Taking the Lane

Everyone’s familiar with the rules for bicyclists riding on the road in Florida, right? OK, check the Florida Statutes section 316.2065 for a quick refresher. I’m especially thinking of part 5(a), which spells out when a bicyclist is allowed to “take the lane.” Commute by Bike and Carectomy had some discussion of this issue recently, and their respective posts are worth checking out. My preference is along the lines of Carectomy’s stance, taking the lane when needed. I’m not going to go into all the benefits of taking the lane that they mention, but I wanted to focus on the legality.

From part 5(a), the third situation where bicyclists are not required to ride “as close as practicable to the right” is:

3.  When reasonably necessary to avoid any condition, including, but not limited to, a fixed or moving object, parked or moving vehicle, bicycle, pedestrian, animal, surface hazard, or substandard-width lane, that makes it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge. For the purposes of this subsection, a “substandard-width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and another vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.

So you can take the lane when you have a narrow lane, right? As a roadway designer, the first thing that comes to mind for a standard lane width is 12 feet. But that last sentence in the law makes the difference. It is not referring to a 12-foot lane, but a lane wide enough for bicycles and cars to share. I used to believe this included 12 foot lanes, as they seem fairly wide; but I have been enlightened.

Last week I attended classes in bicycle and pedestrian facility design taught by Michael Moule, president of the engineering firm Livable Streets, Inc. He clarified that a substandard-width lane for the purposes of this statute meant anything less than 14 feet wide. Agencies only build 14-foot wide lanes when they are specifically trying to accommodate bicycles and the road cannot be widened enough for a 4-foot bicycle lane. FDOT does not really even do that any more, preferring to stripe out a 3-foot “urban shoulder” next to an 11-foot lane if a bicycle lane cannot be built. (Unless it’s District 6 building Alton Road…) Most roads have lanes narrower than 14 feet. So bicyclists are legally entitled to take the entire lane if they so choose.

Think about the reasoning behind the 14 feet. You need at least 8 feet of lane width for a car. (That’s the narrowest parking lane width allowed, so it should be 9 feet for a moving vehicle—but we’ll say 8.) Florida Statute 316.083 states that motorists must pass bicycles at least 3 feet away. It’s safe to assume we need another 3 feet for the bicycle with a rider. Add it up and you need a 14-foot lane for bicyclists and automobiles to safely travel side by side. 

Tell that to the next cop who tries to tell you to ride farther right! Someone even recommended carrying a pocket copy of the Florida statutes to show them. Anyone know where to find those?

Photo by Flickr user richardmasoner.

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13 Responses to “Taking the Lane” With Florida Bicycle Laws

  1. John Hopkins says:

    A good piece, JM! Readers may go to http://www.floridabicycle.org/ to download the Florida Bicycle Law Enforcement Guide, containing all the Florida laws about bicycles. Or you can order the pocket-sized version.

       0 likes

  2. I really appreciate the attribution on my photo; thank you!

    Even in enlightened California, where I live and cycle, police interpretation of the law often differs from that of cyclists. In Santa Cruz a couple of weeks ago, the police chief told cyclists at a recent meeting that they would cite cyclists for impeding traffic if they take the lane on Mission Street, which has 11 foot lanes, and if the cyclist disagrees with that interpretation he invited them to take it to court for the judges to decide.

    I don’t know how the system works in Florida, but in many areas traffic cases are heard by municipal judges who frankly don’t generally care about the nuances of roadway engineering and cyclist rights.

    Like you, I encourage cyclists to take the lane for their own safety, but it will take some concerted effort to convince motorists and law enforcement that taking the lane is indeed legal.

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  3. JM Palacios says:

    Thanks for the tip, John.

    Nice photo, Richard. Thanks for using the Creative Commons license!

    As far as I know, the interpretation of substandard-width lanes to be 14 feet is specific to Florida. If California law is similar, which I think it is, then the safety reasons should still make it 14 feet. Cops do tend to be clueless on this issue, which is unfortunate. I had a cop in Gainesville, Florida’s most bike-friendly city, harass me about not keeping to the right because I was going around some rutted pavement (on 10 or 11 foot lanes). When I responded that we were allowed to ride around obstacles, she had the audacity to tell me I needed to get on the sidewalk!

    It would be best for all parties if the law spelled out 14 feet. Cops and motorists may think it safe to share a narrower lane with bicyclists, but any bicyclist would disagree. For your 11-foot lanes, that doesn’t even meet the normal definition of a standard width lane, 12 feet. It should be straightforward to point out to cops or judges that the California DOT considers 12 feet to be a standard lane width. See the standard for the basic lane width in chapter 3 of their Highway Design Manual.

