Why Aren’t All Drivers Licensed?!?!?

Unlicensed drivers kill a lot of people.

Driving is an inherently dangerous activity. Drivers kill about 100 people a day in the USA and have done so consistently for more than 60 years. Unlicensed drivers cause fully 1 in 5 of these deaths.

That’s appalling.  What can we do to fix this?

Looked at naïvely there are three things we can do with killer drivers:

  1. Pretend roadway deaths as “just accidents” and let killer drivers off lightly.
  2. Treat killer drivers harshly and give them long prison sentences.
  3. Do our best to prevent drivers from killing people in the first place.

Contemporary society mostly chooses Option 1.  Since driving is a very useful activity, we accept needless deaths as simply a cost of doing business. We are too empathetic to drivers and not empathetic enough to their victims.  But this is a horrible, unfair way to run a society and it is inherently unsustainable.

What about Option 2?  Senseless taking of innocent lives inflames people’s sense of outrage.  It feels good to harshly punish killers, even if the killing was “unintentional”.  But steep penalties won’t bring victims of traffic violence back, nor does it necessarily improve street safety.

Option 3 might be our best bet.  So let’s look at one easy and inexpensive way to help keep dangerous drivers off the road.

Have the cars themselves enforce the licensing requirement

To drive a car you need two things: permission from the owner to use the car, (the car keys), and permission from the government to use the roads (in the form of a license). If you lose your car keys, the car itself prevents you from driving.  Wouldn’t it be great of absence of a valid license also prevented a car from operating?

Smart chips – technology from the 1990s – can help

Suppose we equipped licenses with smart chips (the gold square thing in the figure below).  Smart chip equipped licenses (for convenience I will refer to this as a “smart licenses”) can conveniently and inexpensively improve street safety by preventing people lacking a valid license from driving.

An ID that has an embedded “smart chip”

In the corporate world it’s increasingly common for people to log onto their computer by placing a smart-chip equipped ID into a card reader and typing in a personal identification number (PIN).  This is similar to the way people use an ATM.  This “two-factor identification” provides strong authentication; it’s far more difficult to “crack” than a password, and it’s much harder for a user to share their logon credentials with another person (since two people cannot be using the ID at the same time).

In a society that requires “smart licenses”, starting a car would require these three steps: car keys would be required just like we do today, plus the driver would place their smart-chip license into a card reader and enter their PIN through a keypad or touch screen.  The use and function of car keys would be the same as they are today – they would still represent permission from the owner to use the car.  The other two steps confirm the driver has the government’s permission (i.e., a valid driver’s license) to use public roads.

Three ways this would improve roadway safety

Smart licenses would improve roadway safety in these fundamental ways:

  • Prevention: The most obvious way smart licenses will make streets safer is it will prevent people who do not have a valid license from driving. One need not look too hard to see lives lost to unlicensed motorists.
  • Accountability: A less obvious benefit is that smart licenses will help bring hit & run drivers to justice. Recently a man was killed by a hit and run driver. The police found a car that is likely the one used in the killing.  But investigating the car for forensic evidence is no guarantee the police will be able to identify the driver.  Furthermore it’s likely there won’t be enough certainty about who was driving for a jury to convict.  In a smart license society, driver information is saved to the vehicle data recorder, making it easy for police to identify the operator and making it difficult for a driver to deny culpability.
  • Responsibility: Smart card licensing can improve road safety in many additional small but meaningful ways. They can provide fine grained restrictions on vehicle use based on the driver’s license type:
    • Enforce restrictions for new “provisional” drivers. In many places, teenage drivers (a proxy for “inexperienced” drivers) have restrictions regarding everything from cell phone use to lawful hours of operation. Some of these restrictions (e.g., hours of operation) could be enforced by the smart license.
    • Furthermore, a smart license could provide a better measure than driver age to determine experience. A small amount of on-chip memory can keep a log of how many hours experience a driver has, and automatically open up new capabilities as milestones are reached (e.g., allow late night driving after 100 hours of driving experience, etc.).
    • Some vision-impaired drivers have a night restriction. Smart licenses can enforce this restriction.
    • Prevent people who lack a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) from driving trucks.

Smart licenses are inexpensive!

Putting a smart chip on a license would add less than a dollar to their cost, and card readers currently cost about $15.  Economies of scale would bring these prices down dramatically when implemented in every car and every license.


Like most every other safety system mandate – seat belts, air bags, tire pressure monitoring – smart card licenses and enforcement would phase in over time.  The average age of cars on American roads is just over 11 years, so even if we implemented smart licenses today it would take a long time before the majority of cars were card-reader equipped.

Which is all the more reason to start right away.

Letting people literally drive away from a crash that kills, or locking people up for unintentionally killing someone are both poor solutions to vehicular violence.  The only solution that benefits everybody is to make streets safer – something we can get much closer to if cars themselves were a means to enforce the requirement that all drivers have a license.

Telling Stories…

[Edited: 24 January 2016: Added suncalc.net and accidentsketch.com links and descriptions as tools for describing your event]

Cyclists: when a professional driver hazards you on the road, you can strike back. You should strike back. Strike back by reporting them to their employer and demanding the employer take action. Foremost, you might get justice for the acts of malice or negligence that put you in harms way.  And importantly, you will help get bad drivers off the road that might bring harm to you or other vulnerable road users in the future:

Figure 1: When your only job is to drive, you'd better be darn good at it

Figure 1: When your only job is to drive, you’d better be darn good at it

This essay will share my recent experiences, outline some elements of how to tell your story effectively, and introduce some tools.

My recent experiences:  I’m a very good at city cycling. I know how to interact safely with traffic, which includes allowing space to mitigate the risks of driver negligence. As a result, I’ve been able to go for months – or even years – without any scary interaction with motorists. But recently over a four-week period this fall, I’ve had three very close calls while riding. All three events involved professional drivers choosing to pass me unsafely. All three also resulted in me filing formal complaints with the employers of the drivers. The stories are linked below:

I’ve received acknowledgments from the MBTA that appropriate action will be taken to improve the safety of their drivers. I have little faith in this, but perhaps if these same drivers receive written complaints in the future, they will be disciplined. I got an excellent response from the employers of the commercial driver. They are taking action to have him removed, but due to contractual protections this outcome is not certain. My personal view is that if your job is to drive, you better be good at it – all the time. I have no empathy whatsoever for a bus or commercial truck driver fired from their job for endangering fellow road users through malice or negligence.

Telling your story

Hopefully it will be a very long time before another driver threatens me with their vehicle. And I sincerely hope bad driving won’t endanger my friends – or anybody for that matter. But the reality is, we still live in a culture where “road rage” is an accepted part of daily life and where drivers boast that they “drive like a masshole”.  So, in case you or I ever need it in the future – here are some tips on telling your story:

  1. During and immediately after the event: Get as much information about the participating parties as possible. Parties include the offending driver, their vehicle, and any witness information.
    1. Get pictures of the vehicle, especially license plate or any identifying numbers permanently affixed to the vehicle.
      1. For buses: MBTA buses have a unique four-digit number painted on the vehicle. This is often more visible than the license plate and it is far more important than the bus route number.

