Shoulder Use

When must I ride my bicycle on the shoulder? 

First, it’s important to define what a shoulder is, and isn’t.  ” ‘Roadway’ means that portion of a highway that is improved, designed or ordinarily used for vehicular travel, exclusive of the berm or shoulder”  §28-601(22). Busier streets are typically divided into one or more travel lanes in each direction, with a solid white stripe, called an edge line (often referred to as a fog line), at the right edge of the rightmost lane. The area to the right of the edge line is the shoulder. Note that not all streets have edge lines. It’s also possible to have a left edge line and a left shoulder, for example on a one-way street or divided road. Note also that the shoulder may or may not be paved, it is simply that region next to the roadway. Most of this discussion tacitly assumes a paved shoulder; however not all shoulders are paved.

A quick word about bicycle lanes: bicycle lanes are not shoulders, and shoulders are not bicycle lanes. Bicycle lanes are usually designed to AASHTO standards, and must be marked according to MUTCD specifications and designated as such by the local authority; this usually involving both a stripe and painted symbol ground markings and (now optional) “bike lane” regulatory signs.

So, designated bike lanes are part of the roadway, whereas shoulders are, by definition, not. See below for More about Bike Lanes.

typical open-shoulder street (that is, has a shoulder with no curb or gutter). Pecos Road, Phoenix AZ ~ 2400 east block. This shoulder is frequently used by joggers and bicyclists.

In Arizona a bicyclist generally may travel on any shoulder  — because it is not prohibited by any statute. (Motorists are not explicitly prohibited from driving on the shoulder, either*) However, on controlled-access highways jurisdictions may, and do, restrict bicycle use (§28-733). In particular, ADOT restricts bicyclists on limited-access highways where allowed to the shoulder, and prohibits bicyclists altogether on other, mostly urban, controlled-access highways. Likewise, local authorities may regulate the operation of bicycles on roads under their jurisdiction; although this is uncommon (§28-626 & 627).

Arizona has no mandatory shoulder use law for bicyclists. §28-815A specifies where, laterally, a bicyclist must ride when riding on the roadway. It contains no provisions for requiring removal from the roadway onto any shoulder, ever.

There’s the edge line, there’s the curb. Where may a bicyclist ride? Where must a bicyclist ride? The phrase “…or curb” is often mis-interpreted.

Bicyclists must ride “as close as practicable” to the right hand edge of the roadway when traveling at less than the normal speed of traffic; but only if (among other exceptions) the lane is wide enough to share, and have no general duty to not impede other drivers nor to travel as fast as motorized traffic, that is to say §28-704A  and §28-701E are inapplicable to bicyclists because they specifically apply only to drivers of motor vehicles. Drivers of vehicles, which includes bicyclists, on two-lane highways, that is one lane in each direction, have a duty to pull off the roadway, when safe, if impeding five or more vehicles and passing is unsafe (§28-704C). If a shoulder is available and safe (e.g. clear of debris, wide enough to allow a cyclist to completely exit the roadway), a bicyclist under such conditions would be required to leave the roadway and allow traffic to clear.

This busy urban road has two through lanes, and a shoulder (this is not a bike lane. Note the diagonal crosshatch markings);  at approx 11′, the lanes appear to be clearly “too narrow to share…” . The shoulder disappears just around the bend. Warner Rd eastbound at 51st St, Phoenix.

Typical busier roads in urban settings are multiple lanes in each direction, and as such 28-704C is not applicable. The law presumes that faster traffic can overtake in one of the other available lanes, so bicyclists are never required to leave the travel lane. The Slow driver law, §28-721B, can apply to bicyclists, and only requires the slower traffic to use the right hand lane on any road laned for traffic; all busy urban roads are laned. It never requires any traffic to leave the roadway.

So, in sum, bicyclists except for the caveats mentioned (certain limited-access highways; and under particular conditions on a two-lane highway) are never required to use a shoulder, though many often choose to.

More about Bike Lanes

As explained above, a duly marked and designated bike lane, unlike a shoulder, is part of the roadway and as its name suggests, it is also a lane, albeit one for the “exclusive use of bicycles” (§28-815C). There is no explicit statute requiring a bicyclist to use any bike lane.

