A Law Like No Other

Bicyclist explains 316.2065(5)(a)(3) to FHP trooper after he pulled over a lawfully-riding group. Bike to Work Day, May 2010.

Bicyclist explains 316.2065(5)(b) to trooper after he pulled over a lawfully-riding group. No citations were issued. Bike to Work Day, May 2010. Photo by Julie Fletcher.

Last week I served as one of three expert witnesses in traffic court. It was a citation for controlling the right lane (failing to ride far right) on a road with 3 lanes in each direction and a narrow, undesignated shoulder (looks like a bike lane, but not a bike lane). Because of the shoulder, winning required the firepower of a skilled defense attorney and experts on bicycling law, roadway design, law enforcement training and bicycling safety. I will write more specifically about this case, the arguments made and the ruling once I have the transcripts, but in the meantime I have some general thoughts to share.

The whole experience really brought home the inequity and bias we face. We have a very serious problem that needs to be solved. It is a problem that is at the core of why bicycling is perceived dangerous. It causes people to believe bicyclists have no right to the road, which in turn causes bicyclists to ride in ways that greatly increase their risk of crashing. Bicyclists who have learned to decrease their risk face interference from uninformed law enforcement. This has a dampening effect on successful behavior.

Our problem: A law like no other. A law that undermines safety.

Most laws are clear and reinforce safety.

Most traffic laws have a clear and effective purpose — to reinforce the rules of movement that make roadway users predictable to one another. These laws don’t interfere with road users’ ability to travel safely. They’re barely even noticeable to the conscientious driver, who appreciates enforcement of them because that makes the system safer for him.

When a normal traffic citation is challenged, it is challenged on the basis of whether or not the driver was breaking a clearly defined law. Did the driver make a complete stop at the stop sign? Did the driver enter the intersection before or after the light turned red. Was the driver going faster than the speed limit? Interpretation of the law itself is not the issue. The issue is whether or not the police officer accurately witnessed the infraction. In many cases, people contest traffic citations in the hope that the officer won’t show up in court (providing automatic dismissal), or they seek to have the points removed from their record. No one would ever argue that they were speeding or running a red light because it was safer.

316.2065(5) is no ordinary law.

The law governing bicyclist roadway position—316.2065(5)—does not reinforce the rules of movement or promote safety.  Its historical basis for existing is to increase the perceived convenience of one class of road user at the expense of another. It offers no safety benefit to any road user. In fact, its core requirement runs counter to established best practices of defensive driving for bicyclists. As a result, this law forces bicycle drivers to legally justify defensive driving.

Bicyclists are the only vehicle drivers who must defend themselves to an officer or judge for driving defensively.

When a citation for 316.2065(5) is challenged, the dispute is not over what lane position the officer witnessed, but the officer’s interpretation of the law. The text of the law is too open to differing interpretations. This is a consequence of the law’s original intent running counter to the conventional purpose of traffic laws.

The primary paragraph of the law requires a bicyclist to ride in a bike lane or as far right as practicable. This requirement presents so many safety hazards and constraints to reasonable operation that it necessitates three subparagraphs of exceptions. The subparagraphs enumerate some, but not all, operational and safety reasons a bicyclist must ride away from the right edge or bike lane. They make up 2/3 of the text of the law, but they are often ignored by police officers and sometimes disregarded by hearing officers. Even when addressed, their meaning is often in dispute. The dispute feels a lot like bigotry, but to be fair it is mostly caused by people trying to view this law in the context of laws being for the purpose of safety. The fact that this one isn’t creates cognitive dissonance.

convoluted statute

What is practicable, and who decides?

This is subjective. If it was even remotely practicable to be near the edge of the roadway, we might all agree that the person whose skin is in the game should decide.

What defines the edge of the roadway: the edge line, the gutter seam, the curb?

A legal answer to this can be found, but not in the statute. This information was critical to last week’s case (more in a future post).

Who decides what is “reasonably necessary.”

The word “reasonable” is prejudicial in that it implies a bicyclist might be unreasonable in choosing to stay away from the edge of the road or bike lane.

What constitutes a potential conflict? Does it have to be imminent, or can it be possible?

A defensive bicycle driver stays away from parked cars, whether or not he can confirm they are occupied. He rides in a high-visibility position whether or not there is other traffic approaching from behind or on conflicting paths. He is proactive because it’s not practicable to be reactive.

Who determines whether there was the potential for a conflict?

This is subjective, too. In a just world, a bicyclist’s defensive driving decisions would not be second-guessed.

How wide is a sub-standard width lane?

The definition used for this statute is different from the common definition of a standard lane. Lanes that are 10-13ft wide are considered “standard” lanes for all other applications, but “sub-standard” for the purpose of this statute because they are not wide enough to share.

What size vehicle is considered when determining if a lane is too narrow to share? And what is the speed differential at which that vehicle is passing?

