Whether a bike lane is safe depends partly on how the lane is designed, but mostly on how cyclists use it. Bike lanes are traffic lanes; they still require paying attention, following rules, and making smart decisions. Here are some things to keep in mind.
- Not a two-way street. Ride in the bike lane only in the same direction as other traffic. Riding against the flow of traffic is against the law and greatly increases your chances of having a crash, especially at intersections where pedestrians and crossing traffic are unlikely to see you. Plus, it irritates and potentially endangers other cyclists who have to veer out of your way. If you find yourself in one of the new two-way bike lanes, be especially careful when crossing intersections. Always scan the intersection to make sure that other traffic sees you.
- Avoid the door zone. Many NYC bike lanes, especially the older ones, are located in the "door zone"–that is, within 4-5 feet of parked cars. Riding that close to parked cars is dangerous, because it leaves you vulnerable to getting get "doored" (hit by an opening car door). Instead, either ride in the edge of the bike lane farthest away from the parked cars (at least 4 feet), or ride in the adjacent traffic lane. New York City law stipulates that cyclists should use the bike lane if one is provided, but it allows exceptions for safety reasons. Bike lanes that put cyclists in the door zone are unsafe.
- Handle intersections with care. At intersections, turning traffic may cross the path of cyclists riding straight in the bike lane. Take care to avoid being "hooked" by a turning vehicle:
- Never pass other vehicles traveling in the adjacent traffic lane as you approach an intersection in a bike lane; you will eventually put yourself in the blind spot of a turning vehicle. Temporarily take the adjacent traffic lane through the intersection to stay out of the path of turning vehicles.
- On multi-lane one-way avenues, cyclists who stay in the bike lane are likely to find themselves entangled with lines of turning vehicles at every other intersection. Move into one of the center traffic lanes to pass lines of cars waiting to turn left.
- When turning out of the bike lane, avoid making a left turn from a far right bike lane or vice-versa. Either change lanes or proceed to the other side of the intersection first (while staying in the bike lane), then stop to turn and wait for a green light or a break in traffic in your direction.
- Be predictable and respect traffic signals. If the bike lane is obstructed, plan ahead: signal your intention to change lanes, scan for a safe clearing to move over (remember–other traffic in that lane has the right of way), and then blend smoothly into that lane. Also heed traffic signs and signals, even those in the new separated bike lanes (like the one on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan) that have special traffic signals for bikes.
- Remember, every lane is a bike lane. Cyclists have the rights to use almost any road (with a few high-speed exceptions) both in New York and in all other states. Don’t use the absence of a bike lane as an excuse not to ride. If you don’t feel comfortable in traffic, take our Savvy Cyclist: Traffic Skills 101 class to practice your skills and learn more.
Bike New York in the News
"The bottom line is ride your bike as if you're driving a car. Would you drive your car against traffic? Would you drive your car on the sidewalk?"
Traffic Smarts Quiz
Before your next ride, test yourself with these 12 questions to find out how well you know your rights and responsibilities as a street cyclist.
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