Defensive biking course can help clear infractions
new class is intended to help cyclists share the road better
How to play nicely with others on the road. How to avoid crashes and collisions. How to safely get a little r-e-s-p-e-c-t from motorists.
These are the lessons Allan Dunlop taught his students Wednesday night, like any other defensive driving instructor worth his salt.
But most of the pupils in this classroom prefer two wheels to four and handlebars to your standard steering wheel.
The defensive bicycling class, launched by the Austin Cycling Association in partnership with Austin Municipal Court, is the first program offered in Texas that will allow ticket dismissal for bicyclists and is among a handful of such programs across the country, said Wes Robinson, the association’s education director.
Portland, Ore., in 2007 began offering a similar three-hour safety course called “Share the Road” that enables bicyclists to have their tickets dismissed for eligible violations. The class is offered twice a month and has become
Continued from B1 a hit in the cycling community. Enrollment is frequently upward of 100 people, said Timo Forsberg, who does education and outreach for Portland’s Bureau of Transportation.
Ticketed Austin cyclists can pay $25 to take the course and then have their fines waived and the offenses erased from their driving records. The course will be offered six times this year, and offenders can take it once every 12 months.
“A lot of people think that this is about cyclists trying to get out of tickets,” Robinson said. “It’s not about that. It’s about how to educate cyclists about sharing the roadway with vehicles safely.”
In Austin, cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists and are subject to all the same traffic laws, association officials said.
“There’s a whole lot more to cycling in traffic than how not to fall over,” Robinson said.
During class Wednesday, Dunlop, the director of the Center for Cycling Education in San Marcos and a certified cycling safety instructor with the League of American Bicyclists, lectured on a range on topics, including proper cycling equipment and how attitudes and emotions can affect safety.
All seven of his students passed a 10-question quiz at the end of the three-hour class — held in the East Austin offices of BikeTexas, a statewide, nonprofit bicycling advocacy group — and received certificates they can take to court to have their tickets dismissed.
Student Irene Garnett, 32, earned a traffic ticket after running a red light on her bike. She said the officer offered to let her off with a warning — before she admitted to him that she would probably run red lights again. Garnett, however, didn’t anticipate the fine of more than $200.
“That was a big wake-up call,” Garnett said. “This is as serious as a car offense. I haven’t run a red light since then.”
A.J. Greig, 34, said he had a different reaction when he was busted in early June for rolling through a red light on South Congress Avenue at Elizabeth Street on his unicycle. Greig said he was ecstatic to be treated the same as his twowheeled compatriots. Still, he signed up for the course to get his fine waived.
“This is a really good class,” Greig said. “For that reason, I’m glad I got the ticket.”
According to statistics collected by the Austin Cycling Association, bicyclists received 371 traffic citations in Austin in 2009. Running red lights and riding with no lights topped the list of offenses.
Robinson said he doesn’t think cyclists break the law more than motorists do. So cyclists should have access to deferral programs just as motorists do, he said.
“It’s a matter of fairness for the cycling community,” said Mitchell Solomon, an Austin Municipal Court judge who helped get the program approved and a cyclist himself. “Hopefully, it will educate the cycling community on how to be better cyclists and how to protect themselves and the public.”
A.J. Greig received a ticket for running a red light on his unicycle. He said the class he took afterward made the ticket worthwhile.