*** 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.