Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Cyclists, pedestrians need to know safe and legal road position

Florida Weekly 'Outdoors' column, 4/25/18

This is a column topic I was hoping I’d not have to write about again. But it seems the misunderstanding/misuse of certain traffic laws by those who enforce these laws remain all too common when cyclists or pedestrians are involved. The Florida Bicycle Association alerted me to a news story about a cyclist in Cape Coral who was cited for riding near the middle of a travel lane on a four-lane road rather than hugging the right side. While riding close to the edge may sound reasonable to those who don’t know better, riding further into the lane is a practice consistently taught by American Bicycling Education Association and League of American Bicyclists, the two most prominent providers of such education programs.

Why are cyclists instructed to operate away from the right edge? Because it’s much safer and perfectly legal in most cases. Safer because motorists approaching from behind will recognize from a distance they can’t squeeze past without moving out of the lane. Too many cyclists riding on the edge have been buzzed, squeezed off the road, or even hit by a mirror by motorists who miscalculate space to pass or who believe the road position is an invitation to pass within the lane.

It’s legal to ride toward the lane’s center because whenever a vehicle travel lane is too narrow for a bike and motor vehicle to safely share a bicyclist using the lane may ride anywhere in that lane he or she deems safest. The vast majority of lanes are too narrow to be considered shareable. The exact wording of the Florida law addressing roadway position reads:

“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 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. 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.”

The third exception, specific to substandard-width lane, allows a cyclist to use any part of the lane. So, it boils down to two questions law enforcers (and all road users) should know the answers to: What is the definition of a substandard-width lane? And what constitutes legal obstruction of traffic as opposed to illegal obstruction?

The Florida Department of Transportation defines a substandard-width lane as less than 14 feet, even though the vast majority of FDOT’s and other local roadway lanes are 12 feet or less. That being the case, except in the rare situation where the lane is at least 14 feet (technically defined by FDOT as a Wide Curb Lane), a person operating a bike may use any part of the lane. In fact, FDOT’s own statement reinforces it: “With the exception of a few types of high-speed, limited-access roadways (for example an Interstate Highway or the Turnpike), every FDOT travel lane is also a bikeway — no special signs or markings needed. In the state of Florida, the bicycle is considered a legal vehicle and may be operated on the street, unless there is some guidance otherwise, such as marked bicycle lane. Standard travel lanes are 12 feet wide and too narrow to share, so you will need to control the lane.”

That makes clear lane position and it also reinforces that it is legal in such circumstances to obstruct traffic when operating below the speed limit. And it also means cyclists may ride two-abreast in substandard-width lane since two cyclists riding abreast are not impeding traffic any more than a single cyclist legally taking the lane in a substandard-width lane. Maybe it’s asking too much for the general public to understand or agree but law enforcers need to follow this clear guidance of the statute and logic behind it.

As a reminder, when bike lanes exist, cyclists are compelled to use them rather than the motor vehicle traffic lanes except when passing, preparing for turns, or when a number of conditions constitute exceptions, including poor design (i.e. next to on-street parking), lack of maintenance and debris/hazard avoidance, among others.

For more about this matter, visit and And don’t forget to sign up to climb Oasis Tower on Saturday, April 28. See ¦

- Dan Moser is a long-time bicycle/pedestrian advocate and traffic safety professional who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. Contact him at and 334-6417. 

For Lee County cycling and tri events visit Caloosa Riders Bicycle Club (; Florida Mudcutters (; and SW Florida Biking Meetup Group ( The Florida Bicycle Association ( is your source for statewide happenings. BikeWalkLee’s blog site has all the information you’ll need to stay abreast of advocacy efforts in Southwest Florida as well as statewide and nationally.

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