Race Around Poland will take place in open traffic. What does this mean in practice? First of all, it means the need for participants and possibly their supporting teams to comply with the traffic rules as defined in the regulations in force in Poland.
Safety of the race participants is a priority for the organizers of Race Around Poland. This is one of the reasons why we want to make the most important road traffic rules applicable in Poland, in the context of cycling, more accessible to those interested.
In today's article, as announced in the text relating to the principle of right-hand traffic (place on the link) I will try to discuss the regulations in force in Poland concerning the obligation for cyclists to use bicycle paths and roads, sometimes also called DDRs. In this article we will skip the consideration of riding on pavements, because we do not expect such a problem to arise in practice during Race Around Poland.
Is a bicycle path a DDR?
The first point of departure is the very concept of 'cycle path' or 'bicycle path', since these concepts are used interchangeably not only by road users, but also by law implementing authorities. The definition of a road for bicycles and a lane for bicycles is contained in the Act of 20 June 1997. - Road Traffic Law (hereinafter simply 'the Act'), whereas the notion of 'bicycle path' is referred to in the Regulation of the Minister of Transport and Maritime Economy on technical conditions to be met by public roads and their location (hereinafter 'Technical Conditions'), issued on the basis of the Act of 7 July 1994. - Building Law. The discrepancy in terminology generally means that we should have to deal with separate legal concepts, however, adopting such an assumption in this case would be in conflict with the principles of life experience and would lead to the conclusion that the Polish law did not provide for conditions to be met by a road for bicycles, within the meaning of construction regulations, as opposed to other types of roads. Consequently, it should be assumed that a 'bicycle path' within the meaning of the building regulations, and a 'road for bicycles' or a 'lane for bicycles' within the meaning of the road traffic regulations may be and often are essentially identical concepts, and an analysis of the articles of the Act and the Technical Conditions relating to them should give us an answer to the question on what we can ride a bicycle and what technical requirements this construction should meet. The problem we write about here has been already struggled by the courts in their practice, which resulted in an attempt at a comprehensive definition, which can be found, for example, in the not-so-far old judgment of the District Court in Sieradz - I Civil Division of 27 November 2019, where it was stated that a "bicycle path" within the meaning of the Technical Conditions is a road separated by construction from the road or other roads, or a part thereof whose parameters are determined by the provisions of the Technical Conditions - intended for bicycle traffic. However, a fragment of a road constituting a "cycle path" within the meaning of these regulations may, in the light of the provisions of the Act, constitute a road for bicycles or a road for bikes and pedestrians depending on the adopted traffic organization and road signs placed.
So, what do you mean by these rules? What is DDR and what conditions should it meet?
Well, according to the Act, a "bicycle lane" is a road or part of the road intended for cycling, marked with appropriate road signs, but it must be separated from other roads or carriageway of the same road by construction or road safety devices, and a "bicycle lane" is a part of the road intended for cycling in one direction, marked with appropriate road signs.
The technical conditions require for such objects to be situated in such a way as to ensure traffic safety, at a minimum distance from the edge of the road, as a rule from a minimum of 1 m to 10 m depending on the road class, as well as a width of 1,5 - 2 m for a one- and two-way path, and 3 - 2,5 m for a pedestrian and bicycle path in and out of built-up areas. For obvious reasons, these conditions will not apply to the full extent of the lane for bicycles, but it should be noted that e.g. Technical Conditions also require that the height of thresholds and steps on paths should not exceed 1 cm, and such a requirement can already generally be applied to the minimum requirements for preparing the surface of an engineering object such as a road in the context of enabling cycling on it.
OK. I already know what a DDR is, do I have to ride it on my road bike?
According to Article 33 of the Act, 'the driver of a bicycle is obliged to use the bicycle road or lane for bicycle if it is designated for the direction in which he is moving or intends to turn'. Neither this provision nor any other regulation provides for an exception from this obligation for road bikes, or in general for cyclists or cyclists using such vehicles, even professionals.
What does this mean? Unfortunately, the fact that an open road rider should comply with this obligation.
