The most concise, least able to be misconstrued, message about which direction a bicyclist must operate, is “Ride With Traffic”, it’s the inscription on a R9-3cP plaque. But what is “with traffic”, or “the flow of traffic” or “the direction of traffic”? And why do we so often hear “ride right”, “bike right”, “Be a Roll Model: Ride on the Right” or some other clever-sounding catchphrase?
The direction of traffic
The statue governing the direction of traffic is given, for Arizona below ARS §28-721. Throughout the the US we drive on the right half of the roadway on two-way roads. Since bicyclists must follow the laws applicable to drivers of vehicles, §28-812, bicyclists must also only operate on the right half of the roadway. (there are various exceptions for 1-way streets, construction, passing where allowed, etc).
ARS §28-721. Driving on right side of roadway; driving on shoulder; exceptions
A. On all roadways of sufficient width, a person shall drive a vehicle on the right half of the roadway except as follows…
It’s a common misunderstanding that §28-815A, the bicyclist-specific far-to-the-right rule (FTR, also known as AFRAP after as-far-right-as-practicable) governs the direction of bicyclists. It does not; it in effect places further restrictions on bicyclists but only certain cases. You can think of it as being positional, not directional.
How to present it
Avoid use of “right” altogether. It is too often misconstrued as requiring bicyclists to ride at the far right, when that is almost never the case due to the many exceptions and preconditions, and in any event isn’t the issue at hand.
In the diagram below, from the Pima County Share the Road pamphlet (look under “maps/resources”; available in English and Spanish)(the same shortcomings are in the ADOT version, which was obviously based on the Pima Co booklet), I have three suggestions:
- I moved the green/Always! bicyclist into the proper (and legal, by the way) lane position: he was depicted as riding too far to the right. That’s not the central issue of this diagram but there’s no reason to reinforce bad messages.
- eliminate the phrase “on the right”, for reasons stated above, or even shorter, just begin with “Ride with traffic”.
- Corrected the statute reference to 28-721. Note the red/Never! cyclist in the roadway cannot be in violation of 28-815 because of an exception (in this case narrow lane). But he is always in violation of 28-721.
And as of June 2016 I am happy to report that Pima Co has incorporated those suggestions in the V4 version of the guide — now on the website at that link above.
Some 2010 (is it on-going?) activity by Tuscon-area law enforcement resulted in this white-paper ARS 28-815(A) – The Most Incorrectly Used Citation: Riding a Bicycle in a Crosswalk IS Permissive and Lawful in Arizona, by attorney Eric Post.
An unfortunate choice of artwork for Tempe’s 2016 Bike Month t-shirt and marketing materials — Don’t say “keep right”, instead say “ride with traffic”.
On the other hand, new signage erected around April 2016 along Rural Road in Tempe (and maybe on other streets as well?) correctly reminds bicyclists to Ride With Traffic. City of Phoenix instituted a campaign with the same signage in October of 2015.
After reading dozens (maybe hundreds) of crash reports, mostly by Phoenix PD I feel like this happens quite and conclude there are rampant misunderstandings the police have about bicycle laws in general and the 815A / wrong-way / crosswalk / sidewalk issues; based on things they say, and the boxes they check in the crash reports.
2010-10-04 Zeller phx incident 10001409191. Cyclist was wrong-way on sidewalk (lane = NON ROADWAY, the NonMotoristLocation was not filled out for no obvious reason) when struck by a vehicle exiting a driveway (turning right, classic W-W sidewalk/driveway collision). Phoenix PD faulted (“OTHER”) and cited cyclist, notes in crash report say the citation was “RIDING AGAINST TRAFFIC”. There is, of course, no specific statute like that. The citation actually issued PPD14126284 was BIKE NOT RIDDEN AT RIGHT EDGE OF ROAD, which is 28-815A. The police, as related to me by the cyclist, served the citation personally to her IN THE EMERGENCY ROOM. How’s that for service? Police go out of their way to issue a bogus citation. The driver was not faulted or cited.
1-way Streets; Case Law Notes, Rosenthal
The one-way street statute is §28-728, and bicyclists, having the same responsibilities as the “driver of a vehicle” must obey it.
There is a 1990 Arizona Court of Appeals, Division 2 (out of Tuscon area), Rosenthal v. County of Pima decision involving a wrong-way bicyclist on a one-way street that would seem to have some relevance to the statutory interpretations mentioned above. Because of the way the case was argued and decided, there really is no revelation; it simply found that “Read in conjunction, Ariz. Rev. Stat. §28-728 and Ariz. Rev. Stat. §28-811 clearly provide that it is unlawful to ride a bicycle in a bike path against traffic on a one-way street”. There is some weirdness to the opinion, e.g. they seem to be conflating the term “bike path” with “bike lane”. In any event the case is linked here.