Ticketed for taking the lane
Got my trial date today — August 13, 9 am, 2065 Ardmore Blvd. I’ll post again closer to the trial. But I’m not expecting a very exciting time. There’s a good chance the cop won’t show up, after all, and if he does, there’s a good chance the judge will just dismiss the ticket when he realizes it’s written under a law that explicitly no longer applies to cyclists.
However, I’m sort of hoping that things don’t get dismissed immediately so I’ll have a chance to get the cop under oath and ask him if he ever enforced the 4-foot law. I didn’t watch all those episodes of Perry Mason as a kid for nothing.
However, I’m sort of hoping that things don’t get dismissed immediately so I’ll have a chance to get the cop under oath and ask him if he ever enforced the 4-foot law.
Be careful of disrespecting a cop in front of a judge. I don’t think that would go over very well, but that is up to you. I was passed by a cop on Highland closer than 4′ the other day. I just shook my head and shrugged my shoulders. It is what it is. For the most part though, I find my cycling trips are pretty good lately. I hate to even mention it. Maybe it is luck at the moment?
@gg wrote “Be careful of disrespecting a cop in front of a judge”.
I think that in front of a judge is the perfect place to debate a cop.
..disrespecting* a cop in front of a judge”.
I think that in front of a judge is the perfect place to debate* a cop.
Yeah, well, disrespecting isn’t a good idea, the courtroom is the place to take any dispute you have with a cop.
Edit: also, BTW, as I recall, Perry Mason was always completely respectful.
@jonawebb – Jon, you may not get to question him about the 4 foot rule. Your citation is about failure to be in the right lane. It and your case doesn’t have anything to do with the 4 foot rule unless I missed something. If I didn’t miss anything, the 4 foot rule is irrelevant to what is in front of the magistrate to hear and decide in your case. He may not allow you to bring up the 4 foot rule unless you can show in fact that it is relevant and has something to do with your case. Otherwise he can see it as a waste of court (his/her) time and not allow you to bring it up.
That said, magistrates often will figure that it is their job to let you have your day in court and be heard even if something you have to say is irrelevant, because the district magistrate level is the place where most people have their only contact with the court system. They want it to be as satisfying as possible since the average person doesn’t know the proper legal procedures to use in court. They just want to be heard and hopefully get a fair shake.
In other words, it could go either way whether or not you get to ask him about the 4 foot rule. Just don’t assume that you will be able to do so unless you can also show its relevancy to your case.
The magistrates aren’t required to know or apply the law; if they don’t know it or don’t like it it just doesn’t apply. Each one is different, and can set most of their own rules; I don’t know how this one will operate. You may not get a chance to cross-examine the cop / ask him questions.
I wouldn’t ask about enforcing the 4-foot law but would probably point it out in your safety argument for taking the lane.
I was biking last week and brushed pretty close by a car going by, waaayy less than 4′, and went to take note of what the car looked like & noticed it was a police car. Of course anybody who doesn’t know or follow the rules are not going to enforce them.
Point out that he has an old copy of the law and cited the wrong section, but don’t expect that to help much at the MDJ level.
Disclaimer: Not a lawyer, not legal advice.
Don’t forget my exciting trial tomorrow, just in time for BikeFest! 9 am, 2065 Ardmore. I’m expecting it to go pretty quickly once I point out that the law I was ticketed under explicitly does not apply to “pedal cycles”, but anything can happen.
Yea, good luck Jon. I hope the judge is open to listening to your side.
I’m going to try to show up for your court hearing, Jon. Not in spandex, but in work clothes, but with helmet tucked under my arm – trying to make bicycling look like something even an ordinary-looking middle aged guy would do — another way to commute to work.
Well, I was found guilty. Paul was there, as was my friend Judy Hale Reed, a member of my Meeting and a fellow cyclist. It helped a lot to have them there.
The policeman started by taking me outside to review the law — he had the new law — and said the ticket could be amended to refer to 3301(c), not 3301(b), the law he cited me under (because at the time he had the old law). And he claimed that chapter 35 required cyclists to ride to the right. But I refused to agree and wanted to go to trial.
