Sunday, 15 January 2012


The above map gives a general overview of the situation. A much
better and more detailed examination of US bike laws is available at
Bicycle Law Reform

As we look at the map of the US as it stands at the beginning of 2012, we can see that, over the last century, cyclists' freedom to ride on US roads has been, to a large extent, undermined in 46 of the 50 states. 18 states have oppressive laws requiring slower vehicles to operate as far right as practicable and for cyclists to use bike lanes, paths or shoulders where such facilities exist. Another 28 states require slower vehicles to operate far to the right. These laws effectively prevent proper and safe access to the road: they increase the chances of turning conflicts at intersections by forcing cyclists to the side of the road (or off the road altogether), which makes us less visible and therefore more vulnerable to collisions.

Alaska is arguably the least bike-friendly state in the union in terms of road access, due to its oppressive state laws. This state not only requires cyclists to ride far to the right, but also requires cyclists to give way to motorists when the motorist honks at them! Effectively, Alaska legalizes road rage against cyclists. Alaskans who choose to cycle are also required to use a shoulder where one exists. One suspects that the only reason cyclists are not required to use bike paths or bike lanes is that Alaska is so oppressive to cyclists that no one in government believes cyclists would ever attempt to ride on the road if a 'friendlier' alternative exists. In Alaska, cyclists are third class citizens (and only barely that) on the road.

Idaho, often given good markings by bicycle advocates thanks to its reverse-discriminatory 'Stop as Yield' law, receives only an amber rating here, due to its 'far to the right' law.

Colorado is also often cited as a bicycle friendly state. I don't see it that way, since it has a 'far to the right' law. Also, the cycling ban in Black Hawk is rightly regarded as an embarrassment to the state.

On the other side of the equation, only four states (Indiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Pennsylvania) and the District of Columbia have no seriously oppressive or discriminatory laws.

Indiana: Other than limitations on riding two-abreast, road usage law is no different to that which applies to motorists. This state has to be seen as the least oppressive of any in the Union.

Massachusetts: The most recent law passed in Massachusetts covering cycling was the 2008 Bicyclist Safety Bill. This law allowed cyclists to ride two abreast, repealed bicycle registration and mandated police training in bicycle related laws. The only other Massachusetts law that affects cyclists right to the road is the law that states that cyclists may overtake on the right - this is effectively reverse discrimination, since it seems to be beneficial, but it actually reduces cyclist safety by making us more open to intersection conflicts and dooring. Still, Massachusetts cyclists are not 'forced' to overtake on the right.

District of Columbia: DC has the same reverse discrimination as Massachusetts, allowing cyclists to overtake on the right. Other than that, DC cyclists are unencumbered by discrimination under the law.

North Carolina and Pennsylvania also offer no seriously discriminatory laws, although their statutes regarding slower vehicles staying right must be seen, in practical application, as being unfairly biased against cyclists, since, in many cases, cyclists cannot travel as fast as motor vehicles, yet they often have a need to control the lane that is made illegal by such statutes.

Still, these are just a few small islands in a sea of red and amber. As such, these states can be seen as the last bastions of cycling freedom, and are illustrative of how far cycling rights have been eroded in this country due to motorist pressure to get us off 'their' roads, due to the apathy of government, and due to poor leadership and corruption in cycling organizations like the League of American Bicyclists. To see how bad things have become, we need only consider that in the 1890s, the map of the US was a sea of green. Cyclists have fought to retain their rights all the way, but we are a long way from those heady days when cyclists, who effectively pioneered transportation law, successfully lobbied for good roads.

The League of American Bicyclists can be seen in some ways as being complicit in the marginalization of American cycling. In pursuing a single-minded and myopic strategy of advocacy for off-road infrastructure and on-road bicycle lanes, the League has effectively given up on supporting road cycling. Last year the League granted Alaska 29th place on its Bicycle Friendly America map. When a state as cycling-unfriendly as Alaska achieves an average grade, one has to wonder what the League's criteria are for 'bike friendly status'. But it's not a huge secret - the League is very open about the fact that its focus is on bike lanes and bikeways. The League's criteria for a bike friendly state show clearly that cyclists' rights to the road are a minor consideration.

The League, by the way, lists Washington - a state which requires cyclists to position themselves far to the right while using the road - as No.1 in bike friendliness.

