Cyclists On Roads: Explaining The Law, One Motorist At A Time

I have been sharing my experiences with mixed-use paths for the past several months and there has been an ongoing discussion in this space about their value.  My last post on the W&OD Trail is a good example.

On the whole, I find them to be nice but full of challenges.  Sometimes, those challenges become too much of a bother for me so I elect to ride in the street, which is absolutely legal.  The reaction of a small group of motorists would suggest they believe otherwise.  They honk as they pass within inches of me, gesticulating wildly toward the “perfectly good” path on the side of the road.

Given that we have been discussing this issue off and on, I noted with interest yesterday’s WashCycle blog post, which concerned an email exchange between a concerned citizen and the Maryland Department of Transportation.  The citizen was writing to complain about cyclists riding on a busy road during morning rush hour when a path was available to them next to the road.  I thought the complainant (though in the wrong) was reasonable and shared a view that is all too common with motorists.  I thought the MDOT reply was very well written and hopefully helped the motorist understand the situation a little better.

Complaint: http://bike.risingsea.net/docs/MDOT/Citizen_about_Jones_Mill_Road.pdf

MDOT Response:  http://bike.risingsea.net/docs/MDOT/Jackson_right_to_road.pdf

WashCycle points out that this continued confusion amongst motorists is in part due to recent changes in the law allowing cyclists to ride in roads.  Although Maryland passed legislation in the late 1970s, other states (including Virginia) required cyclists to use pathways as late as 2005.  Many drivers who received their training before the changes went into effect may be unaware of the change.

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2 thoughts on “Cyclists On Roads: Explaining The Law, One Motorist At A Time

  1. Thank you for the post. Now I know that intuitively I have chosen the “right” way for cycling. I don’t feel safe on the roads, and I’m glad that more experienced cyclists are choosing the roads. I prefer to use the trails, but sometimes I’m using a side-walk and it seems pedestrians are not satisfied about it. However, yesterday I didn’t have a choice and I cycled along a rather busy road and it made me feel tensed. Will keep on practising and trying avoid conflicts. 😀

    When I was a child I was told it is safer to walk and cycle on a road in an opposite direction, so I could see the approaching cars. Now I’m cycling in the direction the cars go. What do you say about this?

    • One thing I have learned is that cycling laws vary from place to place, so it is important to know what is required where you live. Having said that, it is almost universal that bicycles are required to ride with traffic, not against it. This is because bicycles are considered to be vehicles and must follow the same rules of the road as any other vehicle. Thus, it is no more appropriate for a bike to ride in the opposition direction than it would be for a car to do so.

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