Hello fellow cyclists. My name is Brandon Cogswell. I'm a lawyer with Burton Law LLC, a technologically advanced virtual law practice with attorneys in Washington, D.C., Ohio and North Carolina. I practice in D.C. and hope to contribute to DC Paceline in the future about cycling and the law in the D.C., Virginia and Maryland metro area. I ride bikes on The Bike Rack Multisport Team and The Bike Rack Road Team so these posts might have a racy, bikes for competition, feel but the information applies to everyone who rides a bike in the Metro area.
Cyclists in the Metro Area need to be familiar with bike laws in three States (yea, I know D.C. isn't a state) since riding takes us all over the region. All three states, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, are cycle friendly and the bike laws tend to reflect that. The problem is law enforcement and other drivers who might not pay attention to biking laws. I also recognize that there are a lot of cyclists out there who are frustrating to drivers and admit being a frustrating cyclist from time to time. I'm sorry.
1. Bikes and Traffic Laws: You are a Part of Traffic and Must Obey All Traffic Rules
Cyclists have the same rights and the same duties as if they were driving a vehicle in Virginia, Maryland and D.C. Take Haines Point in D.C. for example. Locals will know it as a lightly trafficked loop perfect for interval training or to get in some easy spinning. Locals also know it as the location of D.C.'s stop sign controversy of 2012. Police officers were citing bicyclists for not coming to a complete stop at the intersection of Buckeye Dr. and Ohio Dr. Yes, cyclist do have to come to a stop at stop signs. They also have to obey the speed limit, so I guess policing the stop sign is a fair trade off.
With the controversy that surround the only enforced Haines Point stop sign I've decided to mention how "stop" is defined according to the DC Municipal Regulations. Stopping is the complete cessation of movement. There is no legal requirement to unpedal and put your foot on the ground. Law enforcement might disagree but that's a topic for a future post.
2. Riding Two Abreast
Almost every weekend shop ride heads into Maryland via MacArthur Boulevard. In the summer these rides get very large and typically ride two abreast. Riding two abreast is permitted in D.C., Maryland and Virginia provided you do not impede the normal and reasonable flow of traffic.
3. Riding at the Right Side of the Road
Generally, you have to ride as close as safely practicable to the right of the road. After that, Virginia and Maryland have set out circumstances when its specifically ok to move away from the right. And, of course, there is the key "as safe as practicable" which puts the responsibility squarely on the cyclist to determine what is safe. Road tires are narrow and skinny and there are many cracks and hazards on the side of the road. Use good judgment.
Virginia and Maryland have specific instances when it's ok to stray from the right and they are: (1) when overtaking and passing another vehicle; (2) When preparing for a left turn at an intersection; (3) When necessary to avoid hazardous conditions; (4) when avoiding riding in a right turn lane and (5) when riding on a one way road. Plus, in Maryland, feel free to ride anywhere on the road if the road is so narrow that a vehicle and a bike cannot ride side by side safely.
D.C. does not require riding on the right side of the road instead putting a lot of faith in cyclists' sense of self preservation. Simply, cyclists must operate "a bike in a safe and non-hazrdous manner so as not to endanger himself or herself or any other person." They can only overtake and pass another vehicle if the conditions permit passing with safety. But they can pass on the left or the right, can change lanes, stay in the same lane or ride off the road in order to pass with safety. If a given lane is partially occupied by stopped, standing or parked vehicles a cyclist can ride in either that lane or in the next lane that's used by vehicles traveling in the same direction (no left of center).
Code of DC Municipal Regulations 18-1200, et seq.
Annotated Code of Maryland 21-1201, et seq.
Virginia Code Annotated 46.2-903, et seq.