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Bike Law 101: Riding two abreast

Posted by Animated Traffic Law Center on June 7th, 2011 at 8:59 am

Social cycling on N. Willamette Blvd.
(Photo © J. Maus)

The beauty of a bicycle is that by its very design it lends itself to connecting its operator with other people, be it another person on a bike or anyone else nearby. The technology itself encourages social interaction.

I hope it was with this understanding about bicycles and human nature that led to the creation of the law allowing bicyclists to ride two abreast (but more likely it's the bicycle's relatively small physical footprint).

The problem, of course, is that bicycles are playing in an arena with a technology (automobiles) that by its very design discourages social interaction outside of itself. In many ways, these two technologies couldn’t be more different on their social impact: Bicycles naturally lend themselves to social interactions while motor vehicles to social isolation — it’s a rub that causes a tremendous amount of friction on multiple fronts, including livability, urban design, and even traffic law.

Bicycles defined as vehicles (which is the case in Oregon) makes for a kind of dissonance for anyone familiar with riding one. The law, in many instances, mandates bicycles be operated in a manner that minimizes their potential as mobile social hubs. It’s analogous to passing laws requiring all pedestrians to walk single file on a sidewalk.

(Illustration by Dan Pegoda/Animated Traffic Law Center for BikePortland.org)

Of course, the purpose of the law requiring people to ride no more than two abreast is to ensure the safe and unimpeded flow of both bicycle and motor vehicle traffic; but it’s a compromise law that satisfies neither type of user.

Here’s what the law actually says:

814.430 Improper use of lanes; exceptions; penalty.

(1) A person commits the offense of improper use of lanes by a bicycle if the person is operating a bicycle on a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic using the roadway at that time and place under the existing conditions and the person does not ride as close as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway....

(e) When operating a bicycle alongside not more than one other bicycle as long as the bicycles are both being operated within a single lane and in a manner that does not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.

People riding bicycles have the legal right to ride two abreast as long as:

  • they are riding within one lane of traffic.
  • motor vehicles approaching from the rear are able to pass safely while sharing the same lane.*
  • after riding two abreast, they must return to single file, moving to the far side of the roadway as is safe, once one or more vehicles stack up behind them.
    (*It's controversial whether “impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic” is referring to a motor vehicle operator's ability to pass within the lane shared with the person on a bike or having to move outside the lane to pass. This section of the ORS seems to imply that it is the shared lane where the impeding takes place, not the entirety of the highway.)

Whether the exception — when the lane is so narrow that a car and a bike are not able to safely share it — means that bicycle operators are within their right to continue to ride two abreast until the lane widens, is a great question and open for debate. Fortunately, PBOT’s general direction is to give people more room. Their new standard for bike lane width is six feet, a size that is specifically formulated to allow for two bicycles to ride side-by-side. And their growing network of bike boulevards also give bike traffic plenty of room. 

But like always, regardless of the law, the endgame remains the same: be considerate of other road users and treat them as you would like to be treated.

— Bike Law 101 appears twice a month thanks to the generous support of West End Bikes PDX (corner of 11th and SW Stark in downtown Portland). It's written by Karen Lally and Kurt Jansen of the non-profit Animated Traffic Law Center based in Eugene, Oregon. For more info on bike law, browse the Bike Law 101 archives

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Comments
  • Randall S. June 7, 2011 at 9:14 am

    "[B]e considerate of other road users and treat them as you would like to be treated."

    I strive to both ride, drive, and walk with this in mind. Thanks ATLC!

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  • fiets503 June 7, 2011 at 9:20 am

    great article. thanks for sharing your knowledge!

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  • Mari Lynch - Bicycling Monterey June 7, 2011 at 9:58 am

    Thanks. Monterey Bay Street Smarts blog discussed this recently, and your remarks are helpful. Added a link to this to "Personal Safety" section of "Tips for Bicycling Monterey County."
    http://marilynch.com/blog/tips-for-tourists/personal-safety

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  • Spiffy June 7, 2011 at 10:21 am

    what law says that you have to stop riding two abreast when motor vehicles get stacked up behind you?

    also, can't the "normal and reasonable movement of traffic" refer to all modes? pedestrians, bicycles, and cars? I don't see how you could ever be impeding traffic unless you stop for no reason...

