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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 Requirement to Ride in the Shoulder Repealed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.


12 comments
Michael Allard
Michael Allard

Thanks WABA for publishing the revisions to Maryland's cycling laws. I ride primarily in PG county and most of that within Bowie. As a whole, I find most Bowie motorists are considerate of law abiding cyclists. Most puzzling though are those streets within Bowie that have clearly designated and painted bicycling lanes. It's puzzling because residential motorists are allowed to park any time upon and within these lanes. I use my bicycles for both exercise and grocery shopping and easily cycle 6,000 miles yearly. As with the designated bike lanes mentioned above, I find that the utilization of public funds (especially during these difficult economic times) is more than frivilous. The occasional times I use paths/trails such as the WB&A trail, I find it in various states of needed repair, blocked at times by untrained cyclists, horse riders, and walkers. I choose to ride in street traffic and to the right when possible because I believe bicycles belong on the street and not within exclusive pathways and definitely not on sidewalks. Public and private funds, I think, would be best spent educating those inclined cyclists to ride legally and safely on the street where they belong and are entitled.

krisztian
krisztian

Helen, Controlling the lane can be very useful. I do it, based on traffic and riding conditions in places where there are 2x2 lanes ( 35MPH zone ) or Sligo Creek Pkwy. The problem with staying to the extreme right on a roadway where lanes are let say, 13ft wide, is that there is enough space for cars to pass with 3ft buffer, but hey might not drive close enough to the double yellow line. And this is why this law is very bad : motorist should keep 3ft buffer when passing you, if they can?!?!?!? With all the cyclists dead on the roads because drivers "did not see them, it was an accident" should a conflict arise because a drivers pushes you off the road, they'll just say "I'm sorry there was not enough place". The other problem is that they don't have to keep 3 ft when you are in a bike lane. So if a Metrobus passes you at 35MPH 5 inches far, the suction it generates can pull you underneath it no matter if there is a white line between you or not. Exception "Cyclist is not moving straight": Let's say there is a drunk student biking in front of you. Unless you want to increase your chances of killing him/her, you should increase your distance when passing him/her. Yes, biking while drunk is not good, you should call the police also. This law is a shame, exactly because these added exceptions. They create a HUGEEEEE loophole letting drivers not give the 3ft distance and if anything happens : "[Driver]:There was not enough space to give 3 ft passing distance. [Police]:I see. It was an accident. You can go home, you might get $100 fine" Take care fellow cyclists!

Helen Zitomer
Helen Zitomer

Shane, thanks for your reply - but I think there are several problems with it, the first being that the original statement says(using the word "otherwise") that unless a cyclist "takes" the lane, he/she has forfeited legal right to a 3-foot buffer - that's simply not true, and far different from your explanation. This law must not be represented as offering additional legal protections for those "taking the lane". Moreover, the statement is being repeated on other sites as authoritative. But the issue is more than one of semantics. A bicyclist cannot "control" a traffic lane amidst uncooperative motor traffic (safe passing distance not being an issue with cooperative motorists). On the contrary, passing buffer space is determined by the overtaking vehicle. Riding in the center of a lane does not prevent a motorist from passing too closely - the cyclist's lane position may suggest that a passing vehicle change lanes, but cannot force (ie: "control") it. Further, a motorist's decision to pass closely is often motivated by traffic conditions - when it's easy to completely switch lanes motorists are far more likely to do so,(some even change lanes when a bicyclist occupies the far right side of a lane), than when traffic makes it difficult. In the latter case, a motorist may pass with a larger buffer if the bicyclist rides to the right of the lane center. "Take the lane" is far too often repeated as blanket advice from bicycling "advocates". It takes only 1 aggressive motorist to forever dispell the myth of "controlling" a lane on a bicycle.

Joe
Joe

John Mitchell, Chill out. You own the car not the road.

Helen Zitomer
Helen Zitomer

No matter how many times I read the law, I can find no basis for the statement "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." The law states just the opposite: when a bicyclist rides in a "take the lane" position (which implies NOT riding as far to the right as practicable) motorists are exempted from the requirement to maintain a 3-foot buffer when passing. If anything, cyclists who "take the lane" are worse off, not better off, under this law. Lobbying resources would be much better spent on enacting laws requiring motorists to CHANGE LANES when passing.

Jason Thomas
Jason Thomas

Whats up ! Love your blog thanks for sharing it with me

JOHN MITCHELL
JOHN MITCHELL

THIS LAW IS TOTAL BULL ,I RIDE A BIKE AND I RIDE IT WHERE ITS SAFE.I AM SO FED UP WITH HAVING TO CROSS DOUBLE YELLOW LINES INTO THE ON COMMING TRAFFIC LANE BECAUSE A BIKE RIDER DOES NOT WANT TO STAY OFF ROADS WITH OUT A WIDE ENOUGH SHOULDER TO RIDE IN;IF ANY SHOULDER AT ALL, ESPECIALLY DURRING RUSH HOUR TRAFFIC,OR HEAVILY TRAVELLED ROADS.NOT TO MENTION THE RIDERS THAT RUN EVERY STOP SIGN,RED LIGHT THEY CAN.I HAVE BEEN BEHIND RIDERS THAT WILL NOT GET OUT OF THE MIDDLE OF THE LANE AND THEN GIVE AUTO DRIVERS THE FINGER BECAUSE THEY GET THE HORN BLOWN AT THEM TO MOVE OUT OF THE WAY.THIS ISNT ASIA ,IF YOU DONT WANT TO COMMUTE WITH A CAR ,GET UP EARLY AND WALK.

Reeve Friday
Reeve Friday

I would say we should give a very big warm welcome to these laws. I hope this would provide safety and encourages practical usage of cycle as transportation.

Steve
Steve

I would not even consider that a tiny step forward. Considering that 98 percent of Maryland license motorist do not even know what is stated in the Maryland driver's handbook on page 56.

James Burge
James Burge

Thanks so much for your work towards making Maryland a more biker friendly state. Maybe this legislation will encourage some to get their fat "you know whats" out of a car and onto a bicycle. We would all be better served if that was the case.

Helen Zitomer
Helen Zitomer

Krisztian, I cannot understand why bicyclists, like myself, who dare to dispute the efficacy of trying to "control" a lane amidst motor traffic, are immediately assumed to be riding "at the extreme right side of the lane". One particularly arrogant "bike advoacte" once tried to slam me by saying that I "wanted to ride next to the curb". Simply stated, riding in the center (or even left of center) of a traffic lane - regardless of width - does not guarantee that overtaking traffic will pass with an adequate buffer. To say a bicyclist "controls" a lane (yes, I'm familiar with the "take the lane" strategy) is an overstatement, and taking the lane works only in certain situations(as you say yourself: ...based on traffic and riding conditions in places where there are 2×2 lanes...) My point is that "taking the lane" should not be given as blanket advice, and that the change in MD law does nothing to bolster the rationale for doing so. Moreover, in some situations, where a motorist has difficulty changing lanes to pass, the passing buffer may be larger when a cyclist is NOT in a "take the lane" position. We may wish that the law was written so that this situation did not exist, and the motorist could not legally pass a cyclist closer that 3 feet when the cyclist was in the center of the lane, but wishing does not make it so.

Shane Farthing
Shane Farthing

Helen, The statement is meant to convey that if motorists are exempt from the 3 foot requirement in either case (whether the cyclist takes the lane or attempts to ride side-by-side on a road of insufficient width), the cyclist is safer and better-advised to control the lane.

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