Jeff asked: I’m having a technical discussion with someone over who may use a bicycle lane. I believe a bicycle lane is a preferential lane for bicycles as opposed to an exclusive lane for bicycles. The definition is important.
Two practical examples of why this is important are:
a. When there is a bicycle lane to the right of an optional right turn/through lane, should the motorist clear the bicycle lane and then move to the right side of the roadway (including the bicycle lane) to begin a proper right turn? May the turn be started from the general traffic lane instead?
b. When there is room to safely pass (with 3′ clearance) a cyclist on the right by using the paved surface including the bicycle lane, is this legal?
You will find most of the answers to both questions in these posts. Although the post on Right Turns is about stopped vehicles at an intersection, the same principles apply to those that are moving. Please note Dwight Kingsbury’s comment about passing on the right.
That leaves the question of “exclusive’ or “preferential” not fully answered. Further information is in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.
Section 1A.13 Definitions of Headings, Words, and Phrases in this Manual
153. Preferential Lane—A highway lane reserved for the exclusive use of one or more specific types of vehicles or vehicles with at least a specific number of occupants.
As we see, the MUTCD does not make a distinction between the two terms for bicycle lanes. Preferential is exclusive.
These are the two statutes that mention “exclusive” in relation to bicycle lanes.
s. 316.1945 – Stopping, Standing, or Parking Prohibited in Specified Places
6. On an exclusive bicycle lane.
s. 316.2065 – Bicycle Regulations
(6) Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway may not ride more than two abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.
Obviously, “exclusive” as it applies to bicycle lanes does not mean total exclusion, as the Webster’s definition states:
Not admitting of something else, incompatible
Lacking a statutory definition of “exclusive” as is applies to bicycle lanes, we must consider bicycle lanes to be primarily for the use of bicyclists, but due to their location between the main traveled roadway and all destinations, we must accept the many circumstances in which motor vehicles will be legally present in bike lanes. Bicyclists will always have priority over other traffic when in bike lanes though.