Posts Tagged ‘Bike laws’

What are the bike lane laws?

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

With new bike lanes being added in the city of Detroit this year (and many more planned for next year), the question has come up: What are the state laws and local ordinances pertaining to them?

The answer in Detroit is there are none. It’s an issue that needs to be addressed.

Unfortunately that’s probably true in many cities, villages, and townships (CVTs) across Michigan that are “maintaining” their own traffic law language. We quoted “maintaining” because most CVTs aren’t. While state laws and national model traffic laws for bicycles have been updated, in many, if not most cases local ordinances have not.

Ideally, all CVTs, including Detroit would eliminate their local traffic laws and simply reference the Motor Vehicle Code (state law) and the Uniform Traffic Code (which is a maintained by the Michigan State Police.) By doing this, everyone would be working off the same set of traffic laws and it would be easier this one copy up to date.

But getting back to bike lanes, what does the Uniform Traffic Code say about them?

R 28.1001 Rule 1. Words and phrases.
(1) As used in this code:
(c) “Bicycle lane” means a portion of a street or highway that is adjacent to the roadway and that is
established for the use of persons riding bicycles


R 28.1320 Rule 320. Bicycle paths or bicycle lanes; establishment; traffic-control devices.

(1) When the traffic engineer, after a traffic survey and engineering study, determines there is a need, he or she may establish a part of a street or highway under his or her jurisdiction as a bicycle path or lane.

(2) The bicycle path or lane shall be identified by official traffic-control devices that conform to the Michigan manual of uniform traffic-control devices.

R 28.1322 Rule 322. Bicycle lanes; vehicles prohibited; parking permitted under certain conditions; violation as misdemeanor.

(1) A person shall not operate a vehicle on or across a bicycle lane, except to enter or leave adjacent property.

(2) A person shall not park a vehicle on a bicycle lane, except where parking is permitted by official signs.

(3) A person who violates this rule is guilty of a misdemeanor.

One item we don’t like in the above language is the requirement that a traffic engineer determine “a need” for bicycle lane. We would like to see the survey, study and need requirement stricken. It’s an unnecessary cost burden and “need” can be quite vague.

It’s one thing to do a traffic study and determine the need for vehicle travel lanes in order to accommodate traffic flow. One can measure traffic and plug those numbers into a computer model.

It’s quite another to do a traffic study which  determines how unsafe a road is for bicyclists — both perceived and real — without a dedicated bike lane.

Illegal to pass cars while on the shoulder?

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

We are not providing legal advice. This is our interpretation of Michigan state law. UPDATED August 8, 2017

We’ve previously provided many situations where the rules of the road should be ignored due to their impracticality or unreasonableness. The bottom line is a cyclist’s safety is more important than strictly following the letter of the law.

Here’s another justification for those who ride on the shoulder.

Let’s start with these key definitions under Michigan’s state law.

  1. Bicycles are not vehicles since they are “exclusively moved by human power.”
  2. Roadway means that portion of a highway improved, designed, or ordinarily used for vehicular travel.”
  3. Shoulder means that portion of the highway contiguous to the roadway generally extending the contour of the roadway, not designed for vehicular travel”

So, this means shoulders are not part of the roadway. This was reaffirmed in Grimes vs. MDOT (2006).

A shoulder may be capable of supporting some form of vehicular traffic, but it is not a travel lane and it is not “designed for vehicular travel.”

State law does not define “bike lanes”, however since bicycles are not vehicles, bike lanes are not designed for vehicular travel. Therefore bike lanes are not part of the roadway. Neither are parking lanes for that matter.

Riding on shoulders

State law does prohibit vehicles passing other vehicles while on the shoulder.

The driver of a vehicle shall not overtake and pass another vehicle upon the right by driving off the pavement or main-traveled portion of the roadway.

State law also states that bicyclists upon the roadway  have “all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle.” When you ride on the road shoulder, you’re not on the roadway and are not required to follow the same laws as vehicle operators.

So go ahead and pass on the shoulder.


Do bicyclists have to ride on the shoulders?

Actually, they don’t. The law says:

A person operating a bicycle upon a highway or street at less than the existing speed of traffic shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.

The shoulder is not part of the roadway. Bicyclists are not required to ride in bike lanes or parking lanes either.

Old time bike laws and bloomers

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

The Ann Arbor Chronicle recently published this interesting article on local bicycling history, but especially on bike law and bloomers.

The 1876 Ann Arbor city charter contains no mention of bicycles — it wouldn’t be until two years later that A. A. Pope manufactured the first bicycles in the U.S. The invention spread across the nation, threw city fathers into consternation as they scrambled for their city charters, and incited Ann Arbor’s “Bloomer War.”

