The Bike Community and Road Rules in VANCOUVER!

Recently, I got a ticket. It wasn’t for bad driving. It was for bad riding.

On the way to my weekly soccer practice, I was cruising the bike route towards Andy Livingston Park. It was a sunny day and I was thinking about my upcoming practice and whether or not we’d have enough players to get a scrimmage going. I crossed Main on the bike route and then slowed to look both ways at Union and Columbia (Union’s a bike route and Columbia is a small street that runs under the Georgia Viaduct). The light was red, but there were no cars coming from either direction. I pedalled through the light and was about to get off my bike to walk into the park when I heard the horribly familiar double bloop.

The officer was very polite as he wrote me up a $167 ticket for not stopping at a red light. The same ticket a car driver would receive for running a light I believe. The officer was also kind enough to let me know that if I bothered to contest and show up at court he’d recommend to the justice of the peace that the fine be lowered. I’m hopeful I’ll be able to follow his suggestion, though a half day off work isn’t a small thing for a guy who doesn’t get a ton of time off these days. Wasting one of my few vacation days sitting in a courtroom a year from now is not high on the old priority list.

Ironically enough, only a few days before I’d paid a similar failing fine for failing to stop at a stop sign on Adanac and Hawkes. That time I was ticketed at 7 AM in the morning on a sleepy street without a car in site. Anyone who has ridden by that corner knows no-one tends to stop there. In fact while I was getting my ticket that morning, I counted half a dozen cyclists breezing by without slowing down – all in front of the officer.

The whole thing left me feeling frustrated and thoughtful. Riding home that afternoon I saw 80-90 per cent of riders breezing by (or at the most slowing down and looking both ways) at stop signs. Dozens rode by us sans helmet and many made a bunch of other illegal maneuvers they never would have dared to do in a car. In short, the rules we’re being flouted (if not outright broken) all around us.

Getting stung by a second $167 fine for something the entire cycling world seems to be doing just about ever single day was frustrating. But it also got me thinking. Why on a bike do I feel it’s OK to slow for a stop sign but stop when I’m in a car? I think the biggest reason is a combination of inertia and self consideration. Inertia because it takes a lot more effort to get going once stopped on a bike than it does by car. Self consideration because if I hit a car on my bike, my bike gets dented and perhaps I get hurt. If I hit someone or something in a car, I get hurt, the other driver gets hurt and people around me could also be injured.  This seems to make it a lot more palatable for the cycling community.

At the end of the day, I do think this line of reasoning bears some consideration. Should going through a red get the same fine for cars and bikes? I open it up to our readership to consider this question.

Header by Paul Krueger.

This entry was posted in 1000 Community Stories, Getting Places, Regional, The Latest and tagged , , , , by Kurt Heinrich. Bookmark the permalink.

About Kurt Heinrich

Who are you? I work as a storyteller. In my spare time I like to volunteer on a variety of environmental and political initiatives as well as help coordinate a soccer team based in the Downtown Eastside. What do you do for fun? I like to cook, cycle, read, chillax, eat French and Japanese food, play with my friends, shoot the breeze with my mom, dad and sisters, explore new and interesting communities, sip the Bump and Grind's delicious Clover brew, and spend time with my lovely red headed partner Theo. What’s your favorite community and why? Right now my favorite community is the Drive. It's hip, happening and varied hosting people as diverse as a Deloitte consultant (you know who you are...) to a stick twirling, leather-homemade-clothes-wearing dude known as "Cloud Man".

12 thoughts on “The Bike Community and Road Rules in VANCOUVER!

  1. It’s an interesting issue, one I think about fairly regularly. I would change your inertia argument: It takes a whole lot more to stop a car if it’s moving, so if a car rolls through a stop sign there is far greater chance that it won’t be able to stop if something gets in its way, while on a bike you can brake and swerve quite easily.

    We regulate behaviours that we believe are costly, in human life/injury terms and also in medical terms. It costs a lot to deal with brain injuries, and they are quite damaging to the injured party, so we demand that people wear helmets. We don’t regulate it that intensely, because the injury rate is probably quite low.

    But we also regulate based on the potential harm to others, which is why driving sees a much higher rate of enforcement. Speed and drunk driving and running red lights kills, and it kills other people, so we demand that drivers slow down.

    Based on that criteria, I can see why we regulate the rules of the road as we do: cyclists are targeted far less than motorists. Unfortunately, we aren’t so sophisticated as to have developed a different set of penalties that reflects the different potential harm of the activities.

  2. Kurt if I was driving a car and you were riding A bike through a stopsign and you just glided through I would speed up to hit you on purpose. Riders in Toronto have no respect for the small roads driver s have to navigte. They take up hole lanes and don’t move out fpor traffic. Roads are for cars not bikes. If you. Brake the law on a bike its the same as braking it on a car so you should pay for it. A stop sing is a stop sign.
    I know vancouver is way more hippy then Tdot but that doesn’t mean taking over the roads is right or okay. You should obey the rules and pay for consequencwes. 1000s of people speed on the 401 every day and only a few get ticketds. Loife isn’t fair so deal with it.

    - REAL driving Pete

  3. Kurt, you’re right about the inertia argument. There’s nothing more frustrating (on a bike in the city) than flying down a hill only to have to stop at an intersection at which no polluting cars fumingly idle, only to gear down and start all over. No, it doesn’t take as much power to stop or start but, hey, no one is pedaling a frickin’ car, Brenton.

