Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cited Bicyclist Loses Impeding Traffic Ticket In Tampa

Bicyclist Brad Mercel, who was cited by a Tampa police officer for impeding traffic last November, called me this morning to say he lost his case in court today.

Brad argued that because his road lane was "sub-standard" in width -- that is, less than 14 feet wide -- he had a legal right to be in the middle of the lane because the lane is too narrow for a bicycle and another vehicle to travel safely side by side. That is one of four legal reasons that allow a bicyclist to be in the road.

The police officer testified, according to Brad, that if 14 feet is sub-standard, then all Tampa's roads are sub-standard.

You are correct, officer.

The officer also testified, according to Brad, that a bicyclist could have biked on the sidewalk at the location where Brad was cited.

It's tough to fight a legal and police system that thinks sidewalks are the correct place for bicyclists.

Brad argued his case before the judge without a lawyer. If you are a bicyclist and you are cited, my suggestion is to consider enlisting a lawyer.

* * *

In another bicyclist citation case -- this time in Pasco County -- Tom Jackson of the Tampa Tribune's Pasco County office made the same cliche jokes about bicyclists in bike shorts and slammed cyclists in his column.

Thank goodness, Tom and friend of Bicycle Stories, Bret, are protecting the interests of drivers. Hardly a day goes by in Florida where some bicyclist or pedestrian doesn't slam into a car and kills the driver.


GhostRider said...

Are the SWFBUD-member lawyers prepared to defend folks getting cited? If not, are there any suggestions for local area lawyers who specialize in cyclist rights?

And now, for a similar case dragging its way through Texas courts, I present the saga of ChipSeal:

If the police don't get it and the judges interpret the laws as they see fit (outside of reality, of course)...what chance do we cyclists have?

Donny said...

Along the lines of what GhostRider said, what lawyers can we hire?

I'm a college student, and as much as I'd love to stand up for my rights in court, hiring a lawyer can be an expensive endeavor. Do you have any advice on how to defend one's legal rights in a situation like this without it costing a fortune?

Also, is this the end of Brad's case, or can it be appealed in some way?

SWFBUD said...

GhostRider, you have pinpointed a major problem.

I oppose bicyclists breaking traffic laws and have no problem with an officer citing a cyclist who has no regard for the law.

But what is impeding traffic? When you're biking in the road and a motorist has to take his foot off the gas? When he has to wait a few moments go around you?

My fear is that police either don't know the bike laws or will interpret and apply them differently.

If you have any questions, contact George Martin, the bike laws guy at the Florida Bicycle Association at

Tim said...

I am curious if the judge made a statement on the basis of his decision. The statute is very clear that a cyclists can, to paraphrase, take the lane of a road of substandard width.

ToddBS said...

The police officer testified, according to Brad, that if 14 feet is sub-standard, then all Tampa's roads are sub-standard.

You are correct, officer.

Indeed. In fact, probably greater than 90% of the roadways in Florida (aside from Interstate highways and other limited access roads) are substandard according to the DOT.

And since they tell us that ignorance of the law is not a grounds for a defense, how can it be a then be a grounds for prosecution?

Brad said...

Donny: I asked the bailiff about appealing and he told me how, but said starting the process costs $300. I'm going to go down to the courthouse and see about it anyway, maybe he's as misinformed as the judge.
Tim: Nope, he just said "I find you guilty." and when I gave a surprised "Sir, your honor?" He just said "Guilty, see the clerk," and that was that.

Brad said...

From that article Alan mentioned - "imperiling a convoy of SUVs headed to soccer practice." I LOVE imperiling people wrapped in steel, plastic, and glass with my dangerous 20 lb bicycle. Gives me such a rush.

Chip said...

Tom Singletary is a pro-cyclist attorney in Taqmpa