BikeWalk NC submitted the following feedback to NCDOT on December 29, 2015 in response to NCDOT’s draft report on the H232 study. The feedback document was accompanied by a cover letter that can be read here.
BikeWalk NC Feedback on NCDOT’s H232 Study Report
BikeWalk NC is greatly concerned by multiple NCDOT recommendations in the H 232 Bicycle Safety Laws Study Report that contradict unanimous votes by the Study Committee and will make bicycling in North Carolina more dangerous and more difficult. We oppose NCDOT’s recommendations that
(1) bicyclists be required to operate in the right half of a marked lane, that
(2) municipalities be allowed to require permits for informal bicycling groups passing through their jurisdictions, and that
(3) restrictions be placed on bicyclists riding side-by-side within a single marked travel lane.
We are also concerned that the recommended night cycling requirements are insufficient. BikeWalk NC supports other recommendations in the report, particularly the provision for passing bicyclists in a no-passing zone when conditions make it safe to do so and the requirements for safer passing.
Operating Position in Roadway
BikeWalk NC is gravely concerned by NCDOT’s issue #7 recommendation that a bicyclist operate in the right half of a marked lane, because this conflicts with effective defensive bicycling techniques employed by knowledgeable bicyclists to improve their safety:
Where a cyclist is riding independently or single abreast, the cyclist shall ride in the right half of the right most travel lane with exceptions described in § 20-146 or except when the cyclist is travelling within 15 miles per hour of the posted speed limit.
The H232 Study Committee voted unanimously in recommendation against changing existing state law applicable to bicyclist operating position on the roadway. NCDOT’s recommendation to restrict this positioning to the right half of the lane conflicts with best practices for safe cycling as taught by all of the major adult bicycling education programs throughout North America and Britain, and conflicts with engineering guidance on placement of Shared Lane Markings (aka sharrows) and Bicycles May Use Full Lane markings as discussed in Chapter 14 of the 2013 ITE Traffic Control Devices Handbook. Conditions where a bicyclist’s safety is enhanced by operating in the center or left hand side of a marked travel lane include
- To deter same-lane passing when the travel lane is too narrow for a bicyclist and a motor vehicle to operate side-by-side safely in the same lane
- To improve conspicuity, sight lines and maneuvering space when approaching a location where another driver may pull out into the roadway from a side street, driveway or parking space
- To improve visibility to oncoming drivers preparing to turn left across the path of the bicyclist
- To stay a safe distance outside of the door zone of on-street parallel parking
NCDOT’s recommended legal restriction on a bicyclist’s ability to choose their preferred operating position within a marked travel lane will discourage safe bicycling practices and promote conflicts between knowledgeable bicyclists and police. Cycling safety experts have strong scientific theories and compelling evidence to support their claim that a centered or leftward lane position can reduce crash rates at intersections and on narrow-laned roads. NCDOT has offered no operational justification or evidence in favor of restricting bicyclists to the right half of a marked lane. BikeWalk NC recommends against changing the existing law and instead encourages NCDOT to promote public education of effective defensive bicycling practices.
Riding Two or More Abreast
BikeWalk NC objects to NCDOT’s issue #2 recommendation that new legal restrictions be placed on how bicyclists may operate side by side within a single marked lane.
NCDOT recommends that the legislature consider adopting language similar to the following: Bicyclists shall not operate more than two abreast in a single marked travel lane on public roadways except when overtaking another bicyclist.
The H232 Study Committee voted unanimously to recommend that no new regulation of riding abreast within a single lane be enacted, and that an educational program be developed and deployed by NCDOT to promote best practices for group cycling. The Committee believed that existing state laws, such as the requirement for any driver to operate within a single marked lane and for slower traffic to operate within the right hand marked lane, are sufficient to regulate group formation. NCDOT’s recommended law has no operational justification, and will increase friction between police and bicycling groups, who occasionally appear more than two abreast when rotating or when stopping and restarting at intersections.
Informal Group Rides
BikeWalk NC objects to NCDOT’s issue #8 recommendation that municipalities be enabled to require permitting for informal group rides that pass through their jurisdictions:
The General Assembly may consider enabling legislation for local governments to register informal group rides. Any such legislation should apply to groups of more than 30 cyclists riding for recreational purposes, in a continuous formation, and causing significant delay to traffic flow or preventing safe passing. A group ride that routinely creates queues of vehicles waiting to pass on higher speed roadways should adhere to existing bicycle racing laws, acquiring the necessary permits issued by local or state agencies.
No proposal for municipal regulation of group rides was ever presented or discussed at the H232 Study Committee meetings. The committee recommended that NCDOT examine the state level special event permit process to address complaints about excessive road closure times, public communication and other issues that were raised about special events during the Committee meetings. The Committee recommended that educational programs be developed and deployed to address public concerns with informal group rides.
