Street Smarts’ bike rules incorrect, incomplete, reader says

Dear Street Smarts, Q: Reading your column on 4/26/10 in the Sentinel, I saw a common mistake: you advise cyclists to ride ‘as far as possible to the right.’ Let me clarify the law and the practice of safe riding with traffic. Cyclists are to ride as far as practicable to the right. This is very different than what you wrote. This means that cyclists choose the safest position on the roadway, to stay clear of hazards and make themselves visible and predicable. This often puts them further out in the lane than your advice would indicate, and in many instances, cyclists should ‘take the lane’ to discourage passing when conditions merit this. Furthermore, you should make it clear that the roadway ends at the shoulder: the area to the right of the white line is not the ‘bike lane’ as many would believe. Bike lanes are always clearly marked as such. Cyclists may, at their discretion, ride in the shoulder, but they are not required to, nor are they advised to by cycling advocacy groups, including the California Bicycle Coalition. Thus, experienced and safe cyclists ride to the left of the shoulder line, creating a margin of safety, and a predictable path, particularly on the narrow and winding roads that are so common in Santa Cruz County, though not the most convenient location for drivers, who must leave three feet between themselves and bicycles when passing, and thus might have to slow and wait until passing is safe. When you write about bicycle safety, please give safety guidelines to drivers as well. The battle between cars and bikes is fueled by misinformation about the rights of cyclists —drivers are using some set of ideas handed down to them by misinformed parents in their beliefs about cycling laws. As a daily cyclist on county roads, I am constantly harassed by angry and ignorant drivers — how about helping out by not repeating the same old misinformation that then gets shouted out the windows of passing cars? Meanwhile, many of us cyclists will continue to try to provide models for others by following traffic laws and riding in an assertive, yet courteous manner. Thanks, Ron Dunn, via email A: Mr. Dunn, thank you for reading Street Smarts and taking the time to write your thoughtful email. As you can see from its length, that one rule of the road is a column topic on its own. Now, in reading your email, I find it interesting that you honed in on one word, rather than the message of the entire sentence. So, I looked up the definitions of the words "practicable" and "possible" in the American Heritage and Webster's dictionaries. Here's what I found: American Heritage Dictionary Practicable: "1.Capable of being effected, done, or put into practice; feasible. 2. Usable." Possible: "Capable of happening, existing or being true. 2. Capable of occurring or being done. 3. Potential." Webster's "Practicable: 1. Usable for a specific purpose; 'an operable plan;' 'a practicable solution.' 2. Capable of being done with means at hand and circumstances as they are." Possible: "Adjective -- 1. Capable of happening or existing; 'a breakthrough may be possible next year'; 'anything is possible'; 'warned of possible consequences.' 2. Existing in possibility; 'a potential problem'; 'possible uses of nuclear poser'. 3. Possible to conceive or imagine; "that is one possible answer.' Noun -- 1. Something that can be done; 'politics is the art of the possible.' 2. An applicant who might be suitable." As you can see, these two words share a common meaning, more so when you consider the context of the message. If we eliminate these specific words and use their definitions instead, the sentence would have read like this: “Make sure to stay as far to the right of the road as (can be done, feasible, suitable, capable of happening), while watching out for debris, sewer gratings, opening car doors and soft shoulders.” What's more, while cyclists can take the traffic lane to pass a slower rider, debris or other hazard or obstruction in front of them, they must do so when it's safe, as they are the slower moving vehicle on the road and must keep right. As I mentioned before, this topic is a whole separate column. It's also a topic Street Smarts has delved into in previous editions and will continue to do so as long as there is a need. As for your suggestion that I remind drivers about sharing the road with cyclists, that's coming up next week. Thanks again for the lively discussion and stay tuned for more cycling information. Stay safe out there.
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2 Responses to Street Smarts’ bike rules incorrect, incomplete, reader says

  1. Kate says:

    Ms. Turner once again I am shocked by your arrogance response to defend your poor journalism. I am also amazed that you looked up the definitions after you wrote your initial articles. I find it unbelievable that you as a journalist do not see the need to be accurate in your quotation of the law. You are defending your substitution of an incorrect word in an article that could ultimately affect someones decision to cycle safely. CVC section 21202 uses the word “PRACTICABLE”, which under the circumstances does not mean the same thing as “possible.” Let me use it in a sentance for you. It is possible for a cyclist to ride in a bike lane directly adjacent to a row of parked cars, yet it is not practicable for them to do so. Why, the car door could open into the bike lane, the cyclists could hit it or be hit by it and either injured or killed.

    I am also amazed that you, who are not an attorney, judge or bicycle advocate can do what even the League of American Bicyclists who have been established and advocating for bicyclists for 130 years can not do, define exactly what practicable means.

    I am also amazed that you looked up the definitions after you wrote your initial articles.

  2. Dear Kate,

    “Practicable” — In the California Driver Handbook, the word used is “practical,” which also means the same as the word “possible,” and when taken into context of the entire sentence used in the column, still shares the same meaning of the California Vehicle Code section 21202. It’s just simplified.

    As the writer of Street Smarts, my job is to condense and transform trade lingo, construction projects, controversial issues and legal-ease into everyday conversation so that everyday people — no matter their education level — can understand the message that’s trying to be conveyed. “Practicable” isn’t an everyday word. The word I used instead shares the same meaning and is used in daily conversation.

    Over the years, I’ve read the vehicle code and the drivers handbook, taken classes for drivers, motorcycle riders and bicyclists, sat through traffic court, gone on ride-alongs with police and fire departments, as well as attended sessions about pedestrian and disabled transportation concerns — and have translated their messages for Street Smarts’ readers. I am highly aware that Street Smarts is an education tool, not a tool of misinformation. Road rules are my passion, as they impact just about everyone every time they leave their home.

    Now, you don’t like the word I chose to describe distance in a sentence that told cyclists where to ride while also being vigilant for obstacles up ahead. OK. Then, please, let’s agree to disagree and move forward.

    Thank you,


    Ramona Turner
    The Santa Cruz Sentinel
    Staff Writer/Street Smarts Columnist

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