Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What's OK When it Comes to Bikes and the Rules of the Road?

Complaints that Somerville cyclists are ignoring the rules of the road were made at every ResiStat meeting this fall. Likewise, local cyclists are equally concerned about motorists who do not safely share the roads with bicycles. The good news is that the City will launch a citywide bicycle safety campaign in March to help educate everyone—motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians—on how to safely (and legally) use our roads and walkways.

Today though, a resident asked that we post the rules regarding cyclists to the City’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/SomervilleCity). It’s a lot of information, so I’m posting a link to the rules posted here.

The City follows Massachusetts General Law for traffic safety and regulation for cyclists and motorists, with the municipal addition of requiring cyclists to stay in bike lanes when present.

The most important rules follow:

• Bicycles must obey the same general traffic regulations that apply to cars including obeying traffic lights, traffic signs (Stop, Yield, etc.), and traveling on the right side of the road in the allowed direction of traffic (cyclists may not ride the wrong way down a one-way street).

• Motorists are required by law to share the road with cyclists.

• Motor vehicles may not be driven in bicycle lanes (except to cross the lane safely while making a right turn).

•Motor vehicles making a right turn must yield to cyclists passing on the right and make the turn at a safe distance from the cyclist.

• When bike lanes are present, cyclists must stay in bike lanes, except when making a left turn, overtaking a slower cyclist, or avoiding a hazard.

• When making a left turn, if it is safe to do so, cyclists must move to center of the roadway and make the turn in accordance with the rules of the road. If it is not safe to do so, cyclists should dismount and cross on foot at a crosswalk.

• Cyclists may not ride on the sidewalk in or near city squares or business districts. For exact boundaries, see http://1.usa.gov/xsxiRc, Article XIII (please note, not all regulations at this link are up to date).

• Pedestrians have the right-of-way over bicycles and motor vehicles in all crosswalks and on sidewalks where bicycles are permitted, and bicycles and motor vehicles must yield to pedestrians in all traffic situations.

• Bicycles have the right-of-way (over pedestrians and motor vehicles) in designated bicycle lanes and on designated bike paths.

• Pedestrians are prohibited from walking in bicycle lanes (except to cross the lane).

• Motor vehicle doors may not be opened in a manner that obstructs other users, including cyclists. Violators are subject to a $100 fine.

• Any person 16 years of age or younger operating a bicycle or being carried as a passenger on a bicycle on a public way, bicycle path or on any other public right-of-way shall wear a helmet.

• During the period from sunset to sunrise, cyclists must display a front light emitting a white light visible from at least 500 feet, and to the rear either a lamp emitting a red light, or a red reflector visible for not less than 600 feet when directly in front of lawful lower beams of headlamps on a motor vehicle.

• Also during the period from sunset to sunrise, cyclists must use reflectors on bike pedals and ankles and also on either the bicycle or their person visible to the front, sides, and rear for not less than 600 feet.

• Bicycle traffic regulations are enforced by the police. Currently, violation of bicycle traffic regulations are subject to a $20 fine. Cyclists who refuse to provide their correct name may be arrested without a warrant and are subject to a $50 fine.

To peruse the regulations yourself, click the following links:
  • Many regulations are noted within Ch 85 Sec 11B, including behavior in traffic, helmet regulations, etc. Click HERE.
  • The information on ticketing and fines is HERE.  
  • Rules for driver behavior around cyclists are HERE (passing safely, giving space and right of way, yielding in turns, opening of car doors).

Finally, my two favorite and somewhat obscure traffic rules:

  • Cyclists may not use a siren to announce their approach.
  • Cyclists must come to an immediate stop when approaching a cow, horse, or other draft animal. (Not sure how this rule would apply to the cyclist in the cow suit in the photo above though.)

Photo by TPapi. 


  1. "When bike lanes are present, cyclists must stay in bike lanes, except when making a left turn, overtaking a slower cyclist, or avoiding a hazard."

    This is actually not the state law, but it may apply in some cities.

  2. Thanks, Charlie. I just corrected the post to add that some rules are municipal.

  3. Being restricted to bike lanes is not very bike friendly. It does seem to be what most drivers expect, but bike lanes are often unsafe in ways that are not obvious to some drivers. Eg, the bike lane pavement is bumpy, or the bike lane has been improperly painted in the "door zone." The $100 fine that's on the books for door-ers doesn't make it any safer to ride next to a line of parked cars. I'll definitely think twice about detouring over to the Crepe place in Davis on my commute home from Lexington. :(

  4. Dear anyone and everyone,

    Almost every single cyclist knows the bike laws, but as one astute reader above mentions obeying them can occasionally lead a cyclist into less safe situations.

    Constant talk about how cyclists SHOULD behave is useless. 100% of city cyclists are constantly concerned for their safety and anything that a cyclist could do to endanger a motorist will also endanger the cyclist and therefore cyclists, by and large, self-regulate .

    There is only one thing anyone should talk about when talking about the relationship between cyclists and motorist: IF YOU ARE DRIVING A CAR YOU ARE OPERATING A ONE TON KILLING MACHINE! You should always be driving defensively and constantly looking out for both cyclists and pedestrians no matter what either is doing. And of course cyclists should ride with pedestrians in mind in the same fashion, although the force and weight imbalance in the motorist/cyclist relationship is much greater.