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    • Chris I June 7, 2011 at 11:08 am

      "does not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic."
      If you are going 15-20mph, blocking traffic on a 35 or 45 mph road, I would consider that to be impeding the "normal" and "reasonable" movement of traffic. Move over and let the cars pass. If you are cruising next to your buddy at 15mph on a 25mph neighborhood bike boulevard, I don't think you need to move over. It might be a nice gesture, though.

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    • Carl B. June 7, 2011 at 12:45 pm

      So, Spiffy, you wouldn't mind at all, or feel impeded, if a group of pedestrians decided to walk very slowly down the bike lane and block all the bikes?

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      • John Russell (jr98664) June 7, 2011 at 5:40 pm

        So long as they're not stretching from curb to curb, there shouldn't be an issue. If you can pass them during a break in traffic, I don't see much of an issue.

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  • Bob_M June 7, 2011 at 11:48 am

    I commonly see riders two abreast at 7 or 8 MPH chatting away, like it was some sewing bee, impeding vehicle traffic. I have also seen it on the Hawthorn bridge, same speed, same disregard for others, who in that case were on bicycles.

    It should not need mentioning that the roads are built to facilitate transportation. I am amazed that people take umbrage at having to compromise their socializing while bicycling to allow vehicles to pass.

    Share the road goes both ways.

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    • Joseph June 7, 2011 at 12:09 pm

      Pretty much this.

      I generally travel alone, but when I do go out with friends, I try to encourage them, as well as do myself, to ride in a way that does not impede traffic for bikes or motor vehicles. I don't think of cycling as an opportunity to socialize, I think of it as a method of getting somewhere faster than walking but not having to drive a car.

      For me, it's all about speed and being safe while doing it, and being single file is the way to do it unless I have a need to communicate for directions or plans.

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      • q`Tzal June 7, 2011 at 12:33 pm

        It all comes back to "Share the road".

        Whether it is a ragin` cager in their overpowered, oversized 6000 lb single occupancy vehicle or a hipster coffee klatch, on bike or on foot, blocking all safe avenues of travel we must act as if we are sharing the road with our closest friends and allow all to pass.

        Then you can go back to your game of Ultimate Hacky Sack which you plainly posted on the Hawthorne Bridge Facebook event calendar.

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    • dan June 7, 2011 at 12:58 pm

      Amen! Saw a couple on a cruiser tandem struggling up Hawthorne last weekend, choking the street down to effectively one lane. Incredibly inconsiderate to other road users...but I bet they're like that no matter what mode they're using.

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  • Mike C. June 7, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    I find this confusing, " A person commits the offense of improper use of lanes by a bicycle if the person is operating a bicycle on a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic using the roadway at that time and place under the existing conditions and the person does not ride as close as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway...." as I interpret it to mean I cannot take the lane unless I can keep up with traffic?

    My personal view on it has always been that a car could just go around and pass me just as if I was any other slower moving vehicle on the road.

    I do tend to move over to the right as an act of goodwill/courtesy. But there's a reason roads have dotted lines, which is to to allow drivers to pass slower moving traffic...

    Also, the traffic code uses the term "bicycle" in some places and "non-motorized vehicle" in others. If a bicycle is vehicle and has to obey all the same rules as other vehicles than bikes should be able to use the lane as a "non-motorized vehicle" and not be relegated to the narrow, gravel, glass, junk laden shoulders of the road.

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  • Chris June 7, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Law seems reasonable.

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  • Greg June 7, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    I've heard many times how the "Idaho Stop" is a special rule for bikes, and we shouldn't have special rules for any mode (which is contrary to the actual vehicle code).
    This law is an excellent talking point about how we already have special rules, and how they can benefit motor vehicle traffic.

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  • Waltzing Matilda June 7, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Who gets to decide how close to the right side or roadway edge is practical? I have actually had words with a local cop about this. Not to mention -what if you need to turn left? Am I supposed to cross two lanes of traffic to go left?

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  • Mindful Cyclist June 7, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    "The technology itself encourages social interaction."

    I can't really say I agree with that. All too often when I see people "socializing" on their bikes, it means he/she is not the paying proper attention needed to ride safely.

    Also, if you want to ride two abreast, please go ahead. Just please understand that by doing that you are more than likely going slower than average and there are some people that want to pass.