Bike lanes are an example of a preferential use lane. Other examples of preferential use lanes are for taxis, buses, and HOV (High Occupancy Vehicles). The type of user the lane is for is not/never required to use it. HOV drivers are not required to use HOV lanes, etc.

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; as illustrated in one-road-4-treatments  the narrow-lane exception almost always applies on laned roads, because of the way traffic engineers have chosen to design them.

See more about bike lane use requirements here (link to be inserted).

A Last word about shoulders

This two-lane highway has a wide, graded, dirt/gravel shoulder. Maricopa Road; near the Wild Horse Pass Casino.

Remember, not all roads have shoulders, and not all roads with shoulders have paved shoulders. It may well be possible to ride on this shoulder like the one pictured at left, for example with a mountain bike — but it is never required.

Dangerous shoulder, AZ State Route 188, Globe, AZ.

Arizona law does not define the term “improved shoulder”. (in contrast, see Texas shoulder laws, mentioned below). Shoulders are just shoulders, and the laws have to work on all types of highways.

Two Abreast

Two abreast riding is generally allowed “Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast except on paths or parts of roadway set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.” §28-815B.  Note that the number of riders abreast restriction only applies on “the roadway”; as we’ve seen above, a shoulder is not part of a roadway.

The narrow-lane exception in §28-815A(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” is generally understood to mean ONE bicycle, and if the exception applies to one bicycle, it also applies to two bicyclists riding abreast. In other words, some lanes will be just wide enough to safely share with one bicyclist; if bicyclists are riding two-abreast in such a lane, they are required to “single up” in the presence of faster traffic. By contrast, when riding in a narrow lane, cyclists may continue to ride two-abreast subject only to the rules already mentioned above.


§28-729(1) says on laned roads “A person shall drive a vehicle as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane…”. And  §28-721A says that “On all roadways of sufficient width, a person shall drive a vehicle on the right half of the roadway…”; either statute is generally taken to mean when driving on the roadway, a driver must only operate on the right side (i.e. in the correct direction) of the roadway; and not on any shoulder; the shoulder is not a lane.  That being said, to the extent that 28-721A and/or 28-729(1) does prohibit drivers of vehicles from operating on the shoulder; SB1218 in 1986 made several changes regarding the operation of bicyclists. Among them, it clarified 28-812 to make clear that bicyclists are permitted to use a shoulder by adding the language “OR UPON A SHOULDER ADJOINING A ROADWAY” (historical footnote; the word ‘upon’ has since been changed to ‘on’, probably just a conforming change). For an updated twist, see the new (2014) which explicitly makes it legal to drive golf carts on the shoulder but only in Sun City!

Some further references

  • Bicyclists are generally granted the same rights and responsibilities as a driver of a vehicle, see §28-812.
  • ADOT policy 1030: Controlled-Access Highways as Bikeways specifies exactly which freeways bicyclists are allowed to use (shoulder only).
  • More about ASHTO and MUTCD standards for designated Bike Lanes.
  • See comment below for the correct interpretation of the word ‘or’ in ‘as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway”; which appear, e.g. in Arizona AFRAP rule (28-815A); and also appears in the required position for right turns law 28-751A and a variation in the generic slow-moving vehicle rule 28-721B.
  • The terms ‘street’ and ‘highway’ are synonymous in Arizona law, see definitions here.
  • Edge lines are specified in sections 3B06 and 7 of the MUTCD. Edge lines are sometimes/frequently mis-used by traffic engineers on urban streets to create “fake bike lanes”.
  • Diagonal crosshatch markings (see Warner Rd photo, above, are specified in sections 3B24 of the MUTCD… “diagonal crosshatch markings may be used to discourage travel on certain paved areas, such as shoulders…”
  • There is one oblique reference to driving on shoulders: §28-942 “If a motor vehicle is operated on a roadway or shoulder…”

Other States

While Arizona law is mum,  rules about shoulder use, both for drivers of vehicles and for bicyclists run the gamut in other states…

TEXAS: In contrast, some states get very specific about shoulder usage; consider Texas Transportation Code – Section 545.058. Driving On Improved Shoulder, e.g. allowing drivers to drive on shoulders but only when “necessary and safe”. And furthermore exempting bicyclists from shoulder prohibitions.

DELAWARE: Recently (2012) Delaware amended their law to explicitly state bicyclists are allowed (but not required) to use paved shoulders.

