WHO HAS THE RIGHT OF WAY IN A CROSSWALK? During the past year, numerous readers have posed the following question to us: “Who has the right of way when crossing a street?” This is a good question, the answer to which will either help you better understand the rules of the road and hopefully avoid an accident or help you preserve your rights if you are involved in an accident. So, what are the rules of the road with regard to crosswalks? As a general rule and assuming traffic signals are being obeyed, pedestrians using the crosswalk have the right of way over all motor vehicles. Cyclists riding their bicycle or walking a bicycle in a crosswalk also have the right of way over all motor vehicles and bicyclists riding in the street. A recent trial court decision is instructive and demonstrates how your rights can be abrogated if you fail to follow the rules of the road.
On November 20, 2008 around 6:45 a.m., a pedestrian was crossing a street in a crosswalk. A city bus was turning right on the green light and violently struck a pedestrian crossing the street. The pedestrian suffered severe injuries including broken legs, arms, wrists and facial bones, a liver hematoma and a mild closed-head injury. The Defendant bus driver alleged that the pedestrian was not in the crosswalk at the time of the incident, but was instead crossing in the middle of the street, thus negating the pedestrian’s right of way. At the time of the collision, there was steam emanating from a manhole that obscured the bus driver’s view of the crosswalk. Fortunately for the pedestrian, there was an eyewitness that testified that the pedestrian was in the crosswalk at the time she was struck. As a result, the pedestrian prevailed in the court action, because the court found that the pedestrian had the right of way.
Moral of the story: If you are a pedestrian or riding your bike on the sidewalk, use the crosswalk when crossing the street. You have the right of way and your rights under the law will be preserved. If you are a bicyclist or motor vehicle driver, yield the right of way to the pedestrian or bicyclist crossing in the crosswalk.
LOCAL ORDINANCES REQUIRING BICYCLISTS TO USE A BIKE PATH Every few weeks during the summertime, we are posed questions as to the authority and basis for a police officer’s request to a cyclist demanding that he or she cycle on a bike path instead of the road. In one instance, we received a query from a cyclist that received a citation in Grosse Ile for failing to use an indicated bike path. In this cyclist’s case, there was a local ordinance in place that required cyclists to use a designated bike path for cycling instead of the road. Since we receive so many questions about this topic, we thought it would be helpful to shed some light on the subject.
First, it is important to distinguish between a “bike path” and a “bike lane.” According to the Michigan Department of State Police, Uniform Traffic Code for Cities, Townships and Villages, a bike path means a portion of a street or highway that is separated from the roadway by an open, unpaved space or by a barrier and it has been established for the use of persons riding bicycles. A bike lane means a portion of a street or highway that is adjacent to the roadway and that is established for the use of persons riding bicycles.
As we know, Michigan state law provides, in pertinent part, that “each person riding a bicycle upon a roadway has all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle.” (See MCL Section 257.657) Clearly, bicyclists have the right to cycle on the road, but can that right be limited by local ordinance? Section 42.16 of the Michigan Compiled Laws empowers cities, townships or villages to enact their own local ordinances regarding use of streets, alleys, bridges and public spaces, including the space above and beneath them. The statute states that such public places are “deemed a matter of local concern.” Any local ordinance that concerns the operation of motor vehicles on any road, street or highway first must be approved by the commissioner of the Michigan State Police. This power to enact local ordinances is limited however by another provision of the law that states that a local law cannot be enacted that conflicts with state law or provides for a lesser penalty than provided by state law. See MCL 257.605(1). Therefore, in theory, pursuant to the authority granted by MCL 42.16, a local authority would be empowered to enact an ordinance that affects use of the street, as long as the ordinance did not conflict with a specific state statute.
With regard to a local ordinance requiring mandatory use of bike paths by bicyclists, there is not a specific provision in the motor vehicle code that empowers local authorities to enact such an ordinance. A prior version of the law did grant local authorities such a power, but due to recent changes to the law, all references to bicyclists were deleted. See MCL 257.660(3) in which local authorities are granted the power to enact a provision that requires a person operating an electric personal assistive mobility device (NOT a bicycle) to operate on a usable and designated path for bicycles that is adjacent to a highway or street. As a result of this change to the law, it is the League of Michigan Bicyclists’ position that local authorities no longer have the authority to pass an ordinance that would require bicyclists to use a bike path that is adjacent to a street. By specifically NOT granting local authorities the power to enact such an ordinance, it is the LMB’s position that it was the intent of the legislature to prohibit or preclude local authorities from enacting such an ordinance. In fact, if you read the legislative history related to this provision in the motor vehicle code, it supports this conclusion. For a more thorough discussion of history of this statute, you can find the Legislative Analysis of Senate Bill 1224 (2006) at www.michiganlegislature.org.
What do these laws mean to bicyclists? Should you ignore a local ordinance? To our knowledge, the validity of these local ordinances has not been challenged in court. Ethically, we cannot advise you to ignore the law. You, of course, may choose to do so, but keep in mind that you may be issued a ticket that could involve a fine, a court appearance and legal fees. From a practical standpoint, it is always our advice to use discretion and good judgment in your encounters with police officers. If you are requested by an officer to bicycle on a path instead of the road, we recommend stating your reasons for disagreeing with the request, note the officer’s name and badge number, comply with the officer’s request, and file a complaint with the local police station. You may also contact your council members and city attorney to discuss your concerns with the local ordinance. Another option is to get involved with your local government by running for city council, attending council meetings or volunteering for committees, so you can effectuate change. If you are wrongfully issued a citation, if your finances allow, you may decide to challenge the ticket’s validity. Chances are the local court will enforce the ordinance, but you can always appeal. Bottom Line: Know your local ordinances and comply with any posted signs. Use common sense. Avoid the aggravation and expense of an unnecessary ticket, so you can spend your time riding and enjoying our short Michigan summers.
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with your questions and comments. As always, ride safely!