Mike asked: I would appreciate some help with clarifying whether it is legal for cars to use the bike lane for their travel. Is it legal for a car to use the bike lane to pass on the right?
There is a difference in the definitions of “bicycle lane” used by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and the national Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). One uses “preferential or exclusive”, and the other uses only “preferential”.
Bicycle Lane – A portion of the roadway that has been designated by pavement markings and, if used, signs for the preferential or exclusive use by bicycles.
FDOT Plans Preparation Manual (PPM)
Glossary of Terms
Bicycle Lane: A bicycle lane (bike lane) is a portion of a roadway (either with curb and gutter or a flush shoulder) which has been designated by striping, special pavement markings, and signing for the preferential use by bicyclists.
If they are “exclusive” that seems to imply a higher priority for bicyclists use of the bike lane than does “preferential”, but which applies to the traffic laws?
There is no statute that says, “Motor vehicles shall not use bicycle lanes”, and the only mention of “exclusive” use of bike lanes by bicyclists in the statutes refers to parking or cyclists riding abreast in a bike lane.
The statute that directly applies to this situation gives directions for vehicles passing on the right.
s. 316.084 – When Overtaking and Passing on the Right is Permitted
(1) The driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass on the right of another vehicle only under the following conditions:
(a) When the vehicle overtaken is making or is about to make a left turn;
(b) Upon a street or highway with unobstructed pavement not occupied by parked vehicles of sufficient width for two or more lines of moving traffic in each direction;
(c) Upon a one-way street, or upon a roadway on which traffic is restricted to one direction of movement, where the roadway is free from obstructions and of sufficient width for two or more lines of moving vehicles.
(2) The driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass another vehicle on the right only under conditions permitting such movement in safety. In no event shall such movement be made by driving off the pavement or main-traveled portion of the roadway.
If there is sufficient width for two lines of moving traffic, passing another vehicle on the right is permitted as long as the overtaking vehicle remains on the pavement or main-traveled portion of the roadway. The statute does not state what width is sufficient and it does not specify what is safe. The three foot minimum safe passing distance only applies to passing bicycles.
One other consideration might be the requirement for vehicles to travel within a single lane.
s. 316.089 – Driving on Roadways Laned for Traffic
Whenever any roadway has been divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic ….
(1) A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable within a single lane ….
The typical bike lane is 4-5 feet wide. That is obviously narrower than the average motor vehicle. Vehicles are required to stay within a single lane, and drivers would not be in compliance if the vehicle is partially within a bike lane.
What is “as nearly as practicable”, and how does it apply to this situation? It isn’t clear.
The main consideration in this case, as in all other traffic situations, is safety. Traffic flow is secondary. That is stressed in another statute.
s. 316.085 – Limitations on Overtaking, Passing, Changing Lanes and Changing Course
(2) No vehicle shall be driven from a direct course in any lane on any highway until the driver has determined that the vehicle is not being approached or passed by any other vehicle in the lane or on the side to which the driver desires to move and that the move can be made with safety and without interfering with the safe operation of any vehicle approaching from the same direction.
Lacking any specific and well-defined prohibition, it seems the laws allow a motorist to pass another vehicle on the right using the bike lane if it is safe.