Legality of riding in a bus lane.

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Bob Ross
Participant
#

To go from Downtown to Oakland I’ve, on occasion, been known to take the outbound 5th avenue bus lane up the hill.

My justifications:

I’m a pretty strong bicyclist and I’ve never slowed the traffic of any bus. Typically I catch up to them.

I make sure to look frequently over my shoulder for any emergency vehicles.

As far as I know this is the most direct, least hilly route between my two destinations.

And, of course, I’ve seen quite a few other bikers take this route.

My anxieties:

In my 1/2 dozen or so trips on this route I’ve come across plenty of cross looks by motorists going the other way (typically stuck in traffic), a few honks, and a very belicose middle finger by a chubby white guy in an suv.

The signs that say something to the effect of “bus lane only” or “buses only” or “no motor vehicles” (I can’t think of the exact wording now) do scare me a little and I feel like getting pulled over and hassled by a cop is imminent.

Morally I don’t think what I’m doing is an issue. I hold no one up and I get to my destination quicker and safer. Legally I would really like to get a sense of this community’s opinion. I would also appreciate alternate routes. (I used to ride the jail trail to panther hollow but then they closed part of it putting me on 2nd avenue which just isn’t fun at rush hour. Also, this route lands me a little East of my destination which, I can suck up and take anyway.)


boostuv
Participant
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I take this route as well because my typical commute is at 8:15am into Uptown (Duquesne) and then back to Oakland around 4:15. The Forbes Ave. route is so dangerous at that time because 1. Cars haul ass up the 376 off ramp, 2. Theres no easily accessible was to get into that old lane that is now a car free path 3. There are no cut outs at the end of that bik free path to allow easy access to the sidewalk for someone on a bicycle. Its especially hard when you wear clipped in shoes to unclip and hop up the curb before a car comes barreling up 376.

I’ve never had a bus come up behind me while taking the 5th Ave bus lane and if I did I would quickly jump on the sidewalk so as not to cause a delay. I’ve also never got any strange/mean looks or threatening words or gestures from motorists. I will continue to do it because it is IMO the quickest, easiest, and safest route from Uptown to Oakland without going all the way around to the Jail Trail.

That hill, as easy as it is, sucks so much ass though when you’ve got a backpack on that weighs about 25lbs.


edmonds59
Participant
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Morality and the Law divorced a long time ago, so don’t worry about that relationship. So, practically:

Sooner or later, a bus will roll up behind you at an inopportune spot and menace you, with not much you can do about it. It is their lane.

A cop could give you a ticket (again, above).

It’s possible that in the above situations, your plan could be to jump onto the sidewalk, but the sidewalk there is pretty crappy and inconsistent, can’t be relied upon.

Don’t worry about belicose white guys in SUV’s, they will never be happy, that’s their job. F them.

Having said all that, if I had to regularly get from the eastern South side to the center of Oakland, that’s probably how I would do it. If somebody hassles you, tell them “give me a bike lane!!!”.


Astrobiker
Participant
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I can’t imagine that it’s legal. It say “BUS LANE”. That seems pretty clear and exclusive.


ieverhart
Participant
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Without having done any research, it seems like the answer to the question “is it legal” is easily no, which is not necessarily the same answer to is it safe, efficient, courteous, or otherwise a good idea.

It’s possible that in the above situations, your plan could be to jump onto the sidewalk, but the sidewalk there is pretty crappy and inconsistent, can’t be relied upon.

It’s probably beyond the region you’re actually concerned with (climbing from downtown to Oakland) but there is also a long stretch, mostly in the Pitt campus area, where there is that railing designed to keep pedestrians from falling into the bus lane, but which would also make bailing to the sidewalk impossible.

I’ll limit that discussion to Pittsburgh, though, because in other places, shared bike/bus lanes do exist, like in Paris, where I took this photo.


edmonds59
Participant
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Well, dang Ian, in Paris they sit and EAT on sidewalks, it’s bloody chaos! Chaos I tell you! :D


brian j
Participant
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I rode home this way most days, and I typically use the sidewalk (unless there are cars parked on it). Around 5:15 PM, there is lots of bus traffic.

There have been other discussions on the board about this stretch of road, and the conventional wisdom is that the sidewalk here (up to Craft) can be considered “shared use.”


rsprake
Participant
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San Francisco has shared bus / bike lanes as well.


bikeygirl
Participant
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Personal experience: I’ve been mixing-up my commute home by going through Uptown & Oakland to get home sometimes, and I use the Bus Lane. When there are a lot of buses, I take the sidewalk, but I usually stay on bus lane.

