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In “The Rebirth of Bicycling Law“, Professor Christopher Waters provides a fascinating review of the history of bicycling law, dating back to the time when it was called “the law of the wheelman”, as well as a  look forward to the future of the “cycling bar”.

Beginning in the late nineteenth century, the increasing popularity of the bicycle led to issues familiar to us today such as conflicts between cyclists and other road users (at the time,  horse riders and streetcar operators) and calls for improved infrastructure. Wheelmen  advocated for their legal rights to use the roads and for improved cycling routes. With the rise of the automobile, however, cycling became less popular and cyclists’ legal needs became less pressing. Over the last decade, cycling advocates have begun to raise these issues again and Prof. Waters suggests a number of areas of law and policy for further analysis and reform, including:

  • Legal history – what can the law of wheelman era tells us about the relationship between law and technology, law and social change?
  • “Bicycle space” – what do we want from the spaces where people cycle?
  • Legislative reform to “acknowledge the needs and status of cyclists”, such as:
    • Mandatory helmet laws;
    • Reduced speed limits in community safety zones;
    • 1 meter passing rules; and
    • Amendments to existing traffic laws.
  • Education – teaching both cyclists and drivers how to safely use the road together.
  • Enforcement – what is the role of police and courts to suppress dangerous driving and rogue cycling?
  • Infrastructure – which may have a legislative basis, such as a requirement for paved shoulders on new highway projects.
  • Comparative and international perspectives – what can we learn from the rest of the world?

Prof. Waters projects that we are only seeing the beginning of growing interest in this area of law:

“My only regret in writing the article is that I put a question mark at the end of the title.  The interest in the article from cycling advocates and lawyers across  the country has shown me that a ‘cycling bar’ is very much alive and that various innovative legal and policy tools are being used to make complete streets a reality.”

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