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.

COVID-19 Policy Recommendations

With COVID-19 cases still rising and experts indicating that the end of the crisis is still months away, most people are looking at a lot more time at home.  But “stay indoors until August” is also not a viable option. People need groceries, medical care, and other essential services. And public health experts agree that people also need access to outdoor space, fresh air, and exercise to maintain mental and physical health. 

Currently, all across the region, people are awkwardly navigating narrow sidewalks and trails, trying to maintain a safe distance. As the weather improves and the weeks stuck at home wear on, this is not tenable. 

In order to make space for essential movement and safe, essential exercise, WABA proposes the following policy changes be implemented by all regional governments.

We support WABA’s COVID-19 policy recommendations for making walking and biking safer during the pandemic. We applaud our elected officials for implementing some but strongly encourage them to go further and employ more policies critical to the safety of communities across the region.

These policy changes are equally applicable to urban and suburban spaces but, it’s important to note that the places people need to access vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. Not everyone has access to a walkable grocery store or pharmacy. Crises like this one exacerbate existing inequities in our transportation system and social services, so government actions should be responsive to community needs.

Immediate Actions Needed for Shelter-in-Place and to Prepare for Reopenings

The Washington region is under shelter-in-place restrictions by order of the DC Mayor, and the Maryland and Virginia Governors. Restrictions will be lifted when public health data of the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates the peak of cases, hospitalizations are in a sustained downward trend. Right now, each state is creating detailed plans for reopening elements of the economy and society, including what physical distancing will mean for the foreseeable future until a vaccine is widely available. The following recommendations apply to the duration of the shelter-in-place restriction and the different phases of physical distancing which may last months to more than a year.

Agency Actions

Sidewalk expansions around high-traffic essential goods and services: Our region’s sidewalks are not wide enough to accommodate safe social distancing in busy, essential places. Metered parking or full travel lanes should be closed to motor vehicles on blocks with grocery stores, healthcare providers, and other high traffic essential services. This can be accomplished with cones, signage, and temporary ADA ramps.

Slow Lanes for essential exercise connectivity: Social distancing requirements have exposed a host of connectivity gaps and choke points in the region’s network of outdoor spaces. Park roads, travel lanes and metered parking adjacent to high traffic parks & trails should be closed to motor vehicles to make space for people to run, walk and bike safely. Similar treatments should be applied to streets that contain on-street or on-sidewalk segments of existing trails — The W&OD Trail at the East Falls Church Metro Station, The Anacostia River Trail on the Benning Road Bridge, The Hyattsville Trolley Trail on Rhode Island Avenue.

Speed management: Lower traffic volume has led to an increase in the frequency and intensity of drivers speeding on many roads. Speeding makes severe crashes more likely, and makes roads and public spaces less safe for the people walking and biking through them. Agencies should use every engineering, education and automated enforcement tool available to mitigate this problem: changes in light timing (such as Sunday timing or sequencing signal timing for lower speeds such as 15-20mph), temporary speed limit reductions, deployment of automated enforcement and driver feedback signs (radar speed signs), lane closures, temporary stop signs, roundabouts and other tactical urbanism interventions.

Temporary Protected Bike Lanes: There are dozens of protected bike lane projects in various stages of planning, design and pre-construction in the region. Where appropriate and possible, transportation agencies should establish temporary pilot protected bike lanes using low-impact tactical interventions such as cones, traffic barrels, lane marking tape and other readily available materials. These pilot projects should not seek to circumvent the public engagement for their permanent installation.

Enforcement: Racially biased enforcement by police officers is well documented and in times of crisis this bias can result in discriminatory patterns of enforcement. Additionally, some local jurisdictions activated additional personnel to support police departments through the National Guard or similar reserve forces that often lack training in community engagement and de-escalation techniques. Attention to these details as they apply to community-based policing by any officers is critically important.

Increase shared public and private bike fleets: The reliance on bicycles will increase over the coming months and access to free or affordable, shared bikes will be necessary. Cities and counties should increase available fleets, especially electric bikes for longer trips (2-3 miles). Bikeshare systems should be regularly cleaned and disinfected, and safety supplies (hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, etc) made available to users and employees.

Community Led Changes

Given staff and funding constraints at implementing agencies, individuals and communities must be empowered to make changes to neighborhood streets to foster safe mobility and essential exercise.