        Location, date, time and bus number are crucial

        Figure 2: Location, date, time and bus number (see arrow) are crucial

    2. Get a picture of the driver if possible, but keep in mind that this can be considered a threatening gesture.
      1. MBTA bus drivers all have a driver ID number – think of it like a police officer’s badge number or an employee ID. If you can, ask the bus driver for their ID.
    3. Get information recorded as soon as possible! I’ve tried the trick of repeating a number in my head in a loop trying to hold the memory. This ultimately does not work for me. A better approach is to pull over immediately and write info down. In my case I’ve written a text message to myself to store license plate numbers or other info.
    4. Behave yourself! If your story leads to legal, civil or administrative action against the driver, the last thing you want is for the story to include you slinging obscenities and throwing punches.
  2. Write the complete story as soon as you safely can: Try to start writing soon after you get home and try to complete and submit it to authorities within about 24 hours of the incident.
    1. The longer you wait, the less authorities will take you seriously.
    2. The longer you wait, the more your memory of events will drift.
    3. Your motivation to pursue the matter drops dramatically after a day or two past the event. Your blood might be boiling over a near death experience today, but three days from now you’ll have moved on.
  3. Write a clear, honest and compelling story:
    1. Clarity:
      1. Open with an overview and what you would like to see done about it. “One of your drivers put me in peril through their reckless or intentionally dangerous driving. In the interest of public safety, you need to stop letting that person drive your vehicles…” is a good start.
      2. Use pictures. Embed them right into the flow of the narrative. Label the pictures with a figure number and a brief description of the picture, e.g., “this is the truck just after it ran me off the road.” Even if you did not have a camera, you can include pictures – see the next three items below.
      3. Consider including a map. Google Maps is a great resource. Zoom in on an overview of the event location and get a screen capture of the area. If you’re good with computers, you can draw arrows and numbers to key locations with graphics software. But don’t be afraid to go ‘old school’ – you can print and annotate the map with ink.


        Figure 3: An overhead map of the events can help the reader understand overall context

      4. Give the reader perspective.
        1. Google Street View, part of Google Maps, can show roads and intersections from a street level point of view. Take screen captures of key locations so that you’re sure the reader understands the environment in which you were threatened.

          Street View

          Figure 4: Street level views can show key details

        2. Consider creating a cross section view of the roadway, if that lends clarity to your case.  Use http://streetmix.net. Streetmix is a tool for designing a street level view of roadways. It can fill the same function as a Google street view picture, if for some reason the street view is inadequate.

          bus streetmix

          Figure 5: “I’m certain the bus driver saw me before attempting to pass. That’s me in the diagram in front of the buses driver side window. Also, he was honking…”

        3. Draw an overhead view of your crash using accidentsketch.com.
          crash sketch
      5. Walk the reader through a timeline. Give a timeline of the events, and try to keep it flowing. If there’s something in the middle of the chronology that needs in-depth description, it might be better to talk about it briefly and promise to go into detail later.
      6. Make the story timeless.  Legal, civil and administrative procedures can take time to fully unfold.  Months or even years after an event, will you remember the weather, the position of the sun, or other relevant contextual factors?  Consider using tools to capture these contextual elements:
        1. Talk about the sun.  Address up front whether sun glare might have been a factor in your own visibility of the visibility of other parties.  You can use www.suncalc.net to show the position of the sun for any date, time and location:
        2.  Describe the weather.  How was visibility?  Was it a clear day, or was there rain, snow or fog to reduce visibility?  You can use www.wunderground.com/history to capture weather for any given date, time and location.
    2. Honesty: I’m not insinuating any of us will lie or embellish our narratives. But it’s easy to drift toward conjecture. Endeavor to stick strictly to facts.
      1. The facts will necessarily include dull minutia about the context. Where were you, what was the time and date, which direction were you going, how was the visibility. Include every relevant fact you can recall, but feel free to emphasize the facts more relevant to your story. For example, you might have already said that the event happened at 7pm on a rainy evening in October, but feel free to also spell right out for the reader that it was dark and road conditions were slick.
      2. Your emotions are also facts. It is perfectly acceptable – and highly effective – to tell how you felt within the narrative: “The driver was bearing down on me honking the horn constantly. I had nowhere safe to go, and I was terrified!”
      3. The driver’s motives and emotions are assumptions, not facts. Avoid them if possible. But at key points it’s OK to suggest possibilities: “At that point, either the driver did not see me or he intentionally drove straight at me. And given the visibility, the amount of time I was in front of him, and other factors – either possibility indicates he is not qualified to safely drive”.
    3. Make the story compelling. I don’t mean you should go out of your way to fill the story with adjectives. And in fact, if you follow all the tips I’ve written so far, your story will totally be compelling enough.
      1. Try to avoid big bunches of pictures or long stretches of prose. Instead, try to weave the words and graphics together in a balanced way. Notably, even if you did not take any pictures during the event, you can at least have an overhead view of the location and street level views from Google Street View. And if you don’t have a picture of the exact delivery truck that cut you off, maybe you can find one on the Internet and caption it appropriately: “Not the truck that swerved into me, but very close in type and size”.
      2. Try also to break up long stretches of factual narrative with emotion or some personal facts that help you to be seen by the reader as a person: “It was a beautiful day, I was looking forward to getting home to make supper for myself and family…”
  4. Proofread:
    1. If possible, take a break once you’ve written the story and come back later to proofread. Ideally you should sleep on it, but if you don’t have that much time (recall I suggested you submit your story within about 24 hours of the event), try to at least go for a walk or eat a meal between writing and reviewing.
    2. Read your story out loud – even if you’re all alone. I find that reading my stories aloud helps me catch more errors and factual omissions.
    3. Ask a friend to proofread. This is the best approach. If you’ve left out crucial facts in the timeline, or if you’ve failed to explain why some element of the story is important, an impartial third party will ask for clarification.
  5. Submit your story: This can be the most difficult part of the process, but it’s also the most important. Find out where to send your story, then submit it with a clear, assertive request for follow-up.
    1. Talk to a person: If possible, use resources like the company’s web site to get a number to call. Try to get in touch with somebody in management, the legal department, or someone who works with company safety. Try to get to talk to that person – not an administrative assistant.
      1. If you connect, them you have a written narrative of an incident and you’d like them to read and get back to you.
      2. If in spite of all efforts you can’t talk personally to someone in a position of authority, ask (presuming you’re at least talking to a person not a machine) that person how to get in touch with leadership via email.
    2. Follow up with email: Use the body of your email as a ‘cover letter’ and send the narrative of the event as an attachment. In the email body:
      1. Reference your call. “As discussed earlier today…”
      2. Ask for concrete action. “Your employee demonstrated he does not know the rules of the road. At the very least, he needs to be trained…”
      3. Make certain they know how to get in touch with you. Since you sent email, they’ll have your address. But feel free to add other contact information and tell them the best time to reach you.
      4. Make sure to tell them you would like a response. “Please contact me within the next few days and tell me how you will be handling this matter” might be appropriate.
  6. Share your story: Don’t hesitate to share your story with others, especially others in positions of authority, if you think it’s appropriate.
    1. Advocacy organizations:  Reach out to Livable Streets Alliance, Boston Cyclists Union, or the Bicycle Committee of whatever city the event occurred in.
    2. State level legislators: If you think your story has broader implications on state motor vehicle laws, contact your state senator and representative. For example, maybe your story speaks at a broader need to reduce speed limits in Massachusetts cities.
      1. Find out who your senator and representative is here: https://malegislature.gov.
      2. Chairpersons of the Joint Committee on Transportation are
        Thomas M. McGee (Senate Chair, Thomas.McGee@masenate.gov) and William M. Straus (House Chair, William.Straus@mahouse.gov)
    3. City government: Contact the mayor’s office, and depending on the specifics of the event, file a report with the police.
    4. The Press:  I have no experience here, but if your story is particularly noteworthy, try to get it published.

