Philadelphia Bike Laws
The general gist: a bicycle is a legal vehicle, entitled to the same rights and responsibilities as a car. One exception: bicycles are not allowed on highways.
- Bicycles must be ridden in the same direction as traffic.
- Bicycles are entitled to ride in the middle of the lane. You do not have to hug the shoulder.
- In order to pass a bicycle, a vehicle must be able to give the bicyclist 4 feet of clearance before passing. Drivers may cross the yellow line in order to do so.
- Bicycles can be ridden on any city street, including streets without bike lanes or sharrows.
- Bicycles must obey all street signs and signals, including traffic lights, stop signs, yield signs, and crosswalks.
- Bicycles may not be ridden on the sidewalk FOR ANY REASON, unless the rider is under 13 years of age.
- If you want to avoid unsafe street conditions or a traffic jam, walk your bike on the sidewalk.
- Like a car, bicyclists must yield to pedestrians in sidewalks.
- Seriously. Don’t be a jerk.
- “Filtering” through traffic to the front of the line of cars stopped at a red light is illegal.
- If you get hit by a car door or a turning car while filtering, you the bicyclist is at fault.
- Motor vehicle operators or passengers must make sure it is safe to exit into moving traffic. In other words, they need to check before opening their car doors. They bear the legal responsibility in dooring incidents.
- Bike lanes are one-direction only, unless the lane is explicitly marked as two-directional.
- Bike lanes go the same direction as adjacent vehicular travel lanes unless explicitly marked as a “contraflow lane.”
- Bicyclists may ride 2 abreast in a bicycle lane.
- Bicyclists are not required to ride in a bicycle lane just because there is a lane on that street.
- Reasons not to ride in a bike lane include preparing for an approaching turn, passing a slow bicyclist, or avoiding debris in the bicycle lane.
- For information on the issue of parking in the Pine and Spruce bike lanes, see this page.
- When a bicycle is proceeding straight and a vehicle in an adjacent lane is making a turn, the bicyclist has the right of way.
- Avoid biking in a vehicle’s blind spot as you approach an intersection so the driver knows you are there before making a turn.
- Drivers can merge into a bike lane in order to make a turn, but must do so safely and yield to bicycles occupying the lane.
- On streets with right-hand bike lanes, the bicycle lane is the proper load/unload position for vehicles.
- This is the safer approach. When avoiding a stopped car, it is safer for a bicyclist to do the avoiding, merging into traffic on his/her terms, than for the driver to swerve into the bike lane.
- For information on the weekend parking in the Spruce and Pine bike lanes, see our page on that topic.
Bike lanes can be marked with a variety of parking signs. Here is what they mean:
- No Parking: Vehicles may not park, but may load/unload for up to 20 minutes (eg. groceries, FedEx trucks).
- No Standing: Vehicles may not park or load/unload goods, but can drop off/pick up people (eg. taxis).
- No Stopping: Vehicles may not stop for any reason except to obey other traffic laws or in case of emergency.
- Bicycles are required to have a front white light and a back red reflector.
- A back red light is highly, highly encouraged. Bike lights are not so you can see your way; it’s so others can see you.
- Adults do not have to wear a helmet. In Pennsylvania, all children under age 13 must wear a helmet.
- But seriously – wear a helmet. You don’t want an unexpected fall to give you a concussion or worse.
- A bicycle can carry only as many riders as there are seats.
- Bicycles must have brakes.
- We have not heard of any people riding brake-less fixies being cited for breaking this rule.
- That said, riding a fixie without brakes is really bad for your knees.
- Bicyclists (and motorists) are prohibited from wearing headphones.
- Bicycles are required to have bells.
- Enforcement of this rule is virtually unheard of.
You may lock your bike to:
- Bike racks placed in the sidewalk, or bike corrals placed in the street.
- Public street poles or parking meters, so long as you do not block the pedestrian right-of-way; ie, prevent people or wheelchairs from easily getting past your bike.
- Parking signs designating handicapped parking locations.
You are prohibited from locking your bike to:
- Trees. In addition to it being illegal, locks damage trees and this encourages thieves to cut or knock down trees in order to steal your bike.
- Objects on private property. This includes railings or fences on private property, the little fences around trees embedded in sidewalks, and chain link fences.
- Bike racks placed on private property. These racks’ availability are at the discretion of the property owner.
- The railings of trolley stations in the middle of Girard Avenue.
- Other places where the City or SEPTA has erected No Bike Parking signs.
Businesses and property owners are not allowed to post “No Bike Parking” signs, or remove bicycles locked to street furniture in the sidewalk.