So, at the trial, the policeman reviewed his claims, the ticket was amended to 3301(c). I got a chance to speak, and pointed out that I was following the plain wording of 3301(c) — ride in the right hand lane OR as far to the right as practicable. I said that I’d tried riding near the curb and cars would nearly sideswipe me there as they maneuvered around stopped traffic in the left lane.
The judge found me guilty, and now I have to get in touch with Marc Reisman to appeal.
well, that’s disappointing. i had hoped that it was generally recognized that taking the lane is “as far to the right as practicable” in some cases. hopefully a lawyer arguing your case will make the difference.
Kinda speechless. So, IMMEDIATELY before the trial, they get to change the charge?
And of course, no indication of any thought at all about what is “practicable”. And there’s the whole thing mentioned earlier on the thread about the PA driver’s manual explicitly addressing multi-lane roads and advising cyclists to take the lane when they would otherwise be squeezed too far far to the right, totally ignored.
Don’t know what Marc’s advice will be in terms of an appeal. If you do decide to do so and there’s any chance at all of reversing this bad, bad precedent, you’re of course doing us all a great service.
Let us know what your plans are and how we can help.
Wow, they’re willing to enforce this but not the 4 Ft Law? I take the lane on 5th Avenue for the very brief time that I am on it and people STILL pass me within the lane even though there are two lanes in the same direction. This even happened in front of a Pittsburgh Police Officer. Needless to say, they didn’t do anything.
@hv, just so everyone knows, the issue isn’t whether taking the lane is “as far to the right as practicable.” That’s not how the law reads, since 2012:
“Upon all roadways, any pedalcycle operating in accordance with
Chapter 35, proceeding at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic, or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, except when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into an alley, private road or driveway.”
Note the ‘or’ — it’s not ‘and’. Riding in the right hand lane complies with the law.
Did the cop’s car have a dash-cam? You might be able to get it with a FOIA request.
Was this in front of a magistrate?
My impression is they aren’t required to know anything about law and they tend to side with police, property owners, and authority figures.
This is just another data point for that.
[I’ve left various expletives I vocalized out of this post. Most here can figure which words belong where.]
If you want funds for legal fees, please post that. Some of us here would happily toss in a buck or two.
So, did the judge show any sympathy what-so-ever? Or did it seem like he was just blowing you off (implying that he isn’t impartial on this topic)?
Well, it seemed like he took a look at the law, listened to the police officer, and made his ruling. I didn’t get a sense that he pondered the meaning of ‘or’ very long. But he didn’t seem completely uninformed, either. He wasn’t contemptuous of me, and maybe if I had argued the case better it would have gone my way. I should’ve had the PA Bicycle Riders manual, for example. But I’m not sure that would’ve helped.
It’s a day late, but according to http://www.dot.state.pa.us/Internet/Bureaus/pdbikeped.nsf/infoChapterTwo?OpenForm
There are pictures in the link that are omitted here.
RIDING IN A NARROW LANE
In a wide lane, there’s room for cars to pass you. But in a narrow lane, cars have to move partway into the next lane to pass you. Narrow lanes are comon on city streets and on backroads in the country. On a narrow two-lane, two-way road stay alert to strings of cars from the front, in case one pulls into your lane to pass. You can ride near the edge of this type of road if cars are coming from only one direction at a time. Then cars from the rear can pass you without having to move as far into the other lane.
On a two-lane highway, be alert to drivers ahead of you pulling out to pass, especially if the lanes are narrow.
But if cars are coming from both directions, you have to take control of the situation. You can’t take chances that the drivers behind you will try to pass you in oncoming traffic.
Glance behind you, and if there’s traffic threre too, take the first opportunity to merge safely to the middle of the right lane. Also merge to the middle of the right lane at a blind curve where there might be oncoming traffic. On a right curve in a narrow lane, this technique makes you visible earlier to the drivers behind you.
