Six Tips For Riding Safely on Roads Lacking Dedicated Bicycle Lanes

Bicycling has moved beyond a leisure pastime or sport. It is fast becoming a mode of transportation to work, school, to run errands, and even for trips to the grocery store. As a result, more than ever, communities are making cyclists safer by installing more and safer bikes lanes

Many communities have become bike friendly, including bike paths and bike lanes in their short and long-term planning. But what should a cyclist do when there are no bike paths or bike lanes?

There is no doubt that safety becomes a bigger concern when cyclists and drivers share a roadway. Drivers do not always look out for or see cyclists. Cyclists must take extra precautions when sharing any road with vehicular traffic. Likewise, cyclists must take extra precautions when sharing a sidewalk with pedestrians. 

Here are six tips for riding safely on roads that have no dedicated bicycle lanes.

Know the Law

It is important that you know where you are permitted to ride and where you may not ride. This means knowing the state and local laws in the area where you are riding. 

For example, in Washington state, a cyclist can ride in any place that vehicles are allowed. Additionally, a cyclist may ride on the sidewalk as long as the cyclist yields to any pedestrian on the sidewalk. 

In contrast, Alabama law requires that a cyclist ride as far to the ride on a street shared with vehicular traffic as is practicable. Alabama does not allow a cyclist to ride on a sidewalk except upon a permanent or temporary driveway area.

Know the law in your area and abide by it. If there are signs that limit sidewalk riding in a particular area, those signs take precedence in that area.

Ride to the Right On a Two-Way Street, if Possible

Riding to the right on a two-way street means that a cyclist is traveling with the flow of traffic. In the absence of a bike lane, which is always to the right, it is the safest place for a cyclist to be while on the street. This area can include the road’s shoulder.  

Slower cars are usually in the right-hand lane if the street contains more than one lane in both directions. This is where a driver would expect to see a cyclist as well.  Staying within a driver’s expectations keeps the cyclist safer. When a cyclist intends to take the road, the cyclist should take slow and predictable actions in doing so.

Use Clear Signals When Moving From the Right

Cyclists need to make turns. Making a left-hand turn requires that the cyclist move from the right side to either the center of the road or to a left-hand turn lane if one is available. It is important that a cyclist be very aware of the flow and speed of traffic around him or her as they anticipate making that move. 

Likewise, it is important that a cyclist use clear signals of their intent to move into the lane and that they check to see that a driver has seen them and understands their intent. A driver may signal their understanding by slowing down to allow the cyclist room to enter the lane or by gesturing or nodding in the cyclist’s direction.

Be Vigilant on One Way Streets

Many jurisdictions will allow cyclists to ride either on the left or the right on a one-way street. Whether on the left or the right, it is important to ride as close to the edge as possible. When moving away from the edge, scan traffic before moving and signal your intent clearly. Move into traffic only when it is safe to do so.

Look For Obstacles Ahead

A cyclist sharing the road with vehicles must maintain a watchful eye for obstacles ahead of them. This can include potholes, debris, and garbage cans. 

When moving to avoid obstacles, it is important to move slowly rather than suddenly, and to signal the cyclist’s intent to move to drivers around them. Signal your intent to avoid the obstacle if you have time. If you cannot move into traffic safely, stop rather than making a sudden movement into traffic to avoid an obstacle.

Ride Single File

When sharing the road with motor vehicles, it is important for a cyclist to be as predictable and consistent in their riding as possible.  Riding single file allows the lead cyclist to see any obstacles and to take evasive action. It also allows more room to take any evasive action that is needed while keeping both cyclists safer.

Riding abreast can be done when it is safe to do so, when the cyclists are moving along with the speed of traffic, and when the law allows them to do so. A cyclist may not impede traffic in most jurisdictions.

In closing, it is always better to err on the side of safety. Know the law and stay calm and predictable on the road even when drivers do not. Signal your moves and check to see if the drivers around you understand your intent before moving into the flow of traffic.