Washington DC fixes their fixed gear law

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on November 22nd, 2006 at 9:26 am

Dabby, (a veteran Portland messenger and regular commenter) just sent me an interesting bit of news.

The Washington Area Bicyclists Association, an advocacy group in DC, has worked with the Washington DC Department of Transportation to amend their law to explicitly allow fixed gear bicycles to be used without separate hand brakes.

Here is the recently adopted language of their law:

1204.1 Each bicycle shall be equipped with a brake which enables the operator to cause the braked wheels to skid on dry, level, clean pavement; provided, that a fixed gear bicycle is not required to have a separate brake, but an operator of a fixed gear bicycle shall be able to stop the bicycle using the pedals.

You can view the full PDF here.

Here in Portland, the fixed gear issue remains in limbo. Some cops are still citing cyclists for not having a separate handbrake, even though the law is not clear in this regard.

One judge agrees with them, but another has dismissed the violation.

Some people think our law needs to be fixed in Salem. One Republican member of Oregon's Senate has vowed to change the law in favor of fixies while others I have spoken to are hesitant to use legislation to solve the problem.

Whatever we end up doing, I hope it happens sooner rather than later. The confusing climate on the streets isn't helping anyone.

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  • Ethan November 22, 2006 at 10:25 am

    Police administrators have a tough reality on their hands. While many officers are drawn to police work for all the right reasons, there is an allure to the idea of policing that attracts the wrong kind of people as well. Some of these get through the system and onto the streets.

    These officers are the ones who abuse the powers entrusted to them time and time again. They never fully appreciate the subtleties of the law, in this case the difference between the letter of the law and its intent. Instead they see the apparent "loophole" as their opportunity to abuse a segment they perceive as a nuisance.

    Sadly, they can only do this because their own administrators remain silent on the matter. Without remedial direction these officers run amok, sometimes with their ticket book, sometimes with pepper spray. All Jonathan's platitudes aside, I suspect that the recent changes in administration, particularly in the traffic division, have emboldened these mediocre officers to pursue their personal anti-bike vendettas.

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  • erikv November 22, 2006 at 2:01 pm

    While they were fixing the law, I wonder why they left the whole SKID thing in?

    I ride a fixie with a front brake. I can't skid, but I can sure stop quickly.

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  • SKiDmark November 22, 2006 at 3:37 pm

    I like official legal precendents. I hope Mr. Ginsberg is paying attention.

    The reason a skid is held as a performance standard is because it shows that there is enough braking power to lock the wheel. In my opinion you should be able to do this on your fixed gear bike. If not, you either need to learn how, and if you still can't you need to lower your gearing until you can.

    erikv, at least you are smart enough to have a front brake if you can't skid.

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  • Dabby November 22, 2006 at 4:48 pm

    Although, realistically, there is no reason to believe that if you can't skid, you can't stop. Skidding is not stopping, it is slowing momentum with style.
    Skidding is more for fun or dramatic effect than it is for actual stopping, when applied to a fixed gear driven bicycle.
    In no way is a skid neccesary knowledge while riding a fixed gear.

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  • erikv November 22, 2006 at 5:15 pm

    Ski, you must not ride much. Dabby is right on.

    Skidding is stupid. It doesn't help you slow down faster, but it sure can make you loose control of your bike. The last time I tried to skid was on my BMX bike as a kid, having a contest to see how long of a mark we could leave on the sidewalk. That's about all skidding is good for -- cool sidewalk marks.

    In all my experience in track racing and riding a fixed gear on the road, not once did I have to or even attempt to skid.

    Thus my original comment - skidding should be taken out of the law entirely.

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  • Dabby November 22, 2006 at 7:23 pm

    I am in no manner implying that skidding is stupid, for it is one of my favorite things to do. I mean, I skid all the time, but not really on my fixed geared bike.
    Whether during bike polo, or mt biking, or just plain riding, skidding is great.
    Skidding can also be used to get out of a stituation on a fixed gear, but is not the first choice, nor is it the last.
    So, you also have it slightly wrong Erik, as does Skidmark.
    In no manner should a loss of traction, however, be held as the standard for braking. This is called a OXY MORON.
    It is the state of Oregon that has it most wrong of all.

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  • Adam November 22, 2006 at 8:52 pm

    Oregon may FINALLY be looking at it's legislation governing bicycles, and it may be realizing that it's completely inapropriate, Oregon may even (eventually) decide to change those laws to something that actually makes sense and is fair... but until then how much money are couriers making minimum wage going to to have to shell out? I had my entire paycheck this month ticketed from me. When I can't pay my rent because I'M DOING MY JOB there's a serious problem. I guess we'll see how well lawyers like walking their filings to court in the rain...

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  • josh m November 22, 2006 at 9:07 pm

    i skid for fun.
    i back pedal and do little "skiphops" to stop.
    I've only lost control skidding once, and that's because I was very drunk.

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  • SKiDmark November 22, 2006 at 10:08 pm

    I must not ride much? I didn't say that skidding was an efficient way to stop. Can you read? "The reason a skid is held as a performance standard is because it shows that there is enough braking power to lock the wheel." Comprehend that. It has nothing to do with the most efficient or fastest or safest way to stop, it is simply a measure of how powerful the braking device is, can it lock the back wheel?

