Portland Maine Bicycle Commuting Message Board Bicycle Driving › Bikes on Interstates

Bikes on Interstates

John B.
Westbrook, ME
Post #: 833
Given discussions that many of us have had for some time regarding Washington Ave. over Tukey's Bridge and the merits of using I-295 to get across versus the slower and less convenient multi-use path, I thought this snippet of discussion from a vehicular cycling email list that I'm on might be helpful. The author is someone in Ohio who is working on legislative changes there, which they hope will include allowing bicyclists to use limited-access highways in some cases. I thought it might give us more perspective for the discussion here, especially when we find ourselves talking to transportation planners and engineers, who seem to think it's just completely unrealistic and there's no point even talking about it. (Granted, from their perspective, there isn't, as long as it remains illegal in all cases.)

Fred Oswald on the Chainguard Advocacy Yahoo Group said:
§4511.051 bans bicycles from any part of a freeway, regardless of the hardship that this causes when there is no reasonable alternative route and regardless whether there is any increased safety hazard. Many other states either allow riding along a freeway shoulder except where such use is explicitly prohibited, or they have a mechanism to allow the state Department of Transportation to allow shoulder use where necessary and where reasonably safe.

The experience of other states in permitting freeway shoulder use has been quite good. This is because freeway shoulders are generally free of collision hazards. In other words, the freeway shoulder may be safer than alternate routes because crossing and turning traffic is eliminated by the design of the freeway.

A published study for California "Statewide Safety Study of Bicycles and Pedestrians on Freeways, Expressways, Toll Bridges, and Tunnels", Dr. Thomas C. Ferrara, PE , MTI Report 01-01, Mineta Transportation Institute, 2001 concluded: "Overall vehicle collision rates are no higher on freeways open to bicycles than they are on adjacent highways open to bicycles." This study is available at http://transweb.sjsu....­

Another study from Arizona, "Bicycle - Motor Vehicle Collisions on Controlled Access Highways in Arizona" lists nine motor-vehicle bicycle collisions comprising 0.035 percent of the reported collisions in Arizona during the eleven year reporting period (1991-2002). Of the nine collisions, two occurred to people crossing the highway rather than riding along it, two involved impaired motorists and two involved impaired bicycle operators. The study concluded: "The rate of bicycle-motor vehicle crashes on controlled access highways is less than one per year across the entire state of Arizona for over a decade, clearly implying that there is not a large-scale safety problem associated with the use of these highways by bicyclists."

The League of American Bicyclists issued this statement about bicycle use of freeways: The League notes that the U.S. has more than 25 years' experience allowing bicyclists to use the shoulders of limited access freeways. Accident data collected in the states that allow this indicate that the bicyclists' accident rate on these facilities is quite low. Accordingly, the League supports expanding the rights of bicyclists to use these freeway shoulders where no other reasonable alternative exists.

Present language: 4511.051 Prohibitions on use of freeways.

(A) No person, unless otherwise directed by a police officer, shall:
(2) Occupy any space within the limits of the right-of-way of a freeway, with: an animal-drawn vehicle; a ridden or led animal; herded animals; a pushcart; a bicycle, except on a facility that is separated from the roadway and shoulders of the freeway and is designed and appropriately marked for bicycle use; a bicycle with motor attached; a motor driven cycle with a motor which produces not to exceed five brake horsepower; an agricultural tractor; farm machinery; except in the performance of public works or official duties.

We recommend the following language that would allow the DOT to approve exceptions in limited cases. This language is based on the Pennsylvania Code § 3511.

{Proposed new division (B) to §4511.051
*(B) Notwithstanding division (A) above, the Department of Transportation may authorize bicycle operation on the shoulder of designated portions of freeways under the following conditions:
(1) A written request for review of the freeway route based on the potential unavailability of a reasonable alternate route is made to the department.
(2) The department determines that no reasonable alternate route exists.
(3) The department publishes a notice authorizing bicycle access to the shoulder of the freeway. The notice shall constitute approval for use of bicycles on the shoulder of the specified portion of the freeway.
(4) Signs will be posted at the freeway access ramps to indicate where shoulder bicycle access is permitted.}*

user 2798807
York, ME
Post #: 18
Banning bicycles on interstates is strictly a prohibition reserved for individual states. There is no actual federal prohibition of bicycles on the interstates.

