Legally Speaking with Bob Mionske: Crossing guard
By Bob Mionske
I don’t remember if you’ve covered this question. This has come up a number of times in our club lately. Is it legal to ride across an intersection in the crosswalk? Are you considered a pedestrian or bicyclist if you are hit by a vehicle while riding your bicycle across an intersection in the crosswalk? Tucson, Arizona, has a number of crosswalks, with their own crossing lights, that are situated in the middle of the blocks and some in our club claim that you must walk across rather than ride across. Quite a few people have been killed in these crosswalks by vehicles not yielding. Another part to this question arises on bike trails. When a bike trail crosses a street with a crosswalk can you ride across or do you have to dismount and walk? Would the crosswalk be considered an extension of the bike trail? Again, if you were hit by a vehicle while riding across the street in the crosswalk what would your legal standing be?
We’ve probably all heard at some point that it’s illegal to ride your bike across the crosswalk. But is it? Well, we could try to find the answer by seeing what the statute books have to say about it. Unfortunately, the statute books tell us nothing. Zip. Nada. They don’t say a cyclist can ride across the crosswalk, and they don’t say a cyclist can’t ride across a crosswalk. So you’d think if the statute books don’t say you can’t do it, then it must be legal, right? Except we’ve all heard when we were kids that it was illegal to ride across the crosswalk. So if the statute books are silent on the subject, how do we find out?
Let’s start by figuring out what a bicycle is. Unlike in many states, in Arizona a bicycle is, by definition, not a vehicle. Nevertheless, as in most states, a person operating a bicycle is “granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle.” Hmmmmm. OK, so it’s not a vehicle. Maybe a cyclist is a pedestrian? That would be absurd, of course, but you never know, so if we check the definition for pedestrian, we find that…
Nope. In Arizona, a pedestrian is “any person afoot,” and specifically excludes a person using a bicycle. OK, so to recap, a bicycle is not a vehicle, and a bicyclist is not a pedestrian, but the bicyclist is granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle. Well, that doesn’t really tell us what a bicycle is, does it? What the law really tells us is what a bicycle isn’t. So, now that we’ve figured out what a bicycle isn’t, let’s take a look at a few more definitions we’ll need before we can figure this out. In Arizona, A “Street” or “highway” is the entire width between the boundary lines of every “way” if a part of the way is open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel. A “Through highway” is a highway or portion of a highway at which vehicular traffic from intersecting highways is required to stop before entering or crossing and when stop signs are erected. An “Intersection” is the area within the extension of the boundary lines of two highways that meet at any angle if vehicles traveling on those joining highways may come in conflict.A “Sidewalk” is that portion of a street that is between the boundary lines of a roadway and the adjacent property lines and that is intended for the use of pedestrians.A “Crosswalk” is the intangible extension of the sidewalk across the roadway at an intersection. A crosswalk can also be “any portion of a roadway at an intersection or elsewhere that is distinctly indicated for pedestrian crossing by lines or other markings on the surface.”The “Right-of-way” is the privilege of the immediate use of the highway.
Now let’s see what all of this means in a crosswalk. Remember, a crosswalk is an extension—let’s call it an imaginary extension—of the sidewalk across the roadway at an intersection (and remember, a crosswalk does not need to be at an intersection if it is marked as a crosswalk). And, as we saw, a sidewalk is intended for the use of pedestrians. And in Arizona, a pedestrian has the right-of-way in a crosswalk: “the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way, slowing down or stopping if need be in order to yield, to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk.” Well, it’s not actually quite that cut-and-dried, because a pedestrian must obey any traffic control signals present at intersections, but if the pedestrian is lawfully within the crosswalk, the pedestrian has the right-of-way.
However, In Arizona, there is no requirement for a pedestrian to cross at a crosswalk. A pedestrian may cross outside of a crosswalk—unless the crossing point is “between adjacent intersections at which traffic control signals are in operation”—but must yield the right-of-way to all vehicles on the roadway. However, even when a pedestrian does not have the right-of-way, “every driver of a vehicle shall “exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian on any roadway.”
Okay, but what does any of this have to do with cyclists? Well, let’s go back to that sidewalk. The statute books don’t say anything about whether you can ride on the sidewalk or not, just as they don’t say anything about whether you can ride in the crosswalks or not. However, as a New Jersey court held in Gibson v. Arrowhead Conditioning Company, if the law doesn’t prohibit riding on the sidewalk, “then it is lawful to ride a bike on the sidewalk.”
It’s still a bit ambiguous in Arizona, because the law does prohibit vehicles from driving on sidewalks, and although bicycles are not vehicles in Arizona, cyclists do enjoy all of the rights and are subject to all of the duties of operators of vehicles. However, the law in New Jersey also prohibits driving on sidewalks, and as in Arizona, bicycles are not vehicles although they also enjoy all of the rights and are subject to all of the duties. Because the laws in New Jersey and Arizona are so similar, I think it’s safe to say that you can ride your bicycle on the sidewalk in Arizona.
