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Friday, August 29 2014 @ 02:17 PM UTC

Additional thoughts about our 3' law and the narrow highway exception

Bike LawsLet's start with a narrow two lane highway, which is basically the narrowest type of highway most people will encounter. Just considering width (which our three foot law does) there is plenty of room for one motorist to pass another on this type of highway. Given that, there is certainly enough room on this type of highway for a motorist to pass a lawful riding cyclist with at least three feet of space.

So the narrow highway exception must apply to something narrower, so the next whole number down is one lane highway. (Do you know where any one lane highways are? They are really rare.) So in attempt to turn legalize into the vernacular we are now talking about just one lane available to all traffic that is too narrow for a cyclist and a motorist to safely share side by side.

Now keep in mind that our 3' law requires that the cyclist be a lawful cyclist. So what does the law say about the cyclist position in a lane that is too narrow to share? The law no longer requires the cyclist to ride as far right as practicable, safety advice can vary but basically they are: right tire track, right one third or center of the lane. So now there is really no room for a motorist to pass a cyclist. Yet MDOT's interpretation of this law basically says when there is no room for a cyclist and motorist to be side by side a cyclist should take the lane and a motorist can pass a cyclist. - That's crazy and scary.

Let's back up for a second, Maryland does have a few bidirectional one lane (narrow) dirt roads. Do drivers pass each other on these roads? Sure. Do motorist pass each other safely on these roads? Sure. So now you might be asking how is this done? From my experience one driver backs up to find a point where the road widens and then safe passing takes place. I think it's important to note that the point where passing takes place is wide enough to do so safely. The issue I have is describing this as any time there is not enough room to pass with 3 feet you can pass with less then 3 feet. That does not accurately reflect how safe passing is done in this situation.

I will speculate that Delegate Malone did not want cyclists going "Oh look that motorist passed me 2' 10" ticket him." when the motorist was doing their best in trying to pass a cyclist safely. That's fair enough but if that is the case MDOT needs to stress safe passing at a location where safe passing is possible on one lane roads. I would even add that the cyclist needs to indicate that they are cooperating with the passing motorist. This is how motorist do it, so the same should apply to cyclists as well.

As I previously noted (http://www.baltimorespokes.org/article.php?story=20121215212451386 ) not being in violation of the 3' statute does not negate other laws like passing safely. Additionally a bicycle is a vehicle, we can look how motor vehicles behave in one lane situations and apply the same principles with a bit less space. MDOT does no say to motorists when there is not enough room to safely pass another motor vehicle on a one lane road you can do so less safely, so why are they doing that with cyclists?

Read more for some bizarre considerations of this exception
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Most of the problems interpreting this law come from not looking up the legal definition of highway, So I will repeat it here:

8-101 Definitions
(i) Highway. – “Highway” includes:
(1) Rights-of-way, roadway surfaces, roadway subgrades, shoulders, median dividers, drainage facilities and structures, related stormwater management facilities, and structures, roadway cuts, roadway fills, guardrails, bridges, highway grade separation structures, railroad grade separations, tunnels, overpasses, underpasses, interchanges, entrance plazas, approaches, and other structures forming an integral part of a street, road, or highway, including bicycle and walking paths; and
(2) Any other property acquired for the construction, operation or use of the highway

There has been some assertion that a double yellow line now creates two highways. If a median divider is inclusive of a highway and does not create two highways how can a simple stripe? Also look at the plural use of "Rights-of-way and roadway surfaces" it seems clear enough to me that "lane" or "half the roadway" is not a accurate replacement for "highway."

I think the reason why "highway" was chosen is it includes shoulders and bicycle paths. It should be clear enough why we would want those included when talking about passing a cyclist. But what if a cyclist is not riding on the shoulder or bike path? (There is no legal obligation for a cyclist to use those) A motorist is still required to pass the cyclist with 3' of space and if that can't be done the motorist is out of luck and has to wait behind the cyclist. (Of course I encourage cyclists to be considerate and to facilitate motorist passing when it is safe to do so but we are talking about motorist requirements here.)

This is an important point, even when there is enough highway space to safely pass a cyclist it does not mean a motorist can pass a cyclist. And with regards to the 3' law, having more highway space (by legal definition) is good for cyclists as the narrow highway exception does not apply and thus requiring motorist to pass with at least 3'.

Just as shoulders and bike paths add to the width of the highway and if the resulting width yields enough space for a motorist to pass a cyclist with 3' of space then the motorist is required to do so. For purposes of this discussion let's call that width 14'. Now let's look at the definition of highway again, if a drainage ditch (stormwater management) plus roadway yields 14' of space or greater the driver is required to pass with 3' feet even though the cyclist and the driver cannot use the drainage ditch. The same goes for a sidewalk, even though the cyclist (mostly) and the driver cannot use the sidewalk, the driver is required to pass with at lest 3' of space or not pass at all.

The narrow highway exception was added at the last minute and did not get proper vetting. And that's kind of obvious with all this confusion. The assumption is if it went into law there must be a good reason for it and this this case we were more or less arm twisted, take this narrow highway exception or don't get a 3' law, that's how we ended up with it.

Good reason or not, the language chosen makes applicability of the narrow highway exception very rare, even harder is to get the layman to understand all the ins and outs of what this exception says. Between the two I will strongly assert that this exception should not be pushed as a "safety" campaign. Now how to get MDOT to get this point?

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