DC Mythbusting: Bike Lanes Are Just for Bikes

Photo courtesy of
‘Doublemint Runners’
courtesy of ‘M.V. Jantzen’

DC is home to over 47 miles of bike lanes, and an ever-increasing number of residents are choosing to bike around the city.  But ride around the city on any of these bike lanes, and you’ll see more than just cyclists taking advantage of them. Tourists on segways, people riding motorcycles, parked or stopped cars– they all feel at home taking advantage of our city’s bike lanes. But bike lanes are meant for just bikes, right?

As it turns out, bike lanes aren’t just for bikes.  Legally, plenty of other things are allowed to use the bike lanes.  So next time you’re biking down the street and your lane is blocked by one of these, here’s a quick guide to who is breaking the law:

Segways: Allowed in Bike Lanes

Believe it or not, all those tourist packs on Segways clogging up the bike lanes near the FBI building are doing so legally. Segways are not considered motor vehicles in DC, but they’re generally not allowed on sidewalks in the Central Business District either.  So that means they’re stuck in the bike lane with you when they’re downtown.

Photo courtesy of
‘(238/365)’
courtesy of ‘kimberlyfaye’

Scooters/Mopeds/Motorized Bicycles: Allowed in Bike Lanes

Any type of “motorized bicycle” is allowed to use the bike lanes here in the District, but they’re not allowed on sidewalks. They’re considered motor vehicles, so they must pass inspections, be driven by somebody with a drivers’ license, and be registered to a state. Helmets aren’t required for these.  They’re legally allowed to be parked in bike racks or on the curb, as long as they’re not impeding pedestrian traffic. Update: The definition of a ‘motorized bicycle’ is a vehicle that has wheels larger than 16 inches in diameter, with an automatic transmission, that can’t go faster then 35 mph. If it is faster than 35 mph or has piston displacement of more than 50 cubic centimeters, you’ve got yourself a motorcycle.

Motorcycles: Get Out!

Motorcycles are not allowed in bike lanes in DC.  They’re considered motor vehicles, and drivers need to get a particular type of drivers’ license in order to operate them.  Helmets are required for motorcycles in the city, and they’re not allowed on sidewalks.  And as for parking them?  They should be treated just like other motor vehicles– no bike rack parking here!  Update: Many scooters and Vespas are considered motorcycles and fall into this category.

Photo courtesy of
‘BikeDC #4′
courtesy of ‘Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie’

Pedestrians: Get Out!

I typically bike down the lane on T Street on my way to work, and several times I’ve caught a pedestrian walking down the bike lane, completely ignoring the fully-functional sidewalk a few feet away.  Random T Street Pedestrian, get out of the damn road!  A bike lane is not a safe place for a pedestrian, and pedestrians should stick to sidewalks and crosswalks in traffic.

Parked Cars: Get Out!

Bike lanes are not parking spaces, and they’re not loading zones.  Realize that if you’re blocking the bike lane with your car, you’re forcing a cyclist to weave into traffic in a narrow space, potentially putting him or her at risk.  So please stop doing this, or you’ll end up being called out on MyBikeLane.

General Bike Laws

Bikes are obviously legal in bike lanes, but there are a couple things to keep in mind. Bikes are generally allowed on sidewalks in the city outside of the Central Business District, but it’s generally frowned upon to ride on the sidewalk if you’re older than 10. If you’re riding your bike at night in the District, you need a front headlight and a back reflector or light. Helmets are required for anyone under the age of 16, and every bike should have a bell on it. Cyclists generally have the same rights as any other motor vehicle operator in DC, and that means they also have the same responsibilities.

So believe it or not, bike lanes are not just for bikes. Many thanks to the folks at DDOT for helping me bust this myth.  Segways and scooters, welcome to the bike lanes. Everyone else, please stay out.

Shannon grew up in the greater DC area/Maryland suburbs, went to Virginia for college and grad school (go Hoos!), and settled in DC in 2006. She’s an urban planner who loves transit (why yes, that is her dressed as a Metro pylon for Halloween), cities, and all things DC. Email her at Shannon (at) WeLoveDC.com!

29 thoughts on “DC Mythbusting: Bike Lanes Are Just for Bikes

  1. If bike lanes are for bikes and other vehicles, then regular motor vehicle lanes should be just for regular motor vehicles. Bikes, stay out!

