Take the lane

*** 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.

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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.

19 thoughts on “Take the lane”

  1. 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?

    Hi John
    sounds like you and the driver did exactly the right thing.
    –ed

  2. 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.

  3. 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. some additional info from Wayne Pein:

    Trucks and buses can be a maximum of 8.5′, not the 8′ as in the article. Further, per AASHTO bicycles are 30″ with an essential operating space of 40″ to account for tracking wobble. In essence,
    a moving design bicyclist is 40″ wide, not 24″. The referenced diagram with a 7′ car including mirrors is a mistake and a 2′ bicyclist is a mistake. Roadway designers design for the existence of
    trucks. Lane width and lateral clearance to bicyclists must account for the inevitability of trucks with mirrors that make their width 10′.

  5. I HATE 12′ lanes because they are at the same time too narrow to safely share; but at the same time are commonly perceived by drivers (and presumably this police officer) as wide enough to share.

    here is a great to-scale graphical depiction of 12 foot lanes and a normal vehicle (a regular pickup or suv) passing a cyclist riding at the very right hand edge: only 1.7 foot of passing clearance!

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=4488769948709&set=a.4480427580155.167040.1574017310&type=3&theater&_fb_noscript=1

    This is part of a whole series from Dan Guiterrez’s Facebook: “These slides show why edge riding in standard width lanes is hazardous, why lane control avoids these hazards, and how much width is needed to create bike lanes free of both types of hazards”
    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.4480427580155.167040.1574017310&type=1&l=1532c4f673

    See also “The TRB Highway Capacity Manual assumes that no lane sharing occurs on lanes 12 feet or narrower”

    Lots of great graphics here: http://iamtraffic.org/resources/infographics/
    also on iamtraffic’s facebook page (i think they’re the same graphics)

  6. Phoenix Traffic Court – two tickets dismissed (presumably an 815A and a 704A). Harassed by phoenix pd operating bicycle in travel lane of n. 24th st. Entered a copy of “Street smarts” into the record.
    Case Number: M-0741-4610157
    Traffic Court: Phoenix Municipal
    Filing Date: 11/30/2012
    Disposition Date: 2/26/2013
    BIKE NOT RIDDEN AT RIGHT EDGE OF ROAD: JDGMT ACQUITTAL/NOT RESP
    SLOW SPEED IMPEDING TRAFFIC PROHIBITED: JDGMT ACQUITTAL/NOT RESP

    i can’t be sure; but i’ve heard anecdotally that there was a particular officer (chowdry. spelling?) was issuing tickets/harassing cyclist(s)

  7. If you find yourself as a defendant in a take-the-lane sort of case, you will almost certainly want to offer some reference material into evidence; such as “Arizona Street Smarts” (though do get a copy of the printed booklet).

    Note that the “rules of evidence” DO NOT apply in civil traffic cases, so you should have no trouble having the court admit them.

    Arizona Rules of Procedure in Civil Traffic Violation Cases, Rule 17. “The Arizona Rules of Evidence SHALL NOT APPLY in civil traffic cases. Evidence may be admitted subject to a determination that the evidence has some probative value to a fact at issue.”

    azcourts.gov/rules then “current rules” then scan for and click on “Rules of Procedure in Civil Traffic and Civil Boating Violation Cases” then expand to individual rule numbers.

  8. A correspondent writes:
    I finally listened to the trial audio; here’s some notes, for my own reference if nothing else.
    It seems common for PD/FD/… to claim, or have to stop themselves from claiming, that traffic was “stopped” (here, it was “COMPLETELY IMPEDING”), rather than proceeding at a reduced rate of 10-20MPH.

    In this case, the officer testifies multiple times that passing traffic was moving “abruptly into the median lane” (should probably be lane#1). He also seems to advocate (in addition to sidewalk riding), a “partial lane change” passing maneuver. Although that’s hypothetically fine, it’s done poorly more often than not. Encouraging a full lane change is quite intentional.

    There’s the usual fear of “hit from behind”, but at least in this case, it’s explicit rather than unstated.

    Despite being employed by Tempe PD for thirteen years, and on the “bike squad” for 2.5 years, he seems to think it’s acceptable to require a bicyclist to hug the curb. It seems to me he was unfamiliar with the so-called “3 foot” passing distance law.

    Excerpts of Testimony of Tempe police officer Ross Thompson (these are all direct quotes from the officer’s trial testimony — emphasis was added by the transcriber. The full audio is here)


    I started to wonder what was causing the problems in the road because
    I noticed .. about 4 cars in front of me cars started making ABRUPT
    MOVEMENTS INTO THE MEDIAN LANE. and then traveling back up to the THE
    SPEED of 35-40MPH

    I told Mr Goren that he needed to move to the right part of the lane
    as he was causing a traffic hazard in the way that because HE COULDN’T
    MAINTAIN THE SPEED OF THE .. REST OF TRAFFIC AND HE WAS IN THE FAR
    LEFT WHEEL TRACK. HE WAS CAUSING A TRAFFIC HAZARD IN THAT PEOPLE WERE
    TRYING TO GET AROUND HIM.

    it shows his bike down below near the curb, but
    NOT EVEN AS CLOSE AS TYPICALLY SOMEBODY WOULD, WHERE THEIR RIGHT
    HANDLEBAR ALMOST HANGS OVER THE CURB OR..THE SIDEWALK; THAT’S OFTEN
    TIMES HOW PEOPLE RIDE.