The lowest point in the League's history has to be in 2010, when in Texas, the League failed to support Reed Bates, a cyclist who, as far as I can see, broke no traffic law. Prosecutors initially floundered about what violation to charge him with, but the eventual result was that Reed Bates ended up serving 18 days in jail. The League, which claims it exists to protect cyclist’s rights, does not seem to believe in protecting the rights of cyclists to the road.

It should also be noted that the US legal system itself tends to favor the motorist when accidents occur. Typical is the story of Nathan Krasnopoler, a Maryland cyclist and sophomore at Johns Hopkins University, who was struck in February 2011 while in a bike lane, and who eventually died after spending six months in a coma. At first, police didn't even charge the driver and said they did not expect to, though eventually charges were filed and Nathan's killer was convicted of negligent driving and failure to yield. She was fined $220 - the price of a pair of shoes. And that's when the law is (grudgingly) observed by police and the courts. Often in such cases, police don't even mount an investigation and many drivers who seriously injure or kill cyclists are not even charged. Many times, cyclists are charged with failure to yield when the driver who hit them was clearly at fault. In some cases, cyclists are even charged with nonexistent laws.

Added to this, the Federal Highway Administration, the US Department of Transportation and state and local authorities that implement road infrastructure cannot be seen to be blameless in the marginalization of cycling in the US, as these organizations seem to have an uncanny ability to install dangerous, if not deadly, bicycle-specific infrastructure. Many, if not most, transportation engineers who design cycling infrastructure, and many of the government officials who oversee and approve bicycle facilities, do not commute by bicycle and may never have ridden a bicycle since childhood. The FHA and DoT relate to cyclists in much the same way as the 19th Century 'Office of Indian Affairs' related to Native Americans - with condescension and (when criticized) with indignation - FHA and DoT are organizations of drivers, run by drivers, for drivers. As such, even though they are tasked with doing so, they cannot adequately serve the needs of cyclists and even if they could, it is by no means certain that they would want to.

What does the future hold for cyclists? In my view, cycling will only become popular enough to radically change road culture in this country if a large proportion of drivers give up driving and start cycling. Despite the optimism of bicycle infrastructure advocates and their blind belief in the ability of cycling facilities to attract non-cyclists to cycle, I don't think a quantum leap in cycling is likely anytime soon. One ray of hope is the price of gasoline, which has risen steadily in recent years and which will probably continue to rise unless the economy is completely in the tank. If the world is at the peak of world oil production, as many knowledgeable observers seem to suggest, and if the situation in the Middle-east deteriorates still further, as seems likely, the monetary cost of driving will rise to heights not seen since 2008. As prices rise and more and more people choose their bicycles for local travel, we may see a resurgence of bicycle culture in the US. More likely, though, motorists will allow their cars to drive them into bankruptcy, and will still continue to drive, either until they can no longer afford to buy even a drop of gasoline, or until their car keys are taken from their cold, dead hands. The US has been a culture that has worshipped the car since the 1920s - people will not give up their automobiles until they simply cannot afford to run them anymore - and even in the most dire projections of the peak oil devotees, that time is a long way off.

So what do we do in the face of such seemingly insurmountable odds? We do what we always do - we continue to cycle on the road and defend our right to do so. We do this even in the face of motorist anger, government incompetence, the corruption of bicycle advocacy groups, and the misunderstanding of our fellow cyclists. We do it because however bleak the situation gets, we know that we will win in the end. Unlike the automobile, the vehicle we choose isn't dependent upon fossil fuels. The bicycle was here before the automobile and it will be here long after the automobile has gone the way of the Dodo.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.



  1. I thought Mississippi added an FTR law with their 3ft law a couple years ago. NC doesn't have an FTR law. Neither does PA, unless the bill with the safe passing provision passed.

    1. Yes, they made cyclists vastly inferior under the "John Paul Frerer Act", in order to "protect us". Because of this act, a prominent business-woman was ran over, twice, by a motorist who was not charged. Even though she got out of her car, saw the victim, got back in and ran over the victim again! It took bystanders' intervention to stop the perpetrator. But under MS state law, she didn't do anything wrong!

