Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Were cyclists' rights violated in Rahway?

If ever there was a reason for a statewide advocacy group such as WalkBike Jersey and for more education about cyclists' rights, this case is as good as any.

Some of you may have read in Sunday's Star Ledger (see end for link) about a group of competitive cyclists being kicked out of Rahway River Park (a quiet, green oasis with little traffic last I checked) by the Union County cops. Not only were they asked to stop riding but they were even asked to leave the park under threat of arrest. From what I read from this article, it sure sounds to me that the rights of these cyclists were indeed violated.

The article states that the riders "were following guidelines by riding no more than two abreast and staying below the posted 25 mph speed limit. But officials say the cyclists can unknowingly impede traffic and stray from the side of the lane to occupy an entire lane of the two-lane road."

One of the riders also said that "
police officers threatened to give them all tickets or arrest them if they didn't leave the park," and that the officer "didn't approach it as a policeman enforcing a law or guideline, he approached it in an aggressive manner." A response by Chief Dan Vaniska of the Union County police after a complaint was filed by the rider found the officers' actions to be "within the guidelines and certainly appropriate."

Now, let me take a moment to state that I am not a lawyer; just someone trying to become a leading expert on all that is cycling in New Jersey. However, it seems to me that the Union County police need a refresher course in how NJ Title 39 applies to cyclists and to use an interpretation that is not so overtly "anti-bicycling".

According to Title 39, cyclists must stay as close to the right of the road as is practicable and are "to travel no more than two abreast when traffic is not impeded, but otherwise ride in single file." From this it seems that the Rahway riders may have been in violation of the law. However reading further into Title 39 one finds that cyclists may "occupy any available lane when traveling at the same speed as other traffic" (39:4-14.2, 39:4-10.11).

So what takes priority? The requirement to stay right and not ride more than 2 abreast or the right to occupy the lane when traveling at the same speed as other traffic? As a cyclist I will naturally side with the later but with good reason. It seems clear that these guys ride near or at the 25mph speed limit. The riders themselves even said that they make an effort to not exceed the speed limit. So if they are traveling at the maximum speed allowable it would seem to me that they are eligible the occupy the lane and not just one or two wide but in a manner that is again "practicable" for the safe operation of each individual's bicycle.

Again how could the riders "unknowingly impede traffic" when they are already traveling at the posted speed limit? Also
"when traveling at the same speed as other traffic" Title 39 gives them the right to "stray from the side of the lane to occupy an entire lane of the two-lane road." In this case it would seem that the police decided to take a narrow view of the law and acted in a way that was heavy handed to say the least.

However the situation gets even worse.
Sebastian D'Elia, spokesman for Union County, said "the county wanted cyclists to take part in discussions on new bike trails in the county park system." Unfortunately I don't think Mr. D'Elia understands how condescending his statement was to serious cyclists. I, like many other riders will interprete his statement this way, "Bikes don't belong on the street. If you talk with us we'll build you a playground (that will be of absolutely no use to you) off of the road where you won't get in the way of the cars." It seems obvious that the ingrained nature of the car culture is showing its ugly head here with these attitudes and responses.

Looks like we have a long way to go in Union County.


The complete article can be found at:

Free ride
is over
The Star-Ledger • Sunday, September 21, 2008
http://tinyurl.com/4s6a3u

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