Flagstaff PD’s Bicyclist video

Flagstaff PD uploaded a video on October 3, 2023 to their facebook page. The timing suggests it may have been produced in response to the Lake Mary RV driver – bicyclist crash that occurred about 5 weeks ago, or possibly that’s just coincidental.

One striking element missing is serious discussion about wrong-way cycling; which is associated with a significant amount of serious bike-MV crashes.

The entire video is less than 5 minutes long — it’s clearly not able to go into any nuances. All in all, it’s a very good effort; but there are a few details that I believe are either incorrect, or at least a bit misleading.

Transcript automatically generated by YouTube; any punctuation or emphasis was added manually… Transcript on the left, commentary on the right.

Hello my name is Adam Williams I’m an officer with the city of Flagstaff police department and a member of the traffic enforcement unit today I’d like to take a few minutes and answer some questions and talk about best practices with regards to bicycle safety and how bicyclists and motorists can share the road in a safe and effective manner
Let’s get started… A bicyclist in the roadway has the same right to be in that lane and must follow the same laws as a car or truck that means they must ride to the right of the roadway, must stop at all stop signs and wait for a green light at all traffic signal intersections
So yes, bicyclists have a right to ride in the roadway, “in that lane” as the officer said. Excellent! I don’t understand this bit: “that means they (bicyclists) must ride to the right of the roadway”.

All drivers of a vehicle, including bicyclists, must only use the right half of the roadway , this is the direction of traffic rule — is that what was meant? If he was intending to refer to 28-815A, the as far right as practicable rule, this is a majorly incorrect way of stating that.


Since bicycles are slower than vehicles, law requires that cyclists ride in the lane farthest to the right. If a bicycle lane is available cyclist should be in that lane unless they are preparing for a turn.
It’s hard to know where to begin with this one… There are so many potential safety problems for cyclists and bike lanes. To begin with, ‘since’ isn’t a correct way to begin the discussion; ‘when’ is more like it; the phrase in the law reads “…less than the normal speed of traffic…”. Continued below…

…Rest of BL discussion: Bike facilities advocates have a tendency to illustrate facilities in their best light. This video is no different — you have mid-block shot, with no intersections or driveways in sight. There are also no other vehicles traveling in the same direction of traffic, that cyclist was the speed of traffic, despite going quite slowly (perhaps 10mph?).

In the real world, there are MANY intersections and MANY driveways; anywhere a vehicle can turn is a safety problem because of diminished sightline and visibility issues of riding at the far right (where bike lanes are placed). They are routinely obstructed. They routinely, by design, collect debris. (I have to remind myself that Flagstaff gets snow, where do the snow, ice and cinders end up?). They are adjacent to sidewalks (loose dogs, dogs on 20′ leashes, joggers and peds and landscape workers wielding power tools on long poles routinely step into the BL without looking because they can’t hear a bicyclist approaching). Bike lanes next to parking often have door-zone hazards. Bike lanes have no legal standards, so you end up with too-narrow BLs. A bike lane stripe is literally indistinguishable from an edge line (which demarcates a shoulder, and not a BL). Surface conditions can make continuing in the BL hazardous.

So, yeah, with the somewhat flexible language of ‘available‘ and ‘should‘; Yes a bicyclist traveling in or next to a properly designed BL free of hazards (debris, obstructions, door zones, etc, etc), not near any intersections of driveways or any sight hazards, should use that bike lane if there is traffic that would be traveling at a faster (than the bicyclist) speed. Bicyclists should facilitate passing — but only where safe.

See more details about Usable Width, Door Zone, Shoulders, Preferential Use Lane, Poorly Designed Bike Lanes.

MUCH has been written by traffic safety professionals and educators about how to avoid safety hazards associated with bike lanes. See e.g. “Why do you ride like that? Why aren’t you in the bike lane“, by the ABEA as part of CyclingSavvy training.