Lane width— In its guidance for bicycle facilities, FDOT defines 14ft as the minimum width in which a bicycle and car can be operated side by side within the lane. 14ft provides: the minimum operating space a bicyclist needs (4ft); the minimum statutory passing clearance (3ft); and space for a 7ft-wide vehicle.

Vehicle width— Only small passenger vehicles are ≤7ft wide. An F150 with standard mirrors is 8ft wide. A super-duty F-series truck is 8.6ft wide. The ubiquitous landscape trailers are required to be ≤8.5ft, but they are frequently wider and have all manner of things protruding from the side of them. Box trucks, buses and tractor trailers have mirrors that can extend to 10ft.

Speed and clearance— At speeds over 30mph, 3ft is nowhere near enough passing clearance, especially from large vehicles. Also, what is the margin of error for the fact that most people don’t know how wide their car is or how far the right side is from something to the right of it?

large vehicles and lane width-01

In order for the exceptions to exonerate a bicycle driver, he must challenge a citation in court. That is an unjust burden—way beyond the reach of low income citizens who choose a bicycle as an affordable means of transportation.

So, despite the exceptions, which are intended to account for reasons it would be unsafe and unreasonable (i.e. not practicable) to keep right or stay in a bike lane, the law is still interpreted in the most restrictive way.

There are many advocates who argue that the exceptions to 316.2065(5) (and similar laws in other states) give bicyclists the right to control the lane. They might, in most circumstances, if interpreted properly…or liberally. But they almost never are interpreted properly. In order for the exceptions to exonerate a bicycle driver, he must challenge a citation in court. That alone is an unjust burden, not something to be shrugged off. It is way beyond the reach of low income citizens who choose a bicycle as an affordable means of transportation.

How enforcement of 316.2065(5) plays out for lawful bicycle drivers.

The following is the abbreviated version of a typical encounter as has been related to me by numerous bicyclists:

A law enforcement officer encounters a bicycle driver who is lawfully controlling the lane for the purpose of driving defensively. The officer, who knows little or nothing about safe bicycling practices, and is only vaguely familiar with the first paragraph of the law, stops the bicyclist.

The bicyclist, who was riding like that because he knows the law, informs the officer that he has a right to be in the lane. The officer believes he does not. The officer believes the law wouldn’t require unsafe operation because a) it confirms her “common sense” belief that bicyclists should stay out of the way, and b) laws are supposed to reinforce safe operation.

In a typical traffic stop scenario, if the bicyclist complies and gives up his right to be in the lane, the officer won’t bother to write a citation. But that forces the bicyclist to ride in an unsafe position for fear of being stopped again.

Finding such capitulation unpalatable, the bicyclist refuses to give up his right to be in the lane and the officer gives him a ticket for violating 316.2065(5) — a $64 fine.

Now the bicyclist is faced with the following choices:

1) Pay the ticket and

  • continue riding in the lane and risk receiving additional tickets.
  • relinquish his right to drive defensively to avoid receiving additional tickets.

2) Contest the ticket in court

  • relying on his own knowledge of the law.
  • with the aid of an attorney.

None of these options are without cost to the bicyclist.

1) Paying the ticket costs him $64, but that isn’t the end:

  • If he continues to practice defensive bicycle driving, he faces the potential for continued citations.
  • If he relinquishes his right to drive defensively, he faces increased risk of being hit by a car.

2) Contesting the ticket costs a minimum of the time and expense of going to court (lost wages, transportation, parking).

  • Defending himself is the least expensive option, but it is risky. As noted above, there are many points of dispute in the interpretation of statute. The officer is usually considered by the court as an expert on the law. The courts often won’t regard an interpretation by a civilian or civilian organization as carrying the same weight as that of the police officer. In addition, traffic courts often have a full docket, causing hearing officers to be rushed. Many seemingly clear-cut cases have been lost because of these factors.
    If the bicyclist loses, he will have to pay the fine and the court costs. Plus the officer is now more certain of an incorrect interpretation of the law. So, he faces the continued choice of risking additional tickets or relinquishing his right to drive defensively.
  • Hiring an attorney offers the highest likelihood of success, but it is the most costly. The lawyer must be paid regardless of whether the bicyclist wins or loses. Lawyers cost considerably more than $64. Even winning will not keep the bicyclist from receiving another ticket by another uninformed officer in another jurisdiction (or even in the same one).

Unwarranted Citation Costs

What makes this situation even more unfair is that there are no repercussions for the officer. If the citation is upheld, the officer is vindicated and the bicyclist pays the fine plus his legal fees, court costs and whatever costs were associated with the time involved to go to court. If the citation is dismissed, the bicyclist still pays his lawyer and whatever costs were associated with the time involved to go to court. The officer pays nothing. She even gets paid for being there. In many cases, the officer fails to show up in court. When this happens, the citation is dismissed, but the bicyclist still pays whatever costs were associated with going to court. If he’s hired an attorney to increase his chances of victory, he will still have to pay the attorney.

