Bicyclists and traffic laws

October 27, 2009
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Early results of a police investigation suggest a 17-year-old Decatur Central High School student died this morning after he ran a red light on a bicycle and was hit by a semi.

Why Eduard Westone rode into the intersection at Kentucky Avenue and Heathrow Way is anyone’s guess. The location is an entrance to the AmeriPlex industrial park south of Indianapolis International Airport.

But the unnecessary death raises questions about bike safety in a city that’s looking to join a national trend toward getting cars off streets to reduce congestion and pollution.

It isn’t uncommon to see bicyclists running lights. Or weaving in and out of traffic, darting onto and off of sidewalks or taking any number of other risks.

Now that more bicyclists are taking to the streets, how do you feel about safety? Are too many reckless? If so, should anything be done about it?

  • Thank you for the Donated Organ
    I have seen bike riders at all hours and weather riding with out helmets. Now they can add to the organ donner pool along with the motorcycle rider who don't wear helmets.
  • Same laws for all
    Bicyclists are taught to "claim their lane" when riding on streets. By law, if a moving vehicle is going too slow they can be ticketed for endangering others. If a bicyclist cannot reach the same speed, they need to stay on the white line or to the right of it and not endanger automobile drivers!!!
  • We're not all alike
    You cannot lump all cyclists into a category based on their actions, either good or bad, anymore than you can assume that someone who misspells "donor" lacks a high school education.

    Yes some cyclists don't follow traffic laws. But yes most cyclists do.

    What happened to this young man on the Southside is not that different than the young man in Carmel last year who pulled out onto 146th Street in his car in front of an oncoming dump truck. It was a bad choice by a young man and a lesson that we all need to pay attention to what we are doing and not the electronic distracts around us.
  • Emerging Trend
    First, My deepest sympathy to the Westone family. As an avid bicycle commuter myself, I have noticed two emerging trends over the past few years along my route through downtown Indy: 1) More bicycle commuters 2) More bicycle commuters blatantly breaking traffic laws. I can't tell you how many times I have been waiting at a red light only to see another cyclist blow right by me. It seems to me that the number of cyclists on the road is only going to increase in the foreseeable future. We need to find a better way to inform these riders that they simply MUST obey traffic laws. And yes, wearing a helmet is also just common sense when riding along-side traffic.
  • infrastructure
    While this kid's and other's actions were clearly negligent, at least they are only putting themselves at risk, unlike the many, many automobile drivers who do the same and endanger everyone else. Until we have decent bicycle infrastructure, we are going to continue to see these types of incidents. Where are they supposed to ride? Do you fault the pedestrians walking on the shoulder when there are no sidewalks? Do they not deserve to get to work if they can't afford a car?

    By the way, bicylcists are taught to claim their lane because it is significantly safer. You are far more likely to not be seen (and therefore be hit) by automobile drivers if you are over on the shoulder.
  • Even dangerous for law-abiding bikers
    Aside from accidents that may occur because a biker didn't follow a traffic law, auto drivers in our area need to become more alert and aware of their surroundings where bicycles are concerned. Also, I think bikers should always be wary of the fact that people may not see them (even though they should).

    Just a few weeks ago, I was sitting on a downtown street as I waitied to reach a turn lane that happens to be on the other side of the newly painted bicycle lane. With parked cars immediately to my right, I didn't even think to check my rear-view mirror and almost hit a biker speeding by. While I would have been at fault, I really hope that person realizes that the right of way given by law won't always be granted--a pedestrian wouldn't walk in front of a car running a red light just because the sign said "Walk," right?
  • obey rules
    I, too, am a bicycle commuter and KNOW that I will eventually be hit! I keep to the bike lane, but drivers just don't pay attention. However, I am also irked as a driver when cyclists insist on taking up the entire DRIVING lane...I was given the finger by one, when after about a mile, I finally passed him, having to go into oncoming traffic to do so..why did he think he could take up the lane, doing 12 mph in a 40 mph zone?? Why wasn't he riding close to the white line instead? People like this guy give cyclists a bad name...
  • cyclists
    This accident was tragic, but so are all accidents. Not all cyclist break the laws and the same is said for drivers. You win some and you lose some.

    We all need to be more aware of our surroundings...especially in such congested areas.
  • Lack of Bike Lanes and Sidewalks
    The provisions made for bicyclists and pedestrians in Decatur Township are the worst I've seen. The city has marked roads as bike paths that are clearly not suitable; examples are roads in need of repair, without space to the right of the white line, and with sharp drop-offs. It is rare to see a sidewalk in Decatur Township and there are no pedestrian signals. This tragic loss must be very difficult for the family to bear.
  • Improved bike lanes
    I am a biker. I would not call myself an avid biker because I use it as my only means of transportation. Other than my bike I ride on public transportation. I live in the District so I can ride both Metrorail and Metrobus.

    One of the most important things about biking on city streets is to make sure you get to the front of the cars. A bike can not sit in traffic and they must weave up to the front. Often this means going to the left of a car instead of right because a car often does not look when the turn right. It is safer to go to the middle. The whole point of weaving in traffic is to get to the front. In Portland, OR they have constructed bike boxes. This is something that moves the pedestrian and car back and puts the bike up front. I can't comment on the situation in Decatur township, but this would greatly improve safety in Indianapolis, The bike lanes and possible bike boxes are designed to make sure that a driver is watching the roads. In Chicago, if a person is hit in a bike lane(doored or just hit) there are extra fines. Hopefully Indianapolis has such a rule.
  • Unfounded Statements
    Wow... I'm not sure where to begin.

