Friday, June 29, 2012

Fort Lee police ticketing legal turning cyclists at GWB

A member of the New York Cycle Club is reporting being ticketed for making what most cyclists would consider a perfectly legal left turn at the approach to the George Washington Bridge at Hudson Terrace. 

BHafkin reports:
My friend and I were ticketed on the NJ side of the GWB today (along with at least 2 other cyclists). We were heading south on Hudson Terrace. Shortly before the GWB underpass we got to the left side of southbound traffic to make the left after the underpass. We were NOT salmoning. We're still trying to understand what the correct way to make that turn is. The way we understood it from the cop, we were supposed to stay all the way to the right until the turn?!?! So, um, we were supposed to make a left turn from the right lane? If possible, we're going to fight this, mostly to try to get some clarity. For the record, he was ticketing the salmoners also.
From his description, it would appear the BHafkin made a legal left turn is exactly the way the League of American Bicyclists teaches and in 100% compliance with New Jersey Statute 39:4-14.2. Section "a".  That law states:
Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable... however, that any person may move to the left under any of the following situations:
(a) make a left turn from a left-turn lane or pocket;
If one looks at the intersection in question below via Streetsview you will see that the 4 lane road has no signage prohibiting left turns onto the access road to the GWB and the south side walk/bikeway.

View Larger Map
Since left turns are not prohibited at the intersection, the left lane is a legal left turn lane and using it by bicyclists to make a left turn is therefore legal under New Jersey Statute 39:4-14.2. Section "a".

Beyond just NJ 39:4-13.2. bicyclists under New Jersey Stature 38:4-14.1.Section "a" , "shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by chapter four of Title 39 of the Revised Statutes..."  This law gives bicyclists the right to operate just like a motor vehicle as long as they are in compliance with other sections of Chapter 4 of Title 39.

Unfortunately this is not the first time cyclists have reported being ticket by Fort Lee Police for operating their bicycles in compliance with New Jersey law.  Several years ago a cyclist told WalkBikeJersey that he was issued a ticket by Fort Lee Police for riding two abreast while he and his wife were riding side-by-side in the shoulder.  Obviously not "impeding" motor vehicle traffic they were still issued the summons despite the fact that Section "e" of the same New Jersey Statute 39:4-14.2.  explicitly allows "to travel no more than two abreast when traffic is not impeded."

In their defense, Fort Lee Police is not the only police department reported to have a weak understanding of the rights and duties granted to cyclists by New Jersey law.  While better outreach and education are needed to teach New Jersey police departments the finer points of traffic law with regards to both bicyclists and pedestrians, a big part of the problem may be due to the greatly abridge handbook officers are given to carry on their person.  I've seen parts of this handbook and the extreme truncation of the laws in this book is confusing and leads well meaning police officers to issue tickets to bicyclists who are actually in compliance with the law.  It would not be surprising if that is what happened here.

WalkBikeJersey would gladly work with state and local officials to help rectify this problem.

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