Portland Maine Bicycle Commuting Message Board Bicycle Driving › LCI Legal Troubles in MA

LCI Legal Troubles in MA

John B.
JohnB38
Westbrook, ME
Post #: 1,300
Last September, an LCI (League Cycling Instructor from the League of American Bicyclists) acquaintance of mine from MA was arrested for disorderly conduct after arguing calmly with a police officer who wanted to prevent him from riding in the travel lane of a state road, which is legal. His court date is coming up on Monday, March 1, in Springfield, MA. I'm hoping to travel there to be moral support for him. If anyone else is interested in riding along (in a car smile), please let me know. I think we'll have to leave pretty early in the morning. The court session begins at 9 AM, although there's no indication of when during the day his particular case will come up.

Here's his account (from a section of his Facebook note of the incident):

Now for the recent incident, which occured while traveling North on Route 5 in West Springfield Massachusetts on Monday, October 28th at approximately 7:30PM. Similar to the incident that occurred last year, I was returning from the Big E (basically a state fair) in Agawam Massachusetts when I was pulled over by a pair of police officers, each in a separate patrol car, one of them later identified as Joseph Reed.

Officer Reed claimed that it was illegal to ride a bicycle on a State highway and that I was obstructing traffic and causing a hazard. He was very angry and I did not try to lecture him but I did assert my right to the road. He asked a number of questions, which I answered calmly and concisely. However, my answered seemed to make him increasingly more angry and agitated and he repeated told me to shut up while I was attempting to answer his questions. He put his face right up close to my face and yelled at me for more than a full minute, during which he asked me more questions that I attempted not to answer so as to avoid angering him further. Much of what he said was quite insulting. He clearly did not like that I rode a bicycle, that I lived in Amherst (a town with politically progressive reputation), and that I knew something about the law. Eventually, he asked me what the problem would be with riding on the shoulder. I answered that it would be very dangerous. The other officer, who had been silent until then, said, questioningly, "But riding in the travel lane would not be dangerous?" I answered, "Yes." Officer Reed handcuffed me and placed me under arrest, stating disorderly conduct as the charge, and had me sit in the back seat of his patrol car. I should point out that my behavior during this incident in no way constituted a physical so handcuffs should not have been necessary.

While riding in the patrol car, Officer Reed told me that I should stay in Amherst. I asked whether he meant that did not have a right to travel wherever I wanted. He responded dismissively.

And the officer's statement:

On 09/28/2009 at approximately 19:30pm while traveling north on Rt5 in the area of East Elm St traffic was was traveling at about 10mph in the travel lane this is a 40mph zone. I also heard several vehicles blowing their horns and swerving into the passing lane. The vehicle in front of me moved over into the passing lane at this time I observed a bicyclist traveling in the travel lane of Rt5. I activated my emergency lights and turn the siren on then off, the bicyclist at this time waved for me to go around him.

I again gave the siren a short burst again at this time the bicyclist pulled over to the shoulder of the road. The bicyclist was identified as Eli Damon(06/07/1977) he was advised that he could not ride in the travel lane of Rt 5 that he could be struck by a vehicle and that he was causing a hazard. He advised me that he has every right to ride in the road. I again told him that it was to dangerous to ride in the middle of Rt 5. At this time he stepped into the travel lane of Rt5 stating and pointing to the center white line stating that is the middle of the road, I was riding here pointing to the travel lane of Rt 5. Several vehicles had swerve from the travel lane into the passing lane to avoid hitting him.

I again told Eli Damon to stay out of the road he again stated that he could ride in the road. I again told him to stay out of the road. Several vehicles where slowing down to see what Eli Damon was doing which was causing traffic to start backing up. At this time he was placed under arrest for disorderly conduct and transported back to the station where he was booked and afforded all rights.

I think (and I have a question to Eli asking him to confirm) that the key issue for bicycling here is that the prosecution seems to be alleging that the disorderly conduct was using the travel lane, not just (or maybe not even) arguing with the police about it afterward. The disorderly conduct statute in MA reads, in part (emphasis mine):

A person is guilty of disorderly conduct if, with purpose to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, he: (a) engages in fighting or threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior; or (b) makes unreasonable noise or offensively coarse utterance, gesture or display, or addresses abusive language to any person present; or (c) creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose of the actor.