    First, bicyclists aren't just now "taking to the streets" but have been doing so for more than 130 years. The current "bike boom" has been fueled by a combination of the economy, aging boomers who found the bike as a great way to stay fit and have fun, concern over energy issues and more. Bikes are outselling cars, you know. Historically, the first "bike boom" was probably in the late 1800's - another era where bikes outsold cars and era where the "Good Roads Movement" was spearheaded by bicyclists who demanded, and got, paved roads throughout the country. This active advocacy in the late 1800's led to the "bicycle" being included inthe definition of "vehicle" in the very first vehicle codes and led to bicycle operators being given a legal right to the road along with cars, busses, trucks, Amish buggies and other slower moving vehicles.

    Second, the phrase "It isn't uncommon to see..." various scofflaw behavior among cyclists is completely unfounded. "It isn't uncommon" to see motorists run lights, drive drunk and kill people with cars. "It isn't uncommon" to see that drunk drivers KILL 10,000+ per year. I don't believe cyclists have killed ANYONE but themselves from time to time with UNCOMMON stupid behavior.

    If cyclists do stupid reckless things, they need to be ticketed just like any other legitimate road user. However, the thought implicit in the story - that something "has be done" about these crazy cyclists - is not supported statistically or practically.

    The more cyclists there are the safer they are. Cycling has boomed over the past several years, but fatalities have not increased at all. More riders, fewer deaths.

    Don't let a couple incidents generate a knee jerk response. Look at the BIG picture. Look at the numbers over the years, and the demographics of those numbers.

    In 1975 - 1000 or so cyclists died in the US. 2/3 were under the age of 16.

    From 1998 - 2008 that figure hovered between 700 & 800, despite huge increases in riders and road users. Demographically, the average age of those killed today is almost FORTY and 87% of those killed were over the age of 16.

    We've gone from a 'kid based' riding climate to an 'adult based' riding climate over the past 30 years. Adult riders are smarter, know what they are doing, take less risks and take an active role in promoting their own safety.

    Having handled more than 200 "bike cases" in the past 20 yrs and worked as an advocate for cycling at the local, state and national level I've had a chance to review research and statistics with the eyes of a mathematics major-turned-trial-lawyer. To me, cycling has always been "safe." However, as "vulnerable users" of the road, cyclists face risks due to the fact that those who choose to operate 2 ton vehicles are not as good at watching for their 2 wheeled brethren as we would like them to be!

    Steve Magas
    The Bike Lawyer
  • Idaho anyone?
    Try googling Idaho bike laws for an enlightened take on how cyclists and drivers can co-exist. Cyclists don't actually "run" stop signs and lights in the same manner as do motorists.
  • U.S. vs. Them?
    It's interesting that it so often comes down to this issue of ownership of the road. Motorists complain about the cyclists and vice versa. However, clear leadership does seem to have an effect overall. I moved from San Francisco where I constantly got irritated by motorists who would have a polite-off with me on my bike ("you go." "no, its fine, you go." "no i insist."), to Los Angeles, where the bike lane in practice is either a motorcycle lane or auxiliary car lane. LA's leadership seems entirely confused about the place for bicycles, and has put bicycles in the pedestrian/vehicular quasi-space -- just like many other jurisdictions. This confusion in the leadership is passed down to the public, who is left to duke it out on the streets, which inevitably ends with angry motorists and cyclists -- and too often, injured or deceased cyclists. Sadly, these deaths often lead to idiotic reactionary policies as well, instead of well thought out, proactive ones.
  • The law: bikes on the road
    Auto drivers have a legal obligation to pass safely, and if they have to wait for oncoming traffic to clear, they must do so. Cyclists have a right to the road in our state law, and as much as an auto driver might be annoyed that I can only go 20mph, I will do my best to be predictable and visible and I will expect the drivers wait to pass safely when needed. In many states this is a three foot law!

    There is nothing safe about me riding in gutter debris, so please afford me my right to travel legally on my bicycle in the driving lane. I choose wider, less-traveled streets when possible to reduce your annoyance and my potential demise from a collision.

    Don't worry, I pay taxes too; I'm just not polluting your streets nor taking up your parking space when I choose to ride my bike to work or the grocery store.
  • please educate yourself
    Ever been passed by a car in your lane forcing you into a trash filled gutter? Try riding in traffic before speaking of things you know nothing of..Or...Continue sitting on your behind in your car and be more patient around cyclists...check out the Iowa bike laws..they are the future...
  • Cars vs Bikes
    The question above is posed in a way to put cyclists on the defensive. Turn it around and ask the question regarding cars. Ever seen a driver of a car run a red light? Ever seen a car driver take a risk? The question is lame and assumes cyclists are abnormal for taking chances. Let's see drivers get ticketed more for rolling stops, running red lights, illegal u-turns, cell phone use in traffic, dipping fries in ketchup at 70 mph on 465.

    Let's get some perspective here. Of course some cyclists take risks and are foolish. But they are not going 75 mph while doing it. Cyclists know they take a risk by only taking the city ordinance given right and hitting the streets that they also pay for with taxes. To venture out on a bike on the streets where many drivers are enraged, empowered, and empty-headed imbibing in coffee snorting, cell phone addled, and late for work requires a certain amount of risk tolerance.

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