League of Michigan Bicyclists

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Clarification of Common Misstatements

blue with bikes--squareAt LMB, we work hard to advance the public's knowledge about the laws pertaining to bicyclists in Michigan. Often, the most difficult part of this effort is to clarify common misinterpretations of the Michigan Vehicle Code, sometimes being spread by non-cycling agencies.

This week, we were once again faced with this challenge when an article from MLive, entitled "Ask a Trooper: Can bicyclists ride side by side? What about red lights?”, was brought to our attention by concerned bicyclists. While the intent of the article was to give safety advice to bicyclists as they take to the roads in the coming warm-weather months, unfortunately, the advice given was missing key information that makes a huge difference in both bicyclists and motorists understanding the laws. To correct the misstatements in the article, LMB partnered with Board Member and LMB Advocacy Committee Chair Bryan Waldman, who is also a distinguished attorney with Bike Law Michigan and Sinas Dramis Brake Boughton & McIntyre PC, to send the below Letter to the Editor and author of the article:

"Dear MLive:

I enjoy reading Lieutenant Rob Davis’ recurring column, “Ask a Trooper,” and believe it does a good job of informing citizens about important laws in a way that is easy to understand. I also applaud the recent effort to educate citizens who ride bicycles and drive motor vehicles about the laws that apply to bicyclists. As your article pointed out, the increasing number of people riding bicycles on Michigan’s roads makes it even more important that all citizens understand the laws that apply to bicyclists and the obligation of motorists to share the road with them.

Unfortunately, the article misstated a number of laws that apply to bicyclists. For this reason, I am concerned that, although well intended, it may endanger bicyclists and lead to greater confusion about the laws that apply to them.

The most significant error, in my opinion, was a statement that people riding a bicycle should ride on “an improved shoulder,” when it is present and if there is no shoulder, the bicyclist must ride as close to the curb as “possible.” The statute cited in the article (MCL 257.660a) clearly states that cyclists are required to ride as close as “practicable” to the right-hand curb or edge of the road. The Michigan Supreme Court in Grimes v MDOT ruled that the roadway is defined as the lane of travel intended for vehicular travel, which does not include the shoulder. As a result, cyclists are not required to ride on the shoulder. This is particularly important during this time of year, when the shoulder is often obstructed with glass, rocks, and other debris.

This is further supported by the the Michigan Vehicle Code definition of a shoulder as the “portion of the highway contiguous to the roadway generally extending the contour of the roadway, not designed for vehicular travel but maintained for the temporary accommodation of disabled or stopped vehicles otherwise permitted on the roadway” (MCL 257.59a). The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities states that a shoulder suitable for bicycle use must be at least 4’ in paved width. By their standards, narrower shoulders, 1’ - 3’ in paved width, are not suitable as bicycle facilities. Shoulders, especially narrower ones, are not intended for bicycle traffic and are typically not the safest place for bicyclists to ride.

Further, the same statute that requires cyclists to ride as far to the right as practicable also states that cyclists do not need to ride as close to the right-hand edge of the road under numerous circumstances, including:

  1. when preparing to turn left;
  2. when passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction; and
  3. when conditions make the right-hand edge of the roadway unsafe for bicycles, including surface hazards (ruts or potholes), drain openings, debris, parked/moving vehicles, pedestrians, animals, or other obstructions, or if the lane is too narrow to permit a vehicle to safely overtake and pass a bicycle.

It is important for motorists to understand that roadway conditions, like glass, rocks, or poorly-maintained pavement can make riding on the edge of the road unsafe. This may not be apparent from the perspective of a driver.

In total, the statute (MCL 257.59a) lists five legal exceptions to riding as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway. The omission of these exceptions is a common misstatement of the law. The result of this is that many motorists are unaware of their existence, a problem exacerbated by the article’s exclusion of this important part of the statute.

The recurring “Ask a Trooper” column is a wonderful platform to educate the public on important roadway safety concerns. Unfortunately, this particular column missed the opportunity to fully educate bicyclists, motorists, and even law enforcement about the rights and responsibilities of both drivers and cyclists legally sharing the road as permitted in the Michigan Vehicle Code.

Please understand that any criticism regarding the content of the article is not aimed at the officer quoted. Again, I applaud the effort to educate bicyclists and motorists. It is clear that all of us (drivers, bicyclists, lawyers, judges, and police officers) need to have a better understanding of the laws that apply to bicyclists. For this reason, we are hopeful that legislation that clarifies the use and responsibilities of bicyclists on Michigan roadways will be enacted soon. Enhancements to Michigan’s driver’s education curriculum will provide a platform for uniform and correct education of motorists and will ultimately make our roads safer everyone. The League of Michigan Bicyclists (LMB) actively advocates for such changes. With the widespread support recent bicycle safety legislation is receiving, LMB hopes to see significant updates to the Michigan Vehicle Code in the near future.

In the meantime, we hope that you will assist us in stopping the spread of common misconceptions that endanger the lives of bicyclists by amending your article with the information above. Thank you for your consideration.

Very Truly Yours,

Bryan J. Waldman
League of Michigan Bicyclists, Advocacy Committee Chair
SINAS, DRAMIS, BRAKE, BOUGHTON & McINTYRE, P.C."

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