In summary, it’s important to tell our stories.  It’s our one way to fight back against reckless driving and automotive bullying. Hopefully the essay above will help us all be better story tellers leading to better outcomes.





“Mission n + 1”


Personally I applaud Boston Mayor Walsh’s March 24, 2015 announcement to commit to Vision Zero. It’s still early in the urban street livability movement, and so to commit to Vision Zero still takes guts and leadership. Sadly, there have been two tragic and highly preventable vehicular killings of Boston youths that occurred since that announcement. 18 year old Fritz Philogene and 8 year old Yadielys DeLeon were both killed in in the spring of 2015 by reckless unlicensed drivers. While the drivers are ultimately culpable, poor street design plays a major role in most urban vehicular violence.

These tragic deaths are not a sign that Vision Zero is a failure – Boston roads will be slow to change and Boston drivers near impossible to tame. Nay I say! These victims are further proof that we must act boldly and swiftly to implement proven safe street changes that will hopefully prevent the next tragedy. So I have my own vision…

My vision is to build a sculpture – a monument to these children and the many more people killed on our ruthless roads. People like the children mentioned above and 7 year old Brianna Rosales, Alexander MotsenigosJessica Campbell and and Jack Lanzillotti and others.

I want to go beyond the Ghost Bike. A ghost bike is a memorial, composed of an all white bicycle placed where a cyclist was killed. A ghost bike is a powerful memorial, but it is incomplete. There is not ghost bike equivalent for pedestrians and car occupants killed by bad roads and reckless drivers.

The motor vehicle is the top killer of Americans age 1 through 40. But only about 2% of those killed by drivers are cyclists. Most victims of vehicle violence are car occupants (about 84%), followed by pedestrians (about 14%). Concurrently – based on census and other measures of who does and does not cycle – only a small segment of society regularly bikes (so cyclists are a minority that society might not identify with). So ghost bikes are not enough. To get widespread support of safe streets initiatives, we need to show broad swaths of society (e.g., people who drive and walk) that members of their community are under fire, and that they themselves might be in danger. If we are to shine a bright light on the scourge that is vehicular violence, we need to let drivers and pedestrians know they have skin in the game: specifically, 98% of all the skin in the game.

In Memoriam

I am a safe streets geek. I read everything I can get my hands on regarding safe transportation infrastructure. Two things I’ve seen in all my study: Cycling advocates seem to be the vanguard of safe streets advocacy, and (2) safe streets design benefits all modes of transportation (car, foot, bike), not just cyclists. With that in mind, my mission – call it “Mission n + 1” – is to build a memorial to all victims of traffic violence, be they on foot, on a bicycle, or in a car, and to do so in a way that encourages adoption of safe streets best practices.

“Mission n + 1”

Why “Mission n + 1”? Well, first let’s look at Vision Zero. Zero roadway deaths cannot possibly be achieved. Vision Zero is aspirational.  There are concrete, proven ways to reduce deaths, but there will always be exceptions. We can slow the rate of roadway deaths year over year forever, but we will not actually reach zero.

In contrast, I’m on a mission. A mission is a purpose and can answer these questions:

  • WHAT it does;
  • WHO it does it for;
  • HOW it does what it does.

The most important of these questions is “WHO it does it for”. My memorial will represent “n”, those who have already been killed by vehicular violence, and “n + 1”, the next person killed by bad drivers and/or bad roads. Until we reach zero roadway deaths, we will always have to be ready to accommodate one more victim.

To answer the remaining questions:

  •  WHAT it does: Mission n + 1 will memorialize victims of traffic violence in an appropriate way. We shall provide a dignified tribute to the fallen, while attempting to educate the public about street safety and press policymakers to implement street safety improvements.
  • HOW it does what it does: This is open to suggestion. But I have some ideas:
    • My rough draft is a sculpture of plaques, one plaque per victim.
    • Each plaque will highlight something positive about the victim’s life, preferably with input from the victim’s family or loved ones.
    • Each plaque shall also objectively state facts about the circumstances of the victim’s death.
    • If appropriate, each plaque will list one or more street improvement that is likely to improve safety, either at the location of the victim’s death or broadly, citywide.
    • Finally, in the interest of brevity, comments on each plaque will be succinct. But each plaque should have an accompanying Wikipedia page with more detailed information. A QR Code will link each plaque to the corresponding Wikipedia Page. Families will be encouraged to fill the page with loving tributes. Facts about the circumstances of the tragedy will be included as appropriate, and facts about street safety improvements will also be included.

The Sculpture

Rough outline:

  • The sculpture should be transportable. Intent: take it to Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Quincy and other city halls. Take it to the State house, and tow it along the Ride of Silence.

    We will take it to car shows : )

  • It will need a strong, sturdy base.
  • The sculpture must be scalable. I imagine a stiff vertical pole in the center. Rings are placed over the pole (possibly even rings composed of large diameter bicycle wheels). Plaques will be attached to the radius of the rings. There will be a ring of plaques at eye level, chest level, waist level, knee level and growing upwards.
  • Every time a ring is filled another is added. Eventually, the sculpture will grow tall enough to exceed human scale.
  • The sculpture will be inclusive. All victims of traffic violence must be considered, against a pre-established and rational set of rules: Things to consider:
    • 16-year-old Jonathan Dos Santos was shot and killed riding his bike. This likely would not qualify; he was murdered deliberately and the fact he was on a bicycle is not germane to street design and driver safety.
    • Hypothetical example: a driver kills himself against a tree while speeding. While some might say the driver brought it upon himself, safer street design might have prevented the needless death.


