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FAQ: What bicyclists can and can't do on the road

Jun 8, 2017

While preparing for our "Sharing the Road" series, we asked Michigan Radio listeners to share some of their thoughts about improving bike safety in the state.

They also had a number of questions about what bicyclists can and can't do, so we asked John Lindenmayer of the League of Michigan Bicyclists and Josh DeBruyn, the bicycle and pedestrian coordinator at the Michigan Department of Transportation to tackle the questions we heard most often.  (Answers have been edited for length.) 

Are bicyclists allowed to ride on the sidewalk?

Technically, according to the Michigan Vehicle Code, bicyclists are allowed to ride on sidewalks unless there's a local ordinance. In general, sidewalks are not a very safe place for bicyclists to be. With that being said, there's a lot of roadways that a lot of bicyclists are uncomfortable riding on and the sidewalk may be the only place for them to be. 

If there’s a bike lane, do bicyclists have to use it? 

They may ride in the normal travel lane even if the bike lane is there. Some of the reasons why you might see bicyclists riding in the travel lane is that the bicycle lanes can be the place where all of the debris collects from the roadway – glass, sand – sometimes there are sewer grates in the bike lanes. Sometimes they're right up against parked cars where a bicyclist could be doored if somebody got out of their car. 

If the bike lane does not take a bicyclist where they need to go, they have to deviate from that. They may leave the bike lane to position themselves in the regular travel lanes to make a left turn at an intersection. 

Are cyclists required to signal their turns?

Yes they are. There's a requirement that they do signal their left and right turns and you can put your arm down to signal you slowing or stopping. A left turn is simply extending your left arm out straight. A right turn can be putting your arm in an L-shaped position, or you can signal a right turn with your right arm, and a stopping signal is with your left hand down. Click here to see the hand signals.

Do bikes have to have a bell or a horn?

 No. It is good etiquette, though, especially if you're riding on trails. You should give some sort of audible warning to other users that you're passing. 

(Editor's note: Additionally, according to the Motor Vehicle Code, "an individual operating a bicycle upon a sidewalk or a pedestrian crosswalk shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and shall give an audible signal before overtaking and passing a pedestrian.")

Do cyclists have to have lights or wear reflective clothing?

If you're riding before or after dusk or dawn, you need to have a front light on your bike and a rear reflector. However, we strongly encourage that everybody properly outfit their bike with rear lights as well to make yourself as visible as possible. And wearing reflective clothing can definitely help drivers see you better. 

Additional information can be found in the League of Michigan Bicyiclsts' "What Every Michigan Bicyclist Must Know."