De­fen­sive bik­ing course can help clear in­frac­tions

new class is in­tended to help cy­clists share the road bet­ter

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Nau­reen Khan

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.”

Al­berto Martínez Amer­i­cAn-StAteS­mAn

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.

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