    THIS IS ALLOWING HIM TO RIDE WITH HIS HANDLEBAR RIGHT UP AGAINST THE
    SIDEWALK AREA, and STILL ALLOWING A VEHICLE TO PASS as you can
    see by the diagram below, that a typical vehicle can fit in that lane,
    alongside, and in my opinion, it’s much more safer to be on the right
    in that TRAFFIC WILL GENERALLY, TEMPORARILY, OCCUPY A VERY SMALL
    PORTION OF THE MEDIAN LANE AS THEY GO AROUND THE BICYCLE FOR A MUCH
    LESS PERIOD OF TIME AND IT DOESN’T CAUSE NEAR A HAZARD.


    In this particular situation, as I was speaking to Mr Goren, in fact,
    numerous bicycles passed us, going southbound, and, in every instance,
    THEY WERE ALL ON THE SIDEWALK.

    AND HIS ARGUMENT AS TO WHY HE WASN’T RIDING ON THE SIDEWALK,
    is that he was riding at approximately 20 MPH and didn’t feel it was
    safe to do so on the sidewalk, and I agreed with him that it probably
    wasn’t safe to ride 20 MPH on the sidewalk, BUT MAYBE HE SHOULD NOT
    RIDE AS QUICKLY. BUT AT LEAST HE WOULDN’T BE GETTING HIT FROM BEHIND,
    OR CAUSING A MAJOR HAZARD ON THE ROADWAY.

    Because.. it seems, from what i had observed, coming up behind him,
    vehicles tended to seem impatient to try to get around him and were
    MAKING ABRUPT MOVEMENTS INTO THE MEDIAN LANE GOING 10-15 MPH
    slower than the traffic they were trying to merge with AND I THOUGHT
    THIS WAS CAUSING MORE OF A HAZARD THAN ..
    to have him being on the right side of the road OR BETTER YET THE
    SIDEWALK.

    Redirect/Rebuttal testimony — (I believe most or much of the dimensions relate to this diagram that was introduces as evidence)

    … Based upon the width of his bicycle, I mean, he’s got his
    handlebars 1 foot off the edge of the road, well that puts, his bike is
    some 40 inches wide. That puts him another 2ft into the lane, so
    you’re talking over 3ft from the curb, WHICH ISN’T NECESSARY ON THE
    BICYCLE. Your handlebars are not een close to the roadway, they don’t
    need to be a certain distance off the curbline.
    It’s more important where the wheel is, and I agree it’s safer to ride
    on the asphalt portion of the road than the concrete/gutter area.
    However even taking the concrete area out of the picture, which is
    about 6 inches wide, that only reduces the lane down to just over 12ft
    still. And if he were riding close to the edge there, a car going 3ft
    around him would only put that car about, it would still be occupying
    more than half the lane, as it passed him, and, as I indicated in my
    original testimony, would only be occupying the median lane for a
    fraction of the period of time as opposed to having to completely make
    a lane change and go around the bicyclist.

    Well now, the median lanes based on the 3ft passage, THEY need to move
    to the far edge of their own lane in order to give him the 3ft HE’S
    INDICATING THAT HE NEEDS of safety.

    WHAT I WAS GETTING AT IN THIS WHOLE SITUATION IS: I’VE OBSERVED BIKES.
    I’VE BEEN WORKING IN TEMPE FOR 13 YEARS AS A POLICE OFFICER.
    I’VE RIDDEN A BIKE FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS.
    I WAS ON THE BIKE SQUAD FOR TWO AND A HALF YEARS,
    I MEAN I’M NOT UNFAMILIAR WITH BIKE RIDING.

    And, in this particular case, it was a very unusual situation in that
    HE’S COMPLETELY IMPEDING THE FLOW OF TRAFFIC BEHIND HIM IN A VERY
    UNSAFE MANNER. And, I think the POTENTIAL FOR A REAR END COLLISION,
    or someone clipping him as they try to go around him is considerably
    more dangerous than riding as the law state’s he’s supposed to, on the
    right side of the roadway.

    Almost every other instance I’ve seen in Tempe of bicyclists, they
    generally ride to the right side of the road or in many cases ride on
    the sidewalk, as TEMPE HAS VERY WIDE SIDEWALKS, I WOULD IMAGINE FOR
    THAT PURPOSE, but I don’t know that for sure.

    But, most students around the ASU area, which is where this was,
    generally ride on the sidewalk, or the far right side of the road, or,
    unfortunately, sometimes against traffic on the wrong side of the
    road…

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