Here’s something you probably didn’t know: in New Jersey, you’re not supposed to be riding your bike in the shoulder. Ever. You’re supposed to ride it in the same lane in which would drive your car.
If you didn’t know that, don’t feel bad. According to Cory Kestner, an attorney at Archer & Greiner’s Carnegie Center office, that fact is a surprise to pretty much everyone he tells it to. This is why Kestner will co-lead a workshop, “Share the Road: NJ Bike Law Update,” on Wednesday, June 28, at 12:30 p.m. at Jasna Polana. The event is presented by the Princeton Bar Association and counts as one continuing education credit. Joining Kestner will be Jerry Foster, walking and biking specialist at the Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association. Visit www.princetonbarassociation.org.
Kestner says that when it comes to knowing what cyclists should or shouldn’t be doing, education is the key. One of the most common questions he hears about bike laws is, “why aren’t cyclists riding in the shoulder?” The answer is that it’s actually against the law. Not so much that you would spend your life in prison, of course, but riding in the shoulder is enough to get you a ticket. And it’s enough to deny you any legal protections in the event of an incident or injury.
“The government entity in charge of the road is not in charge of maintaining the shoulder,” Kestner says. That means that if you’re riding in the shoulder and hit a pothole or a branch, and you fall and hurt yourself, you get to cry on that shoulder as much as you need to, but you won’t get very far in court. Road shoulders, after all, are intended to be a buffer between traffic and the spot at which pavement stops; and they’re meant to be emergency lanes if you need to pull over. But not riding lanes.
To illustrate just how little you want to be in the shoulder, Kestner tells the story of Polzo v. the County of Essex. The case revolved around a group of cyclists riding downhill on Parsonage Hill Road in Short Hills in 2001. One of them, an OB-GYN named Mathi Kahn-Polzo, was riding in the shoulder when she hit a pothole, tumbled over her handlebars, and was hurt so badly that she later died from her injuries. It was eventually ruled that though Essex County owned the road, the county was protected from a lawsuit by the state’s Title 59 immunity code. Title 59, in essence, grants counties immunity from lawsuits involving road (and shoulder) conditions, unless the county is on notice that something is dangerous.
So you are not likely to get far in court if you run into trouble riding in the shoulder. In most cases, the only way you would have a successful lawsuit for a bike accident is because someone else, like an impatient driver, hits you or otherwise causes you to fall.
Even designated bike lanes can be dodgy, Kestner says. Because they’re not technically the road, government entities aren’t going to put much effort into maintaining those either. Kestner, a cyclist himself, has made his fair share of large arcs around debris and potholes in bike lanes. And, he adds, “there’s nothing saying we have to use the bike lane” in the first place.
So by this point you might be wondering two things: Where is a cyclist supposed to actually be when in the road, and doesn’t this all sound kind of dangerous? The answer to that second question is yes. Kestner understands that cycling in traffic and having no recourse when it comes to shoulders and bike lanes sounds dangerous — especially when taking into account the answer to the first question, which is, you’re to be on the far-right side of the vehicle lane.
Now, as a driver, you might be wondering what you can do about it when a bunch of cyclists are taking up a whole lane. The answer to that, Kestner says, is that you safely pass them on the left, with plenty of room, just as you would any vehicle.
That answer doesn’t so much satisfy people who get their backs up over cyclists in the road, but it does take the wind out of their sails, Kestner says.
“Besides,” he says, “I always ask: How long does it really take to pass somebody on a bike? The 15 to 30 seconds it’s going to take is not going to derail your day.”
Kestner understands that it can be annoying to be stuck behind a pack of bikers going uphill on a twisty back road with no clear way to pass. And he understands that there are good cyclists and obnoxious cyclists, just as there are good drivers and obnoxious drivers. But the thing Kestner wants you to keep in mind when you see those bright cycling outfits and helmets and goggles in the road ahead of you is something pretty basically human. “That’s a person,” he says. “That’s somebody’s family member.”
Kestner is an avid cyclist who came by his riding passion by way of wanting to get back in shape after having a son. He grew up in the very rural, very small town of Gowen, Michigan, where he considered himself lucky to have two working parents. That wasn’t a common thing where he grew up, he says, but both his parents worked at the school — his father a janitor and his mother a lunch lady.
He knew one thing more than any other growing up: that he wanted to not grow old in Gowen. For one thing, there wasn’t much opportunity there. For another: “I really hate the cold. I was born in the wrong state.”
His avenue out was tennis. Kestner started playing tennis after high school, when he dated a girl whose father taught the game. He figured he had better learn it if he wanted to impress his new beau’s family. But after that relationship ended, he still loved the game and decided to move to the Northeast. Yes, he knows it’s cold here too, but it’s nowhere near Michigan cold, he says.
He played tennis as much as he could as he made his way through Grand Valley State University. He got his bachelor’s in physical education in 1998. His budding career as a tennis pro/instructor took him to a camp in Massachusetts that had a tennis program. There he met a young lady from Hamilton, New Jersey, named Sara (whose father was a teacher and whose mother was a speech therapist), who also worked at the tennis camp on summer breaks between classes at Duke.
In his 20s, Kestner quickly realized that spending 50 hours a week playing tennis was taking a toll on his body. Also, he didn’t have nearly the money to start his own tennis shops, so he debated between going to business school and going to law school. He chose law because he figured he could do business with a law degree, but he couldn’t do law with a business degree. He earned his J.D. from Albany Law School in 2008.
He and Sara were together all this time, by the way. It’s just that she didn’t want to leave New Jersey. Fortunately for Kestner, he was perfectly comfortable moving to New Jersey to marry his sweetheart and start a family. That family, he says, made him want to get back into shape.
Kestner started out by running, eventually getting into triathlons, and ultimately finding he just loved the cycling part. He does bike law talks as a kind of hobby, all while daydreaming from his office window on nice days about being out on the road. His actual concentration in the law centers on property, zoning, and eminent domain issues. He clerked for Judge Lawrence Mason in 2008 and 2009, and landed his first job as an attorney at McKirdy and Riskin in 2009. He then went to Mason, Griffin & Pierson in 2015, and to Archer & Greiner this past February.
He and Sara, who is now a consultant with Accenture (her main project is one involving Bristol-Myers Squibb), live in Skillman. She still plays tennis (a lot) and he still cycles (a lot). The couple often trade watching their son for a while so the other can go out and enjoy their sports, he says.
Kestner tends to do most of his cycling early in the morning. As in, pre-dawn, with some friends who, like him, would rather not have to deal with heavy traffic along central New Jersey’s roads. So far, he says, he has not run into anyone too upset with him for taking up a lane. Then again, the more people he makes aware that that’s where he’s supposed to be, the less he worries about it. After all, the solution is right there in the title of his talk: “Share the road.”
Because that’s the law.