Monday, December 9

Tale of Two Cities

In "Bicycle Friendly Washington State,
One can be Prosecuted Here for Not Riding at the "EXTREME RIGHT"
One might think that the laws that apply to bicyclists are pretty much the same from place to place. I used to think this as well. The laws certainly ARE effectively the same for people operating the general run-of-the-mill motor vehicle made by GM, Ford, or other major manufacturer. However, prompted by some events, I decided to do a comparison between Ocean Shores, WA and Colleyville, TX. Readers of my blog might rightly conclude these two locales weren't entirely chosen by random. For those not riding in these places, you MIGHT want to brush up on your own law so that an encounter with a policeman coming out from behind his or her windshield is less likely to become traumatic.

In Texas, there are two primary guidances on where an individual cyclist MUST ride on the road. The first, that applies ONLY to cyclists, is 551.103. It states:
"Sec. 551.103.  OPERATION ON ROADWAY.  (a)  Except as provided by Subsection (b), a person operating a bicycle on a roadway who is moving slower than the other traffic on the roadway shall ride as near as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway, unless:
(1)  the person is passing another vehicle moving in the same direction;
(2)  the person is preparing to turn left at an intersection or onto a private road or driveway;
(3)  a condition on or of the roadway, including a fixed or moving object, parked or moving vehicle, pedestrian, animal, or surface hazard prevents the person from safely riding next to the right curb or edge of the roadway;  or
(4)  the person is operating a bicycle in an outside lane that is:
(A)  less than 14 feet in width and does not have a designated bicycle lane adjacent to that lane;  or
(B)  too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to safely travel side by side."

In Washington, the equivalent law that applies ONLY to cyclists, is Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 46.61.770. It states:
"Riding on roadways and bicycle paths. 
(1) Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a rate of speed less than the normal flow of traffic at the particular time and place shall ride as near to the right side of the right through lane as is safe except as may be appropriate while preparing to make or while making turning movements, or while overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction. A person operating a bicycle upon a roadway or highway other than a limited-access highway, which roadway or highway carries traffic in one direction only and has two or more marked traffic lanes, may ride as near to the left side of the left through lane as is safe. A person operating a bicycle upon a roadway may use the shoulder of the roadway or any specially designated bicycle lane if such exists.

In both States, there are also rules that govern "to the right" behavior of ALL vehicular road motion (including cyclists). These ALSO differ between the two states, though the differences are not significant if you're operating a vehicle that takes up most of a lane (motorcyclists take note!).

Things are not quite as dissimilar as might appear, given that the laws are organized differently, with Texas also allowing bicycles to use shoulders in 545.058, but Texas law seems more straightforward to me, given that it at LEAST has the 14 foot definition codified rather than leaving "safe" up to the discretion of the arresting officer, who may have no experience in safe cycling theory or operation. Oddly, Washington State governs its non-motorized bicycle operation under the section of code entitled "Motor Vehicles."

However, there's MORE in each state that allows local jurisdictions to enact more "draconian" rules that apply to cyclists. In Washingon, one such is RCW 46.08.020 which states:

RCW 46.08.020
Precedence over local vehicle and traffic regulations.
The provisions of this title relating to vehicles shall be applicable and uniform throughout this state and in all incorporated cities and towns and all political subdivisions therein and no local authority shall enact or enforce any law, ordinance, rule or regulation in conflict with the provisions of this title except and unless expressly authorized by law to do so and any laws, ordinances, rules or regulations in conflict with the provisions of this title are hereby declared to be invalid and of no effect. Local authorities may, however, adopt additional vehicle and traffic regulations which are not in conflict with the provisions of this title.

That would be OK, but Washington goes FURTHER in the case of bicycles in RCW 35.75.010, which states:

Authority to regulate and license bicycles — Penalties.
Every city and town may by ordinance regulate and license the riding of bicycles and other similar vehicles upon or along the streets, alleys, highways, or other public grounds within its limits and may construct and maintain bicycle paths or roadways within or outside of and beyond its limits leading to or from the city or town. The city or town may provide by ordinance for reasonable fines and penalties for violation of the ordinance.

In Texas, on the other hand, localities are, in theory, given less discretion. The main authority in this case is 542.202, which states (items that apply particularly to bicycles included):

Sec. 542.202POWERS OF LOCAL AUTHORITIES.  (a)  This subtitle does not prevent a local authority, with respect to a highway under its jurisdiction and in the reasonable exercise of the police power, from:
(1)  regulating traffic by police officers or traffic-control devices;
(3)  regulating or prohibiting a procession or assemblage on a highway;
(4)  regulating the operation and requiring registration and licensing of a bicycle or electric bicycle, including payment of a registration fee, except as provided by Section 551.106;
(6)  regulating the speed of a vehicle in a public park;
(9)  designating a highway as a through highway;
(13)  adopting other traffic rules specifically authorized by this subtitle.
(b)  In this section:
(2)  "Through highway" means a highway or a portion of a highway on which:
(A)  vehicular traffic is given preferential right-of-way;  and
(B)  vehicular traffic entering from an intersecting highway is required by law to yield right-of-way in compliance with an official traffic-control device.

