A posting to Montgomery Bike by Jim Titus
Dustin—here is the short version of some of the legal questions we discussed Friday. Jim
1. How does the law require a driver to make a right turn into a cross street or driveway when there is a bike lane.
A: Safety experts and the Maryland code hold that when a driver wants to make a right turn on a road with a bike lane, the driver is supposed to merge right into the bike lane, before initiating that turn. Let's start with the Maryland Driver Manual, which says on page 31:
”Never make a right turn from a through lane immediately after passing a bike on a shoulder or bike lane. Try to avoid any chance that a bicycle will be to your right or in your right blind spot when you turn right. Before starting a right turn, move as far to the right as practicable within the bike lane, shoulder, or right turn lane.”
Now let's look at the Maryland code. § 21-601 (a) requires drivers to make the right turn from as close as practicable to the curb or edge of the roadway. If there is no curb, the bike lane is still part of the roadway (though shoulders are not). See § 11-151 which defines a roadway as the portion of the highway used for vehicular travel.
Bicycles are vehicles under Maryland law. Thus, § 21-601 (a) requires the same thing that the Driver Manual urges: Drivers must merge right into the bike lane, and then make their right turn.
2. Does a solid white stripe between the bike lane and the general travel lane change the rule that drivers must merge right into the bike lane before turning right?
A feature of the MUTCD is that dashed white lines mean that changing lanes is fine, solid lines mean it is discouraged. Legally, the requirements of the Maryland code take precedence over what the MUTCD encourages. Of course, if an accident does occur due to the ambiguity caused by painting stripes that discourage compliance with the Maryland Code, a court might be asked to consider whether the road agency had been negligent.
A comparable situation concerns construction zones with solid white lines separating two general travel lanes in the same direction: Drivers are discouraged from making lane changes. But if a driver in the left lane needs to turn right into a driveway, clearly the driver is allowed to change lanes into the right lane before making the turn, rather than being expected to continue and circle the block.
3. Can cyclists rides 2-abreast? How about 3- of 4-abreast?
A. The number of cyclists that may ride abreast depends on the circumstances. Cyclists may ride 2 abreast on a roadway as long as the flow of traffic is unimpeded. § 21-1205(b) .
Here are some circumstances where the flow of traffic is clearly not impeded:
i. The cyclists are traveling close to the speed limit, or keeping up with the traffic in a traffic jam where all traffic is below the speed limit.
ii. A road with little to no traffic.
iii A road with light to moderate traffic and two lanes in the same direction with the cyclists only obstructing the right lane.
Here is one case where the flow of traffic is probably not impeded but a legal opinion would be useful:
i. On a road where the right-most lane (or only lane) in a given direction is too narrow for a bike to share side-by-side with an automobile. The single cyclist using the full lane as the law allows would be holding up traffic, so the second cyclist sharing that same lane does not impede the traffic further. In fact, cyclists impede the flow less by riding two abreast because the line of cyclists that must be passed is shorter.
Here is one case where cyclists can only ride one abreast: When the lane is about 14-16 feet wide and hence wide enough for a bike to share side-by side with an auto but not wide enough for two bicycles and a car.
B. Cyclists can ride more than two abreast if some of them are on the shoulder or a sidepath, because § 21-1205(b) only applies to roadways (including bike lanes).
4. Does the law require cyclists proceeding on a shoulder at the straight (through) edge at a T-intersection to stop for red lights.
A: The answer depends on the situation.
i. Under § 21-202(h)(1)(i)(3), a vehicle may not enter an intersection against a red light while proceeding straight. If the shoulder along which one is riding has a curb, then one enters the intersection when one crosses the extension of the curb line (or fog line if there is no curb) of the cross street, which means that one must stop at the red light. See § 21-101. Definitions (l)(1)(i).
ii. If the road along which one is riding has no curb, however, then the shoulder is entirely outside the intersection. Nevertheless, if there is a clearly marked crosswalk or stop line across the shoulder, one must stop § 21-202(h).
iii. If there is no crosswalk or stop line painted across the shoulder, and the road alone which one is riding has no curb, then one need not stop at a red light.
5. What is the legal significance (if any) of placing an R4-11 sign on a road where the lane is too narrow to share side-by-side with an automobile.
A: The R4-11 sign is a regulatory sign, so there is a presumption that it changes the rules of the road compared to what those rules would be without the sign. Given that the sign is being posted on roads where cyclists do not have to ride as far right as practicable, the question arises: What is the difference between “using the full lane” and simply not being required to rode all the way to the right?
In the Maryland code, the phrase “full use of a lane” means that no other vehicle is entitled to travel alongside that vehicle within the lane. See § 21-1303 (b) (motorcycles entitled to full use of lane). So the most straightforward intepretation of the R4-11 sign is that wherever it is placed, bicycles have the same protection as what § 21-1303 (b) provides to motorcycles—full use of the lane.
Another possible interpretation is that the authors of the MUTCD used the wrong phrasing to convey the intent, and that “full lane” means “any part of the lane”. This is a less likely interpretation for a regulatory sign, because regulatory signs generally change the rights and responsibilities of at least one class of highway users. The MUTCD guidance does not specifically state what is required of drivers who see this sign. The phrase “may” seems to imply that the requirement of drivers depends on whether the cyclist actually is using the full lane.
The most plausible interpretation is thus, that if the cyclist is riding to the extreme right, the driver may share the lane but pass the cyclist with a safe clearance; but if the cyclist rides in the middle or left portion of the lane, then a driver must change lanes to pass.
6. Can a driver cross a double-yellow line to pass a bike?
A: Maryland code offers no exceptions to the rule that one must not cross a double yellow line to pass. The complete absence of any exceptions in the code leads some people, including MDOT, to assume that one is excused for crossing the line when necessary, because otherwise people would remain stuck behind disabled cars, etc. “Necessary” in that context includes stopped vehicles, trees, pedestrians, and dangerous conditions. MDOT believes that passing a bike is in that list of activities where crossing the double yellow line is excused. No court has decided this question.