In every scenario, the bicyclist suffers some loss, even though he was operating lawfully! The more he invests in defeating the citation, the more he loses, even if he wins. To add insult, he was probably operating that way because he took the time to educate himself about the law and safe cycling practices. In other words: he’s a conscientious citizen.

That’s not how the system is supposed to work. It certainly doesn’t work that way for conscientious motor vehicle drivers. A conscientious motor vehicle driver has a near-zero risk of having to defend himself against an unwarranted citation.

This is oppressive.

The lowest cost option is to pay the fine even though the bicyclist has broken no laws. The system allows law enforcement officers to operate on assumptions and common misconceptions with impunity, inflicting costs on civilians. The lack of accountability for the officer provides an opportunity for abuse as a harassment tool against bicyclists. Officers can simply write unwarranted citations, then fail to go to court if they are challenged. In this way they can inflict a defacto penalty even when they know it is not legitimate. Yes, this happens.

Those who are able to choose another mode of transportation can opt out of this oppression. Those who cannot are left with bad options, and at the mercy of a biased system.

We need equity and a safety net.

For years, we have worked to create publications and videos to train law enforcement on the needs of bicyclists. We have tirelessly explained the reasons bicyclists may lawfully control the lane. We have tried to help them understand that bicyclists should not be second-guessed for choosing a position which improves their vantage and visibility, thus reducing their risk of being hit. But that strategy is doomed to failure as long as 316.2065(5) exists. There is no way to rid the system of bias and misinterpretation when the law itself is designed to be interpreted against the bicyclist’s interests.

The only viable solution is to eliminate 316.2065(5) and make bicyclist legally equal to the drivers of other slow vehicles AND give them the same protection as drivers of other narrow vehicles.

Slow Vehicles

When traveling slower than other traffic on a two-way street, bicyclists use the right thru lane, unless preparing for a left turn or passing a slower vehicle or obstacle. When traveling slower than other traffic on a one-way street, bicyclists use the outside thru lanes, unless moving to the other side of the road or passing a slower vehicle or obstacle. Bicycle lanes are defined as preferential use lanes and they should be optional, as they are for other user types (HOV and Transit). There are many dynamic reasons for a bicyclist to avoid an edge bike lane, bicyclists should not be required to defend their reasons for doing so.

Narrow Vehicles

Bicyclists must be explicitly guaranteed the right to a full lane, as are motorcyclists. Narrow vehicle drivers have special considerations with regard to visibility, vantage and management of their lane space. Bicyclists have the same needs as motorcycle and scooter drivers, but our vehicles are less robust and we are passed at higher speed differentials. There is no legitimate reason for us not to have the same protection.

Stop-gap Protection

In the meantime (and probably for some time after laws are made equitable), bicyclists need a safety net to neutralize the impact of uninformed law enforcement officers. We need a system by which a bicyclist can be guaranteed consideration of a pre-trial motion to dismiss a ticket. This will prevent clear-cut cases from taking court time and resources, as well as the bicyclist’s. Filing a motion is still an imposition, but less so that having to take a day off from work to go to court. Advocacy organizations can make the process easier by providing forms and instructions.

Dismissals need to be accompanied by a notification to the citing officer that he or she was wrong about the law. There needs to be some educational feedback.

It is time to stop nibbling around the edges of this problem. It is time to stop trying to tweak the exceptions to a discriminatory law. It is time to stop trying to explain how the exceptions override the law itself. I have seen too many people have to go to court when they did nothing wrong. I’ve seen conscientious bicycle drivers forced to spend time and money defending themselves for defensive driving. I’ve even seen some lose despite the fact they were operating 100% legally in one of the ways clearly defined by subsection 3.

This law must go. It’s time to kill it.

I have used the Florida version of this statute here, but this is a national problem. It’s time for all advocacy organizations to work together to solve it. Regardless of whether our primary objective is increasing participation or promoting education, this law is a problem that threatens all of us because it reduces bicyclists to second class citizens.

58 replies
  1. John Geminder
    John Geminder says:

    I have observed this problem of inequity for years and have wondered why this FTR law and all of its corollaries have not been challenged as unconstitutionally vague.
    See – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Void_for_vagueness
    If experienced cyclists cannot agree on how to legally operate a bicycle on a given road, something is wrong with the law.

    • Serge
      Serge says:

      WOW, John. I did not know about these legal concept. Very fitting. Which I had known about this a few days ago – it’s worth arguing in court, based on many of the points and questions in Keri’s article.

    • Khal Spencer
      Khal Spencer says:

      I was wondering if there was a punch line in that legal doctrine, and sure enough:

      “…Although courts scrutinize a vague law that touches on a fundamental freedom, in all other cases the void for vagueness doctrine does not typically require mathematical precision on the part of legislators. Laws that regulate the economy are scrutinized less closely than laws that regulate individual behavior, and laws that impose civil or administrative penalties may be drafted with less clarity than laws imposing criminal sanctions…”

      FTR laws impose fines, not criminal sanctions. Hmmm….

