Biking on the Sidewalk

Is it legal?

Biking on the sidewalk is legal in most of DC, except the Central Business District, show on this map:

It is also legal in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, Maryland, and in Virginia except where prohibited by local ordinance.

Is it a good idea?

In a few instances. Read or listen to this WAMU story for a good rundown on the tradeoffs and challenges of sidewalk riding.

Most importantly:

If you ride a bike on the sidewalk, you are the biggest and fastest thing in that space. That means it is your responsibility to make sure everyone around you feels safe. Ride slowly, yield to people walking and running, give plenty of space and warning when you’re passing someone.

Regional Bike Laws

Laws related to bicycling vary slightly in DC, Maryland and Virginia.

We produce a guide to DC Bike Laws in partnership with the District Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Police Department.

You can find Virginia’s bike laws here.

You can find Maryland’s bike laws here.

Where to Ride When There’s No Infrastructure

The bike lane is a truly magical thing. Dedicated space carved out of roadways reserved entirely for bicyclists (and scooters and wheelchairs as well)?! It seems too good to be true. In a world where most roads, heck, most cities are designed around cars, riding in a bike lane, especially a protected bike lane, can feel like a mini victory. 

But what happens when the bike lane ends? 

Although WABA dreams of a region with a connected, protected and equitable network of bike lanes and trails, the reality is that bike lanes end, trails putter off, and the bicyclist is left wondering “where to next?” The truth is, there is no definitive answer. It depends on a number of factors: road design, speed limit, your experience, and comfort level.

Your Skills and Experience

Anyone can learn to ride in traffic and develop the confidence and skills to do so safely, but knowing yourself and your limits is just as important. Being honest with yourself about your experience level is very important! No one is going to judge you for never having ridden in traffic before. Learning a new skill takes time and practice. Our Confident City Cycling classes are a great way to learn about how to ride with no or limited bicycling infrastructure. The class covers many of the topics below while on-bike and our instructors can answer any questions you have.

So What’s Next? 

Ready to ride in the road? First of all, know that you are allowed to be there! Bicycling is an important part of our region’s transportation system and bicyclists have just as much right to using our roadways as motorists do. When you ride, it is your responsibility to obey the law and keep yourself and the people around you safe. It is not your job to stay out of the way. When riding in traffic, be sure to do the following:

Follow the rules of the road

Bicycles are vehicles and should act as so when riding in the road. This means following all posted signs and signals and yielding to pedestrians. Do you know traffic law and the rules of the road? 

Be visible

Depending on the time of day, you may need to use additional equipment such as lights or high-visibility reflective clothing to help motorists see you. Check out these helpful tips on bike lights and how to stay visible.

Be predictable

Being predictable is the number one most important tip when riding in traffic. Sticking to a lane, riding in a controlled manner and signaling to communicate where you intend to move are ways to ride predictably and help motorists anticipate what you plan to do next. Check out this helpful video on how to scan and signal to communicate with motorists.

Taking the lane 

Bike lanes offer a clearly defined space for bicyclists to ride. When there is no bike lane or other bicycle infrastructure, it is up to the bicyclist to determine the safest part of the lane to ride. In this instance, “safest” means most visible to motorists while still allowing you to get where you need to go. 

In narrow lanes where there is not enough space for a bicycle and a vehicle to ride side by side, the safest course of action is to ride in the center, otherwise known as “taking the lane”. Taking the lane prevents motorists from trying to squeeze around you. It keeps you from riding in the gutter and also places you outside of the door zone. 

Sharing the lane

Sharing the lane is safest only when there is three feet of passing space on either side of you. Depending on how wide the lane is, you may be able to ride in the rightmost third of the lane while still keeping three feet of space between cars on your left and the door zone on your right. Typically, this requires that lanes be 14 feet wide or larger. Not enough space? Take the lane!

Right most lane that serves your destination

The safest place to ride in moving traffic is the rightmost lane serving your destination. Remember that most traffic laws state that slower moving traffic should stay to the right. This is the same for bicycles. Riding straight through an intersection? Stick to the right most lane. Need to make a left turn? In this case the left lane is the rightmost lane serving your destination. It all depends on where you’re going and how lanes are laid out. 

Assess Your Comfort Level 

Comfort level differs for each individual person and can even change depending on the day. Things that you feel comfortable doing largely depend on your experience, but can also be influenced by your location, weather, time of day, or how you are feeling at any particular moment. Ask yourself beforehand if you feel prepared or are in the mindset to ride in traffic. If you ever change your mind or feel uncomfortable riding in the road, you can always hop off of your bike and become a pedestrian or use transit. We can’t stress this enough! The beauty of bicycling is that you can stop whenever you want to.

We cover all of this and more in our Confident City Cycling classes!

