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I live in Washington State and here the law states cyclists have the choice to ride on the sidewalks, bicycle lane, or on the road with other traffic. I usually just ride to school and back, which is only about a mile away. There are no bicycle lanes the entire way, so I usually resort to the sidewalk because I'm nervous about being so close to other cars.

I've been rethinking riding on the sidewalk as the other day I got cut off by a lady pulling out of a driveway and was forced to turn into the driveway to avoid a crash. Also, after school there's a ton of people that walk and clog up the sidewalks.

My question is, I want to get on the road but am confused about where to be. How do you ride on a road that doesn't have a bicycle lane?

I do know one thing - I DO NOT want to be on the far right side, by the curb, as that is almost worse. Do I just pretend I'm a car and do everything like them? How do I change lanes, etc.?

I'll mention a few more details that might be helpful. I'm just under 18, in case that matters. The route I take to get there is pretty quiet until the last half, where there are several schools on the same street so, naturally, it's one huge school zone. Cars cannot exceed 20MPH, and I easily ride at that pace (there aren't any steep hills). I have a set of head lights, brake lights, and even turn signals on my ride that are plenty visible.

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I have never seen a bicycle turn signal that's "plenty visible", the lights are too close together for a car to see at a distance -- by the time the car is close enough to clearly see which light is flashing, it's too late. Furthermore, both bike turn signals and brake lights are rare enough that cars don't expect them and don't always react to them - I'd stick with hand signals. –  Johnny Jun 7 '13 at 18:40
    
Okay - but that's not the point. I just need some pointers, that's all. –  Adam Ali Jun 7 '13 at 18:48
    
Welcome to Bicycles SE. Unfortunately, I don't think that this question is a good fit for our Q&A format due to the fact that it's likely to solicit extended discussion. As such, I'm voting to close it as not constructive However, I think it's an important question and it grieves me heartily to do so because I understand it's an important question. If anyone can edit this into a salvageable format, please do so. Otherwise, Adam, you might want to ask in chat. –  jimirings Jun 7 '13 at 20:32
    
And actually, my greatest preference would be for someone to simply answer this with statistics, studies, and/or references that show what the safest place to ride is (probably the street in most cases). –  jimirings Jun 7 '13 at 20:34
    
Related question: bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/8371/… –  amcnabb Jun 7 '13 at 20:34

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I'd ride in the road before riding on the sidewalk just for the reasons you mentioned -- cars pulling out of driveways, pedestrians, etc. Note that sidewalk laws for bikes are generally up to local towns, so while one town may allow bikes on sidewalks, the next town may not.

I'm not sure what you mean about not wanting to be on the far right side by the cub, as riding as far to the right as safe is required under Washington State Law:

http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=46.61.770

Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a rate of speed less than the normal flow of traffic at the particular time and place shall ride as near to the right side of the right through lane as is safe except as may be appropriate while preparing to make or while making turning movements, or while overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction. A person operating a bicycle upon a roadway or highway other than a limited-access highway, which roadway or highway carries traffic in one direction only and has two or more marked traffic lanes, may ride as near to the left side of the left through lane as is safe. A person operating a bicycle upon a roadway may use the shoulder of the roadway or any specially designated bicycle lane if such exists.

But sometimes being "safe" means taking the lane and it doesn't mean that you need to ride in the "gutter" by the curb. Use your judgement to find the safest place to ride. Regularly hopping from the sidewalk to the road and back again is likely less safe than just staying on the sidewalk or the road, so pick one.

In any case you should definitely ride like a car - use the appropriate lane for turning (i.e. don't make a left-turn from the right side of the road), follow all of the same traffic signals (stop signs, stop lights, etc), signal your intentions, etc.

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Thanks for the tips, they helped a lot. I figure I should try DRIVING my bike (guess I should start calling it that) through the network of smaller side streets in my town, where I'll have to be comfortable with taking the lane. Once I can be able to do this while being relaxed, I'll move into the school zone. –  Adam Ali Jun 7 '13 at 19:25

This is a difficult question because ultimately when cycling in traffic there's no substitute for experience, and even then its really out of your hands when you get some bonehead behind the wheel.

I can't imagine your age would come into play, but its good that you seem to be aware of the risks - I have a teenage daughter who will ride without lights and helmet and I am continually hassling her about it.

You say you live in Wa, is there any law there that would make you automatically liable if you were riding on the sidewalk and collided with a pedestrian? If so, that may be an incentive toward riding on the road.

Aside from the legal, I think long-term you should get yourself comfortable in traffic and ride on the road. But the "now" will be about getting that comfort in the first place.

In no particular order...

  • Any training courses you can go on? (You can at least make sure you behave correctly on the road)
  • Do you have quiet roads nearby where you can practise? (To be honest a 20mph zone may be ideal learning territory.) But somewhere you can just get used to the road without worrying about traffic. Maybe you have that already. You say you don't want to ride on the far right, but that is pretty much the cyclist's natural territory I'm afraid. Sure, you need to make space for yourself in the road, make the driver think twice before overtaking you, but you still want to ride such that they can overtake you when its safe for them to do so.
  • Maybe a town centre or something nearby (i.e. plenty of traffic but travelling slowly)? But if you do have a town centre, be aware that cars may behave unpredictably e.g. when they spot that elusive parking space. All good experience for you, but high risk.
  • Do you drive yet? Being able to see things from a motorist's perspective is a big bonus.
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As I've said, half of my route to school is quiet and I can comfortably ride on the road there. I AM on the right side of the road, but not hugging the curb - I'm slightly left to allow room. I stop at stop signs, signal turns, and everything. It's when I get to the the school zone with two lanes on either side of the road that I get nervous. –  Adam Ali Jun 7 '13 at 19:18
    
why the school zone in particular? Its not clear from the question. You say two lanes of traffic each way - do you have to make a left across all that? –  PeteH Jun 7 '13 at 19:26
    
Yes, Pete, that's exactly right. I'd have to move into the left turn lane, then cross two lanes of oncoming traffic into my school's parking lot - just like what all the cars do. Of course, oncoming cars always yield. –  Adam Ali Jun 7 '13 at 19:28
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So basically - I have the same rights and have to follow the same rules as any other vehicle in traffic. Hopefully I won't encounter anyone ignorant of that. –  Adam Ali Jun 7 '13 at 19:31
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Right, in theory you have the same rights and same responsibilities as cars. However, you will encounter people ignorant of that, or downright hostile to bikes, so be careful and don't try to "enforce your right of way" since bikes always lose against cars. Just be careful, ride predictably and smoothly, and don't assume that a car sees you. As a motorcyclist, I was taught to "ride as if I'm invisible", and I've found that even more appropriate for cycling. –  Johnny Jun 7 '13 at 19:40

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