Tomáš Kindl: Deputy Ožanová proposes changes aimed against people on bicycles

Publikováno: 16. června. 2023, 7 min. čtení
Úvodní foto: Martin Š.
Publikováno: 16. června. 2023, 7 min. čtení
Úvodní foto: Martin Š.

You may have already noticed that Mrs. Deputy Zuzana Ožanová (ANO) proposed four amendments against cyclists. The Chamber of Deputies will vote on them during June.

The proposals have been published only briefly. They have not been discussed by experts or the public. It is illogical that Mrs. Ožanová complains primarily that „it is entirely standard that pedestrians are knocked down like cones by bicycles or scooters,“ while her proposals restrict or even prohibit cyclists on roads and in forests. On the contrary, if cyclists feel safe on the road, they will have no reason to ride on sidewalks and endanger pedestrians.

Mrs. Ožanová’s proposals do not provide any solution to the problem; unfortunately, they lead to worsened behavior of motorists towards cyclists and are therefore a bad signal for society as a whole.

1. Repealing the Safe Overtaking Rule

Last year, over a hundred transportation experts, academics, doctors, architects, lawyers, athletes, artists, entrepreneurs, and other prominent figures signed an open letter requesting the preservation of the safe overtaking rule for cyclists. They see no reason for a hasty change without a proper assessment of the impacts just a few months after its implementation; it would be a step backward. According to the signatories, this rule is normal in civilized societies and has also started to cultivate better relations between cyclists and motorists in our country. Mutual consideration has increased thanks to this rule.

Similar regulations are a standard practice in other countries such as Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Austria, Slovakia, Australia, and more. The general obligation to behave considerately is unfortunately not sufficient, as everyone interprets the safe distance differently. The rule holds significant educational and preventive value.

2. Repealing the Safe Overtaking Rule on Special Purpose Roads

The inability to overtake on narrow forest paths is not caused by the safe overtaking rule but rather by the simple fact that a cyclist and a tractor cannot pass each other side by side. One must stop while the other goes around. This can be done completely safely and legally (passing is not considered overtaking). In the terrain, it is not possible to distinguish between a special purpose road and a local road. Neither the cyclist nor the motorist would know which regulation applies in a given location.

Special purpose roads are not limited to just forest and field paths, and they are not exclusively owned by private entities. In many cases, internationally significant cycling routes are marked on special purpose roads, where cyclists would ironically have less protection than on regular roads.

3. End of Non-Mandatory Cycle Paths

It is unclear how far the ban on cyclists should extend from the „cycle path.“ This is especially dangerous due to self-proclaimed „law enforcers“ who do not hesitate to „educate“ other road users by intentionally endangering them (squeezing, braking, etc.).

The absolute obligation to use „cycle paths“ would have absurd consequences. For example, a cyclist riding in a designated bike lane would not be allowed to turn left, or a cyclist using a marked pedestrian and cycling path simultaneously would be prohibited.

The justification for the proposal overlooks the fact that the vast majority of Czech cycle paths are not dedicated lanes for cyclists but shared paths for pedestrians and cyclists. The reasons for not using the cycle path include unsuitable routes, poor road conditions, or the presence of a significant number of pedestrians, making the cycle path temporarily unusable. It is logical that faster cyclists prefer using the road, while slower cyclists, especially families with children or seniors, seek every opportunity to avoid the road.

The purpose of cycle paths is to improve conditions for cycling and make it accessible to a wider range of people. The purpose is not to prohibit cyclists from using the road as they have done so far and to instruct pedestrians to passively endure the influx of cyclists on what they perceive as a sidewalk, as it indeed looks and functions.

Shared paths for pedestrians and cyclists should serve as a safe alternative for cyclists who are hesitant to use the road, and they must remain safe for pedestrians as well. The safety of cyclists can be improved by establishing high-quality cycle paths, rather than implementing a blanket ban on cyclists using the road. In justified cases, traffic signs such as B8 – No entry for bicycles can be used.

4. Mandatory Helmets for Individuals over 18 Years Old

Mandatory helmet use poses a significant obstacle for shared bike-schemes, urban cycling, and many women or seniors. Many people would choose not to ride a bike at all.

While helmets can reduce the risk of certain injuries in accidents, it is significantly more beneficial for the overall health of the population to leave the decision to use a helmet as a matter of personal choice and not deter anyone from engaging in physical activity.

In countries with more developed cycling infrastructure, fewer people wear helmets than in our country, yet cycling is safer there. The problem lies elsewhere: the lack of or poor-quality infrastructure.

The introduction of a mandatory helmet requirement can lead to the phenomenon known as the „false sense of security,“ which has negative effects both on cyclists (believing that wearing a helmet makes them invincible) and motorists (foreign statistics show that motorists tend to be more cautious towards cyclists without helmets).

A blanket obligation would be a global rarity, found in Europe only in Finland.

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