Beware the Crosswalk

By Andrew Fischer,
Bike Lawyer

Cyclists, particularly those who use the Southwest Corridor, the Jamaicaway and other bike paths, may wonder what rights they have when the bike path crosses a street. Often there is a marked crosswalk, which might suggest that a cyclist in the crossing has the same rights as a pedestrian. Unfortunately, this may not be true.

Massachusetts has a specific law, General Laws Chapter 89 §11, that makes it illegal for a motorist to hit a pedestrian in a crosswalk. However, this law may not apply to a cyclist in a crosswalk. Moreover, a cyclist is not considered by the law to be a pedestrian. A cyclist, according to the laws in place today, is operating a vehicle, not a motor vehicle, but a vehicle, nonetheless.

This is perhaps a side effect of granting a cyclist the same right to use the roadway as a motorist, which has come to require following the same rules of the road as a motor vehicle operator. In that set of laws, a cyclist’s use of pedestrian crosswalks is generally not considered.

Because of all of this, legally speaking, cyclists may be better off dismounting when crossing a major intersecting street, like a divided multi-lane highway, because in those instances, the cyclist is off the bike, and legally will be considered a pedestrian if hit.

The situation is even worse for the cyclist on a bike path intersected by a regular road. Even though there may be white zebra stripe lines looking like a crosswalk, there is not yet any law that recognizes these crosswalks as bicycle crosswalks. What’s worse, even though there may be a “warning bicycle crossing” or a “yield to bicyclists” sign, the cyclist likely has a stop sign or a yield sign as well.

Since the cyclist has to follow the rules of the road, as a vehicle operator, it appears that the cyclist must come to a stop and yield to the motorist in the intersecting roadway. And there is a real danger there because bicyclists traveling swiftly down bike paths are often not easily noticeable to motorists on the intersecting roads, especially on paths like the Jamaica Way, where the path is hidden by greenery.

Most importantly, don’t allow the seeming protection of the marked bike crossing deceive you. If the cyclist is hit and injured by a motorist while in the bicycle crossing, the motorist who hit the cyclist can claim that the crash was legally the cyclist’s fault, as the cyclist had a stop or a yield sign.

As we build more bike paths, Massachusetts needs new laws that protect bicyclists in bicycle crossings. I hope to be involved in drafting such a law to be filed in the next legislative session. In the meantime, be careful crossing the street that cross the bike paths.