Turn any residential block into a “Local Traffic Only” block: Residents should be empowered or sanctioned to temporarily convert a residential street into a “Local Traffic Only” block for extended periods. Residents, through existing formal or informal networks such as Civic Associations or Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, could self-organize days and times for street reprogramming. Traffic cones would be placed at the each end of the block with signs stating “Local Traffic Only” and warning drivers to expect people in the street. Streets must be available for emergency vehicle access, US Postal Service and other deliveries, and vehicles of residents and visitors.

Create sidewalk expansions wherever needed: Sidewalks are crowded near essential businesses such as grocery stores, pharmacies and medical offices with people accessing entrances and waiting in queues. Cities and counties should create a temporary permit process to create expanded sidewalk space in the adjacent parking lane or curb-lane on a multi-lane street. The additional space should comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as much as is practical to ensure that these expanded spaces are accessible for everyone.

Long-Term Vision

Crisis planning: One lesson we have learned during this crisis is we need to be better prepared in the future.  During a crisis or long term-emergency our regional governments should have a plan to increase capacity and direct more resources to expand sidewalks, keep open our parks, and ensure we have multimodal transportation options for essential workers and our most vulnerable populations. 

Whether it involves updating an existing disaster plan or creating a new one, our regional governments should have the implementation strategy, guidelines, and resources so we are never caught off guard in a crisis. Transportation needs and consideration will be different during an infectious disease pandemic compared to a threat of terriorism, natural disaster, political unrest or other major disruption

Therefore, we are calling on all local governments in the region to examine the capacities and resources that are necessary to execute open space and emergency public transportation policies during a crisis. We will be following up with our regional leaders to inquire about next steps to move this forward.

Environmental Impact: Nitrogen dioxide levels are lower in our region because people are driving less, walking more, biking more, or staying home, therefore, when this crisis is over we must continue to transform our systems to reduce the causes of climate change. We can’t go back to the old ways of doing things.

Going forward, we call on our regional governments to speed up the process and commit more resources to completing protected bike lane networks, our regional trail network, as well ensuring we have increased public transportation options that are run on clean energy. 

Climate change exacerbates existing social injustices and creates new ones. A Harvard University study of those sickened in the covid-19 pandemic also showed that people living in polluted environments are far less able to fight off the disease. Communities of color disproportionately are relegated to areas with the greatest amounts of pollution and other environmental contamination, making them more vulnerable to the health crises like the current pandemic. 

If our regional governments commit the resources to create a transportation and infrastructure  system that allows people to drive less, then we create cleaner and healthier environments, which means our communities, especially our most vulnerable communities are less likely to succumb to diseases.

We need to act now, before the next crisis.

While we need to strengthen our healthcare systems for the future, according to Allison Arwady, Chief Medical Officer at the Chicago Department of Public Health, “even if we had a perfect healthcare system in which anyone could access a doctor, we would still see significant health disparities because of food deserts and lack of walkable streets.”

Once this crisis has passed, our regional elected officials need to start the future resiliency and crisis management planning process right away. A process that must include expanded sidewalks, open parks, transportation options for our essential workers and our most vulnerable populations. They must also commit the resources to expanding our protected bike and trail networks with a new sense of urgency.

Safe infrastructure in a crisis matters and we need to plan like it.

Masks and biking

Note: We’re doing our best to stay up on current guidance, but we’re not public health experts, so please follow recommendations from your local government and the CDC.

We know that not everyone can self-isolate indefinitely, at some point you might need to go outside and ride a bicycle to go to work, get groceries, support neighbors and loved ones, or use being active and outside to support your mental and physical health needs.

Should I Wear a Mask When I Bike?

First, here is a summary of our Biking during COVID-19 post:

  • Ride alone, or with your household. The absolute best thing you can do is keep physical distance between you and anyone not in your household. 
  • You are responsible for the safety and health of everybody around you. It is clear that many people have COVID-19 and are asymptomatic. It is best to assume that everyone, yourself included, might be asymptomatic. 
  • Ride less trafficked routes or times.

So Yes or No?  

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. If you can, the best thing you can do when outside is still to keep your distance from others not in your household and avoid overcrowded areas. If you are in an urban environment where social distancing is difficult, it’s probably a good idea to wear a bandana, neck gaiter, or other covering —make sure it fully covers your mouth and nose. A mask can do a lot of good in keeping yourself and others safe with correct user behavior and if they are worn properly and made with proper materials. 

