“SAFE RIDING REGULATIONS FOR BICYCLES” – Your Ticket To Stupid Laws

How many Ohio cyclists are familiar with their local “bike” ordinances? Can you find them? What do they say? What sort of crazy stuff is buried in there that, while never enforced, might come back to haunt you if you are involved in a crash.
Here’s an example – a rider in Pickerington is struck from behind by an elderly driver. A severe head injury results. The police report comes and says it was the CYCLIST’s fault.. why? Because he was riding on the road instead of the sidewalk and a local ordinance said cyclists must use sidewalks..
But… but… this can’t be right… state law says we can’t be forced off the road…

Very true. 4511.07 says that while municipalities retain the right to govern cycling local laws may not be “fundamentally inconsistent” with state traffic law… [“…provided that no such regulation shall be fundamentally inconsistent with the uniform rules of the road prescribed by this chapter and that no such regulation shall prohibit the use of bicycles on any public street or highway except as provided in section 4511.051 of the Revised Code …”]
But…
Municipalities can argue that the Ohio Constitution provides for “home rule” – meaning that local governments retain the power to govern locally – within their borders – “Home Rule” has been cited in many Ohio cases relative to challenges of many different types of laws. In one case, the Ohio Supreme Court held that Cleveland could pass laws relative to tow truck operators even in the face of a state law that applied. A few months later our Supreme Court held that a city lacked the power to pass drilling/mining laws that were contrary to state law [the “Fracking” case]. Both of these cases wound through the courts for years, costing, I’m sure, six figures in legal fees to each side. Whether a municipality would fight that hard on a bike/traffic case remains to be seen.
In Pickerington, I was able to talk to the city law director, convince him that the local ordinance was contrary to state law and actually have the crash report amended to reflect this. The amendment allowed us to proceed on the civil claim and a policy limits settlement was obtained…
So what are you looking for in your local ordinances?
Here’s a tip – look for these innocent-sounding words “SAFE RIDING REGULATIONS FOR BICYCLES
These words magically appear at the top of a “bicycle ordinance” in MANY small burgs throughout Ohio. Further, many of the “Safe Riding Regulations” passed in many of these little burgs  look remarkably the same – the same stupid rules – the same language –   lined up in the same order even.  Why?
Well…  it appears that in the 1970’s a very smart bookseller, American Legal Publishing Corp., developed and marketed a “book” of city ordinances for small cities, villages etc. They sold this book as a package of pre-written common city ordinances covering everything from sewers to city council meetings to zoning to traffic laws… and bicycles.
Some idiot at American Legal Publishing apparently wrote an ordinance entitled … you guessed it…”SAFE RIDING REGULATIONS FOR BICYCLES.” This little bit of stupid was included in every box of City Ordinances sold by American Legal Publishing. All a little town had to do was cut a check to American Legal Publishing, open the Box of Ordinances, hold a single city council meeting and vote to pass these babies into law …  and then… Voila – instant City Code –  No thinking required. After the 10 minute meeting they could all go out and have a beer.
These “regulations” include a host of horrible “rules” for bicycle operators including such favorites as the ones shown below – rules which are currently  ON THE BOOKS in the city of Monroe, Ohio and have been on the books since being passed in 1976  by the City Council of Monroe. [Note: my editorial comments are in parens]:

