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Doug Landau
Doug Landau
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Bikes in the crosswalk; are they safe on the path ?

4 comments

Virginia boasts over 500 miles of trails for biking, hiking, running and generally use that are part of the national Rails to Trails Conservancy program. These are often beautiful trails running through some of the most scenic parts of our state and are popular not only for recreation but for commuting as well. Trails that are dedicated to cyclists and pedestrians are great for improving bicycle safety, but it is of course impossible to eliminate all interaction with normal traffic. And sometimes when the trail crosses a normal street or roadway, it isn’t clear what the legal obligations of the cyclist are.

What happens when there is no light or other traffic control signal? Can the biker use the crosswalk? Must the biker leave the safety of the path and go to one of the corners? And then what happens when a biker must share a crosswalk with a pedestrian? Knowing what to do in each of these situations is a key part of bicycle safety.

First, it is important to understand that under Virginia law, bicyclists are treated as motor vehicles and NOT as pedestrians. This means that as a general rule, a cyclist must obey all signs, signals and laws that apply to regular motor vehicles. So when a bike trail intersects with a roadway, the cyclist should behave as a motorist would in that situation—following all traffic signs and indicators if there are any. This also means that bicyclists should yield to pedestrians whenever their paths might cross—including on sidewalks and in crosswalks.

When a lack of signs and signals makes it unclear how a bicyclist should behave in crossing a roadway using a pedestrian crosswalk may seem like a good option. Whether a bicyclist can use a crosswalk will depend on local ordinances in the particular city or county where the trail is located. Virginia law states that any county, city or town can prohibit individuals from riding a bicycle on a sidewalk or in a crosswalk. If this activity is in fact prohibited, then signs should be posted. What this means is that a bicyclist who wants to use a crosswalk, would have to get off the bike and walk it across the street before starting to ride again. In some cities and counties, riding a bike through a cross walk is perfectly fine; although the cyclist should yield to any pedestrians. If there is no sign posted, and you’re unsure of what to do, walking your bike across the street is always a safe option; this way you stop being treated like a motorist and become a pedestrian until you once again start cycling.

4 Comments

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  1. Bruce Wright says:
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    You say that “First, it is important to understand that under Virginia law, bicyclists are treated as motor vehicles and NOT as pedestrians.” I don’t believe that’s what the law states.

    According to the Definitions (46.2-100), under “Motor vehicle” it explicitly states that we are not to be considered motor vehicles:

    “For the purposes of this title, any device herein defined as a bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, electric power-assisted bicycle, or moped shall be deemed not to be a motor vehicle.”

    The Definitions go on to state, under “Vehicle,” that bicycles are considered to be “vehicles” (not motor vehicles) “… while operated on a highway,” It explicitly states only on a highway, not on a trail:

    “For the purposes of Chapter 8 (ยง 46.2-800 et seq.) of this title, bicycles, electric personal assistive mobility devices, electric power-assisted bicycles, and mopeds shall be vehicles while operated on a highway.”

    According to Chapter 8, people riding bicycles on a highway “shall have all of the rights and duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle.” So we are “drivers” of vehicles while riding on the highway.

    Saying that “under Virginia law, bicyclists are treated as motor vehicles and NOT as pedestrians.” seems to be incorrect in another aspect; VA law (46.2-904) clearly states that people riding bicycles on a trail are treated as pedestrians:

    “A person riding a bicycle, … on a sidewalk, shared-use path, or across a roadway on a crosswalk, shall have all the rights and duties of a pedestrian under the same circumstances.”

    I believe police have a view more similar to what you’ve stated, but I think it’s an incorrect interpretation of VA law.

  2. Allen Muchnick says:
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    Bruce Wright is correct: under the Code of Virginia, bicyclists are considered drivers of vehicles (NOT “motor vehicles” or “drivers of motor vehicles”) when traveling on roadways and pedestrians when traveling on sidewalks and paths.

    Because bicycles are NOT motor vehicles, bicyclists can lawfully ride on sidewalks and paths, unless such bicycling is prohibited by a local ordinance.

    When a bicyclist lawfully riding on a sidewalk or path arrives at a road crossing, the bicyclist may lawfully ride through the crosswalk, whether or not the crosswalk is marked.

    In short, the rights and responsibilities of bicyclists in Virginia–as set forth in the Code of Virginia–are relatively straightforward, although the misinterpretation of these plainly written statutes by so-called authorities continues to generate confusion and undermine bicyclists’ rights and safety.

  3. Doug Landau says:
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    You are BOTH correct ! We surveyed police and they were split 3 ways on the law ! In other words, even law enforcement officers could not agree on what was the applicable law for bikers traveling on “shared use” bike paths; should they dismount, stop, stay in their saddle…? In fact, police in Northern Virginia have ticketed bicyclists for staying on their bikes while proceeding through a “shared use path” NOT at an intersection, where there is no light, sign to stop, or other traffic control device ! Even bicycle cops could not agree on the law here. It will take education on all levels, which is why I wanted to see what my post would generate in the way of comments, since the wording of the law, and the execution of it, seem so at odds with one another. It should be simple. If the path is regulated by a light or sign, you must obey the light or sign. If it is not regulated, then, if it is safe to go, you can go – once into the crosswalk you should have the right of way, whether you are on foot, roller blades, manual or motorized wheelchair, skateboard or bicycle.

  4. Allen Muchnick says:
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    Unfortunately, police in Virginia receive little–if any–training on bicycling and pedestrian laws, and the Code of Virginia is ambiguous regarding the rights of pedestrians (and hence bicyclists lawfully using sidewalks or paths) at crosswalks.

    To complicate matters further, 1) the stop signs and other traffic control devices found along shared-use paths may have been installed by a park agency or property owner and not by the authority (e.g., VDOT or the local public works department which employ professional traffic engineers) that controls the cross street and is authorized and professionally qualified to erect such signs, and 2) such stops signs are sometimes mistakenly installed at trail crossings controlled by a traffic signal.

    Two facts, however, are clear: the Code of Virginia does NOT require bicyclists to either 1) put a foot down on the pavement when obeying a stop sign or 2) to dismount before crossing a road when lawfully traveling on a sidewalk or path.