There is a lot we don’t know about how the virus spreads through the air, especially when you add people breathing deeply and moving. Acting overly cautious and giving a wide distance is a good idea. But there is a lot of speculation, scientific theories and dubious studies circulating as well. We’re not going to add to pronouncements about distance and what precisely is safe because we do not have any medical or public health background. There is a great Washington City Paper article about exercise here and Bicycling magazine also has some great coverage that both interview actual experts.

Here are some additional things to consider:

Masks are not perfect. If your mask is not cleaned properly, if you are constantly taking it off or touching it, if you take it off improperly, the mask can increase your risks. The other common way masks can spread COVID-19 is by making people feel overly secure. Wearing a mask is not a substitute from keeping physical distance if possible. Here are the CDC recommendations for using a cloth face mask and for social distancing.

There is a whole lot of make-it-up-as-you-go-along and better something than nothing. Most popular face coverings are based on what is commonly available or that people have at home, and has not been subject to rigorous flow testing. We do know COVID-19 is commonly spread by aerosolized droplets so having something that stops droplets from you going very far does make a lot of sense. Do coffee filters work? Cut up nylon stockings? There is some previous research into homemade face coverings for filtration. A decent place to start is here, and the CDC guidelines, which includes an ASL mask tutorial. 

Masks change our behavior. Masks are a great reminder to not touch your face, keep distance from other people and remind others to keep their distance. 

But, masks may change how others perceive you or how you perceive others. What people assume about a person wearing a mask is not the same for everyone. People are bringing their own lived experience into their decisions about mask-wearing. You or others might choose to not wear one because of fear of violence and that is completely valid. Racism is real. Since December, there has been a huge rise of anti-Asian hatred based on the incorrect assumption that any Asian person must be COVID-19 positive. People of color, particularly young black men, are especially vulnerable to racial profiling, discriminatory practices, and increased policing while wearing a mask.

But what about everybody else?!

Pandemics are scary. We are all experiencing this pandemic slightly differently and coping differently. Some people are hyper-focused on work, childcare, hobbies, reading a lot of pandemic coverage or no pandemic coverage, some folks feel completely calm and others are grasping for the things they can control. The loss of certainty over what you know is terrifying, and there are real public and personal health impacts to the decisions made by others. This lack of certainty and control can often manifest itself in telling other people what to do. This makes conversations about masks, especially on the internet, extremely challenging. 

We encourage folks to follow instructions from health and local government officials. But telling other people what to do can be problematic, especially when it intersects with race, gender, and other lines of oppression. Shame and guilt tripping are not effective persuasion techniques. Additionally, as we mentioned above, people bring their own lived experience into their decisions about mask-wearing. Confronting, yelling at, or calling law enforcement on your neighbors does not build trust. And at worst it can bring financial and bodily harm to others.

Please be thoughtful in how you engage with your neighbors. We need to support, nurture, and love our communities during this time of COVID-19.

How to Ride a Bike

Learning to ride a bike can seem nerve wracking. Ask anyone around you and they  likely will share stories of falling and scraped knees. But they will also tell you about taking those first few exhilarating pedals and the joy and weightlessness of gliding on your bike!

For generations, people have used the “toss em’ into the deep end” approach when teaching others how to ride a bike. They may get bumps and bruises along the way, but eventually they learn to ride a bike.

Riding a bike is a lot easier than you think! WABA’s Learn to Ride classes take an easier approach, breaking down the process into three easy to follow steps. We are so confident that our technique works that we are happy to share our methods with you to try out at home. You can use these to teach yourself how to ride or to teach others, including kids!

What You’ll Need

  • A bike – we recommend one that has you sitting upright. 
  • A helmet 
  • A flat, wide open surface – like a parking lot or a quiet street 

Tip: If you don’t have a bike or helmet, our Learn to Ride classes are a great option since they include a bike and helmet rental.

Before You Get On Your Bike 

Before you get started, be sure to check out our tips on how to properly fit your helmet and size your bike.

How to Ride

Now, you are ready! You’ve got your helmet on, your bike properly fitted and you’re standing in a wide open parking lot, not a car in sight. The next thing to do is learn to ride a bike. Here are the three simple steps that our highly experienced instructors use at our Learn to Ride classes.

