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Milwaukee On Two Wheels

Cyclists’ rights, responsibilities and safety

Jun. 25, 2014
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Bicycling is an environmentally friendly, healthful and enjoyable mode of transportation, and ridership has increased steeply over the last two decades. On a national level, the number of bicycle commuters has nearly doubled in the 70 largest cities, and Americans currently make more than 4 billion bike trips each year, according to data collected by the League of American Bicyclists. Closer to home, Chase Hawk, general manager of Cory the Bike Fixer (2410 N. Murray Ave.), states that he has seen an approximately 20% annual increase in ridership for the last 15 years.

Although local government offers legal protections for cyclists as vehicles with rights and responsibilities nearly identical to motorists’ and has taken significant steps toward making our city more bike friendly (last year alone, 23.8 miles of bike lane were laid in), ignorance of cyclists’ rights and responsibilities is unfortunately widespread.

Evan Pack, founding director of the Milwaukee Community Bicycle Project’s Vulture Space—a do-it-yourself, education-based nonprofit at 651 N. Plankinton Ave.—knows from personal experience that motorists’ road rage can take a serious toll on cyclists’ wellbeing. While biking to work one morning in January, a motorist assaulted him. Stopped at a red light in Riverwest, Pack was in the middle of the lane in front of the motorist and remained there until the light changed despite her honking and yelling at him to move so she could make a right turn. When he started pedaling, the motorist drove into the back of his moving bicycle. Pack called 911, and when the sergeant arrived, Pack says, the motorist “lied to the officer saying that I intentionally hit her car with my bike, despite how vulnerable one is on a bicycle and the impractical act of reversing on a bike into anything!” The sergeant told the two that he could either issue both of them citations, or neither. Says Pack, “I was just blown away. I thought she was going to be arrested for using her car as a weapon. Of all people, police officers should know the rights of cyclists—not just how to ticket them, but what rights they have as far as being protected from traffic.”

Beyond the obvious danger to cyclists resulting from such road rage, attorney Barry M. Cymerman attests to its ill advisability for motorists themselves. “In addition to receiving a traffic citation, the at-fault motorist should realize that he or she could face more serious consequences if a lawsuit for personal injuries is filed by the injured cyclist,” Cymerman said. “This may result in financial responsibility on the driver for the cyclist’s medical bills, wage loss and permanent disability. Hopefully the realization of these consequences will make motorists think twice about aggressive driving.”


Cyclists’ Rights and Responsibilities

All this being said, it behooves motorists and cyclists alike to know the laws on sharing the road. Key statutes in the City of Milwaukee include:

■ Biking on the sidewalk is illegal except for disabled persons accompanied by a responsible adult and supervised children under the age of 10 where the walk does not abut a building.

■ Cyclists must ride with traffic, not against it.

■ Cyclists must ride three feet from the curb or parked vehicles and follow a straight line whenever practicable.

■ Motorists must pass cyclists with at least three feet of clearance.

■ Cyclists must keep to the right side of the traffic line in wide lanes, but in the center of narrow lanes in order to keep a safe distance from parked cars; in the case of one-way streets with two or more lanes, cyclists may choose to ride as far to the left as practicable, again allowing three feet from parked cars.

■ Cyclists must signal their intentions to turn using standard hand signals for at least 50 feet before making the turn, although signals need not be given continuously if both hands are needed for control and operation of the bicycle.

■ When making left turns, bicyclists should move to the left or center of the lane or take the turning lane, if there is one, before arrival at the intersection.

■ Cyclists riding during hours of darkness must have a front lamp and red rear reflector or lamp, both visible from a distance of at least 500 feet.

■ Cyclists must maintain working brakes.


Pack and Hawk offer a few additional safety tips:

■ Wear a helmet.

■ Do not listen to headphones while riding.

■ Keep your bicycle in good working order, taking it in for a tune-up at least once a year; the most important items to consider are tire inflation and functional brakes and shifters.


Resources for Cyclists

For all cyclist-related statutes as well as a listing of bicycle safety courses for adults and children, visit the Department of Transportation website: dot.state.wi.us.

The City of Milwaukee’s website, city.milwaukee.gov, includes a list of area bike shops and downloadable bike maps.

Vulture Space is also a great resource, as its mission to get Milwaukee on bikes means Pack and his team of volunteers offer free consultations and help tuning bikes, as well as competitive prices for replacement parts, rentals and fully tuned or as-is bikes. As Pack notes, “People are more likely to ride if they’re more confident with maintenance issues—simple things from changing a flat tire to keeping a drive chain clean.”

As one of its many community-outreach efforts, the organization will run a 24-hour bike repair station and bonus checkpoint at the Riverwest 24 Bike Race (July 25-26) at the corner of Locust and Pierce streets. For more information, visit vulturespace.org.


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