The longstanding idea that "cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles" ought to be reconsidered, a cycling columnist argues.
The bicyclists who fought for the right to ride in Central Park 130 years ago won their battle only by agreeing that bikes should be legally regarded the same as horse-drawn carriages, J. David Goodman writes in the Spokes column in the Sunday New York Times. Once the carriage era ended, bicyclists were then subjected to the same rules that applied to drivers of automobiles.
"It was in some ways a Faustian bargain, ensuring roads across the country would be bike-accessible but requiring cyclists to follow rules intended for much larger, more dangerous vehicles," Goodman observes.
"Despite the law," says Goodman, "cyclists still debate where the bicycle belongs in the spectrum: from pedestrian to vehicle."
“What is a bicycle?” asked the title of a panel discussion at an international bike conference last month in Spain. “An engine-less car or a pedestrian on wheels?”
Goodman quotes Michael J. Smith, a longtime bike advocate in New York, as arguing that cyclists are are in fact "more like pedestrians” than like motorists. A two-wheeler is much smaller and far more vulnerable in a collision.
A recent police crackdown on cyclists who disregarded some of the rules of the road in Central Park has focused attention once again on the standards that apply to bicyclists. Goodman suggests it's time to rethink bicycling's legal status.