Bicycles as Traffic vs. the Law

On June 10th, Aaron Kleber was cycling with a friend heading south up the Ninth Street hill. Ninth Street is a direct route to many places for vehicles and Kleber informed his friend that he had seen a bike lane further south. Unfortunately, sharing the road in the early evening hours with parked cars and two directions of steady traffic can be difficult on this street near downtown. The cyclists were riding two abreast and near State Street were pulled over by the Lafayette Police Department. The officer informed Kleber that he was obstructing traffic. A surprised Kleber was not issued a ticket.

First things first.

Bicycles are vehicles, Lafayette and West Lafayette laws dictate that these vehicles should be operated in the roadway, and as such bicycles are traffic. It is not illegal for motor traffic to be impeded by traffic signals or crosswalks; farm equipment, garbage trucks, postal trucks, police cars, buses, and cars which have slowed for weather or other safety reasons. It is not illegal for other traffic to be impeded by a bicycle that is following the rules of the road and cannot operate at close to the speed limit for motorized vehicles.

If bicycles are, by law, vehicles, belong in the roadway with other vehicle traffic, and represent a reasonable encounter within the range of normal traffic in a motorist’s path from point A to point B, then we can move on to concerns about how to best share the streets.

Look, motorists, most of you don’t actually hate the cyclists and most of the cyclists don’t hate you. They don’t wish to make you late or confuse you. Yet there are smart practices employable which, admittedly, may very well be lost on you or not in every cyclist’s repertoire. After covering a few points on a cyclist’s behalf, also included here is a timely concern for the cyclist on the driver’s behalf.

Above all, a cyclist wants to be visible and predictable to a car. They are going to ride right of center only far enough so they can continue in a straight line out of the way of parked cars, parked car doors about to be opened, potholes, gravel and random trash, dead animals, and questionable pieces of metal whatsit. Any of these can cause a cyclist to swerve uncontrollably, wreck, or pop a hole in a tire. When a cyclist tries to give a driver more room than this he will, yes, surprise you at times with weaving in and out.

A cyclist will take up even more room in a lane when there is a greater perceived threat to their safety. If a cyclist needs to change lanes to turn left or get out of what’s becoming a right turn lane, if they’re being smart they’ll not only use the hand signals found in the Indiana Driver’s Manual, they’ll also make their moves early. By ensuring visibility with what seems like a “Hey look at me!” display, a driver may be forced into a position where they can’t pass the cyclist. The same logic applies to a cyclist who needs to turn left right after a traffic light. There are usually too many cars at the start of a green light for a cyclist to change over to the other side of the street.

The same hypothetical intelligent cyclist may also take up more room on the right side of the road at red lights and stop signs. Unlike the instantaneous and effortless speed acquired with the foot pressed to gas pedal, the cyclist may be a little wobbly getting their momentum up and then have a small lull while they get their speed as fast as possible to get through the light and out of other vehicles’ way.

Most importantly a cyclist will take up more room when they fear there is so little give that a faster-moving motorist will unsafely pass them. Red flags include but are not limited to road work zones, uphills, downhills, narrow roads, busy roads, and cycling with inexperienced riders or children in tow. This is not unlawful and the cyclist has a right and responsibility to safely operate their vehicle on any non-highway road unless otherwise posted. While a driver does not have a right to insist an adult cyclist choose an unfavorable alternate route simply because they can’t go as fast as is preferred, they can ask for traffic infrastructure which improves upon a well-grounded nature of getting around town for all vehicles sharing the road.

Our local law, like most, states that cyclists can ride no more than two abreast in traffic lanes shared with motor vehicles. Usually a motorist should be able to wait a moment and overtake the other lane to pass safely. The problem for a motorist occurs in a street, probably with only one lane of traffic in each direction , where flow is dense enough that this maneuver cannot be carried out easily and traffic actually becomes backed up.

Interpretation of bicycle law by the Florida Bicycle Association suggests that even if two single-file cyclists would take up as much room as two abreast, single-file is the best choice because it less impedes the overall flow of traffic. A lawyer from a practice in Arizona and Utah pushes the same view while highlighting that a motorist who hits one of the cyclists in such a situation would still be at-fault for the collision. This advice could help to communicate a cyclist’s respect for the other vehicles sharing the road, even if it’s unclear whether the act would help traffic proceed faster. That being said, cyclists riding two abreast can get through intersections faster, increase visibility, and further discourage a motorist whose chance to pass is unsafe.


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