News-Press, Jan. 28, 2015 (front page story)
By Janine Zeitlin, firstname.lastname@example.org
Be sure to watch the video interview with Guy Hackett and coverage of the court hearing.
- The League of American Bicyclists directs cyclists to take a full lane when lane is too narrow
- Bike commuter is "scared for his life" when riding at the edge of busy roadway
Bicycle commuter Guy Hackett is found not guilty for failing to ride to right curb during an appearance in traffic court in Fort Myers. The Lee County Sheriff's Office issued him the ticket on Pondella Rd. in North Fort Myers. (photo by News-Press)
In that time, he's drifted from using the sidewalks to the full lane, where he feels safer, but some deputies don't like it.
The lanky 53-year-old swapped a neon windbreaker for a dress shirt. He inhaled deeply and fumbled with his tie. He'd been thinking about this day for months. In October, a Lee sheriff's corporal wrote him a ticket for "slow bike, fail to ride to right curb." Hackett had been riding in the full lane during his commute along Pondella Road in North Fort Myers.
This was the first time Hackett had been ticketed, but he counted four times in which deputies had ordered him to move over.
Hackett reviewed his arguments in his head. That he had too many close calls with vehicles when hugging the edge of the lane. That, while Florida law directs cyclists to the right, it also allows them to use the full lane in certain cases, like when it's not safe to ride at the edge. And that where he was pulled over was too narrow to ride safely alongside wide pick-up trucks or vehicles towing boats.
As more cyclists take to the roads, the rift over how much of the road should be shared with riders has been hotly contested, even when laws exist that define their rights, though not as precisely as some lawyers would like.
The League of American Bicyclists, a national advocacy and educational group, directs cyclists to share a lane with a vehicle if it is wide enough, ideally about 14 feet. "If the lane is not wide enough to share, 'take the lane' by riding in the middle," it recommends.
Hackett, who holds a pair of instructor-level bike safety certifications, measured Pondella where he was ticketed at 13.5 feet.
"People on bikes need to ride several feet into the lane to be visible to other motorists, be clear of right edge obstacles, including grates and debris, and to be clear of the pathways of opening doors of parked cars," said Carolyn Szczepanski, of The League of American Bicyclists. "To operate safely, riders also need to have at least three feet of clearance from faster traffic."
But law enforcement worry that cyclists who use the full lane are slowing traffic and jeopardizing the safety of motorists and the cyclists. Bonita bike commuter Ryan Scofield has been stopped by Collier County sheriff's deputies while using a full lane in Naples. Scofield captured being pulled over on video, which spurred discussions between cyclists and the sheriff's office.
There is a statute that disallows impeding traffic, but it only applies to motor vehicles, McDonald noted.
The law allows riders to use the full lane when lanes are of "substandard width," McDonald said, though that width isn't defined. A bill filed earlier this month may change that. The agency has increased training on bike regulations in the past year, he said, because of the growing number of Collier cyclists on the roads and Scofield's experiences.
Hearing Officer Mary Jacobs called the case.
"How does your client plead?"
"Not guilty," Coleman responded.
Cpl. Chad Heinemann explained why he gave Hackett a ticket.
"The rider failed to move as far right of the land as possible to allow normal flow of traffic...It was causing several vehicles to almost slow down and stop."
Coleman motioned to dismiss the ticket.
"My client believed that because of the potential for being buzzed or hit by those moving objects that it was safest for him to ride in the middle," the lawyer said.
Jacobs paused, then denied the motion. Coleman presented photos, including ones of large trucks occupying most of the Pondella lane.
"Any vehicle beyond a mid-sized car cannot pass me and give me the three feet possible," Hackett argued. "If someone gets hurt, it's me."
Nearly an hour into arguments, a man from the audience groused. "All this for a ticket?"
Jacobs removed her glasses to study the photos and law.
"I looked at the conditions of the road to make a determination whether or not it would have been safe for the cyclist to be utilizing his bicycle to the far right of the right lane and I don't believe that would be safe for the bicyclist," she said. "I find Mr. Hackett not guilty."
Hackett offered a thumbs-up to Coleman. The decision only saved him a $61.50 ticket, but it wasn't about that money. (The News-Press couldn't find out if this decision might impact the Lee County Sheriff's Office approach to Hackett or other cyclists who use the full lane. The agency has a policy against commenting to The News-Press.)
"I know they don't like it," Hackett said, referring to deputies. "But I'm hoping they realize I'm doing everything legally."
Florida law on when cyclists can use the full lane
- Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic...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 except under any of the following situations.
- 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. For the purposes of this subsection, a "substandard-width lane" is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and another vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.
- When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
- When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
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