Morristown ordinance would ban bikes from downtown sidewalks

no bikes on sidewalk sign
Ed and Judith Benoit of Morris Township enjoy a bike trip to Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Ed and Judith Benoit of Morris Township enjoy a bike trip to Morristown. They say downtown streets — for the most part– are safer than sidewalks for cycling. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

By Kevin Coughlin

Anyone over the age of 11 caught bicycling on downtown streets in Morristown could be fined, under a measure scheduled for introduction at the April 26, 2016, council meeting.

Council President Stefan Armington said the amended ordinance would clarify a pair of contradictory laws on the books, and spell out more precisely how pedestrians, cyclists and motorists can navigate the downtown safely.

The move comes as Morristown police are undertaking a “Street Smart”  campaign designed to minimize accidents involving motorists and pedestrians.

The modified ordinance would prohibit cycling on sidewalks along…

  • Speedwell Avenue between Sussex Avenue and The Green
  • Morris Avenue between Elm Street and The Green
  • South Street between Elm Street and The Green
  • Washington Street between Atno Avenue/Phoenix Avenue and The Green

Fines would be $25 for a first offense, bumping up to $50 and $100 for subsequent violations that occur within a year.

At the moment, a Morristown ordinance forbids anyone over age 14 “to ride or use any bicycle, skateboard, roller blades, scooter or similar devices upon any sidewalk within the Town of Morristown, except for the delivery of newspapers or merchandise.”

Yet another section of that law allows bikes on sidewalks if cyclists  “yield to pedestrians … ride only in single file, and … ride at a reduced speed in the presence of pedestrians…”

“This puts everything in a nice little package,” Armington said of the proposed amendment. He serves on the council’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Task Force, and is a trustee of the nonprofit Bike and Walk Morristown.

Biking would be permitted on sidewalks beyond the downtown, as long as bikers:

  • Yield to pedestrians
  • Ride only in single file
  • Ride at a walking speed in the presence of pedestrians
  • Give an audible warning, using a bell or voice command such as “on your left,” when passing pedestrians.

Cyclists in roadways are expected to travel in the same direction as traffic, keeping as far to the right “as practicable,” and riding no more than two abreast “when traffic is not impeded.”

Anyone under age 17 who rides on, or is towed by, a bicycle must wear a helmet.

no bikes on sidewalk sign

For night-time riding, bicycles must have a front lamp with a white light visible from 500 feet, and a rear red light visible from the same distance.

Bikes also must have a bell or “other audible device–but not a bell or whistle–that can be heard from 100 feet away, the ordinance states.

Bike racks must be used for parking if they are within 100 feet of a cyclist’s destination.

The ordinance also specifies rules of the road for motorists who encounter bicycles. Cars making left turns at intersections must yield to oncoming bikes, for example.

Two provisions go farther than state laws, Armington noted:

Motorists must allow at least three feet of space when passing a bicycle. And care must be exercised when opening a car door in traffic; the motorist is liable for injuries to bicyclists from opening doors, Armington said.

“I’ve gone over the handlebars a few times,” said the councilman, an avid cyclist.

Council President Stefan Armington, at the 2012 Gran Fondo NJ. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Council President Stefan Armington, at the 2012 Gran Fondo NJ. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The proposed ordinance also says vehicles may not drive (except to enter or exit a legal parking space), stand or park in a designated bike lane, nor may they stand or park in a designated shared lane.

Motorists convicted of violations of these bike-related measures can be fined up to $500.

Bicyclists afraid to ride on busy thoroughfares such as South Street can bypass the area by cycling on less busy side streets such as Maple or Macculloch avenues, said Kendra Arnold, co-founder of Bike and Walk Morristown.

“Bicycles on sidewalks are annoying and dangerous. You have to tell [cyclists] that pedestrians have the right of way,”said Arnold, who prefers to walk her bike on congested sidewalks.

Morris Township residents Judith and Ed Benoit, frequent cyclists in Morristown, said they find riding in the street safer than attempting to pedal on downtown sidewalks.

They appreciate bike-sharing lane markers installed last year– but wish for bike-only lanes around the Green.

“It’s dicey going around the Green,” Judith Benoit said on Saturday, as she and her husband chained their bikes to a parking meter and walked to a South Street coffee shop.

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  1. Great ordinance all around. Anti-sidewalk laws should be bundled with safe passing laws, which this ordinance does. This should have the overall effect of more riders in the street, making the roads safer for all users. Let’s see more of the R4-11 signage- Bicycles May Use Full Lane – in Morristown and some dedicated bike lanes. Kevin, please consider replacing “accidents” with “crashes” when you write about transportation issues.

  2. To clarify: some of the rules mentioned (the lights, riding as far right as is practicable, riding in direction of traffic, bell, etc) are already NJ state laws and all cyclists must obey them regardless of the current Morristown ordinances.

  3. This is a good article, but please edit graf 4 (bullet list) to add “sidewalks” to each. It now reads as if cycling on the street would be prohibited. Proposal would be stronger, IMHO, if sidewalk cycling were prohibited throughout the area. Studies show more cyclists sharing the streets produce safer streets for motorists and cyclists alike.