One question I get asked quite a lot is can a car pass a bicyclist while they’re both in the same lane of traffic, the answer is it depends on how wide that lane is. By law there has to be enough room for the cyclist to ride a 3 foot gap to the car plus the car itself all in one continuous area in that lane of travel if the lane isn’t wide enough then the car shouldn’t be passing and the cyclist should move over [in the video, the Officer gestures, correctly, to the left, away from the right edge]
A good example of whether or not you think maybe the lane is too tight is to stick your arm out most people’s arms are about 2 to 3 ft long mine is about 2 and 1/2 so if I’m riding my bicycle and I can reach out and touch a car like I can right now that car is too close here is a diagram to help illustrate my point. When you add up all of the distances here using the average width of vehicle,  7 feet, a roadway Lane must be at least 14 ft wide in order for a vehicle to pass a cyclist while they’re both in the same lane
I want to commend Officer Williams for tackling this topic because it’s a difficult one. Here is the diagram that appears in the video, it was drawn by Richard Moeur; click to see the full image:

Most lanes are significantly narrower than 14′, and by the way, many vehicles are >7′ wide, e.g. a Ford F-150 is eight feet wide (vehicles are measured at their widest point; not vehicle body width). Even fewer lanes are the requisite 15+ feet width.

The video dialog could have been more explicit on that point, and should have had some shot of a cyclist riding in the middle, or left portion, of a lane.

What is happening here, legally, is that bicyclists are relieved of the duty to ride “as far right as practicable” when the lane is too narrow, making it not only legal, but best safety practice to move further left in the lane — See more at take the lane, and where to ride in the road.

On especially narrow lanes you may see lane marking such as this or posted roadway signs such as this encouraging cyclist to take the full lane.
See more about shared lane markings. and BMUFL signs. The adjective ‘especially’ should not be used here, a lane is either narrow or not, in fact the narrower it is makes it that much more obvious a lane is not sharable side-by-side with a vehicle.

r4-11 with Change Lanes To Pass placard
Another common question is are bicyclists allowed to ride next to each other on the roadway. They’re only allowed to be two side-by-side. [cumbersome phrasing: suggest “no more than two side-by-side”]
If you are on a bicycle path or a part of the roadway designed for bicycles, such as a bicycle lane, then you may ride more than two side-by-side however be very cautious when you do so
see more about two-abreast.
Now let’s talk about some best practices that we can all use in order to get home safely let’s start with folks driving cars if you see a bicyclist out on the roadway. Give them plenty of space; they’re on their bicycle, they’re a little more vulnerable without having that vehicle around them, plus because of how light they are,  and nimble, they can stop super quickly. You want to give them at least 2 seconds of time before you pass the same obstacle that they go by in order to give you as much time as possible to avoid any kind of emergency.
For those of you riding bicycles: remember you are nimble, you are small, both of those means that a lot of drivers are not going to see you right away give yourself all of the chances you can by being predictable and by being visible. Signal those turns, left turn? stick that arm straight out;  right turn? stick that arm straight out the other way, and if you’re going to slow down?  right arm out! left arm out! [Gesturing out and down bent at elbow; he should not have said right arm, only left]3:26
Be visible be predictable! Don’t weave in and out between cars [displays graphic from street smarts] set a line and stick with it. If you need to make a turn, signal early.  That way the cars around you know you’re coming and can either give you space or give you a communication to let you know whether or not they’re going to let you in.  Be(ing)predictable gives them an opportunity to respond before you take action.
            Generally good advice here…

Learn and use the arm signals.






