William W. Hurst
Law Office of William W. Hurst, LLC
50 S. Meridian St., Suite 600, Indianapolis, IN 46204
A few quick notes of frustration relating to this topic before we begin –
Now, let’s get into the “meat” of this blog. How are bicyclists, motorists, and pedestrians supposed to interact on both sidewalks and roadways? Even an experienced Indianapolis car accident lawyer will have trouble answering that question, but here’s our best shot.
At this point, the answer should be a lot simpler than it is; but it isn’t, so let’s try to understand the issue as best we can. Also, please note that because bike laws tend to be county/city specific this blog relates only to Marion County, Indiana.
This may be the most contentious issue cyclists deal with on a daily basis. Those walking don’t want them on the sidewalk because it’s scary to have a bike traveling at 30 MPH toward you on a sidewalk that’s only four feet wide. Those driving don’t want them on the road because they travel slower than a car and hold up traffic. So where are they supposed to be according to the law?
According to Indiana Code § 9-21-11-2, “[a] person riding a bicycle . . . upon a roadway has all the rights and duties under this article that are applicable to a person who drives a vehicle, except the following: (1) Special Regulations of this article. (2) Those provisions of this article that by their nature have no application.”
The special regulations this section speaks of include things like having to have a seat, not allowing more than one person per seat to ride, needing a bell other signaling device that can be heard 100 feet away, having reflectors or other lights, and, probably most importantly, not being able to ride more than two abreast (wide for you NASCAR enthusiasts).
Let’s delve into the most important portion of this, which also sheds light on my first noted frustration. This literally says someone riding a bike on a road has ALL THE RIGHTS OF SOMEONE DRIVING A VEHICLE. Nowhere in this statute nor any Indiana statute I’ve seen does it say cyclists have to ride all the way on the right of the road, which is what most people believe “share the road” means. This is why I believe these signs are counterproductive.
This section also says that cyclists do indeed have to follow the same rules of the road, meaning no darting in between traffic, no running red lights (except for the dead red rule), and no switching onto sidewalks when you catch traffic. If you’re a cyclist who does these things, stop it, you’re making the good cyclists look bad.
“Share the road” is supposed to let everyone know that both cyclists and cars have equal rights to the roadway, meaning cyclists can occupy the entire lane. Most cyclists actually recommend doing so because it’s much safer due to added exposure and visibility.
Motorists, however, often point to laws stating that bicycles or other self-propelled vehicles must ride as far to the right “as practicable”. What this doesn’t say is what “as practicable” means. If we’re talking about visibility and safety, then it is actually never “practicable to ride all the way to the right for at least three reasons: 1) The rightmost part of any roadway tends to have more debris and road damage, which makes riding a bicycle more difficult and can create dangerous situations when cyclists move to the left to avoid debris or potholes, 2) makes cyclists less visible to cars traveling in the same lane, making it more likely they’ll be hit, and 3) encourages motorists to pass with too little room.
This frustrates drivers because cyclists often travel at a much lower rate of speed than automobiles, so most cyclists ride to the right of the lane, but they aren’t required to.
This is particularly frustrating for drivers in areas where there are no bike lanes, double yellow lines, and a 3-foot passing rule like Indianapolis. This 3-foot passing rule is necessary for obvious reasons, but if you don’t understand it, I’ll give you the advice of a friend of mine; imagine standing in that blue area next to a subway while it’s pulling in, that’s what riding a bike when a car speeds by right next to you feels like..
It’s also important to note that the Indiana Drivers Manual states you may pass a bicycle where it’s safe to do so and you can give 3 feet of room to the cyclist. The issue with that is the double yellow rule which says you can’t cross a double yellow line to pass. If only there were something that might clear up the frustration and confusion . . . we’ll get to that later.
To sum all of this up, cyclists have the same rights as drivers on roadways, “share the road” actually means share all of it, when passing a bicycle in Indianapolis you must give the rider 3 feet, and Indiana could do a lot to help with this confusion.
Most people believe riding on a sidewalk is completely okay. “There are no laws against it” they say. Indeed, the law in Indiana is undecided on this topic. The Indianapolis Municipal Code §431-603 provides that a bicycle operated on a sidewalk in the city shall not be operated at a speed or in a manner that constitutes a threat to pedestrians or impairs their free use of the sidewalk.
Based on the Solomon curve which we discussed in our coverage of Indiana’s Slow Poke Laws in July of last year, the largest threat to traffic on roadways is traveling at speeds deviating from the average speed of traffic. If the same applies to foot traffic, then a bicycle travelling at a higher rate of speed than foot traffic also creates a dangerous situation for pedestrians.
Given the fact that Indianapolis has many trails that specifically allow bicycles to be operated on them and many roads with bike lanes, it would probably be best if cyclists would get off the sidewalk. The issue with that, however, is drivers are horrible at sharing the road with cyclists, which results in catastrophic accidents occurring all too often.
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