I would support a lifting of the ban of bicycles on I-295 for the purpose of crossing the Tukeys Bridge, even after the Veranda St. bridge construction is completed.

The Maine DOT guy who responded to Mike's question at the Veranda St bridge meeting regarding bicycle access to I-295: "No, not going to happen." We were remiss in asking the followup question, Why?
John B.
Westbrook, ME
Post #: 837
I think I see what you're getting at, Mike. It sounds like in the case of Ohio, their state does currently have a blanket ban on bicycles on the interstates, and they are trying to change that law so that their DOT can make exceptions.

So the question is, does Maine have a similar blanket law prohibiting bikes on interstates?

I haven't searched exhaustively, but I think that the most relevant section of statute is Title 29-A, §2052. Divided highways. Paragraph 5 states:

5. Limiting use. The Department of Transportation or a municipality, with respect to a way under that authority's jurisdiction, may prohibit the use of a way by:

A. Pedestrians; or [2003, c. 452, Pt. Q, §31 (NEW); 2003, c. 452, Pt. X, §2 (AFF).]

B. Bicycles or other nonmotorized traffic, scooters, motorized bicycles or tricycles or motorized scooters. [2005, c. 577, §27 (AMD).]
[ 2005, c. 577, §27 (AMD) .]

So, according to this, it sounds to me like the DOT or municipality may in fact choose to not prohibit bicycles, without any additional legislation needed to allow it.

I'm not sure if that means that any section of divided highway may have this determination made by either the DOT or the local municipality, or if that decision can only be made by the agency that controls the highway, which for some is the DOT and some is the municipality. I suspect the latter, as I have heard that DOT controls I-295 even within the city of Portland. So if we wanted the Tukey's Bridge restriction lifted, it would be the DOT that we would need to lobby.

It would be very interesting to see if the DOT's Bike/Ped Coordinator, Dan Stewart, would get behind this idea. It would also be interesting to see if we can find a lawyer who is willing to help us advocate for this by explaining to DOT that it would not in fact be illegal to do.
user 2798807
York, ME
Post #: 19
I found the info here. Currently the places where bikes are banned on Maine roads are: Maine Turnpike, I-95, I-295, and a 10 mile section of Route 1 between Brunswick and Bath. It is unclear whether this is a DOT regulation or a state law.

I don't see the big deal for bike access on Tukeys, but the fear factor of safety and liability would I think scare off DOT from even considering it. If it were a law, by the time any legislation is enacted, the Veranda St. bridge would be finished by then...
John B.
Westbrook, ME
Post #: 1,071
Shoshana Hoose has a new blog about Back Cove, and has added a poll "Should bicyclists and rollerbladers be allowed to cross Tukey's Bridge on I-295?". If you want, please go there to answer it. You don't have to be registered.
Gary G.
user 9496013
Portland, ME
Post #: 9
I like to ride my bicycle fast, but there is no way I would ride over Tukeys bridge on 295. That stretch has lots of accidents because of the multiple lane merges and on and off ramps....I've seen people drive 70mph on that bridge....way too fast. Also, the off ramp onto Washington ave going north can be scary even in a car. People go flying around that corner and sometimes rear-enders are very close.....no way would I ride a bicycle through there. The bridge is short and it takes what, about a minute or two to cross it on bike....what's the big deal?
John B.
Westbrook, ME
Post #: 1,089
I've ridden it on the shoulder of I-295 northbound 2 or 3 times in the last several years, and I haven't found it too scary. No worse than the Casco Bay Bridge, where the speeds are almost as great. (Or just as great, in many cases.) It's a big shoulder, and you don't have to cross any high speed lanes northbound. Southbound onto the peninsula there's that ramp down to Marginal to cross if you want to stay on Washington, but there's already a crosswalk there anyway. I think if it was legal I'd usually rather do 295 than the separated path, which is narrow and often filled with joggers, pedestrians alone, in groups, or pushing baby carriages, etc. It's also quite narrow for two bicycles to pass each other, and hard to figure out how to get to. Using 295 is more direct and easier. Even if you're not a fast rider, you can probably go faster on the 295 shoulder than on the separated path because the path has all those obstacles.

