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Single-File Laws in Upstate NY Towns Are Legal Traps for Bicyclists

10:21 AM PDT on July 15, 2019

Cyclists love riding the scenic roads in the Hudson River valley, but a Draconian municipal law could have cops ticketing riders and even throwing them in jail if they ride side by side.

The Town Board of Orangetown unanimously passed a law cracking down on hordes of road warriors by mandating cyclists ride in single file at all times on any street in the bucolic Rockland County community.

Those who dare disobey the transit edict, which went into effect on June 10, could fork over a fine between $100 and $250 or face up to five days in jail. Repeat scofflaws could pay between $250 and $300 or serve up to 10 to 20 days in the pokey.

Apparently, upstate motorists were upset that cycling tourists wouldn't move out of the way of cars on picturesque Route 9W, Route 340, and Route 304, Orangetown Supervisor Chris Day told the Journal News.

Other solutions to the problem could have been lower speed limits for cars or some weekend road closures, but instead the punishment was placed on cyclists. The town did not reach out to cycling groups for their position — though if it had, the cyclists would have likely pointed out that the Orangetown law is invalid since the state has a statute allowing cyclists to ride in pairs on the same side of the road.

"They do not have the authority to vary the state law," cycling rights attorney Steve Vaccaro told Streetsblog. "People are trying to follow the rule, but if you try to arrest cyclists two abreast you're going to have a legal challenge."

Vaccaro argued the law is wrong because it is too vague and cyclists sometimes have to ride two abreast when they're passing someone on the road. And bikers can't be jailed for a traffic violation because then cops would have to read cyclists their Miranda rights — which promise that an attorney will be appointed for them.

"This will get very expensive for the town," Vaccaro added. "They can't apply jail as an ultimate penalty on the back end if they don't do all that stuff on the front end."

Day disagreed, saying he submitted the law to the state Department of Transportation and did not receive any feedback.

"The only thing this adds to (state) law is that instead of being allowed to ride two abreast when not overtaking or being overtaken, they need to ride single file," he told the Journal News.

An Orangetown Justice Court official told Streetsblog she "hasn't seen any tickets come across in the last week in the violation" and no one had been arrested for riding in groups.

Other "single file" laws are beginning to spread across the region.

The policy originated in Orangetown villages of Piermont, Grand View-on-Hudson, Nyack and South Nyack. Now the Westchester town of Bedford followed suit.

Cyclists are pondering how to fight back — and riding more carefully in the downstate towns just outside New York City.

"Some of the streets are extremely narrow and allow on-street parking, and you have to go over the double yellow to drive," Vaccaro said. "But to say the cyclists are at fault is crazy."

Weekend rides through the Hudson Valley are very popular among recreational cyclists who bring some concern for a small number of drivers, but also tends of thousands of dollars in revenue to local businesses.

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