First, let’s state the obvious: Bicycles are not cars. They are not built like cars and they are not operated the same as cars. Like cars, bicycles are used for transportation, but the similarities pretty much end with that. There are even special rules which apply only to bicycles, as described by the Department of Transportation:
Bicycles are permitted to ride on the shoulder of the road or in designated travel lanes
Except in designated travel lanes, bicycles should never ride more than two abreast
Bicyclists should never carry an object which could at any time cause them to remove both hands from the handlebars
However, despite their differences, it is good to not lose sight of the fact that under Pennsylvania state law bicycles are the same as any other vehicle on the road. This means that bicyclists are responsible for adhering to all of the rules of the road. But, of course, this also means they enjoy the same rights as any other driver.
Unfortunately, there can be a grey area for bicyclists — they may not know what is legal behavior and what is not. Questions regarding riding on sidewalks, parking one’s bicycle, riding in traffic lanes will at one point or another edge into a biker’s mind. A good, concise explanation of the basics of bike riding can be helpful.
Riding on Sidewalks
While it is common for bicyclists to ride on sidewalks there are some things to consider.
For one, a bicyclist — on a sidewalk or designated bike path — must yield to pedestrians. Pedestrians always have the right-of-way and must be made aware of a bicyclist’s presence. An effective way to alert a pedestrian is by use of audible signals.
Secondly, keep in mind that a bicyclist is not permitted to ride on sidewalks within designated business districts unless an exception has been made.
Riding in the Road
As was previously stated, bicyclists are allowed to ride on the shoulder of the road, and this privilege just got better. In early 2012 a new law went into effect in Pennsylvania requiring automobiles to give bicyclists more room on the road. The law, in short, says a car must make four feet of space when passing a bicyclist, even if that means driving over the yellow lane lines in the center of the road. In addition to the yellow line rule, cars making left-hand turns are now required to yield to any bicyclists coming from the opposite direction.
Parking Your Bicycle
One of the biggest benefits of riding a bicycle is that it can be parked pretty much anywhere provided it does not get in the way. For example, state law allows for a bicycle to be parked on a sidewalk as long as it does not hinder pedestrian traffic. A bicycle can also be parked in a curbside parking spot designated for a motor vehicle granted that it does affect the normal flow of traffic. Of course, the safest place to park a bicycle is indoors or in a covered parking lot. And in all cases, a bicycle left unattended should be locked to an immovable object.
Staying Visible On Your Bicycle
It may go without saying, but a bicycle in traffic is not nearly as protected as a car. Without an external frame, airbags, or seatbelts, a bicyclist in an accident can be seriously injured. One of the best ways a bicyclist can protect him or herself from harm is to stay visible on the road. Learning to avoid blind spots is important, as is wearing brightly colored clothing. Especially at night, vibrant clothes and reflectors can increase a bicyclist’s visibility, reducing the risk of being struck by an automobile. It also reduces the risks of a pedestrian stepping out in front of a bike which blended in with its surroundings.
If you’d like to read more about bicycle safety and Pennsylvania bicycle laws, you are in luck: The Carpey Law website has many articles on the subject of bicycles. See our blog categories section, or type “bicycles” in the search field on your right, and you can find a ton of informative articles on bicycles, like the article “5 Important Ways You Can Avoid a Bicycling Accident.”
Stuart A. Carpey, who has been practicing as an attorney since 1987, focuses his practice on complex civil litigation which includes representing injured individuals in a vast array of personal injury cases.