    2. She ran over her TWICE? Dear God!

  2. Just checked on Mississippi. You're right. Apparently, Mississippi DoT didn't consider it necessary to update their website after the law passed, LOL. Ouch! That's a big amendment to make, LOL. Looks like I might have to do a big rewrite.

    North Carolina and Pennsylvania do have FTR laws: "Upon all highways any vehicle proceeding at less than the legal maximum speed limit shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for thru traffic, or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the highway, except when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when preparing for a left turn." - in some ways, these laws are not as bad as other states, but they are FTR laws and, more importantly, could easily be interpreted as mandating FTR cycling by police and courts. Bexcause of this, and because of the fact that police often misinterpret such laws, any FTR law meets the criterion for getting an amber on the map.

  3. Ian,
    Check your FB profile. I sent you a message I think you will find interesting.

    BTW, a non-discriminatory slow vehicle law with a FTR clause for all driver on unlaned roads is NOT the same as a discriminatory bicyclist only FTR law on all roads. Please see this article for details:

  4. Amended. I'll be glad to hear of any other mistakes I might have made. I do feel a little bit bad about PA and NC and I did think about the issue carefully before making up my mind - the FTR law, on its face, applies to all vehicles equally, but in practice, it's a law that can only apply to cyclists - after all, what tractor or horse and cart can travel 'as close as practicable to the right hand side of the roadway'? As I see it, it's language that was put into the law purely to address cyclists.

    1. On 2-lane roads, it's commonly-accepted practice for the drivers of slow vehicles to facilitate passing by faster vehicles when it is safe to do so. Where I grew up in PA, that was certainly practiced by the drivers of farm equipment and buggies. When climbing hills, I see buggies using the right half of the lane, rather than the center.

      Interpretation can be discriminatory when enforcers do not recognize that a balanced vehicle with an exposed driver needs more than the width of his body to operate safely. But in my experience, those who wish to discriminate against bicyclists are perfectly capable of making up their own imaginary laws (as Eli Damon).

      I'm not sure the law itself was specifically aimed at bicyclists, so much as anything slow in the culture of speed that was becoming predominant at the time such laws were enacted.

      I agree that mandating courteous behavior has a discriminatory feel to it. I think laws should stick to reinforcing principles of safety, not implying that the right of speed is more important than the safety or convenience of slower road users.

      The reason I wouldn't consider those statutes are discriminatory against cyclists is, if there is more than one lane, slow vehicles are entitled to the full lane with no distinction about vehicle type or lane width. Bicycle-specific FTR laws mandate bicyclists to ride to the far right in the right lane (with exceptions), even when there are other lanes available to pass.

    2. Sorry - I somehow missed your reply and it's been sitting in the moderator box for days. I really need to figure out how this site's blog tools work, LOL.

  5. Ian,

    We in NC believe our FTR law allows slow operators full use of the right hand thru lane when lanes are striped, and we have succeeded in developing and promoting police training based on this interpretation. The law is not bicycle-specific and pre-dates legislative interest in bicycles. However, it is 100% correct that the language of the law is vague enough that it can be interpreted by police and judges to cyclists' detriment, and is often interpreted that way.

    1. I agree - the law is not bicycle specific. After discussing this with Dan and looking into my motives in making the decision to list NC as I did, and my motives for keeping the map the way it is, my overall concern, I think, is safety.

      When there's a statute that codifies operating a vehicle far to the right, cyclists specifically are endangered in ways that other vehicle operators are not, because bicycles are narrow vehicles and whenever operating to the right is encouraged, it results in lower visibility and a potential reduction in safety for cyclists due to turning conflicts at intersections and due to the potential for unsafe passes in the lane.

      It's great that police have been advised to be aware of the special needs of cyclists as they relate to this law, but my overriding concern is that the law places cyclists at risk simply because the language exists. It creates a potential for hazards due to both correct implementation and incorrect interpretation. It would be much better and clearer if the words "or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the highway" were simply removed.

      Because of this issue, I've clarified the article to change the focus away from 'discrimination' and towards 'oppression'. The language we're discussing in the NC law is not discriminatory, but I still hold that it is oppressive because it encourages cyclists to move to the right. We already have way too much pressure to keep far right - I think we need to remove as much pressure as possible.

  6. Handy map.

    Alabama's mandatory sidepath law is particularly special -- there are no exceptions spelled out. If your path is obstructed, under water, inhabited by trolls, etc, your're required to ride on it.