PENNSYLVANIA:  (not sure when added) has § 3505(b)
(b) Operation on shoulder — A pedalcycle may be operated on the shoulder of a highway and shall be operated in the same direction as required of vehicles operated on the roadway…

ILLINOIS:  Has a specific prohibition for motorists —
Sec. 11-709.1. Driving on the shoulder.
(a) Vehicles shall be driven on a roadway, and shall only be driven on the shoulder for the purpose of stopping or accelerating…
In 2017 that section was modified by HB 1784 / Public Act 100-0359: “This Section shall not apply … to any bicycle”.  The structure of IL’s transpo code in my mind clearly makes this shoulder exception necessary, see IL’s applicability statute at Illinois HB5912 from year 2016.
The same law also contained allowance for faster traffic to pass bicyclists, when safe, in a no-passing zone.

UVC: Has no mentions in the rules of the road / Chapter 11 about vehicles operating, or not operating, on the shoulder (there are six mentions, mostly incidental or involving parking, one restricts backing on the shoulder of a freeway). In Chapter 1, the only mention of shoulder comes in the def’n of roadway, implying it’s ok for bicyclists to use a shoulder:
§ 1-186 Roadway – that portion of a highway improved, designed or ordinarily used for vehicular travel, exclusive of the sidewalk, berm or shoulder even though such sidewalk, berm or shoulder is used by persons riding bicycles or other human powered vehicles.
Adding that bicyclists may ride on the shoulder is floating around in someone’s (NCUTLO?) to-do list.

NEW JERSEY: see comment below about case  Polzo v. Essex, 35 A.3d 653, 664–65 (N.J. 2012). Use of shoulder by bicyclists has no explicit mention, nor does there seem to be any of the other justifications, by  implication, under state law.  The applicability statute, NJSA 39:4-14.1  makes no mention of shoulders, a “bicycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle”. And their definitions of roadway or shoulder 39:1-1 have none of the flowery language of the UVC about bicycle use.

In other words, if vehicles can’t be driven on the shoulder, than neither can bicycles.

Also, mentioned at walkbikejersey referring to a 2002 report about how to improve laws: “Use of shoulder: Provide a new statute that establishes how paved shoulders are to be used and, as needed, clarify what use is prohibited on shoulder”. This was thusfar never implemented.

Ohio — bike lawyer Steve Magas published some info about a case he handled involving a bicyclist-MV collision where the edge line ended before the collision. The police and insurers placed blame on the bicyclist because he had been riding on the shoulder / berm; the theory being upon entering the roadway (e.g. when an edge line disappears, as they routinely do), the entering operator must yield. The case eventually resulted in a large monetary settlement in June 2019 for the bicyclists but took years.

20 thoughts on “Shoulder Use”

  1. Painstakingly detailed explanation of CA law — which contains same AFRAP language of “or curb” regarding, what Watchell refers to as the “slow bicyclists law” aka AFRAP — states flatly that “5. Bicyclists Are Not Required to Ride on the Shoulder – The slow bicycle rule applies only on the roadway. Bicyclists, even slow ones, are never required to ride on the shoulder (or on sidewalks or bike paths) rather than on the roadway…”

    Bicycles and the Law: The Case of California by Alan Wachtel
    University of California, Davis, Environmental Law Society

    CA’s AFRAP law: CVC 21202

    Same info at wiki, see Bicyclists are allowed, but never required, to ride in the shoulder.

    Ohio AFRAP ORC 4511.55 does NOT include the “or curb”. So I was mistaken in thinking the wording is consistent (among the many states that has AFRAP law).

  2. Musings about vehicular shoulder use. There is no Arizona Statute that prohibits use; nor is there anything in the MUTCD that would imply that it prohibited.
    (also would like to add the section from mutcd on “Chevron” solid white line markings; it says something there about how crossing of such markings is “discouraged”)…

    I found:
    3A6-1 A solid line discourages or prohibits crossing (depending on the specific application),

    3B3-20 Where crossing the lane line markings is discouraged, the lane line markings shall consist of a normal or wide solid white line.

    30 Where crossing the lane line markings is prohibited, the lane line markings shall consist of a solid double white line (see Figure 3B-12).

