First of all thanks for the “Legally Speaking” column. It’s informative, sometimes empowering and always interesting. On a group ride last week on a country road with no auto traffic about 10 of us were pace-lining. As we came around a bend we startled a man walking a dog. The leader called it out, we slowed and gave him plenty of room and there was nothing close to contact. But this guy was furious and we rode off to his screams of “You have to ride single file!!!”
Was he right? Also, could you direct me to where on the web I can look such things up? We often ride into New Jersey, too, and it would be great to have a resource to research the laws.
R.H., Doylestown, Pennsylvania
Dear R. H.,
As most VeloNews readers know, riding in pacelines is important skill and training method for racing and they can be quite fun as well. They are also excellent for developing bike handling skills, leg speed, etc.
My first group rides were really just paceline sessions that disintegrated into full on slug fests—and they still rank as some of the hardest, most painful efforts, subjectively speaking, that I can remember ever making— it would be a few more years of this before I was able to push my pain threshold higher by constant exposure to the pain.
Some teammates on the ski team talked me into showing up for a regular ride used by local racers for training (I suspect the intent was to torture me, but that is another story). On the typical ride, the hammer would drop almost immediately, and we began what is essentially a team time trial. Everyone was expected to pull through, and this continued until the turn around point were the stragglers were allowed to catch up—just in time to get dropped on the no-holds-barred race back to the barn, where there would be no waiting and the only question that remained was who the ‘ride winner’ would be.
While Wisconsin has phenomenal roads for cycling, we always headed out of town, according to tradition, on a narrow, shoulder-less road that might have been perfect for the racing pioneers of the 60’ and 70’s, but by the early 80’s was getting very busy thanks to a boom in housing development just outside of town. The farm land was being turned into subdivisions—thousands of people now lived along OUR ride route.
On one memorable ride on this road—I remember it was early spring because the only thing green was the grass in the ditch, nothing in the fields but the tilled up pitch-black odiferous soil, not unlike the photos from Paris-Roubaix—we had a strong cross-wind from the right and were riding in a single pace line with the tail of the group swept all the way across the lane-right up to the dividing yellow line. A driver pulled alongside of the group with his passenger window down, yelling at whoever happened to be rotating past the car’s open window. I was anxious to tell him something urgent but had to wait until I made my way up the paceline. It turned out my timing was perfect because just as I was passing within earshot of his window he posed the following question:
“Are you aware that it is illegal to ride on this road?”
To which I replied, “Are YOU aware that you are in the wrong lane and there is a truck heading for you?”
He looked up, slammed on his brakes and vanished from sight—that was the last we saw of him.
Well, at least your guy didn’t yell that it’s illegal for you to ride in the road. Of course, if he had, he would have been just as wrong on the law, and ultimately, I’m not really sure how riding single file would have prevented him from being startled in the first place.
Pacelining in Pennsylvania…
So your club is out pacelining, and some of you begin to wonder if the shouts of “single file” from startled pedestrians mean you’re an outlaw cycle gang terrorizing the Amish countryside. Actually, the answer is pretty straightforward. In Pennsylvania, Section 3505(e) of the Vehicle Code states that:
Persons riding pedalcycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of pedalcycles.
That pretty much settles it, don’t you think? You can’t ride more than two abreast, which means you can ride two abreast. Now, in pacelining, you have a choice of riding a single paceline, or a double paceline. It sounds like you were riding a double paceline. In either type of paceline, you’re still only riding two abreast, so you’re within the law. What you can’t legally do in Pennsylvania, or any other state I’m aware of, is ride four abreast in a double echelon. If you were doing that, the startled pedestrian was right that you were breaking the law, but wrong that you have to ride single file.
So, we settled that question, sort of: You can ride two abreast, except that Pennsylvania adds a qualifier in Section 3505(c) :
A pedalcycle operated at slower than prevailing speed shall be operated in accordance with the provisions of section 3301(b) (relating to driving on right side of roadway) unless it is unsafe to do so.
This means that in Pennsylvania, if a cyclist is riding at slower than the prevailing speed, then under Section 3301(b) , the cyclist must ride
in the right-hand lane then available for traffic, or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway…
Now that seems as clear as mud—which is it? Right-hand lane or right-hand curb?—but here’s what it means. On a road with two or more lanes in each direction, if you’re riding at slower than the prevailing speed, then you must ride in the right-hand lane. Otherwise, on a road with only one lane in each direction, you must ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb. Of course, you would not be required to ride to the right if is unsafe to do so. Thus, although the law doesn’t specifically say so, if your paceline is traveling at a lower speed than other traffic, you may be required to ride single file; on a road with four or more lanes, your paceline must ride in the right-hand lane, and there is no requirement to ride single file. On a road with only one lane in each direction, however, each cyclist must ride as close to the right-hand curb as practicable, which effectively means single file.
…And in the Garden State
Okay, so your club is pacelining—legally—in Pennsylvania, and let’s say you cross the state line into New Jersey. Has your legal status changed? Under Section 39:4-14.2(e) of the New Jersey Vehicle Code,
Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway may travel no more than two abreast when traffic is not impeded, but otherwise shall ride in single file except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.
So as in Pennsylvania, in New Jersey you can ride two abreast. However, New Jersey also adds a qualifier: “when traffic is not impeded.” This raises some interesting questions. First, the only slow speed statute New Jersey has is in Section 39:4-97.1 of the Vehicle Code:
No person shall drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with the law.
