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In a first for the state of Missouri, the City of Ferguson, in North St. Louis County, has passed an ordinance giving a bicyclist the option of either controlling the curb lane or sharing it with a motorist. The ordinance, introduced by council members Mike Salant, Tim Larson, and Dwayne James, was passed by a 5-to-1 council vote on Tuesday, June 26, 2012, with Councilman Dwayne James being absent.

Councilwoman Kim Tihen, elected in April 2012, cast the lone opposing vote and was good enough to provide her reasons subsequently in an e-mail (please see below).

Mike Salant

Tim Larson

Dwayne T. James

Photos taken from the official City of Ferguson website

Prior to this change a bicyclist was required to “ride as near to the right side of the roadway as safe,” with some exceptions, including the undefined “when the lane is too narrow to share with another vehicle.”

This ordinance repeals what is commonly referred to as the “Far To the Right” (FTR) law which also exists at the state level, but state law doesn’t preempt action to repeal it by local jurisdictions, such as a city or county. The Missouri Bicycle Federation (MBF) adopted repeal of the state FTR law as a goal several years ago, at my urging, but has given it very low priority, so that the likelihood of a change in state law anytime soon is very remote.

The state FTR law is the only remaining highly discriminatory law affecting bicyclists using public roads and its local repeal by the City of Ferguson demonstrates real leadership, which other Missouri cities and counties should emulate.

Consideration by Ferguson of a change in the existing ordinance began in March of this year, after a Ferguson police officer pulled me over while I was controlling the 12 ft. wide curb lane on four-lane Florissant Rd. That incident, part of which was fortunately witnessed by Ms. Blue Tapp Schaffer, a leading Ferguson bicycle transportation advocate, led to my first blog on this subject on March 2, 2012, at https://thinkbicyclingblog.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/encouraging-police-cooperation-with-legal-bicyclists-on-narrow-multi-lane-roads/ followed by a meeting on March 12, 2012, at Ferguson City Hall with John Shaw, Ferguson City Manager, and Police Chief Tom Jackson.

The issue that became a sticking point at this meeting was wording in Ferguson’s existing FTR law concerning when a bicyclist could control the lane. The allowed exemption is “when the lane is too narrow to share with another vehicle but the problem was agreeing on what exactly that meant and City Manager John Shaw wanted something more definitive.

Ferguson Staff Discussions

Following the above meeting, John Shaw pursued the issue with other Ferguson City staff, exploring suitable language to adopt. Among those providing important input to these discussions was Elizabeth Simons, Live Well Ferguson Program Manager and a keen cyclist who uses her bike for transportation to get to work from the City of St. Louis, where she lives. She wrote me that she, Assistant City Manager, Pam Hylton, who handles Public Relations, and Chief Tom Jackson, all of whom are “avid cyclists,” met and approached it “from the point of view of both the cyclist and the driver of a motorized vehicle. We discussed the current state statute and how it’s interpreted. Then Chief Jackson worked with city attorney, Stephanie Karr, to draft language for an ordinance that clarified that cyclists may ride in the center of the [curb] lane.”

Elizabeth Simons providing basic instruction to children and their parents in downtown Ferguson on Saturday, June 30, 2012, prior to attending
a St. Louis Open Streets event.

Elizabeth Simons also prepared the following memorandum in support of the proposed ordinance:

“The goal of Live Well Ferguson is to increase cycling in Ferguson by 10% between 2010 and 2013.  The majority of available places to ride a bicycle in Ferguson are on roadways shared with motorized vehicles.  Sharing of roadways by cyclists and pedestrians should be in accordance with the City of Ferguson’s Complete Streets Ordinance that seeks to balance safety and convenience for all roadway users.

Missouri Statute 307.190 states that “Every person operating a bicycle or motorized bicycle at less than the posted speed or slower than the flow of traffic upon a street or highway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as safe, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction, except when making a left turn, when avoiding hazardous conditions, when the lane is too narrow to share with another vehicle or when on a one-way street. Bicyclists may ride abreast when not impeding other vehicles.”  This law is identical in language to Ferguson Ordinance #96-2809 in Section 44-364 of the City Code.

The 2009 Edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), a publication of the Federal Highway Administration, includes standardized sign R4-11 that indicates “Bicycle May Use Full Lane”.  Section 9B.06 of the 2009 MUTCD states that these regulatory “Bicycle May Use Full Lane” signs may be used on roadways where no bicycle lanes or adjacent shoulders usable by bicyclists are present and where travel lanes are too narrow for bicyclists and motor vehicles to operate side by side.

