Answer Man: Should motorist yield to bicyclist in bike lane?

John Boyle
The Citizen-Times
A motorist asks for clarity on whether or not cars must yield to a cyclist in a designated cycling lane.

Today’s batch of burning questions, my smart-aleck answers and the real deal:

Question: I recently got into a rather heated conflict with a bicyclist. By the way, I also ride a bicycle. I was driving my car on a street where there is an established bicycle lane. A cyclist was behind me, and I was making a right-hand turn into a business. We came very close to a collision when he tried to pass me in the bike lane on the right-hand side. He immediately got in my face and told me that as a cyclist, where there is an established bicycling lane, he has the right of way. I told him that the rules of the road apply to all individuals regardless of the mode of transportation. Could the Answer Man please settle this disagreement, and in doing so perhaps increase safety on our roads?

My answer: Wait, there's conflict between cyclists and motorists? I had no idea.

Real answer: Honestly, I can see where this one would lead to confusion. 

I went to Mike Sule with the advocacy group Asheville on Bikes for clarification.

"Motorists making a right turning movement are required to yield to bicyclists who are traveling through in the bike lane," Sule said. "Approaching intersections, bike lane are perforated so motorists can merge over behind the through movement of bicyclists. Motorists should not attempt to overtake a cyclist's through movement in a bike lane."

In short, yield to the cyclist.

I also checked with the Asheville Police Department, and officer Meg Donahue with the Traffic Safety Unit cited North Carolina General Statute 20-150.1, "When passing on the right is permitted."

A reader asks if he has to yield to a cyclist in a designated cycling lane while making a right turn.

Her explanation backs up what Sule said.

"Although the statute does not specifically mention bike lanes, they should be considered a separate travel lane," Donahue said. "However, APD encourages caution if you are in a bike lane passing cars on the right."

I'd look at this as if that bicyclist were a car in their own lane. You wouldn't whip in front of said car to make your right turn, correct?

RELATED: Asheville cyclist forced off road in apparent road rage incident

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SEE ALSO: Boyle column: Let's put aside the cycling arguments

As bicyclists are well aware, motorists often don't see them or don't know the rules of the road as they pertain to cyclists. So an abundance of caution is always in order.

"Motorists turning right toward you or left across your path, and cars entering the road from parking lots or driveways, have an obligation to look for bicycles in the bike lane and merge right when it is safe to do so, but may drivers neglect to do so," Donahue said. "We encourage cyclists to be aware of this and keep a careful lookout. We also encourage motorists to be on the lookout for cyclists and adhere to these laws."

Bicycle lanes are considered official travel lanes under North Carolina law.

Sule also brought up an excellent point that this type of incident indicates a need for better signage and education for drivers.

"We have a serious problem when people don't know the rules of the road," Sule said. "I'm glad the motorist sought clarification. I encourage the North Carolina DOT to include more information regarding active transportation and vulnerable road users in its drivers education materials." 

This is the opinion of John Boyle. Contact him at 232-5847 or jboyle@citizen-times.com