Two's Company, Three's A Crowd.
I recently had the chance to meet a passionate bicyclist named Max Mcallister. Max is, by all accounts, the real deal when it comes to bicycling and bike culture and is definitely a Bike Law kind of guy. He rides every day. He seeks out challenges. He rides through pain and, occasionally, injury. He gives freely of his own time to help other people enjoy their time on bikes. He’s passionate about his equipment and incredibly fond of Specialized products. He and his girlfriend travel the country to seek out great races and bike events. He coaches cycling and also puts on free seminars on subjects like bike fit. He supports local, statewide and national advocacy groups. He’s a regular in the Olde Blind Dog Cycling Club , which is definitely one of the most active and fun groups I’ve ever seen.
Max also actively engages on social media regarding bike issues. It was in that capacity that he recently hit me up with an interesting question:
Hi Bruce, we met at your seminar at The Olde Blind Dog Cycling Club, and I got one of your Pocket Guides. Can you clarify a law for me? Riding Two Abreast… The language is a little vague. It sounds like you could actually ride two abreast on the road and have one rider in the bike lane? I am most interested in Bike Lane law… do you have to ride single file, and all riders clear the roadway? We got hassled by an Alpharetta cop once who didn’t like a line in the bike lane and a line in the roadway.
This should be an easy question to answer, but it’s a nuanced issue that comes down to how you choose to define certain terms. As a lawyer and advocate for safe cycling, the lack of clarity in the law is extremely frustrating. But as a human being who enjoys cycling, and as someone who is often called upon to provide some guidance on issues like these, it’s a tricky question. It’s also one of those issues where, sadly, you may be legally correct in your interpretation, while also finding yourself on the wrong side of law enforcement and, more critically, safe riding practices.
First of all, let’s review some terms that are defined in the Georgia Code.
- Bike Lane. A “Bicycle Lane” means “a portion of the roadway that has been designated by striping, pavement markings, or signage for the exclusive or preferential use of persons operating bicycles. Bicycle lanes shall, at a minimum, unless impracticable, be required to meet accepted guidelines, recommendations and criteria with respect to planning, design, operation, and maintenance as set forth by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.” O.C.G.A. Sec. 40-1-1 (6.1).
- Bike Path. A “Bicycle Path” means “a right of way under the jurisdiction and control of this state or a local political subdivision thereof designated for use by bicycle riders.” O.C.G.A. Sec. 40-1-1(6.2).
- Roadway. O.C.G.A. Sec. 40-1-1(53) states “ “Roadway” means that portion of a highway improved, designed, or ordinarily used for vehicular travel, exclusive of the berm or shoulder. In the event a highway includes two or more separate roadways, the term “roadway” shall refer to any such roadway separately, but not to all such roadways collectively.” (emphasis added).
- Shoulder. Georgia code does not define a “shoulder” which may be significant to answering Max’s question, and is discussed below.
- As Near to the Right as Practicable. Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable, except when turning left or avoiding hazards to safe cycling, when the lane is too narrow to share safely with a motor vehicle, when traveling at the same speed as traffic, or while exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction; provided, however, that every person operating a bicycle away from the right side of the roadway shall exercise reasonable care and shall give due consideration to the other applicable rules of the road. As used in this subsection, the term “hazards to safe cycling” includes, but is not limited to, surface debris, rough pavement, drain grates which are parallel to the side of the roadway, parked or stopped vehicles, potentially opening car doors, or any other objects which threaten the safety of a person operating a bicycle. O.C.G.A. Sec. 40-6-294(a).
- Two Abreast. Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles. O.C.G.A. Sec. 40-6-294(b).
There are additional subparts to 40-6-294 dealing with bike paths, but those sections don’t help to answer Max’s question.
So what is the net effect of these definitions under Georgia law? To ride more than 2 abreast would require an interpretation of the law that treats the bike lane as one lane and the lane to the left of the bike lane as a separate lane. The argument would be that you could ride 2 abreast in the “car” lane and still ride next to someone who is riding in the bike lane, giving you 3 riders riding abreast. This interpretation, however seems to be in violation of O.C.G.A. Sec. 40-6-294(b), quoted above. Section (b) doesn’t concern itself with the definition of lanes. It uses the word “roadway”.
Thanks for clearing that up Georgia Legislature, that’s as clear as mud. But, the gist of it is that the law provides that bicyclists cannot ride more than 2 abreast on a roadway, regardless of the number of lanes on the roadway. But as to Max’s original question and his confrontation with local police, Max would have been in the right if he had been riding with 1 person in the bike lane and one person in the adjacent lane. That would qualify as two abreast on the roadway, regardless of the fact that one cyclist is in the bike lane and one is not. Nothing in the Georgia Code requires a bicyclist to use a Bike Lane when one is offered. While some motorists (and perhaps police) might find it inconsiderate in some areas for a bicyclist to ride 2 abreast with one of the riders in the bike lane, there’s nothing in the law to prohibit it.
Another avid cyclist and critical thinker, Dru Satori, referenced a conversation that he had with a judge one day in which the judge informally stated that a marked bike lane would be considered as separate from the roadway. I disagree with that assessment. In fact, I think it’s important that we as cyclists insist that law enforcement protect Bike lanes as separate lanes of travel as the law requires. But if it’s correct that a bike lane is not considered to be part of the roadway, then that would raise the argument that you could legally have 2 riders in the roadway riding alongside another rider in a bike lane.
Dru points out, however, that many places where we routinely ride our bikes are not really even marked as bike lanes, they’re shoulders. If someone is riding their bike in the shoulder, then they would not be on the roadway according to the definition above. Using that logic, if there’s a bicyclist riding in the shoulder, then they’re not on the roadway, and it would be legal for bicyclists to ride 2 abreast in the lane adjacent to the shoulder.
These arguments seem to boil down to the specific facts of any given situation and a certain willingness to see the law in the light most favorable to your cause. My advice to Max is: don’t risk it. You can be technically right, but still wrong in the eyes of the police and the law. Stick to riding no more than 2 abreast at all times and avoid having to argue code sections and semantics with local police when you would rather be riding and feeling the wind in your face.
Thanks Max for your thought provoking question and also Dru for your insight. If anyone has any more questions, feel free to hit me up on the Bike Law Georgia Facebook page or to email me, Bruce@Bikelaw.com.
Bruce Hagan’s cyclist law firm is fully committed to representing Georgia bicyclists. “All of our attorneys and most of the staff are full-time riders,” he says. Bruce has handled hundreds of bike crash cases and actively helps bicyclists understand Georgia’s bike laws.