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    • captainkarma June 7, 2011 at 6:04 pm

      Every bike should have a bell; a friendly bell rings behind you, ya kindly move over to allow others to pass.

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      • was carless June 8, 2011 at 11:59 am

        Every time I use my bell a hipster thinks I'm trying to race them so they speed up and move to the left. After spending much time cycling in Europe, I find American cyclists highly annoying. I actually prefer the cruiser crowd as they seem to be the only ones who aren't self-righteous jerks.

        And, stop signs and traffic lights. Can people please stop blowing through the light in Grand?!

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  • wsbob June 7, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    There are many road situations where it's possible and reasonable to ride side by side and socialize. Enabling this to be so, is the consciousness of people on the bikes, in such situations, to the attendant road conditions and to other road users behind them, whether they're people traveling in motor vehicles or on bikes.

    A lot of the people doing this riding abreast, aren't paying little attention at all to people behind them. Add to that, is that they don't seem to understand how to quickly and safely transition back into single file (one should offer to fall back...a hand signal to the road user behind, that a move to single file is happening, wouldn't be a bad idea either.).

    Many motor vehicle operators also may not be understanding what's involved in people riding bikes transitioning from riding abreast, to single file, especially when it involves a large group of people on bikes, instead of just too. It takes longer for large groups, because single file effectively doubles the linear length of road required for bike travel.

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  • wsbob June 7, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    Correction: A lot of people doing this riding abreast, are paying little attention at all to people behind them.

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  • Schrauf June 7, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    There are a dozen reasons you might be "controlling the lane" and yet be as close as practicable to the right. Doors, driveways, rough payment are all reasons you may need to ride down the middle of a lane (for safety), and yet for the conditions, you are as close as practicable to the right.

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    • OnTheRoad June 7, 2011 at 3:46 pm

      I wonder about using the second-from-the-curb lane on SE Grand where they've installed the streetcar tracks.

      Seems like riding along the curb or in the lane with the tracks would present a hazard and thus qualify as an exception to riding to the right.

      ORS 814.430 c) allows moving into the lane "When reasonably necessary to avoid hazardous conditions including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards or other conditions that make continued operation along the right curb or edge unsafe..."

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  • fiatluxe June 7, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    I was wondering about this as now that the weather is nicer, I've encountered this a number of times on Alberta Street between MLK and 33rd. In nearly every instance, it's been two people taking the lane to bike very slowly while chatting, seemingly uninterested in the flow of traffic behind them. Seems gratuitous. . .

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  • Jeff P June 7, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    I always considered this law a response to allowing cyclists to pass one another without technically being illegal - e.g. the passer not being as close to the right as possible. It seems less likely to be a social response.

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  • Andy June 7, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    So, is riding two abreast on an uncrowded, one-way, two lanes city street with a 25 mph speed limit legal? I've done this regularly because I thought motorists were unimpeded since they could easily change lanes, but this description makes it sound like what I do is illegal.

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  • BURR June 7, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    If the law is ambiguous, claiming that you can only ride two abreast if a motorist is still able to pass in the same lane that you are riding in, is clearly taking the motorists' side, rather than the cyclists'.

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  • are June 7, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    i completely disagree that 814.430(2)(e) implies that an overtaking motorist should be able to overtake within the same travel lane. in fact, where the lane is too narrow to share safely with an overtaking motorist anyway, riding two abreast is probably a good way to assert the space.

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    • Pete June 7, 2011 at 4:03 pm

      That popped into my mind as well. There's a downtown portion of a ride I frequently do where we find that without riding two abreast some drivers will aggressively pass over the line, only to slam on the brakes in front of you as the tourist in front of them stops for vacant crosswalks thinking there's a stop sign there (and looks around at all the pretty sights). This has happened to me twice, the driver behind me ignorant that I was leaving some gap on purpose knowing this was about to occur (the out of state license plates are a dead giveaway).

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  • Ryno Dan June 7, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    When operating a bicycle, it is impossible to classify the users who are behind as "stacked up". This post just perpetuates the idea that cyclists "impede" motor vehicle operators. Might is right, and the more powerful have a god-given, constitutional right to go first. Everyone else, get out of the way.

