We are approaching peak bicycle-riding season in Maine, and you have probably already started seeing more people of all ages riding bikes on the road for health, recreational, environmental and other reasons. Organized weekly group rides are already well underway. Soon there will also be large charity rides like the Trek Across Maine, the Millinocket Century and the Women’s Ride in Augusta bringing hundreds more riders onto our roads and dollars into our communities. And after this year’s rainy spring, any sunny day will bring the riders out in force!

At the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, we know that motorists can sometimes feel frustrated when they encounter people on bicycles riding within the traffic lane on a roadway, especially if they believe that cyclists should always ride to the far right. Bicycle riders frequently need to “control the lane” in order to avoid hazardous situations on the road’s edge or to navigate turns and protect themselves, and Maine law gives bicycle riders the right to choose what they consider to be a safe position as they ride.

Motorists can better understand what a bicyclist might be thinking with respect to where they are operating in a roadway by asking themselves the following questions:

• Is sharing the width of the travel lane with a bicycle rider in this location unsafe because of surface or other conditions?

• Is the width of the travel lane wide enough for  a bicycle and a motor vehicle to maintain at least 3 feet between them at all times?

• Are there hazards on the surface of the roadway – e.g. bad pavement, debris – that make it unsafe for the bicycle rider to stay on the far right?

• Is the bicycle rider approaching diagonal railroad tracks?

• Is the bicycle rider approaching or attempting to pass parked cars, delivery vehicles, pedestrians or other hazards?

• Is the bicycle rider setting up to make a left turn?

• Is the bicycle rider going straight at a location where right turns are permitted?

• Is the bicycle rider on a stretch of roadway where a pass is unsafe because of sight lines or other factors?

• Is the bicycle rider traveling the posted speed limit or the same speed as other traffic at that time and place?

If the answer is “yes” to any of the questions above, drivers should expect to see a bicycle rider (or multiple riders) operating in the middle of a traffic lane, as is permitted under Maine state law.

In general, when drivers encounter bicycle riders operating below the speed limit, they should treat the riders the way they would treat a slow-moving farm vehicle: Slow down, wait for a safe place to pass and pass only if there are good sight lines and no oncoming traffic. If bicyclists are traveling the posted speed limit, with the flow of traffic or are preparing to make a turn, do not attempt to pass.

Motor vehicle operators may not pass single bicycle riders or group rides unless it is safe to do so. Drivers must allow at least 3 feet between any part of their vehicle (including mirrors and trailers) and the bicycle riders they are passing. Drivers should never pass on blind corners or hills, or if there is oncoming traffic.

Regarding group rides, note that sometimes it is easier, safer and even faster for drivers to pass groups of riders when the riders are clustered together than when they are riding single file, which creates a much longer line of riders to pass. Remember, it is illegal to begin a pass that you do not know can be completed safely. Motorists should never enter the oncoming lane to pass unless it is clear of traffic.

Slowing down and waiting for a short period behind a bike rider or riders can save lives, prevent injuries and generally will have only a negligible effect on most motorists’ travel times. But most crashes, even small ones, result in substantial losses of time and money for everyone involved.

Finally, remember that the people you see riding alone or in groups are moms, dads, grandparents, siblings, students, professionals and community members. They are your neighbors and fellow citizens.  Let’s look out for each other this summer.


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