    Speaking of Brenton. You did much to express my internal conflict. The rules should be changed to accommodate bicycle riders. In terms of costliness to society, well, trillions of dollars are spent each year to maintain roads (because cars break them), deal with tragic accidents (because cars hit people and things), waste disposal (hey, why get an old car when newer ones are so, so, so much cooler?!), lost productivity (people sitting in traffic jams don’t/can’t work), and cost to our environment (cars are inefficient wasters of natural capital). An exercising Kurt Heinrich flying through a red light should not be held to the same archaic standard as a single-occupant motorist doing the same thing.

    Yes. Under the law today, Kurt was/is a bad monkey who deserves to be disciplined. And I feel for him. I never go through red lights (except on The Drive, but everyone does – even coppers – so I’ve learned to believe that such practices are totally street legal); however, I fly through stop signs all the time. In fact, I was talking to my lovely colleague, Jilly – who should totally comment and/or write for this blog – today about whether or not Kurt was wrongly convicted. We both agreed that, no, he wasn’t – what happened was fair and just. I still think it’s wrong and that, on bike avenues, the whole stop sign concept should be re-visited. But that’s another story for another time.

    Great post, Kurt. Don’t worry – times, they be a changin’! In the Vancouver of the Future you will only get a $15 dollar ticket for running a red light on a bike!

    - JCH

  4. Sorry, Kurt, I roll through stop signs, too, but going through a red light is simply going too far. For cars and bikes, we all accept a bit of rule-bending on the road (e.g., going 10 km over the speed limit), but the vast majority of car drivers stop, and stay stopped, for red lights, regardless how useless the stop light is. If cycling is to be widely accepted as a legitimate form of transportation on roads, we need to obey the de facto rules of the road.

    Having said that, just as no car driver obeys the rule of the road when it comes to stopping at the stop line (and not a metre past it), I think there is a justification for cyclists rolling through stop signs. However, I don’t like your inertia argument, because it is essentially a convenience issue. My justification for not stopping at stop signs (but slowing down), is that, because a bike is typically travelling much more slowly than a car, a cyclist has as much time to assess an intersection as a car that stops. My average speed through an intersection, rolling through a stop sign, is about the same as that of a car that comes to a complete stop.

    So $167 isn’t worth a half day of work to you, eh Kurt? $334 a day – you must be making 6 figures now, Man- drinks are on you next time!

  5. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Just to clarify, I did stop at the red light. I then looked both ways and seeing no cars, made a judgement call and went through it. This wasn’t Broadway and Main or the Gardiner Expressway (Pete!).

    Good discussion everyone!


  6. Sure you did, Kurt. Either way, you’re still an anarchist, Mr. Black Bloc.

  7. My justification for not stopping at stop signs (but slowing down), is that, because a bike is typically travelling much more slowly than a car, a cyclist has as much time to assess an intersection as a car that stops.

    This is what I was trying to express as well, in case you misunderstood me, John. Because I can assess the dangers and react to them more quickly on a bike, I shouldn’t have to come to a complete stop, whereas because a car takes more effort to stop if something gets in the way, it should stop in the first place.

  8. I was just stopped and warned about this on Main and 10th the other day, I stopped at main, and being that there was a big break in traffic I stepped on the pedals and crossed the street. Red light, yes. Danger, no.

    This kind of ticketing does little to promote promote reasonable and safe riding, and I would hope that in a city spending millions on promoting cycle culture there’d be a better connection between the enforcement strategies of the municipal police and city hall.

    Oh, and Kurt, you should quit carrying ID with you when out on your bike. Remeber, your name is Robert Paulson.

  9. Thanks for the tip Mike. But I think I’d prefer my name to by John Horn when I get stopped by cops…

  10. I think that cyclists should have to obey the same laws as cars and pedestrians. Pedestrians can get fined for jay-walking across an empty street, cars get fined for rolling through at empty intersections, so why shouldn’t cyclists get charged for going through red lights? I see as many irresponsible cyclists as I do motorists on the streets of Vancouver–it’s totally unacceptable and makes the roads dangerous for EVERYBODY. I say, fine the irresponsible people so that the money can go to improving our streets (better bike lanes, signage, wider roads, etc).

  11. I ride in Vancouver too, and always slow down to a mini-stop at the signs. I had a bad experience in Portland, a few years ago. I didn’t see a car coming from my right as the angle was blocked by a van, got hit and flew off accordingly. Luckily enough I only broke my wrist but it made me think that it could have cost me more. I hear what you say, Kurt, but I also forecast that if we decide to get flexible/optional we end up in Rio de Janeiro, my city. Cidade de Deus. On the other hand, if you drive and hit a guy on a bike at an “optional” corner, you’re going to need new legislation. I reckon in the future entire “blended-in” corridors in the cities will be only used by bikes and small electric motors, with slow-speed 1-block-long streets intersecting. Fica legal.

  12. If you don’t ride a bike (regularly, in traffic, and not in some distant past incarnation) then you can’t really remark on this stuff. Unless you have experienced the particularities of cycling, what it feels, looks and sounds like, then you have little or no idea how different it is to be on a bike versus in a car. Approaching a stop sign, a cyclist can see and hear so much more than a motorist that, it makes little sense to come to a full stop unless there are other road users (cars, pedestrians, cyclists) present and also entering the intersection. Blowing right through without a glance or slowdown is both dangerous and rude, but treating stop signs as yield signs is business as usual even for reasonable and responsible cyclists because our vehicles allow us to operate them this way safely and efficiently. When I’m pedaling uphill and keep going through an empty intersection, I will look both ways, but I will not stop at the stop sign. Cycling is great and all, but it’s hard going uphill! If someone witnesses this minor bending of the rules and gets all hot and bothered about what scofflaws cyclists are, they need to simply try it themselves, and then see what’s going on with heart and lungs and sweat. Until they do that (assuming the physical capability is there) then their opinions on this particular subject are not worth hearing.

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