With soaring gas prices, more and more people are riding bikes to commute to work, to run errands, and for recreation. As a long-time, fanatical cyclist, it pleases me to see more folks enjoying cycling but I am concerned about what seems to be an increase in hostility toward bicyclists from the motoring public. If you are a bicycle rider, you know what I mean– the truck that lays on the horn as it crowds you to the curb, the car that passes you unsafely and unnecessarily close, and the car that pulls up to your rear wheel as you wait for a light to change. All of these things are dangerous and ILLEGAL. As discussed below, under New York law, bicyclists have the same rights (and obligations) to use the road as cars and trucks.

Before getting into the N.Y. laws applicable to bicycles and motorists, I wanted to make a more simple and basic suggestion: Let’s all share the road— if you are a cyclist that means ride safely and clearly signal your intentions to other traffic. If you are a driver, be patient and give bikes the space and time they need to ride safely. A simple idea but one that will promote greater safety for cyclists and minimize legal liability.

OK, let’s discuss the N.Y. laws applicable to bikes because I am sure many motorists would be surprised to learn that for the most part, bikes have just as much right to use the normal lane of traffic as a car.

Below is a letter that a local attorney, Bill Lodico, also a bicyclist, wrote to a local newspaper writer regarding the laws pertaining to motorists and cyclists:

I sending this letter to ask you to be careful in any piece you write to avoid giving the impression that cyclists are required to stay far to the right in traffic or on roadways. The last thing the cycling public needs is a motoring public operating under the misconception that cyclists aren’t entitled to use the whole road, or that cyclists are restricted to the narrow band “as far to the right as possible.” I’ve seen more than one instance where motorists have used their truck or car to enforce this spurious rule. I expect you don’t want to be part of that.

I expect you also don’t want to be a part of encouraging cyclists to ride in a way that may may make them less visible to motorists, or that may make them more likely to be accident victims as motorists attempt to squeeze into a narrow space between a cyclist and oncoming traffic.

While, as a general rule, it makes sense for cyclists to stay to the right half of a traffic lane, so as to allow the most room for motorists to pass, there are numerous times when cyclists can and should move to the left, including the situation where the cyclist is blocking motor traffic from passing in dangerous situations.

This is from the NYSDOT “tips for motorists”

–Don’t assume cyclists should position themselves on the road as far to the right as possible. Smart cyclists plot a line straight down the roadway 3-4 feet from the curb or parked cars. This allows them space to avoid road hazards and to be more visible to motorists and pedestrians.

–Be aware that when a road is too narrow for cars and bikes to ride safely side by side, bicyclists should ride in or near the center of the lane to discourage motorists from trying to pass.

–Some roads have bike lanes. Cyclists are required to use these lanes, but may enter into your lane in order to execute a left turn.

NY Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1234(a) contains the provision stating where a cyclist should ride in the roadway: “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. . “

The statute then goes on to include broadly stated exceptions even to this carefully crafted and qualified rule. Section 1234(a) continues: “. . . 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. Conditions to be taken into consideration include, but are not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards or traffic lanes too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side-by-side within the lane.”

So, for instance, by the statute, in the two way sections on Church or Water west of Lake Street, where parking is allowed, a cyclist can, and probably should, ride smack in the middle of the traffic lane. Opening car doors present the hazard that pushes him to the left, and there’s clearly not enough room for the usual SUV (or even the typical Buick or Chevy) and bicycle ” to travel safelyl side by side within the lane.”

The rules of the road set out by the statute and by NYSDOT’s “Tips for Motorists” is obviously very different from any flat, simple rule about bikes staying to the right, and I’m suggesting it’s best if we avoid giving flat simple rules about where cyclists belong on the road, except to state that they do, in fact, belong on the road.

Bill Lodico

I think Bill did a great job of explaining this issue and I thank him for doing so.

Thanks for reading,

Jim Reed