  7. As an FYI, Wisconsin's "ride as far right as is safe" is interpreted as valid *only* when the lane is wide enough to support both a car and a bicycle, with 3' clearance between the cyclist and the car. I believe that the generally accepted width is 15' wide for a normal width lane (including shoulder), and narrower than that is "substandard width", which is often the case when there are no shoulders. For a substandard width lane, the Wisconsin DOT advises riding in the center of the lane.

    Basically if there's not room in the lane for a car to pass safely (including the mandatory 3' berth), you should take up the entire lane to prevent cars from trying to squeeze by you and inadvertently hit you.

    1. Every far to the right (FTR) law is vague and has to be interpreted - this is a big problem with these laws. When laws need to be interpreted on the fly by police officers who are not fully equipped to interpret them, they end up getting misinterpreted and people who have broken no law get arrested, charged, called to appear in court and perhaps even assaulted and jailed by officers of the law, simply because a badly written law has been misinterpreted. This is why we need to get rid of such vague terms as "ride as far right as is safe" (however benign such terms may seem) and replace them with clear wording that promotes safe and reasonable vehicle operation and which doesn't leave interpretation of the law up to individual police officers who might have a number of false beliefs about where cyclists should ride. Vague laws encourage false arrests, civil rights violations and the wasting of justice system resources.

      So in the map, I've made things as clear as possible - any FTR wording whatsoever gets the state that codifies such wording into law an automatic amber marking on the map. Any mandatory bike facility use (MBFU) law (which never appears without an FTR law) gets its state an automatic red marking. Again, my overriding concern is that these laws place cyclists at risk simply because the language exists. In my view, FTR and MBFU laws create hazards for cyclists due to both correct implementation and incorrect interpretation. It would be much better if all FTR and MBFU language was simply removed so that cyclists could choose their position on the road, just as other vehicle operators can.

  8. (posted on behalf of Fred Oswald)

    Your map is a very worthwhile resource. I hope that you will be able to keep it up to date.

    I undertook a similar project at This is an attempt to evaluate bicycle traffic laws in all 50 states, including a rating (on an A-F scale) for each. Unfortunately, I've gotten little help so only a few states have been rated and most of the ratings are ~5 years old. I've added a link to this map on

    This comment is partly an appeal for help. Your map and Biklelaws ratings are complimentary. The map gives a quick overview of the problem and Bikelaws has more details including how to correct problems.

    I agree with Dan G's comment that the standard "Slow Vehicle Law" that applies in a non-discriminatory way to all road users in not a problem. It is what I prefer to call the "Far Right Rule" that is bicycle-specific, discriminatory and contrary to safety.

    Pennsylvania has a novel version of their bicycle to the right rule that links to the standard SVL.

    In Ohio, we proposed a similar linkage for what became HB 389 of 2006 but the Highway Patrol objected. As a last-minute compromise, I proposed some language that softens the FRR. This is now § 4511.55(C) of the Ohio Revised Code:

    This section does not require a person operating a bicycle to ride at the
    edge of the roadway when it is unreasonable or unsafe to do so. Conditions that may require riding away from the edge of the roadway include when necessary to avoid fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, surface hazards, or if it otherwise is unsafe or impracticable to do so, including if the lane is too narrow for the bicycle and an overtaking vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.

    So while the Ohio FRR is bad, the added paragraph makes it less-bad.

    Another extremely important issue that you don't cover is uniform laws. Many states allow local "regulation of the operation of bicycles". Our 2006 reforms should have outlawed such local rules that conflict with state law. Unfortunately, some cities claim that because they have a state charter, they have the right to make their own rules. This is something we need to address.

    --- Fred Oswald

    1. I would love to help. Originally I intended the map only as a personal resource, but hopefully it can serve others as a sort of very general overview of bike laws, as you say.

  9. If I recall correctly, Washington DC does have a discriminatory FTR law and only allows bicyclists to control lanes that are 11 feet wide or narrower.

    1. It does, but I'm not even sure if DC has any roads with lanes wider than 11ft. Anyway, this is the same as other states that have FTR laws based on allowing cyclists to control substandard width lanes. DC merely codifies the width.

  10. I have updated the map, taken much of the advice in the comments and fixed a couple of errors.