Commuting 101: So sayeth the law (part 2)

Last week we continued our look at Commuting 101 with the first part of Columbus's traffic code and the biking rules and regulations in it.

Today we'll continue that, with a look at where you can ride, signal devices required by law, right of way and reckless operation, and more.

First, let's reiterate that the entire text of the Columbus Traffic Code is available online for you to read, and it's highly suggested that you do.

We're fortunate in Columbus that our right to take the lane is spelled out very clearly in section 2173.04.  It begins by pointing out that bicyclists should ride as far to the right as is practicable, and reiterates that we should operate in accordance with the same laws as motorists in their cars.

It also mentions that cyclists are allowed to ride two-abreast (two cyclists riding side-by-side in one lane) on standard road lanes.  This does not necessarily apply on paths and bike  lanes where the rules may be different depending on the size of the lane or path and other rules for those paths.

Here's the really important part, and because it's so important we're going to quote it right here:
This section does not require a person operating a bicycle to ride at the edge of the roadway or within a marked bike lane when it is unreasonable or unsafe to do so. Conditions that may require riding away from the edge of the roadway or outside of a marked bike lane 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.
As was so ably pointed out and confirmed in the recent "Take the Lane" court case, we as cyclists don't have to constantly hug the right side of the lane.  We can ride out as far as we think we need to in order to ride safely.  And we can do it any time we don't think there's enough room to share a lane with a car safely.

Columbus is very lucky to have this written directly into the traffic code.  Many other communities wish that they had such verbiage in their traffic code.

Let's continue now.  Section 2173.05 sets out the types of lights and brakes you must have your bike. We pointed out earlier in this Commuting 101 series the types of lights we recommend to conform to the Columbus code. But it bears repeating.  Cyclists need:
  • A white front headlight, visible from 500 feet in front of, and 300 feet to either side of that point.  Generator-powered lights that only operate while the wheels are turning fill this requirement.  
  • A rear reflector - visible from 100 to 600 feet behind your bike.  
  • A rear flashing or steady red light, visible from 500 feet behind your bike.  
  • If your rear light is also a reflector when not operating, that fulfills this requirement.  
Any other additional lights are acceptable as well, with the only exceptions being that white lights may not be attached to the rear of your bike and red lights to the front - obviously to keep confusion by other road operators to a minimum!  These lights are to be used during night and twilight hours as well as in the rain or fog - any time visibility is not at a normal level.  And that just makes good sense for your own safety on the road as well!

Your bike may have a signaling device such as a horn or bell, but you can't use a siren or whistle - to make sure you're not being mistaken for a police officer.  It's not required, though.

And naturally, your bike needs to have functioning brakes.  Fixie riders, take note!

Moving on, we come to some right-of-way concerns in section 2173.07.  This section discusses the interactions between younger riders on a sidewalk, or any rider on a road or bike path, and pedestrians.  At all times, right-of-way is to be given to pedestrians (which is consistent with motorists' requirements as well - pedestrians always have the right of way in Columbus).  And any time you're overtaking a pedestrian, you must give an audible signal.  Your bell or horn are adequate, as is a simple "Passing on your left" call before you get to the pedestrian.  Take care around pedestrians, please, for your safety and theirs!

Notable in this section, of course, are these two statements:  "this section does not require a person operating a bicycle to ride on the right side of the roadway when it is unreasonable or unsafe to do so," and "nothing in this section requires a bicycle operator to use a marked bike lane."

That's right - you are not required to ride in a bike lane if you so desire.  They're there if you want to use them.

Related to this section is the next, section 2173.08, about reckless riding.  Under all circumstances, keep your bike under control and don't ride recklessly!  And keep one hand on your handlebars at all times.  Keep  your speed under control, too.

Section 2173.09 states that you must keep your bike out of the way of pedestrians and cars when you park it - whether on the sidewalk or in a roadway.  This is also just considerate and will keep your bike from getting damaged!

Section 2173.10 states a very important fact:  you may not ride your bike on the sidewalk, unless you're a kid.  We covered this in the previous post as well.  But, if a sidewalk is designated as part of a multi-use path, then feel free to ride there (keeping in mind the pedestrian right-of-way, of course!).

The next section, 2173.105, states that motor vehicles (other than city maintenance vehicles) may not ride on the sidewalks or multi-use paths.  And, more importantly, motor vehicles aren't allowed in bike lanes, except when loading or unloading passengers and/or freight, pulling into a parking space on the opposite side of a bike lane, or merging into a bike lane in order to turn right (which is the proper method of operating at an intersection with a bike lane!).

Section 2173.11 states that bikes can be impounded for violations, and sets out the rules surrounding that. Keep your nose clean.

The next section, 2173.12, talks about bike crossings and roads.  If a bike crossing is not protected by a stop sign or light on a road, the cyclist must stop and wait for other vehicles to clear the road before they proceed across.  You see this occasionally in Columbus on the southern section of the Olentangy River Multi-Use path, for example.

The final section of the Columbus traffic code, 2173.13, addresses motorized bicycles (which are defined in section 2101.195).  It's got a lot of references to State of Ohio code 4511.521, so it's recommended you check that out, too. Basically, it helps define the proper users of motorized bicycles, (14- or 15-year olds with motorized bicycle permits or anyone with a driver's license) and how they should be equipped (helmet with chin strap, rear-view mirror).  It also states that they should be operated with three feet of a roadway's right side when practicable - probably taking into account the same rules as 2173.04, above.

So that's the law.  It's pretty simple, and is very favorable to bicyclists and their safety.  Follow these rules and you shouldn't have any problems riding your bike safely and effectively on our city streets and paths!
For more info: Columbus Traffic Code
People, not speed.


  1. I believe in Australia it is the law to have a bell on your bike. $57 fine if you dont. Does not seem to be enforced so much. There's a good story about this at blog.

  2. That's interesting! I'd heard that there were some laws put in place in Melbourne that many cyclists thought were just ways to make some money off "them darned scofflaw cyclists." This sounds like one of them.


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