Theoretically, it should look like that if there is a correctly marked and visible for the cyclist road for bikes, or a lane for bikes, then the cyclist is obliged to descend on it, unless it is marked in a different direction from the direction it is moving in (which will most often be the case with one-way DDRs), or intends to turn. The latter exemption exempts the cyclist from the obligation to use the DDR also when the road for bikes is designated in the direction of travel, but e.g. turns a bit further in a direction in which the cyclist has no intention of moving (e.g. turns into an estate). In not so rare practice, we will also have to deal with situations when, as a result of roadworks, incorrectly parked vehicles or the existence of other obstacles making DDR impassable, the cyclist will also be exempt from the obligation to use it according to the principle expressed in the Roman paremia "impossibilium nulla obligatio est", although the regulations themselves do not specify how to behave in such a situation. Nor can it be ruled out that a cyclist will be confronted with a road for bicycles which has not been marked at all, or is marked incorrectly, or does not meet the requirement of proper separation from other roads or carriageways, which would result in the possibility that, as a result of not meeting the requirements for a road to be considered a 'road for bicycles' within the meaning of the Law, there is no need to submit to the requirement laid down in Article 33 thereof.
In conclusion. We don't have to go DDR, in which one:
In addition, a doubt arose about the changes in the content of Article 33 itself, from which the phrase 'or from the road for bikes and pedestrians' disappeared in 2011, and was replaced by the previously quoted words 'or a lane for bicycles'. This concerned whether this change was to mean that if a road is marked out for bikes and pedestrians, the commented obligation does not arise? Unfortunately not. This results from the content of the Regulation of the Ministers of Infrastructure and Interior and Administration of July 31, 2002 on road signs and signals, which in par. 40 explained the meaning of the C-13 and C-16 signs placed on a single dial, divided by a vertical or horizontal line. According to this provision, a sign marking the road for bikes and pedestrians (C-13 and C-16 placed on a single dial and divided by a horizontal line) means that bicycle drivers are obliged to use the road marked in this way if it is marked for the direction in which they are moving or intend to turn, i.e. repeating in this respect the content of Article 33 of the Act.
So much theory on the subject. What about practice?
First of all, it should be noted that a road bike is a vehicle designed to travel at relatively high speeds on a level and clean surface. The tyres of road bikes do not guarantee grip in all conditions, which means that even a small amount of pen, leaves or other dirt spilled on a bend can contribute to an accident. Roads for bikes are not driven by specialized vehicles cleaning the surface and its condition usually depends on the capabilities, imagination or vision of the local road manager. In addition, riding this type of bike on uneven surfaces, curbs or other obstacles, even small ones, is not only a torture for the cyclist, but also threatens to damage the equipment and an accident, and thus considerable financial losses and potentially damage the health of the cyclist or other people. Meanwhile, the quality of roads for bicycles often leaves a lot to be desired, they are often made of cobblestones, hollow and uneven due to erosion or overgrowth and destruction of the surface by the roots of surrounding trees. It is no better with bicycle lanes, which, apart from the unevenness, are often dotted with accident glass or broken plastic and other rubbish taken away from the roadway. This means that it is often the case that a DDR simply does not meet the standards set out in the Technical Specifications.
Cyclists also often argue that driving on a bicycle track, or on a pedestrian and bicycle track at a higher speed than other traffic participants would additionally cause an accident hazard, which is hard to disagree with. But does this mean that they are exempt from these obligations? Unfortunately, this is not the case here too, and this is the spot where practice usually goes against the theory as road cyclists often choose the public road instead of taking the risk of damaging their equipment or causing an accident involving other DDR users, even in the knowledge that this conduct involves the possibility of being punished with a fine of PLN 50, as well as the dubious pleasure of succumbing to the often aggressive and dangerous behaviour of motor vehicle drivers, who all too often vent their frustration with the use of sound signals, performing irregular overtaking manoeuvres without keeping the required distance, or even driving the rider. Such behaviour also constitutes a violation of the provisions of the Act and may be subject to sanctions because, regardless of any other grounds and violations, pursuant to Article 3, every traffic participant is obliged to be careful, and to avoid any action that might endanger the safety or order of the road, hinder or disturb the peace or public order in connection with the traffic and expose anyone to harm.
The truth is that the driver often has a distorted idea of the circumstances that caused the cyclist to be on the road and has no power to enforce on the riders what he considers to be the case, in addition to an unacceptable legal way. The driver of the motor vehicle has a different field of vision, has better lighting and is separated from the weather by a window. The cyclist may have left the road for a bicycle because he intends to turn off the road where he is not driving, it may have been driven in the opposite direction, he may not have noticed it, it may have been obstructed, or there may have been a number of other circumstances which render his presence on the public road as legal as possible and which the driver may not be able to assess. This means that when moving on public roads, even if we see a bicycle path next to it, we have to reckon with the fact that a cyclist will be moving on the road and therefore be careful in road traffic at all times.
Towards a new interpretation ...