Step One: Learning to Glide 

In order for the bike to glide, you’ll have to first gain momentum. Sit on the saddle (just a fancy name for a seat) with your hands on the handlebars, fingers on your brakes, and your feet flat on the ground. Begin rocking back and forth, shifting your weight from your heels to the balls of your feet. The bike should move with you, but your feet should not leave the ground. Continue to rock, gaining a bit more speed as you push your weight backwards and forwards. When you are ready, push off the balls of your feet and glide forward. Kick your feet out on either side to help maintain balance. 

The goal is to be able to keep your feet up off of the ground for as long as you can. Once you start to slow down practice using your brakes. You should practice pressing down on the brakes to see how long it takes you to come to a complete stop. Once you are able to maintain a controlled glide across the length of a parking lot (a few hundred yards) you are ready to move on to step two! 

Tip: This is hard work! It is ok to take breaks or to split the step over a few hours our days!

Tip: This step can be easier if you take your pedals off. It prevents you from banging up your shins. 

Step Two: Finding the Pedals

Now that you are able to balance on a moving bike, let’s move on to gaining momentum. Bicycles are human powered machines. You use your legs (or hands if you are riding a hand-pedal bike!) to propel yourself forward. When you pedal, you  move the chain and gears that control the wheels. 

Sit on the saddle with your hands on the handlebars and fingers on the brakes. Using your dominant foot,move the pedal to the “2 o-clock” position. This is called Power Pedal Position – when you push down it will help you gain the most momentum. 

To start, push off and press down on the pedal. Kick your non-dominant foot out to the side to help maintain balance. As you begin to slow down, use your brakes to come to a complete stop. Reset your pedal until you are in the Power Pedal Position and do it all over again. Keep practicing until you are able to maintain a controlled glide across the parking lot. 

On your next glide, instead of kicking your non-dominant foot out to the side, try to find the pedal. With both feet on the pedals, each leg will take turns pushing down to help propel you forward. This step is tricky, but keep practicing over and over until you get it. 

Step Three: Pedaling in Control 

You’re doing it! You’ve learned to balance, gain momentum, and now you are able to pedal. The last step is putting it all together. Start at one end of the parking lot. Give yourself plenty of space to work with. Place your dominant foot on the pedal and your non-dominant foot on the ground. Push down the pedal and add your second foot as you move forward. The faster you pedal, the easier it is to stay upright. As you gain more control and confidence, you can practice riding in circles, making turns and coming to a controlled stop. More practice will help you get the hang of it, but stop for a second to congratulate yourself, because you just learned to ride a bike! 

Tip: Now that you know how to ride a bicycle, WABA’s City Cycling classes are a great way to boost your confidence and get you riding on trails or the road.

Get Help in Person!

Learning to ride by yourself or teach others can be hard. If you are struggling, we are here to help you! WABA’s Learn to Ride classes take the same easy, three-step approach. We provide the instruction, equipment and support you need to learn to ride in no time. We have classes for adults and youth across the Washington region from spring to fall. Classes start at $10!

How to Fit a Bike

A properly sized and fitted bike makes all the difference when riding. Bikes, like people, come in many different sizes and styles. Whether you are learning to ride for the first time, or purchasing a new bike, it helps to know what to look for! 

Finding the Right Size: 

Depending on the bike brand or shop, there are different ways to find the right size bike for you. Bike frames come in different sizes measured in inches that correlate to your height and inseam length. Different brands and bike shops may label their bike sizes using the frame size, height, or a general descriptive sizing such as “Small”, “Medium” or “Large”. Until you know your preferred frame size, it is easiest to “try on” bikes in person to see what is most comfortable for you. 

  • Stand over the top of the bike with your hands on the handlebars, both feet flat on the ground. 
  • If the bike is the right size, you should have no trouble straddling it. Both feet should be flat on the ground – no tip toes! – and the toptube (the one between the seat and the handlebars) should come between your legs, but should not touch you. 
  • Have a friend hold the handlebars for you and clench the front wheel between their legs – this will prevent you from rolling. 
  • Sit on the saddle with your hands on the handlebars and one foot on each pedal. Take a look at your elongated leg. You should notice a slight bend in the knee.