  2. Steve A
    Steve A says:

    Amen and well said. You aren’t really proposing getting rid of the general FTR law that applies to all vehicles, only the one that discriminates only against cyclists.

    • Serge
      Serge says:

      The general FTR law that applies to all vehicles requires FTR only on unlaned roads; on laned roads it only requires use of the rightmost lane. Hence, it’s not really FTR.

  3. john
    john says:

    The core of this issue is an ideology unique to America, and considered absurd on its face by every major cycling nation in the world: The idea that bicycles are vehicles and not pedestrians.

    Only in America do we insist on forcing bicycles into infrastructure designed for multi-ton motorized machines. Every single country where bicycling has a significant modal share believes the opposite and offers bicycles protected facilities. And the worst part is we do this to ourselves on purpose.

    America’s biggest problem isn’t politicians who don’t ride, it’s vehicular cyclists who don’t want anyone to ride differently than they do.

    • Bob Sutterfield
      Bob Sutterfield says:


      In what way would a change to permit cyclists to drive safely if they choose, also require others to choose to drive safely?.

    • Serge
      Serge says:

      Comparing the enormous US to small densely populated countries where motoring is more difficult and much more expensive, and so of course the bicycling mode share is high, is just silly.

      In the US, bicyclists will have to ride on roads with motorists for the foreseeable future. Adding some “protected facilities” here and there is not going to change that to any significant degree.

    • John Schubert
      John Schubert says:

      I haven’t had a crash in my most recent 31 years of cycling (and very few crashes in the 24 years before that). I know how to ride safely. In that respect, and in that respect only, I want other cyclists to ride like I do. Please don’t repeat this straw man argument that bicycle driving advocates want to somehow dictate how other people ride in some cultural context.
      The rules of the road predate automobiles, and these rules are NOT about vehicle size or weight. They’re about how to make movements flow smoothly. Your vehicle has a turning radius, a stopping distance, and a driver who can’t look in all directions at once. The rules of the road do a great job of accommodating these operating characteristics and limitations.
      Most people don’t know how to make the rules of the road work for them when they cycle. That’s a problem, but it’s easily solved. It is not, however, solved by facility designs that ignore the road users’ operating characteristics and limitations, which is why we see so many right-hook fatalities.

    • Wayne Pein
      Wayne Pein says:

      Super job.

      Exception 1. can be interpreted such that bicyclists should weave around parked cars.

      A “standard” highway lane is x ft to 13.99 ft. We’ve got some 9′ lanes here. Some places will have less than that. As far as I know, a “wide” lane is defined as 14 ft only in the AASHTO Bike Guide, in older versions of the Green Book, and by some state DOTs.

    • Bob Shanteau
      Bob Shanteau says:

      The contention that “every major cycling nation in the world” sees bicycles as pedestrians instead of vehicles is simply not true.

      Most, if not all of the major cycling nations is a signatory to the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, which has the following definitions:

      “Cycle” means any vehicle which has at least two wheels and is propelled solely by the muscular energy of the persons on that vehicle, in particular by means of pedals or hand-cranks”

      “Driver” means any person who drives a motor vehicle or other vehicle (including a cycle), or who guides cattle, singly or in herds, or flocks, or draught, pack or saddle animals on a road”

  4. Serge
    Serge says:



    I’ve been on the fence about how much energy is warranted to put into repealing these discriminatory laws (in CA it’s 21202 & 21208). I still believe it’s possible to convince law enforcement, one local area at a time, to stop issuing such citations, and that’s worth some effort.

    However, your article, along with my own recent similar experience in traffic court, has convinced me that repeal must be sought. Hopefully this article will help kick off a successful movement to do so in CA.

    Thank you,

  5. Dan Gutierrez
    Dan Gutierrez says:

    I agree very strongly that discriminatory laws like the FTR law must be repealed, and over six years ago built that notion into the Equity Statement that I ghost wrote for the League. When you say equity in many places in this article, I think you mean equality when referring to laws. For example:

    “The only viable solution is to eliminate 316.2065(5) and allow bicyclists the same equity as the drivers of other slow vehicles…” [“same equity” is an awkward grammatical construction]

    This reads clearer as:

    The only viable solution is to eliminate 316.2065(5) and make bicyclists (legally) equal to drivers of other slow vehicles…”

    Removal of the FTR law creates movement equality, and is necessary but not sufficient for equitable treatment across all 6 Es, which depend on removal of cultural biases.

    We consistently used Equity to denote fairness across all 6 Es (since even legal equality is equitable!) and Equality to denote sameness in law, or equal under the law. That was the basis of usage in the Equity Statement, which we know the League isn’t following, and is used that same way on the I Am Traffic website, that we and others co-developed. Since the distinction between equity and equality creates confusion, I think it is important that we use these terms consistently across our writings, since lately the League has been doing their level best to muddy the terms by conflating racial and socioeconomic inequities with inequity of bicyclists relative to motorists.

