 50 metres from the rear of the bicycle when light is projected onto it by a vehicle's headlight on low-beam
Handheld Mobile Phone use
Handheld mobile phone use by cyclists is quite safe in some circumstances (separated paths at slow speeds with little traffic) but a change to allow cyclists to do so in some limited circumstances would require a special exemption that is too difficult to define.

Use of Headphones while riding
Introducing a specific restriction on headphone use by cyclists which doesn't apply to the users of more dangerous vehicles (trucks, cars) or to those most vulnerable to being hurt due to not hearing other traffic (pedestrians) is not likely or feasible. There are some circumstances when using headphones while cycling is very safe (e.g. off road separated bike paths) and this road rule would be preventing very few injuries or conflicts.

3b. Riding on footpaths, shared paths or bicycle paths
Here are the rules discussed under the ' Riding on footpaths, shared paths or bicycle paths' section of the survey.

The following statements are rules and requirements:
- Bike riders under the age of 12 are permitted to ride on a footpath (see rule 250).
- A rider 18 years or older is permitted to ride on a footpath provided they are supervising a child under the age of 12 who is also riding a bicycle (see rule 250).
- If a bike rider is riding on a footpath or shared path for bicycles and pedestrians, they must keep to the left and give way to pedestrians (see rule 250).
- A driver must not stop on a road in a position that obstructs access by bike riders to a bicycle path or other bicycle right of way (see rule 198).
- A pedestrian must not be on a bicycle path, or a part of a separated footpath for the use of bicycles, unless they are crossing the path and don't stay on the path for longer than necessary (see rule 239).

The following statements are not rules and requirements:

- All riders, regardless of age are permitted to ride on a footpath or pedestrian crossing provided they give way to pedestrians
- Bike riders with a child under the age of 10 seated in a child seat or bicycle trailer attached to their bike are permitted to ride on a footpath.
- A rider aged 12 to 17 years is permitted to ride on a footpath if they are riding with a child under the age of 12 who is also riding a bicycle.
- A bike rider must use an off road bicycle path if there is one available, unless it is impracticable to do so.

Drivers obstructing bike lanes or right of ways
This is a significant cause of conflict and unnecessarily increases the risks to cyclists and other road users. Most motorists seem unaware of this road rule and it is almost never enforced or penalised - which seems like a likely reason for both the lack of awareness and the high incidence. Instead of fining cyclists for missing bells during "bike safety blitzes" perhaps police could be instructed to blitz all motorists obstructing bike lanes and rights of way.

Cyclists should be allowed to ride on pedestrian crossings or footpaths at intersections provided they give way to pedestrians
This simply would recognise in law what is required by current cycling infrastructure which does not provide connected-up cycling paths and lanes with bicycle crossings or shared paths. Following existing road rules would force cyclists to dismount regularly to walk their bikes between one bike path, lane or road and the next. In reality, cyclists ride across pedestrian crossings or footways at intersections or other crossing points. As long as they do so safely and give way to pedestrians this should not be an issue.

Note that this road rule does not need to provide for cyclists of any age to ride on all footpaths and pedestrian crossings. It can be limited to crossings and footpaths at intersections and crossing points.

A bike rider must use an off road bicycle path if there is one available, unless it is impracticable to do so
This is a potential new road rule restricting cyclists from using the road, presumably even roads with bicycle lanes or bike markings. It would have no other purpose than to reduce cyclists legitimate rights to use the most efficient, direct, convenient and safe route available. Off road paths are often more indirect, require lower speeds, have rougher surfaces and have less connections with intersections. Cyclists who wish to use off road paths where available can already do so. Enforcement of this kind of rule isn't feasible either. The fact that this potential rule is even included for feedback reflects poorly on the priorities of this review.

Extending riding on footpaths to young adults supervising children and trailers or child seats
This is a logical extension of the existing road rule permitting adults to ride on the footpath escorting children riding their bikes. It makes natural sense to extend the existing rule but moving more vulnerable cyclists to the footpath is not a substitute for providing separated or safer cycling infrastructure that is dedicated to cyclists rather than impinging on pedestrian space.

