By Matthew K. Jensen
Published: Thursday, December 3, 2009 2:35 AM CST
A legal victory for Logan city Wednesday may cause bicyclists to rethink a common traffic maneuver.
Curtis B. Adams was issued a citation Oct. 22 by the Logan City Police Department for improper passing on the right side of a vehicle when he allegedly passed stopped traffic to reach the end of the lane at the intersection of 400 North and 600 East.
In court Wednesday morning, Adams said he was traveling southbound on 600 East when the light at 400 North turned red. Instead of lining up behind the vehicle traffic inside his lane, Adams said he passed the vehicles and proceeded toward the end of the lane to the crosswalk — parallel to the car in the first position.
“That is an absolutely standard practice,” said Adams to the judge. “I see it every single day. That way bikes stay as far to the right as possible.”
Adams, 27, of Parowan, says lining up behind stopped cars at a red light is dangerous because drivers are “anxious” to pass slower cyclists when the light turns green and that visibility is reduced.
But Logan prosecutor Mark A. Sorenson says the same law that prohibits a motor vehicle from passing on the right, also prohibits cyclists from doing the same.
“Common practice does not supersede the actual law,” he said. “The evidence shows that he pulled into the same lane where there was already traffic. The vehicle in that lane had a right to be there; he did not.”
Logan police officer Jared Percival said he was patrolling the intersection after receiving several complaints from area residents about safety issues involving motor vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists. Percival said he had parked his car on the north side of 400 North and observed the defendant pass the vehicles and leave only one foot of space between he and the adjacent traffic. Percival claimed that Adams passed traffic on both sides
and that there was a separate vehicle in the right-hand-turn lane. Adams objected to the accusation and said vehicles were only present in the southbound lane.
After hearing arguments from both sides, Judge Cheryl A. Russell found Adams guilty and imposed a reduced $45 fine for the misdemeanor offense.
Russell agreed with Adams that the procedure is common but, according to her, is unsafe.
“I have seen this common practice,” she said, “and it’s dangerous.”
The judge said there’s “no safe solution” to the problem and suggested the defendant get off his bike and walk it across the intersection — especially, she said, at 5 p.m. when the offense allegedly took place.
Adams concluded his statements saying, “It’s not safe to do what’s legal and illegal to do what’s safe.”
Utah statue 41-6a-705 states it is unlawful to pass a vehicle on the right. Statute 41-6a-1102 states that “a person operating a bicycle, a vehicle or device propelled by human power, or a moped has all the rights and is subject to the provisions” of motor vehicle law.
Adam Christensen, program coordinator of Utah State University’s Aggie Blue Bikes program, says that in cities where special infrastructure for bike safety doesn’t exist, such as bike lanes, it’s likely more dangerous for a cyclist to come up on the right.
“I usually side with the League of American Bicyclists and they advocate for holding your lane position,” he said. “By passing on the right, you may actually put yourself at a greater risk because drivers don’t expect you to pass them.”
Christensen says one of the biggest keys to bicycle safety is being predictable. He says cyclists must be accountable for the same laws as drivers and that the concept of “right of space” will keep cyclists more visible and prevent cars from passing them too.
“By holding your lane position, you can prevent cars from passing you,” he added. “And if they pass you on the right, now they are breaking the law.”
He added that cyclists can report motor traffic violations to police and that if a license plate number is obtained, officers can issue citations.