I'll bet if you timed it considering wanting to stay on Washington Avenue at both ends, the 295 route takes much less time, by the you consider what you have to do to get on and off the path, and the slower speed that even a relaxed-pace rider is forced to take on the path to avoid hitting or getting hit by a ped or another cyclist. If you don't mind the time, are just out for recreation, or really just don't want to ride with cars, that's fine, the path's there and will stay there. In fact, there is a project afoot to improve the separated path access on both sides of the bridge, although I'm not sure the funding situation is allowing it to go ahead at the moment.

Risk: I'd guess, and it's just a guess, that your risk of getting into some accident is greater on the path, although obviously it won't have the consequences of the 295 route. But I'm comfortable with what I consider a small risk of a collision on the 295 shoulder for, what is it, 1/4 mile?

If the path is no big deal to you, that's good. If I-295 is no big deal to me, I'd like to be able to do it legally.
Kenneth O.
Portland, ME
Post #: 281
I like to ride my bicycle fast, but there is no way I would ride over Tukeys bridge on 295. That stretch has lots of accidents because of the multiple lane merges and on and off ramps....I've seen people drive 70mph on that bridge....way too fast. Also, the off ramp onto Washington ave going north can be scary even in a car. People go flying around that corner and sometimes rear-enders are very close.....no way would I ride a bicycle through there. The bridge is short and it takes what, about a minute or two to cross it on bike....what's the big deal?

It is a narrow pedestrian path. I don't want to be there as a bicyclist. I don't want bicyclists whizzing by me at bicyclist speeds when I am walking there - whether they have yelled "on your left" or not. As a matter of fact I don't want to hear "ON YOUR [direction]!" yelled at me periodically, any more than I want each motorist blarring his/her horn as he/she passes me, when I'm on my bicycle.

Anne and I walked Back Cove yesterday. Very pleasant other than the occasional bicyclist blasting past on the ped facility. While on Tukey's Bridge, a bicyclist passed out on I295. It was no sweat for him or anybody else, including us over on the ped facility.

Full disclosure:
Sure there are a lot of inter-related moving parts to my belief system on this one. Sure I believe we will have a more sound and equitable transportation infrastructure when we have the various political/design pressures that come from building travel corridors with less seperation of vehicle types and with the idea that each and every corridor should strive to service the maximum number of modes and vehicle types (my number-one wish: we as a culture FLUSH the idea of the 'arterial' in roadnet design)....

But with that full disclosure out of the way:

1) The amount of increased _danger_ I would be willing to tolerate - as part of this thinking and as a part of following this path-dependent trip to a better transportation infrastructure - is low. In this case, however that worry doesn't come into play. Stats and other experience with opening interstate and bridge travel, in places where no other travel option forced the opening, indicate bicyclist travel on Tukey's bridge would be more than reasonably safe. We know that mixing ped and bicyclist travel on a facility like Back Cove path has a poor safety record.

2) Note: I support a certain amount of seperation by mode within each corridor of travel (peds versus vehicle drivers, with bicyclists grouped with vehicle drivers) when use level and traffic patterns indicate reasonable increased convenience for all users. Now I _would_ prefer to see the money spent improving surface level pedestrian crossing design _everywhere_ (though not with multi-million dollar ped fly overs that are secretly all about high speed motorist _perception_ of convenience and not ped safety) rather than too many gold plated ped facilities along side roadways.... But if we start getting smarter as a culture, I could see a reasonable mix of ped-dedicated design showing up at some point.
Gary G.
user 9496013
Portland, ME
Post #: 12
I guess this one comes down to comfort level. I don't particularly like the idea of running into pedestrians and when I bike on that path I slow way down as the pavement is quite bad too. And I never ride the back cove path on my bike.