And that brings us to crosswalks; if you can ride your bicycle on the sidewalk, and if a crosswalk is an extension of the sidewalk, then by logic, you can also ride your bike in the crosswalk. However, while you can ride your bike in the crosswalk, the question of right-of-way still remains, because although a pedestrian has the right-of-way in a crosswalk, a bicycle is not a pedestrian. If you think about it, though, you’ll see that a pedestrian has the right-of-way while in a crosswalk and in observance of any traffic control signals. It stands to reason that if a cyclist is also in the crosswalk, and in observance of the traffic control signals, that the cyclist has the right-of-way in respect to vehicular traffic.
But what if there are no traffic control signals? When a pedestrian is crossing at a crosswalk that is not controlled by traffic signals, the pedestrian still has the right-of-way, but “a pedestrian shall not suddenly leave any curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield.” Now let’s compare that to the situation when a vehicle approaches a “through highway”: The driver of a vehicle shall stop as required … at the entrance to a through highway and shall yield the right-of-way to other vehicles that have entered the intersection from the through highway or that are approaching so closely on the through highway as to constitute an immediate hazard, but the driver having so yielded may proceed and the drivers of all other vehicles approaching the intersection on the through highway shall yield the right-of-way to the vehicle that is proceeding into or across the through highway.
That sounds very similar to the requirement for pedestrians to yield to closely approaching vehicles, doesn’t it? These requirements are so similar that despite no explicit guidance from the law regarding cyclists, it’s safe to say that when a cyclist is crossing at an intersection that is not regulated by a traffic control signal, the cyclist has the right-of-way while in the crosswalk, but before entering the crosswalk must yield the right-of-way to all other vehicles that are approaching so closely that they would be an immediate hazard (because it would be impossible for the driver to yield.).
Now, what about those situations where a bike trail crosses a street? That’s an interesting problem; although the Arizona statutes mention bike lanes and bike paths, and in another section, trails, no definition is given for trails. However, we do know that “a path or lane that is designated as a bicycle path or lane by state or local authorities is for the exclusive use of bicycles even though other uses are permitted.”
As we saw above, we know from the statutes that a “highway” is the entire width between the boundary lines of every “way” if a part of the way is open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel. We also know that a “Through highway” is a highway or portion of a highway at which vehicular traffic from intersecting highways is required to stop before entering or crossing and when stop signs are erected.
Do you see the problem? A highway is “open to the public for vehicular travel,” but a bicycle is not a vehicle, and because a bicycle path is “for the exclusive use of bicycles,” a question is raised as to whether a bike path—or a trail– is a “highway.” And if a bicycle path or trail is not a highway, then where it crosses a highway is not an intersection. And because a bicycle path or trail is not a sidewalk, its extension across a highway is not a crosswalk. If a crosswalk is not designated, there are no explicit rules in place to govern crossing the road. The likely applicable law would be equivalent to that of a pedestrian crossing at other than an intersection: the pedestrian must yield to all vehicles on the road. That sounds like a dangerous situation; hopefully, all trails have designated crosswalks.
If a crosswalk is designated at the trail crossing, then the laws applicable at any crosswalk would also be applicable at the trail crossing. Because you can ride on the trail, you can ride in the crosswalk. If the crosswalk is governed by traffic control signals, a cyclist would have the right-of-way if the cyclist is within the crosswalk and in observance of the traffic control signals. If the crosswalk is not governed by traffic control signals, the cyclist has the right-of-way while in the crosswalk, but before entering the crosswalk must yield the right-of-way to all other vehicles that are approaching so closely that they would be an immediate hazard.
In the end analysis, you don’t want to be hit while crossing the street, even if you have the right-of-way, but if you are hit while crossing the street, having the right-of-way puts the liability for the collision on the vehicle that failed to yield, rather than on you. And really, we should remember that the point of observing the right-of-way is to avoid collisions in the first place. Observe the right-of-way, use your common sense even when you have the right-of-way, and pay attention to what those drivers are doing, because, well, somebody has to.
Bob Mionske is a former competitive cyclist who representedthe U.S. at the 1988 Olympic games (where he finished fourth in the roadrace), the 1992 Olympics, as well as winning the 1990 national championshiproad race.After retiring from racing in 1993, he coached the Saturn Professional Cycling team for one year before heading off to law school. Mionske’s practice is now split between personal-injury work, representing professional athletes as an agent and other legal issues facing endurance athletes (traffic violations, contract, criminal charges, intellectual property, etc).If you have a cycling-related legal question, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.orgBob will answer as many of these questions privately as he can. He willalso select a few questions each week to answer in this column. Generalbicycle-accident advice can be found at www.bicyclelaw.com.Important notice:
The information provided in the “Legally speaking”column is not legal advice. The information provided on this publicweb site is provided solely for the general interest of the visitors tothis web site. The information contained in the column applies to generalprinciples of American jurisprudence and may not reflect current legaldevelopments or statutory changes in the various jurisdictions and thereforeshould not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice. Understand thatreading the information contained in this column does not mean youhave established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Bob Mionske.Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained inthe web site without first seeking the advice of legal counsel.