AAA Takes One Step Forward, One Step Back For Bikes: MassBike Responds

In its April 2010 Horizons magazine, AAA did MassBike a huge favor by featuring our "Same Roads Same Rules" campaign. Read the whole article here. This reached literally millions of motorists with our message that motorists need to respect bicyclists on the road. Unfortunately, in the same article, AAA listed several "rules" for bicyclists that is a mixed bag of good advice and flat-out wrong:

For a safe ride, bicyclists should follow these rules:

  • Do not ride bikes on sidewalks. Stay on the roadway, traveling in the same direction as motor-vehicle traffic.

  • Bicycles should stay to the right along the curb.

  • Ride in single file unless passing another bicycle.

  • Before veering into traffic, make sure it is safe to do so.

  • Walk a bike across an intersection rather than riding.

  • Obey traffic signals and signs, and indicate actions such as turning and stopping by using appropriate hand gestures.

And, the rules are the same for adults and children.

Here is MassBike's response to AAA:

Thanks so much for including our Same Roads Same Rules campaign in the recent issue of Horizons. It is a big help for us to reach motorists. There is, unfortunately, some significant misinformation in the part of the article regarding rules for bicyclists.

  1. “Do not ride bikes on sidewalks.” While bicycling on sidewalks in business districts is prohibited by MA law, it is lawful everywhere else unless prohibited by local ordinance. We do believe it is generally safer for bicyclists to ride in the roadway, but many parents will not allow their children to ride in the road, and for some newer adult bicyclists it can be a step toward being comfortable riding in the road. So if it comes down to a choice of people riding on the sidewalk or not riding at all, we prefer to see them riding on the sidewalk and learning how to do so safely.

  2. “Bicycles should stay to the right along the curb.” This is incorrect. Bicycles are legally vehicles in MA, and are entitled to use the full lane. While bicyclists are permitted to ride to the right of other traffic, there are many situations when this is unsafe, such as when the road is too narrow for a car to pass safely, or when that would place cyclists in the door zone, or riding through roadside debris, or riding too close to the curb and risking a crash. Telling cyclists to stay to the right also encourages the very dangerous practice of weaving in and out of parked cars in an effort to stay as close to the curb as possible at all times. We always say that bicyclists should “hold their line” (ride as straight as they can) because this makes them more predictable and thus safer.

  3. “Walk a bike across an intersection rather than riding.” While it is of course legal to walk your bike across an intersection like a pedestrian, it is not something we recommend because when you get to the other side you will need to return to the roadway, which motorists are not expecting someone in the crosswalk to do. For young children, or at a complex intersection, or where bicyclists can legally ride on the sidewalk, crossing like a pedestrian might be a good option, but otherwise it is not. Telling bicyclists to walk their bikes across is more likely to lead to bicyclists riding in the crosswalk, which is illegal and hazardous to pedestrians, and increases the risk of the bicyclist getting “right-hooked” by a turning car that is not expecting bikes in the crosswalk.

  4. You do not mention that helmets are required in MA for children age 16 and younger.

I think these issues (particularly #2) are serious enough that you might want to correct them in a future issue of Horizons. We would be happy to work with AAA in the future to help you get the most up-to-date bicycle safety information to your members.

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