    Evidently, if a lane line is “normal” (4-6 inches wide), then it is not intended to be prohibited (there’s still no supporting law, though). But if it is “wide”, that could mean it is discouraged but not prohibited.

    On Sat, Sep 08, 2012 at 12:40:01PM -0700, Ed Beighe wrote:
    > ah yes the stripe is a TCD but there’s nothing in mutcd prohibiting driving over a solid white stripe (is there?)…
    > IIRC it says solid white stripes are used in places where crossing is “discouraged”.
    > az has that “can’t drive over a gore point” law; i forget how that’s worded but it wouldn’t apply to an edgeline.
    > ________________________________
    > From:
    > Sent: Saturday, September 8, 2012 11:58 AM
    > Subject: Re: do not pass on shoulder
    > Oh, and the “stripe”/edge-line-pavement-marking is a TCD too, so the
    > police (those of them who realize this) could cite a person for the
    > generic TCD rule. *However* my earlier comment applies: I see NO WAY
    > for a person to know that a (wide) shoulder is not an additional lane.

  3. Here is some explanation of the same phrase that gets wrongly interpreted when applying to bicycles AFRAP on laned roads *with* shoulders from the bicycledriving discussion group (direct link to post) …

    Bob Shanteau Aug 02 06:12AM -0700

    On 8/1/2013 11:35 PM, Martin Pion wrote:
    >> rights – *Not all bicycle drivers endorse repealing cyclist laws,
    >> *that allow us to control lanes of traffic whenever necessary for
    >> width or expansive safety or operational needs*.*

    Beck’s main point is that repealing the FTR law would leave bicyclists subject to the Slow Moving Vehicle law, which says that drivers of slow moving vehicles must drive in the right-hand lane or as close to the right-hand edge or curb of the roadway as practicable. The problem is that he doesn’t understand the “or” in the SMV law. He thinks it means “and”, such that SMVs are required to drive at the right edge of the right-hand lane. He is mistaken.

    In our article The Marginalization of Bicyclists – How the car lane paradigm eroded our lane rights and what we can do to restore them Dan Gutierrez and I explain what the “or” in the SMV law means:


    UVC 11-301 — Drive on right side of roadways — exceptions …
    (b) Upon all roadways any vehicle proceeding at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic, or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, except when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road, alley, or driveway.

    The intent of this subsection is to facilitate the overtaking of slowly moving vehicles by faster moving vehicles. …

    What does the “or” in “the right-hand lane or as close as practicable to the right” mean?

    There has been a lot of confusion about what the “or” in UVC 11-301(b) means. Some people mistakenly interpret the “or” to mean “and”. By this interpretation, a narrow slow moving vehicle (such as a motorcycle) would have to be driven in the right side of the right-hand lane in order to comply with UVC 11-301(b), presumably in order to facilitate passing by faster vehicles in the same lane. Since the UVC specifically grants motorcyclists the right to use a full lane (see below), a driver could get a ticket for passing a motorcyclist without changing lanes. Therefore that interpretation must be incorrect.

    A correct interpretation of the “or” in UVC 11-301(b) follows this line of reasoning:
    The driver of a slow moving vehicle is in compliance with the law by meeting one of two conditions:
    1. Operating in the right-hand lane
    2. Operating as close as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway

    On an UNLANED road:

    * The roadway does not have a right-hand lane for traffic, so condition 1 does not apply.
    * The roadway does have a right-hand curb or edge, so condition 2 applies.
    * Therefore the driver of a slow moving vehicle operating as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway is in compliance with UVC 11-301(b).

    On a LANED road:

    * The roadway has a right-hand lane for traffic, so condition 1 applies.
    * The roadway has a right-hand edge or curb, so condition 2 also applies.
    * Condition 1 is less restrictive than Condition 2.
    * Only the less restrictive of the two conditions needs to be met in order to comply with the law.
    * Therefore the driver of a slow moving vehicle operating in the right-hand lane for traffic is in compliance with UVC 11-301(b).

    In 1975, the NCUTLO /Panel on Bicycle Laws came to the same interpretation when it considered what would be required of bicyclists on laned roads if the provision were deleted:

    UVC 11-301(b) … will effectively require bicycles to stay in the right lane (although it will not require them to stay near the right edge of the roadway) when moving slower than other traffic.

