Take the lanePosted on February 19th, 2010 18 comments
*** a third win, see Another Appellate win for bicyclists in Pima County. Here is the order. ***
Educated cyclists know that they not only can (legally), but should (for safety) occupy an entire lane when conditions dictate. One of these conditions is when the lane is narrow. See more on the safety discussion at Where to ride on the road.
Arizona law is quite strong and plain in this regard. Here is the relevant law, (I intentionally clipped the part about the cyclist’s speed, which is briefly treated later).
§28-815. Riding on roadways… A. A person riding a bicycle…shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, except… 4. If the lane in which the person is operating the bicycle is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.
So this law creates a duty in part A for cyclists, but there are enumerated exceptions to this duty, the 4th one being the subject of this article.
We are reminded that from time to time, cyclists are targeted by law enforcement for “taking the lane”. This sometimes takes the form of mis-guided paternalism — “you should always ride to the extreme right so you don’t get hit”. It also can take a an uglier tone of faux-paternalism, really just a thinly-veiled automobile-superiority attitude, the sub-text being “cyclists must always get out of the way of cars”. Below, transcribed from a trial’s full audio are illustrative statements by an un or mal-trained police officer; here is just one, indicating the officer’s idea of correct lane positioning, that bicyclists should and must ride so their right hand is actually over the curb, or even the sidewalk! ”but not even as close as typically somebody would, where their right handlebar almost hangs over the curb or the sidewalk”.
And disappointingly sometimes cyclists are found guilty (actually “responsible” is the correct term) by compliant lower courts.
Happily, Arizona cyclists can point to not one but two relatively recent Superior Court decisions which reversed on appeal these wrongful convictions.
The first case, Arizona V. Goren, occurred in Tempe (Maricopa County). In the second case the rider was riding two abreast, but that isn’t relevant to the case; Arizona V. Piscopo, Pima County (see more generally at Two Abreastness. Also see the case at TBL, the blog of the lawyer who represented Piscopo).
I would encourage everyone to read both of these decisions because they are brief, well-written, and illustrative.
How narrow is narrow?
This can be a gray area; it is not (directly) specified in the law. In Goren, Officer Ross Thompson (the superior court document refer to him, apparently incorrectly, as R. Johnson) maintained that 12’10″ (his measurement) was more than ample. He was, however, not aware of the concept of usable space; and thus incorrectly counted the gutter as lane width. In the end, the court accepted that the defendant’s measurement approximately 11′ usable width was both accurate and clearly narrow. Much the same conclusion was reached in Piscopo: “credibility was not at issue and the salient evidence — the dimensions at play — appear undisputed”, the dimension according to the defendant were “no more than 11 feet wide”.
Both cases counted on using the minimum 3′ passing distance specified in §28-735 as an entitlement to the cyclist when determining narrowness. (see Three-Foot Laws for more generally about this law including other states who have a passing-distance law)
From an engineering perspective, the authoritative AAHSTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities, 1999 says minimum 14′ usable width for side-by-side sharing:
In general, 4.2 m (14 feet) of usable lane width is the recommended width for shared use in a wide curb lane…(the gutter pan should not be included as usable width).
You can play with the dimensions, e.g. if you allow a minimum of 1 foot both to the left of the (8′) motor vehicle, and the right of the (2′) cyclist, plus mandated 3′ between the cyclist and motor vehicle — you come up with something akin to the 14′ mentioned by AAHSTO. Many vehicles are less than 8′, but not by much — and don’t forget to include the mirror width which is commonly not included in specifications. Traffic engineer and cyclist Richard Moeur has created an elegant schematic drawing divvying up the 14′ here. (and see some comments below from Wayne Pein on the dimensions). More similar diagrams from humantransport.org.
Also see How Wide should a Wide Curb Lane Be?, by Wayne Pein, which provides a literature review, and takes into account other factors such as wind blast and the effect of speed limits and expected truck traffic.
Also see reference to 28-1093, max width of vehicle body allowed on Arizona roadways, linked in comment to is-this-a-bike-lane.
