I have grave concerns about some of the bicycle laws in Maine and their enforcement on roadways in Maine, especially secondary roadways.

According to the information I gathered from the Bicycle Coalition of Maine website and other resources:

“Maine state law gives bicycles the same rights and responsibilities as any other vehicle operator …”

“You (the bicyclists) have the right to take possession of a travel lane to set up for a left turn …”

“If the road is too narrow for a bicycle and a car to travel side by side, the bicyclist should occupy the lane until it is safe to move back to the right.”

“So bicyclists can travel safely and without intimidation, motorists are required to allow at least 3 feet of clearance when passing bicyclists.”


Most roadways have been designed and used for passenger car traffic, light and heavy duty truck traffic and emergency vehicle traffic. Trying to use them for recreational bicycle use is dangerous.

The danger is compounded and multiple occupants of multiple motor vehicles are put in jeopardy, along with the bicyclists, when bicyclists decide to exercise their right to make a left turn, or decide to exercise their rights according to many of the laws concerning bicycles.

If I am riding my bicycle, I have the right to take possession of a travel lane to set up for a left-hand turn. I have the right to potentially impede the flow of traffic so I can make my left-hand turn. I have the right to potentially cause a multiple vehicle pile-up because I have the right to make my left-hand turn.

Last summer on Route 231, I was approaching a blind hill with a blind curve when a woman driving a station wagon appeared in my lane, setting the stage for a head-on collision. There was a lone bicyclist on her right. She was over-compensating for the flawed, 3-foot law, or, she was taking the Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s “courtesy” rule literally without reading the part about doing so when it is “practical and safe.” (ME-29A MRS§ 2063)

The fundamental problem is that many of the roadways in Maine do not have the physical infrastructure in place to accommodate both motor vehicles and bicycle traffic safely. You can champion a cause all you want, but if the infrastructure is not there to support it, it is not there.

To give people a false sense of protection from the inalienable laws of physics by creating laws that do not and cannot work in reality is wrong. Filing incident reports when they feel their “rights” have been violated so they can press charges is not going to do bicyclists any good when they are in pieces in the ditch or are part of a multiple-vehicle crash site.


The 3-foot rule is flawed and it is not a realistic expectation on a roadway that does not offer a paved breakdown lane. Secondary roadway lanes may be 12 feet wide on either side, the average vehicle is 5 to 6 feet wide (trucks and emergency vehicles being wider), and the bicyclist can travel in the lane because there is no breakdown lane. By law, the operator of the motor vehicle can either apply the brakes and follow the bicycle rider for however long it takes the bicycle rider to find a place where he can remove himself from the lane, or the motor vehicle operator can go around him, giving him the mandatory 3 feet.

One might think, well, 12 minus 6 equals 6, which equals 3 feet on either side of the motor vehicle. No so. The problem is the bicyclist is already taking up the 3 feet to the right, so in order to accommodate the 3-foot law, the 3 feet is shifted to the left, which puts the motor vehicle’s driver-side wheels on the center line. In going around the bicyclist, motor vehicle drivers routinely go over into the other lane, setting the stage for head-on collisions.

I have a few alternatives:

— In rural areas, bicyclists should only ride on roadways that have a paved 3-foot or wider breakdown lane that can be used as a bicycle lane.

— If there is a white line that marks off the breakdown lane, the bicyclist(s) are not to ride on the white line but are to travel as far right of the white line as possible.

— Bicyclists using the roadways in winter travel at their own risk.

— Bicyclists who travel on roadways that do not have a paved breakdown lane travel at their own risk and it is their responsibility to move out of the way of traffic.

Roadways are for motor vehicles; bicycle lanes and bicycle paths are for bicycles.

Wendy Leighton lives in New Gloucester.

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