Bike Lanes are preferential use lanes

this will be a catch-all for issues relating to legal requirement to use bike lanes (BLs). This was moved from the article explaining When must I ride my bicycle on the shoulder?, because it was muddying that issue unnecessarily; after all BLs are not shoulders and shoulders are not BLs. For all the details about shoulders, see that article; the short answer is their use is almost never required, that conclusion stems from the fact that shoulders are not part of the roadway.


  • BL: a designated Bike Lane or Bicycle Lane. (note: not a bike path, which is physically separated from any roadway; and note well: not a shoulder, shoulders are sometimes tarted up to look like BLs but are not)
  • FTR: bicyclist-specific Far To the Right law. (i’ve referred to this elsewhere as AFRAP, As Far to the Right As Practicable). [in AZ , §28-815A. UVC § 11-1205 is equivalent, and has only minor differences]
  • MBL: Mandatory Bikelane use Law
  • SDL: Slow Driver Law [in AZ  §28-721B, UVC 11-301(b)  is equivalent]

MBL — Mandatory Bike Lane use laws

The state of AZ has no MBL.

The UVC has no MBL. Various compendiums of state-by-state reviews reveal that relatively few states have mandatory use laws, e.g. guide-to-improving-laws shows 6 (AL, CA, HI, MD, NY, OR); and LAB, the League of American Bicyclists, lists 8 states. (CA, FL, HI, KY, MD, NY, OR, SC. Retrieved 12/21/2014).  And just to be clear regarding LAB’s position:

The League believes that cyclists have a fundamental right to the road… The League does not support mandatory use laws, and believes that cyclists should not be required to use dedicated bicycle facilities … Although great progress has been made since the 1970s, mandatory use laws are still a problem, showing up in federal and state contexts. The League believes that these laws do nothing to benefit bicyclists and should be fought at every level… (retrieved 12/21/2014)

For comparison, California has an MBL, CVC 21208; which goes on at some length enumerating numerous exceptions. Not coincidentally, it mirrors the FTR, since the same “problems” with FTR should be addressed in an MBL.

Required Use

Despite the lack of a specific MBL, there are still conditions in which bicyclists would be required to use a BL, simply because BLs are part of the roadway, and are placed at the right edge of the roadway.

One such case would be in order to comply with FTR, 28-815A: Bicyclists moving slower than the normal speed of traffic would be effectively required to use a bike lane if none of the 28-815A exceptions apply. So, on a street with both wide travel lanes and a BL, bicyclists moving slower than the normal speed of traffic would be required to be operating in the BL (when not passing or preparing to turn left, i.e. the other exceptions). Note that in this case, no one is helped by this requirement; and depending on the dimensions involved,  it violates best practices for where to ride in a wide lane. This case is relatively uncommon, see some examples in one-road-4-treatments (scroll down to “sample wide lane”). Because the travel lane is wide, it’s unlikely there will ever be an issue when a bicyclist chooses to ride in the right portion of the general purpose lane; though this is clearly an FTR violation, notwithstanding another exception.

A more common, and problematical, case is where, e.g., 15′ of space is turned into an 11′ general purpose travel lane and a 4′ (plus gutter) BL. If not for the BL stripe, cyclists on such a configuration would generally be required to ride FTR, because 15′ is nominally wide enough to safely share side-by-side. The existence of the BL means the general purpose travel lane is now clearly not wide enough to be shared side-by-side; and cyclists cannot be in violation of FTR regardless of their lateral position anywhere within the 15′.

Does the SDL, which states drivers (includes bicyclists) “shall drive the vehicle in the right-hand lane then available for traffic…” compel bicyclists when traveling slower than the normal speed of traffic (along with exceptions for passing and turning left) to ride in a designated bike lane (BL), where available and passable?

A BL is an example of a preferential use lane; “Preferential lanes are established for one or more of a wide variety of special uses, including, but not limited to, high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, ETC lanes, high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, bicycle lanes, bus only lanes, taxi only lanes, and light rail transit only lanes.” (emphasis added, MUTCD chapter 3D).

It’s not clear to me that any class of user can be compelled to use its preferential use lane. If you read through the thread, below, you see the argument against it is would simply be discriminatory against bicyclists, and is not written into the law. It’s unlikely there is any guidance from courts on this point; most cyclists choose to use BLs where provided unless it’s impracticable for whatever reason, not simply because they choose not to.

Cyclists are Drivers!

Excerpt from thread from Cyclists are Drivers! facebook group; must join group to view. The original post accomanied the pic at right, and wondered about requirements to use the designated bike lane pictured. The pic depicts what might be a collector/residential road with one clearly narrow (perhaps 10′) travel lane in each direction separated by a dashed yellow stripe, and a relatively wide (maybe 6′) open shoulder bike lane that appears to be in good repair. The discussion moved to whether or not a cyclist might have to use such a BL:

Dan G It depends on the state laws. If the bike lane is optional, I’d prefer to use the travel lanes, however, with FTR and/or MBL laws, the police will likely cite me for using the travel lane, so I would probably ride to the far left of the bike lane. I’d like that road vastly better if the BL was instead a shoulder, because then I would have more travel options.

Ed B Dan said “It depends on the state laws. If the bike lane is optional, I’d prefer to use the travel lanes”… isn’t it the case that regardless of MBL’s just about everywhere has a SDL that says something like slow drivers must the the right lane “then available”? (and if a BL is available, and the slow driver is a bicyclist then you’ve got a defacto MBL)

Dan G The SDL specified the right hand lane for traffic, which is a travel lane, not a preferential use lane.

Ed B Dan, I always read the “then available for traffic” to mean available for the particular traffic in question, and not just and and all traffic. Is there any precedent/rule for reading it the way you stated? [relevent portion of  UVC 11-301(b) quoted here]

Dan G So Ed, are you saying that slower motor traffic that fits the requirements for a right side preferential use lane must use it when they are slower than other road traffic? We have right side HOV lanes in CA, and the police treat them as optional, not mandatory for slower vehicles. If the SDL did require such use of a preferential use lane, I have yet to see it taught or enforced. Except for bicyclists, becaus they always have to be at the edge, so we can of course use an inconsistent interpretation, or better still just pass a MBL to force them to use preferential use lanes for their class that are optional when the preferential use lanes are for other classes. Welcome to second class driver status.

Ed B Dan, interesting example of right-hand HOV lanes; I’ve never seen such a thing (i can’t quite imagine how that works; is it in areas that don’t have any right-hand exits?). In any event; the easy, evasive, answer is that motorists must not impede; so…See More

Dan G SOV (Single Occupancy Vehicles; in other words, those not eligible to drive in an HOV lane) motorists are required to stay out of the right side HOV lane except near exits to make right turns.

Dan G It is just like a bike lane in that regard.Ed Beighe Dan said: “Except for bicyclists, because they always have to be at the edge, so we can of course use an inconsistent interpretation, or better still just pass a MBL…”

Ed B I think i would prefer a consistently applied MBL (with appropriate exceptions) to an inconsistent interpretation — which is what seems to happen in non-MBL states.

Dan G I don’t approve of MBLs, since most bike lanes are crap and police ignore the exceptions.

Dan G And the public thinks MBLs are in effect.