Intent would be to bring the sculpture to events to educate the public and community leaders in a dignified way. I’m thinking “AIDS Quilt” type stuff. It will convey both appalling statistics in the number of plaques and deeply personal stories described in each plaque.

It will:

  • Raise awareness.
  • Raise outrage.
  • Educate decision makers.
  • Gain public empathy.

What are your thoughts?  Please speak up in the comments section…

Unlicensed to Kill


Unlicensed motorists driving recklessly have been killing kids on the streets of Boston lately. Fritz Philogene, who turned 18 the day before, was killed on May 19, 2015. Less than 3 weeks later, 8 year old Yadielys DeLeon was also killed by an unlicensed reckless driver. A drunk, speeding unlicensed driver killed Brianna Rosales, 7, while walking on a sidewalk in November 2013. She was walking home from school.

According to research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety report Unlicensed To Kill series, unlicensed drivers are “significantly more likely to be involved in fatal crashes than are validly-licensed drivers”, and account for about 1 in every 5 driving related killing. There is an astoundingly large death toll due to unlicensed drivers: about 20 people a day, in the USA alone.

Technology is available today to begin addressing this pressing safety problem. This technology is mature, inexpensive and easy to implement. The solution I propose is to move to a smart-chip enabled “intelligent license”. Cars equipped to read an intelligent license would not allow vehicle operation unless presented a valid intelligent license.

A smart chip, bottom center, contains data that communicates via card reader

Here’s how the system would work. All new licenses would be equipped with a smart chip, like the Common Access Card used by the military for secure door and computer access. License holders would also choose a PIN code. New cars would be equipped with a card reader and PIN pad of some sort (already, many new cars have interactive touch panel interfaces on the dash board). The license would contain information that the car would read (e.g., license expiration date, revocation status, etc.). The car would require a current valid license before allowing the driver to start the car.

Once implemented, this would completely eliminate killings and serious injuries caused by unlicensed drivers, because there simply would be no more unlicensed drivers.

Note, this system would augment rather than replace the traditional ignition key. While the intelligent license represents permission from society to drive, the car key is still how we enforce permission from the owner to use the car.

Other benefits

Young drivers often have “probationary licenses” with restrictions. This is intended to mitigate difficult driving conditions for inexperienced drivers. Restrictions include things like allowed hours of operation, maximum number of passengers, cell phone restrictions, and more. An intelligent license can help enforce these restrictions and more. For starters, the car radio could be completely locked out and the GPS/navigation system could require the car to be in “park” for probationary drivers, reducing driver distraction. Nighttime driving restrictions could also be automatically enforced (GPS equipped cars can have an awareness of time that can’t be overridden by manually resetting a clock). This is a naive discussion of the issue, intended to explore the opportunities; real world implementation would require careful consideration.

What about emergencies?

A critic of this intelligent license idea might counter that in rare cases, an unlicensed driver might need to drive to save a life. Take for example an unlicensed driver visiting his elderly father who starts to exhibit heart attack symptoms (hopefully people can come up with better scenarios than this). Somehow calling 911 is not an option, so our unlicensed driver needs borrow his father’s car to save his life. I would suggest that a well-implemented intelligent licensing system would allow cars to be operated in “emergency mode”. Emergency mode would allow a car to operate, with restrictions. For the sake of argument, let’s assume turning on the hazard lights activates emergency mode.

So back to our example, our unlicensed driver is trying to help with a medical emergency. After buckling his father into the passenger seat, our friend, puts the key in the ignition, presses the “hazard” lights to activate emergency mode, and start’s the car. The combination of no valid license plus hazard light activation allows the car to operate. But much like the “valet mode” of some cars, there are restrictions. The radio is disabled. Maximum speed is governed to 60. Acceleration is tightly capped. Finally, since the hazards are active, a passing policeman can pull the car over to see if they can assist with the emergency (e.g., use police radio to summon an ambulance).

Implementation: timeline and Cost

So how much will this cost? Smart card readers cost as little as $10 and the cards no more than $2. Once integrated into a car’s design and the state’s licensing systems, the cost would undoubtedly drop even further.

Implementation would take some time. It would not ne economically feasible to retrofit existing cars. This would be something, just like air bags and automatic vehicle tire pressure monitoring, which has to be built in to new cars and be implemented as new cars replace older ones. The typical lifespan of a private motor vehicle is 11 years, meaning the vast majority of cars are off the road about 11 years after they are sold.

I suppose if we were to implement intelligent licensing right now, we’d see little change for several years (I don’t imagine many unlicensed drivers are buying new cars off the lot), followed by a steep decline in unlicensed driver related traffic violence, then at about the 11 year mark, we’d see grandfathered used cars selling at a premium until they are no longer available at all.

When 20 people a day (every day) are being killed, among them children walking on the sidewalk, I say it’s time to make the cultural, legal and simple technological changes necessary to bring this problem to an end.

Strangest. Right hook. EVER.

Here’s the story of a very strange (near miss) right hook I was involved in a short while back.  I share the story hoping we can all learn something about the mentality of the overtaking person and be better prepared for this type of situation in the future.

For those not familiar with the term, “right hook” describes a situation where a motorist turns right into the path of a cyclist going straight.  See the illustration at the right (which comes from an excellent article by commuteorlando.com discussing common collisions caused by motorist error).

I have a small but meaningful base of experience with right hooks.  I was almost hit by a right-hooker (but braking, turning, and most importantly yelling a very loud “Hey!”, which made the driver abort the turn at the last second).  I’ve also seen a motorist-on-cyclist hit & run right hook happen right in front of me.  The motorist sped up before the turn and and took the turn wide, clearly trying to beat the cyclist through the intersection.  The driver was caught and the cyclist OK, but it could very easily have ended quite badly.

Why Right Hooks Happen:
I can only imagine why right hooks happen.  I have never been a the car driver in such an interaction, and I haven’t read any studies assessing the driver’s role in them.  So please allow me to indulge in pure speculation:

  • Right hook drivers have their senses dulled – windows that blunt out sound, and car components block sight lines (such as the “A Pillar” where the windshield meets the front door, or the “B Pillar” where the front door meets the rear door).
  • Right hook drivers have plenty of distractions, like music, passengers, cell phones…
  • Right hook drivers can effortlessly move far faster than cyclists.  As such they might underestimate how fast a cyclist going straight is approaching the intersection and underestimate how much they themselves have slowed to make their turn.
  • Because cars can so effortlessly move faster than cyclists, drivers don’t like getting stuck behind bikers.  Perhaps some right hooks are caused when a driver sees the cyclist, assumes s/he is also turning right, and tries to overtake the cyclist ahead of the turn.