The driver behind you will have to slow and follow you. It helps to make a “slow” signal (left arm extended downward) to indicate that you’re aware of the car behind you and that it’s unsafe to pass. Don’t let an impatient driver cause a crash.
On a multilane road with narrow lane, a), ride in the middle of the right lane. You are likely to get squeezed out, b), if you hug the edge.
Understand that the law is on your side. The law gives you the right to use the road, the same as a motorist, and to make other traffic slow down for you sometimes. Since you don’t have eyes in the back of your head, you can’t be expected to keep track of the traffic behind you at all times. The driver approaching from the rear is always required to slow and follow if it’s not pssible to pass safely.
It may seem dangerous to make a motorist slow for you, but it’s not. The usual reason that bicyclists feel unsafe on narrow roads is that they do not take control of the situation. Remember, the drivers behind you don’t have room to pass you safely anyway. If you ride all the way over at the right, you’re inviting them to pass you where the road is too narrow and, too often, you will get squeezed off the road. If you show clearly that it’s not safe for drivers to pass you, the’re unlikely to try.
In any case, narrow roads aren’t usually places where motorists drive very fast. It’s dangerous to drive fast on narrow roads because there’s so little room for error. Motorists expect to have to slow down for all sorts of reasons.
But be courteous. When it becomes safe for the car behind you to pass you, give the driver a wave-by signal. If you block traffic for more than a short time, the law requires you to pull to the side and let the traffic by.
On a road with two or more narrow lanes in your direction — like many city streets — you should ride in the middle of the right lane at all times. You need to send the message to drivers to move to the passing lane to pass you. If you ride all the way to the right, two cars may pass you at the same time, side by side, and squeeze you off the road.
This is why the appeals process exists. And I will be happy to chip in.
It has also not slipped my mind that this occurred just hours after a troll whom I know called a police precinct about cyclists taking the lane, arguing heatedly that that should not occur. I will deal with that troll separately.
I was at Jon’s hearing before the magistrate in Forest Hills this morning. In addition to Jon’s summary, I thought I’d write up my impressions of what happened.
A synopsis of how it went, tonally:
Magistrate to cop: whaddaya got for me today, Joe?
Joe the cop: this man was biking very slowly in the center of a lane, and when I stopped him he was insolent and wouldn’t submit to me.
Magistrate to Jon: what do you have to say for yourself?
Jon: I was biking home from work. I used to get buzzed when I’d ride on the berm, so I now take the lane, as the law allows.
Joe the cop: the law says cyclists must stay to the right.
Magistrate: guilty. Next!
[note: I don’t know if the cop’s name is Joe]
In more detail:
Dumpy one-story building in Forest Hills. Small lobby with about 15 unhappy-looking people in it.
I join Jon and his friend Judy. We chat while we wait. Judy informs us that in PA, a magistrate need not have a law degree. You have to get elected. And you need a high school diploma and you need to take a 4 week course, to become a magistrate. Reassuring!
The cop that cited Jon walks up and asks Jon to step outside and talk. I think the cop wanted Jon to submit and admit he was wrong and plead guilty. Jon read section 3301c to the cop and pointed out that it says cyclists must ride in the rightmost lane or at the right edge of road, typically. Cop said (paraphrasing) “yeah, right edge of road”. Jon said “but it says ‘OR rightmost lane'”. Cop said (opening law book, pointing at a paragraph) “This section, 3505c, says you need to be on the right side”. Jon: but I was cited under 3301 and I was following 3301. Cop: “We can change the citation. If you admit your guilt then you don’t have to go before the magistrate.” Jon refused.
Called into magistrate’s room. Magistrate Caulfield in robe behind bench. Cop there. Judy there. Jon’s in a jacket, no tie. I’ve got a white shirt on (dressed nicer than usual), with bike helmet under my arm, (my small attempt to demonstrate solidarity and make cyclists look ordinary & respectable). Judy and I don’t talk.
Magistrate asks cop to summarize what happened.
Cop says that Jon was riding “in the middle of the lane” on Greensburg Pike, “extremely slow speed for a bicycle”, “he failed to move over”, so I pulled him over. Jon was “defiantly insolent” when I spoke with him. “He insisted that I write him a citation”.