Forbes traffic & drivers can get tricky up-to 10th St Tunnel coming from Downtown, but, I’m kinda-used to traffic so don’t mindmuch & just pay attention.

In Oakland, cops have seen me in the Bus Lane and no one has yelled at me -not even buses. I also see many Pitt Students riding the Bus Lane too.

COME ON PITTSBURGH -Let’s make a 5th & Forbes Ciclovia :)

And actually, yes, there are talks and ideas about indeed making safe ways to go from Downtown to Oakland via-Bike Lanes. Hopefully it will indeed happen!


eMcK
Participant
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Does Philly still have shared bus/bike lanes?


erok
Keymaster
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for 9 years, i lived at the foot of the birmingham bridge, oakland side, and would take this stretch several times a day.

it is most definitely not legal, but like most bike laws, it seems to be in a grey area. i’ve never heard of anyone getting a ticket on this stretch, but i have heard (and experienced) cops telling me that i shouldn’t ride there. but seriously, after probably over 2,000 times using it, i got stopped once. that’s better odds than just walking along a sidewalk looking funny. I was also buzzed once by a bus who probably wanted to “teach me a lesson.” once they fixed the sidewalk, i started using that because it felt so good to not think about the buses and there are hardly any peds anyway.

one thing to consider, if you are riding in it, and something happens, your going to have trouble probing fault


ejwme
Participant
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just a note on legality – technically, it is illegal for anybody inside a motor vehicle parked at the side of the road to open a door into the traffic lane. So all those drivers who open their driver-side doors after parking their car, walk around the car to the sidewalk and continue on – all breaking the law.

like others have said, accepted and moral and legal are not necessarily related concepts.


erok
Keymaster
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well, not necessarily. i think a better analogy is how on the same stretch of road, cars are allowed to park on the sidewalk because they’ve been doing it for so long and there are very few better options.

for what it’s worth, here’s the PA vehicle code on car doors, and why it’s always the motorists fault if they open the car door into you.

PA Vehicle Code 3705: No person shall open any door on a motor vehicle unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open on a side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.


Steven
Participant
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The city did a bunch of work to make the Fifth Avenue sidewalk west of Craft more bike-friendly. Maybe they shouldn’t have bothered.

It’s not a gray area. It’s a poorly enforced law, like the one prohibiting cars from running red lights.


humblesage
Participant
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Retracted.


brian j
Participant
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@steven: I can’t tell to what your angst is directed. Is it because folks are still using the bus lane? Or that cars still park on the sidewalk? I’m not trying to pick a fight–just curious.


ejwme
Participant
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aw, man, drivers ed guy lied to me. well, probably just well intentioned stretching the truth. thank you guys for the correction!

I still think you’re fine, though you might get stopped, but almost nobody gets stopped in Pgh…

Are they still not paying cops to show up to traffic court? If so, then you’d just be out $40 and your time if you DID get ticketed. But someone brought up the fault/accident issue – not gonna win that one.


sloaps
Participant
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Ocean City, MD, has a bike/bus lane that tourists renting scooters speedily pass cyclists like the most highly decorated of tie fighters.

Nothing’s perfect, and it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission.


wojty
Participant
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I’ve run into two cops while doing smithfield street in the bus lane. The one was a PAT cop, and gave me a ‘stern talking to.’

The regular city copy actually started a conversation, I explained it’s one of the safest ways to get across town that way, and that usually busses hold me up, not the other way around. He said he’d never ticket me for it…but that it was illegal and others may.


alnilam
Participant
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This came up once before, because there is a sort of misleading sign along that bus lane.

But yeah, definitely illegal, but totally doable and often the best choice, I find. Just remember that you’re a guest there.


erok
Keymaster
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i found them to be a little bit more stern in the smithfield st bus lane. the fifth ave one is no holds barred. especially now that the students are back.


edmonds59
Participant
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Hmm, when I wrote I was thinking specifically of the section from the Birmingham bridge to Craft ONLY. From Craft east I would get out of the bus lane and over onto Forbes, too much chance of getting splattered between a bus, a left hooker, and clueless young suburban peds.

And truthfully I have not ridden that section since before the cattle chute/376 ramp modifications.


Steven
Participant
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Bjanaszek, I was bothered by the suggestion that it’s semi-legal if nobody stops you.

I’m also not entirely convinced by the justifications people use here. Some of them sound a lot like justifications for motorists to use the bike lane.

