Thursday, October 23, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Bicyclists on Motorways (10/23)

Question: A bicycle pulled up behind my car yesterday and it got me wondering—what are the rules for bicycles on roads?

Answer: We have had such a beautiful fall season that there have been many people on bicycles enjoying the crisp, fall air. While a bicycle in traffic probably isn’t there solely to soak in the sights, it also isn’t there to get in the way of cars either. Let's go through some basics of bikes on roadways that just might surprise you: 

Bicyclists on the Roadway
Bicycles are allowed to operate on roadways right alongside other vehicles. They are regulated by Minnesota Statutes 169.222, which grants them all the rights and duties applicable to automobile drivers. This means yielding to pedestrians, obeying traffic signals, and moving in the same direction as traffic.

Additionally, bicyclists have a right to use the full traffic lane—yes, really. Cars cannot pass a bicycle unless there is at least a three-foot buffer between the car and the bike, which is more than an arm’s length for most people. Not enough room? Then a driver may not pass.

Bicyclists on Sidewalks
It is sometimes suggested that bikes should be on the sidewalks; however, this is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, state law prohibits the use of bicycles on sidewalks within business districts. That law does grant cities the power to pass a local ordinance to allow bikes on sidewalks, but cities cannot prohibit bicycles from city streets, regardless of the district. Second, it can actually be more dangerous to ride on sidewalks because cars often fail to look for fast-moving cyclists when approaching intersections and using driveways.

Visibility and Signals
In terms of visibility, bicycles are required to have a front light and rear deflector when operating at night. I was surprised to learn that a tail light is actually not required. It is also interesting to know that bicyclists need to use hand signals to indicate their turns, however, if both hands are required to maintain control of the bike then hand signals are not necessary.

Because our roads are shared spaces it is important to understand how to travel in harmony. I know that I learned some things while researching the question, so if you ride a bicycle, know someone that does, or drive in an area that has a lot of bicycle traffic, please share this information and someone else can learn from it too!
Written by Jake Saufley. Contact the League's Research and Information Service staff by emailing, or by calling (651) 281-1200 or (800) 925-1122.

This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information.

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