As you can see, this slow speed statute doesn’t apply to cyclists; it is only applicable to drivers of “motor vehicles.” So if the slow speed statute doesn’t apply to cyclists, what does the two-abreast statute mean by “when traffic is not impeded”? Unfortunately, it doesn’t really say what it means. However, taken in the context of the rest of the statute, it probably means if you’re going slower than other traffic on the road, you can’t ride two abreast:
Every person riding a bicycle on a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction; provided, however, that any person may move to the left …to occupy any available lane when traveling at the same speed as other traffic…
Now, some of my readers may remember that I’ve written previously about an Ohio case, Trotwood v. Selz, in which a cyclist was cited for impeding traffic. In that case, the Ohio Court of Appeals held that
a bicyclist is not in violation of the ordinance when he is traveling as fast as he reasonably can.
In other words, the slow speed statutes apply to automobiles that are impeding traffic by traveling at a slower rate of speed than is posted and that they are capable of traveling at; the slow speed statutes do not apply to bicycles. However, the Court also noted that had Selz instead been cited for failing to ride as close to the right as practicable, his citation would have been upheld. Although that opinion was from an Ohio court, I believe the Court got the law right, and it’s consistent with my understanding of the New Jersey two-abreast statute.
Now let’s put the law into action. Your club is riding in Pennsylvania, at the same speed as other traffic, and you’re riding a double paceline. Nothing to worry about, you’re riding within the law. If you cross the state line into New Jersey, still nothing to worry about, you’re still riding within the law.
Now let’s say your club is riding in Pennsylvania, but at a slower speed than other traffic. If you’re on a road with more than one lane in your direction, you may continue to ride in a double paceline, but must ride in the right-hand lane. Otherwise, if you’re on a road with only one lane in your direction, you must ride single file, as close to the right-hand curb as practicable. Once your club crosses the state line into New Jersey, if you are still riding at a slower speed than other traffic, you must ride single file, as close to the right side of the road as practicable, regardless of how many lanes there are.
But What About That Pedestrian?
There’s one more question to consider. The pedestrian you startled was quick to point out what he thought the law is—but what about him? Was he within the law, or was he more like the “helpful” motorist misquoting the law to me, while headed toward certain disaster because of his own lawbreaking ways? In Pennsylvania, Section 3544 of the Vehicle Coderequires pedestrians to use a sidewalk where one is available. Your letter didn’t indicate whether there was a sidewalk, but you did say it was a country road, so in all probability, there was no sidewalk. However, under Section 3544, if there is no sidewalk, the pedestrian must walk on the shoulder “as far as practicable from the edge of the roadway.” If there is no sidewalk, and no shoulder, the pedestrian may walk along the roadway, but must walk “as near as practicable to the outside edge of the roadway.” Furthermore, if the road is a two-way road, the pedestrian must walk facing traffic, and “any pedestrian upon a roadway shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway.”
Regardless of these statutory requirements, a cyclist running down a pedestrian could be found liable for negligence if the pedestrian was on the highway in plain view and could have been seen and avoided by a careful driver. Therefore, even if you are in the right, and the pedestrian is in the wrong, you would have to exercise what the law calls “due care” not to hit the pedestrian.
It’s unclear from your letter whether the pedestrian was walking within the law, or whether he was outside the law himself, but when you encounter pedestrians on your rides, these are the statutory requirements the pedestrian must meet. I’m not suggesting that cyclists should be discourteous toward scofflaw pedestrians, and it sounds like your club was careful to observe and respect this pedestrian’s rights, but if a pedestrian does engage you in a conversation about what the law requires, it might help you to know both your own statutory rights and duties, as well as the pedestrian’s statutory rights and duties.
Laws on the Web
Finally, R.H., you also asked about a source where you could look up bicycle laws. One source I’ve found on the web that seems fairly comprehensive is at www.bikehighway.com. However, from what I’ve seen of this site, it appears that some of the state laws are summarized, rather than verbatim transcripts of the statutes. If you want to see the actual language of a particular statute, I would recommend going to the website of your state legislature, or asking at a law library in your area—generally, there will be at least one law library in every county, either at a law school, or at a county bar library, or even at the county courthouse.
(Research and drafting provided by Rick Bernardi-law student- Lewis and Clark)
Now read the fine print:
Bob Mionske is a former competitive cyclist who represented the U.S. at the 1988 Olympic games (where he finished fourth in the road race), the 1992 Olympics, as well as winning the 1990 national championship road race. After retiring from racing in 1993, he coached the Saturn Professional Cycling team for one year before heading off to law school. Mionske’s practice is now split between personal-injury work, representing professional athletes as an agent and other legal issues facing endurance athletes (traffic violations, contract, criminal charges, intellectual property, etc). If you have a cycling-related legal question, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org Bob will answer as many of these questions privately as he can. He will also select a few questions each week to answer in this column. General bicycle-accident advice can be found at bicyclelaw2.wpengine.com.
The information provided in the “Legally Speaking” column is not legal advice. The information provided on this public web site is provided solely for the general interest of the visitors to this web site. The information contained in the column applies to general principles of American jurisprudence and may not reflect current legal developments or statutory changes in the various jurisdictions and therefore should not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice. Understand that reading the information contained in this column does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Bob Mionske. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained in the web site without first seeking the advice of legal counsel.