bike lane

Is Lane Splitting Unlawful?

Is Lane Splitting Unlawful?

By Maureen & Megan

No matter who you ask, it’s a controversial practice! Motorcyclists say it’s safer than sitting in traffic and eases traffic congestion. Cyclists maintain that it gets them ahead of traffic at intersections so they can be more visible to cars. Motorists argue that it’s dangerous and risky.

Lane splitting, also referred to as stripe riding or white lining, is the practice of riding a bicycle, motorcycle or any other two-wheeled vehicle between rows of slow-moving traffic driving in the same direction. Lane filtering refers to riding between lanes going in the same direction in stopped traffic. 

California is currently the only state that allows motorcycle lane splitting. 

So, what does this mean for cyclists? We received the following inquiry from a cyclist about lane splitting/filtering:

‘Is any part of the CO Law applicable to lane filtering or splitting? 

For example, is it legal for a cyclist to ride between stopped traffic in their lane and parked cars on the right or to ride between two lanes of stopped traffic?”

There is no statute in Colorado that specifically prohibits cyclists from lane splitting or lane filtering; however, the conclusion has always been that since it’s not legal for motorcyclists, cyclists should not do it either.

Furthermore, a cyclist has the same rights and duties as the driver of any other vehicle, so they should follow the same rules when it comes to overtaking and passing another vehicle on the left or right.

"The law says you cannot overtake a vehicle traveling in the same lane and direction, with certain exceptions.  Lane splitting has two major concerns.  #1) as cyclists, the law requires you be given 3-feet when being passed.  Should it not be the same for a cyclist passing a motor vehicle?  #2) we already have a problem in Colorado with motorists not expecting cyclists to be where they have the right to be (think right-hook turns). The concern is if lane splitting is permitted, how many accidents and incidents of road rage will we have until the motoring public comes to terms with this mentally and in their driving behavior?" says Frank Barr, Police Officer for the City of Golden.  

Chances are, if a cyclist chooses to pass between lanes of cars, or pass up the right side (where there is no bike lane), if a collision occurred- for example, if a car in the right lane suddenly decided to make a right turn having no idea a cyclist has pulled up alongside them, the cyclist will be found at fault, or half-at-fault.  Anytime a cyclist does something to deprive themselves of the 3-foot buffer- like pulling alongside the right side of stopped cars, between the car and a curb, if a collision occurs, the cyclist is going to share some blame.  

Consider the following scenarios that could cause a cyclist serious injury or death if lane splitting or filtering forward:

  • Cyclist is riding between two lanes of moving traffic when a motorist switches lanes unexpectedly and crashes into the cyclist
  • Cyclist gets doored when riding between traffic lanes when a passenger opens car door to exit vehicle
  • Cyclist stops on the passenger side of the vehicle in the driver’s blind spot and is right-hooked by a turning vehicle at an intersection after filtering forward

When approaching an intersection, it is recommended that a cyclist takes the lane instead of lane splitting or filtering forward. League Certified Instructor Gary Harty prefers to take the lane and wait his turn at stop lights especially if there are only two or three cars ahead of him. “I don’t like to go ahead of the first car because I may not be visible and would be setting myself up for being right hooked,” he says. 

Harty prefers to control his lane when turning left. If he is going straight, he will position himself next to the white line, either left or right of the line, the side with the least amount of traffic. “I understand both sides are legal and defend against right hooks. If traffic is slow I would like to control the thru lane.”

Cutting through traffic with rows of cars on both sides doesn’t give a cyclist adequate space either, especially considering that motorists have to give cyclists three-feet when passing. 

Denver has 130 miles of bike lanes

Denver has 130 miles of bike lanes

“In a perfect world, you would have a minimum of four feet between you and parked cars on your right to prevent being doored and another three feet on your left between you and the projections of the moving vehicles on your left.  If you give yourself three feet in which you occupy space, this is a total of ten feet minimum between parked cars and the moving traffic lane.  I can’t think of any place in this area where that space exists.  Our bicycle infrastructure has not reached that level yet. Therefore, if a cyclist is going to ride into that space that is much less than ten feet, there is a great deal of risk involved and potentially a conflict with CRS that states you should pass slower vehicles on the left,” says Harty.

As bicycling becomes more of an accepted form of transportation across the country, cities are working to make improvements to bicycling infrastructure. According to its website , the City of Denver has:

  • more than 100 miles of multi-use trails.
  • 130 miles of bike lanes.
  • 39 miles of sharrows, and almost 400 miles of signed bike routes. 

Denver’s Bicycle Program is improving on-street facilities and creating connections between Denver's neighborhoods and destinations. Bicycle traffic signals, green pavement marking, designated bike lanes, bikeways, buffered lanes and green bike boxes are being installed around the city.

Green pavement markings in Denver notifying motorists of the presence of bicyclists

Green pavement markings in Denver notifying motorists of the presence of bicyclists

Bike boxes and bike lanes make it possible for cyclists to avoid lane splitting/filtering to get ahead of vehicles at intersections. Cyclists position themselves ahead of cars in the bike box and have priority to move into the intersection when the light turns green. Motorists must wait behind the green bike box at the white stop line. This gives cyclists priority to move through the intersection.

