Laws equire motorists to share the road with bicyclists
The May 17 letter, “Rules for motorists apply to bicyclists too,” by Mickey Marcella began by stating his/her intention to “just state some roadway laws.” After mentioning the obvious requirement to obey traffic lights and stop signs, the writer quickly moves on make other statements that have no basis in law and which seem to show no concern for bicyclist safety, or awareness of the laws that govern motorist behavior in relationship to bicycles.
Mickey makes a claim that riders need to “choose the road or the shoulder.” This is contrary to law, which requires bike riders to stay to the right side of the road but also allows the rider to use some or all of the driving lane when the circumstances require it for safety reasons. A responsible bike rider at times will be on the shoulder, where a usable shoulder exists, but at other times will move into the roadway as conditions require and then back again to the shoulder.
Mickey later says that bicyclist in the roadway should be riding the speed limit: if “the speed limit is 55 mph, please ride 55 mph.” (In what world is a “speed limit” actually a required speed?) The obvious message to the bicyclists: stay off our road. It is hard not to read this letter without perceiving a degree of hostility toward bicyclists, as if the expectation to “share the road” were some unreasonable demand being placed upon motorists.
In fact there is a New York state law that Mickey does not mention, a law passed in 2010 requiring motorist to only pass bicyclists at a safe distance. Many drivers are ignorant of this law. My county’s top law enforcement official, the Fulton County sheriff, showed his ignorance of this law in his public comments after Ed Lakata of Johnstown was struck and killed by a pick-up truck driver as Mr. Lakata was struggling up a hill outside of Gloversville in June of last year.
To be clear, the motor vehicle operator has a legal obligation to slow down, or even stop, to accommodate the bicyclist. S/he may only pass when conditions allow the driver to do so at a safe distance, typically considered to be at least three or four feet.
Bicycles have been a means of travel and recreation since long before the automobile was invented. Bicycle use is on the increase for various reasons including health, economic, and environmental benefits. I am an occasional bike rider and my two adult children regularly bike to work in urban environments. Some bike riders do engage in risky behavior on the roads. They may startle or frighten drivers and place themselves at risk of harm by their actions. I am not condoning that behavior. But from the drivers perspective, bicycles need to be expected, accepted and accommodated.
The price of exercising healthy caution, which is your legal obligation, is typically a few seconds of inconvenience. The payoff is doing your part to help keep everyone who uses the roads safe.
Please share the road!