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Informer: Bicycles have long been regarded as vehicles

Last Modified: Saturday, November 10, 2012 11:35 PM

By Andrew Perzo / American Press

Do bicycles have to have reflectors? Also, when I was taught to ride, I was taught to ride against traffic so that you could get out of the way if you saw something coming. But now they’re supposed to ride with traffic. Could you tell me when and why this was changed?

The Informer can’t say for sure when one school of thought beat out the other. But it can say that as far back as the mid-1920s Lake Charles had an ordinance that — like current law — considered bicycles to be vehicles and dictated that cyclists behave accordingly.

“All vehicles when traveling the streets or public ways of the City of Lake Charles, shall keep to the right of the center line of the street, and as near to the right hand curb as practicable,” read the measure, approved in October 1924.

“Be it further ordained, etc., that vehicles meeting shall pass each other to the right of each other.”

A quarter-century later the application of traffic laws to bicyclists was being reiterated by police but appeared to already be common knowledge — at least among those inclined to write letters to newspaper editors.

“Persons operating two wheel vehicles must obey all traffic laws, stop for all stop signs, and make the proper turn signals just like other operators of vehicles,” city police Capt. W.E. Wainwright told The Southwest Citizen in June 1950.

About three months later, the behavior of young, pedal-pushing scofflaws had become so brazen that the newspaper regularly received reader dispatches detailing cyclists’ disregard for the traffic-direction sign on Pujo and other streets.

“They seem to be of the opinion that the sign on a street that says ‘ONE WAY’ has absolutely no application to them,” reader L.B.B. wrote on Sept. 17.

“These boys and girls — but mostly boys, as I said — consistently ride their bikes on the wrong side of the highways and consistently ride the wrong way on streets that are clearly designated as one way.”

Other readers wrote similar letters over the next few months, decrying parents’ failure to teach their children to obey traffic laws, and The Southwest Citizen addressed the issue in an editorial in March 1951.

“There has been considerable conversation in recent months on the one-way streets with copious advice to drivers on how to take advantage of their benefits. Almost nothing has been said to the boys and girls operating bicycles,” the paper wrote.

“The traffic laws apply to all vehicles. This includes bicycles. It is as unlawful for a cyclist to ride the wrong way on a one-way street as it is for a motorist.”

Riding against traffic seems a smart strategy to some people. But as Karen Ruth points out in her book “Bicycling: A Reintroduction: A Visual Guide to Choosing, Repairing, Maintaining & Operating a Bicycle,” those people fail to consider “the combined speed factor.”

“If you are riding with traffic at 15 mph and a car overtakes you at 30 mph, the driver is approaching you at 15 mph. The driver sees you ahead and has time to evaluate the situation and oncoming vehicles, and anticipate whether to slow down and wait to pass, or simply to pass,” she writes.

“If you are riding headfirst into traffic at the same speeds, you and the car are now approaching each other at 45 mph (your 15 mph plus their 30 mph). Even if they come to a dead stop, you are still coming at them at 15 mph. If they swerve to go around you, they are running into oncoming traffic that they have not had the time to evaluate.”

As for the reader’s first question, state law requires lights and reflectors on bicycles operated at night, in tunnels and during inclement weather. Additionally, the law requires passing cars to give bicyclists at least 3 feet of space.



The Informer answers questions from readers each Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. It is researched and written by Andrew Perzo, an American Press staff writer. To ask a question, call 494-4098, press 5 and leave voice mail, or email

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