    The vast majority of motorist ire toward cyclists is based on the frustrations that go along with having to share the rode with them, but those frustrations manifest themselves as disproportionate public accusations of generally sparse cyclist misbehavior, and the conversation is undoubtedly skewed in this direction. Until motorists become as physically vulnerable at the hands of cyclists as vice versa they should relax their frustrations and spend their time giving cyclists courteous leeway regardless of cyclist behavior.

  5. "Pedestrians have the right-of-way over bicycles and motor vehicles in all crosswalks and on sidewalks where bicycles are permitted, and bicycles and motor vehicles must yield to pedestrians in all traffic situations."

    So there's no such thing as jaywalking?


    I agree that these rules and laws need to be applicable to both traffic parties, but seriously, the outcome of a traffic accident between a car and a bike, no matter who is at fault, results in the cyclist going to either the hospital or the morgue.

    Who is policing all the near-accidents that I personally avoid each week due to road-rage-fueled drivers who just plainly do NOT want to share the road when there are no bike lanes? Who is watching and keeping count of the times I've had people swerve at me, yell or throw stuff out their window of their moving vehicles? Simply because I do not find it safe riding in a debris-strewn breakdown lane, or alongside a multitude of parked cars waiting to get doored, or in a pot-hole-ridden bikelane, does not qualify automobile drivers the right to drive aggressively towards me.

    I just hope that these laws are taken seriously by law-enforcement, UNLIKE the illegality of driving while using a cell-phone, which is more than half of our commuters and probably comprises the majority of the reckless drivers who get into accidents.

    For the record, nearly every driver I've ever encountered being aggressive, unaware of my presence, or otherwise dangerous was on a cell-phone. Connection?

  7. As a Boston/Cambridge driver who is aware of their surroundings, I can say that I haven't seen a cyclist, actually obey the laws of the road (stopping at a red light, yielding, etc.) in the last 5 years. Nor have I EVER seen a police officer pull a cyclist over for breaking the rules of the road.

    I hope the city starts to fund bicycle police officers to enforce the rules of the road with cyclists.

  8. There are motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians that disobey traffic laws. MBTA buses routinely blow through red lights. Cars park in bike lanes, make illegal rights on red, and fail to yield when turning left. Many cyclists disobey traffic signals, salmon, etc. Pedestrians routinely jaywalk.

    Since everyone violates traffic laws, it's silly to target violations based on the mode of transportation. If cycling offenses are as common as they're made out to be, they'll naturally be written more tickets.

    Everyone wants safer streets. Demonizing groups doesn't help getting towards this goal.

  9. Some of the above links (Helmet Law for example) are broken. Can they be fixed, or can the law be cut & pasted here?

  10. Hi Courtney, Just fixed the link for the helmet law. All others are working for me. Were there others that did not work for you?

  11. There are a couple of problems and inaccuracies with this article. Get in touch and we can fix it up.

  12. Josh, By all means if you have corrections to the listed biking rules in Somerville please send them along and I’ll run them by the police and our bicycle coordinator. Thanks for your help. (Also just emailed you.)

  13. "100% of city cyclists are constantly concerned for their safety"

    Except the ones who don't wear helmets, or who blow through red lights or stop signs at downhill speeds, or who bike on the road at night without lights...

    '"bicycles and motor vehicles must yield to pedestrians in all traffic situations."

    So there's no such thing as jaywalking?'

    So you don't have the right to run a jaywalker down. If jaywalking is against the law (which I'm not sure it should be) the police can issue citations as observed, but the motorist has to yield rather than killing someone.

    "Being restricted to bike lanes is not very bike friendly"

    'Unless avoiding a hazard', which is pretty vague.

    Only part of this that worries me is "reflectors on pedals and ankles". And ankles, after all the other reflectors and lights?

  14. What are the rules concerning gas scooters in bike lanes?

  15. "What are the rules concerning gas scooters in bike lanes?"

    They're not allowed. There may be some nuances to this, like local codes vs. state, but to my knowledge, only human-powered bicycles are allowed in the bike lane. Not even electric bicycles are allowed. Some municipalities disallow skateboarders, scooters, rollerbladers, etc., from operating in the bike lane.

  16. Thanks for that clarification. As a cyclist, I see frequent disputes between cyclists and the scooters. The scooters always insist they are legally entitled to be in the bike lanes.

  17. You'd have to be dumb as a post to ignore the sidewalk cyclists in Union Square who violate public safety laws and endanger seniors and people with disabilities.

    But out of consideration for cyclists, maybe we should discuss how seniors and people with disabilities impede the progress of sidewalk cyclists....


    at the Kids to Parks Day posting (http://www.somervillema.gov/alerts/national-kids-parks-day-may-19) it says that 10 new bike corrals were added in the past two years.

    Would you please post a list of where all the bike corrals are located in the city?

    thanks alot!

  19. I was unable to find the regulation requiring bicycles to operate in a bike lane if one is present. Could you provide a citation for such law?

  20. Motorized Bicycles can be operated in bicycle lanes, "They're not allowed" is incorrect.


    There are no scooters in Massachusetts. Bicycle, motorized bicycle, limited use, motorcycle, or automobile.


    Share the road, a "scooter" is better than another car out there.


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