These are not excuses mind you, they’re rationalizations.  Things that I tell myself about a driver’s context that allow me to empathize with them a bit.  But I digress…

One final piece of information.  The legal way for a driver to make a right turn when there is a bike lane on their right is to make the turn like so:

  • When approaching the turn, check that the bike lane is well clear of cyclists, then merge into the bike lane.  Then make the right turn from the bike lane.
  • This is the exact same principal as driving on a four-lane road: it’s illegal and extremely dangerous to make a right turn from the left lane.  Instead, drivers must safely change lanes into the right lane in advance of the turn, then turn right.

This exact right-turn technique can prevent right hooks on roads without a bike lane too.  But I rarely see it done this way in the real world.  Instead, I usually see drivers use a different strategy to safely avoid right hooks.  The driver looks for and thus sees they are overtaking a cyclist as they approach their turn.  They slow and make the turn after the cyclist continues straight.

My Recent Near Miss:
OK, enough background and context.  Here’s the story of my unusual right hook.  What is so extraordinary about it is it happened between me and another cyclist.  This totally blew my mind, because none of the reasons I speculated above applied to this situation:

  • The overtaking person was riding in the open air just like me.  His senses were not blunted by opaque car parts or sound dampening glass.
  • It all happened very fast, but I don’t think the cyclist was distracted (no phone, ear-buds, etc.)
  • I was riding a smooth steady 10 to 12 mph.  A cyclist of even negligible experience would have been able to judge my speed.
  • The overtaking cyclist didn’t overtake me to pass – not for any appreciable time savings at least.  His right turn was straight into a short driveway on College Avenue near Somerville.  As all driveways on that road, it was a very short driveway, meaning he had to brake hard the moment he got past me.  Whatever time he saved by passing me was negligible.

So I was right-hooked by a cyclist, a maneuver that, if we collided would have taken us both to the ground along a relatively narrow road where drivers commonly speed.  He would probably have borne the brunt of such a crash: I would have T-boned him and landed on top.  It simply made zero sense.  But it happened in an instant, so I can forgive the fellow for not thinking through the possible consequences of his actions.

Looking back I wish I had immediately stopped to chat with the guy.  I could have pulled up to the end of the driveway in a non-threatening way and politely asked “what just happened there?”, if for no other reason than to find out if we was aware of what he did.  But I didn’t.  I think a principal reason why I didn’t is I was in a bit of shock for a few seconds, heart racing like the feeling you get from any near-miss road situation.

So, dear reader, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.  Have you ever been right-hooked by a fellow cyclist?  Have you ever been “the right hooker”, who realized your close call and later thought “what was I thinking?”  Please leave a comment if you have any insight on the matter.



Vote No on Question 1

“[The gas tax] is the only tax in Massachusetts that goes up without a vote”
-State Representative Geoff Diehl of Whitman.

Supporters of Question 1 on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ November 2014 ballot want to frame their argument this way.  They want you to think indexing is a dirty underhanded trick by politicians to automatically increase taxes, and that no other tax increases automatically.


Well played, Massachusetts legislature…

In doing so, supporters of Question 1 think we’re dumb.  The other two state taxes people pay a lot into are totally indexed and increase automatically over time.  I’ll explain.

Automatic increases in tax revenue via the Sales Tax

I’ll use an example to show how the sales tax – even while the rate is fixed – increases revenue to the state coffers over time.  Suppose you bought a washing machine in 2010 at a price of $500.  You would have paid 6.25% sales tax on the machine, amounting to $31.25 in tax (you could not wait for a “sales tax holiday”, you had laundry piling up).  Now just 4 years later there was a minor mishap that destroyed your washing machine and you need a new one.  You like your old machine and go shopping for the same make & model, or the closest match you can find.

What you find is that – even in these years if recession – there has been inflation.  The cost of consumer goods rose on average 9% from 2010 to 2014 (annual average of 237.9 for 2014 divided by annual average of 218.1 for 2010).  Your replacement washing machine will cost you (or your insurance company) $545.  Sales tax on that purchase is $34.06.  You paid an extra $2.81 in sales tax even though the sales tax rate remained he same.  In the abstract, sales tax literally “increases without a vote” every year as the average cost of goods and services increases.

In my opinion however however this is perfectly fair and reasonable.  As inflation increases the cost of goods and services, the cost of governing goes up.  And the automatic increase baked right into the sales tax should raise revenue proportionate to that increase.

Automatic increases in revenue via the Income Tax

The state income tax is a flat 5.3% on salary & wages.  Most people (hopefully) earn more income as time passes.  So as an illustrative example, let’s pretend you have a job with starting pay of $40k.  Your pay rises over the years with cost of living increases at the rate of inflation and you get a couple of merit pay increases.  A few years later your pay is $50k, a 20% increase over the starting pay (to make the math simple).

Let’s look at the Massachusetts income tax burden on this salary.  Using an online tax calculator (and for for simplicity I’m going to take all the default values), here are the resulting tax burdens for the starting and end pay rates:

  • $40k income: tax owed to MA is $1,869.
  • $50k income: tax owed to MA is $2,394.

Notice two things:

  • First we see that even though the marginal income tax rate did not increase, our tax burden increased roughly 20%.  That’s right, inflation again – your cost of living pay raises (as well as merit based pay increases) have a side effect of increasing your tax burden.
  • Also notice the trick: your tax burden didn’t increase exactly 20% like your pay did.  A flat 20% increase would result in a tax burden of $2,243 on $50k ($1,869 * 1.2).  No, instead you owe $2,394, a full $151 more.  Why this happens is simple: it’s because the “standard deduction” is a fixed number – it doesn’t increase as your pay rises.  So while your raw tax (5.3% of your income) increases proportional to your increasing pay, your standard deduction remains a fixed amount.

Note that I don’t think the second point above is in any way unfair.  I pointed it out to show that even though the Massachusetts income tax rate is a fixed 5.3%, a person’s tax burden increases at a rate higher than their pay increases.  Therefore the income tax is also a tax that increases automatically without the legislature having to vote for an increase.

Why we need automatic increases in the gas tax

Roads are important, and regardless of how much or little a single person drives, we all need roads.  Emergency services (police, ambulance), deliveries of goods and services to stores or right to your door, and general transportation (individuals getting to & from work, doctor’s appointments, etc.) all depend on roads.  And while roads are indeed important, their construction, maintenance and operation does not come cheap.  Somebody has to pay for the roads.  Why not tax those who use them, and tax at a rate at or near the true cost of the roads?

The chart below is from an article describing the Massachusetts gas tax through its history.  Every time the graph spikes upward, reading from left to right, the legislature was bold enough to raise the gas tax.  See how rare an event that is?  The latest increase took 20 years to happen.  Meanwhile, inflation continues year over year, never having to pander to an electorate to remain in power.

MA gas tax purchasing power over time

And there’s one more thing you should know about using a gas tax to finance roads.  Even an indexed gas tax will fail in the long term!  This is because cars are getting more efficient (more miles to the gallon means less tax revenue per mile), even while they get heavier (more road wear & tear per mile).  Electric cars pay nothing at all in gas tax.  These factors combine and conspire to erode the buying power of an indexed gas tax which will get worse with each passing year (i.e., if you want to ‘stick it to the man’ and dodge the gas tax, buy an electric car or ride a bike for transportation and/or errands!)