    Bob Shanteau


    Serge Issakov Aug 02 03:15PM -0700 wrote:
    Michael, Martin got cited for violating the local version of that law. That’s what you don’t seem to appreciate. We know the FTR law *shouldn’t*make riding like that illegal. That’s why Bob Shanteau and others got those exceptions in there. But too many people, including law enforcement and judges, not to mention the vast majority of motorists *and bicyclists* believe that kind of riding violates FTR never-the-less. That’s the problem… a problem that can only be addressed by removing the law.


  4. xxx xxxxx, Esq. xxx Legal Advisor

    xxxx is an attorney, specializing in representing bicyclists who have been injured in motor vehicle collisions. In addtion to his activities with CAzB, he serves as the chairman of the Enforcement Subcommittee of the Tucscon-Pima BAC. xxx is an LCI, a League Certified cycling Instructor. Contact him here.

  5. NJ Supreme court decision (Argued September 26, 2011 – Decided January 18, 2012) said in part in Polzo vs. Essex County
    “Bicyclists do not have special privileges on a roadway’s shoulder. Indeed, a bicycle rider is directed to ride on the furthest right hand side of the roadway, not on the roadway’s shoulder. The Motor Vehicle Code does not designate the roadway’s shoulder as a bicycle lane”
    Similarly to, and citing, Boub, the New Jersey Supreme court said essentially that bicyclists are not intended road users, and more germane to this thread, they travel on the shoulder at their own risk.
    Here is a link to the decision, I had a hard time finding it
    In contrast to Boub, in 2016 the WA Court of Appeals found inO’Neill v. City of Port Orchard “We hold that cycling is a mode of ‘ordinary travel,’ and therefore, the City has a duty to maintain its roads for bicycle travel”. There were some other interesting findings, including the trial court wrongly excluded the cyclist’s expert witness, James Couch
    Also see discussion at for general remarks about shoulder cycling in NJ.

  6. Good wording regarding shoulder use in the FLORIDA BICYCLE LAW ENFORCEMENT GUIDE
    from (my emphais added):

    Roads with flush shoulders: where no bicycle lane is marked, a white edge line is typically marked to indicate the edge of the roadway; any pavement to the right of the edge line is shoulder pavement, not a bicycle lane unless it is marked with the bicycle lane symbol.
    Since the definition of “roadway” excludes shoulders, cyclists are not required to ride on paved shoulders that are not marked as bicycle lanes, although they may prefer to do so. A cyclist who rides on a paved shoulder typically needs to maintain 2 feet of clearance from the pavement edge. The cyclist should still travel on the right because (1) this reduces crash risk at intersections and driveways (drivers don’t expect traffic on shoulders to approach from the “wrong” direction) and (2) whenever the cyclist enters the roadway (e.g., to pass a pedestrian or other cyclist, cross an intersection, keep clear of a
    vehicle approaching to enter the roadway at a driveway, avoid debris or obstructions, etc.), right-side operation becomes mandatory

  7. I was thinking about all this shoulder-business the other day as I was proceeding eastbound on Warner Road around S. 51st Street in Phoenix in the right hand through lane with some driver behind me blaring their horn for some reason. The shoulder here is not only a shoulder, it’s marked with solid-white diagonal striping…

    This happens maybe one out of 10 times along this stretch. Interestingly, it’s always drivers who need to be in the left lane (they continue ahead to the double-left-turn lanes at the westbound I-10 ramp). Impatient?

  8. 28-812 bit about “a person riding a bicycle on a roadway or on a shoulder adjoining a roadway is granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties” [italics mine] (when was that added, 1989??) is, of course, not in current UVC*

    And regarding, “’drivers of vehicles’ are not permitted to drive on the shoulder,” don’t forget 751 – Required position and method of turning – 1.: The driver of a vehicle intending to turn shall do so as follows: 1. Right turns. Both the approach for a right turn and a right turn shall be made as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway” [italics mine] and 724 – Overtaking on the right – B.: “The driver shall not make the movement by driving off the pavement or main traveled portion of the roadway” [italics mine].