It should be added: 1) “taking the lane” as previously described is part of being V&P ;  and 2) also should mention nighttime lighting requirements, which is maybe so obvious for being visible they forgot to mention

For motorcyclists: you’re about the same size as a bicycle, just a little bigger,  a LOT more power, at the same time give the bicyclist their space they have that bicycle lane and it is only only for them. Motorcycles have to stay in the roadway [presumably referring to 28-815D]. If you’re going to lane filter between two lanes of traffic that are going the same direction.
Motorcyclist filtering (A.K.A lane splitting) in AZ was recently legalized. It occurs to me, the law didn’t explicitly ban splitting between a lane and a bike lane. A bike lane is “a lane”. Although, it is true that motor vehicles are prohibited from “operating” in a BL, 28-815D. Hmm.
At the end of the day we all just want to get home safely right so let’s try and be good humans help each other out take that extra 5 minutes in the morning so you don’t have to feel stressed on your way to work and we’ll all get home safely at the end of the day. Take care


Flagstaff FUTS

An issue not even mentioned was sidewalk riding, which I expect is as prone to crashes in Flagstaff — especially when riding counter-flow — as everywhere.

Somewhat complicating that picture is the parts of the FUTS that run adjacent to roads (the 2nd and third pic) roads. These are traps for intersection / turning conflicts, and made even worse where the FUTS is bi-directional, as half the time a bicyclist will be going the “wrong-way” relative to adjacent traffic.





All-in-all a good effort.  And substantially better than the City of Tempe PD bicycle diversion class.

  • Kudos for spending time explaining narrow-lane position.

Suggestions for improvement:

  • Bike lane issues should be admitted / recognized
  • Sidewalk riding (wasn’t discussed at all)?
  • The dangers of wrong-way riding should be specifically discussed
  • Nighttime lighting was not discussed
  • Although this was in the vain of general knowledge, and not legal minutia… I would prefer to see references to laws or code explicitly referenced, particularly because this is produced officially by a Police Department (this could be done without adding any time, just a graphic overlay at the appropriate time.). Historical note: the CoF made signifcant changes in 2012 to their local bicycle code; I am not aware of any specific problems with it.


Flagstaff Crash History / Map

Here’s a map of the most recent 5 years available (2018-2022), reports only cover Bike-MV crashes that were reported to police in the City of Flagstaff. It contains a total of 162 crashes, including 3 fatal incidents, as well about 18 serious injury incidents.

For an older roundup (2005-2014), bike crashes in the whole MPO is linked here.

A word about Separated Bike Lanes

Separated bike lanes are also known as “protected” bike lanes or cycle tracks.

Bike lanes separated from the adjacent roadway with a vertical barrier are not part of the adjacent roadway, they appear to constitute what used to be called a “bicycle path”; the mandatory bicycle path law was repealed in Arizona in 1989.

Cyclists, particularly those traveling “fast”, are likely to encounter severe fall hazards from narrow bike lanes with vertical separation; and are likely to avoid riding in them.

Here’s the Aug 2022 view of Butler Street w/precast concrete curb placed on the (former) BL stripe; the very clean. April 2023, though the two general purpose travel lanes appear to be completly clean, the separated bike lane area? Not so much.


4 thoughts on “Flagstaff PD’s Bicyclist video”

  1. I wonder if Flagstaff PD’s assertion that a lane less than 14 feet wide is too narrow to share could be use in an AFRAP defense elsewhere in Arizona.

  2. I thought case law reached the conculsion that a lane needed to be at least 14.5 feet wide for a vehicle to pass a bicycle, maybe not. I cringe when I hear “best practices”. That means there is no other better way. Of course there is! Also, that Butler Road bike lane? I wound never enter that. Too narrow, hard curbs both sides, definite fall hazard. I see similar although shorter designs around town where cities use pinch points and traffic circles. Just too narrow, dirty, and dangerous. I appluad the attempt and the fact that a police force takes bicycles into account, but the Cycling Savy videos are much better from a bicycle operator perspective.

  3. One more thing. Who are those traffic engineers kidding putting the little hard curb between the bike lane and travel lane? Cars can jump a normal hard curb onto a sidewalk. Do they really think that little strip of concrete is going to keep cars out of the bike lane? C’mon man! I see infrastructure like that, and I immediately think of all those motorists, not knowing the law, thinking that justifies close passing a person on a bike.

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