The Chronicle also notes that Ann Arbor’s recent debate on banning sidewalk bicycling is not new.

In Michigan, state law does not prohibit bicycling on sidewalks though it does allow cities to prohibit it. Some have prohibited sidewalk riding citywide (e.g. Royal Oak) while others have limited the ban to their business district (e.g. Ferndale.) Often such bans provide exceptions for children.

State law also requires these city specific regulations to be adequately signed, otherwise they’re not enforceable.

The intention of these laws is not always clear, though it seems reducing pedestrian-bicyclist conflict is often cited. Are they also intended to promote safer cycling by reducing vehicle-bicycle collisions? Studies have shown that riding on sidewalks is significantly more dangerous than roads.

A recent review of police crash reports in Royal Oak and Troy found that nearly all crashes occurred on sidewalks or in crosswalks.

It should be noted that many Metro Detroit outer-ring suburbs ignore national AASHTO guidelines and best practices by designating sidewalks and sidepaths (locally known as “safety paths”) as bicycle routes. In these cases it could be argued that vehicle mobility — getting bicyclists off the road — is the fundamental justification, not safety.

Detroit Traffic Regulations in 1929

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

We recently purchased a Detroit Police Department booklet on traffic regulations from 1929.

What’s interesting is that we have many of the same regulations today. However, there are some differences.

  • Under these city ordinances, bicycles were considered vehicles. Under current state law, bicycles are devices.
  • The vehicle speeds are lower: 20 MPH in the neighborhoods and 15 MPH in the business districts — rates that are much safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. Those today have been raised to a minimum of 25 MPH.
  • Reckless driving appears to be a lower standard, perhaps because it includes today’s careless driving standard. Back then, if you were “to endanger or likely to endanger,” you could be found reckless and possibly lose your license.

It was illegal to drive drunk in 1929, which is interesting since America still had Prohibition. Perhaps that’s not surprising with 75% of America’s booze being smuggled through Metro Detroit at the time — the city’s second largest business after automobiles.

The booklet does include a map. While much of the street grid remains intact, we have lost some roads to superblocks, including the Renaissance Center, Cobo Hall, Comerica Park, and Ford Field.

The Lodge expressway has also done serious damage to the business district street grid. It was named after Mayor John C. Lodge who was in office at the time this booklet was printed.

Link: Detroit Police 1929 Traffic Regulations booklet (9.6 megabytes)

Same Roads, Same Rights, Same Rules — not true

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

There’s a popular bumper sticker that says “Same Roads, Same Rights, Same Rules.”

It sounds good, but it’s clearly not true and often not even desirable..

During an internet discussion about making drivers more aware of bicyclists’ rights, someone suggested having a required question for those renewing their driver’s licenses: Do bicyclists have the same rights to the roads as drivers?

They thought the answer was “Yes”, but they were mistaken.

Similarly, some have said bicycle advocates shouldn’t pursue rolling stop or vulnerable user legislation because it would make cyclists a separate group. Too late. We are a separate group despite what the bumper sticker implies.

Same Roads?

Michigan Bicyclists have access to nearly all of Michigan’s roads, but there are major exceptions including all limited-access expressways and ramps, such as I-75 and M-14. The tunnel and bridge between Detroit and Windsor are not open to bicyclists either.

And of course you can ride a bike on state trunkline M-185 but you can drive on it. That’s the road around Mackinaw Island.

Same Rights and Rules?

While bicyclists have similar rights as motorists while on the roadway, there are limitations. We must ride to the far right where practicable. We cannot ride on limited-access expressways. We have no special privileges in funeral processions.

Bicyclists do have rights that motorists do not. We can generally ride on the sidewalk and in crosswalks unless prohibited by a local ordinance. We can park on sidewalks. Turning vehicles must yield to us in a crosswalk. We can ride two abreast. We can ride in bike lanes and on shared-use paths.

We don’t need a driver’s license, registration or proof of insurance. We can’t get points on a driver’s license.

State law also allows local governments to further regulate bicycle use.

When bicyclists are not on a roadway, they no longer have to follow vehicle rules. This is why it’s legal for bicyclists to travel on shoulders or unused parking lanes, whereas vehicles cannot.

And of course, in Michigan bicycles are not vehicles. Bicycles are devices. As a result, bicycles are generally not burdened by vehicle regulations. For instance, it’s legal for cyclists to run studded tires.

A better bumper sticker

A more accurate slogan, and one we’ve seen on the back of Windsor Transit buses is “Share the Road — It’s the law.”

This message can be reinforced with “Share the Road” signs as well.

Bicyclists are a special class and rather than advocate against it, we should advocate for regulations that encourage more cycling and safer places to ride.

Additional Reading: One Surprising Reason America Lags Behind the World on Bikes