Changes to Maryland Cycling Laws Effective Oct 1

As October 1 approaches and the numerous bicycle-related laws passed by the 2010 Maryland General Assembly and signed into law by Governor O’Malley are set to take effect, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on those bike advocacy successes and, more importantly, to ensure that cyclists are aware of the changes.

1. Three Foot Passing

Maryland law now requires motorists to “pass safely at a distance of not less than three feet” when overtaking a cyclist unless: (a) the cyclist is not riding on the right or in the bike lane/shoulder as required by § 21-1205, or (b) the roadway is too narrow to allow three feet. Previously, it was widely assumed that the duty to pass safely meant three feet, but the new law clarifies that it does mean three feet in some situations and does not mean three feet in others.  With this law, it becomes more important to “take the lane” whenever it is too narrow to safely share side-by-side, because otherwise you do not have the legal right to the 3-foot buffer.

2. Requirement to Ride in the Shoulder Repealed

As of October 1, cyclists will no longer be required to ride in the shoulder where a smooth shoulder is provided and there is no bike lane.  However, Maryland remains one of only five states to require  that cyclists ride in the bike lane where provided.  Removal of the shoulder-riding requirement is a significant step forward, but further advocacy is needed on the requirement to ride in a provided bike lane.

3. Crosswalks “Rules of the Road”

The change in law also attempted to clarify some of the rights of cyclists in crosswalks–but many of those rights are still unclear.

  • In jurisdictions where the local government has legalized riding on sidewalks (most of Montgomery County other than Gaithersburg) the bill gives cyclists the right to ride in any crosswalk.  Moreover, at a signalized intersections, cyclists legally in the crosswalk now have the same right of way as pedestrians over cars with a green signal, or a car turning right on red.
  • The bill did not give cyclists the same rights of way as pedestrians in crosswalks without a signal.
  • In jurisdictions where riding on the sidewalk is illegal (most of Maryland including most of Prince Georges County), the bill did not provide for a right to ride in crosswalks.

4. Balanced Funding for Cycling & Walking

The law requires that the Maryland Department of Transportation ensure an appropriate balance of funding for retrofitting existing facilities for cyclists and pedestrians alongside funding for new highway construction, as well as requiring “increased emphasis” on “increas[ing] accessibility for the greatest number of pedestrians and bicycle riders” in transit-oriented areas.

5. Sidewalk and Bicycle Path Construction

This amendment to the existing law requiring the state to fund bicycle pathway construction or reconstruction as part of a project (if included in the project) requires the state to give higher funding priority to sidewalk or bicycle pathway construction projects where their absence is “a substantial public safety risk or significant impediment to pedestrian access.”

Together, these changes to Maryland law represent an elevation of cycling as a means of transportation in Maryland.  Credit is due to One Less Car, the Baltimore Bicycling Club, and the Maryland advocates and legislators who pushed these changes.  We look forward to seeing the improvements, both on the roadways and in the budgets, starting October 1.