But what about the poor people?

Question 1 proponents suggest that a gas tax increase is an unfair burden to the poor.  According to WBUR, State Representative Geoff Diehl contends it’s unfair to automatically increase a tax that disproportionately affects middle- and lower-class families whose incomes don’t increase with inflation.  But this sounds disingenuous coming from a man who filed legislation to lower the minimum wage.

How we take care of the economically depressed people in our society is more important than most of us realize.  But making it easier for poor people to drive is not a good solution for income inequality and social mobility.  No, the truly poor people in America are the ones too poor to spend $7000 a year maintaining an automobile.  An since presently only about 59% of the cost of roads in Massachusetts comes from user fees levied on driving (tolls and gas tax), people too poor to afford a car are actually paying to subsidize those who can.  The 41% gap between what drivers pay and what roads cost is filled by diverting revenue from other taxes – sales, income, property taxes, etc. – to fund roads.  Think of what this means to the non-driving poor:  some of the sales tax they pay goes to subsidize roads for the affluent, and some of the general revenue of the Commonwealth that could otherwise fund programs benefitting the poor are diverted to pay for roads.  This is the opposite of economic justice.

For people at a slightly higher income level – people who can afford a car but, but just barely – it’s still better for them to pay for smooth roads than suffer the consequences of deterioration.  The recent gas tax increase was 3 cents.  That’s a cost of about $2 a month* paid in small increments.  It’s a far better cost (small payments over time) for someone barely making a living than having to suddenly & unexpectedly have to pay for a major car repair caused by deferred road maintenance.  Having to pay a high price to keep the car on the road ~$100 for a blown tire, or ~$300 to 500 for steering and suspension repairs (if you know someone, use junkyards parts, and can go without your car for a week) can be catastrophic for somebody living paycheck to paycheck. Nay I say, the barely-getting-along driver is far better off with fully funded infrastructure at a low pro-life cost.

* Monthly cost of the gas tax increase based on 3 cents per gallon increase in tax, 15k miles driven per year and 18 mpg mileage.

Finally, this:

I hate to keep using State Representative Geoff Diehl in all my examples, but frankly he’s the only elected official I’ve seen quoted in the press.  And sadly all his arguments are fallacious. A piece on MassLive.com cites “Prices for food and other consumer goods would rise, Diehl said, as shipping costs go up with higher gas taxes. Property taxes could also be affected as cities and towns pay more to operate police cars, fire trucks and other vehicles, he added.”

Well I’m no economist but it’s obvious that the cost of vehicle fuel has a minuscule influence on the price of goods of services.  This analysis is a little dated, but the fundamentals are clear: the price of gas has very little to do with the Consumer Price Index and therefore has little to do with the retail cost of goods and services. 

We can look at this another way, too.  Charting the full cost of gas (since… that’s what people actually pay at the pump) over the last 4 years, we see wild fluctuations in the price of gas over short periods of time.
48 month gas pricesMeanwhile there is no evidence that these fluctuations have any perceivable influence over the cost of consumer goods or the cost of policing and other emergency responder services (the dominant factor in the cost of these services is personnel).


Don’t be fooled by hollo rhetoric about Massachusetts gas tax indexing.  Instead, support a dependable funding stream that will pay for bridge and road repair, resulting in an infrastructure that supports the economy of the Commonwealth and the wellbeing of all its citizens.

Commonwealth Ave, Phase 2A: “to, through, or around”

A lot of bright people have been discussing the upcoming rebuild of Commonwealth Avenue lately, because the city plans to forge ahead blindly with a bad design.  The fundamental issues are these:

  1. The city is refusing to even attempt to have public input to the process, and
  2. The current design increases space set aside for drivers at the cost of pedestrians and cyclists, even though:
    1. More of the right of way is already devoted to automobiles than to any other user community.
    2. Only 30% of the users of the road are drivers.  The other 70% walks, bikes, or takes transit.
    3. Driving on Comm Ave is in decline. Driving declined by almost one third since 1997 while walking and cycling rates have increased 80% and 135%, respectively.

Let me say that again, because it does not make sense to me either: Driving is the minority usage, but gets more space than any other mode.  The amount of people driving is in deep decline, yet it is currently slated to get more road space.

This is insane.

If the city decides to act now and open the planning process to public input, there’s a chance we can build a road that is safer and more efficient for all users – including drivers.

So here’s my take on this issue.  It’s derived from one of the comments on a news article about this debate, something akin to “why don’t cyclists just take a parallel road?”. Genius!  But two parallel roads – Storrow Drive and I-93 – prohibit cycling either by law or by common sense. So let’s turn this thesis question around:

“Why don’t drivers just take a parallel road?”

Part 1: Going “through it” (or “around it”):  What’s equally true whether you’re cycling or walking is this:  If the start or end of your journey is Commonwealth Avenue, you’re going to it.  That will be addressed in Part 2, below.  For now, let’s pretend you are driving and your start and end points are outside this stretch of road.  Among your choices is to go through or go around this section of Comm Ave.  Below are four alternatives to get between two not-so randomly picked places:

  1. Comm Ave: 11 minutes. http://goo.gl/maps/IBMXg
  2. Cut through Longwood:  10 minutes. http://goo.gl/maps/xsEry
    Longwood Option
  3. Go Storrow: 10 minutes. http://goo.gl/maps/n7R7v
  4. Take the Pike: 9 minutes. http://goo.gl/maps/wsppQ

Drivers take notice: of the four options, taking Commonwealth Ave requires the most time. So I’ll end part 1 with the same question I started with: Why don’t drivers just take a parallel road?

Perhaps they lack sufficient motivation.   If the perceived and actual road capacity was decreased (e.g., narrowing all car travel lanes, dropping one travel lane in each direction), congestion would increase (for awhile).  Congestion would cause drivers to seek and adapt to alternate routes.  This will benefit transit, people walking on Comm Ave, cyclists, and drivers whose trip start or end is on Comm Ave.

Part 2: Going “to” it:

This stretch of Commonwealth Ave is home to the fourth largest private college in the USA.  There are also a lot of private businesses located along the road.  All of these private enterprises rely on safe, efficient travel into this section of road, and for the college, within the area.

Going “to it” means you need a way there, a way home, and a place to store your vehicle while you’re there (for drivers and cyclists).  In other words, what local stakeholders need far more than widening the existing car lanes is better street parking (and bike racks).  Here are some ways to accomplish this desirable outcome:

1. Take at least one, maybe two lanes away.  Use some of the reclaimed space for reverse angle parking, shown below (reverse angle parking is safe and space efficient).  The rest of the space reclaimed from dropping car travel lanes would go to maintaining the current sidewalk width and widening bicycle and Green Line rights of way.
Reverse Angle
Increased parking density will offset any loss of parking necessary to “daylight” intersection turns, creating sidewalk bulb-outs to shorten crossing distances for pedestrians, installing bike corrals (a need for more parking applies to bikes, too!), or to create left or right turn bays.

