It is with great pleasure that I have volunteered to assume the position of Safety and
Legislation Director for SCU as Linda McGrane moves laterally to devote her considerable
experience, knowledge and talents in another direction on behalf of the Club. I have been a
member of SCU for over 20 years, having served in a variety of positions from time to time.
Many of you know me as legal counsel to the Club. Others of you know me as that guy on
weekend rides who often annoyingly ignores exhortations to move right and “single up” to allow
cars to pass. It is this latter aspect that I hope to be the springboard for the role I will play as
Director of Safety and Legislation in 2017.
In addition to the normal stuff of reporting on legal developments of relevance to cyclists
and serving as a liaison to other area organizations devoted to cycling safety, I hope to promote a
vigorous dialog aimed at arriving at a Club policy on sharing the roads with which all of us can
be comfortable and which will be adopted and implemented by our Ride Leaders. After 23 years
of riding with SCU and other clubs, I have experienced the spectrum of riders aggressively
asserting the “right” to take the lane to riders who are “edge huggers”, both of whom believe that
their practices best promote the safety of cyclists on the road. My goal is to promote a sensible,
fact and science based dialog on this critical issue in the hope that a uniform policy and practice
can be adopted by the Club to make the riding experience for our members safer, more enjoyable
and consistent. It’s a complicated issue, involving the law, identifying what is safe behavior
under a given set of circumstances, how to best promote predictable and safe behavior on the
part of both drivers and cyclists, concepts of behavioral change and the need to overcome
prejudices and fears. It also requires a sound application of good old common sense.
So let’s start with the law, understanding that this is the beginning point, not the end point
of the discussion. As we all know, Pennsylvania’s revisions to the Motor Vehicle Code that
address the relationship of cars and bikes on the road have been extensive. In the past, Chapter
35 of the Motor Vehicle Code, which addresses “Special Vehicles”, simply regulated the rights
and duties of bicyclists. Part of what made the changes in the law so notable was that the
revisions to Chapter 33, which regulates the operation of motor vehicles, for the first time set out
rules regulating the conduct of drivers as it relates to bicycles on the road and set out specific
rules regulating the operation of bicycles on the road in relation to motor vehicles.
As a general rule, bikes have the same right to be on the road and the same
responsibilities as cars (Sections 3501(a) and 3505(a)). Bikes have the right to be in the lane of
travel and there is no general requirement that a bike be ridden at the right side of the right lane.
It is only where a bike is moving at less than the prevailing speed of traffic that a rider must take
reasonable steps to avoid impeding traffic (section 3364(b)(2)). While this can and should
include moving as far to the right as is practicable, the law specifically states that a bicycle need
not move to the right where (1) it is unsafe to do so due to road conditions (sections 3301(c)(2)
and 3505(c)), (2) the road is only one lane in each direction (section 3301(c)(2)), (3) the right
hand lane is for turns only and the rider is going straight (section 3301(b)(2)), or (4) the bicycle
needs to move left to make a left turn (section 3301(c)(1)).
The new law also sets out mandated standards of conduct by drivers in relation to
cyclists. Drivers must pass to the left with a minimum mandated clearance of at least 4 feet and
at a careful and prudently reduced speed (section 3303(a)(3)). Drivers are permitted to cross a
solid lane line (i.e. a no passing zone) into the oncoming lane if necessary to give the required 4
feet of clearance (section 3307(b)(1)). Drivers are also affirmatively prohibited from interfering
with bicycles by making a left turn in front of an oncoming bike or a right turn in front of a bike
traveling straight in the same direction (section 3331(e)).
So under the changed law, on the roads we typically ride that are one lane in each
direction, we have the right to occupy the lane at all times and motor vehicles are required to
pass us with 4 feet of clearance even if that requires them to move into the oncoming lane. But
should we ride this way? Is that the most prudent and safest practice for road cyclists? Next
month, I will offer my opinion as a rider (not a lawyer, lol) on how and when cyclists should
avail themselves of these provisions of the law and when they should not. Then let’s hear back
from all of you through the Meet Up mail server. Your feedback will play an important role in
assisting the Club to formulate ride safety policies that are consistent and beneficial to all.