The cycling community has long been calling for changes in the regulations, citing the arguments given above. Their conclusions are met with a nervous reaction from drivers who fear, not unjustifiably, that the increased traffic of cyclists on public roads in cities may contribute to a reduction in capacity and an increase in accidents involving cyclists. In assessing the case, legislative changes towards allowing road bikes to ride on public roads in addition to existing DDRs are unlikely to be expected in the near future, but there are, in my view, some circumstances which, if taken into account in the judicial practice of the courts, could enable a breakthrough to be made in the existing regulations without the need to change them.
As we have written in more detail above, road bikes are structurally unsuitable for riding on most of the roads existing in Poland for bicycles and using them on these roads, even at limited speeds, would involve the risk of an accident and damage to the vehicle. Additionally, most of these roads do not meet the requirements of the Technical Conditions, in particular the lack of faults higher than 1 cm on their course, due to the necessity to overcome curbs, damage and unevenness caused by erosion or destruction of the surface by tree roots. What is not a problem for a bike with a wide wheel or a thick tread is a killer trap for a road bike. This means that it is often impossible to ride such a vehicle responsibly, or at least dangerous for the cyclist and other road users. Meanwhile, the main principle of the road traffic regulations in force in Poland is driving in a way that does not pose a safety hazard, and the regulations concerning the rules of construction of facilities such as roads, including bicycle paths, have also been subordinated to the safety of all their users. In this situation, in my opinion, it is possible to formulate an argument that despite the absolute wording of the provision of Article 33 of the Act, it was not possible to comply with it in a manner consistent with these regulations, in some cases with regard to road bikes. Does the traffic control authority have to agree with this interpretation? No, and it will probably not do so, and will propose a fine without discussion. Does the rider have to agree with the authority's decision, if he is convinced that he has made the right decision in the given circumstances? Neither does he. However, in order to present the above arguments, they must be subject to the consideration of a court, which may relieve the cyclist from liability in a specific case, taking into account the circumstances of the event, such as the type and technical solutions used in the vehicle used, its suitability for driving on the adjacent DDR, the quality of its construction and the condition and extent to which it is possible for the road to meet the required safety standards. Of course, there is no guarantee that the ruling will be beneficial in every case, but in my opinion there are chances to convince the adjudicating panels to the above arguments. If there are more such positive judgements in various instances, the inspection bodies may change their practice and attitude towards road riders. Irrespective of the above, it may also be pointed out that a violation of the provisions of the Act results in the imposition of a mandate, in connection with committing an offence described in the chapter of the Code of Contraventions concerning offences against order and security in communication, so it is order and security that is protected. Action to protect this security should therefore not be subject to sanctions, even if at first glance it appears to be in conflict with the applicable regulations. It can also be assumed that by deciding to violate Article 33 of the Act in order to prevent or minimize the risk of a dangerous situation, the rider commits an offence which, however, is of minor social harm. This may mean that there is no criminal responsibility because, according to Polish criminal law, in order to accept criminal responsibility, apart from the unlawfulness of a given act or omission, its social harmfulness must be demonstrated. As indicated by the District Court for Warsaw-Mokotów in Warsaw - III Criminal Division in the judgment of 12 April 2019. "social harmfulness of an act cannot be reduced to the mere fact of a person's breach of a provision, since the meaning of that provision, its ratio legis and the goods it is intended to protect, have not been breached, and the breach of a provision is the unlawfulness of conduct, and Article 1(1)(a) of the Act does not constitute an act or omission. Article 1(1) of the Code of Civil Procedure demands that this particular behaviour be socially harmful.
In Polish conditions, the dilemmas we wrote about above will arise mainly in urban space, where the ailment of these restrictions will be relatively less and their meaning clearer than outside built-up areas, where the possible lack of a bicycle path releases the rider from thinking about these duties. However, it should be noted that more and more often we are dealing with marked out roads for bicycles also outside cities, along large or new arteries connecting towns. In such situations the obligation still exists, and the cyclist choosing a public road does so on his own responsibility.
However, regardless of whether we follow the marked equal road for bikes, or if we are going on a public road, we should remember about safety and technical conditions concerning the bicycle's equipment, which are to serve this purpose as provided for in the Race Regulations and regulations. Let's bear in mind, among other things, that better visibility of the cyclist for other road users means a higher degree of safety of the cyclist regardless of the road he is riding. Both participants' bikes and support team cars will be subject to a technical check before the Race to verify that they meet the basic requirements imposed by the Regulations.
Let's be safe and see you on the Race Around Poland!