  6. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    As a recipient of seven traffic citations for the “violation” described above, I’m disheartened to learn that another cyclist had to go to such great lengths to battle this ridiculous statute. Getting six of them dismissed via paperwork was less expensive than dragging things out in court, but nonetheless frustrating and costly. Number seven was a “win” for me, but only on a technicality. The judge had predetermined that a twelve foot wide lane was sufficient and it was only due to a measuring method by the uninformed uniformed officer that resulted in my dismissal, again at excessive expense.

    In recent months, additional signs and markings have been installed, creating bike lanes where there previously were none. My anxiety increases when I am forced to operate on those roadways, as the paint does nothing to protect me from unskilled motorists. My velomobile is very low profile, which means I control the lane for my safety, yet the anxiety does not vanish, as the same law enforcement officers may see a new opportunity to show that I “won’t get away with it this time,” as the last officer voiced to me.

    Putting the determination of safety on anyone other than the cyclist is foolhardy, especially since few law enforcement officers are qualified to make such determinations. Leaving it up to the court is perhaps worse, based on the judge’s example noted.

    Florida’s mandatory bike lane law isn’t going to do our safety one bit of good, nor is it going to “put more butts on bikes” as some advocates would suggest.

    I’m hopeful the final decision in Keri’s example was positive for the cyclist, but I’m expecting to learn that it was also financially costly.

  7. Jon Webb
    Jon Webb says:

    I was ticketed for taking the lane here in PA, which has a law modeled on the League of American Bicyclists model law (which addresses many of the issues you also addressed; I think you should have taken it into account). The officer simply didn’t know the law — he had an old law book, in which the law was similar to the Florida law. I contested the ticket, lost for the reasons you stated, then appealed (with an attorney) and won. This was expensive but I felt it was necessary to ensure I could ride safely.

    • Dwight Kingsbury
      Dwight Kingsbury says:

      Pennsylvania has no special road rule governing roadway position of a pedalcyclist. Its former rule was much stricter than Florida’s, requiring any pedalcycle ridden on a roadway to be ridden “as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction”; no other exceptions were mentioned.

      In 1998 the section on “Riding on roadways and pedalcycle paths” (section 3505 of the PA Vehicle Code) was amended. The new rule simply applies PA’s rule for slow vehicles to a cyclist riding “slower than prevailing speeds”:

      “(c) Slower than prevailing speeds.–A pedalcycle operated at
      slower than prevailing speed shall be operated in accordance
      with the provisions of section 3301(b) (relating to driving on right side of roadway) unless it is unsafe to do so.”

  8. Martin Pion
    Martin Pion says:

    Thanks, Keri, for a well-researched and comprehensive article, typical of what you produce.
    I believe in working for repeal at both the local and state level. The local level is generally easier (that still doesn’t necessarily mean easy) and it helps to build a constituency. My home town of Ferguson repealed the former FTR language in June 2012. (Please see http://tinyurl.com/8dggzx2 for background.)
    Dan draws a distinction between Equality and Equity. An on-line search suggests Equity = Fairness, but does that necessarily equate to what we want? The 2007 LAB article Dan coauthored, titled “Equality for Cyclists – Why We Need a Sixth E”, is the reason I’ve been stressing “Equality.”

  9. Serge
    Serge says:

    A manifestation of the interpretation problem we’re dealing with in north San Diego County is that the sheriff and at least one traffic commissioner (who makes traffic infraction case decisions) hold that FTR (CVC 21202) makes two-abreast bicycling unlawful, even in lanes marked with sharrows and Bikes May Use Full Lane which they agree are too narrow for safe vehicle/bike side-by-side sharing.

    No matter how many times and how many ways we explain that no one can be in violation of 21202, including the cyclist on the left of two riding abreast, when an exception situation is present (such as a “substandard width lane”), they won’t budge on their position.

    • Scott Harriman
      Scott Harriman says:

      We are having a similar problem here in Maine.

      The legal counsel for Maine DOT ignores the exceptions to AFRAP and asserts that the only time two cyclists may ever operate abreast is if one is passing the other.

  10. Herman F. Ebeling, Jr.
    Herman F. Ebeling, Jr. says:

    Last week as I was going out to Bay Pines on 54th Ave. N. I was stopped by a FHP officer who was gravely misinformed about the law. He was under the impression that the law had changed the status of a bicycle as a vehicle, and that as such it was no longer recognized as a vehicle in Florida.

    He also tried to tell me that a “black car behind me, had almost hit me.” Yet I’m the one that he pulls over. He also ordered me to use the sidewalk, or face being arrested if I was caught controlling the lane again.

    As luck would have it, on my way home I spotted a Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputy. He confirmed for me what I already knew. That being that the FHP officer was wrong, and I was right. I also talked with the St. Pete Bicycle & Pedestrian Safety Coordinator, and a Cycling Savvy instructor, as well as a lawyer who practices traffic law, and again all confirmed what I knew, i.e. the FHP officer was wrong.

