HB 971 – Bicycles and Bicycle Lanes
HB 971, which was signed recently, includes a requirement for bicyclists to use lanes marked for bicycle use under some circumstances when they are present. It will go into effect on September 1, 2010.
The section of interest is a change to s. 316.2065 – Bicycle Regulations, which will state:
(5)(a) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride in the lane marked for bicycle use or, if no lane is marked for bicycle use, as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway ….
The change is highlighted. That would seem to be quite logical until the full impact is understood.
That provision will have no legal or enforcement effect if correctly applied. It is unnecessary and redundant.
As the law presently stands, when a bicyclist is required to ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway the cyclist would necessarily be required to ride in an existing bike lane. There is no change to that requirement with the new language.
Please note that I said “WHEN a bicyclist is required to ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway”.
The problem with the change is that it exacerbates an existing misunderstanding of the remaining part of (5)(a), the exceptions that permit a cyclist to leave the right-most curb or edge of the roadway, and reinforces the incorrect belief of many that cyclists are always required to “keep right”. Some may now also believe that cyclists are always required to remain in bike lanes, which is also not true.
The rest of section (5)(a) is unchanged and continues:
(Keep right) except under any of the following situations:
1. When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
2. When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
3. When reasonably necessary to avoid any condition or potential conflict, including, but not limited to, a fixed or moving object, parked or moving vehicle, bicycle, pedestrian, animal, surface hazard, turn lane, or substandard-width lane, which makes it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge or within a bicycle lane.
Presumably, if there is a proper bike lane, the section about substandard-width lanes will not be of concern, since the roadway with a bike lane will be wide enough to permit safe passing if the cyclist is in the bike lane.
Most people only know of the first part of (5)(a) and do not understand the exceptions. That is true for motorists, many officers and many cyclists, who sometimes hazard themselves by doing things they think are required, such as always staying to the far right of the roadway.
With the new language, there will even greater misunderstanding of the exceptions. Those who are not fully versed in safe cycling practices will now believe that cyclists are not only required to keep right, they are required to stay in the bike lane. In other words “Get out of my way – Get in the bike lane -That’s what the law says.”
In fact, there will still be the same conditions that require a cyclist to leave the right side of the roadway, whether there is a bike lane or not. The same ones that previously gave the cyclist the right to ride safely and move left to pass, prepare for a left turn, and avoid any unsafe condition. Cyclists traveling at the same speed or faster than other traffic will still not be required to keep right or stay in the bike lane.
There are numerous reasons that this misunderstanding will worsen cyclists’ already existing plight. I will just mention two.
Door Zone Bike Lanes
Roadway design criteria call for installing bicycle lanes immediately to the left of parked cars. Those are inherently unsafe to cyclists traveling at more than a very slow speed, and are unsafe conditions for faster cyclists.
Even without the new provision in the law, cyclists are frequently warned to “Stay in the bike lane” by uninformed officers and motorists. Uneducated and inexperienced cyclists will remain in the bike lane without understanding that doors will open illegally and dangerously without warning, causing the cyclists to either crash or swerve left at the last moment, possibly into the path of motor vehicles.
A large percentage of crashes occur at intersections. An experienced rider will recognize an intersection as an unsafe condition and act accordingly.
Bicycle lanes are supposed to change from a solid white line to a dashed line before an intersection, indicating that the motorist should move as close to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway as is practicable to prepare for a right turn, as the law requires, and the cyclist may leave the bike lane to be more visible and fall in behind other traffic to avoid conflict with a right-turning vehicle.
Too often, bike lanes are not properly installed and continue as solid lines to the intersection, giving the impression that cyclists must remain there, placing them in conflict with drivers who illegally and dangerously turn across the bike lane without yielding as required.
There are many other such examples that will worsen the misunderstanding of cyclists proper and legal roadway positioning. One of the challenges of the Bicycle Law Enforcement Program will be to explain these circumstances. That was already difficult, but will now be even of greater importance.