See comment at aashto-guide-for-the-development-of-bicycle-facilities for lots of links to illustrations; especially pertaining to dimensions of BLs and the travel lane they are adjacent to; it turns out that frequently the travel lane width is a limiting factor due to edge hazards and debris, not to mention doorzones when next to parking.
There’s a wonderful animation at commuteorlando.com about correct lane positioning.
The Issue of Speed
Neither of the aforementioned cases dealt with whether or not the cyclists were “at less than the normal speed of traffic”. In a nutshell: some courts (but none in Arizona, that i know of) have held that normal means normal for a bicycle. See e.g. State V Patrick , which references the Selz decision; both out of Ohio.
But what about Impeding?
This was not at issue in either of these cases, for some more general discussion of impeding see Bicycles are not Motor Vehicles and Why it Matters.
The Pima County Sheriff’s Office
There is a memo from Lt. K. Woolridge date March 5, 2009 which states the (Pima) county attoney’s position particularly with respect to riding two-abreast. Further inquiries are directed to Seargent Copfer.
Thinking of Representing Yourself?
There are a number of guides for pro se / pro per appellants on the Arizona Supreme Court website.
Delivery trucks parked in the bike lane on a residential street during “No Parking in the Bike Lane” hours almost always compel me to take the lane. They fill not only the bike lane but stick out into the street. I would prefer that they not park in the bike lane during the “No Parking in the Bike Lane” hours, but, for example this morning, with a water delivery truck doing that, I glanced behind me, signaled, and took the lane. A car also in my lane came up behind me about the same time I was riding past the truck, allowed me time to reenter the bike lane, then passed me. I took the lane not only to get around the truck safely, but also because there was oncoming traffic in the opposite lane, and saw no alternative. Any thoughts on this situation? Should I have done differently, generally speaking?
sounds like you and the driver did exactly the right thing.
Thank you so much.
Can you pass this onto Biketempe.org Please or else I will.
At some point the argument needs to be made that the only purpose these bike-specific laws serve is to allow biased law enforcement officers (and lower court judges) to misinterpret them per their anti-bike bias, and wrongfully charge and fine bicyclists.
Many states do not have bike-specific laws (Pennsylvania and North Carolina are two examples), and there is no chaos or mayhem as a result. The laws that govern the behavior of drivers of slow moving vehicles are appropriate and sufficient for governing the behavior drivers of bicycles when they are moving slower than other traffic.
To eliminate anti-bike bias in law enforcement, how about starting a campaign to abolish traffic laws that restrict the behavior of bicyclists specifically?
And no, we don’t need to have bike-specific law to give us the right to “take the lane” – all drivers, including those operating slow moving vehicles, have the right to control marked lanes – and so would bicyclists if there was no bike-specific law calling for “far right as practicable” (FRAP) behavior in marked lanes.
FRAP should only apply to bicyclists on roads without marked lanes, as it does to all drivers of slow-moving vehicles, which it would if there were no bike-specific restrictive laws.
Slow moving vehicles are a target of the majority most places they are not rare. Serge is right; but that principle should extend to other road users uniformly. A Segway may be a toy vehicle but the way it operates on the road makes it a similar problem to pass as a cyclist or a couple in a golf cart.
4 Trackbacks / Pingbacks
[...] deputy’s testimony dripped of the usual false or misguided paternalism; that it’s “too dangerous” to impede [...]
[...] agencies which result in improper application of the law(e.g. Flagstaff, Flag/Coconino Sheriff, Tempe & Pima Sheriff …) http://www.azgohs.gov/transportation-safety/default.asp?ID=16 [...]
[...] first is that justice and municipal courts often make errors. See Take the Lane for just three examples of justice/muni court decisions reversed on cyclist cases. These courts are [...]
[...] The only trouble with Officer’s story is, there is no bike lane there. I confirmed this with Flagstaff multi-modal coordinator Martin Ince by telephone. There is a narrow shoulder that varies from around 2 feet to as wide as 4 feet in some places. According to the cyclist the area of the alleged violation a photo with measuring stick reveals about 2 feet of shoulder. What about the lane, that is Lane number 2? It’s around 11 feet — clearly narrow, see Take the lane. [...]
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