Wow, talk about a busy Tuesday.
Joe Jackson went on trial for cycling on Snuff Mill Road in Hockessin. And cyclists spoke with DelDOT management about the improperly installed rumble strips along Route 9 and Route 24 in eastern Sussex County.
Have you ever been ticketed…just for riding your bike?
Joe was riding on Snuff Mill Road near Centerville last December when he was (wrongly) ticketed for violating a little bit of obscure legal language in Delaware state law.
Joe’s case went to trial Tuesday afternoon in New Castle. New Castle County Police Officer Brown testified before Judge Donald Callender that he ticketed Joe for riding in the middle of a travel lane in violation of Delaware state code, Title 21, section 4196 which says that
“Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand edge of the roadway [emphasis added]”
In his defense, Joe asked Officer Brown to read the rest of Title 21, section 4196, which enumerates the exceptions to the general rule that bicyclists ride as close as practicable to the right-hand edge of the roadway. Officer Brown read
“except under any of the following circumstances….When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions including…substandard width lanes that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand edge of roadway. For purposes of this section, a “substandard width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.”
Under oath and polite questioning from Joe, Officer Brown acknowledged that he is not a cycling safety expert. So Joe called witness John Bare, who is a League of American Bicyclists’ League Cycling Instructor. John definitely is a cycling safety expert and he testified, under oath, that the 10 foot wide travel lane on Snuff Mill Road is not wide enough to be safely shared by a cyclist and motor vehicle traveling side by side. It is a “substandard” width lane as defined in Delaware state code, Title 21, Section 4196.
Judge Callender found Joe “not guilty.”
Bike Delaware has noted this before but it’s worth saying it again (and again). In a legal sense, Joe was found “not guilty” because he was technically in strict compliance with Delaware state law. But there may be some who have a sense that he got off on some legal technicality. That’s a misunderstanding. Joe’s assertive style of cycling on a narrow road like Snuff Mill is defensive. The alternative – riding near the right-hand edge of Snuff Mill Road – is problematic because it can give a motorist following behind a mistaken impression that is possible to safely pass inside that narrow 10 foot travel lane. It’s not! The only way for a motorist to safely pass a cyclist on Snuff Mill Road is by (at least partially) exiting her travel lane (into the lane of oncoming traffic). So the larger significance of Judge Callender’s ruling is that it is a victory for smart and defensive cycling.
At the exact same time that Joe Jackson was winning his court case in New Castle, DelDOT senior management was assuring cycling advocates in a hastily-agreed to meeting that they are working to fix improperly installed rumble strips as fast as possible.
Last month, a contractor for DelDOT installed rumble strips along some sections of Route 24 and Route 9 in Sussex County, resulting in road shoulders where the remaining rideable pavement is now less than the minimum of 4 feet wide required by state policy.
“We were able to obtain a more precise timeline, which is much of what we were looking for in terms of repairing the damage,” said Delaware Bicycle Council chair Amy Wilburn. “The test patching is slated to occur the first week in June (weather permitting), but certainly by the second week in June. The patching will then be monitored for a week or two to determine whether it is successful. If it is, the problem rumble strips will be patched over at the end of June. If the patching is not successful, the areas will need to be milled and repaved. DelDOT is already working on negotiating a contract (working on keeping the cost down) for the milling and repaving in case the patching is not successful. In this way, if the patching is not successful, repairs won’t be delayed. So one way or another, we can expect the damage to be repaired in a month’s time.”
“We have a commitment from the department,” said John Kurpjuweit, president of Sussex Cyclists. “We will be following along to make sure the work gets done.”
“The exact date for the test section is still not set, other than ‘early June’,” said DelDOT Chief Traffic Engineer Mark Luszcz. “The hope is for the first week but it may be the second (or longer if there’s poor weather). There are still a lot of unknowns with the type of patching that is going to be tried (Will it work? How long will it take to get the material ordered? How long does it take to install?) – but the hope is that if the test goes well then all the improperly installed rumble strips would be patched by early July. If the patch doesn’t work, we do not yet have a schedule on the mill/overlay option. However, our construction staff are currently negotiating prices and exact methods on this option, in case it is needed. In other words, they are not waiting for the patch option to fail before working on the plan for the mill/overlay option.”
Amy Wilburn had a final message for cyclists after yesterday’s meeting with DelDOT management. ” Let DelDOT know that we appreciate their efforts. When the rumble strip damage is repaired, thank you e-mails are most definitely in order.”