Suppose a motorist in the East Liberty Blvd bike lane makes the same claims as the original poster: he never slows down cyclists when he cuts into the bike lane to get around traffic, he looks out for cyclists and tries to get out of their way when he sees them, it saves him time and effort to pass other traffic by using the bike lane, and he’s seen other cars do it too. If you want to justify using the bus lane, pick a reason that doesn’t apply to cars using a bike lane.

Bjanaszek, it sounds like you use the bus lane only in spots where the sidewalk is blocked. I think that’s completely reasonable (just as it’s OK for a car to use a bike lane if there’s a broken or parked vehicle in the only car lane). I don’t understand why more cyclists don’t do that. Is it just inertia? The sidewalk used to be bad, and people see no reason to stop using the bus lane since the cops don’t bother about it?


brian j
Participant
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Edmonds, that’s exactly what I do. I will ride Fifth down to the bridge, and even at rush hour, I don’t find it too bad. I just take the lane in the chute.

Steven, I agree with you. I think the sidewalk should perhaps be signed as a shared use walkway–many cyclists, particularly those here on the board, generally consider riding on the sidewalks to be bad form (and I do, too, in many circumstances). But along this stretch, especially when climbing the hill, the sidewalk is wide enough to accommodate both cyclists and pedestrians without a problem. If we could keep the various businesses along that stretch off the sidewalk, it would be even better.


erok
Keymaster
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well, not sure if you’re referring to me or not, but i clearly said that once the sidewalk was fixed, i started using that. unless it was winter and the bus lane was cleared while the sidewalk would remain un passable, even for peds. i don’t think the comparison is fair because, well, bikes aren’t cars and often have our own set of rules that are not very clearly defined and often give exception. for instance, bikes are sometimes allowed to ride sidewalks (cars are never). It’s not even clear if riding on the sidewalk there is legal or not. pa law says that we can’t ride in a business district, and there are businesses in that stretch. no one has been able to give me a clear answer as to how the city even defines a business district. i’ve even heard before that the whole city is defined as a business district, so riding on a sidewalk, unless there is a traffic control devise that says you are allowed there (which there isn’t), may be illegal. I think it’s also not a fair comparison because there is precedent in many cities where bikes are allowed to share a buslane, however, there are no places where cars can drive in a bike lane. suppose you just moved here from a city where the bus lane is shared, and now all of the sudden there’s this new rule here in pittsburgh that says you’re not. I know you’re right, and it is currently not legal, but i just don’t think it’s as black and white as you make it out to be because there are many exceptions across the board with bicycling, yet very few exceptions when it comes to driving. and this is most likely due to the fact that cars have been much more involved in litigation over the years where lawmakers find it necessary to legislate more.


brian j
Participant
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Erok, the unplowed sidewalk kept me out of the office during the worst of the snowfalls over the last few winters. Fortunately, I can just avoid the office completely if necessary. I’d rather not have to deal with the bus lane if I can avoid it (mostly because the buses scare me).


erok
Keymaster
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oh yeah, i do too. not having to use the bus lane was a huge improvement in my life.


Steven
Participant
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Didn’t somebody dig up the precise rules on business districts in the thread about American Eagle blocking their sidewalk?

In any case, I agree that a sign for the shared path there would be good. I’m going to send a 311 for one.

i don’t think the comparison is fair because, well, bikes aren’t cars and often have our own set of rules that are not very clearly defined and often give exception….

Sure, but a good argument that something is OK for bikes but not OK for cars should explicitly refer to such differences, it seems to me. For instance, you could argue that bikes are OK on a bus lane because if a bus comes along, a cyclist can easily move to the sidewalk, while a car in a bike lane can’t do that. I think that’s a fairer kind of argument than saying it’s OK for us to ride in the bus lane as long as we don’t hold up the traffic that’s there legally, for instance. Bikes are different in this way, and therefore it should be OK it we do that.

(Of course, not every cyclist can just jump onto the curb at any time, even in the spots where there’s no fence. So that isn’t a perfect argument either. But at least it’s based on a legitimate difference.)

suppose you just moved here from a city where the bus lane is shared, and now all of the sudden there’s this new rule here in pittsburgh that says you’re not.