    If you are riding fixed without a handbrake you should have the ability to control your machine and in my opinion that include being able to skid.

    You have never ridden with me so you have no idea what my abilities are. You also don't know what bikes I ride on the street and how they are equipped. I can tell you that I do ride enough that I must know how to stop because I am still alive at 40 after 25 years of cycling and motorcycling.

    Anybody have the ability to discuss or argue about something without resorting to a personal attack?

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  • erikv November 23, 2006 at 12:44 am

    I'm sorry if my tone came across as mean spirited. My reply was no more of a personal attack than yours.

    Yes, I can in fact read. I read your worded opinion stating I *needed* to learn how to skid, which I do not.

    My point is/was skidding useless, and the ability of a bike to skid is not necessarily an indication of how fast it can stop. Therefore, the law should not mention skidding at all.


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  • Dabby November 23, 2006 at 10:31 am

    Personal attacks are the American way...
    I guess.

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  • Cecil November 23, 2006 at 2:20 pm

    Adam said "I guess we’ll see how well lawyers like walking their filings to court in the rain… "

    As an attorney who usually walks her filings to court, rain or shine, and always bike commutes, rain or shine, I would remind Adam that although the legal and business communities really do appreciate the hard work and skill of bike messengers, it would hardly stop our cases in their tracks if you took a different job because you couldn't afford to pay your traffic tickets. Stop whinging about your tickets and either obey the law or work with the BTA and the legislature to change the law. If you consider breaking what you feel to be an improper law to be an act of civil disobedience, remember that one of the main points of civil disobedience is a willingness to pay or go to jail for your beliefs in the hopes that such sacrifices will eventually lead to change. Merely whinging about the unfairness of it all never leads to change, just derision.
    I apologize in advance if I sound harsh, but I am getting very tired of reading posts from riders who feel as if they are entitled to flout laws with which they do not agree but are unwilling to pay the consequences. And I do not mean to paint all bike messengers with the same tar brush, but as long as some of the whinging posters speak as if they represent the entire bike messenger community, the responses will inevitably seem to do the same.

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  • adam November 23, 2006 at 3:44 pm

    Cecil - it is the laws that are the problem, not the method of slowing your bike or your method of riding safely.

    you are not harsh, you are a lawyer. you are the one who is supposed to be fixing the laws.

    the messengers are supposed to deliver messages, or whatever.

    whinging is not a crime. not that anyone but you was whinging ;)

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  • Cecil November 23, 2006 at 3:57 pm

    Lawyers don't "fix" the laws, they merely apply the law as written to the case at hand, and occasionally argue to the court that the way the law is being applied is unconstitutional or inconsistent with the intent of the legislature. Judges don't "fix" the laws, either; they merely interpret and apply the law. The only body that can "fix" the law is the legislature, hence my suggestion that y'all take your concerns and complaints to that august body . . .

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  • Adam November 23, 2006 at 4:09 pm

    And if we did take it to salem you'd start saying we were wasting the legislatures time. See: BikePortland Article regarding Jason Atkinson.

    The issue isn't with the law. the law is fine as it stands. The problem is with unfair enforcement and judicial decisions.

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  • Cecil November 23, 2006 at 4:18 pm

    Um, I don't see my name among those posters on the Jason Atkinson article that indicated that taking it to the legislature would be a "waste of time." If it's there, please show me and I will dutifully eat crow (except it would have to be some sort of tofu crow-substitute) Actually, given the fact that the initiative system has allowed Oregon legislators to completely avoid working on any legislation that might address bigger issues, these "small" bike laws might be right up their alley. But I digress. The fact is that taking something like this to the legislature would probably not be a waste of time because in all likelihood in could be raised, addressed, and voted up or down in fairly short order, assuming that the sponsor of the new legislation has drafted it carefully and presented it clearly.

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  • Adam-8 November 23, 2006 at 4:26 pm

    "I apologize in advance if I sound harsh, but I am getting very tired of reading posts from riders who feel as if they are entitled to flout laws with which they do not agree but are unwilling to pay the consequences." -Cecil

    So, how often do you cross a street outside a crosswalk? Or roll past a stop line at a red light? Or park for 20 minutes in a 15 minute zone? Because that's the sort of laws we're "flouting" and getting ticketed hundreds of dollars for. When I see the cops pulling 10 people off the sidewalk and writing them jaywalking tickets for $242 then I'll stop complaining, but until then, it's harassment.

    We're not putting anyone in danger but ourselves (maybe a pedestrian... MAYBE), we're providing an essential service, we're not downtown to be a menace, and we don't think we own the streets. all we want is to be left alone to do our jobs safely and efficiently.

    "it would hardly stop our cases in their tracks if you took a different job because you couldn’t afford to pay your traffic tickets." -Cecil

    You're right, it probably wouldn't. But I bet if messengers went on strike the large number of people who call my company at 4:15 with rush filings to US District Court would be pissed. And I regularly deliver things from one building to the one across the street, so if you think people wouldn't mind walking their filings to court, you're wrong.

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  • TheWashCycle January 17, 2007 at 9:00 am

    Fixies Law Changed...

    Shortly after this article ran in the Post, Fixed gears have boomed in popularity over the past few years, according to Euan Fisk of City Bikes in Adams Morgan. The coolness factor comes from two sources. First, experienced cyclists seek...

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