Contending With the Feudal Bicycle
Traffic Laws of NE Ohio -- Part 2

by Fred Oswald, PE, LCI #947


This article shows part of a bicycle travel route that passes through several NE Ohio communities.  The purpose is to show how Ohio's feudal system of bicycle traffic laws creates a "crazy quilt" of conflicting rules that often mandate dangerous practices.

A person driving a motor vehicle on this route will have a single set of consistent driving rules because section 4511.06 of the Ohio Revised Code requires the "Uniform application and precedence of traffic law."

Until 2006, ORC allowed local authorities powers for "Regulating the operation of bicycles" with no restrictions on what form this regulation may take.  The many communities operate like little feudal fiefs, each with separate rules that conflict with the rules in other communities and that conflict with the uniform rules followed by the majority of roadway users.  Since most local officials do not know how to operate bicycles correctly, the resulting regulation tends to be dangerous and discriminatory.

Ohio House Bill 389, which became effective on 21 Sep 2006, has made most of these bad local ordinances invalid.  HB 389 retains the right for local regulation of bicycle operation.  However: ... no such regulation shall be fundamentally inconsistent with the uniform rules of the road.  Also, No such regulation shall prohibit the use of bicycles on any public street or highway (except freeways) and No local authority may require that bicycles be operated on sidewalks.  In addition, signs are required to give notice of any local regulation that is not identical with state law.


This section of our tour leaves North Olmsted (rated D) with its several problem ordinances described in the last section.

Next, we enter Fairview Park (rated D-).  Here we are required to ride on any sidepath beside the road. Children under 12 are allowed only on residential streets, no matter whether they are accompanied by parents or whether they have been taught proper methods.  (Among the proper methods is staying off sidewalks.)

As we pass the airport, we are briefly in Cleveland (rated C).  Cleveland's bicycle ordinances are consistent with pre-2006 Ohio Law.  Unfortunately they include the "far right rule", which says shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable ....  This often gets misinterpreted "as far right as possible", and that encourages dangerous lane position.  Another problem with pre-2006 Ohio bicycle laws (copied by Cleveland) is requiring "nuisance" safety equipment, including ineffective reflectors and a bell.  The list of nearly useless reflectors makes people less likely to use headlights, which are much more important.

UPDATE:  HB 389 eliminated the "nuisance" safety equipment.  Therefore, these requirements are now invalid.  HB 389 also added clarifying language for the 'far right rule" that must be added to Cleveland's ordinance

Next, we ride through Brook Park (rated A-).  Brook Park pioneered some of the language added to Ohio law in 2006 by adding the clarifying paragraph below to the "far right rule" and by deleting mention of nuisance safety equipment.  But there is a problem -- Brook Park requires a brake which will enable the operator to make the brake wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement.  This test is unsafe to try and impossible to meet for most bicycles that have a brake on the front wheel.

The clarifying paragraph says:  This section shall not require a person operating a bicycle to ride at the edge of the roadway when it is unreasonable or unsafe to do so.  Conditions that may require riding away from the edge of the roadway include, but are not limited to, when necessary to avoid fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, surface hazards, or if it is otherwise unsafe or impracticable to do so, including if the lane is too narrow for the bicycle and an overtaking vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.  This paragraph is almost identical to the paragraph added to Ohio Law by HB 389.  Brook Park provided a model followed by Ohio Law.

Finally, we enter Middleburg Hts (rated C).  This is another city whose bicycle ordinances are generally consistent with pre-2006 Ohio Traffic Law, including the problems noted above for Cleveland.

Better Local Laws

Green color indicates cities with ordinances generally consistent with Ohio Law (rating C or better).  They mostly support safe operation of bicycles.  However, some include the old version of the Ohio "far right rule" that encourages unsafe lane position and they require useless safety equipment.

Bad Local Laws

Yellow color indicates cities with ordinances inconsistent with Ohio Law and that discourage safe operation of bicycles (rating D).  The most common defects require riding on a sidepath or requiring children to ride on sidewalks.  Sidewalk and sidepath riding has 2-9 times the crash risk as the adjacent road.

Dangerous Local Laws

Red color indicates cities with local bicycle traffic ordinances strongly inconsistent with Ohio Law and that strongly discourage safe operation of bicycles (rating F).  These cities typically require even adults to ride on sidewalks.  Some also have other rules inconsistent with Ohio Law.



N Olmsted, Cleveland, Brook Park, Middleburg





Please tell the author if you know of changes to ordinances (especially improvements).
For comments, questions, contact fredoswald_AT_yahoo.com.
The author is a certified "League Cycling Instructor" and a professional engineer in Ohio.
Last Revised 12/ 5/09.  Check for updates at www.clevelandbikes.org
© Copyright 2005-2009 Fred Oswald.  Non Commercial distribution authorized.
Map courtesy Google Maps

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