Information on safe cycling in Florida

Don't ride without a helmet.
Don't ride against the traffic.
Always have a light front and rear at night
Courteousness to pedestrians on sidewalks.
Always carry your cell phone and ID with you on rides.
Ride with a buddy.
Wear cycling gloves.
Hydrate on those hot Florida days
Sunscreen on your arms and the back of your neck!!
Sunglasses to protect your sclera from nasty sun scarring.
Put air in your tires before your ride- saves your energy.
On long rides: drink before you're thirsty, snack before your hungry.
Don't trust that the driver sees you- s/he doesn't. Eye contact does not mean s/he won't run you over.
Don't ride drunk unless you are the back of tandem-You will get a ticket.
If the traffic is rush hour, stay on the sidewalk- cell phones can kill.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ticket for "blowing" a stop sign? Whaaaaa?!?!?!?

I received the following question to me on the Florida Bicycle website from a rider in Sanibel Island:

"Dear J. Steele: I was given a ticket for running a stop sign.  On the ticket the officer noted that I had 'run four stop signs' and was giving me a 'warning' for running four previous stop signs.  At these stops most of the 'stop bars' [where the statute requires you to stop] were several feet from the intersecting road and the sign itself, and two of them are at blind turns where you can't even see the traffic at all if you stay at the stop bar.  The statute number I was charged with violating is 316.123(2)(a).  I was locked into the pedals on my bike, but I did stop, only briefly.  I was doing 'track stop.'[the technique called where rider just briefly stops without unlocking and putting my feet down].  At all five signs I stopped, but the nice beach cop wasn't impressed with my explanation.  If she has video, I am not sure it will show my momentary stops.  What do I do?"  Darrel in Sanibel”

My standard answer for most question like this is always "Stop at the stop sign."  It’s the law. We can’t expect cops to enforce the laws against cars  if we don’t obey the laws for bicycles.   And that’s the stop sign law.  However, if you have pedals like my pedals (which are reluctant to let go of my riding shoes resulting in a sore hip occasionally) you don't want to  unlock your shoe and put it down.   And that's the rub here.  The statute says a vehicle drive "shall stop" at the stop bar. 

Now, before we discuss this, keep in mind "stop" is to completely halt your forward movement.  However, the statute doesn't say how long you have to stop.   And there you have the advantage.  A momentary stop, called commonly a "track stop" (track bike's stop) is STILL a stop.

Let me discuss two other legal concepts that come into play.  They are “impeachment” and “opportunity to observe.”  Impeachment is when you attack a witness’ testimony (I saw him smash that car window before the alarm went off) by saying something which calls into question the witness’ ability to have seen the event (“Mr. Jones, this video tape shows you in a store two blocks away when the car alarm went off”).  A witness has to have an “opportunity to observe” to credibly talk about an event.  If the witness was too far away or there were a lot of objects in between, or the perspective or angle of view (“I was across the foot ball stadium and I saw him take her  watch”) a judge will not allow a witness to testify.   That’s the burden of the traffic cop.  They have to be close enough, at the right viewing angle and with no distractions between to testify about something like a traffic stop, especially with a small vehicle like a bicycle. 

How a police officer can credibly testify and overcome the lack of “opportunity to observe” in a motor vehicle stop case is with a visual cue that I call the "dip."   When a car/truck/motorcycle comes to a stop at a stop sign or light, the vehicle weight causes the front of the vehicle to “dip” down, then the shock absorbers or springs brings it back up.  It's this upward movement of the vehicle’s front the officers look for when they are not close enough to judge whether a motor vehicle stops.  While sitting waiting for my client’s turn in traffic hearings when I have represented injured clients during 25 years, I have heard lots of “creative” stories from motor vehicle drivers on the docket in front of me about "how I really did stop judge."  The dispositive question the judge asks the law enforcement to determine the “truth” is:   "Officer/Deputy did you see the vehicle's front go down and up?"  If the officer says "no" the driver is guilty.  Without that evidence and usually, the officer is too far away to really detect a stop. 

With  bicyclists law enforcement doesn't have that visual cue.  Help me here: what could the officer look for?  Your buttocks went forward and back?  I don't' think I'll be hearing that out of a cop.  The cyclist’s body shifted forward and back on the bicycle? Nope.   You don’t have shocks on your road bikes and don’t have the mass to make the front of your bike “dip.”  There's no visual cue. The police officers are grasping for some visual cues to overcome lack of “opportunity to observe” and convict the bicyclist for blowing the stop.  There really aren’t any...other than the ones you provide.

So how to avoid a ticket?....provide a visual cue.  Two suggestions: Keep a foot unlocked from the pedals.  When you come to a stop sign, slow down, put your foot out and touch the ground, just briefly at the stop sign.  Another visual cue is to put your hand down.  Yep, indicate you are stopping with the standard left hand/forearm down to your left side with open palm facing backwards. 

Using these two visual cues, you indicate you are stopping and you  obtain advantage in the argument of "opportunity to observe."  If the officer has video going, who gets to see? The judge or traffic court magistrate.  What does she see?   The video of you, sticking your foot out and indicating you are stopping,  just like the front of your bicycle went down and up.  What does the judge hear from you? “Judge, there’s my foot went out to balance myself judge ...when I stopped..... there’s my hand indicating a stop.”  Just like the front of the motor vehicle dipping and coming up at the stop, you gave a visual indiction you stopped.  There's your visual cue, for the cop and the judge. When it’s your time and the judge/magistrate asks you “did you stop?” Your answer? “Yes, I stopped judge.”  [for extra effect add: “I am a vulnerable user of the roadways and don’t have the protection of a car surrounding me. I always stop.”]  The judge’s ruling?   Bang goes the gavel.  “Not guilty.”  Case dismissed.  (Or at least that’s what should happen.)

