WTOP radio aired a news story last week that made an astonishingly incorrect statement about bicycling laws in Maryland, Virginia and D.C.:
D.C., Maryland and Virginia law states bicyclists can ride the center of the travel lane only if they’re going the speed limit.
Even worse, it attributed this assertion (with respect to Maryland) to the Montgomery County Police Department and said bike advocates are wrong on the point.
“Cyclists can’t necessarily always go as fast as traffic, but the law does give cyclists the right to use the road,” says [WABA Executive Director Shane] Farthing. But Montgomery County Police Lt. Bob McCullough, deputy director of the traffic division, says that’s not the case. Slow-moving bikes need to move to the right-hand side of the roadway particularly “when they reach a point that they are impeding traffic.”
I’m fairly confident that the police are aware of the law and that the reporter failed to paraphrase the lieutenant correctly. Despite sometimes using terms like “impeding traffic”, MCPD has shown better understanding than this.
I replied to WTOP with this letter:
To WTOP Radio:
The recent WTOP news story, “Drivers, bicyclists relationship must be a 2-way street” is grossly incorrect in its description of what cyclists are permitted to do under Maryland law (as well as Virginia and D.C. law). Maryland law does not state, to quote the article, that “bicyclists can ride the center of the travel lane only if they’re going the speed limit.” The law allows cyclists to ride in the center of the lane in many more situations, because the right edge of a lane is often the most dangerous place to ride according to the Maryland Driver’s Manual. For example, riders are allowed and advised to ride in the center of the lane when the lane is too narrow for the cyclist and driver to travel side-by-side within the lane. That’s because keeping right in a narrow lane invites drivers to try to squeeze by in the same lane instead of changing lanes to pass or waiting for a safer place to pass. Cyclists may also ride in the center of the lane if there could be pavement hazards (which drivers often can’t see), if there are cars parked to the right, if it’s a one-way street, and many other conditions. Laws in Virginia and D.C. are similar.
The Montgomery County Police Department has taken the time to work with the cycling community on this and other issues, so I’m confident the department knows the law. Nowhere in the story is Lt. McCullough directly quoted as saying that cyclists must always move to the right. Let’s not put words in MCPD’s mouth and perpetuate the dangerous myth that cyclists have to move over if they’re not as fast as cars. I would like to see a follow-up story that corrects this piece of misinformation. Thank you.
I hate it when news organizations misstate the law. It’s simply irresponsible.