At one point during pre-trial hearings, a judge stated his belief that Eli's "manner of cycling constituted a hazard and served no legitimate purpose", underscoring that what he saw at issue was Eli's use of the travel lane, not the argument with the officer afterwards.

I note in Eli's discussion of the incident that the road did have a shoulder, which no doubt the officers thought he should be using, but he chose not to use it, as is his in right under MA law. I don't know anything about the width or condition of that shoulder, but even were it 8' of smooth pavement free of debris, this charge would seem to undermine the fact that MA law does not require bicyclists to use shoulders, which are not legally considered travel lanes for any type of vehicle. (I don't know MA law; I'm basing this on what he and others have said on his note.)

Again, if anyone else wants to come along on March 1, let me know.
John B.
JohnB38
Westbrook, ME
Post #: 1,301
Update from Eli:
Despite a court order, the prosecutor has not yet specified which act he is alleging to constitute disorderly conduct, although my lawyer thinks that it will be my cycling on the road. John Allen has graciously offered to give expert testimony.

A former member
Post #: 583
What a nightmare. I read the entire Facebook account. I cant go on 3/1. Let us know how it goes.
Scott
user 5414356
Brunswick, ME
Post #: 125
I think that disorderly conduct for cycling on the road might actually be easier to defend against than disorderly conduct for arguing with the officer.

If cycling in the road "serves no legitimate purpose" then a guilty verdict would effectively ban vehicular cycling on all roads in the state. I can't believe that any judge would interpret disorderly conduct so creatively, but the prosecutor did, so I guess anything's possible in MA.
John B.
JohnB38
Westbrook, ME
Post #: 1,304
Like I say, I don't know the shoulder conditions where Eli was riding, but I can imagine it being difficult to get past the general public perception that shoulder riding is safer than lane riding, almost regardless of the condition of the shoulder. If there was a decent shoulder at that location, I can put myself in the general non-cycling public's position of imagining that riding in the lane served no legitimate purpose when a shoulder was there. I'm sure that's where the cops were coming from. Hopefully the judge has a little more knowledge of and perspective on MA roadway law than the cops did.
Bob B.
user 3380725
Scarborough, ME
Post #: 113
If this incident were to have happened in Maine, and if the shoulder conditions were good (equivalent to the travel lane), would the cyclist be breaking the law by not riding "as far to the right as practicable?"
John B.
JohnB38
Westbrook, ME
Post #: 1,308
If this incident were to have happened in Maine, and if the shoulder conditions were good (equivalent to the travel lane), would the cyclist be breaking the law by not riding "as far to the right as practicable?"

I don't think so, because the shoulder is not considered a travel lane, and it's usage as one by bicyclists is explicitly not required by law, only allowed (Title 29-A, §2063, paragraph 2-A).

If you look at the "ride to the right" law, the exact wording is "shall drive on the right portion of the way" (Title 29-A, §2063, paragraph 2, emphasis mine).

What does it mean by "the way"? Definitions are provided in §101, where definition #92 says: "'Way' means the entire width between boundary lines of a road, highway, parkway, street or bridge used for vehicular traffic, whether public or private." (Emphasis again mine.)

So "between boundary lines" seems to me to pretty clearly exclude the shoulder, which is by definition a section outside a boundary line. (The term "boundary line" does not seem to be defined by statute, so I'm assuming shoulder line = boundary line.) This also seems consistent with the shoulder not being considered a travel lane. Of course, if the road does not have a shoulder line, then it's all lane and the point is moot.

I don't know if all cops, judges, and lawyers would have this interpretation, or if there have ever been any cases setting precedent for this interpretation, but it makes enough sense to me to operate according to it.

By the way, I think that this travel lane/non-travel lane distinction is the basis on which some bike lane critics claim that a ride to the right law is also a de-facto bike lane requirement law, even in places that lack a specific bike lane requirement law. They claim that because a bike lane is a travel lane, albeit a vehicle-preferential one, it is therefore inside the way's boundary lines (to use Maine's language), and so if the farthest practicable space on the right side of a road happens to be in a bike lane, and there is no reason not to use it according to the right to the right law (hazards, etc.), then the ride to the right law does require use of the space where the bike lane happens to be. I'm not as sure about this interpretation; it seems kind of a gray area in the law, and I'm not aware that it's even been tested in court in any state.