Be safe out there.

If you have a question about your legal rights, write me on I'll be happy to answer your questions.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Is it me or are the local papers noticing the bicyclist blood in the streets too?

As you know I rail monthly in the newsletter about bicycle crashes and the senseless slaughter of the best of our communities by distracted drivers and those who ignore the laws requiring distance from bicycles.  However recentlyt there have been several editorials on "watch out for bicycles.   On July 2, 2011, Dr. Kurt Lang Frankel, 33 years old,  of Atlanta, Ga.,  a Georgia Tech  professor was eastbound on his $4,000 bright WHITE Scott bicycle wearing a helmet on the shoulder of the highway when he was stuck in the rear and thrown forward off his bicycle by Alexandra Elise Alford, 19 years old, and Ole Miss University student from Miramar Beach, driving her Mercedes.  In response to that a local resident, John Cork, who is a film maker and avid cyclist wrote a wonderful editorial in the local paper.  He reflects on the tragedy which is a distracted driver killing a bicyclist.  

Four days later across the state, literally, in St. Augustine a thoughtful editorial by the editorial board of the St. Augustine Record points out how vulnerable bicyclists are, especially visiting bicyclist unfamiliar with the local roads peculiar to a town which is more than 400 years old.

I am almost not cynical with these two small community papers realizing the treacherous nature of Florida roads and the deadly consequences distracted drivers pose to us bicyclists.    A heart-warming turn.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Another example of the misunderstood bicyclist. Recently DOT wanted to spend some money on a bicycle safety campaign. GREAT IDEA! Let's make driver's stop driving distracted. When I got news of it from Alan Snel of SWFBUD, the West Central Florida bicycle advocate, I was pleased there was a move in that direction by the governmental agencies. However, the money appeared to have been given to an ad agency with no bicyclists in it. And weirdly, the agency had been told "Seventy-five percent of all crashes are the fault of cyclists."  I hit the roof when I heard that.  Whaaaaaa?!?!?!?   What stinking orifice did that come out of?  I mean, that's just nuttier than squirrel poo.   

I have been doing this "awhile" and let me tell you, I've talked to lots of riders, read lot's of Traffic Crash Reports and taken hundreds of motorists depositions.  Let's leave it law enforcement doesn't always get the full story. 

Based on this erroneous info, I'll just say the first campaign had a picture of a tank with a cyclists. The caption was... um..... well..... um..... I am really trying to be fair........ un repeatable. Okay, so anyway Alan Snel made voice the concerns of the members of SWFBUD (I am one) and the campaign was changed. To this:

Well....... at least it's focusing on the motorists. I like that! I won't tell you the original caption. At least it tells the motorists cars kill. Wait... everyone knows that.                    
Well, at least motorists know that cars are tanks...Wait, that's silly, the message is missed.
Well, at least it tells motorists that bicyclists can be hurt by cars.... Wait.... that's obvious.
Well,  AT LEAST IT'S A COOL IMAGE. Which is all that can be really said about this
Well anyway, I wrote a five (5) page letter to the DOT in no uncertain terms and told them the basis of their first campaign was dead wrong.  For you folks interested, the letter is below and here: DOT ltr 050911

The St. Petersburg Times picked up the "firestorm."

We could use the awareness, but sheesh. Talk to a bicyclist about what is going on the road... the motorists are too distracted by radio, CD, DVD, iPad, iPhone, Android, Pre, and kids screaming in the back. 

What do you think?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Great Tips for those just leaving college and the bike thieves...

Saw these helpful tips on the South Florida Bicycle Coaltition Blogspot.:
If you see somone trying to steal a bike at your dorm or a commute spot (he'll have cutters for the lock-dead give away)
  1. Resist the urge to be a hero. You can confront the thief/ves (wouldn’t that feel good!?) but if you are not completely confident that the thief won’t turn around and clock you with the bolt cutters, it’s not worth risking a lifetime of rides to save just one.
  2. Be calm but assertive. IF you have to confront them: One story we have heard works is from someone who just went up to the thieves and said, “hey – that’s my bike.” They mumbled and then quickly motorcycled away. The added perk is if you’re wrong, you’ll know right away by the look on the guy’s face. How would you respond if someone went up to you and claimed your saddle belonged to them?
  3. USE YOUR PHONE. Take a picture. Write down a description of the guy/s. Get video if you can. Call the police right away – you might get lucky and save the day.
  4. Leave a note: If you witness a theft and are unable to stop it, leave your contact information for the poor soul. S/he will want the photos and description you took.
  1. Please report it. Your report goes into police databases and supports police stings that focus on bike theft. Police don’t try to prevent repeats of crimes they don’t have on file.
  2. Post a picture and the serial number on Craiglist with the subject: BIKE STOLEN. There are success stories of reunited bikes and owners this way.
  3. Tell everyone you know. If you send us the craigslist link, we’ll be sure to share it on our facebook and twitter. We can email it out to members and friends in your area, too.
  1. For the love of two wheels, please lock your bicycle correctly.
REGISTER YOUR BIKE: Take a moment to register your bike today with the National Bike Registry: If your bike ever ends up in a police holding or with a reputable bike shop, you can get it back!