3c. Allocating space on-road for bicycles
Here are the rules discussed under the 'Allocating space on-road for bicycles' section of the survey.

The following statements are rules and requirements:
- A bike rider must use the bicycle lane on a road if there is a bicycle lane available, unless it is impracticable to do so (see rule 247).
- Drivers of vehicles other than bicycles can drive in a bike lane for up to 50 metres (e.g. to park, turn etc.), provided they indicate and give way to bike riders in lane (see rules 153 & 158).
Car drivers are not permitted to stop in a bike box if there are no bike riders in the box (see rule 60A)
- Car drivers must stop at the first stop line of a bike box regardless of whether a bicycle is stopped in a bicycle box (see rule 60A)
- In a multi-lane roundabout, cyclists have the option of turning right from the left lane, but they must give way to drivers exiting the roundabout (see rules 111 & 119).

The following statements are not currently rules and requirements:

- Drivers of motor vehicles cannot enter a bicycle lane for any reason
- When passing a bicycle travelling in the same direction, a driver of a motor vehicle must leave a space of one metre or more between their vehicle and the bike rider.
- Motorcycles are permitted to ride in bicycle lanes provided they give way to bike riders already in the lane.

A bike rider must use the bicycle lane on a road if there is a bicycle lane available, unless it is impracticable to do so
This should be revised to say "unsafe or impractical". There are many circumstances where the bicycle lane isn't the safest or most sensible place to ride. Most critically because most bike lanes in Victoria are in the door zone, which forces cyclists to ride outside the bike lane for safety reasons. See: How to avoid getting doored

Drivers of motor vehicles cannot enter a bicycle lane for any reason
This isn't practical given drivers need to turn and park across bike lanes.

A driver must not drive in a bicycle lane apart from rule 153 & 158 exceptions (entering/exiting roads, parking, overtaking)
The biggest issue with the allocation of space to cyclists on roads is that Australia's road rules (rule 153, 158) only protect official bicycle lanes (that have the official bike lane sign/symbol), yet most apparent bike lanes in Australia are actually unofficial and thus unprotected by these rules. This is primarily because of the strict minimum width requirements for official bike lanes. See: VicRoads Cycle Notes #12: Design standards for bicycle facilities (pdf). Most cyclists do not realise the bike lanes they are using are unofficial and that they are unprotected by the road rules relating to bicycle lanes when using them. In Melbourne, I'd estimate less than 10% of the apparent bike lanes are official (I'm still looking for an accurate statistic regarding this).

- Unfortunately, state governments and transport agencies like VicRoads are doing nothing to either create sufficient space for these existing unofficial bike lanes so that they can be made official or to make them recognised and protected. This dirty secret about Australia's bicycle facilities (existing and new) is one of the biggest issues and opportunities relating to cycling safety and conflict. Sadly, it's almost never examined or discussed.

When passing a bicycle travelling in the same direction, a driver of a motor vehicle must leave a space of one metre or more between their vehicle and the bike rider
This is the Amy Gillett Foundation campaign to enshrine in law 1 metre as the minimum passing distance. However, I agree with Bicycle Victoria's position that such laws have limited, if any, effect on the passing distances of the most dangerous drivers are unlikely to be strictly enforced and don't deal with the main reasons why cyclists are hit from behind:
"Most of these collisions are not due to a simple driver error in calculating the distance from the bike. These collisions are caused by impaired drivers — that is, drivers who are drug- or alcohol-affected, or prescription drug-affected, or have physical impairments such as eyesight or macular degeneration, or simply old age and cognitive impairment. Or they’re due to a range of distracted driving causes — working on the mobile phone, having a dog in the car, talking to kids in the back seat, eating in the car, changing clothes in the car. 
So the issue we have to address is […] what are drivers doing in their cars? We have situations where drivers have ploughed into the back of bikes where the passengers have clearly seen the bicycle ahead on the road but the drivers haven’t. So there’s an issue here where drivers appear to be blind to the presence of bikes on roads and that’s a major concern. And that’s where serious investigation needs to be undertaken.”
Cycling Tips: A Metre Matters, but will it improve cyclist safety?
Motorcycles are permitted to ride in bicycle lanes provided they give way to bike riders already in the lane
Such a rule can only increase risks to cyclists and discourage new people from cycling for transport - both of which are contrary to the stated aims of the review. Thus the only possible aim is to give motorcyclists better filtering options when traffic is congested. The marginal benefits and new risks and conflicts make such a change undesirable for almost all existing and potential cyclists.

