Legally Speaking – with Bob Mionske: Two-by-two – Part 2
By Bob Mionske
In mylast Legally Speaking column, we had a question from R.H. about ridingtwo abreast while pacelining in Pennsylvania. In this column, we have afew more questions about pacelining. First up is a question from readerG.F., who writes from Wisconsin to ask:Dear Bob,
Thanks for your recent article on riding two abreast in Pennsylvaniaand New Jersey. I ride with a club in Wisconsin and we have had severaldiscussions on what is both safe and legal, in terms of riding etiquette. From your article about Pennsylvania and New Jersey I am projecting toour situation here in Wisconsin that when we are riding on roads with onelane of traffic in each direction we should be riding single file, eventhough I know it is legal to ride two abreast as long as you are not impedingtraffic. Is this true? Are we riding illegally when we ridetwo abreast on country roads with only one lane of traffic in each direction?Thanks,
As you may recall from the last column, in New Jersey it’s legal toride two abreast, as long as you’re not “impeding traffic,” in which caseyou would have to ride single file. This differs from Pennsylvania, whereyou can ride two abreast, unless you’re traveling at less than the prevailingspeed, in which case where you ride depends on how many lanes the roadhas. On a road with more than one lane in each direction, you may continueto ride two abreast, but must stay in the right lane; on a road with onlyone lane in each direction, you must ride as close to the right side ofthe road “as is practicable.”Now let’s look at Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, it’s also legal to ride twoabreast “if such operation does not impede the normal and reasonable movementof traffic.” In a previous column, “Toimpede or not to impede,” we saw that “normal and reasonable” meanstraffic that is traveling in the mainstream flow of traffic, and that istraveling at a reasonable speed—that is, traffic that is following thebasic speed rule. In Wisconsin, the basic speed rule is thatNo person shall drive a vehicle at a speed greater than is reasonableor prudent under the conditions and having regard for the actual and potentialhazards then existing. The speed of a vehicle shall be so controlled asmay be necessary to avoid colliding with any object, person, vehicle orother conveyance on or entering the highway in compliance with legal requirementsand using due care.So, here’s the paceline rule for Wisconsin: If the mainstream flow oftraffic is traveling in observance of the basic speed rule, your pacelinemust either be traveling at the same speed as the mainstream flow of traffic,or you must ride single file. If your paceline is not impeding “the normaland reasonable movement of traffic,” you may ride two abreast, and on aroad with more than one lane in the direction you are traveling, you mustride within a single lane. At all times, whether you are riding two abreast,or single file, you must ride “as close as practicable to the right-handedge or curb or the roadway.”
Next, B.R. writes from British Columbia to ask:Dear Bob,
Thanks to you and your colleagues for your interesting articles aboutcycling and the law. Regarding the recent article on pacelining, one ofthe issues overlooked concerns the very nature of the paceline. Inthe case of a single paceline, when the lead rider pulls off and rotatesto the back, he would, for the duration of his drift to the rear of thepack, be riding two-abreast. In one of the situations where singlepacelining is required, how do you get him to the back of the pack?It is a little more difficult in the case where a double paceline isallowed. Normally, both leaders would pull off the front, one going left,the other right. But that would result in the pack being temporarily
four-abreast (or three-abreast if you consider the rider on the rightas being overtaken).Regards,
British ColumbiaDear B.R.,
Normally, when you’re riding single file, the lead rider will justpeel off, and rotate to the back of the paceline. Of course, as you pointout, as the lead rider is rotating back, he (or she) is riding two abreast.If a paceline is rotating rapidly enough, there will always be one or moreriders who are riding two abreast. But if you’re required to ride singlefile, you also have to consider how the lead rider will peel off, whilestill maintaining a single file. One clearly legal way to do it is to havethe lead rider pull off to the right, stop, and wait for the paceline topass, then pull in behind the paceline. But that just defeats the purposeof a paceline, doesn’t it?So here’s a different way to do it that will probably pass the legaltest, as long as you’re not rotating leaders so quickly that the pacelineis perpetually two abreast. When the lead rider is ready to rotate, haveher (or him) peel off to the right and rotate back, as the rest of thepaceline passes her on her left. Do you see what’s happening there? Thelead rider peels off, and is now riding slower than the paceline, and isbeing passed just as your paceline would pass a slower cyclist. It’s legalfor the paceline to pass a slower cyclist, so as long as your pacelineisn’t rotating lead riders so quickly that the paceline is perpetuallytwo abreast, this technique should fit within what the law allows regardingboth riding single file, and passing slower cyclists.Now, what about when you’re riding a double paceline, and the law allowsyou to ride two abreast? How do you rotate the lead riders while stayingwithin the law? If the lead riders both peel off, one to the left, andone to the right, the paceline is now four abreast, and that isn’t legal.The best way to ride a double paceline and stay within the law is to ridea variation called a rotating paceline. One of the pacelines will be ridingat a faster rate than the other paceline. The lead rider of the fasterpaceline peels off to become the lead rider of the slower paceline, andthe tail rider of the slower paceline rotates into the tail of the fasterpaceline. The effect is of a constantly rotating double paceline, and wouldbe completely within what the law allows.
