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OPED: Traffic laws apply to bicyclists, too

Joe Stafford
York Township

This is an open letter to the bicyclist who, at 4:05 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 22, was traveling south on Route 74 (Queen Street) in York Township approaching the intersection of Honey Valley / Coventry Roads:

 Within about 100 feet and thirty seconds, you violated three rules of the road.

First offense, you passed a line of stopped motor vehicles on the right. Those vehicles were in a straight through lane. That’s called “filtering forward,” which only creates a leapfrog scenario as you and the motor vehicles keep exchanging position of passing and being passed. Passing on the right is only allowed by certain exceptions.

Second offense, you filtered forward in a right-turn-only lane even though you intended to go straight. It doesn’t matter that you kept to the left within that right turn lane with the big right turn arrow — you didn’t go where the traffic control device indicated traffic must go (all road markings are a traffic control device, not a suggestion). Even if that intersection only had a shoulder or berm, by filtering forward you take the risk of being right-hooked.

Third offense, you ran the red light. You did stop momentarily and put your foot down because of cross traffic, but as soon as you thought the intersection was clear, you got going against a red signal.

Additionally, while not a primary traffic offense, you were driving your bike unpredictably — sometimes to the right of the fog line, sometimes to the left. Make up your mind what lane position you want to take and stick to it!

So, why does this matter? Because you are the poster boy for all scofflaw bicyclists.

I recently took a safety class for another popular Pennsylvania activity that requires certification to be licensed to participate. The instructor pointed out that of the 12 million residents in Pennsylvania, about 10 percent participate in this sport. About 10 percent are opposed to this sport. That leaves about 80 percent who don’t care either way, but might care if the sport participants behave irresponsibly. Likewise with bicycling, that, sir, is on you!

I've come to realize that most bicyclists are “self-taught” in road handling skills — never taking the time to research how to interact with other traffic users with uniform rules. That is likely you, sir, and you didn’t learn anything worthwhile from a lousy teacher.

Where can you find a better teacher to learn what it takes to be a competent bicyclist? Go to PennDOT’s website and keyword search for "bicycle." The Pennsylvania Bicycle Driver Manual (Pub 380, rev 4-17) has the latest information and good road handling skills within a section titled "Street Smarts." You can also request a hard copy from any state legislator or driver license center. Among PennDOT’s bicycle related links, there is a new 15-question knowledge quiz, too. I wonder if Mr. Scofflaw can pass that one.

Bicycling is physically challenging, and all bicyclists are vulnerable roadway users when motor vehicle drivers don’t follow the rules of the road. For bicyclists, though, most of whom also drive motor vehicles, it’s counter-productive to make up your own road rules.

My message to York Area Regional Police officers, and all other law enforcement patrol officers, is please enforce the law, which is for all.

— Joe Stafford of York Township is the executive director of the Bicycle Access Council. He wrote the 2012 bicycle safety laws amending the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code and was solely responsible for the new PennDOT Share-the-Road license plate.