2. Manage the parking better.  San Francisco showed us how, we just need to copy & paste.  The best time and place to implement something like this is at the site of a major road reconstruction.


To sum things up: In spite of the fact that this section of Commonwealth Ave has 5 lanes of traffic through it, driving is the minority use for the corridor.  Transit, bicycling and walking each account for greater throughput of people.  Moreover, detailed study shows that driving through this area is in steep decline.  And as shown above, there are ample alternatives to driving this section of road that are simply not a viable option for people on bike or on foot.  All that is to say, let’s explore the option of reducing the number of car lanes through the area.  This will leave room to improve the Green Line right of way, leave sidewalks as they are, install a cycle track and even improve on-street parking in support of local businesses.  Doing so would reinforce the mode shift goals of BU, Boston, and MassDOT, improves safety for users of all transportation modes, and makes the area more  like a college campus than a highway.

Improving Parks around the Mystic River Basin

Recently the Boston Cyclists Union solicited feedback on Facebook about ways DCR can improve public safety in their parks, as part of ongoing dialogue in the wake of last winter’s #WinterBiker kerfluffle.  I felt this is the best way to deliver my input to BCU and to other possible stakeholders.

Introduction: The intent of this document is to provide concrete, actionable input to improve DCR facilities surrounding the Mystic River basin in support of ongoing improvements DCR is implementing for safe use of parks year round.

Park graphic

I’ll be focusing on DCR parks in this picture

Setting: The excerpt below is from a document hosted by the Mystic River Watershed Association, found here: http://mysticriver.org/storage/pdfs/UTM_Side%20A_PDF_web.pdf

Overview: I appreciate the beauty and splendor provided to me and my community peers by DCR. A lesiurely walk in the park can be a magical experience. But park paths and rights of way can serve more than a recreational purpose – they can be essential as walking or cycling transportation links.  That’s what this post is about – using certain DCR paths as safe transportation links.

I ride my bike for transportation along these pathways (slowly I’ll add, as not to be a disruption to other path users).  I do so rain or shine, winter or summer. My experience and observation of the condition of these facilities might be useful to DCR and to others.

Part 1: The Path along Interstate 93:

Safe path

Without access to the DCR path in the middle of this route, the entire route is pretty useless

Let’s focus on the section of path that runs parallel to I-93 (seen in the graphic above and below, and here: http://goo.gl/maps/NHctO):

It’s part of a greater safe, comfortable bicycle network link from Medford Square to the southern tip of the Ten Hills neighborhood of Somerville – a distance of 2.1 miles. See from the graphic how vital the DCR pathway is to making this route effective. There are no good alternative links between these points:

  • One possible alternative is Riverside Ave, through some side streets, along Mystic Valley Parkway, then onto a deadly stretch of Route 28 (Link: http://goo.gl/maps/qwBZ7). This adds 50% to the trip’s length, which when combined with the inhospitable climate of the Route 28 portion, makes this a bad alternative.
  • Another possibility is Interstate I-93. While gridlock on the morning commute would make this a safe, comfortable ride, it’s illegal (link: http://goo.gl/maps/2nhVI).
  • Finally there’s Mystic Avenue, which is in horrible shape pavement-wise and is about as deadly motorist-wise as Route 28 (link: http://goo.gl/maps/qUjRh).

So there it is – I’ve explored some alternatives and all of them are bad.  Back to discussing the preferred path through the DCR park along the Mystic.

Park Closed

“No commute for you!”

What – if anything along this path – is a problem? And can DCR improve the situation? Indeed, there are several issues that are well within DCR’s power to improve:

  • The path is closed dusk to dawn. On the southern end of the path at the entrance to the parking lot at the Blessing Of The Bay Boathouse, there’s a sign: “Notice: Park Closed Dusk to Dawn” (http://goo.gl/maps/9Fn1v). But least a path user assume that just the boathouse is closed, the sign to the right is mounted at the beginning of the path making things crystal clear.Cyclists and pedestrians are in greater danger using roads at night. This is especially true along the section of Mystic Avenue parallel to the path park: http://goo.gl/maps/UvkrL. The park pathways should be open around the clock. People transit to and from jobs well outside daylight hours.
  • Vegetation along the path grows very quickly – it should probably be trimmed at least twice a year. In the three years I’ve used the path, vegetation has only been cut back once (very recently. The job was very well done. Thank you!  Now… repeat twice a year from now on please).
  • The path has many cracks.  Repairing these cracks this summer will extend the life of the entire surface, saving lots of money in the long run.  It’s simple maintenance.
  • Most importantly – snow clearance along this corridor is inadequate. Like a lot of people – far more than 0.05% of the population – I ride my bike for transportation year round. DCR needs to understand that it’s imperative to clear paths down to the pavement, so the winter sun can melt away remaining snow and provide a safe, dry surface for dog walkers, joggers, and cyclists alike.

Part 2: The Path along and over the Wellington Bridge:

As an experienced, confident cyclist I never ride the sidewalk over the Wellington Bridge – I ride in the gutter lane next to automobile traffic (in spite of the 45+ mph speeding drivers and the never-swept, junk filled gutter). But I did walk the bridge this winter when the whole #WinterBiker thing flared up, and made some important observations.IMG_0290

  • Snow clearance on the path leading up to the bridge on both sides was clearly performed by the same machine that cleared all paths in MacDonald Park and around the Blessing of the Bay Boathouse (picture to the right).
  • As seen in the picture below, this snow clearing machine is obviously too wide to fit onto the narrow sidewalk over the bridge.IMG_0296
  • As a result, the sidewalk over the bridge had zero snow clearing whatsoever.
  • As an alternative, clumps of snow melt chemicals were thrown onto the sidewalk.  Hard to see in the picture, but that’s a clump of snow-melt many inches deep and  perhaps as treacherous as walking on clumps of frozen slush:
  • Based on the outcome, I’m not sure this approach even met the low standard of “better than nothing”

What can DCR do to improve this situation?

  • The best long term solution is for DCR to work with MassDOT and other government agencies to widen the sidewalk (preferably wide enough for an expansive sidewalk and a concrete barrier protected cycle track).
    • That sidewalk is so narrow that even under ideal conditions, two people cannot pass each other on without at least one of them turning sideways. I cannot imagine that sidewalk meets the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
    • Widening can be done without modification to the bridge structure. The bridge has three extremely wide lanes (which encourage motorists to speed) and a very wide breakdown lane in each direction.  Travel lanes can be reduced by at least 2’ each, and the breakdown lane can be eliminated entirely, to create space for humans to cross the bridge on foot and on bike.
  • An immediate solution, one that can be implemented by DCR in time for this coming winter, is to acquire a smaller snow clearance machine, one that is narrow enough to access the bridge sidewalk.