I have also heard (but not confirmed personally) that MA actually lacks a ride to the right law, which might explain why the officer went with the less intuitive charge of disorderly conduct (if, in fact, the charge refers to the lane usage and not the subsequent argument).

I think I must have a secret desire to be a lawyer (if I don't go with traffic engineer instead). biggrin
mike
user 3053132
Portland, ME
Post #: 421
If this incident were to have happened in Maine, and if the shoulder conditions were good (equivalent to the travel lane), would the cyclist be breaking the law by not riding "as far to the right as practicable?"

Maybe if enough non-lawyers keep talking, we can get an actual lawyer to chime in and set us straight! :)

For what it is worth, I agree with John's interpretation. The law quite clearly says "may travel on paved shoulders" and I feel pretty comfortable about the definition of the word "may". That entire line sets up the shoulder as an exception to "the way".

Another way to think about "the way" is to imagine a car-width shoulder in good condition. Now imagine a car deciding to drive in the shoulder for a few miles for some reason. Then imagine how a police officer/judge would respond the driver's claims that it is a travel lane.

But let's make this more confusing. Look at Ocean Avenue between Forest and Washington. Previously, it was a road with a shoulder. Just before winter, they finished repaving and making the bike lanes. To make the bike lanes, they added "bike lanes" signs but did not do anything else. In other words, the previous shoulders were re-designated as bike lanes.

So, when the few feet of pavement next to the curb were called "shoulders" they were not part of "the way".

But now that they are re-designated as "bike lanes" are they part of "the way" or not? Let's assume they get all the snow and sand out of them someday. I'm biking down Ocean Avenue just outside the bike lane. Can I be ticketed? Am I far to the right as practicable? Is the bike lane part of the way? Does "the way" now effectively extend all the way to the curb, since there is no longer any "shoulder"? Or is the bike lane not part of "the way" because cars can't drive in it? Or can they? Maybe if there are no bikes around?
John B.
JohnB38
Westbrook, ME
Post #: 1,309
My interpretation would be that yes, the bike lane is part of the way, because if it is a travel lane, then this road no longer has any "boundary line", it is bounded only by the curb. The inner bike lane line is no more a boundary line than are the lines separating general travel lanes. (These bike lanes have no curbside line, I assume? I haven't actually ridden there yet.)

So unfortunately, I think that technically, if the bike lane is clear of the hazards mentioned in the ride to the right law, and otherwise practicable, you are de-facto required to use it. That's just my non-professional opinion. I know Ken disagrees, and I understand his point philosophically, but I'm not convinced it's legally defensible under current statute. Maybe he could argue another reason that it is not practicable.

Of course this all hinges on the definition of bike lane = travel lane, which I'm only assuming. Maine statute currently does not mention bike lanes at all, so I think that may be another gray area. But clearly, other preferential-use lanes such as carpool lanes are considered to be travel lanes, perhaps without even needing to be defined as such by statute, just by engineering convention. The important difference between those and bike lanes is that those lanes do not enforce usage by those vehicle types through some other law, as the ride to the right seems to do for bikes.
Scott
user 5414356
Brunswick, ME
Post #: 129
So unfortunately, I think that technically, if the bike lane is clear of the hazards mentioned in the ride to the right law, and otherwise practicable, you are de-facto required to use it.

However, one could argue that the narrow width of some of these "bike shoulders" makes the lanes themselves a hazard. Let's say that, in order to stay within the confines of the "bike shoulder", I would have to ride with my tires 6 inches from the edge of the pavement -- which drops off into loose sand. I would argue that in that case it is legal to ride outside the "bike shoulder" based on Title 29-A, §2063, paragraph 2, D: "A person operating a bicycle...shall drive on the right portion of the way as far as practicable except...when necessary to avoid hazardous conditions, including, but not limited to...sand...surface hazards...".
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