Know Your Rights
You asked, we answered. FAQ about bike law.
FAQ for Cyclists
Is it OK to ride against traffic?
No, with two exceptions. Bicycles are legal vehicles and, therefore, are required to ride in the same direction as motor vehicles in traffic. Riding against traffic—“contraflow riding,” as it’s called—is only allowed on streets where there is a specific contraflow bike lane, or a two-way bike lane.
Are bicyclists allowed to roll through Stop Signs?
No. All vehicles are required to stop at stop signs. Failure to yield at Stop Signs is potentially dangerous for pedestrians looking to cross the street. So, please stop at Stop signs—and follow all other street signs and markings—including traffic lights, yield signs, and crosswalks.
Can I ride my bike on the sidewalk?
Are you 13 years of age or younger? Then sure, go ahead. Otherwise, you should ride on the street. Riding on the sidewalk is dangerous for pedestrians and drivers won’t expect you in the crosswalk when entering intersections.
My friend and I want to ride next to each other in the bike lane.
You should do that. Cyclists are allowed to ride two-abreast in the bike lane, whether it’s a standard 5-foot lane or a buffered/protected 10-foot lane.
There’s an obstruction or something else in the bike lane.
You are not required to ride in the bike lane just because there’s a bike lane on the street. Sometimes the safest place to ride is the bike lane; sometimes it isn’t. Motorists often completely block bike lanes in Philadelphia, and the rider has no choice but to go around, into traffic. If you have to do this, please make sure the coast is clear for you to ride into traffic.
I was trying to ride over the Manayunk Bridge (which connects Manayunk and Lower Merion) and it was closed! What’s up with that?
Until the city and township can get lighting installed on the Manayunk Bridge, it closes at dusk and opens at Dawn. We frequently blog about this issue when updates are available.
I was in a crash on my bicycle. What should I do?
Go to the Bicycle Coalition’s “What to do in a crash” page. We have a series of steps you should take upon being in a crash, and have listed two lawyers there who work specifically with bicyclists involved in crashes.
FAQ for Motorists
Why is that cyclist riding in the middle of the street?
Because they are allowed to, and, sometimes, encouraged to. Bicycles are legal vehicles and cyclists are entitled to the same rights as all other legal vehicles. Sometimes, the safest path a cyclist can take is in the center of the street.
Can I pass the cyclist if they’re riding this way?
Sure—as long as you’re giving them four feet of passing space. In Pennsylvania, you are legally required to give a cyclist four feet of space when passing, and you can drive over the double-yellow lines to do this. If you can’t give four feet of space, you can’t pass. Also, please don’t honk at the cyclist. It doesn’t help anyone.
Looks like I don’t have four feet, but I really, really need to pass this cyclist. I’m going to be late.
Sorry. Rules are rules. Don’t pass the cyclist unless you can do so safely providing four feet of space. And, let’s be honest here, if you’re in a rush on a city street, the most likely outcome of passing a cyclist is meeting that cyclist at the next red light or Stop Sign.
I need to pull over real quick in a bike lane to drop off some groceries. Is that cool?
No. By blocking a bike lane, you’re putting every cyclists’ and motorists’ life behind you in danger. Obstructing rights-of-way is never a good idea and you shouldn’t do it.
That said, in some cases, due to compromise and neighborhood concerns, some bike lanes have been marked “No Parking” zones, which means motorists are allowed to pull over for 20 minutes in case of emergency. Please do not abuse this privilege.
I opened my driver’s side door and hit a cyclist. Am I at fault?
Yes. Motorists are required to check their rear-view mirror for oncoming cyclists when opening a door into traffic or a bike lane. Check out “What to do in a crash” page for more details.
Got it. So, about pulling over into a bike lane. I just need to run into the store!
Nope. Not cool. Even when it’s technically legal, it’s not recommended and potentially dangerous.
So, where should I park?
A parking space. There are many of them, both on the street and in garages all over the city.
Local Bike Laws
One of the biggest causes of confusion and danger on our streets is the lack of universal knowledge of bicycle laws. Laws vary by state and in some cases, by municipality. Here, in plain English, are the laws that pertain to bicycling riding in our region.
Want to know where and when cars are allowed to park in bike lanes? What are the “Rules of the Road” you hear proclaimed from electronic roadside signs? You’ve come to the right place.
In the Street
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.
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 double-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 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.
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.
In Bike Lanes
Bike lanes are one direction only, unless the lane is explicitly marked as two-directional.
Bike lanes go in the same direction as adjacent vehicular travel lanes unless explicitly marked as a “contraflow lane.”
Bicyclists may ride two abreast in a bicycle lane.
Bicyclists are not required to ride in a bicycle lane just because there is a lane on that street.
Vehicles in Bike Lanes
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’re 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.
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 (e.g. groceries, FedEx trucks).
–No Standing: Vehicles may not park or load/unload goods, but can drop off/pick up people (e.g. 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. (But we have not heard of any people riding brakeless fixed-gear bicycles, or fixie, being cited for breaking this rule.)
Bicyclists (and motorists) are prohibited from wearing headphones.
Bicycles are required to have bells.
The bike laws in suburban and rural parts of Pennsylvania can be obscure or inconsistently enforced. Here are links to resources that will tell you what the laws are in your section of the state.
The Philadelphia Streets Department has resources about bicycle laws in Philadelphia and elsewhere in the state.
The Bike League has an overview of bicycle laws by state.
The PA Vehicle Code is available here.
The Pennsylvania Bicycle Driver’s Manual is a guide to street bicycling and contains the state rules governing bicycles in the street. There are more resources on the PENNDOT Ride a Bike web page.
NEW JERSEY LAWS
New Jersey is one of only four states in the nation that does not define bicycles as vehicles. However, a bicyclist is granted the same rights and subject to the same duties as a motor vehicle driver.
Bicyclists are required by law (39:4-10-11.1) to have front and rear lights, plus a rear reflector, a bell, and brakes.
Bicyclists must obey all state and local automobile driving laws.
According to NJDOT, state law does not outlaw riding on the sidewalk, although some municipalities have passed ordinances that prohibit doing so. NJDOT also stresses that while riding on the sidewalk may not be illegal, it is not safe since sidewalks are mainly used by pedestrians.
Bicyclists are required by law to ride primarily to the right and to ride to the left only under certain conditions (39:4-14.2, 39:4-10.11) as follows.
(a) To make a left turn from a left-turn lane or pocket;
(b) To avoid debris, drains, or other hazardous conditions that make it impractical to ride on the right side of the roadway;
(c) To pass a slower moving vehicle;
(d) To occupy any available lane when traveling at the same speed as other traffic;
(e) To travel no more than two abreast when traffic is not impeded.
Persons under 17 years of age are required by law to wear a helmet. (Title 39:4-10.1)
According to a 2012 a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling (Polzo v. County of Essex), shoulders are not bike lanes, therefore, bicyclists do not have full rights if riding their bicycle in a shoulder.
- Bicycling in New Jersey is regulated under Title 39 of the Motor Vehicles and Traffic Regulation Laws
- New Jersey Bicycling Manual