Ohio Bike Laws - Riding as far Right as Practicable
This article is the third in a series intended to increase awareness about local bike laws. In the last article, we discussed why the best place to ride a bike is often in the road. This month we will clarify where exactly on the road a bike should be. Under state law, bikes must generally ride as far right as “practicable”. It seems simple enough at first blush, but there can be some confusion as it plays out.
“Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable obeying all traffic rules applicable to vehicles and exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction.” ORC 4511.55(A). “This section does not require a person operating a bicycle to ride at the edge of the roadway when it is unreasonable or unsafe to do so. Conditions that may require riding away from the edge of the roadway include when necessary to avoid fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, surface hazards, or if it otherwise is unsafe or impracticable to do so, including if the lane is too narrow for the bicycle and an overtaking vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.” ORC 4511.55(C).
Left-hand turns: Just like a car - and all other objects in motion in the universe - a bike sometimes turns left. On wider streets like Lake Shore Boulevard, this can involve making a lane change into the left-most traffic lane and then another lane change into the center turning lane before ultimately making the turn. Also like a car, a bike is not going to wait until the last second to get over. Bike riders will start making their way into the turn lane when it is safe to do so, even if it is a bit down the road from the left turn.
Remember, as noted in an earlier article, a cyclist need not signal continuously. He or she may put both hands back on the handlebar after each signal given (and a cyclist need not signal at all if it is unsafe to let go of the handlebar to do so). A car thus might encounter a cyclist riding in a left lane and not realize the cyclist is preparing for an upcoming left turn. In this situation, some motorists have the audacity to honk and heckle on their way by, yelling “Get to the Right!”. Don’t be that guy. All you’re doing is flaunting your ignorance of traffic law, common sense and basic manners.
Fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, surface hazards: You don’t have to live in the Cleveland area long to readily be able to imagine such obstructions, be they orange barrels, stray trash cans, litter, standing water, overflowing piles of leaves and snow, cars (parked both legally and illegally), maintenance vehicles, sewer grates, potholes - you name it.
Lane too narrow to share with a car: A cyclist does not have to stay to the right of the lane it is in unless there is enough room for a car to safely pass within the same lane. Furthermore, a new law requires 3 feet clearance when passing a bike. ORC 4511.27(A)(1). If you picture it, that’s about the length of a yard stick. This means that, unless there is a particularly wide lane, a person on a bike is entitled to take the whole lane. If you have to slow down until you can safely go around a bike, so be it. Bikes are not required to get out of the way of faster traffic in Ohio.
Sometimes, as a courtesy, bike-riders will ride more to the right than is required of them by law, but many of us have learned the hard way that cars will not always return the courtesy and they will come dangerously close while passing – even making contact!
For increased efficiency and safety, cyclists (just like those who ride motorcycles) may ride up to 2 abreast (side-by-side) ORC 4511.55(B).
CLARIFICATION FROM LAST MONTHS’ ARTICLE: In the segment about issues with sidewalks, an example reads that “Euclid law prohibits riding a bicycle in a business district.” In case it wasn’t clear from the context, the law in Euclid is that bicycles should not be ridden on sidewalks in business districts. Bicycles are generally allowed to travel through a business district on the street.
Alisa Boles is a local attorney and bicycling enthusiast.