Ask MassBike: Pedestrian/Bicyclists Crash In Bike Lane, Legal Options?

42-21548197We get a lot of questions here at MassBike, and we like to think we also give some pretty good answers. We realized that sharing these questions and answers on our website would be a valuable resource to others looking for the same information.

We got this question from Jim about a crash in a bike lane. While we do our best, we are not lawyers, and the following shouldn’t be taken as legal advice, in fact we recommend you talk to a real lawyer, Andrew Fischer is a good one in the Boston Area

Good afternoon,
I was cycling westbound in a bike lane and an inattentive runner entered the bike lane causing me to crash into him. I called the police and filed a report, yet the responding officer stated there are no laws stating people cannot run in the bike lane. There was significant damage to my bike (thankfully both of us are ok physically),though without any law stating the runner was at fault being in the bike lane (which he is arguing), I would essentially have to take this individual to court to get compensation for damages instead of going through insurance or having the police cite him etc. Was hoping you might have some info on this?

Thank you,

Well Jim first let me say I am glad both of you are alright. We asked around to Walk Boston, and some other people and were unable to find out much more about this but we did dig up the following.

I don’t think there is a state law that specifically prohibits pedestrians from walking (or running) in the roadway, although most people prefer to walk on the sidewalk for obvious reasons.

State law defines a bike lane in MGL chapter 90E, section 1:
Bike lane, a lane on a street restricted to bicycles and so designated by means of painted lines, pavement coloring or other appropriate markings.

This implies that only bicycles are supposed to be in bike lanes. But I think it is really left to local ordinances. For example, Boston passed an ordinance last fall that prohibits parking in bike lanes.

It may be that the only recourse here is a civil lawsuit. Anyone entering a roadway, regardless of whether they are driving, biking, or on foot, has a duty to exercise reasonable care, and a failure to do so that causes damage or injury to someone else is negligence.

Again I would say that we are not lawyers, and that you should contact one. We hope that this information helps and that you are back out on your bike soon.

, ,

5 Responses to Ask MassBike: Pedestrian/Bicyclists Crash In Bike Lane, Legal Options?

  1. LMG March 23, 2010 at 7:38 pm #

    I came up behind a runner in the bike lane on Elm St in Northampton last week, who was running with the flow of traffic. When I called out “There’s a bike behind you!” as a warning, the man merely nodded his head-and made no effort to move.

    I had to look over my left shoulder and pull out into traffic to go around him. Granted, the same could happen with another cyclist, but I think the runner should have moved(except that bike lane is along parked cars.)

    A runner also has the option to run facing traffic as is customary, on the other side of the bike lane -or on a sidewalk depending on pedestrian traffic.

    Polite runners when facing an oncoming cyclist in the road, will move to the edge of the road so they are facing traffic, with the cyclist to the inside.

    Jim’s situation, could be handled in Small Claims Court – without an attorney, to seek compensation for the damaged bicycle. Good Luck!

  2. matt March 24, 2010 at 8:33 am #

    I am almost more nervous about pedestrians than cars, especially joggers with headphones because they can’t hear your bell or you yelling. of course they can’t hurt you as much, but I’ve had far more close calls of this sort

  3. John Allen March 25, 2010 at 8:59 pm #

    “Of course they can’t hurt you as much.”

    What is the basis for that opinion?

    There are recorded instances of bike-pedestrian crashes resulting in death or serious injury.

    There have been at least two bike-ped crashes on the Vassar Street sidepath in Cambridge in which the pedestrian was taken away in an ambulance. Could just as easily have been the bicyclist.

  4. berni May 7, 2010 at 10:54 pm #

    Not only do pedestrians on the bike paths concern me, but so do children and careless cyclists. Last year in my town of Nantucket, I approached a family who had stopped their bikes on the path and were not paying attention to anything. I called out well in advance that I was coming. The two children moved their bicyles, in unison and completely blocked my path. Fortunately, I was at a junction in the road and was able to quickly swing off the path and onto the adjoinging path. This was not the way I had intended to go, but at least I avoided a collision with two children. The mother yelled out somthing about being more careful (!?!).

    This is not always easy to do, but the hard reality is that the responsibility is on the experienced cyclists to keep their eyes open for potential hazards. If an accident happens, all the laws in the world cannot fix a ruined ride, permanent damage to a favorite bycycle, or worse, grevious injuries. And yes, I have lectured cyclists who were behaving in an unsafe manner.

    One thing, among many, that I really like about the Cape Cod Rail Trail are the signs posted occasionally along the path reminding users of the rules of the road. In general, I find cyclists along that path behave better–not perfectly, just better. Perhaps, if more of these signs were posted throughout the state, we’d see an improvement in those who use the bike paths. Here, on Nantucket, we have no such signs and the behavior on the paths is abominable. Most of the better riders avoid the paths, prefering to contend with the vehicular traffic.

  5. Mark Chiasson September 20, 2011 at 9:00 pm #

    There seems to be plenty of bike safety rules on the internet but next to no published rules regarding bikes vs. pedestrians on bike paths. I walk on a wonderful bike path almost daily and I find that the bike riders will expect me to walk on the right keeping with the bike flow of traffic. However, I feel that I should walk on the left so that I can see bike traffic approaching and not be surprised or buzzed by bikes flying by me from behind. One woman demanded that I move out of the left lane saying I didn’t know the rules. Pedestrians should always have the right of way. So, It would be a big help to everyone if the bike paths posted the rules below those directional signs that are already up along the routes. Clear up the confusion and misunderstandings.