Adjusting Your Bike:

Once you find a general frame size that fits you, you may still need to make micro adjustments in order to fit comfortably on the bike. Parts of bikes, such as the handlebars and seat posts can be adjusted for a better fit. These components are locked in place either with a screw or with a quick release, a lever that can be loosened and tightened by hand. 

  • Let’s go back to that elongated leg. If your leg is completely straight with your foot on the pedal, your saddle might be too high. If your leg is considerably bent, your saddle might be too low. Adjust the seat post until you notice a slight bend in the leg. 
  • Place your feet on the ground while sitting in the saddle. It is alright if you need to be on your tip-toes in order to reach the ground from a seated position, although you should not have too much difficulty keeping upright. If it is hard for you to reach the ground while sitting in the saddle, lower the seat. If your feet are completely flat on the ground while sitting in the saddle, raise the seat. 
  • Depending on the position of your saddle, you may need to raise or lower the handlebars. Not all handlebars can be adjusted without professional assistance. Look for a screw that can be loosened with a screwdriver or wrench or a quick release similar to the one that you may have on your seat post. 
  • Your handlebars should be positioned so that you are not tilted too far forward or reaching up too high. Your elbows should have a slight bend and you should be able to look ahead comfortably. 
  • Handlebar placement can be a bit tricker to adjust correctly. You’ve already adjusted your seat, so your handlebar placement will depend on where you are sitting. Play around with different heights until you find one that feels most comfortable. Feel like you need a little extra help? Stop by a bike shop or ask a friend! 

With your bike properly sized and fitted, you’re ready to ride! Check out our blog post on how to do an ABC Quick Check to make sure your bike is ready too! Check out WABA’s Learn to Ride and Confident City Cycling classes for even more helpful tips.

How to Fit a Helmet

Helmets are a lot more than big styrofoam head buckets. They are an important piece of safety equipment and should fit properly in order to provide maximum protection! Depending on where you live and how old you are, you may be required to wear a helmet when riding a bike or scooter. If you are going to wear a helmet, either by choice or out of necessity, then you should learn how to fit one correctly and how to check to make sure it will protect your noggin!

  • Place your helmet flat on the top of your head. The helmet should come down over your forehead, but should not obstruct your vision. You should be able to place 2 fingers on your forehead between your eyebrows and the helmet. 
  • Tighten the helmet so it fits snugly around your head. Size adjusting dials or clasps are typically found on the back of the helmet right above the nape of the neck. 
  • Clip the helmet straps beneath your chin. Tighten the strap so that it fits snugly. You should only be able to fit one finger between the strap and your chin. Each strap has a “v” shape that comes down over the ears. Make sure that the “v” is even on both sides with your ear sitting in the center. 
  • Check to make sure your helmet is on correctly with a quick headbang! If the helmet doesn’t move, then you’re ready to ride (or for a lively concert!).

With your helmet safely fastened, you’re ready to ride! Check out our blog post on how to do an ABC Quick Check to make sure your bike is ready too! Check out WABA’s Learn to Ride and Confident City Cycling classes for even more helpful tips.

Carrying Stuff on a Bike

Spoiler: We think bicycles are the bee’s knees. They efficiently help people move from place to place and excel at moving stuff. You can use your bike to carry your work or school essentials, your groceries, your child(ren), gardening supplies, or even construction materials. 

It might take some planning and logistics at first, but once you have your routine and gear down, you can carry (almost) anything on a bike! Here are some ways to turn your bike into a utilitarian hauler. 

Backpacks are a great place to start!

Bags

Backpacks or messenger bags are an easy way to start carrying light loads. You can carry a change of clothes, work or school supplies, or picnic snacks. They are great for short commutes and quick errands. 

Pro

  • You probably already have one. 
  • Great for using on a Capital Bikeshare bike!

Con

  • Can lead to sweaty backs 
  • May be uncomfortable on longer rides
A versatile front rack

Rack

Bicycle racks are perhaps the most utilitarian accessory for your bicycle and will help you carry even more things. The most common type attaches to the back of your bicycle over the rear wheel, but you can also attach them to your seat post or the front of your bicycle. Great racks cost as little as $25 and you can often find them used or second hand. Pair them with crates, bags, and bungees to help you secure your load and carry even more. 