Enabling local regulation of through traffic would pose serious problems for intra-state travel. Travelers would be required to research the local laws of every municipality through which they would travel, instead of relying on the uniformity of state-wide regulations. NCGS § 20-169, Powers of local authorities, places strict limitations on how local authorities may regulate traffic in order to ensure uniformity of statewide traffic laws for normal vehicle operation and to facilitate practical travel through multiple jurisdictions. Informal group bicycle rides are very popular due to the increased safety, comfort and support they provide to participants. These rides routinely pass through multiple jurisdictions on a single trip. If municipalities were allowed to require local permits for informal bicycling groups, those groups would need to research the ordinances of multiple jurisdictions and obtain multiple permits in order to meet their travel objectives. Such an onerous burden would severely impact and deter bicycling – an effect with conflicts with the state’s adopted Complete Streets Policy.
Before undertaking any drastic change to the road environment or traffic laws, the responsible course of action is to study actual traffic conditions and the potential effects of proposed changes. In its report, NCDOT admits that it has no data to quantify motoring delays related to informal groups and is simply responding to motorist complaints about bicycle traffic:
It is unknown the extent to which group rides without special event permits have prevented safe passing or caused unreasonable traffic delay. […] While the number of crashes and injuries associated with group rides appear to be rare; this issue appears to be the one that creates the most angst among motorists and cyclists. Establishing clearer expectations and informing both motorists and cyclists should help ease the angst.
NCDOT provides no justification for treating congestion delays from high volumes of bicycle traffic differently from that caused by high volumes of motor traffic, and provides no description of how the proposed restrictions on informal group rides would be enforced. What is an unreasonable delay? Would police be required to count bicyclists? If the number exceeds a threshold, who is to blame? Would all of the cyclists in the group be ticketed? The law enforcement officers on the Study Committee testified that group ride size regulations would be difficult and unpopular to enforce.
Participants in informal group rides point out that motorists are usually able to pass them after just a few seconds of waiting for a safe opportunity, and rarely does the delay last more than a minute. BikeWalk NC suggests that the burdensome regulatory approach recommended by NCDOT is highly disproportionate to the minor convenience impacts of group bicycling.
Visibility and Lighting Requirements
BikeWalk NC is concerned that the Study Report recommendations for night visibility do not increase the minimum visibility distance from the rear of the bicycle compared to the existing law. Given the high speed of traffic on many roads that utilitarian bicyclists need to use to reach their destinations, BikeWalk NC recommends that bicyclists operating at night be required to use rear lights visible from 1,000 feet away, equivalent to the standard required of bicyclists in Sweden, and which is easily met by most commercially available bicycle LED tail-lamps. Using the 200-foot standard in the law is inadequate considering stopping distances and given that most inexpensive ($10 to $20) lights are typically visible for a quarter mile (over 1,000 feet).
BikeWalk NC supports the other Study Report recommendations, most of which are aligned with the Committee recommendations.
- How faster-moving vehicles may safely overtake bicycles: The report recommendation to allow drivers to pass bicyclists in no-passing zones when safe, under clearly limited conditions, brings state law into alignment with existing safe passing behavior employed by prudent drivers on narrow rural roads. Most motorists move across a solid centerline to pass bicyclists at safe distance after waiting until sight distances are adequate and no conflicting traffic is present. Motorists recognize that the sight distance required to pass a bicyclist safely is usually far shorter than that required for passing a motor vehicle traveling near the maximum posted speed limit, and that a solid centerline is an unreasonable restriction against passing a bicyclist when it can be done safely.
- Whether bicyclists should be required to carry a form of identification: BikeWalk NC encourages bicyclists to carry identification as a best practice but strongly supports the report recommendation against requiring ID as this would pose a burden for some cyclists who do not possess official IDs.
- Options for hand signals for turning: BikeWalk NC supports the recommendation to allow use of the right hand to signal right turns.
- 2-foot or other passing distance requirements: BikeWalk NC supports the recommendation to increase the minimum distance for passing a bicyclist; the existing two foot distance is inadequate when passing a bicyclist who must maintain balance and is not protected by a safety cage.
- Use of headphones or texting while cycling: BikeWalk NC agrees with the report recommendation.
- Aggressive driving, harassment, and distracted driving laws: BikeWalk NC agrees with the report recommendation.
- Vulnerable road user protection: BikeWalk NC supports the report recommendation to extend the legal protection of motorcyclists to bicyclists.
- Formal group event permitting and regulations: BikeWalk NC agrees with the report recommendation to study and improve how special event road closures are implemented.