I'm personally more ok with this than having people pass 4ft or less from me going 60mph+. Even though the chances of that kind of accident is rare, I bet Tukey's Bridge is one of the most accident prone stretches on 295 if not number one outright. At that speed you are looking at an accident that will nearly always be catastrophic for a cyclist.

Wouldn't it be great if there were a bike path over the bridge that was "bikes only"?
John B.
Westbrook, ME
Post #: 1,090
I'm personally more ok with this than having people pass 4ft or less from me going 60mph+

I think 4' or less is extremely unlikely, if you are in the shoulder. Unless you're "I never use a shoulder" Ken O'Brien (would you use this shoulder, Ken?), you're going to be at least a few feet into the shoulder yourself, and motorists are generally pretty good about following white lines, and even better at giving plenty of room to potential obstacles while traveling at high speeds. I think the only time you'd ever get such a close pass would be unintentionally, in the unfortunate case of a motorist not seeing you (due to distraction, poor conspicuity on the cyclist's part, or both), and happening to drift into the shoulder at the same time. Could happen, yes, and we all hear the news reports when it does. It is catastrophic to the cyclist, but it is also extremely rare, much rarer than running into someone on a narrow crowded path.

But I agree with you, Gary, that it's a matter of evaluating the risk and deciding your comfort level, and there's no right or wrong answer.

My analysis looks like this, yours may differ:

(-) Chance of catastrophic crash, but very low
(-) Chance of debris in shoulder
(+) Faster and easier to navigate

(-) Much slower due to: narrowness; peds, bicyclists, and other obstacles; more twists and turns
(-) Harder to find your way if you are unfamiliar (It took me quite a few trips to figure out!)
(-) Greater chance than I-295 of getting into some kind of crash
(+) Crash will almost certainly be much less catastrophic
(+) Don't have to worry about motor vehicles, thus more relaxing

Certainly that last positive is the deciding factor for many people, and that's fine. When I'm going somewhere for transportation, however, especially when I want to get there by a certain time, I think I'd be just as likely to choose I-295.

But then, I'm also willing to risk Veteran's Bridge, where the speeds are about the same, and there is no shoulder at all. I'll only do it good weather though, usually only in daylight, and especially only when I'm wearing high-visibility clothing. I ride just right of the center of the right lane, and cars move into the next lane to pass. It actually works. The worst part is coming up to the end, where I've found motorists are more likely to take chances squeezing into line in front of me rather than get stuck behind me at the light. (I'm talking northbound into Portland, which is my usual direction since I work in South Portland and sometimes use this bridge to come into Portland after work.) Counter-intuitively, as with much of vehicular cycling, if I move more into the complete center of the lane approaching the light, or even left of center, I have fewer problems with such squeezing, but also very little harassment about it, which some would find surprising. It's especially useful to encourage motorists continuing to the right on Commercial to pass me on the right rather than on the left, to get into that right-hand "slip lane". Looking before you change position and not cutting someone off is very important, just as in driving a car.

By the way, the times I've used I-295 northbound on Tukey's, I've also merged into the center of the lane at the light after the bridge, rather than risk a right hook, if the light is red at the time. If the light is green, I just move somewhat out of the shoulder to send the message that I'm going straight, keep vigilant for what the traffic to my left is doing, and don't try to pass slower cars on their right.

Wouldn't it be great if there were a bike path over the bridge that was "bikes only"?

If you could keep peds off it. I guess if you also kept the current pedestrian sidepath, that might be easier to do. But the engineering reality is that widening the current bridge, even cantilevering additional width onto it instead of a total rebuild, would be very expensive, probably prohibitively so in these economic times. As would building a stand-alone bicycle bridge, and then that would be very inviting to pedestrians. Although maybe the attraction to pedestrians of having fewer bicyclists on their path would serve to keep them off the bike bridge.
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