Ohio Bicycle Federation
OverviewTraffic laws must be fair to all users of the roads, uniform between jurisdictions and they must promote safety on the roadways. The standard traffic laws that apply to the drivers of all vehicles promote safe, orderly and efficient travel for all. These "rules of the road" are very good for cyclists. Unfortunately, many existing bicycle specific rules are non-uniform, discriminatory and even promote unsafe practices.
Bicycle traffic laws and ordinances are important because they shape ---
Guidelines for Good Ordinances
- Be sure your ordinances do not conflict with the uniform rules of the road. This means to avoid being inconsistent with Ohio law and beware of any ordinances that differ from the standard rules that apply to all drivers. (See specific mistakes to avoid below.)
Note several reforms to the Ohio Revised Code became effective in 2006. Local ordinances must be consistent with the ORC.
- Remove any unnecessary rules. Very few bicycle specific rules are needed and these may be invalid under the Ohio Revised Code.
- If you have a bicycle registration program, make it voluntary.
- Considering adding bicycle parking to your zoning rules.
- If you have any restrictions for "traffic calming", such as "No Right Turn" on Elm Street 4-6PM, make it apply only to motor vehicles, thus exempting bicycles.
For an illuminating discussion on traffic law as it applies to cycling, we recommend the chapter titled "Systematic Traffic Law" in Bicycle Transportation by John Forester, published by MIT Press, 1994. For more information about local ordinances, see the article Model Municipal Bicycle Code.
Mistakes to Avoid
- Mandating dangerous practices. (See examples below.)
- Mandating unsafe roadway position. (See examples below.)
- Rules incompatible with the uniform "rules of the road". (See examples below.)
- Closing roads (other than urban freeways) to cyclists or other unnecessary restrictions.
- Discriminatory rules, (See examples below.)
- Nuisance requirements for ineffective safety equipment that distracts attention from that which is really needed. Unnecessary equipment includes a bell, as well as front, side and wheel reflectors. Instead, emphasis must be given to the essentials: the bicycle must be in good operating condition with good brakes and equipped for safe night operation including a headlight, bright rear reflector, and a rear light.
- Do not mandate brakes that will enable the operator to make the braked wheel skid. Ohio law requires simply an "adequate brake". If you want a metric to define "adequate", consider Uniform Vehicle Code § 12-706 that specifies that the brake stop the bicycle within 15 feet from a speed of 10 miles per hour.
- Requirements to park in a bike rack if one is present. Many bike racks are poorly designed "wheel benders" and they are often placed in out-of-the-way places that facilitate theft. Informal parking (locking to a fence or parking meter) may be more secure than a bike rack.
- Other unnecessary or excessive regulation, such as requiring riding single file or with two hands on the handlebars.
- Beware of broadly written authority for police to impound bicycles, particularly from adults. Impounding must be a last resort, otherwise it becomes an abuse of police power. Police should never impound a bicycle in any situation where they would allow a motorist to continue operating a motor vehicle.
- Treating (or even thinking of) bicycles as toys, rather than serious vehicles.
About "Helmet Laws": We advise against ordinances that require wearing of helmets, especially for adults. Instead, we favor education encouraging helmet use, so long as the primary emphasis is on safe operation. In other words, not crashing is much more important than safe crashing.
If, because of political pressure, you must have a helmet ordinance, be sure it is not punitive. Charges should be dismissed upon evidence of purchase of a helmet. Most important, be sure it has a strong disclaimer for contributory negligence. (See example below from Pennsylvania law § 3510. Pedalcycle helmets for certain persons.)
In no event shall a violation or alleged violation of subsection (a) be used as evidence in a trial of any civil action; nor shall any jury in a civil action be instructed that any conduct did constitute or could be interpreted by them to constitute a violation of subsection (a); nor shall failure to use a pedalcycle helmet be considered as contributory negligence nor shall failure to use a pedalcycle helmet be admissible as evidence in the trial of any civil action.
Examples of Dangerous and Discriminatory Bicycle Traffic Laws
(These are invalid under Ohio Law)
- "A person operating a bicycle shall ride upon the sidewalk rather than the roadway when sidewalks are available."
- "Whenever a designated usable path for bicycles has been provided adjacent to a street, bicycle riders shall use such path and shall not use the street."
- "A person operating a bicycle shall yield the right of way to vehicular traffic on a roadway."
- "No person shall ride a bicycle across or through any intersection."
- "Every person operating a bicycle shall keep to the right-hand curb upon all streets, highways and other public ways in the City."
- "Every person operating a bicycle or tricycle upon a roadway shall ride within three feet of the right edge of the roadway."
Correct enforcement of traffic law is as important as having good laws. This means the police must be properly trained in bicycle operation and they must understand bicycle laws. Misinformed police occasionally make errors of commission (by harassing lawful cyclists for riding in ways that they think are dangerous) and they often make errors of omission (by ignoring illegal practices that lead to accidents.)
Dangerous and illegal practices that police must stop through education and enforcement include: (1) Riding without lights in the dark; (2) Riding on the wrong side of the road; (3) Failure to stop for traffic signals; (4) Motorist intimidation and harassment; (5) Dangerous motorist errors, such as overtaking with insufficient space, illegal turns ("right hook" and "left cross"), etc.
Although generally not illegal, police must discourage riding on sidewalks by all but the youngest children, except at very slow speeds. They must particularly discourage sidewalk riding in the opposite direction as traffic on the adjacent roadway and sidewalk riding in commercial areas where busy driveways are especially hazardous. And the bike patrol must set a good example themselves by staying off sidewalks except where absolutely necessary for an immediate task (e.g., hot pursuit or patrolling areas only accessible by sidewalk).
Even better, if you have a bike patrol, request that officers ride on major roads in the commuity to set a good example.
Another Measure to Improve Bicycle Traffic Laws
Finally, you can help improve cycling conditions across Ohio by supporting the Ohio Bicycle Federation 2008 Better Ohio Bicycling Bill. If you pass an ordinance or send letters to your legislators supporting these reforms, please mention this in the Cyclist Friendly Communities Application, Section 6, "Other Factors", so we can add points for your support.
© Copyright 2003-2008 Fred Oswald and Ohio Bicycle Federation.
Non Commercial distribution authorized with attribution.