Magistrate is reading for a few seconds.
Magistrate to cop: Did you want to change this from 3301b to c?
Magistrate makes a notation.
Magistrate to Jon: “do you have questions for the officer?”
Jon: “Have you ever cited someone under the four foot law?”
Magistrate: “out of order”.
Jon starts to talk about 3301b and c and read them aloud.
Magistrate (before Jon gets past the first word): “I can read.”
Jon gives the background: that he was biking home from work in Monroeville to home in Squirrel Hill (1 hour commute), that he was on a 4 lane road that’s his safest route home, that he used to ride the right berm on this road, but found that cars would pass him in that right lane (particularly if the left lane contained a car turning left) and that he got buzzed and decided that riding on the berm was not safe. So after consulting the law (section 3301c) he concluded that it was legal for him to take the right lane on this road. And also the safest thing to do. And he found that since he has been taking the lane, on this road, he hasn’t gotten buzzed.
Magistrate: “how fast were you going?”
Jon: “slow. I was going up a hill”.
Cop: “Section 3505c says ‘when a bicycle is slower than prevailing traffic, it must stay to the right'”.
Magistrate: “This is certainly an interesting issue. I find you guilty.”
I was disappointed that the magistrate didn’t take even a second to read 3505c to check if it was relevant. He never brought up safety. He gave no advice. He basically just rubber-stamped what the cop said.
I thought Jon presented himself well: the argument that “I used to ride the berm and it was unsafe, so now I take the lane. And the law says I can” seems quite solid to me.
I’m glad Jon will be appealing this!
You guys should write a song about the whole ordeal, something like Arlo Guthrie’s classic “Alice’s Restaurant.”
jonawebb wrote:I didn’t get a sense that he pondered the meaning of ‘or’ very long.
Jon, Maybe you could get Bill Clinton as your lawyer. He was really good with the word ‘is’. :-)
Magistrate (before Jon gets past the first word): “I can read.”
You tend to second-guess yourself in these circumstances.
Thinking about it, maybe if I’d explained better — if I’d asked the cop to read section 3505c — if I’d said the law was based on a League of American Bicyclists model law intended to permit exactly what I was doing — etc. maybe I would’ve won. But OTOH I’m guessing that the DM was thinking I was coming across as excessively legalistic and bike nerdy and looking for a loophole in the law, while on the other hand the cop was somebody he sees in there every day fighting crime and trying to keep people safe. He’s not going to overrule the cop on a ‘technicality’ (‘or’ instead of ‘and’). So losing was probably inevitable.
I’m thinking things will go differently on appeal, where the law will be better understood, and I’ll have professional representation. Marc did suggest appealing should I lose at the DM level when I discussed it with him before.
Its not uncommon for the magistrates to wrongly interpret a statute like this. They do not have to be an attorney to hold this position, and many of them just follow the police officers lead. They have to work with them daily after all.
Its also very common to appeal these decisions. Happens all of the time.
Appeal it and you will win.
I’ll chip in $100.00 for the cause.
Take satisfaction in knowing that the suburbanite police officer that wrote you the ticket will have to show up in court when you do. They hate all of the hassle getting downtown at 8am, paid or not.
I’ll also chip in for the legal fees
Jon, what was the fine?
Wow, thanks. $112.
I see I put this in the wrong thread:
I just talked with Marc Reisman — I’m going to go ahead with the appeal. It will cost $99 to file for the appeal and his fee will be $500. Honestly, I can afford it, but if you feel motivated to support the effort, you could send me money at PayPal, username same as this account. Thanks.
Same username, at Gmail. I’m really touched by the donations — thanks.
If this case turns out in our favor, it will be a good precedent for future challenges to cyclists in PA
For my own benefit, to all the legal eagles out there, when the case gets in front of an actual judge, and it is determined that jonawebb was acting within the law, is there some mechanism by which that information is passed back down to this “magistrate” so he is given the information that his ruling was wrong? That seems like that would be a thing.
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