Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bike Laws: State Law vs. City Code

I am completely confused. I live in Charlotte, NC. Like many cyclists everywhere, we constantly have run-ins with angry motorists honking and yelling for us to “get off the road” or “ride single file.” And of course we yell back that we have every right to be there blah, blah. Same ole story. Or is it?

The North Carolina Driver’s Handbook states that, “There is no law that requires bicyclists to ride single file, nor is there a law that gives cyclists the right to ride two or more abreast. “ Firstly, and slightly off subject, could NC have possibly been vaguer in defining the rules of the road? Secondly, from this, one can deduce that we are in fact allowed to take up the entire lane…responsibly. The handbook also says, “In North Carolina, the bicycle has the legal status of a vehicle. This means that bicyclists have full rights and responsibilities on the roadway and are subject to the regulations governing the operation of a motor vehicle.” That one’s pretty clear. From this I know that driving my bike on a sidewalk, for instance, is illegal because driving my car on the sidewalk is illegal. That gives me a pretty good understanding of what I can and can’t do on the road of NC, right? Not really.

Enter the City of Charlotte Bicycle Law Code which at first defines a vehicle as: “Every device…drawn upon a street or highway, except devices moved by human power.” So, a bike is not a vehicle. OK. Wait, what? I should finish the paragraph? Ah, there it is, “…bicycles shall be deemed vehicles and every rider of a bicycle upon a highway shall be subject to the provisions of… the driver of a vehicle except those that by their nature can have no application.” So, a cyclist is considered a vehicle…except when it’s not. That's not confusing at all. So, when it’s on the street, it’s a vehicle, but when it’s on the sidewalk it’s not? And I know I can ride on the sidewalk because the code says it: “It is stressed that bicycles may be operated on sidewalks in the city except where expressly prohibited by posted signs.” That’s not what NC Law says.

I’ll spare you the jargon of the next one and just paraphrase Sec. 15-139 which pertains to traffic. Within Charlotte boundaries, cyclists are required to ride single file which clearly differs from the State Law.

So, now, we all, cyclists and motorists, just need to know exactly which roads fall under NC law and which fall under Charlotte code. Oh, and it’s all probably going to change when you go one town over. No sweat. A typical ride only takes me through about 8 different towns and the city/town limits are clearly marked with brightly colored lines and signs posted with the law clearly stated, so I know exactly which rules to follow. What? You mean there are no markings? No signs? But, I took the test. I passed with a 100%. NC issued me my Driver License. They didn’t happen to mention that the laws have a tendency to change every few miles I drive.

There is too much animosity on the roads. Is it any wonder? The laws contradict themselves and are written so vaguely that there is no clear right and wrong. With more and more people heading out on their bikes (the populartiy of cycling is growing exponentially) maybe it's time to clear up some of these vague laws and come up with just ONE set of rules so there’s no confusion.


melina said...

Jodi- who is the proper elected representative to bring this to? Maybe start with someone local and work your way up until you get to the person who says, "yep, that's me." And then TELL THEM ALL THIS. USE A LOT OF CAPS. But don't say "fuck." Ever. Politicians don't like it, I'm told.

Jodi Winterton said...

NC DOT actually has a Division of Bicycles in 1977 that was the first of its kind in the Country. It's made up of 7 members that cover 14 districts. I have found the name of the person who represents Charlotte and have sent an email...we'll see what the reponse is.

And I didn't say fuck, although I really wanted to.