  11. Herman F. Ebeling, Jr.
    Herman F. Ebeling, Jr. says:

    Oh, one of the other “fun” things we have to deal with is that when we try to explain/educate a LEO is that we get accused of arguing with said LEO.

    • MikeOnBike
      MikeOnBike says:

      Herman, I agree. The one time I was stopped for being outside a bike lane, I somehow had the presence of mind to *ask* the officer a bunch of questions, instead of trying to *tell* him. For example:

      “Wouldn’t exception #2 apply if I’m preparing to turn left? How soon before the intersection am I allowed to begin preparing? Where is that distance specified? If it’s not specified, who decides?” And so on.

      That seemed to be the trick. The officer figured out on his own that he didn’t have the answers. He didn’t give me a ticket.

      • Herman F. Ebeling, Jr.
        Herman F. Ebeling, Jr. says:

        Fortunately/unfortunately for me this particular FHP officer was also under the mistaken impression that if there is no bike lane that we are “required” to use the sidewalk. He also sadly did not understand that operating our bikes on the sidewalk is way more dangerous then operating them IN the road as a normal part of the flow of traffic.

        Knock on wood, I didn’t end up with a citation, just a “warning” that if I was seen driving my bike in the lane again that I could be arrested. Hmm, correct me if I’m mistaken but one very rarely gets arrested for a simple traffic infraction, correct?

          • Herman F. Ebeling, Jr.
            Herman F. Ebeling, Jr. says:


            Thank you, I thought that that was a bit “odd” on his part. And presumably another example of how this particular officer needs a refresher course. Sadly, I did not get his name or badge number. Next time (I hope that there isn’t) I hope that I do remember to ask for that information.

        • Angelo Dolce
          Angelo Dolce says:

          The sidewalks are only dangerous if you ride as fast as the cars (e.g. 12mph in 12mph rush hour traffic) or exceed the speed limit (any car, or bicyclists going down hill).

          Since the police and city planners I’ve seen don’t ride for transportation (I’d be afraid of traffic if I used their bike lanes too), they think it is reasonable to expect bicyclists to stop and yield to motorists at every intersection and to bicycle no faster than 6mph top speed.

          In this case, sidewalks are safe and you shouldn’t annoy motorists by riding slowly in the street just because all the cars in front of you won’t get out of your way.

          • Eric
            Eric says:

            “The sidewalks are only dangerous if you ride as fast as the cars (e.g. 12mph in 12mph rush hour traffic) or exceed the speed limit (any car, or bicyclists going down hill).”

            I don’t agree. In addition to the cross street hazards, people tend to not see even slow moving cyclists on sidewalks when they back out of their driveway.

            Motorists tend to back up quickly until the rear of their car reaches the curb, then they stop and look both ways before backing up again into the street.

            This presents two hazards for the cyclist, being struck by the backing car and running into the stopped car.

          • Herman F. Ebeling, Jr.
            Herman F. Ebeling, Jr. says:


            Really, what about all of the motorists who are backing out of their driveways and not looking up and down the sidewalk to see if anyone is approaching from either side? What about the people who are pulling out of driveways who are only looking at motorized traffic coming at them on their side of the road?

            Operating our bicycles on the sidewalk IS dangerous to EVERYONE involved. For numerous reasons.

      • Angelo Dolce
        Angelo Dolce says:

        At least your officer figured out the exception existed and applied. When I was pulled over for riding in the left lane, I naively expected a short conversation after telling the officer I was preparing for a left turn. His response was that if I was going less than the speed limit (not possible even for cars in rush hour) I had to ride next to the curb, even if I was waiting for a break in oncoming traffic. No exceptions to FRAP for left turns or narrow lanes.

        Fortunately when I suggested that the law allowed left turns and we should check it, he just suggested I reread it but did not attempt to cite me. (I did confirm exceptions to FRAP for left turns, narrow lanes, and speed of current traffic, NOT speed limit; and that impeding traffic applies only to motor vehicles. Carefully written laws don’t seem to matter if noone believes the limits exist.)

  12. Andrew Boone
    Andrew Boone says:

    This article is more convincing than anything else I’ve read on the need to repeal Far To Right (FTR) laws for cyclists. Thank you.

    So who’s working on this in California? I can’t find any information online about current efforts to modify or remove sections 21202 and 21208 from the California Vehicle Code (CVC). What organizations are campaigning for this? What are our options for modifying those sections? What should an alternate text include? What should I do to help?

  13. Khal Spencer
    Khal Spencer says:

    Excellent analysis. I’ve had personal experience on this from several encounters, one where I set up a meeting with the Chief of Police and Dept. of Public Works director to iron out what traffic law means after getting lectured incorrectly by a police officer, and another incident when I went to court as an expert witness (LCI, Chair of the County Traffic Commission), as you did, to get a citation dismissed that was issued to a cyclist who was, outrageously enough, right hooked by a careless motorist and then cited for a jaywalking violation.

    You are right, Keri. Until these bizzare laws are repealed or modified, the confusing enforcement will follow.

