MA state law for cyclists requires that "every bicycle operated upon a way shall be equipped with a braking system to enable the operator to bring the bicycle traveling at a speed of fifteen miles per hour to a smooth, safe stop within thirty feet on a dry, clean, hard, level surface." In the case of a fixed gear bicycle with no lever-operated brakes installed, do the cyclist's legs/direct connection qualify? The lack of definition of brake system makes this a very gray area, no?

Asked by
Anonymous

Actually, I don’t think that the wording of this law causes a problem for brakeless fixie riders.  In fact, when compared to similar statutes in other states, the Massachusetts version law is far more accommodating of bikes without lever brakes.
 
For example, in Oregon, ORS §815.280 requires all bicycles to be “equipped with a brake that enables the operator of the bicycle to stop the bicycle within 15 feet from a speed of 10 miles per hour on dry, level, clean pavement.” [emphasis mine]  I would argue that it’s much easier to interpret this as requiring a mechanical lever brake than the MA version, which requires the slightly more broad “braking system.”
 
In fact, a judge in Portland interpreted it that way a few years ago.  While I believe his reasoning was flawed, I can see where he’s coming from.  However, I think it would be more difficult for a MA judge to reach the same conclusion—a brake is a well defined and commonly accepted term, but a “braking system” has a bit more room, and can conceivably include a fixed gear and a pair of legs.
 
Don’t get me wrong, I think riding fixed without a front brake is stupid and unsafe, and I’ve made no secret of it.  That being said, legally speaking, I still don’t think that brakeless fixies should be outlawed.  Though it is quite severe, the main risk that they present (i.e., a broken chain on the way into an intersection) is not that much more likely than the other types of catastrophic equipment failures that can befall any other cyclist.  Also, the risk to the public is relatively low, as the fixie rider will probably only end up hurting himself.  I would much rather see the police pulling over bikers who ignore traffic signals, or ride without lights after dark than have them going after the poor dummies who think they are allergic to brake levers.
 
-JZ

What should I do if I’m hit by a car?

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Few things are worse than those first few minutes after a crash with a motorist. You might not be able to tell yet how injured you are, or if your bike is still rideable. You’re probably facing a driver who is just as distressed as you are. Emotions and adrenaline are running high for everyone. It’s a tough time to try to think clearly, but there are some things you need to do to make sure your rights are protected after the fact.

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Hi Josh, I had an incident with a motorist today: she beeped, swore, and drove really aggressively around me- all the while texting! I wrote down her license plate. Is this something I can or should report to the Cambridge police? Thank you for your help.

Asked by
Anonymous

Hell yeah you should report that shit!  Not sure how much they’ll do about it, but I’d say it’s worth your time to find out.  Good luck!

-JZ

Do you know if a driver's license would be required to use something like the upcoming FlyKly Smart Wheel in MA?

Asked by
Anonymous

Yup.  According to Massachusetts General Law Ch. 90 §1, that thing makes your bike into a “motorized bicycle.” That means that under Ch. 90 §1B, you need a valid driver’s license (or learner’s permit) to operate one.  Other regulations:

  • You have to be 16 or older
  • You can’t go faster than 25MPH
  • You have to wear a helmet
  • You can’t ride on the sidewalk or on bike paths
  • Hand signals are mandatory

The same rules apply to all ebikes, not just smart wheels.  Bummer, I know.  Still, that thing seems like a cool idea, especially for the weak and/or lazy. (jk)

-JZ

Hi Josh, I think what you're doing is fantastic. I recently had my bike stolen and I'm trying to cover ALL my bases to recover it. Only thing I'm missing is access to some distribution lists for bike groups in the city where I can ask people to keep their eyes peeled for my bike. Any ideas on this? I'm obviously not expecting to recover it, but I have to try.

Asked by
Anonymous

Aww, thanks friend.  Sorry to hear about your bike, that’s the worst.  Do you have renter’s/homeowner’s insurance?  If so, that should cover the loss.  If not, you should get some, it’s stupid cheap ($150 a year!).