3d. Intersections, traffic signals and signs
Here are the rules discussed under the 'Intersections, traffic signals and signs' section of the survey.

The following statements are rules and requirements:
- Bicycles are considered to be vehicles and riders are required to obey all traffic signals, stop signs and give way signs just as motorists do (see Part 2).
- Bike riders must stop at an intersection or crossing showing a red traffic signal or a stop sign (see Part 7).
- A bike rider at a Give Way sign must give way to any vehicle in, entering or approaching the intersection. The bike rider must also give way to pedestrians at, or near, the intersection (see Part 7).
- Bike riders are required to stop at the rear of a stopped tram and must not proceed if the tram doors are open or if there is a pedestrian entering or crossing the road to or from the tram (see rule 163).
- When making a right hand turn at any intersection, bike riders have the option of making a hook turn unless there is a 'No hook turn by bicycles' sign (see rules 35 & 36).
- The rider of a bicycle must not ride past, or overtake, to the left of a vehicle that is turning left and is giving a left change of direction signal (see rule 141).

The following statements are not rules and requirements:

- Bike riders are not required to come to a complete stop at an intersection or crossing showing a red traffic signal. Instead they can treat the signal like a 'Give Way' sign and proceed through the intersection when it is safe to do so.
- Bike riders are not required to stop at zebra crossings or at pedestrian crossings displaying a red light provided they give way to pedestrians and it is safe to proceed.
- Bike riders are not required to stop at the rear of a stopped tram, but should slow and proceed past the tram with caution.
- A motorist indicating to turn left, must give way to any bike rider travelling in the same direction who is on or approaching the left of their vehicle, before they can turn left.

The rider of a bicycle must not ride past, or overtake, to the left of a vehicle that is turning left and is giving a left change of direction signal
This rule needs greater clarification as to whether cyclists must give way in all circumstances: if vehicles are still stationary, if it is not a signaled/signed intersection, if the cyclist is in a separated bike path or delineated bike lane, if the cyclist is following directly behind other cyclists who do have right of way due to already being alongside or in front.

Currently, the lack of a very explicit "one size fits all" rule allows road users to use common sense to determine who should give way to who in each specific instance. For example, most drivers will wait to turn across the clearly delineated green bike lane going straight at the intersection of Gisborne St and Catherdral Place. This makes sense. On the otherhand, there are many intersections where cyclists stop behind vehicles waiting to turn out of courtesy and for safety. A strict, explicit law could adversely affect more sensible behaviour that is situation-specific.

Bike riders are not required to come to a complete stop at an intersection or crossing showing a red traffic signal. Instead they can treat the signal like a 'Give Way' sign and proceed through the intersection when it is safe to do so
and
Bike riders are not required to stop at zebra crossings or at pedestrian crossings displaying a red light provided they give way to pedestrians and it is safe to proceed
The first rule above is often known as the "Idaho Stop" law and is popular with some cyclists as it can reflect current behaviour that is perfectly safe. The second rule for pedestrian crossings has a similar logic. The problem with enshrining such cyclist exception rules in busy cities is that in practice it will impinge on the right of way of other road users, most critically pedestrians.

The various arguments for not enshrining such exceptions in law are explained here: Why bikers should live by the same laws as everyone else

3e. Sharing the road
Here are the rules discussed under the 'Sharing the road' section of the survey.