The 1999 American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities states that fourteen feet of usable lane width (the gutter pan should not be included as usable width) is the recommended width for shared use in a wide curb lane.  For cyclists and motorized vehicles to share a lane, overtaking drivers must be allowed to safely pass cyclists. The safe passing distance recommended by the Missouri Bicycle Federation is four feet.  If cyclists squeeze to the right of lanes, they endanger themselves by riding in a portion of the lane that includes hazards such as sand, debris and colliding with parked car doors.

Nationwide cycling instruction programs such as those taught by the League of American Bicyclists and Cycling Savvy as well as the local cycling instruction program Bike Smart teach cyclists to ride safely in traffic by riding in the place that is most visible to other roadway users and allows cyclists to ride with the most predictability.  Many cycling instructors teach that the safest place to ride is not to the right of a traffic lane but in the center of the lane.  Ferguson City employees who took the Bike Smart class in Ferguson to be eligible to use the city’s bicycle fleet were taught to ride in the center of the right lane, except when making left turns.”

The Ferguson version of the relevant ordinance originally read as follows:

Sec. 44-364. – Riding on roadways.

Every person operating a bicycle or motorized bicycle at less than the posted speed or slower than the flow of traffic upon a street or highway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as safe, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction, except when making a left turn, when avoiding hazardous conditions, when the lane is too narrow to share with another vehicle, or when on a one-way street. Bicyclists may ride abreast when not impeding other vehicles.

(Code 1973, § 42.92.3(2), (3); Ord. No. 96-2809, § 1, 1-9-96)
State law reference— Similar provisions, RSMo 307.190.

Following is the wording of the new Ferguson Ordinance #2012-3495 replacing the above, approved on June 26, 2012:

Every person operating a bicycle or motorized bicycle at less than the posted speed or slower than the flow of traffic upon a street or highway may ride in the center of the right lane of travel or may ride to the right side of the roadway; such person may move into the left lane of travel only while in the process of making a left turn. Every person operating a bicycle or motorized bicycle on a roadway shall exercise due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction, when making turns, and when streets or lanes are too narrow to share with vehicles. Bicyclists may ride abreast only when not impeding other vehicles.

Note: The above may be found in the on-line municode by entering Sec. 44-364, in the Search box at top right, and then looking for the section titled “Riding on roadways,” in the bicycle-related part of the code.

I posted two blogs on this subject, the second illustrated with high quality graphics originally created by Keri Caffrey, of Cycling Savvy, based in Orlando, Florida: https://thinkbicyclingblog.wordpress.com/2012/06/25/bicyclist-lane-control-why-the-law-needs-changing/

Suggested wording of ordinance, with explanatory notes:

Every person operating a bicycle or motorized bicycle at less than the posted speed or slower than the flow of traffic upon a street or highway may ride in the center of the right lane of travel or may ride to the right side of the roadway; such person may use the left lane of travel to prepare for making a left turn, or when on a one-way street. Every person operating a bicycle or motorized bicycle on a roadway shall exercise due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction, when making turns, and when streets or lanes are too narrow to share with motor vehicles. Bicyclists may ride two abreast in the right lane of travel when also allowed for a solo cyclist.

Notes:

1. “In the process of” suggests you have to wait until the last second to go to the left lane.

2. “Bicyclists may ride two abreast in the right lane of travel when also allowed for a solo cyclist.” This is consistent with the permitted lane control by a solo cyclist.
An example of when it makes sense to double up and ride as a group controlling the right lane is when I’m training students and we are simply going from one exercise location to another, or to a destination such as The Whistle Stop for lunch. Riding as a compact group makes more sense than being strung out single file, when we are also more likely to get separated by a stop light, for example.

Councilwoman Kim Tihen’s City of Ferguson biography notes that she was “a Ferguson police officer for 4 years” and has “an associate degree in Criminal Justice.” Here are her reasons for opposing the revised ordinance:

Let me begin by saying that I respect your efforts in raising awareness and addressing the safety concerns of bicyclists. As you know, I was the only member of Council to vote “no” on Bill 6986. There were several reasons that factored into my decision. Missouri state statute RSMO 307.190 reads:

Every person operating a bicycle or motorized bicycle at less than the posted speed or slower than the flow of traffic upon a street or highway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as safe, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction, except when making a left turn, when avoiding hazardous conditions, when the lane is too narrow to share with another vehicle, or when on a one-way street. Bicyclists may ride abreast when not impeding other vehicles.

