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Can I Ride My Bike in a Bus Lane In NYC

bus in NYC Traffic

The Legality of Bike Riding in Bus Lanes in NYC: A Comprehensive Analysis

Bicycling has become an increasingly popular mode of transportation in urban areas, promoting sustainability, reducing congestion, and improving personal health. In cities like New York City (NYC), where traffic congestion is a significant concern, designated bike lanes and bus lanes play a crucial role in ensuring efficient transportation. However, the legality of cyclists using bus lanes has been a topic of debate. In this blog post, we will delve into the statutes and case law surrounding bike riding in bus lanes in NYC to determine the legality and potential implications.

Understanding the Laws

To evaluate the legality of bike riding in bus lanes, it is essential to explore the relevant statutes and regulations in NYC. The primary point of reference is the New York City Rules and Regulations which governs traffic regulations throughout the City.

Notably, bus lane enforcement has dramatically increased in New York City since the passing of an amendment to the Vehicle and Traffic Law that now allows for photo enforcement. As photo enforcement relies upon licenses plates, something bicycles do not have, the question often asked is whether this restriction applies to bicycles and other devices. In order to make this determination we need to look at the laws that control bus lanes in New York City.

Recently the New York City Administrative code was amended by adding a new section 19-175.5 to allow for photo enforcement of bus lane violations. Sec. 19-175.5 controls Bus Lane violations. It defines “Bus Lane restrictions" as restrictions on the use of designated traffic lanes by “vehicles” other than buses. Pursuant to section 1111-c of the Vehicle and Traffic Law a "designated bus lane" means a lane dedicated for the exclusive use of buses with the exceptions allowed under 4-08(a)(3) and 4-12(m) the rules of the City of New York which will be discussed below.

A quick read of the above would lead us to believe that a bicycle is allowed in bus lanes as they are not defined as “vehicles” by either the State or City of New York. If we let our analysis end there, we would be wrong. We need to take a further look at Sec. 412(m) of the Rules of the City of New York.

Section 412 (m) of The Rules of the City of New York control Bus Lane restrictions on city streets.

The law states the following: When signs are erected giving notice of bus lane restrictions…. no person shall drive a vehicle other than a bus or a wheelchair-accessible Access-A-Ride vehicle …. within a designated bus lane during the restricted hours.

The following exceptions apply:

  1. to use such bus lane in a safe manner in order to make a right-hand turn where permitted into a public or private street or driveway provided that the vehicle does not drive through an intersection;
  2. to use the bus lane in a safe manner to make a right-hand turn where permitted, within two hundred feet of entry into such bus lane, into a public or private street or driveway even if such activity requires driving through an intersection;
  3. to approach to or leave the curbside space, unless standing or stopping at the curb is prohibited;
  4. to temporarily to enter or leave the bus lane for the purpose of actually engaged
  5. in expeditiously receiving or discharging passengers, except when such activity is prohibited;

(vi) to avoid an obstacle which obstructs the roadway and leaves fewer than ten feet of roadway width available for the free movement of vehicular traffic (except for temporary situations such as slow-moving traffic and vehicles loading refuse); or

  1. to comply with the direction of any law enforcement officer.

Further, the law states: with respect to the exceptions in subparagraphs (iii) through (vi) of paragraph (1) of this subdivision, a vehicle must exit the bus lane at the nearest opportunity where it is safe and legal to do so nor can any person drive a vehicle within a designated bus lane in a manner that interferes with the safety and passage of buses operating thereon.

One more exception is also codified in Sec 19-175.4 of the Rules of City of New York that allows vehicles to enter the bus lane if they intend to make the next permissible right turn from bus lane but shall not be allowed to continue through the intersection without turning.

Here is where the answer lies. Section (4) of the law states: The same rights and restrictions that apply to vehicles pursuant to this subdivision also apply to horse-drawn vehicles and devices moved by human power. The answer to our question lies in the last paragraph of the statute that states the same restrictions applicable to vehicles is also applicable to human-powered devices, bicycles.

Like many laws, until they are tested in Court, we never know the true application. As of the writing of this blog, I have found no reported case that has been tested to determine whether this law is applied equally to cyclists as well as mopeds, e-bikes, and other devices not defined as a vehicle or a bicycle as these devices have their own definitions in the VTL.

The legality of bike riding in bus lanes in NYC is a nuanced issue. While the VTL and NYC rules suggest that bicycles are generally prohibited in bus lanes, there are certain exceptions that allow cyclists to defend their actions. These exceptions demonstrate the potential legal defenses available to cyclists who are ticketed for using bus lanes.

Disclaimer: These are some of our guidelines on what to do if you are involved in a Bike or Bike Share crash or accident. They are provided by Daniel Flanzig Esq. of NewYorkBikeLawyers.com (Flanzig and Flanzig, LLP) We are New York Attorneys focusing in the rights and protection of cyclists across New York. Nothing on this page should be construed as legal advice nor does the use of this page or column create an attorney/client relationship. Laws and regulations can change over time, and it is advisable to consult with a qualified attorney or legal professional for specific legal guidance concerning your situation.