    That police chief needs to be corrected of his misunderstanding of the law.

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  4. PR says:

    Rammed by a city bus on 17st and Biscayne( south bound) I was riding to the extreme right and Bus did not clear and hit me with the whole side of the bus and stoped 1/2 block away. Ankle destroyed not to mention the bike

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  5. mafe says:

    I got rammed off the road by a UPS truck on NE 2nd Ave and 25th st. I avoided the collision by going up on the sidewalk but I hit a palm tree on my way. It’s ridiculous.

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  6. Jimmy L.Shirley Jr. says:

    Y’all,
    I have seen bicyclists riding on the right side of the road. Common sense says to get as far away from the road as you can. Which means the sidewalk. I can not for the life of me understand why someone would put themselves in harms way, on the roadway, when a perfectly legal alternative is easily and readily available, the sidewalk. Man, their is no way in the world I would place myself on the roadway on a bicycle, if through circumstances, I was forced to ride a bike.
    Even if sidewalk riding were illegal, I would rather challenge that law in court than place myself on the roadway.

       2 likes

  7. JM Palacios says:

    @Jimmy “if… I was forced to ride a bike.” Have you ever considered getting on a bike of your own free will? If you ever do, feel free to ride on the sidewalk if that’s where you’re most comfortable. Especially with the extreme shortage of bicycle lanes in South Florida, I would understand if you wanted to. I started out that way before I learned it was safer to ride on the road (even without a bicycle lane). So it does depend on your skill and confidence level.

       1 likes

  8. R Fisher says:

    I would love to hear from Florida Law Enforcement Officials to determine if they are aware of the statutes, their intent, and proper enforcement. Are Law Enforcement Officials willing to be educated in the understanding and enforcement of these statutes? I would have to consider issuance of improper citations to be a tremendous waste of expense and time to the Court System that is already strapped in these tough economic times.
    Any comment from the Florida Law Enforcement Community?

       0 likes

  9. R Fisher says:

    Problem is that the 14′ spec is NOT spelled out in the statutes. This minimum lane width is RECOMMENDED in the Florida Department of Transportation’s Manual of Uniform Minimum Standards a.k.a. Greenbook, and it makes sense. It is mathematically calculable from several factors, but only the 3′ passing clearance is defined in the statutes. The distance from the curb or roadway edge is NOT defined in the statutes, nor is the width of a cyclist spelled out,either.
    So, when you get right down to it, the “minimum width that will allow passenger cars to safely pass bicyclists within a single lane” seems to be legally a matter of opinion for whichever law enforcement professional is presiding.
    I guess the only black and white in this situation is the vehicle that pulls you over to write you a citation!

       0 likes

  10. D. Dean says:

    A bicyclist is by definition a “slow-moving vehicle”. Its plain common sense, courtesy, and safest for slow moving vehicles to stay over to the right side of their lane so that faster vehicles can pass them more easily. If a car can pass you by swinging only partially into the left lane, the passing operation will take place more quickly and more safely for everyone involved.

       1 likes

  11. R Fisher says:

    to D.Dean:
    I don’t know where you obtained your “definition” of a bicyclist. The cyclist is the operator or driver of the bicycle, which is the vehicle. “slow moving?” Depends on the rider and the conditions.
    As for your “common sense, courtesy, and safety,” statement, that is only true until one of the Statute enumerated causes for moving farther from the right comes into play. Problem is, the cyclist is in a better situation to see the hazards of the road ahead far batter than the motorist. If the cyclist has to swerve away from the right in order to avoid a hazard, the motorist may not be able to (or WANT to) react.
    Every situation requires assessment by the cyclist to determine the safest place to ride in the lane. The statute gives us the RIGHT as a vehicle to take then lane in most circumstances, but I , for one, have no intention of being “DEAD RIGHT.”

       1 likes

  12. chriss says:

    I have found that I rarely need to ride in the middle of the lanes, unless they are very narrow. I used to ride dead center all the time but I found it was just unnecessary. I now ride on the Right but not to the curb..ever. Most motorists pass me in a safe manner and some get too close(but not dangerously so) but it happens..go on and fight to ride another day!

       0 likes

  13. Brian says:

    Florida law says if a bike lane is not large enough for two abreast riders, they have to ride single file. They cannot impede traffice by riding two abreast in the car lane. Unfortunately, some bicyclists do not know the law.

       1 likes

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