Bicycle Laws

1 Feb


equitable law map

States with uniform bicycling traffic laws means that only the state can regulate bicycling, so laws are uniform throughout the state. However, if the state laws are bad, they are uniformly bad throughout the state! Conversely, states that allow local regulation means that each city and county can write their own custom bicycling laws and any strange restrictions they decide to enact. In these red states, bicyclists are just one city council election away from what happened in Blackhawk, Colorado, where bicycling was banned on the main road through town. And let’s not forget the infamous Chicago right-of-way law that requires bicyclists to ride at the road edge and yield to ALL moving vehicles. Local regulation is very bad, and renders any benefits the state laws may confer to cyclists as transient and fragile.

uniformity map

Only six US states don’t force bicyclists to abandon their lane use rights, though of those six, only North Carolina and Arkansas also have uniform statewide laws, so in the other 4 states, local cities can impose FTR laws, and many do. For example, Philadelphia imposes a FTR law upon its bicyclists even though PA does not have a state FTR law!


Red states have explicit mandatory bike lane laws in their bicycle statutes. Yellow states have implicit mandatory bike lane use as a consequence of a statute requiring cyclists to keep to the right. Green states have no statutes regulating bicyclist position on the roadway.


lawmap_5msuRed states require cyclists to use a shoulder if one is present. In green states, shoulder use is optional.



Red states have laws requiring cyclists to use a side path if one is present adjacent to the roadway. In green states, side paths are optional.



States with laws governing the number of riders who can ride abreast in a lane. Green states do not limit the number of riders riding side-by-side within a single lane. Yellow states limit riders to two-abreast with no stipulation for impeding traffic. Red states require riders to ride single file if riding two-abreast would impede traffic. Nebraska requires single-file riding at all times.



In 42 US states the law against “impeding traffic” only applies to motor vehicle drivers who impede (not merely delay) other drivers by driving too slowly, typically on freeways. Sadly, 6 US states do NOT exclude bicyclists from the provisions of this law and police sometimes use it as a way to harass cyclists who operate as drivers.




Visual concepts for widths, buffers and other characteristics of bicycles, motor vehicles and the roadway. Click each image for a larger view.

Basic Definitions


The above bicyclist operating space does not take into account bicyclist speed. In a future graphic we will discuss how increased speed requires increased operating space. It also does not take into account the diversity of cargo bikes, trailers and trikes. That is the subject of the graphic in tab 2.

Best Practices


The above graphic shows why bicyclists should control — not share — a 12ft travel lane.


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