474.07. – Safe riding regulations for bicycles.
(a)
Whenever a designated usable path for bicycles has been provided adjacent to a street, bicycle riders shall use such path and shall not use the street. [MAGAS NOTES: : This is contrary to LONG HELD Ohio law that bicycles may use the roads in Ohio and that road riding may not be banned. This was reiterated in the 2006 amendments to Ohio law known as the Better Bicycling Bill.]
(b)
Whenever a person is riding a bicycle upon a sidewalk or street, such person shall yield the right of way to any pedestrian and shall give an audible signal before attempting to overtake and pass a pedestrian or another bicycle. This audible signal must be given only by bell or other warning device capable of giving an audible signal and shall be given at such a distance and in such a manner as not to startle the person being overtaken and passed. [MAGAS NOTES: : This section is contrary to and fundamentally inconsistent with Ohio law which requires cyclists to basically follow the same rules as motorists when driving on the roads. There is no duty to “yield” to “any pedestrian.” The “bell” requirement was done away with in 2006, but here’s the village of Monroe requiring bells…]
(c)
No person shall ride a bicycle across or through any intersection involving a through street. Such intersections are to be crossed by walking the bicycle across or through the intersection. [MAGAS NOTES: : This is just stupid. Stupid Stupid Stupid. What does it even mean? If you are on the road you are supposed to stop and walk through an intersection? If the intent is for cyclists to walk their bikes from sidewalk to sidewalk when crossing in a crosswalk, then yes, it makes more sense and it would be “legal” – but a cyclist with the right of way on the road has the right to proceed through intersections and a law which mandates that a cyclist give up the right of way, stop in the roadway when they HAVE the ROW and then walk across every intersection is just ludicrous]
(d)
Whenever a person is riding a bicycle upon a sidewalk, the person, before overtaking and passing a blind person carrying a white or metallic cane, shall dismount and overtake or pass on foot. [MAGAS NOTES: : While the wisdom of such an ordinance can be debated, governing the use of bicycles on sidewalk IS something cities can do however they want. They can allow it, ban it, limit it, set age limits, etc etc]
(e)
When a bicycle is operated on the street, the operator shall give hand signals before turning, changing lanes or stopping. Such signals shall conform with section 432.14. [MAGAS NOTES: : Again, inconsistent with state law. State law requires signals, but allows the signal to be avoided when both hands are needed to control the bike.]
(f)
Every rider of a bicycle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian or any vehicle upon any roadway, sidewalk or bicycle path, or endangering the life, limb or property of any person while in the lawful use of the streets, sidewalks or any other private or public property. [MAGAS NOTES: :  Again, cyclists are governed by traffic law. They have the same duties and responsibilities as motorists. They have a duty of care to not be negligent. However, if a cyclist has the right of way and someone negligently enters or interferes with that ROW and a crash ensues the cyclist cannot be said to have a duty to “avoid colliding” with such a person. This is dangerous language because it gives an insurer the ability to argue that the cyclist had some super human duty to avoid crashes which no other vehicle operator has…]
(g)
No person shall operate a bicycle at a speed greater than is reasonable and proper under the conditions then existing. [MAGAS NOTES: Speed limit laws govern this topic. An ordinance like this gives a city the opportunity to argue that, for example, 20 mph is too fast for ANY cyclist … or some other stupid thing…]
(h)
The operator of a bicycle emerging from or turning into an alley, driveway or building shall, upon approaching a sidewalk or the sidewalk area extending across any alley, driveway or building, yield the right of way to all pedestrians approaching on such sidewalk area. Upon entering the street, such operator shall yield the right of way to all vehicles approaching on such street. [MAGAS NOTES: This is not the rule of law. The rule is this: “The operator of a vehicle, streetcar, or trackless trolley intending to turn to the left within an intersection or into an alley, private road, or driveway shall yield the right of way to any vehicle, streetcar, or trackless trolley approaching from the opposite direction, whenever the approaching vehicle, streetcar, or trackless trolley is within the intersection or so close to the intersection, alley, private road, or driveway as to constitute an immediate hazard.”  There is a big difference between “approaching” and “so close…as to constitute an immediate hazard…”]
(i)
No person shall engage in trick riding or operate a bicycle without both hands upon the handle grips except when necessary to give the hand signals required herein. [MAGAS NOTES: This idea of “trick riding” is undefined and vague. While I’ve not seen this used much, it is certainly unusual in “the law.”]
(j)
No person shall operate a bicycle without due regard for the safety and rights of pedestrians and drivers and occupants of all other vehicles, and so as to endanger the life, limb or property of any person while in the lawful use of the streets or sidewalks or any other public or private property. [MAGAS NOTES: I can only wish ALL MOTORISTS were given the same instructions … the cyclist is governed by the Rules of the Road. These rules give her/him priority over other vehicle operators in some circumstances and require her/him to be subject to the superior right of way of other vehicle operators in other situations. Each encounter has to be analyzed in this fashion.]
(k)
No person shall operate a bicycle without exercising reasonable and ordinary control over such bicycle. [MAGAS NOTES: This is a common sense “rule” – I’m not exactly sure what it means – sort of a “reckless driving” rule for bicycle operators…]
(l)
No person shall operate a bicycle in a weaving or zigzag course unless such irregular course is necessary for safe operation in compliance with law. [MAGAS NOTES:  Again, this probably falls under the “reckless driving” standard.]
(Adopting Ordinance; Ord. 76-36. Passed 9-7-76.)

 What if you FIND these stupid rules in your local city code? What can/should you do?

First, I would get some advocacy groups involved-  there are a surprising number of local groups throughout Ohio such as Queen City Bikes in Cincinnati, Yay! Bikes in Columbus, Bike Cleveland.  There are many more throughout the state. These local groups can review the ordinances and develop a plan to work with the municipality to get them changed.

You should also contact the Ohio Bicycle Federation.  OBF is the statewide advocacy group [disclaimer: I am a long-time OBF Board member] and we have representatives from cycling communities all over the State.] OBF can review the ordinance and provide some expert guidance in how to approach the local powers that be. Sometimes all it takes is a phone call to the law director. Sometimes a full blown assault on City Council is needed. Sometimes the city wants to fight. You do NOT want to go into this fight alone – get all the help on your side you can muster up!
So before you take another ride, please CONSULT LOCAL LISTINGS and find out what sort of idiocy might be buried in YOUR little town [and every little town you might pass through when you ride!!]
This problem of inconsistent and stupid local laws on cycling  reached epidemic proportions in Ohio.  In 2006 the Ohio Bicycle Federation developed the Better Bicycling Bill, found a sponsor and got it introduced. Many of us testified in Columbus and watched as it passed, unanimously, on the very last day of the legislative session. The bill became law… “fundamentally inconsistent” local bike laws were outlawed… yet, the problem still remains “on the books” in many places.

In bigger counties, like Cuyahoga and Hamilton, there might be 50-75 “governing bodies” capable of passing local city ordinances. Fred Oswald, a long-time OBF Board member, took on the task of “grading” the local laws in cities surrounding Cleveland… his [very depressing] findings can be found here, although they have not been updated in some time…Fred graded cities on the A-F standard… and his grades range from A to F-Minus!Good Riding and Stay Safe!

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© 2017.

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