  2. Bike lanes are great for jogging.. fewer shin splints.

    As both a cyclist an runner, you just need to give right of way to the bikers (and running the “wrong” way in the bike lane helps ensure you see them well in advance and can get out of their way)

  3. As a scooter owner, I want to offer some clarification. Scooters (which includes Vespas, Piaggio, Honda, etc.) are classified as motorcycles in DC. Thus, it is not legal to ride a scooter in the bike lane (and helmets are also required). Mopeds, however, are allowed in the bike lane.

    FWIW, the difference between a moped and a scooter is that mopeds have pedals (i.e., they’re motorized bicycles) and scooters do not.

  4. @ Patrick I didn’t know about the shin splint issue. Fair enough, I’ll stop getting angry at runners as long as they’re running the wrong way.

    @jko You’re right– I’ve added some clatifying language to the post about what exactly constitutes a ‘motorized bicycle’ versus a ‘motorcycle’.

  5. @Brandon, I’d be happy to. As soon as there’s a bike lane on every single road in the District.

  6. Noting that cyclists have the same rights and same responsibilities as motor vehicles in DC, that also includes cyclists stopping at all stop signs, not running red lights, yielding to pedastrian right of way, and not going the wrong way on one-way streets (except in designated bike lanes that run opposite traffic, such as down 15th street).

    I mean, share the road, right? .)

  7. Re: Jogging

    Yes, asphalt is much easier on the legs than concrete. But joggers should remember to run against traffic. Just like bikers should remember to ride with traffic.

  8. @Bradon, that is completely wrong. bikes are allowed to take up a full traffic lane.

    @Patrick shin splints or not, it’s still fairly dangerous for the runner and the biker if you’re running in a bike lane. for one thing, most joggers have ipods or something in their ears, and can’t always hear a bell or other warning from a bike, or on-coming cars.

    what about roller bladers? they are so hard to pass in a bike lane because they take up such a wide space as they kick their feet out.

  9. @KT

    If joggers are running against traffic and bikers are going with traffic in the bike lane, then the ipod issue is moot. Furthermore, joggers routinely share the road with cars across the country. Where’s the justification in prohibiting joggers from using a bike lane.

    And one more point — I often see bikers with headphones on riding in traffic lanes. Should they be prohibited from riding there because they won’t be able to hear a horn?

  10. @Agreed, It’s interesting that you should single out cyclists for all of their supposed infractions, but not cars. If we’re talking about obeying traffic laws, I’ve NEVER met a driver who doesn’t regularly exceed the speed limit, and most do rolling stops at least occasionally. And not yielding the right of way to pedestrians is epidemic among drivers. Let’s not pretend that breaking traffic laws is specific to cyclists.

  11. Pingback: Share and Share Alike (a rant) – Part 2 | Metro-Venture

  12. Shannon. If you still have an open line with DDOT, it would be very helpful to clarify the status of skates in these bike lanes. My impression is that in DC they are legally treated as toys and hence are not allowed on the significant through roads that have bike lanes (unclear if they are allowed on sidewalks either). NY and NJ assign same rules as for bikes, and Maryland allows skates in bike lanes (because there are no restrictions regarding type of vehicle in a bike lane).

  13. @Brandon

    Wrong. In the same way that bus-only lanes are for buses, but buses can use general purpose lanes as well. Funny how our desires don’t always dovetail perfectly with the law, innit?

  14. Running “wrong-way” may be appropriate on a highway, or other high-speed road, but if you’re running against traffic on city streets, you’re asking to get run over. There are many situations where cars and bikes are looking left for oncoming traffic, but not looking for traffic in the road coming towards them from the right.

    Additionally, if you’re running towards a cyclist in a bike lane, it’s unclear which side a pass is supposed to occur. Do you hug the cars? Or do you treat the lane as a two-way and both keep right to pass? Or do you just do that thing where first one, then the other swerves left then right until you run headlong into one another?

    When I’m running in the bike lane, I run with traffic. And when I’m riding in a bike lane, I hold my line, and make it very clear that I don’t “see” the runner.