Enough parking for peak summer demand, but in the dead of winter. And who would bother driving to a park where all the paths are encased in ice?

Funding these efforts:I know nothing about how the state budget is allocated, but I do have one meaningful thing to say about funding as it pertains to these parks at the Mystic River basin. Last winter, parking lots at both MacDonald Park and the Blessing of the Bay Boathouse were plowed 100%, right down to the pavement. Plowing to the pavement meant the dark asphalt collected heat and melted off any light snowfalls or snowdrifts in the days following the major storm, ensuring ice would not form.

Note the ridiculous contrast here. The parking lot is plowed to dry pavement, while the paths are encased in rutted ice:


I’m sure there are ways to clear paths that are not harmful to the surrounding plans life

I suppose if I had a dog to walk, I could just walk in circles in that exquisitely snow-cleared parking lot.  But if I’m going to do that, I would just walk around in a mall parking lot much closer to home.

The point here is this: Why does the entire parking lot have to be plowed?  Parking lots in general are:

  1. Designed for peak annual estimated occupancy, and
  2. That peak annual occupancy estimate is usually far higher than what is needed in reality.

But fewer people drive to parks during the coldest days of winter, and the people who do use the parks will likely keep their visits shorter than summer visitors.  Bottom line – the entire parking lot does not need to be paved.

It appears DCR could save a little money by plowing less than the full parking lots (perhaps up to 1/3 less than the full lot). Money saved by plowing less parking space can be invested in better snow clearance of the paths themselves.

Conclusion: BCU and DCR, I hope this is constructive input.  With a little better planning and resource allocation, you can find a way to keep paths clear in the winter so they may be safe places to visit – whether by dog walkers or walking/biking commuters.  Change policy to open the paths for night time transits, and do what is necessary to keep paths clear summer and winter.




Changing the Behavior of Bike Lane Violators, Part 2 of 2

Please read Part 1.

I know from direct experience and friends’ anecdotes that police rarely ticket bike lane violators. This is too bad, because without enforcement people will continue to put others lives in peril just to have a free or convenient place to store their car awhile. To some this is not a big deal, but in reality it is. One selfish person can deprive society of a Public Good – a vehicle travel lane – with police sanctioned impunity.

Tickets get people’s attention. I don’t often drive, and I rarely get tickets – but on occasion when I’ve let the meter run out, my heart jumps a beat when I see the neon orange glow of the ticket envelope…

And that phenomenon gave me a ‘bright” idea.

I have designed what looks like the printing on one side of a typical bright orange parking ticket envelope. It even uses some of the language of the Boston parking ticket envelope, which spells out in some detail the penalties for failing to pay the ticket. This design, if printed on obnoxiously bright paper (which is surprisingly expensive and difficult to source, cough cough), looks like a parking ticket envelope.

The other side of the paper will be a note educating the driver about culturally acceptable ways to use a bike lane (which never includes storage of an automobile).

1. I have the “fake ticket envelope” completed, and have printed it on some blazing orange paper. It looks like a real ticket envelope!
2. I have several ides for notes to leave on the other side of the paper. This is where I will try to get through to the scofflaws.
3. With front and back designed, I print the file two-sided, and use one of those paper slicers (remember from art class in grade school?) to cut out 3 tickets per printed page.
4. I will carry some at all times and leave on appropriate windshields.

Protocol, etiquette and social responsibility: I want to share the work I’ve done but I insist on a few things for those who do:
1. You are leaving a note for someone who is demonstrably either blind (“didn’t see” giant bike lane icon and no parking signs) or doesn’t care. You won’t win behavioral change with swears and/or anger.
2. No vandalism! Scofflaws make you angry; else you would not be reading this. Leave the bright orange note tucked under the windshield wiper and move on. Don’t harm the scofflaw’s property, it’s a crime and sets a bad example.
3. Try to target the worst offenders. Please read Part 1 of this blog post. Targeting the worst offenders gives us the moral high ground.

Pick an appropriate message: I’m no psychologist, but I’ve read a lot about how some ways of communicating are more effective than others. I plan to try a variety of messages, and have copies of a bunch when I ride. Then I can leave a note most appropriate to the context. Here are some ideas… I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts in the comments.
1. Use shame. Shame is a powerful motivator. “Shame on you, your selfish act of blocking the bike lane is causing people – including children – to ride out into traffic…”
2. Use fear of a future, bad outcome. This sounds a bit like shame, but it’s not. “Shame on you, your selfish act of blocking the bike lane is causing people – including children – to ride out into traffic. Somebody might get severely injured or killed because of your illegal act.
3. Use facts: If the police so choose, police can ticket bike lane violators. Bike lane violations are a “marked lane violation” which is a $100 fine. So maybe an effective message is just the facts: “This is just a note. You are parked in a bike lane. If the police choose to ticket you, it would be a $100 fine for ‘marked lane violation’. Consider this a friendly warning…”
4. Call the police. Sooner or later someone will complain to the police about these bright orange notes. Get one step ahead of them! Combine the following with the text from #3 above: “…. Consider this a friendly warning. Also, I’m calling the police to ask them to ticket cars illegally parked here.”
5. Personally I’ll do anything within reason to get through to people. I’ll even beg a bit. Like this: “You are parked in a bike lane. Its intended purpose is to make a safer place to ride a bicycle than in the main motor vehicle travel lane. But when even just one car is parked in the lane, people have to cycle out into traffic around you. Don’t force me and people like me into harm’s way. I’m simply trying to get to work. Please store your car somewhere else.”
You get the idea… But again, I’d love to see suggestions in the comments below!

A Microsoft Word version of the file is available for download below. I make it freely available for people who want to buy their own brightly colored paper and print out notes for people, but under some conditions!
1. Read, understand and follow the rules of Protocol, etiquette and social responsibility, above.
2. You print and distribute these tickets at your own risk. It’s your own responsibility if:
a. If you jam up the laser printer at work –
b. An angry driver catches you leaving a note and punches you in the sternum –
c. The police stop you and trump up charges that a bright orange piece of paper somehow means you’re impersonating an officer of the law –
d. You are struck by lightning while doling out vigilante notices onto illegally parked car windshields.

The Microsoft word template file is here: Tickets.  It has two pages, one with 3 smaller ticket envelopes per page and one with two larger ticket envelopes.  They can be re-sized.

I leave it up to you to write a message for the back.  Hand write a note for personal effect, or print double-sided with a typed message (positioning your words is also left as an exercise).  Notice, the result looks pretty good.  Below, one of these is my ‘note’, the other is a genuine ticket envelope.


Full disclosure, I have not begun placing these on scofflaws cars.  I will, and my thoughts on the matter will be shared via a future post.