  14. turbo1889
    turbo1889 says:

    Since many if not most most states have the “Lane too narrow for a bicycle and another (motor) vehicle to travel safely side by side (both) within the lane” exception to their FRAP laws and most if not all state law codes do not have a clear definition of what exactly that is and in court it is necessary to use 14′ standard definition of that from the Federal Department of Transportation it is highly necessary for VC riding cyclists to be able to produce that definition in writing in court.

    I personally am using the “Shared Lane” definition, sub-definitions “Narrow Lane” and “Wide Curb Lane” found in the FHWA-SA-12-018 publication and have submitted that as an official definition in multiple battles I have fought myself (where I live 99% or better of all lanes are less then 14′ width) in the local traffic courts.

    Why this source information (or possibly even better source information I am not aware of) is not included in this article or others like it which allow those of use fighting these battles in local traffic courts to get our hands on the paper work we need to fight our battles is an oversight I believe should be corrected. To say that the legal definition of a lane that can be safely shared side-by-side is usually the 14′ width without having some way of documenting that does absolutely nothing in court and they will not acknowledge such claims without some sort of documentation.

    In order to win you have to have your homework in order when you show up in court and there are a whole lot of people out there who don’t even know where to go to get their homework in order to put it in order and an article dedicated to good sources of the paper work to bring in to court to demonstrate things like this are factual and not just verbal unsubstantiated “wild” claims would be a highly desirable addition to this web-site and from what I have read by the author of this article he appears to be capable of writing such an article.

    Since I deal with MT state law and courts I’m not in a very good position to do so but I thought I would at least throw out there one place to get documentation of the whole “14-foot is where the line is drawn by the Feds” thing which might help someone out there who can’t afford a lawyer (or the lawyer don’t know and don’t make the effort to document stuff like this) and has to do their own homework paperwork prep. before they go to court.

    • Eric
      Eric says:

      Thanks for the citation.
      For others that need an authoritative definition, here is the quote:

      Narrow Lane—A travel lane less than 14 feet in width, which therefore does not allow bicyclists and motorists to travel side-by-side within the same traffic lane and maintain a safe separation distance.

      Wide Curb Lane—A travel lane at least 14 feet wide, adjacent to a curb, which allows bicyclists and motorists to travel side-by-side within the same traffic lane.

      from here: http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/ped_bike/tools_solve/fhwasa12018/

      • Keri
        Keri says:

        The danger of codifying 14ft, is that 14ft is NOT shareable with tractor trailers, box trucks, buses, utility trailers or many superduty pickups. At least here in Florida, most 14ft lanes are found on state highways with a lot of those type vehicles.

        The more you narrow the definitions, the more literal the courts can be with them. Great if you were controlling a 12ft lane. Sux for you if you were controlling a 14ft lane due to large-vehicle traffic or other hazards or potential conflicts. The problem is with the core message of the law which presumes sub-paragraph exceptions to be exceptional, rather than normal conditions that exist most of the time (which is what they actually represent).

        • turbo1889
          turbo1889 says:

          I absolutely agree in principle that the FRAP laws are “written backwards” and if we are going to have them at all (which in at least my state our FRAP in full is better then the slow moving vehicle law and its preferable to be under it then the slow moving vehicle law) they should be written the other way around clearly stating in the beginning that cyclists have a right to control the whole lane and listing as an exception where they can allow other vehicles to pass within the lane. That would solve a whole lot of the mess and possibly could be better then total repeal which could put us under as bad or worse situations under some of the slow moving vehicle laws.

          I also agree that a 14’+ lane width is not side-by-side share-able in all conditions with all other vehicles. Heck with some dangerous aggressive motor vehicle drivers no road can be safely shared with them anywhere regardless of conditions (and the only moral, logical, and equitable solution in such cases is to remove such drivers from behind the wheel of potentially highly dangerous motor vehicles ~ operating such potentially highly dangerous machines on the public right of way is not a right but a privilege which needs to be revoked and denied more often then it is)

          It is also true, however, that it is possible to safely share a very narrow lane well under 14′ side by side with a small motorcycle which is after all a motor vehicle and I have done so several times with no issues.

          The main thing I’m pointing out is that when you end up in court for controlling a travel lane that is less then 14′ wide you can’t just walk up to the judge and say “according to the feds. it ain’t safe to share a lane narrow then 14′ with a car” and just expect this to be taken on your verbal say so alone without having any documentation of this they very well may laugh in your face and they certainly will take the officers word over yours.

