I recently received an email from a Twin Tiers resident concerned about bicyclists riding on sidewalks and on the wrong side of roadways. I was copied on the email that was sent to his mayor and police chief after the man almost struck a bicyclist riding on a sidewalk.
The man was turning right into a parking lot and a speeding bicyclist, the resident said, was riding on the wrong side of the street in his path to the parking lot. The bicyclist was on the sidewalk and behind a fence, so he was hard to see, the man said. The resident was able to stop before hitting the bicyclist.
The resident stopped by the police department and talked with officers, remarking that he was taught as a child to ride in the road – and ride on the right side of the road, with traffic.
He said two police officers told him that pedestrians (the bicyclist, in this case) always have the right of way, and police have no power to tell bicyclists where to ride on roadways.
The man then correctly cited part of NY Vehicle and Traffic Law 1234 (regarding riding on roadways, shoulders, bicycle or in-line skate lanes and bicycle or in-line skate paths): (a) Upon all roadways, any bicycle or in-line skate shall be driven either on a usable bicycle or in-line skate lane or, if a usable bicycle or in-line skate lane has not been provided, near the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway or upon a usable right-hand shoulder in such a manner as to prevent undue interference with the flow of traffic except when preparing for a left turn or when reasonably necessary to avoid conditions that would make it unsafe to continue along near the right-hand curb or edge ….
I sent this response to him:
Thanks for including me on your email. I am sorry I have to disagree with your statement “motorists would be blamed in every case of a collision with a bicyclist despite a bicyclist riding unsafely.”
As a lawyer who handles a significant number of bicycle crash lawsuits, I can tell you that the vast majority of time it is the cyclist, not the motorist, who is blamed for causing a collision. I can’t tell you the number of times I have had to prove that an accident report was erroneous in claiming the bicyclist was at fault when in fact the motorist violated the NY Vehicle and Traffic Law.
My feeling is that our laws should be applied equally to ALL users of our roads — motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians. Likewise, proper education is important for ALL users of our roads. Yes, I see bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists sometimes obeying the laws, sometimes violating the law, and accordingly, I think it’s important that we don’t jump to the conclusion that all bicyclists are bad or that all motorists are bad.
I appreciate the fact that you are creating a dialogue about proper bicyclist/motorist behavior. I regularly lecture on NY bike laws to law enforcement, and in fact, I recently lectured to the Steuben County Magistrates Association, where many of the 52 village and town justices in Steuben County were in attendance. If you or anyone in law enforcement ever have questions regarding NY bicycle laws, please let me know and I would be happy to offer my analysis.
Under NY law, you are correct that bicycles are supposed to ride in the same direction as vehicle traffic, not against traffic. And most NY municipalities have laws prohibiting bicyclists from riding on sidewalks if the rider is older than 12 years old.
And finally, although VTL 1234 does say a cyclist should ride to the right of the road when it is safe to do so, a bicyclist IS permitted to use the full travel lane when necessary to ride safely (i.e., when making a left turn or when parked cars, road debris or potholes make the right side of the roadway dangerous).
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Fortunately, the police chief responded to the man’s email, too:
“I do not know what officers you talked with or when, but if they told you that bicyclists are somehow immune to the law, they were incorrect.
“You accurately cited one of the sections of the NYVTL that identifies the manner of which bicycles should be ridden.
“In addition to this, there are City Codes that further identify proper bicycle operation and restrictions to riding in certain areas, including the downtown area. Through our School Resource Officer, we try to educate children of their responsibilities when operating bicycles, and offer a program for free helmets for those children in need.
“By your letter, it is not clear to me the age of the bicyclist (child or adult), as this certainly factors into the options that are available to the officers. Regardless, with warmer weather upon us, there will be more cyclists out and about, making it imperative that persons operating motor vehicles do such with due care and caution.
“I will be talking with my entire staff re an uptick of patrolling safe bicycle operations. If you need anything further, please feel free to call me.”
It’s great to see a police chief admit his officers made a mistake and that he plans to educate his employees and increase enforcement. For our roadways to be safer, everyone has to do their part – motorists, bicyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians – and follow the laws. And always be mindful that there will be those who ignore the law.
Thank you for reading!
James B. Reed
NY & PA Bike Crash Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)