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Bicyclists Rights in New York State

Where on the Road You Can Ride

NYS Vehicle & Traffic Law, Section 1234 requires cyclists and skaters to "be driven either on a USABLE bicycle or in-line skate lane or... near the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway or upon a USABLE right-hand shoulder..." But, when it comes down to it, you can ride wherever seems safest, for it gives you the right to move to the left when:

preparing for a left turn or when reasonably necessary to avoid conditions that would make it unsafe to continue along near the right-hand curb or edge. Conditions to be taken into consideration include, BUT ARE NOT LIMITED TO, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, in-line skates, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards or traffic lanes too narrow for a bicycle or person on in-line skates and a vehicle to travel safely side-by-side within the lane.

What Roads You Can Ride on

From: Daniel Convissor <danielc@panix.com>
Subject: Your Rights Under Law
To: ebikes@panix.com
Date: Mon, 15 Aug 1994 23:38:15 -0400 (EDT)

I'd like to set our legal situation straight. The threads on Manhattan's Lower West Side and the Roosevelt Island Bridge ramp need some clarification.

Stuart quoted the VTL regarding riding on West Street/12 Av, a.k.a. Route 9A, as well as the Northern Boulevard Bridge.

SD> For what it's worth NYS Vehicle and Traffic law 1229-a:
SD> No person ... shall (b) Occupy any space of a state expressway, highway
SD> or state interstate route highway, **including the entrances thereto and
SD> exits therefrom,** with ... a bicycle.... 

The above as he excerpted it made one possibly think bikes can't be on state highways. Let me provide a correct excerpt and definitions.
No person, unless otherwise directed by a police officer, shall: (b) Occupy any space of a STATE EXPRESSWAY HIGHWAY or STATE INTERSTATE ROUTE HIGHWAY, including the entrances thereto and exits therefrom, with ... a bicycle....
Note, Stuart put a comma between the words "expressway" and "highway." That throws the interpretation off. There is no comma at that point in the law. Now, for further definitions:
VTL Section 118. HIGHWAY. The entire width between the boundary lines of every way publicly maintained when any part thereof is open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel.

VTL Section 145-a. STATE EXPRESSWAY ROUTES. Those highways specified and described as such pursuant to section 340-c of the Highway Law.

VTL Section 145-b. STATE INTERSTATE ROUTES. Those highways specified and described as such pursuant to section 340-a of the Highway Law.

Sections 340-a and 340-c of the Highway Law, referred to in the previous two sections of the VTL, both contain lists of specific roadway segments. None of the highways we're talking about are listed. In summary, any street is considered a highway and most highways are not expressways or interstates.

Now, regarding the ramp to the Roosevelt Island Bridge. The Island is run by the Roosevelt Island Operating Authority (RIOA). Two VTL sections deal with regulations a state agency/authority can promulgate. Section 1630 deals with transportation authorities like the MTA and the Thruway Authority. Section 1623 deals with other state institutions and authorities, like schools and housing, which RIOA is. This section says:

Upon the APPLICATION of the heads of any... state institution, the [STATE] DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION may by order, rule or regulation prohibit, restrict or regulate traffic on or pedestrian use of any highway on the grounds of the institutions over which the body making such applications has jurisdiction.
The likelihood of the bike prohibition on the Roosevelt Island Bridge Ramp being requested by application and then instituted by state DOT is very small. So, in my opinion, feel free to ignore what the guards and signs say.

Regarding the Constitutionally protected right to travel. It has nothing to do with interstate travel and/or the Interstate Commerce Commission. I've never read any decisions on this matter, but repeat this from a good source. The right to travel is a fundamental one which can only be abridged if the state can provide a heavy burden of proof that there is a compelling state interest and meet the Supreme Court's strict scrutiny test.

How to Prosecute Drivers who Mess With You

Unfortunately, a large number of you reading this page have been threatened or injured by a driver. Here are some pointers if you're seriously interested in seeking justice. First, know the law. These Sections of New York State's Penal Law define several offenses which may have been committed against you:
Section Title Class
120.00 Assault in the third degree A Misdemeanor
120.03 Vehicular assault in the second degree E Felony
120.04 Vehicular assault in the first degree D Felony
120.05 Assault in the second degree D Felony
120.06 Gang assault in the second degree C Felony
120.07 Gang assault in the first degree B Felony
120.10 Assault in the first degree B Felony
120.12 Aggravated assault upon a person less than eleven years old E Felony
120.13 Menacing in the first degree E Felony
120.14 Menacing in the second degree A Misdemeanor
120.15 Menacing in the third degree B Misdemeanor
120.20 Reckless endangerment in the second degree A Misdemeanor
120.25 Reckless endangerment in the first degree D Felony
125.12 Vehicular manslaughter in the second degree D Felony
125.13 Vehicular manslaughter in the first degree C Felony
125.15 Manslaughter in the second degree C Felony

Of particular interest are the sections regarding Menacing. I say this because it is an offense to even THREATEN injuring someone.

Now, what are you going to do about it??? I suggest contacting your local police precinct. If you're lucky, they won't mind doing their job. Chances are, though, they 1) don't know the law and/or 2) are lazy. Don't let them blow you off. Bring in the statutes with you and show them the light. If the first person you speak to is of no assistance, demand to see the precinct's Commanding Officer.

If "the man" is of no help, take matters into your own hands. You'll need to file a "misdemeanor complaint" against the offender. Section 100 of the Criminal Procedure Law outlines how fill out and file such paperwork. In short, you have to write down the facts of the matter, put together a supporting deposition, and submit it all to the court in question.

Not all that hard, eh? GO FOR IT!!!!

[PHOTO: bicyclist] Up to the Bicycle Page


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Last updated: 10 September 1999