    This came up in Road Safety Assessment (SR 77 [Oracle Road] Milepost 72.9 to 74.85):

    · The only (pedestrian) walkways along Oracle Road are the paved shoulders (there are a couple of very short sidewalk segments). The paved shoulder ends where right-turn lanes are striped, creating discontinuities for pedestrians walking along the shoulder
    · Pedestrians were observed crossing mid-block, walking in the right-turn lanes, walking along the shoulder, and being “squeezed” by aggressive drivers making right turns. Foot-paths have been worn in the vegetation at locations where the paved shoulder becomes a right-turn lane.
    · The team observed motorists using the shoulders as right-turn lanes, with vehicles traveling as much as 300 feet on the shoulder before turning right (with some vehicles passing several driveways before turning right). This creates concerns for pedestrians using the shoulder, especially at night when it is difficult for motorists to see pedestrians. It also creates confusion for motorists turning from driveways who aren’t sure where the vehicle using the shoulder is going to turn.

    Resulted in recommendations to “Install signing to prohibit driving on shoulder, especially in the vicinity of multiple closely spaced driveways” and, get this, “Install bike lane markings on the shoulder to discourage motorists from driving on the shoulder (Pima County Sheriff’s Department indicated these markings would make it easier to enforce for driving on shoulder).”

    *(Interesting though amendment (shown in bold, below) proposed from Bicycle Technical Committee (Proposed Changes to UVC Chapters 1 and 11):
    11-1202-Traffic laws apply to persons on bicycles and other human powered vehicles
    (a) Every person propelling a vehicle by human power or riding a bicycle shall have all of the rights and all of the duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle under chapters 10 and 11, except as to special regulations in this article and except as to those provisions which by their nature can have no application
    (b) Bicycle travel on the shoulder of the roadway shall be permitted except where regulations prohibit or restrict shoulder travel for bicyclists.


    11-304 When passing on the right is permitted
    … Such movement shall not be made by driving off the roadway, except that a person operating a bicycle may pass on the shoulder, provided the movement may be done in safety.

  9. Regarding mandatory bike lane laws:
    Various compendiums of state-by-state reviews reveal that relatively few states have mandatory use laws, e.g. guide-to-improving-laws shows 6; and LAB lists 8 state. And just to be clear, the LAB says that “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.”

    An interesting article at LAB site; bike-law-university-mandatory-use-separated-facilities
    “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.”

  10.’s Guide to Improving Bicycle Laws notes that only four states have mandatory shoulder use laws with various exceptions; Alaska, Colorado, Maryland, and New York.
    It also noted the current version of UVC, unlike AZ, does not specify where bicycle laws apply; in other words, they apply where other traffic laws apply; see UVC §11—1202—Traffic laws apply to persons on bicycles…
    And as mentioned in a previous comment, there is a recommendation to update the UVC to make shoulder use explicitly permitted (and explicitly optional).

    Random other-state check, PA has explicit bicyclist may optionally ride on the shoulder… easy peasy.
    Section 3505(b) Operation on shoulder.
    A pedalcycle may be operated on the shoulder of a highway and shall be operated in the same direction as required of vehicles operated on the roadway.

  11. Here’s another thought on why it’s not a good idea to mark typical rural roadways with bike lanes, rather than shoulders:
    Can you mark road shoulders as bike lanes?:

    …If rural road shoulders are to be used by bicyclists and pedestrians, it is advisable to not mark it as a bike lane. Doing so would pose a safety hazard, implying that bikes and pedestrians would be required (illegally) to share a bike lane. A better choice is to place a sign advising folks to share the road…


    Since shoulders are rarely consistently ridable, due to disappearing, debris, surface conditions or whatever, a problem arises when one is bicycling along a shoulder: how is a bicyclist supposed to re-join the roadway? It turns out that the law is, once again, mum on this issue. There are a number of laws that seem like they could apply, but for one reason or another don’t.

    Let’s start by pointing out that when a shoulder is used for its intended purpose, like parking, or a breakdown lane, this rule applies: “Starting parked vehicle” 28-753 “A person shall not start a vehicle that is stopped, standing or parked unless the movement can be made with reasonable safety”.

    The “Driving on roadways laned for traffic” rule, 28-729, seems like it should apply, but is worded to also exclude shoulders (because a shoulder is not a lane) — it reads in part “1. A person shall drive a vehicle as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not move the vehicle from that lane until the driver has first ascertained that the movement can be made with safety”.
    And, further, implies noone should be operating on a shoulder in the first place (on laned roads).