Boston Fixed has a stolen bikes thread, so you can give that a try.  Not sure about other lists for bike groups.  Send me and email with a pic of your bike and the other relevant details (make, model, where/when it was stolen), and I’ll add it to this post.

Good luck!

JZ

What is the story with the helmet signs now painted on roads? They are basically putting them at any bike lane or bike marker on the inside of a driving lane. I don't understand how more paint on the road will help drivers or cyclists. Why isnt there seat-belt signs too if this is such a concern? It seems like they want to put the responsibility on the cyclist and take it off the drivers. I am a heavy advocate for helmets, but this seems backwards to me.

Asked by
Anonymous

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They’re part of last year’s ill-conceived “safety campaign” by the Boston Public Health Commission.  I wrote about it here.  As far as I’m concerned, they can’t fade away fast enough.  

You’re absolutely right, adding graphics like those to the road doesn’t help anyone.  Everyone knows about helmets, there’s no need to “raise awareness” of their existence.  And people will either use them or they won’t—a sign intended to shame helmet-less bikers isn’t going to change that.  They’re a waste of paint at best, and a dangerous distraction at worst.

Also, speaking of backwards, it looks like the guy’s helmet is on backwards.  The campaign cost $40k, you’d think they’d at least be able to hire a competent graphic designer.

So yeah, feel free to paint over them in the middle of the night.  Just kidding.  That would be illegal.

JZ

Lately I've seen these neato graphics that say: "3 FEET, ITS THE LAW" with regard to a motorist passing a cyclist. Is that true here in Massachusetts?

Asked by
jontramos

Hi Jon,

Nope!  Contrary to popular belief, Massachusetts does not have a 3-foot passing law.  Instead, our law says the following on the subject:

In approaching or passing a person on a bicycle the operator of a motor vehicle shall slow down and pass at a safe distance and at a reasonable and proper speed.

I know it sounds like weak sauce, but in my opinion our law is actually preferable to one with a fixed passing distance, such as three feet.  That’s because “a safe distance” allows for some all-important variability. 

For example, three feet may be a healthy margin when a car is passing you at 25 MPH, but what about when they pass you doing 50?  Though technically “legal,” that can be terrifying, and more than enough to cause a crash.

One interesting solution to this problem comes from New Hampshire.  Their safe passing law is a lot like ours, except it goes on to specify the following:

The distance shall be presumed to be reasonable and prudent if it is at least 3 feet when the vehicle is traveling at 30 miles per hour or less, with one additional foot of clearance required for every 10 miles per hour above 30 miles per hour.

Of course, safe passing laws are not actually about enforcement.  You won’t see state troopers out with yard sticks, ticketing drivers for passing bikers too closely. 

As with so much of bike law, this law is really about determining who was at fault after a crash.  If a driver is passing a biker and hits them, he surely wasn’t passing at a “safe distance”—boom, negligence proven.  So from my perspective, the MA law works just fine.

Still, there’s an added benefit to fixed distance passing laws that ours doesn’t have: mindshare.  A road sign that says “must give 3’ when passing” is much easier for drivers to understand than one saying “must pass at a safe distance and reasonable speed.”

I don’t think we need to change our law (we have more important changes to make first), but I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing signs like this posted around these parts.

JZ

A reply to a comment on my response to a question

imageThis picture is hanging in a lawyer’s waiting room in my building, and I’m kind of obsessed with it.

Someone just commented on a post I wrote a few months back in response to someone’s question, and I’ve decided to reply with a proper post instead of just as a comment. Hopefully this will help to clarify things for the commenter, and perhaps a few others.

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How long is the logo going to be all black?

Asked by
Anonymous

I’m not sure. Maybe when I feel like things are “back to normal”? Or maybe when I don’t get totally freaked out whenever I hear sirens. That could be a while, though.