I assume that in those cities, the signs say Buses and Bikes Only, while ours say Buses Only. I’m not really sympathetic to folks who use the roads without reading the signs.


edmonds59
Participant
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I have a STRONG allergic aversion to being put on the sidewalk by a sign. There’s 30some years of riding in my noggin that tell me bikes do not belong on sidewalks. The first time I rode on the Smithfield bridge shared use sidewalk, it was a bizarre and disconcerting feeling. Call me a Foresterite (I’m not). In the past year I have begun to accept that action. If I am on my diddly 20″ folding Raleigh going 6 mph, I will do the SUS. If I am on a road bike, I take the road. That’s why it’s called a road bike. Note the word “road”.

I never take the bus lane, uh, come to think of it, ANYWHERE but from the B’ham bridge to Craft, because THERE IS NO OTHER ADEQUATE INFRASTRUCTURE PROVIDED. So you have to make it up. The bus lane is the best option. Admirable that the city started to provide infrastructure in the area of the cattle chute, I will have to try it some time. But until the city also steps up and keeps the aholes off the sidewalk, and completes the entire section from the bridge east so that it’s not like some kind of Action Park course, people will need to continue to make their own safest way through that area.

This is in no way equivalent to cars bobbing into the bike lane in ELib to avoid traffic, there are 3+- lanes for cars, they are simply too impatient, that is a convenience issue, this here is basic life safety. No equivalence.


erok
Keymaster
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I have a STRONG allergic aversion to being put on the sidewalk by a sign

Just curious, how would you feel riding in the same exact place if the surface was asphalt instead of the typical sidewalk concrete? when we were pushing for getting that whole sidewalk redone, we brought that up as an option, but they said that the city doesn’t pave sidewalks. well, they do, there are plenty of examples, but i’m just curious how people would feel.

…from the bridge east so that it’s not like some kind of Action Park course…

Are you from New Jersey? I used to go to Action Park.


erok
Keymaster
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I assume that in those cities, the signs say Buses and Bikes Only, while ours say Buses Only. I’m not really sympathetic to folks who use the roads without reading the signs.

fair ’nuff.

Didn’t somebody dig up the precise rules on business districts in the thread about American Eagle blocking their sidewalk?

I don’t remember this ever getting 100% resolved. Now that ian has some law school under his belt, maybe he can answer that.


sloaps
Participant
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Found it!

The territory contiguous to a street when fifty (50) percent or more of frontage thereof for a distance of three hundred (300) feet or more is occupied by buildings intended for use for business purposes.

With AE and HausfrauHaus along Tunnel Street, it kinda sorta maybe meets the criteria.


edmonds59
Participant
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I do think I would perceive asphalt differently, and better. It’s the dumb expansion joints and lifting of slabs inherent to concrete that make it suck on a road bike.

And, not from NJ.


erok
Keymaster
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With AE and HausfrauHaus along Tunnel Street, it kinda sorta maybe meets the criteria.

yeah, so does parts of 5th. and i’ve also heard that they call a buffer as well. really, never gotten a straight answer


salty
Participant
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I am with Steven, there is an awful lot of rationalizing going on. Whether you care if it’s legal or not, getting in the way of a bus is not a cool move – if the OP can really maintain 25+ MPH uphill he is obviously not the typical cyclist. Whether it’s legal elsewhere might be completely irrelevant to this case, given the lane is contraflow and not especially wide. I could see it working if there was enough room for busses to pass bikes but i don’t believe that’s true here. What are the characteristics of the shared lanes in other cities?

Legalities aside, there is no way you can argue with a straight face that having to jump a parallel curb with a bus behind you is safer than just riding on the sidewalk to begin with. I have an aversion to riding on sidewalks also but I do it there, and on bates from 2nd to BOA, and on smithfield – although that one is a little sketchier I agree; funny it’s the only one that is explicitly legal.


Astrobiker
Participant
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I agree 100% with Steven and Salty.


edmonds59
Participant
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Well, then, I’d say, anyone who has to use that section, get on the stick and 311 that stupid P.o.S. used car lot and that school whateveritis every time there’s a car on the sidewalk, every day if necesary.


Steven
Participant
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Salty: Biking on the sidewalk on Smithfield is explicitly legal? Is there a sign there I’ve never noticed?

Agree about 311ing the sidewalk parkers on Fifth. I’ll make a point to start complaining regularly.


icemanbb
Participant
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I am not a fan of riding on the sidewalk I will use it on Smithfield St. going slower and yielding to pedestrians as needed. Since I’m only in town riding on weekends and holidays I have the luxury of selecting my routes to avoid bus lanes in general.


edmonds59
Participant
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Smithfield bridge eastern sidewalk is explicitly signed as shared use for bikes/peds, sign on the town end at least, for sure.

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