    “Driving on right half of roadway”, 28-721(1), also implies noone should be operating on the shoulder, either: “On all roadways of sufficient width, a person shall drive a vehicle on the right half of the roadway” (recall that shoulders are explicitly not part of the roadway).

    What about signaling? The statue is possibly broad enough to be read so as to require (if any traffic is affected) signaling when entering the roadway from a shoulder. It is sort of long and confusing so here is the whole paragraph:

    28-754 Turning movements and required signals
    A. A person shall not turn a vehicle at an intersection unless the vehicle is in proper position on the roadway as required in section 28-751, or turn a vehicle to enter a private road or driveway or otherwise turn a vehicle from a direct course or move right or left on a roadway unless and until the movement can be made with reasonable safety. A person shall not so turn any vehicle without giving an appropriate signal in the manner provided by this article in the event any other traffic may be affected by the movement.

    Note that in AZ signaling is only required if other traffic may be affected (unlike UVC 11-604, by the way). There is an AZ CoA decision that elaborates on this State v. Starr 222 Ariz. 65, 213 P.3d 214 Ariz.App. Div. 1 or on [findlaw].
    I went down an another related rabbit-hole, in Michigan there’s an interesting ruling People v. Hrlic 744 N.W.2d 221 (2007) 277 Mich. App. 260. That construed “(before) turning from a direct line … shall give a signal” as meaning applies to lane changes. This ruling reverses a lower court ruling that the statute was unconstitutionally vague regarding lane changes.

  13. This is a reasonably good explanation of shoulder use, from Nevada which, like Arizona, has no mandatory shoulder use:

    Q3: Do bicyclists have to ride in the shoulder?
    A: No. While most bicyclists will prefer to ride as far from passing traffic as possible there is no law that requires bicycles to be relegated to the highway shoulders.

    Although, as is so often the case it goes on to imply things that aren’t exactly true, it continues:

    Unless designated by markings and/or signage as a “Bicycle Lane”, Shoulder conditions vary and are generally not engineered for travel. Care should be taken when riding in mixed travel lanes and, unless making a turn or going at a comparable rate of speed, cyclists must ride as far to the right as is practicable within the travel lanes

    NV doesn’t appear to have any mandatory bike lane use law, and although NV lacks an explicit exemption from FTR for a narrow lane, it does have the generic “When doing so would not be safe”; riding at the right edge of a narrow lane is not safe.

  14. In 2012 Delaware state passed SB120, a law specifically stating that cyclists my use the shoulder (it also legalized use or an otherwise RTOL for through bicyclists)

    4196(a)(3) When proceeding straight in a right-turn-only lane…

    4196(d) Any person operating a bicycle may ride upon a paved shoulder, with due regard for any traffic control devices intended to regulate or guide traffic or pedestrians

  15. Under Arizona Revised Statute 28-601.21 a shoulder is NOT part of a roadway. Therefore, may a bicyclist ride on the shoulder while facing traffic?

    I ask because on quiet Sun Valley Parkway (north and west of White Tank Mountains) motor vehicles often travel at a very high rate of speed and it’s clearly safer to bicycle on the shoulder facing traffic in order to see these fast-moving vehicles approach.

    One more point: I do realize that ARS 28-812 says bicyclists must obey the same laws as motor vehicles on roadways and “shoulders.” Since motor vehicles can’t operate on shoulders, yet bicycles may operate on a shoulder if the bicyclist chooses to do so, then the direction of bicycle operation “on shoulders” is not clearly specified. Anyone? Thank you!

    Reading through the ARS and these and other wonderful discussions I read nothing about this. Thank you!

    hi william — Good questions! As an aside, one thing i’d like to point out is you said “bicyclists must obey the same laws as motor vehicles on roadways and… “; that’s not correct, bicyclists must obey the same laws as the driver of a vehicle, not a motor vehicle. You can read more about why that matters here.
    It’s not clear to me that it’s a violation to drive a motor vehicle on the shoulder, check out the golf cart story.
    Anyways; to your point about bicyclists — I think you have a strong legal argument that there is no violation but as usual if you were cited (for what statute, exactly?) it would all depend on the judge or hearing officer. More worrisome would be if you were involved in a collision; you will certainly find the other side claiming you were liable.
    Setting all that aside: from a safety argument it’s not really clear it wise to go counter-flow every. The disadvantage at any intersection or driveway is obvious, assuming you disregard that trouble; the oblivious problem with counterflow is your are increasing the closing speed, decreasing the time a driver has to react (wake up or whatever) as opposed to the reverse.
    Remember, if you were walking you’d be required to be walking against traffic. If you were riding a bike that slowly it would make more sense… it’s a speed thing.
    As always, remember, IANAL (I am not a lawyer!)

