UPDATE – Wednesday, January 29: Joe was “arraigned”. His trial is scheduled for May 27th at 1:30pm.
UPDATE #2 – Tuesday, May 27: Joe is found not guilty!
Have you ever been ticketed…just for riding your bike?
Joe Jackson has.
He was riding on Snuff Mill Road near Centerville last month when he was ticketed for violating a little bit of obscure legal language from Delaware Title 21, §4196. This law says that
“Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand edge of the roadway…”
Snuff Mill Road is only about 18 to 20 feet wide here. (In some places it’s only 17 feet wide!) It doesn’t have any additional shoulder pavement. That 18 to 20 feet of pavement is all there is.
Some cyclists riding on Snuff Mill will crowd over to the right (perhaps to avoid the attention of overzealous police). But no matter where a cyclist rides on a road like this, a car has to (at least partially) exit its travel lane in order to safely pass. That is why it can be unsafe to not ride in the center of a lane – which is exactly where Joe Jackson was riding when he was ticketed. If you are a motorist and you see a cyclist riding “as close as practicable” to the right edge and of the lane, you may mistakenly believe that it is possible to pass the cyclist without (at least partially) changing lanes. The reality is this: you can’t. You must (at least partially) exit your lane and travel in the lane of oncoming traffic while passing.
For cyclists, this is obvious. But in case a non-cycling motorist happens to be reading this, let’s just briefly – very, very briefly – do the math.
LANE WIDTH: 9 feet
MINIMUM CYCLIST OPERATING WIDTH: 3 feet
DELAWARE LEGAL REQUIREMENT FOR SAFE PASSING: 3 feet
AVERAGE WIDTH OF CAR: 7 feet
Without going into any more detail than this, it should be obvious why Joe Jackson was riding in the middle of the lane on Snuff Mill Road. A car cannot safely pass a cyclist inside its travel lane there. (It’s pretty obvious just from looking at the photo above, too.) And it is a potentially catastrophically dangerous misunderstanding for a motorist to get the mistaken idea that she can.
Riding in the center of the lane delivers a possibly life-saving message to motorists: you must exit your travel lane to pass me safely.
Joe Jackson was riding safely and wisely near Centerville last month. And for that he got a ticket.
But here’s the extra wrinkle in all this. In addition to riding both safely and wisely right in the middle of the travel lane on Snuff Mill Road, Joe Jackson was also riding completely legally. That’s because Delaware Title 21, §4196 contains an explicit provision for exactly what Joe Jackson was doing. Here’s the additional language:
“Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand edge of the roadway except under any of the following circumstances:… When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions including…substandard width lanes that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand edge of roadway.” … “a ‘substandard width lane’ is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.”
Bike Delaware is helping Joe present his case. His ticket would be wrong even if the “substandard width lanes” language wasn’t in the code. It can never be right to ticket a cyclist for cycling in a way to protect her safety. But Joe’s case is even more absurd. He was obeying the letter of the law…and he was still ticketed.
We are going to help Joe get this straightened out.
John Bare is the vice president of Bike Delaware.