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Life in the Bike Lane

Bike lanes, shoulders and paths. Oh, my!
By: Tom Frady
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We were on our usual Monday ride a couple of weeks ago. In the course of the morning, we were in bike lanes, on bike paths and shoulders along the roadway.  We also spent some time on narrow roads with none of the above. 

Many drivers, and probably many riders, don’t understand the differences among these cycling choices.  Kids, let’s review. 

Generally speaking, bike lanes are a part of the roadway for bicycles only, usually separated from the vehicle traffic lane by a solid, thick white line. There seems to be an exception to the “bikes only” rule for parked cars and trash bins, he wrote, with only the slightest hint of sarcasm. In some areas, bike lanes have been painted green to better delineate them.  This makes it easier for both riders and drivers to know what to do.

To be “official,” a bike lane must be designated by markings on the pavement and/or signage, and be at least four feet wide. Cyclists must use the bike lane (unless moving at the same speed as vehicular traffic), except to make left turns and avoid obstacles. 

There is a growing movement to separate bike lanes from vehicular traffic with curbs, bollards or even putting the bike on the right side of parked cars.

Drivers may move into the bike lane to make a right turn.  The solid white line becomes broken to indicate when drivers may move over. That distance is usually 200 feet before the intersection. Experience tells me most drivers don’t know that and those who do have a difficult time judging whether to slow down and fall in behind a group of riders to make the turn, or speed up and cut in front of the riders. Riders prefer the former. 

Cyclists must ride as far to the right of the roadway as is safe when faster traffic is present. Shoulders are not considered part of the roadway. A “roadway” is that portion of a highway improved, designed or ordinarily used for vehicular travel. 

Whether shoulders are paved, unpaved, wide or narrow, cyclists are never required to ride on the shoulder, albeit it is often a good idea if it is wide and clean enough.  Non-cyclists would be amazed at the debris on the shoulder just waiting to give a rider trouble (check your archives for my September column for more about this) and slipping off the pavement onto dirt can be catastrophic. Drivers may not drive on a shoulder. 

Bike paths and multi-use paths (MUPs) also come in many varieties but all are separated from the roadway by some barrier such as a median or curb.  Of course, multi-use paths such as Miners’ Ravine and Antelope Creek take the rider far away from roads and traffic.  While cyclists are never required to use off-roadway bike lanes or paths, again, it may be wise to do so.  The speed limit on multi-use paths is 15 mph for bicycles. 

Bike paths and multi-use paths are different than sidewalks. Generally speaking, cyclists may not use sidewalks, unless they’re a kid. There are some exceptions, such as the sidewalks around Whitney High School, where the sidewalk is marked as bike legal.

Finally, some words about sharing the road.  Cyclists are required to keep to the right side of the road only when faster, same direction traffic is present on long turn-free sections with wide lanes and no debris or hazards (think Barton and Laird roads). Cyclists should remember, however, that cars will be on your wheel very quickly on long turn-free roads. It is always good practice to stay as far to the right as safe. 

Tom Frady is a Lincoln resident and avid cyclist and driver.