North Carolina has many wonderful places for cycling, so it’s not surprising that bicycle competitions are popular here, with race events taking place all across the state from spring to fall. However, as the popularity and frequency of races increase so do the possibilities for crashes and serious injury. In 1977, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation allowing bicycle racing on the state’s streets and highways if events were deemed safe and were approved by those with authority over the state’s roads.
While well-planned competitive bicycling events are encouraged, it is imperative that race promoters understand the processes and cooperate with state and local agencies to ensure the safety of all involved. Local governing bodies and/or the NC Department of Transportation - the two entities that can approve a racing event - will consult with the appropriate state or local law enforcement agency since the safety of all road users is affected. Approval for a racing event will be granted when plans for that event have been received and are found satisfactory. Reasonable safety implies that the racers, spectators, and other highway users have been accommodated so as not to place one in conflict with another.
Based on the bicycle racing law, NC GS 20-171.2, the North Carolina Department of Transportation worked with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol and NC representatives of the United States Cycling Federation (now part of USA Cycling) to develop the following procedures for bicycle racing on public roads. Race promoters are required to contact the appropriate state or local law enforcement agency responsible for the roads being used in any race to coordinate road and intersection closures as well as safety procedures that might be needed, regardless of whether the race is a sanctioned event.
The Department of Transportation is to “develop and maintain a statewide system of roads, highways, and other transportation systems commensurate with the needs of the State as a whole” (§136-44.1). Bicycle Racing is part of a larger group of organized public activities known to the NCDOT as Special Events. Activities that qualify as Special Event are defined by the use of the highway system for the benefit or pleasure of individuals, groups, or organizations and includes, but is not limited to, parades, races (bicycle, foot, skate, skateboard, etc.), marathons, charity walks, fundraisers, and festivals. Bicycle races and the like must be given proper approval prior to the event. Procedures for obtaining bicycle race approval can be found below. To learn more about Special Events or to apply for other types of events, not including bicycle tour events, go to www.ncdot.org/doh/preconstruct/traffic/safety/special/.
If you propose to use state-system roads for the race, you must submit your race plans to the NCDOT, Division Traffic Engineer that has authority in the area where your event is being held. You are also required by law to submit your race plans to the municipal or state law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over the specific road(s) that will be used for the race. If you are unsure if a road is part of the state system, you can look it up in the Secondary Roads Database.
A. An authorization request should be sent to the Division Traffic Engineer that has authority in the area where your event is being held at least sixty (90) days prior to the event, to allow for any necessary changes in and resubmittal of the race plans. To find the appropriate Division Traffic Engineer and contact information use NCDOT, Division Traffic Engineers. Once you have the correct contact complete the Racing Authorization Form.
NCDOT, Division Traffic Engineers
Racing Authorization Form
B. Supply one copy of the Race Authorization Form with the following documents included (sending files digitally is encouraged):
- Map — either city or county showing the roads on which the race will be held.
- Map — either city or county locating all intersections, or other places where the race organizers are requesting that normal traffic controls be replaced by law enforcement officers.
- Map — either city or county locating all other intersections along the racecourse.
- Letter from the law enforcement agency that will provide traffic control during the race, stating the agency’s willingness to provide adequate staffing to assure the safety of racers and non-racers.
C. If you do not have the capability to send your race plan via email you may send by Certified Mail to the appropriate Division Traffic Engineer having authority in the county where your event will take place, see NCDOT, Division Traffic Engineers.
D. The Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation will no longer collects all the required information for your race plan. The Division Traffic Engineer with jurisdiction over the area where your event will be held, will review the application package and give approval based on his/her findings. Notification of race approval or recommended changes will be given within six (6) weeks of the date of receipt.
E. Definitions for race types and other terms used on the request form:
- Totally closed course — for the duration of the race. NO other vehicular traffic, except that involved in the race will be allowed on the course.
- Partially closed course — for the duration of the race event, only certain traffic other than that participating in the race will be allowed along the racecourse. This could be one-way through traffic or only local traffic.
- Law enforcement official — a duly deputized authority of either city, county, or state law enforcement.
- Lead vehicle — vehicle preceding all race participants.
- Rear support vehicle — vehicle following all race participants.
- Race referee — only applies to the disqualification of racers by rear support vehicle.
Racers must have a well-defined course to follow as well as specifications as to where on the highway they are to ride and where not. Special attention should be given to the volume of normal auto traffic and road conditions. Details of race format must be clear and easily understandable by everyone. Disqualification of race rule-breakers and stragglers, if applicable, must be clarified. Plans must include provisions for spectators, with special areas noted where congregation will occur. The other highway users are of most concern:
- If the racecourse is totally closed:
- What type of race does this entail?
- How will the closing be enforced?
- How long will the race last?
- Are alternate routes for non-race traffic suggested?
- If the race is open or partially open to other traffic:
- How is the traffic controlled?
- What safety guarantees are provided for both racers and non-racers?
Prevention of unreasonable interference with the traffic flow indicates that a small volume of traffic is involved with the race route; that a short period of time is taken for the race; that alternate traffic routes are provided for and that traffic is directed to these alternatives; that ease of other traffic flow along with the conduct of the race is provided for; and/or no major business services of traffic generated are affected by the race course.
Per NC GS 171.2(c), if all prior safety measures have been provided for and approved, specific traffic controls enforceable under the law (stop signs, traffic signals, etc.) may be waived, where necessary to the operation of the race, acceptable by the approving authority, and enforced by adequate traffic controls or personnel.
A sanctioned event is one that has been approved by the national bicycle racing organization: USA Cycling. This organization has specific rules governing competitive events that they sanction, which may be on or off-road events. Only licensed riders may compete in sanctioned events. In addition to any approvals by sanctioning bodies and local agencies, state law requires that all bicycle racing events taking place on any state-maintained roadway must be approved by the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
USA Cycling has application forms for sanctioning a race and other useful information event organizers, including their Rulebook and getting permits. For an event to be recognized as a sanctioned event, you must follow their rules and submit an application to them.