- George C. Palaidis
Can Cyclists Ride in the Road?
Time and again, I hear people ask me why cyclists are in the road and if they are even allowed to ride there. I've personally had many yell at me while riding telling me to get out of the road. So, what are the rules of the road when it comes to cyclists?
Put simply, Florida law states that cyclists have the same rights and duties on the road as motorists. To begin, if there's a designated, marked bike lane, cyclists must use that if they are riding slower than traffic.
What happens when there isn't a designated bike lane? Cyclists are allowed to ride in the roadway "as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway." So that means what?! Let me break it down for you.
A 'roadway' is defined as a highway designed for vehicle traffic, being exclusive of the shoulder and berm. That means anything to the right of the fog line (outer white line) does not count as being in the roadway, and a cyclist isn't required to ride in that area.
Practicable means being able to be done successfully. Obviously if riding too close to the right would expose a cyclist to trees, opening doors from parked cars, or debris, it wouldn't be practicable.
There are instances when a cyclist doesn't need to ride as close as practicable to the right. When a cyclist is overtaking and passing another bike or vehicle, preparing to turn left at an intersection or driveway, or when it is reasonably necessary to avoid some obstacle or potential conflict like debris or animals or other surface hazards, the law allows a cyclist to 'take the lane' and move more to the center. The same would apply if riding in the bike lane.
A cyclist also does not need to ride as close as practicable to the right when riding in a "substandard-width lane." Florida law defines that as a lane that is too narrow for both a bicycle and another vehicle (bike, car, truck, bus) to travel safely side by side. So how narrow is too narrow? Well, typically a cyclist on a bike is given about 3.5 feet as a comfort zone, and cars are typically 6-8 feet wide. Florida law also requires that cars give at least 3 feet distance when passing a cyclist on the roadway. That means a lane would need to be about 14 feet wide in order to allow both a bicycle and another motor vehicle to travel safely side by side.
An example of a road that has a substandard-width lane, wide shoulder, and no bike lane is A1A in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida. As you can see in my picture, I'm on the shoulder. This is not a bike lane, and it isn't designated as such. It's also much too narrow to even be considered one. The problem with this roadway is that drivers will feel that is a designated bike lane and demand that cyclists ride in it and not in the actual lane, which they are legally allowed to do. This creates tension and likely road-rage situations which, obviously, don't end well for the cyclists.
That's why so many cyclists, knowing the lane is substandard-width, may 'take the lane' for their own safety and not give a motor vehicle an opening to attempt a dangerous pass at speed. It's not that they want to be a jerk and slow down traffic, but because it is the safest thing for them to do. Drivers surrounded in a 2 ton vehicle may take more risks, and won't not judge distances and speeds correctly, when passing a cyclist on a substandard-width road, resulting in clipping, hitting, or forcing the cyclist off the road or into another obstacle.
So as you can see, Florida law allows for cyclists to ride in the roadway, and states when they can even take the lane. It's important for drivers to understand that when cyclists are riding in the road or taking the lane, they are doing it for their safety. It might delay a driver by a few seconds or at worst a couple of minutes, but roadway safety is the goal for everyone. Cyclists, like drivers, have family waiting for them when they get home.