  15. Can a car use a bike lane to make a turn? Several times I’ve been yelled at for waiting at a red light in a bike lane while a car wanted to turn right.

  16. @Jessica

    “And one more point — I often see bikers with headphones on riding in traffic lanes. Should they be prohibited from riding there because they won’t be able to hear a horn?”

    Yes. Riding with headphones in both ears is illegal and incredibly dangerous for exactly the reason you describe. I hate it when I’m out riding and see other cyclists doing this. They’re asking for a car to clip them while passing, or run up on them. They should be pulled over and ticketed. Using that kind of misbehavior to justify running in a bike lane is pretty dumb.

  17. So…. It’s illegal for pedestrians to use bike lanes, but since the asphalt is softer than concrete Shannon is cool with runners in the lane as long as you’re running *against* traffic, while other runners advocate running *with* bike lane traffic.

    Recipe for chaos much?

    My goal as a biker is to neither run over, nor be run over, and after living in Greater DC since 1981 I get that traffic laws are more of a guideline. But I’m curious, purely as an academic exercise, whether runners are allowed by law in the bike lane.

  18. I’ve never heard anyone claim that runners should run against traffic in the bike lane. There are myriad reason why this is not fair to cyclists, who are, after all, confined to bike lanes, generally speaking — runners force us into traffic — if runners are at least going in the correct direction then we have some time to pass y’all — we don’t have to jam on our brakes — momentum is important in biking, and we’re not out for job, we’re trying to get someplace, often with as little effort/sweat as possible.

    runners in the bike lane increase the danger to cyclists, period. many of us will tolerate runners/joggers in the bike lane b/c y’all are theoretically moving somewhat quickly, so we should be able to pass you without too much trouble. if you’re *just* jogging (at a slower speed), or if you’re headed in the wrong direction, then get up on the sidewalk where you belong.

    simple.

  19. 2305.3 Where sidewalks are not provided, any pedestrian walking along and upon a street or highway shall, when practicable, walk only on the left side of the roadway or its shoulder facing traffic, which may approach from the opposite direction.

  20. Roadway – that portion of a highway which is improved, designed, or ordinarily used for vehicular travel. In the event a highway includes two or more separate roadways, the term “roadway” as used herein shall refer to any such roadway separately, but not to all such roadways collectively. (Reg. No. 71-26)

  21. @Dave. Yes cars are supposed to use the bike lane to make the turn (unless it would be possible to drive to the right of the bike lane). It is polite to let right turning vehicles pass to your right while you are stopped at a light, but not obligatory. More generally, motor vehicles are supposed to merge in with bikes before turning, rather than right hook them. The only exception is if you are riding in the parking lane when there are parked cars. In that case, the bicycle has the duty to avoid being right hooked, and if you are right hooked by a truck it is your fault (unless of course the driver knows you are there).

    2203.3 Both the approach for a right turn and a right turn shall be made as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge or the roadway.

    2220.1 The Director is authorized to designate any traffic lane on any roadway for the exclusive use of a single class or combination of classes of vehicles during certain hours. The Director shall post signs indicating any lanes designated as restricted. The signs shall describe the class or combination, of classes of vehicles to which the lane is restricted and the days and hours during which the restrictions are in effect.

    2220.2 During restricted hours, any vehicle may enter a restricted right curb lane solely for the purposes of taking on or discharging passengers or to make a right turn where a right turn is not otherwise prohibited by any official traffic control device.

  22. So does this mean it is illegal for WMATA to use the bike lane on Q street between 19th and 18th NW as a bus layover? Because there is almost always a bus parked (not stopped, but waiting for several minutes) in the bike lane, forcing bikes into the narrow lane north of the Dupont Circle Metro Stop. It’s always been something I’ve felt is dangerous, but if it’s illegal, there’s even more justification for making a change.

  23. @Scott Larson. It means that the legality of the bus laying over there is the same as it was before they striped the lane. Assuming that the bus is blocking the parked cars when it stops there, then that is clearly illegal double parking, though not the worst type if the driver stays in the bus since he can let cyclists out.

    Whether the city and Metro are working to avoid illegal short-term parking by buses is beyond my knowledge.

  24. Re: Brandon

    Sorry, dude. But the law’s on our side. We are allowed to be in those lanes, too.