Steve's note: 551.106 governs electric bikes, which effectively ties local authorities MORE in the case of electric bikes than on human-powered bikes, which I find interesting given some recent bike bans in Texas. I suspect you might be able to beat one of the benighted bike bans simply by pedaling along on an electric bike. OTOH, Texas police are not noted for such distinctions when it comes to bikes of any sort.


I think I'm not going to be able to remember all THESE details or stick them onto a little wallet-sized card as some recommend. So HERE is MY interpretation:

In Texas, you can ride wherever you think it is safe in a lane less than 14 feet wide - unless the police think otherwise. In Washington, the rules are vaguer, but the "unless the police think otherwise" applies just the same. In other words, lots of verbiage but the cops decide both places.

Now on to LOCAL rules. In Texas, one would think 542.202 ties the hands of local authorities to enact benighted or otherwise "odd" rules that apply to cyclists riding in their localities and require them to post signs when they do odd stuff. On the other hand, Washington State RCW allow local municipalities to do pretty much anything they want to do. In practice, there's not nearly so much difference as it might first appear. In either place, it's not wise to argue with a cop that has stopped you unless your lawyer has been alerted in advance and is prepared to ACT.

In Colleyville, as noted HERE, I was ordered off the road onto a sidewalk by a police officer without benefit of ANY local law requiring same. At another time, I was told by a Fort Worth police officer earphones were illegal though there is no such ordinance. In Colleyville, there are NO local rules regarding bicycle operation, other than to prohibit motor scooter operation on bike paths, which really doesn't affect me. As noted in the series of posts, one runs a risk of a ticket for obstructing traffic if the officer so deems, though no laws touch on the matter (unlike in Washington that has a "must pull over if you're holding up five vehicles or more" law)

In Ocean Shores, on the other hand, there are LOTS of laws that affect cyclists. I'll just cite a few:

10.40.010  Definitions.
G. "Right of the roadway" means the extreme right portion of the roadway which is safe to ride upon."
10.40.040  Riding upon city streets.
H. "Bicycles shall not be ridden upon any sidewalk in the city limits."

Note that there isn't any definition for what "extreme right portion" means, nor is there any exception for small children in the sidewalk rule. In THEORY, your six-year old could be tasered for riding on one of the few sidewalks in Ocean Shores. In reality, I've never actually heard of 010 or 040 being enforced though one sees people cycling on sidewalks in front of the OSPD frequently, especially in the summer tourist season. On the other hand, Ocean Shores isn't entirely retrograde, since they also have a complete streets ordinance (a place with few sidewalks) that states:

12.02.060 Performance standards.
The city of Ocean Shores shall put into place performance standards with measurable benchmarks to continuously evaluate the complete streets ordinance for success and opportunities for improvement. Performance standards may include transportation and mode shift, miles of bicycle facilities or sidewalks, public participation, number of ADA accommodations built, and number of exemptions from this policy approved. (Ord. 916 § 1 (part), 2012).

When I go back to Ocean Shores, I suspect I'll do some inquiries into these "continuous evaluations." Other than a little bit of paint, I can't see that the place has made significant progress in non-motorized transportation in the last 30 years. That isn't necessarily bad, since it hasn't backslid the way Colleyville did on MY NEMESIS ROAD.

OTOH, dorky local rules, made from behind a windshield aren't ALL bad. Unlike Colleyville, if I'm ordered onto a sidewalk by a local constable, I can at least say "Ocean Shores 10.40.040" makes that ILLEGAL!

One last thing, just in case there's a loyal reader out there whose eyes are not twirling in his or her sockets - one wonders how people riding through a locality are supposed to understand all these odd rules. Heck, one wonders how police that have at least some training in how the laws apply can remember all this odd stuff. I guess, thinking back on ChipSeal, mostly they don't. That, above all, should be remembered by a cyclist at any traffic stop...

Cyclists Have More Discretion in "Not Very Bicycle Friendly" Texas


Justine Valinotti said...

I don't know how anyone would remember all of those rules--and I used to know hockey rules pretty well!

I find it interesting that Texas, where local autonomy is sacrosanct (or so I'm led to believe), localities have less power to regulate cyclists than their counterparts in Washington State. I wonder how that came about.

Steve A said...

Washington has always had a strong anarchist/populist undercurrent, while Texas is more of an "authority place." In 1936, Postmaster General James Farley joked, "There are forty-seven states in the Union, and the Soviet of Washington...” In Texas, they pledge the Texas flag.

RANTWICK said...

Hey man, my eyes simply rolled back in their sockets, until the Line of Sweetness; my eyes were cured! Seems to me that nobody, including cops, internalizes all these disparate and confusing rules... but when riding actions are easily explicable and legally defensible, all will be well. I'm a Canadian in Ontario and have never been questioned on my right-in-traffic riding style by a cop, ever. Not that it'll never happen, of course!

Steve A said...

Rantwick, I was UNABLE to complete this post while I was IN Ocean Shores because I didn't have unlimited Internet access there. It really says a LOT that you need a large, broadband Internet connection to simply research how one is supposed to ride.

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