Florida Weekly 'Outdoors' column, 12/6/17
It would seem obvious that pedestrians, being the most vulnerable user of the public rights of way, should have the highest priority in anyone’s mind, if for no other reason than the ease at which we can be seriously injured or killed when mixing in traffic. But even though traffic laws appear to take the vulnerability factor into account, the reality is they are not enforced in that way, nor are laws as pedestrian-friendly as one might expect. In some cases that is very understandable — considering drivers can’t be expected to avoid every potential collision when it’s physiologically impossible due to time and distance elements that are in play with any moving object — drivers get priority.
The most important things to keep in mind when walking, running, skating or operating an assistive device like a wheelchair, are common sense concepts. Be predictable to other users. Use sidewalks and pathways when available and when not obstructed. Pay attention to the surroundings and forgo the use of distracting devices when on public rights of way. Be assertive when necessary at places like crosswalks and other areas where the rights are clear and obvious. Be considerate of others with whom we are sharing the pathway. And be patient when stuck at signals where the only reason we can’t cross when adjacent motor traffic has a green light is because the auto-centric pedestrian signal timing formula makes us wait another cycle for the sake of moving more cars. But we must also keep in mind that, on average, being struck by a motor vehicle at 30 mph gives us a 50 percent chance of survival and being hit at 40 mph decreases the survival chance to only 15 percent. In both cases, if not fatal, major and perhaps permanent injuries will likely result.
Those of us who operate bikes are required to follow the same rules and laws as drivers when using the roadway. One law that doesn’t apply is to maintain a minimum speed that would result in illegally obstructing traffic for motorists. While we are required to ride “as far right as practicable” we are not compelled to ride in the gutter and can, in most cases, use any part of the traffic lane as necessary to be safe from motorists passing illegally (i.e., less than a 3-foot buffer). If travel lanes are less than 14 feet wide (almost all our roads’ lanes are less than that width) we need not ride right when passing traffic puts us at risk. On pathways, bicyclists have second-class status and must not put pedestrians at risk by operating too fast, passing without warning or passing too closely. Bicycle operators must also keep in mind that public roads and pathways aren’t bicycle race courses.
When behind the wheel of our motor vehicles, machines that can easily take and ruin lives, we have the ultimate responsibility to behave appropriately for the power we wield. That’s the law and that’s what society agrees is required of anyone wishing to have the option to drive, at least in theory.
For example, one of the broadest laws, the careless driving statue states: “Any person operating a vehicle upon the streets or highways within the state shall drive the same in a careful and prudent manner, having regard for the width, grade, curves, corners, traffic, and all other attendant circumstances, so as not to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person.” (FSS 316.1925). That’s about as direct and basic as it gets, in my opinion. As well, the law that places blame on anyone who rear-ends another vehicle, person, or object is just as direct: “The fact that the speed of a vehicle is lower than the prescribed limits shall not relieve the driver from the duty to decrease speed when approaching and crossing an intersection, when approaching and going around a curve, when approaching a hill crest, when traveling upon any narrow or winding roadway, or when special hazards exist or may exist with respect to pedestrians or other traffic or by reason of weather or other roadway conditions, and speed shall be decreased as may be necessary to avoid colliding with any person, vehicle, or other conveyance on or entering the street in compliance with legal requirements and the duty of all persons to use due care.” (FSS 316.185). Aside from these two comprehensive rules of the road for vehicle operators there are many other laws intended to keep us safe on the roads. But common courtesy — especially when operating around vulnerable users — should always be in play. Perhaps by thinking of that guy on the bike who is holding up traffic as our spouse/brother/father or the woman crossing the street, delaying drivers wanting to make their right turn, as our spouse/sister/mother will help us better understand and have patience with our fellow road users.
Go to floridabicycle.org/bicycle-trafficlaw for details of Florida’s bicycle laws. FDOT’s pedestrian law brochure can be found at alerttodayflorida.com. And, as always, for more about this and similar matters visit BikeWalkLee’s blog at bikewalklee.blogspot.com. ¦
- Dan Moser is a long-time bicycle/pedestrian advocate and traffic safety professional who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and 334-6417.
For Lee County cycling and tri events visit Caloosa Riders Bicycle Club (caloosariders.org); Florida Mudcutters (mudcutters.org); and SW Florida Biking Meetup Group (meetup.com/Biking-SWFL). The Florida Bicycle Association (floridabicycle.org) is your source for statewide happenings. BikeWalkLee’s blog site has all the information you’ll need to stay abreast of advocacy efforts in Southwest Florida as well as statewide and nationally.