According to the Salina Journal, “the Kansas Highway Patrol released a review” of bicycle laws, which the paper reprinted.
Unfortunately, the laws, as quoted, appear to be inaccurate and incomplete.
Two points, in particular:
Proper Lane Position
The paper says: “A bicycle rider shall ride as near to the right side of the road as practicable, except when passing, turning left or avoiding other obstacles.”
This is inaccurate, or at best, incomplete.
The actual Kansas Bicycling Laws read:
8-1590a – Every person operating a bicycle or a moped upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable, except under any of the following situations when: (1) Overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction; (2) preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway; or (3) reasonably necessary to avoid conditions including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, parked or moving bicycles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards or narrow width lanes that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand edge of the roadway.
In other words, bicyclists don’t need to operate “as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable” when moving at about the same speed as traffic, or when a lane is too narrow to safely share (among other exceptions). This is a very important safety clause, and getting this wrong leads to all sorts of unsafe behavior from both motorists and bicyclists.
In practice, any lane less than 14 feet in width is considered to be a “narrow width lane”, and bicyclists may ride further from the right edge in order to maximize their own safety, and the safety of passing traffic, by encouraging that traffic to fully change lanes to pass.
Bicyclists who miss this point may drive too far to the right, and invite motorists to illegally “split the lane” by attempting to squeeze between a gutter-hugging bicyclist and oncoming (or adjacent) traffic.
Motorists who misunderstand this law may think that bicyclists can never stray from the right edge of the roadway, and may attempt to bully law-abiding bicyclists into an unsafe lane position.
Kansas’ Ineffectual Mandatory Sidepath Law
Another misleading part of the laws quoted by the Salina Journal is “Wherever an adjacent bike path is available, bicycle riders are to stay off the road.”
First, that is inaccurate. The actual law (8-1590d) reads: “Wherever a usable path for bicycles has been provided adjacent to a roadway, bicycle riders shall use such path and shall not use the roadway.”
A “usable path for bicycles” is not equivalent to a “bike path”.
Second, Kansas courts have, rightfully, interpreted this to mean that “a useable path for bicycles” must be dedicated exclusively to bicycles.
A “bike path” (which typically allows pedestrians, roller skaters, skateboarders, as well as bikes) does not qualify. Nor does a bike lane, since that’s part of the roadway and is not adjacent to a roadway. Nor does a sidewalk. Nor does a shoulder, since that’s not exclusively for bicycles. There are, in practice, no sidepaths in the state of Kansas that qualify, and so this law is, effectively, useless.
Again, misunderstanding the law leads to unsafe behavior.
Bicyclists who don’t understand this law think may the are required to use sidewalks or bike paths, which can be much more hazardous than traveling on a roadway.
Motorists who are mislead by this obsolete statute may, again, try to bully bicyclists off the road and onto less-safe facilities.
Why Print Inaccurate Information?
Let’s assume that this article is an honest and genuine attempt to educate the public about bicycling laws. That would be a good thing, indeed.
But if that’s the case, then why not quote the laws accurately? Why would the Salina Post and the Kansas Highway Patrol spread misinformation?
The risk is that, as written (and it’s not clear whether the wording came from the newspaper or the KHP), the article may encourage more dangerous behavior from both motorists and bicyclists.
(Coincidence or not, it may not be surprising that the Salina Post is the same newspaper that recently published a despicable editorial that told bicyclists “You’re not training for the Olympics” and “stay off county roads”: Responding to Ignorance.)
A Better Approach?
Perhaps it would have been better if the article had also quoted the Kansas Driving Handbook:
Remember: A bicycle or motorcycle in a traffic lane is entitled to the full use of that lane. Do not drive in a manner that will deprive the cyclist of full use of his lane.
Motorists in Kansas should expect to encounter bicyclists on all state and local roadways except for the Interstate system where bicyclists are prohibited or where prohibited by local ordinance. Please be considerate of bicyclists who have rights to the roadway.
A competing newspaper, the Salina Post, also published a summation of the KHP press release (KHP Shares Rules Of Road For Bicycles And Vehicles), which contains similar inaccurate summations, but they did at least post the Kansas bicycling laws in full.
Every roadway user is responsible for knowing and following the rules of the road and the laws of the state of Kansas. It would be helpful if our media, and law enforcement, helped educate, rather than misinform…
Obviously, the standard “I am not a lawyer” disclaimer applies. If you have specific questions about Kansas bicycling laws, please contact a your local city attorney or law enforcement personnel for clarifications.