Other considerations

Map out your route 

Mapping out your route is a great way to identify gaps ahead of time. It also allows you to find an alternative route that matches your comfort level. Google Maps is a great resource. To turn on the Bicycling view by accessing the options menu. Also check out our maps page.

Speed Limit

Not all roadways allow bicycles. High speed roads such as highways and major throughways often include signs that prohibit bicyclists or pedestrians from entering. Bicycles are typically allowed on roads with speed limits of 45 mph or less. But, even 45 mph can be fast for someone on a bike. Ask yourself if you are comfortable riding without infrastructure on a 45 mph road. What about 35 mph? 25? 

Width of Lanes 

The width of a traffic lane will often determine how fast vehicles are able to go. Wide lanes allow for higher speeds, while narrow lanes tend to slow traffic down quite a bit. The width of a traffic lane also helps bicyclists determine the safest position to ride in. 

Alternative Options 

If you feel uncomfortable riding in traffic or prefer to slow things down a bit, you can always hop on to a sidewalk! Depending on local bike laws, you may be able to ride your bike on the sidewalk as long as long as you go slow and give pedestrians the right of way. If you are not allowed to ride on the sidewalk, you can always walk your bike and act as a pedestrian!

Bicyclists have just as much right to the roads as drivers do. Protected bicycle lanes improve the safety and experience of riding in the road, but until we have a protected, connected and equitable network, it’s up to us to take riding safely into our own hands. WABA’s bicycle education classes teach you the skills you need to ride safely and confidently, even when there is no infrastructure. Donate today to help us reach our 20×20 goals and bring more bicycle infrastructure to a street near you!

Where Can I Park My Bike?

When it comes to parking your bike, there are a lot of options. Rackspotter is a nifty, crowd-sourced tool that shows all of the bike racks in an area. This can cut out some of the guesswork about the availability and placement of a rack at your destination.

Where can a bike be locked?

While locking your bike to a rack is always the ideal scenario, sometimes there aren’t enough racks available. At other times, the racks might be full. In these situations, it’s important to keep in mind where you can and can’t park. When in doubt, WABA recommends keeping in mind the local laws, which vary slightly across DC, Arlington, and Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. Other than bike racks, these generally make it OK to lock your bike to sign posts and parking meters. However, you should avoid locking up to: 

  • Fire hydrants
  • Police and fire call boxes
  • Electric traffic signal poles
  • Bus stop signs
  • Stair railings
  • Signs or poles located within 25 ft. of an intersection
  • Trees
  • Private fences

When you do lock your bike, it’s important to secure your bike in a way that doesn’t obstruct pedestrian movement. This means avoiding railings for stairs or ramps and areas that are likely to be blocked, even if they fall outside the places prohibited for parking.

Where can I park a dockless bikeshare bike?

The same rules apply as parking your own bike. First try to find a rack for the dockless bikeshare. If one isn’t available, then park the bike in such a way that keeps the sidewalk accessible for pedestrian movement.

If you’re an individual to procure bike racks for your living space or a business wanting racks for your storefront, be sure to check out our guide on how to get one!

Bikes on Bus and Rail

Sometimes you need to take your bike on the train or bus. Biking is a great way to connect that last block or mile between a transit stop and your destination, or a great way to get to a trail for a recreational ride. Maybe you’ve got a flat tire you don’t want to deal with, or it’s just been on a long ride and want another way to get home. Here’s how to do it:

Bikes on Metrorail

For your own safety and those around you, it’s best to take the elevator down to the platform. When the train arrives, wait for everyone else to get off before attempting to board. When you do board, be sure to do it from the outside doors rather than the center door. While on the train, do your best to avoid blocking aisles and doors. Some railcar segments end in a little nook that offers a great way to stabilize yourself and your bike while keeping your bike out of the way of other people. 

Bikes are welcome on Metrorail during all hours of operation except a couple of holidays. Even still, WABA recommends avoiding rush hour if you can. If that’s not possible then remember to be patient, and don’t try to squeeze onto a crowded train.

Read Metro’s full rules here.

Bikes on the Bus

With the racks in front of most metro buses, it’s easy to take your bike with you. The video below offers a visual demonstration of how to operate the rack and load your bike.

While riding, be sure to keep an eye on your bike. You can try for one of the front seats or take a standing position in the space allowed. When near or approaching your stop, remind the bus driver that you’re retrieving your bike from the rack.

Bikes on the Streetcar

Bikes are even allowed on the DC Streetcar! Many of the same tips recommended for Metrorail apply, with a few differences. On the streetcar you want to board using the center door.

Tips on many things, including how to bring your bike on the streetcar.

When in doubt, check out WMATA and DC Streetcar guidelines for riding with your bike.