Regarding a 55 mph Lecture: Misconceptions About Bike Laws

Okay, Rome. We need to talk about bike rights.



Last Sunday, my friend Haley and I decided to go to lunch at Moe’s on Shorter Avenue. Since Moe’s is only three miles off campus and the weather was beautiful, we decided to ride our bicycles there.


Before I continue the story, you should know that we are not beginners. Haley and I have been riding bikes in different contexts since we were small children, and we have been taught road safety by our parents. In addition, we took a class last semester devoted to bicycling. We practiced safe road riding and learned the laws of bicycling in traffic.


Everything went well the first half of our round-trip journey. We arrived at Moe’s safely, locked up our bikes and enjoyed some truly addictive Tex Mex fast food. It wasn’t until the ride back that things got annoying.


We were about half a mile from campus and doing everything right as far as traffic laws go: properly signalling, stopping at lights and riding on the right shoulder of the road. Since we were on a large and busy road, we were even behind the line on the shoulder, as far from traffic as possible while still being on the road. It was at this point when a man in a very large pick-up truck, out of what I can only guess is some misplaced sense of paternalism, screamed to Haley at the top of his (very roomy) lungs, “GET ON THE SIDEWALK!”


I heard Haley’s response of “THAT’S ILLEGAL” before he yelled the same message at me. Hearing your friend scream such a message in a high-stress environment is quite jarring, and at first I thought someone was swerving in an attempt to hit us. When I heard his message, I almost wished that had been the case--getting told to "just get on the [insert explicative of choice] sidewalk" gets really old very quickly.


I may have lost some of you by revealing that there was a sidewalk present. It’s possible that you’re on this guy’s side and think that we were being unnecessarily unsafe by riding on the road instead of the sidewalk.


However, Haley was correct. According to Georgia Code, a bicycle is classified as a vehicle and “no person shall drive any vehicle upon a sidewalk” (§ 40-6-144). It follows, then, that one cannot ride a bike on the sidewalk. This law serves to protect pedestrians, of course--sidewalks are narrow and there is always the risk of being hit by a bicycle.


The law isn’t placing the safety of pedestrians above cyclists, though. It is actually considered more dangerous to ride on the sidewalk for the simple fact that motorists are not looking for people going more than 3-4 mph on a sidewalk, so you are at more risk of being hit at each driveway and intersection than you would be if you had been riding with the motorists. The major exception applies to people 12 and under, who are permitted to operate bikes on the sidewalk.


Haley and I are obviously not 12-year-old bicyclists. For us to ride our bikes on the sidewalk would constitute a violation of Georgia law.


It wouldn’t have annoyed me so much if this had been the first time this had happened. However, I’ve had this exact message screamed at me on various occasions. For some reason, people just do not seem to know that this law exists.


Even if most people don’t know the law, those of us who do are not comfortable violating it just so drivers can drive a little more carelessly.


If we had more bike lanes on major roads in Rome, this may not be such a big problem. The lack of options other than the shoulder, combined with the presence of ignorant drivers like the one we encountered, may be keeping some cyclists from using bikes as a means of transportation.


So when we choose not to ride on the sidewalk, it’s not because we’re trying to inconvenience loudmouthed pick-up truck drivers. We choose not to ride on the sidewalk because it’s illegal, unsafe and we have no other lane options.

The next time you see someone biking on the road and become unnecessarily offended, please keep that in mind before you decide to try to lecture them at 55 mph.