*** 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 too narrow to safely share side-by-side. 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 thinly-veiled automobile-superiority attitude bias against cyclists, 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 (now three) 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?
For reasons excruciatingly detailed in Arizona’s FTR Law, for practical reasons of common methods of street design and construction, lanes (the curb lane, if multi-lane) are nearly always ‘narrow’. For legal purposes, of course, to be found responsible for a violation it’s necessary for the state (the police officer, or prosecutor) to prove the ‘slower than’ condition existed, as well as none of the exceptions, including the narrow lane exception, exits. (Everyone, including bicyclists, are innocent until proven responsible!).
A 28-815A prosecution against a bicyclist proceeding straight ahead on a laned road, then, is likely to become an arithmetic exercise based on proving/disproving that the lane is or isn’t ‘narrow’ — note well, these points:
- A ‘design’ cyclist on a common upright bicycle is generally accepted to be 2.5′ wide (see AASHTO Guide). Though of course some devices can be wider. This dimension includes no shy space either left or right of the cyclist.
- only usable space can be counted/measured; so any gutter pan, or any drainage protrusion width is not safely usable by a bicyclist, and
- The relevant vehicle width is not the particular police officer’s vehicle, or the vehicle that happened to be behind you. It is any vehicle that may be legally upon the road where the alleged violation occurred. For ‘busy’ roads, this is nearly always the largest trucks and buses allowed on any road, which with mirrors can be 10 feet or more wide. This is as specified in the law, see grammar lesson.
- Shoulder use (the region to the right of an edge line) is never required by 28-815A (because a shoulder is not part of the roadway). In other words, a cyclists cannot violate 28-815A due to the existence of a shoulder.
The definition of whether any particular lane is “too narrow to share…” can be a gray area; it is, e.g. not (directly) specified in feet and inches by 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, and the parenthetical clause in the quotation below about usable width is in the original:
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).
While the also authoritative ITE states similarly:
On streets where the curbside travel lane is 14 ft. (4.3 m) or wider from the lane line to the edge of pavement (not including gutter pan), faster traffic can overtake bicyclists within the same lane while still maintaining adequate separation…
Chapter 14 of the ITE Traffic Control Devices Handbook, 2nd Edition.
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 and ITE [iamtraffic.com has a very handy interactive tool]. 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′, minimum, of usable space here. (archived copy) (and Note Well: this diagram shows a “typical” vehicle, not a large vehicle like a bus or truck that is significantly wider– see some comments below from Wayne Pein referring to the zombie myth). More similar diagrams from humantransport.org. Nota Bene: some or even many motor vehicles are wider than 8′; common buses and trucks are 8.5′ wide plus the width of their mirrors which protrude from both sides typically up to 1 foot, for a total width of 10.5 feet. It is therefore the case that 14′ is not necessarily wide enough to share.
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.
For maximum allowed vehicle widths, see width-of-vehicles. The short answer is in AZ, vehicles around 10 feet (including mirror width) are allowed on most ‘busy’ roads.
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.
At left: Depiction of an ~ zero-clearance pass in a 12 foot lane; and why even a 14 foot lane is unsuitable for sharing.
The Ford F-250 is depicted in this graphic — which is accurately scaled — is 104.9″ wide w/standard mirrors.
An F-150 is 96.8″, about 7″ narrower than the truck depicted in the graphic. (either model has optional towing mirrors that are wider, and of course wider after-market mirrors are available)
The Ford F-150 is either one of, if not the most popular model of automobile in the US. There are many millions of them, and many millions more equivalent products from GM and other manufacturers, and many many millions more similarly sized (so-called “full sized”) SUVs.
The graphic is from iamtraffic.org.
Dimensions retrieved 8/20/2015: F-250, F-150.
Many of the fine graphics from iamtraffic can now be found on cyclingsavvy.org, along with video explanations “should I share that lane?” and other reference material including the interactive lane width tool. There’s also a more detailed treatment of lane width, targeted to law enforcement, Understanding Cyclists’ Position on the Roadway.
Temporary Traffic Control Zones
Here is a document about Accommodating Bicyclists Through Temporary Traffic Control (TTC) Zones i.e. work/construction zones; brought to you by the Temporary Traffic Control Technical Committee (TTCTC) in association with Bicycle Technical Committee (BTC) of the National Comittee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD).
The bicycle technical committee of the has proposed changes to the MUTCD which document a lane narrower than 14ft as too narrow to be safely shared with another vehicle, side by side, within the lane.
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 any of these cases, for some more general discussion of impeding see Bicycles are not Motor Vehicles and Why it Matters. In short the general impeding rule, 28-704A only applies to motorists; and the far more restrictive (applies only on two-lane highways, only applies when five or more vehicles are impeded, and only applies when the vehicles being impeded cannot pass for some reason) 704C does apply, but as a practical matter because of all the restrictions rarely applies to anybody. See laws here.
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.