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  • Mike C. June 7, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    @Ryan - This is exactly my point about the term "bicycle" vs "non-motorized vehicle". If you're operating a vehicle that is legal to be on the road than you have full legitimate right to use the whole lane. Faster traffic can pass or if you're going considerably slower you can out of courtesy move over to the side and let faster traffic pass.

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  • Doug Klotz June 7, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    @dan:
    Any bicycling at all on Hawthorne Blvd involves taking a lane, as the lanes are only 9 feet wide. So, yes, I guess that's "Choking it down to one lane". Like the current Williams debate, the Advisory Committee on the Hawthorne Streetscape plan years ago was split on whether to reduce Hawthorne in its entirety from 4 lanes to 2 plus bike lanes. The bike lanes lost, but only narrowly. The compromise is those signs that say "Bike in Lane". It's expected that bikes will take up one lane on Hawthorne. If your destination is on Hawthorne, or if it's a more direct route, I don't think it's inconsiderate to take Hawthorne. There's another lane the autos can use.

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    • dan June 7, 2011 at 10:14 pm

      We will have to agree to disagree on this point. I think riding dead slow up Hawthorne, ignoring the cars stacking up behind you, is no more appropriate than driving a car up the street at 5 mph. This kind of inconsiderate behavior makes the street harder to use for everyone.

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    • OnTheRoad June 8, 2011 at 5:17 am

      And the plan also mentions markings on the street to indicate bikes may share the lane. Seems like perfect situation for adding sharrows.

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    • BURR June 8, 2011 at 10:47 am

      The Hawthorne Plan also included the installation of sharrows after they were approved and in the MUTCD. Sharrows have been included in the MUTCD for over two years now, and the city has failed to keep that committment they made in the Hawthorne Plan.

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  • Kristen June 8, 2011 at 9:07 am

    Section 2, exceptions (which includes "e" in the article) says:

    (c) When reasonably necessary to avoid hazardous conditions including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards or other conditions that make continued operation along the right curb or edge unsafe or to avoid unsafe operation in a lane on the roadway that is too narrow for a bicycle and vehicle to travel safely side by side. Nothing in this paragraph excuses the operator of a bicycle from the requirements under ORS 811.425 (Failure of slower driver to yield to overtaking vehicle) or from the penalties for failure to comply with those requirements."

    So it seems to me that the supposition that another vehicle should be able to pass you in the same lane is a false one-- unless the lane is wide enough for the other vehicle to pass a bicycle given the 3-foot requirement.

    Especially after reading through 811.425.

    Also, I don't read anywhere in the law as given in the link that an overtaking vehicle must be able to pass in the same lane. It seems to me that if there are two lanes in one direction, two bicyclists can ride side-by-side in one lane and stay there as long as other vehicles can safely pass-- again, so long as they are staying as far to the right as is "practicable" (I hate that word).

    If there is only one lane in each direction, the law requires cyclists to yield to faster traffic by moving over to the right-- and to me, that means riding single file until the impeded traffic has cleared out.

    Common sense should prevail. If you and your buddy are riding along in the travel lane side-by-side and not keeping up with traffic, common sense says to move over to let the faster traffic behind you pass by. Then once it's clear, move back to side-by-side. Share the road goes both ways here.

    Now, if you can ride side-by-side in the bike lane, I say go for it. Don't forget to watch behind you for faster bicycling traffic though.

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  • GlowBoy June 8, 2011 at 11:53 am

    "This post just perpetuates the idea that cyclists "impede" motor vehicle operators." - Ryno Dan

    We often DO impede motor vehicle operators! That doesn't necessarily mean we should get out of the way, but what's wrong with acknowledging the truth?

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  • ignorancewasbliss June 8, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    Looks to me like there are plenty of circumstances that riding 2 or more abreast is legal, i.e.: going the speed of traffic, preparing for a left turn, riding on the left side of a one way while others are riding on the right, narrow lane, passing two cyclists riding abreast,.... The mention of politely riding two abreast in one lane appears to be just another exemption to riding far to the right. The presence of a rider or two (or more) riding too far to the right for the conditions, shouldn't prevent a cyclist from taking a lane when it's the safest thing to do.

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  • Tara July 25, 2013 at 10:06 am

    @ignornance - I completely agree - it's always better to take charge of a lane (and you conserve space if you right two abreast) than if you are trying to hug the curb and get a car that passes you too closely.

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