  16. A bicyclist was cited in Austin, Texas for riding on the shoulder,Sec. 545.058 plainly, explicitly excludes bicycles. Austin Police spokesman said “We encourage someone who believes they have been wrongly cited to go to court to fight for dismissal.” What a crappy attitude; he should have to take a day off work to go to traffic court and read the law to the cops? The City of Austin should request the ticket be dismissed “in the interest of justice” is the usual pretty language I’ve seen, I’m sure the Court would be happy to comply. Bicyclist Steven Todack was riding on the shoulder when a driver struck him. Talk about adding insult to injury. CBS Austin. Some of the comments on facebook are funny.
    The cyclist’s lawyer said, “Chief Manley is very dedicated to making sure when his officers are unfamiliar with the code and write bad reports that the reports are corrected according to strict protocols.”… that’s encouraging, let’s hope it’s true.

  17. From

    4) Operating on the shoulder is not just inconvenient, it eliminates your right-of-way and legal protection.

    A shoulder is not like a bike lane or even a sidewalk. In most states, including Kentucky, it is an operational no man’s land (because it is not intended for vehicular operation). It is off the roadway; therefore a bicyclist using it has no right-of-way. She must yield to all traffic making conflicting movements at intersections and driveways. If someone hits her, she has no legal protection. There’s nothing practicable about operating in a space where you are both vulnerable and subservient to every vehicle on a conflicting path.

  18. This would seem to be a correct result, the bicyclist lost his lawsuit due to the jurisdiction not being required to maintain a shoulder (analogous to NJ Polo v Essex)…

    Sierra Vista victorious in bicyclist’s lawsuit
    SIERRA VISTA — The city emerged victorious on Wednesday in a lawsuit filed three years ago by a bicyclist who claimed the municipality was negligent in maintaining a swath of roadway where the individual was injured.

    In the end, the argument boiled down to whether the area where cyclist Lawrence Beck was riding his road bike on Nov. 12, 2018, was a bike lane or a shoulder.

    It took the eight-member jury less than an hour to decide the city was not at fault in the accident, agreeing with defense attorneys representing Sierra Vista that the section of thoroughfare where Beck took a tumble was actually a shoulder of the road.

    “This is a simple case,” said attorney Walter Grochowski. “Mr. Beck was riding on the shoulder of the road, not a designated bike lane.”

    An avid cyclist, Beck was riding his road bike, heading northeast on Charleston Road.

    As he approached Charleston and Fighting Colt Drive near Buena High, Beck tumbled off his road bike at a section where the road turned to loose gravel, the complaint shows.

    “The hard and stable surface on the shoulder/bike path/bike lane of the roadway turns into loose gravel without any indication or warning, which caused Plaintiff to suffer a fall, resulting in injuries, damages, and losses,” shows the complaint, filed in November 2019.

    Beck argued that the city failed to maintain that section of road and that resulted in “an unreasonably dangerous condition of the road.”

    Beck’s attorney, David Dwyer, told jurors Beck had undergone four surgeries and that he can’t bend his left wrist.

    He said his client was seeking $875,966 in damages.

    Because the section of road where Beck was riding is not a designated bike lane, Grochowski told jurors Beck should have been riding as close to the white line on the road as possible, based on Arizona Revised Statute 28-815. [This isn’t a remotely correctly abbreviated version of 28-815 ; See Tom Armstrongs letter-to-the-editor; or this description of the law; the road here undoubtedly has lanes which are too narrow to share, see Arizona’s FTR Law]

    Additionally, the state’s bike laws say that “ … the shoulder may or may not be paved, it is simply that region next to the roadway.”

    Grochowski told jurors the city had maintained the gravel area of the shoulder by sweeping it. He also said road shoulders can be constructed of any material.

    Sierra Vista City Attorney Nathan Williams said the city had offered to settle the case with Beck, but the amount was not disclosed.

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