The following statements are rules and requirements:
- When riding with others and not overtaking, bike riders can ride alongside 1 other rider, when riding on a single lane road or in any single marked lane on a multilane road (see rule 151)
- When overtaking other bike riders, a bike rider can ride alongside more than 1 other rider, when riding on a single lane road or in any single marked lane on a multilane road. (see rule 151)
- When riding alongside another bike rider, riders must travel no more than 1.5 metres apart (see rule 151)

No change to the above rules seems necessary or feasible. While some motorists don't understand that cyclists are permitted to ride two abreast there are various situations where this is completely safe, harmless and adds to the enjoyment and social utility of cycling.

Where cyclists riding two abreast holds up traffic in single lane roads, the solution is to educate these cyclists to temporarily ride single file to let motorists overtake when safe to do so. Most cyclists already do act in this way. Revising the road rules is not the best way to address this issue with a minority of cyclists.

3f. Who is at fault?
In Victoria, in a crash between a motor vehicle and a bike rider fault is only attributed as a result of Police or insurance reports.

4. Less accidents/conflict and better behaviour depends primarily on more equitable infrastructure and rights for cyclists, pedestrians and public transport users
- Better communicating road rules or even making minor tweaks to them isn't the real problem in Victoria or Australia generally. What is needed is to redress the broader policies, assumptions, transport planning and norms that favour cars and establish cycling, walking and public transport as having priority. Instead of cyclists having to fight against a car-centric system and sometimes impinge on pedestrians, they need bike lanes that don't disappear, a properly connected network of safe routes and to have sufficient priority at intersections.

- Mikael Colville-Andersen explains that intensive studies of cyclist road rule compliance demonstrates that only 1% are reckless and the rest will happily use well-designed infrastructure if it exists and show consideration for other road users:
In most cities, the reason for what is percieved as "bad behaviour" is simply the fact that bicycle users haven't been given adequate infrastructure or, even worse, none at all. The exemplary behaviour of Copenhagen bicycle users is due to the fact that the bicycle infrastructure network is, largely, so well-designed. 
With The Choreography of an Urban Intersection we decided to get some numbers to show that the perceptions are coloured with emotion and lack data and fact. As the graph indicates, out of 16,631 bicycle users in the intersection Godth√•bsvej/ Nordre Fasanvej only 1% broke a serious traffic law. Running a red light or riding on the sidewalk. We called them Recklists. The Momentumists were a group that technically broke a Danish traffic law. We put these infractions in a different category. Basically, if it is legal in another city or country with respectable cycling levels, we are okay with it. The rest, the Conformists, did everything by the book.
Copenhagenize: The World's Best Behaved Cyclists are in Copenhagen

Copenhagenize: The World's Best Behaved Cyclists are in Copenhagen

- If VicRoads is genuinely interested in what it can do to reduce accidents and conflict involving cyclists and improve cycling rates it should review the facts about transport infrastructure, urban design, traffic engineering, desire lines and cyclist behaviour on blogs like Copenhagenize:
> Copenhagenize: The Choreography of an Urban Intersection
> Copenhagenize: Posts tagged with "behaviour"

- In other posts I've also provided specific Melbourne examples of how improved or better designed cycling infrastructure and roads can reduce accidents and conflict and promote more cycling and walking. For instance see the examples here: Improving Brunswick St and St Georges Rd south of Merri Parade


Further Info:
The Age
VicRoads rejects suggestions of radical road cycling law changes
The Age: Cycling road rules up for review

Why bikers should live by the same laws as everyone else

Victoria: Road Safety Road Rules 2009

Amy Gillett Foundation: Victoria Cycling Specific Road Rules

Vic Gov DTPLI: Cycling Strategy - Cycling into the Future 2013-23

Copenhagenize: The World's Best Behaved Cyclists are in Copenhagen

Why Bikes Make Smart People Say Dumb Things

VicRoads: Design standards for bicycle facilities - Cycle Notes

The Bicycle Safety Amendment Act of 2013: Victory for DC cyclists

Bicycle Rolling Stop Animation – Idaho Stop Law

CityLab: Tired of Cyclists Riding on the Sidewalk? Build More Bike Lanes

NRMA Blog: Bicycle laws, safety and penalties

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