Bike box at 11  th   and Speer in Denver

Bike box at 11th and Speer in Denver

People for Bikes has been working hard to add these green lanes and boxes with their “green lane” projects- which provide funding to cities to make it possible for the addition of this infrastructure.  These lanes and the bright green paint make it much safer for cyclists and allow them to move to the front of an intersection legally.  (Read more here: https://peopleforbikes.org/green-lane-project/).

 

Expanding and improving bicycling infrastructure to make bicycling more accessible and safe will take time. In the meantime, use caution when you are cycling and don’t put yourself in a situation where splitting the lane or filtering forward could result in injury.

When Cyclists Get Doored

By Megan & Maureen

Cyclists riding beside parked motor vehicles, whether in bike lanes or on roadways, are at serious risk of being “doored.” Dooring collisions happen when a driver or passenger opens a car door directly into a bicyclist’s line of travel.

As most states legally require a cyclist to ride as far to the right as practicable or as judged safe by the bicyclist, this often puts them directly in harm’s way, because they are riding in the door zone: the space taken up by the open door of a vehicle.

cyclist in bike lane.JPG

The bicyclist has no time to react and collides with the open car door. Sometimes, a cyclist may swerve into traffic to avoid running into a car door and, in the worst case, ends up being hit by an oncoming vehicle.

Dooring often occurs in urban, downtown areas where cars are parallel parked and where high levels of traffic and narrow lanes exist. Passengers getting out of taxi cabs, cars or ride-shares often open their doors without looking, which requires a bicyclist to be hyper-alert when riding in the door zone.

However, the law in every state instructs that a driver shall exercise caution when opening their door to exit their vehicle and shall check for overtaking traffic.  C.R.S. § 42-4-1207 - Opening and closing vehicle doors - states that “No person shall open the door of a motor vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic; nor shall any person leave a door open on the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers. Any person who violates any provision of this section commits a class B traffic infraction.”

Forty states have dooring laws. The ten states that do not are: Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia

Downtown Denver – Taxi Cab Blocking Bike Lane

Downtown Denver – Taxi Cab Blocking Bike Lane

While bike lanes are meant to make bicycling safer and to protect bicyclists from being involved in a motor vehicle collision, they do increase the chance of bicyclists being involved in a dooring crash.

Often, cars are illegally parked in bike lanes. Bicyclists are forced to navigate around the car or pay special attention to cars entering/leaving the lane. In some cases, the lane on the far right has been designated as both a bike lane as well as a parking lane.

Recently, we represented a client who lost a finger due to a dooring crash.  Our client was riding in the bike lane in Boulder.  The bike lane was positioned between car traffic lanes to her left and parked cars along the curb to her right.  She was smartly scanning the backs of car windows and checking side mirrors to look for any drivers in vehicles who might be exiting their vehicle.  As she approached a limo, she noted the windows were tinted.  She also saw what appeared to be the driver of the limo, leaning against the passenger side of the limo.  She dismissed the limo as a threat until suddenly without warning, the driver threw his door open to exit the vehicle.  Our client attempted to swerve to avoid the car door (knowing that she had overtaking vehicle traffic to her left) and as she did so, the ring on her right hand finger caught on the door handle of the limo. 

As her treatment evolved, she underwent numerous surgeries to try and lessen the nerve pain she was experiencing in her hand.  After all possible remedies were attempted, she had no choice but to have her middle finger amputated to stop the incessant and overwhelming pain in her hand. 

Of course, the insurance company for the driver attempted to paint this event as the cyclist’s fault – while acknowledging she was appropriately in the bike lane, and she was riding uphill at a slow pace, doing everything correctly, legally, and prudently -- they still tried to pin blame on her for somehow failing to avoid the opening door, or failing to steer around it.  Eventually, we obtained a very large settlement on her behalf, but it was only after lengthy litigation, at mediation which was a few months before trial.  Sadly, our client is now left permanently impaired by the loss of her finger, which impacted her ability to ride and race her bike, to swim (which was her lifelong sport and passion) and to compete in triathlon, which she loved.

We have heard other stories of drivers opening their door as a cyclist was riding by, causing the cyclist to crash into the inside of the driver door – one such story involved the cyclist being impaled by part of the handlebars because of the sudden and complete stop caused by impacting the non-moving/open car door. 

These types of collisions can be very serious and possibly deadly.  The real problem is that driver-side car doors are often RIGHT into or next to, the very bike lane built to protect cyclists! 

Protected Bike Lane in Downtown Denver

Protected Bike Lane in Downtown Denver

Ed Beighe of azbikelaw.org - a site dedicated to cycling, traffic safety, traffic justice and legal topics - reports that a bike lane in Durham, New Hampshire was actually removed after the death of a cyclist due to a dooring collision. Read more here.

Now – cyclists should note that in most states, there is no legal requirement that they must ride in the bike lane simply because a bike lane is present.  It is recommended, but not mandatory.  This means that if the cyclist judges it unsafe to ride in the bike lane next to parked cars, the cyclist can move left out of the bike lane and take the traffic lane. 

bike lane.JPG

What should drivers and passengers do?

·      Look in the rearview and side mirrors before opening the car door slowly and with caution.

·      Open the vehicle door with the arm furthest from the door. This allows the body to turn and check for bicyclists over the shoulder before exiting the car. This is referred to as the “Dutch Reach.”

·      Open the door a little and look back up the road for bikes and other vehicles.

Image courtesy of Bikeyface, www.bikeyface.com

Image courtesy of Bikeyface, www.bikeyface.com