Driving culture–of which Ottawa is fully immersed–has a weird hang-up about supposed “special rules” for bicyclists. There’s this cult-ish devotion to the idea that bicyclists have to Obey The Rules (even when drivers or cops don’t actually know what those rules are). Safety be damned, the rules are sacred, and no one road user should get special rules.
This is why eminently sensible things like the Idaho Stop are still illegal. Sure, they’re safer and more convenient for all road users, but then bicyclists would be getting their own special rules–tailored to their needs, reality and experiences–and the driving class just can’t have that. The concept of special rules are just so incredibly unfair.
Of course, we have special rules for drivers. Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act is a set of special rules for drivers. Our entire legal framework for how people use streets and get around the city is a set of special rules for drivers. They are all designed for the benefit of drivers.
Go to a pedestrian space, you won’t see stop signs or traffic lights. There’s no need for No Parking zones. There are no speed limits. There are no lanes, no correct side of the street.
Go to a MUP and you may see a stop sign or two, but generally, there’s no signage. There are still no traffic lights. People walk and ride on different sides, depending on need. There’s a certain etiquette, more important than in pedestrian-only places, but there’s nothing remotely like the HTA.
Drivers are the only class of road user that needs such a rigorous and imposing set of laws. Drivers are the only class of road user that desperately needs things like right-of-way, speed limits, traffic lights, No Parking zones and the like.
Further, driving created a bunch of new laws out of thin air. Jaywalking isn’t a real thing. It’s a classist epithet concocted by car companies to try to turn roads over exclusively to drivers. And, well, bravo.
Who would ever design a one-way street for pedestrians or bicyclists? That’s why we salmon. Ridiculous driving regulations actively make life more difficult and more dangerous for more vulnerable road users.
Even new rules “for pedestrians” or bicyclists, like pedestrian crossovers, are still special rules for drivers. You only need pedestrian crossovers because driving advocates criminalized crossing the street. And, of course, you still can’t cross wherever you want, only at specified locations, no matter how inconvenient.
Even the laws that are supposed to protect vulnerable road users–like, say, not killing them–are only mildly applied. Because even the informal rules of the road are designed to benefit drivers.
Driving is so inherently anti-social, that we have to have pages and pages of regulations to do our best to control what is a bit of a menace in our urban areas…and despite all this, they’re still in about 15,000 collisions each year, managing to kill around 30 people.
When bicyclists ask for “special rules”, really what they’re asking for is rules that are appropriate and fitting for riding a bike.
Idaho Stops make sense because you’re using your actual energy to get and keep a bike moving, as well, when an intersection is clear, you can get through it before any car traffic catches up to you. This has resulted in fewer injuries and deaths in the few areas that allow them.
Bicyclists need conterflow lanes so that they can get to their destination on a one-way street without be re-routed an insanely long distance or into dangerous heavy traffic.
Bicyclists should be allowed to go through an intersection on an advance pedestrian signal because they, too, need to be protected from cars as they go through intersections, avoiding right-hooks, left-hooks and rear-ends (or, well, minimizing them, cuz, y’know…).
But no, no special rules for anyone. The glorious HTA has been bestowed upon us and–ignoring that it is a giant set of rules designed especially for drivers–it must be thoroughly and exhaustively applied to each and every road user, even if it makes no sense or endangers them.
Drivers obey these god-given ordinances and so should everyone. There should be no special carve-outs for any road user.
Oh, except drivers need to make right turns on reds. That special rule is ok.