          The document I refer to isn’t actually a full on official rock solid codification and I rather have read the opening “Abstract” from the federal cover file and the Glossary heading where those definitions are given on the purpose of that document and the glossary before using the definitions from it (and submitted in written form of course but actually reading it out load as well has good effect on impressing the judge)

          Which are as follows as verbatim quotes:

          Abstract: “Road Safety Audits (RSAs) are a formal safety examination of an existing or future roadway or off-road facility and are conducted by an independent, experienced, multidisciplinary team. The purpose of the Bicycle Road Safety Audit Guidelines and Prompt Lists is to provide transportation agencies and RSA teams with a better understanding of the safety of cyclists in the transportation system when conducting an RSA. These Guidelines present the RSA team with an overview of basic principles of the safety of cyclists and potential issues affecting cyclists. They also provide information on how to conduct an RSA and effectively assess the safety of cyclists. Prompt lists describe safety considerations when conducting a cyclist-specific RSA. These Guidelines will help RSA teams evaluate and suggest a multimodal approach to safety by improving the safety of cyclists and all roadway users.”

          Glossary: “The glossary is intended to identify terms used in these Guidelines referring to bicycle facility planning, design, and engineering. This glossary will help to establish the appropriate and consistent terminology for everyone involved in the RSA process.”

          Then I give the definitions as listed in that glossary as quoted by the poster above and I am using the glossery definitions of those who specialize in bicycle safety and are responsible for federal audits of same across the entire united states on an established professional level. Basically people who know a whole lot more about this and have far more authority to speak on it then the prejudiced officer who gave me the ticket I’m fighting who is bring a ludicrous, frivolous, and often malicious and harassing charge against me.

          So far it has worked very well and it especially helps if you ask the officer on the stand under oath whether he believes he knows more about bicycle safety then the entire task force group responsible for nationwide cyclist-specific road safety audits analysis made up of an “independent, experienced, multidisciplinary team”?

          Either way the officer answers that question after that information has been put forward he looses. If he says no he is admitting he doesn’t know what he is doing and if he says yes he looks incredibly arrogant.

          Basically if used strategically that document can be used to corner these yo-yos if you are controlling a lane that is narrower then 14′ and they give you a ticket for it (and usually not just a ticket but all kinds of threats and non-literal chest thumping and such as well).

          I do agree that if you end up having to control a lane that is 14′ or wider due to wide width motor traffic (usually heavy trucks but not always) then you will have to do a whole lot more work and use another technique but so far that hasn’t happened to me. So far every time I’ve been harassed and ticketed and drug into court and had to defend my actions the lane has been narrower then 14′ and this is one of the most direct ways to fight it I’ve come up with so far.

          But as I said I’m up in Montana and our roads, laws, and courts aren’t exactly the same as down there in Florida where you guys are. For one thing I’ve never seen a roadway with 14′ or wider lanes except for on the interstate (and even then they usually aren’t that wide up here) and only a select few places for short stretches on some in-town roads.

  15. Herman F. Ebeling, Jr.
    Herman F. Ebeling, Jr. says:

    Here is a very good question, why is it that cyclists are expected to “share the lane” but operators of other vehicles are not expected to “share the lane?”

    We don’t expect two cars to “share” the same lane, nor do we expect a car and a motorcycle to “share the lane” so why are we as cyclists expected to “share” the lane?

    Why can’t we take control of the lane like any other vehicle and not be questioned?

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      Why, you ask? Tyranny of Speed.

      It’s illegal to pass within the same lane as a motorcycle.

      316.209 Operating motorcycles on roadways laned for traffic.
      (1) All motorcycles are entitled to full use of a lane and no motor vehicle shall be driven in such manner as to deprive any motorcycle of the full use of a lane. This subsection shall not apply to motorcycles operated two abreast in a single lane.

      • Herman F. Ebeling, Jr.
        Herman F. Ebeling, Jr. says:

        Sadly, Keri, that is probably all too true. Which is also probably why even when we’re in the bike lane or are travelling in the opposite direction we get people honking their horns at us.

  16. Angelo Dolce
    Angelo Dolce says:

    “Herman F. Ebeling, Jr. December 3, 2013


    Really, what about all of the motorists who are backing out of their driveways…”


    NE2 realized that these are not my reading of traffic laws as written, or what I consider rational view of how to handle traffic. Unfortunately, these comments are not pure sarcasm, but reflect comments made by many traffic planners and a few police officers and other motorists.

    The general justification I hear for facilities I (and you?) see as poorly designed is that they are not meant for “advanced” bicyclists, and that we need to permit bad facilities so we can eventually get good ones. (see https://tinyurl.com/mayjrmf, recent bike lanes to right of RTOL on to I-76 after 30+ years of complaints about similar problems a few miles away)

    A number of engineers have told me bicyclists must yield to all motor vehicles (and basically act as if they are walking on sidewalks). If you walk your bike the sidewalks and bike lanes aren’t necessarily dangerous, they are just useless since we don’t need bicycles to walk. This is the intended design I see locally

    Only a few of the ones I’ve spoken to have ridden bicycles in traffic, realize the speed and distance average bicyclists are capable of, or believe motorists have to yield to non-motorized traffic.

    I suspect you are no more sympathetic than I am to complaints from motorists or the occasional policeman that I should not ride 10mph on roads with 25-30mph speed limits when (10mph) rush hour traffic is blocking my way, but these are the most frequent complaints I get.

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