Paul Rito | Know the rules; share the road

November 16, 2013 

Paul Rito

As a cycling advocate and instructor, I’m often in front of or part of a council or commission presenting ideas for improving cycling and pedestrian facilities.

Almost invariably, I’m subjected to a flurry of emotional tirades about how this or that cyclist did this or that dangerous action.

Well, I agree.

Those cyclists, although just a small part of the cycling community, do make a bad impression and they do put themselves and others at risk.

However, I and most every cyclist can come up with our own long tally of stories about those motorists who drive distracted, speed, pass on blind curves, run red lights and stop signs, open doors into our paths, don’t yield or — worse — use their vehicles as weapons.

While there are a lot of misdeeds on both sides by those people, I am often surprised at the level of outright ignorance of the laws of Pennsylvania regarding bicycles that many motorists firmly believe.

As an advocate, it’s my job to know the vehicle code and how it applies to everyone. Pennsylvania’s laws are posted on the PennDOT website, and here’s a synopsis.

Cyclists are vehicles.

On the road, they have all the rights and responsibilities of a vehicle. They must stop at all stop signs and red lights and yield to motorists in the same situations they would in a car.

Cyclists should ride as far to the right as is practicable in the rightmost lane, using as much of the lane as needed to proceed safely, and they must signal when changing lanes or turning.

They may ride two abreast, however, by law, “A pedalcycle operator shall use reasonable efforts so as not to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.”

At night, front lights and rear reflectors visible for at least 500 feet are required.

Cyclists may ride on sidewalks, but not in business districts or anywhere local laws restrict. And they may not obstruct their hearing.

Bicyclists are legally entitled to use the road network, with very few exceptions. Motorists must yield to bicycles as they would any motorized vehicle. But bicycles do not have to yield the road to when doing so would jeopardize their safety or impede travel in their intended direction.

When overtaking a bicycle, drivers must give the bicycle four feet of clearance, and they may cross a double yellow line to do so, but shouldn’t pass a bicycle — or any slowly moving vehicle — if the view around an upcoming curve or hill in impeded or doing so would obstruct oncoming traffic.

“No passing movement … shall be made unless the movement can be made in safety.”

In other words, if it’s not safe, don’t pass. Don’t text or drive distracted. Don’t yell or honk at or otherwise threaten cyclists. In Pennsylvania, that’s assault.

And remember: The person you’re following, like you, is a mother, father, grandparent or child; don’t put their lives at risk to save a few seconds.

Paul Rito is executive council member and past president of the Centre Region Bicycle Coalition, and a League of American Bicyclist certified instructor.

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