Pro

  • Increases your carrying capacity

Con

  • They add some weight to your bike (but aren’t we talking about carrying things?)
A traditional rear rack and pannier setup

Panniers = Bag + Rack

Panniers come in all shapes, colors, sizes, and prices, but fundamentally they are bags that attach to your rack. They increase your capacity to carry things and transfer on and off your bike with ease. Look for handy features such as waterproofing, reflective material, and pockets, but ultimately you should decide what works for you based on your budget and needs. Here is a handy tutorial on attaching panniers to your shopping cart

Pro

  • Increases your carrying capacity
  • Keeps weight low to the ground
  • Often come with waterproofing and reflective material, great commuter features 

Con

  • Some models are pricey
  • Heavy loads require balanced packing
A classic front basket

Baskets

Baskets are an affordable and easy to install accessory. Front baskets can mount to your handlebars or front rack and are great for short errands or carrying your daily essentials. You can also attach a basket to the top or side of your rear rack, which is great for grocery runs and larger objects. Pair them with bungees, a cargo net, or straps to cinch down your load and keep your items safe and stable. 

Pro

  • Affordable and easy to attach
  • Pairs well with a bag – place it in the basket or wear it to add more carrying space

Con

  • Heavy loads on a front rack can change how your bike steers
  • Difficult to waterproof

Bike Trailer

Trailers attach to your bicycle allowing you to drag things behind you. Trailers are often designed with a specific use, such as for hauling gear or pets or kids. Kids trailers can work double-duty. You can use them to get groceries and some models allow you to use them as a jogging stroller.

Pro

  • Great for large loads like groceries, construction material, kids, and pets
  • Limited effects on steering

Con

  • Expensive
  • Require a decent amount of storage space

The key thing to remember when looking at gear for carrying things by bicycle is to assess your needs. Are you looking to replace all of your car grocery runs or just small ones? Do you plan to carry things for a small household or a large family? All of these options are possible and help to reduce car use and mitigate climate change impact. If you are not sure what works for you, borrow gear from a friend or look for second-hand options that will help you figure out what works for you. Or you can reach us at outreach@waba.org and we are happy to provide suggestions.

A few other tips:

Electric assist cargo bikes can carry a LOT. You can’t see it, but there’s a microwave under that air conditioner.
When loading your front basket, make sure you can see over the handlebars.
Harness the power of the bungee cord! For extra points, you can carry a car bike rack on your bike bike rack.
It’s helpful to have a good sense of how much you can fit in your panniers BEFORE you check out at the grocery store.

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!

Do Bicyclists Pay Taxes?

Someone once said that “nothing in life is certain except taxes and the fact that bicyclists don’t pay their fair share of them.” But is that true?

Do bicyclists pay taxes?

Yes! Bicyclists pay sales taxes on their bicycles, maintenance, parts, and gear. They also pay property, state, federal taxes. These general taxes fund the majority of the construction and maintenance of local and state roads that bicyclists typically use. 

But what about gas taxes?

It is true that motorists pay gas taxes (and other user fees such as tolls, registrations, licenses), which go to the Highway Trust Fund that support federal and state highway construction. But it is also a myth that gas taxes and user fees cover the full costs of highways. 

And remember that most federal and state highways explicitly prohibit bicycling and bicyclists typically avoid them due to their higher speeds. It is also worth noting that many bicyclists (and pedestrians) often own or rent cars as well, and therefore pay taxes and fees associated with highways. 

So who pays for our highways?

Everyone who pays general fund taxes pays for our roads. The national gas tax has not been raised or adjusted to inflation since 1993 and the government has needed to use general tax funds (i.e. income tax) to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent. This has increasingly shifted the burden of paying for highways onto all American households and disproportionately affects those that do not use personal motor vehicles for transportation. That means folks who primarily walk, use transit, or bike actually subsidize highway costs for motorists.

Why not tax bicyclists?

For one, we already do (see above). And direct taxes on bicyclists could discourage bicycling. Non-motorized transportation provides significant public health and environmental benefits by increasing physical activity, reducing congestion and pollution, and mitigating the effects of climate change. 

For more information, check out these great resources.

Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save the Economy by Elly Blue from Microcosm Publishing

Funding the Nation’s Surface Transportation System from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) 

Coming to Grips with Oregon’s Bike Tax from the League of American Bicyclists

Who Pays for Roads? How the “Users Pay” Myth Gets in the Way of Solving America’s Transportation Problems from Frontier Group and U.S. PIRG Education Fund