This is the fifth in a series of articles that will increase your familiarity with your rights as a bicyclist and what they mean when you’re on the road. Yes, we’re still talking bike laws here. Who knew there were so many?! And who knew I could be so wordy?! The first draft of this article was a whopping 1,600 words long so I decided to divide it into two parts.
Reminder: Anything in the 300s is a Missouri Model Vehicle Code, meaning that cities can decide to adopt it or not and change it or not. Anything that has a 304 and 307 is a state statute. Anything with a 14- means it is a Columbia City Ordinance. As always, I’ve summed up the wording of the laws. If you are feeling inclined to argue with my summaries, curb it and go watch a cyclocross video. Nobody cares.
After shaming us all in Moving Violations: We Are All Scofflaws, it’s time to move on to some good news for bicyclists, or as I like to call it, the Holy Grail of bike laws. Statute 307.190/14.503. It should have its own holiday…bicyclists should adopt it as their pledge of allegiance…I’m thinking of getting it tattooed on my other arm. This one is so awesome I’m not even going to sum it up:
Every person operating a bicycle or motorized bicycle at less than the posted speed or slower than the flow of traffic upon a street or highway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as safe, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction, except when making a left turn, when avoiding hazardous conditions, when the lane is too narrow to share with another vehicle, or when on a one-way street. Bicyclists may ride abreast when not impeding other vehicles.
How great is that?! Contrary to what every car driver THINKS, we don’t have to ride in the ditch, we don’t have to ride on the sidewalk, we don’t have to stay so far over as to be invisible to cars, and we can even ride and talk to our sidekick at the same time!*
Channeling my ol’ buddy the Spokes Man, I’ll break this one law down into parts so we can fully savor it.
Every person operating a bicycle or motorized bicycle at less than the posted speed or slower than the flow of traffic upon a street or highway…This basically is a backwards way of saying that if we are moving at the same speed as traffic, then we can, and safety dictates that we should, take our respective place in the traffic lane. We don’t ride up on the right side of cars or go around everybody on the left. Just jump in the middle of the lane and wait our turn like everyone else. So when a car roars around you at an intersection, you’re right and they’re wrong.
…shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as safe…Did you all notice that last word? It did not say “possible”; it said “safe.” And who gets to determine what is “safe”? You do, because there are all kinds of things going on out there that car drivers don’t know about because they are traveling at a higher rate of speed.
- They don’t have to worry for their bodily safety about a car door opening in front of them (exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle);
- A sudden lane change only causes minor car damage, not possible death (or one proceeding in the same direction);
- Their big tires don’t notice when they run over glass or pieces of metal or bloated opossums (when avoiding hazardous conditions); and
- They certainly don’t have the same heart stopping fear we do when they try to pass us too closely (when the lane is too narrow to share with another vehicle).
So you get to decide what is safe for you. If you think there are too many rocks on the shoulder, you can move out into the lane. If there’s a storm drain with tire-eating grates, you have the right to take up extra space to go around it.
There were two other exceptions. The first was on a one-way street. You can ride in the left lane like the cars if you want to. However, it is always better to be in the rightmost lane that serves your destination. The second was except when making a left turn. That one is self-explanatory, but I’ve included a little picture in case you need a visual.
* Now we’re at the asterisk. Bicyclists may ride abreast when not impeding other vehicles. Unfortunately, this one is open to interpretation because it’s quite vague. I would say that Route HH has some impeding issues on Tuesday nights and Saturday mornings, but at other times, if there are only a few bicyclists, the cyclists can certainly ride side by side without impeding traffic because the lane is too narrow to share with another vehicle.
The clump of bikes is the equivalent of a slow-moving tractor; cars just have to go around. The same is true on city streets with narrow lanes. However, they have a big car and you have a skinny bike. From a public relations standpoint, it’s a good idea to show that you are making an effort to keep traffic moving along whenever you can.
Next time: Overtaking, Harassment, and Bad Conduct