Our ordinance matched state law exactly. I’m familiar with and understand the situation that prompted the requested change to the ordinance, however, I don’t believe state law or our ordinance was lacking. It allowed for bicyclists to “take the lane” when safety for the bicyclist might be compromised. I believe the problem was not with the law itself, but rather a lack of understanding of the law. That, of course, can and should be addressed through education. I have concerns about the safety of both bicyclists and motorists with this change and the unknown long-term ramifications and it is an issue I feel should be addressed on a state level rather than local level.

Another issue I had with the revised ordinance is that it doesn’t allow for law enforcement to direct a bicyclist in the event it is necessary. Of course, most bicyclists are courteous and respectful of the motoring public and will allow motorists to pass if it is creating a backup. However, if you have someone who is refusing to allow cars to pass and impeding traffic, it is going to create complaints to police and they need to have a way to address the situation. It is no different than for motorists. This is our ordinance for motorists:

44-125 No person shall drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or because upon a grade, or in compliance with law. Police officers may enforce the provisions of this section by directions to drivers, and in the event of apparent wilful disobedience to this provision and refusal to comply with directions of an officer in accordance with this section, the continued slow operation by a driver shall be an offense.

It is important to have these types of laws in place to ensure the safe and timely travel of everyone using the roadway, whether it is motorists or bicyclists.

While I know not everyone will agree with my position and the way that I voted, I hope this gives you and your readers an idea of my thoughts and concerns. Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

Sincerely,
Kim Tihen

I responded to Councilwoman Tihen’s thoughtful comments and explanations as follows:

Thank you for your detailed response to my request for background information on your vote.It was kind of you to provide it and I appreciate it.

Ironically, I was the person originally bringing the existing state law to the city’s attention and requesting its language be adopted by Ferguson after the bike-related state statutes were substantially revised in 1995.

I have been trying for several years to get action taken at the state level to remove or amend the so-called Far To the Right (FTR) law via the Missouri Bicycle Federation, which originally spearheaded the 1995 revision mentioned above. I finally managed to get it put on their list of objectives but the last time I checked it was almost at the bottom of a long list, and clearly has very low priority.

What brought things to a head locally was my getting pulled over by a Ferguson police officer on February 28, 2012, at around 11 am as I was bicycling towards downtown Ferguson and controlling the curb/outside lane on Florissant Rd. I posted a detailed blog about the incident at http://tinyurl.com/85kbzkg, which was fortunately witnessed by Blue Tapp Schaffer from her home, and she e-mailed several council members/officials.

That led to a meeting the following month with City Manager John Shaw and Police Chief Tom Jackson at which I gave a detailed PowerPoint presentation in support of my behavior. However, at the time it didn’t lead to any progress due to differences in interpretation of the law, i.e. when is a lane a “narrow lane” that the bicyclist is allowed by both state statute and local ordinance to control? I’ve highlighted this language from the section you reproduced below:

shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as safe, …. except … when the lane is too narrow to share with another vehicle

You also refer to section 44-125 which applies to slow motorists. The problem with trying to apply a section aimed at a motorist obviously dawdling to a bicyclist is simply that the two vehicles have very different operating characteristics. When I’m cycling downhill on Florissant Rd. from my home in Lake Pembroke, which is close to the junction with Frost Ave., I’m typically able to maintain 15-20 mph. I cannot achieve the speed limit of 35 mph on this section but at most times I travel I am rarely delaying a following motorist by more than a few seconds before they can move into the inside lane. It’s also not uncommon for me to be passed by a platoon of motorists only to catch up with them at the next stop light.

There are obviously tradeoffs involved here but my main aim is to maximize my personal safety, based on many decades of experience as a transportation bicyclist, while trying not to unduly impede other road users.

Even the revised ordinance is not entirely to my liking but unfortunately I wasn’t invited to provide input beforehand.

Again, thanks for taking the time to provide a detailed rationale for your vote.

Sincerely,
Martin Pion

One Comment

  1. Dear Martin,

    Hope you are well. I’m very interested in repeal of FAR. Would you please share the password.

    Cheers!


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