Next, D.R. writes from California with a similar question:Dear Bob,
I always enjoy reading your columns, and look forward to reading yourbook when it comes out. Soon, I hope? Anyway, thanks for your recent columnexplaining the legalities of pacelining. It got me to thinking about otherpacelining situations. Have you ever addressed what happens when you havea group ride positioned at 3 and even 4 abreast, when the lead riders pulloff and drift back? Related to this, what happens when you have a paceline,even a single paceline, and the ‘tail’ of the group covers the entire lane.Are these situations legal?
CaliforniaThanks D.R.! My new book Bicycling& The Law has been keeping me very busy, but you will hopefullybe pleased to know that it will be coming out very soon.In the first situation, any group ride with riders three or four abreastwould be riding in violation of the law that allows cyclists to ride “nomore than two abreast.” There’s just no way around that limitation, atleast on a training ride. In some states, if you’re riding in a race youwon’t be limited to riding two abreast, but a training ride doesn’t qualifyas a race under the law, and if you did claim that you were “racing” inorder to avoid a ticket for riding more than two abreast, you could beticketed for racing instead—because that’s against the law in many statestoo, unless it’s a permitted event.In the second situation, where you have a paceline and the “tail” ofthe group covers the entire lane, the legality of the paceline would dependupon the circumstances and state. Generally, if the paceline is travelingat the same speed as other traffic, the paceline may take the lane, andif the tail is fanning out to cover the entire lane, that will not be againstthe law. Of course, this may vary, depending upon state law. If the pacelineis not traveling at the same speed as other traffic, the paceline mustride as close to the right as practicable, and in some states, must ridesingle file. In that situation—where the paceline is not traveling at thesame speed as other traffic—riders in the tail who fan out would be inviolation of the “close as practicable” rule.
Finally, we have a letter from B.F. in North Carolina, remindingus that we need to be familiar with all of the laws along our routes:Dear Bob,
As always thanks for a well written article. An additional note, therecan be local or township ordinances requiring single file riding. The townshipof Biltmore Forest here in the Asheville area has such. There are signsposted stating the ordinance at the road entrances to the township. Ofcourse this is a ritzy fancy pants almost gated city, so they can do whatthey want. I am guessing if a local law supersedes the state law, it mustbe posted?
Asheville, North CarolinaDear B.F.,
Generally, states, including North Carolina, delegate some limitedauthority to regulate traffic to local authorities, as long as the localregulation is within what the state allows. Local laws never supersedestate laws, however; they must always be consistent with what state lawallows.In North Carolina, there is no law on riding two abreast. So does thatmean that riding two abreast is legal in North Carolina? It’s not entirelyclear. There’s no law requiring you to ride single file, but there’s alsono law allowing you to ride two abreast. There is a law allowing motorcyclesto ride two abreast. Does that mean that, because the legislature has specificallyallowed motorcycles to ride two abreast, but hasn’t specifically allowedbicycles to ride two abreast, that you can’t ride two abreast?I don’t think so. First, the law doesn’t prohibit riding two abreast.Second, in North Carolina, bicycles shall be deemed vehicles and everyrider of a bicycle upon a highway shall be subject to the provisions ofthis Chapter applicable to the driver of a vehicle except those which bytheir nature can have no application.Because the law specifically allows motorcycles to ride two abreast,a good argument could be made that, being similar to motorcycles in theirability to share a lane, bicycles are also subject to that provision. Thus,although the law isn’t exactly clear on whether or not you can ride twoabreast, I believe you can.Now, what about those signs at the entrance to the Biltmore Forest?In North Carolina, local governmentsmay by ordinance prohibit, regulate, divert, control, and limit pedestrianor vehicular traffic upon the public streets, sidewalks, alleys, and bridgesof the city.However, local governments have no power or authority to enact or enforceany rules or regulations contrary to the provisions of [the vehicle code].Signs shall be erected giving notices of the special limits and regulations…So, as is the case in other states, in North Carolina local governmentsmay regulate traffic consistent what state law allows, and they must givenotice of “special limits and regulations” by posting signs.Now let’s go back to that question of whether you can ride two abreastin North Carolina. The law doesn’t say you can ride two abreast, nor doesit say you can’t ride two abreast, and although the question is somewhatunclear, I believe you can ride two abreast in North Carolina…Until youarrive at the Town of Biltmore Forest, that is, where signs have been erecteddeclaring that riding two abreast is unlawful in Biltmore Forest. Becausea local ordinance outlawing riding two abreast is not in conflict withNorth Carolina law—remember, there’s no state law that says you can ridetwo abreast—the ordinance would be consistent with state law. However,although it’s a misdemeanor—a criminal offense, so be careful—to violatea Biltmore Forest traffic ordinance, I can’t find anything in the BiltmoreForest Code of Ordinances (available on the Townof Biltmore Forest website) that prohibits riding two abreast. Nowthe online ordinances are four years old, so maybe the two abreast ordinancewas passed after 2003, but you might want to check the town ordinancesagainst the signs to see if riding two abreast really is against the lawin Biltmore Forest.
Bob(Research and drafting provided by Rick Bernardi-law student- Lewis and Clark)
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).Mionske is also the author of Bicyclingand the Law, designed to be the primary resource for cycliststo consult when faced with a legal question. It provides readers with theknowledge to avoid many legal problems in the first place, and informsthem of their rights, their responsibilities, and what steps they can takeif they do encounter a legal problem.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.