To stay safe, know your rights and responsibilities as a cyclist. Everybody may be in a rush, but motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists alike should all treat one another with respect. We all share the road. Knowing your rights—and responsibilities—as a cyclist is critical. And all three parties need to respect one another by following the law.
By state law, bicyclists have the right to operate in city streets, as long as they follow the rules of the road. If you barrel through a red light, for example, you’re endangering people crossing the street, and angering the drivers with whom you’re supposed to share the road. Additionally, by state law, bicyclists are not allowed to ride on the sidewalk in a commercial district—which means anywhere at Boston University. Likewise, pedestrians need to stay on the curb when you have the right of way. And so forth.
It’s a delicate balance, but if more and more commuters follow the rules (and if more and more of them decide to commute by bike, as is happening) we can achieve a critical mass of drivers, bikers, and walkers who actually know what they’re doing. You can’t control the behavior of others, but you can set a good example by controlling your own.
The bike advocacy group MassBike has great information that every newbie, veteran, and prospective cyclist should read. And the city’s program Boston Bikes, led by former Olympic cyclist Nicole Freedman, encourages bikers and motorists to learn the following key points of cycling safety.
Bike Commuting 101
Picking a Bike
Any bike is suitable for commuting if it is in good working order. Read more
Lock your bike in a highly visible area close to pedestrian traffic and streetlights.
Bikes on the T
Here is a summary of the rules for taking bicycles on Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) vehicles:
Subway: Weekdays before 7 a.m., between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and after 7 p.m. (Basically, bikes are allowed only during non-rush hours.) Weekends any time. Only two bikes per car. Read more
Anticipating Motorist Errors
Right turn: Right-turning motorists may turn just after overtaking a cyclist. Watch the front wheel of the car or look for a signal and avoid them as they turn. Read more
Water on the road and on the bike can change the way your bike handles. Read more tips at Ask MassBike.
Make your turns slowly and consistently; no jerky movements. Apply the brakes slowly. Read more
Bicyclists – Ride Safer
Give Yourself Some Space
You’ve got a legal right to the road, so use it; take the full lane when needed, stay away from car doors, and don’t squeeze between lanes. Two bicyclists can ride side by side, but get into single file if cars can’t pass safely.
Go with the Flow
Ride in the same direction as other traffic, and ride as straight as you can; don’t weave between parked cars or into crosswalks.
Take a Break
Stopping at red lights and stop signs gives you a chance to relax, chat with the cute biker behind you, and set a good example for everyone else on the road.
Light Up the Night
Lights help you see where you’re going, but it’s more about everyone else seeing you.
Walkers Go First
If you run into a pedestrian, it doesn’t matter who was right or wrong, it just hurts.
Get Some Head Insurance
We hope you’ll never need your helmet, but the one time you do, there is no substitute. Your brain is your most important piece of safety equipment.
The above is presented by MassBike and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation in partnership with the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, the Department of Public Health, and the Department of Conservation and Recreation. Sponsored in part by the Environmental Insurance Agency.
More for Cyclists
- The same laws that apply to motorists apply to cyclists. Obey all stoplights and signs, and use hand signals to indicate stops and turns.
- Always wear a properly fitting helmet.
- Stay to the right side of the road. Always ride in the same direction as traffic. (Never travel the wrong way down Commonwealth Ave. This is incredibly dangerous.)
- Ride safely!
- Ride predictably in a straight line and avoid swerving.
- Be visible. Wear brightly colored clothing and use a white front and red rear light in low light.
- Be aware. Scan the road ahead of you. Don’t listen to headphones while biking; you need to hear everything around you.
Motorists – Drive Safer
Bicycles Are Vehicles, Too
The law says bicycles are vehicles, and it’s okay (and often safer) for them to ride in the middle of the lane.
Bicycles Reduce Traffic
Sometimes it might seem like bicyclists are slowing you down, but remember, every person on a bicycle is one less car on the road.
Save the Squeeze Plays for Baseball
Stay a few feet away from bicyclists when passing; don’t try to squeeze past them.
No Sudden Moves
Abrupt turns can cause crashes, so always look for bicyclists and use your turn signals.
Look Before You Leap (Out)
Look behind you for approaching bicycles before opening a door on either side of your vehicle (or risk a $100 fine).
The Truth about Bike Lanes
While cars must stay out of bike lanes, bicyclists do not have to stay in the bike lane.
There’s No Nice Way to Honk
Honking can startle a bicyclist and cause a crash, so only honk when absolutely necessary.
For more information, visit SameRoadsSameRules.org
More for Motorists:
- Yield to cyclists.
Bicycles are vehicles of the road and should be given the appropriate right of way.
- Be considerate.
Do not blast your horn in close proximity to cyclists and look for cyclists when opening doors.
- Pass with care.
- When passing, leave four feet between you and a cyclist.
- Wait for safe road and traffic conditions before you pass.
- Check in your mirror before moving back.
- Ride on the right side of the road.
- Stay in the right third of the lane.
- Always ride with the flow of traffic.
- Do not ride on the sidewalk.
- Always use signals to indicate your intentions to switch lanes.
- Look behind you to indicate your desire to move, and to make sure that you can.
Along the most heavily bicycled stretch of Commonwealth Ave., each side has a bike lane on the right. In ideal circumstances, cyclists should stay on the left side of the bike lane in order to avoid potential road debris and to stay outside the radius of the doors of parked cars.
- Bikes are not required to travel in bike lanes when preparing for turns. If you wish to turn left, always signal as you move out of the bike lane.
- Be attentive in a bike lane that positions you on the right side of a right turn lane, especially at stoplights. Drivers turning right may turn across your path suddenly.
- Plan ahead: Get in the correct position early.
- Scan: Note traffic patterns, look for pedestrians, and identify potential hazards in front of and behind you.
- Signal: Signal your intention to turn or change lanes.
- Act: Move decisively when it is safe to do so.
- Improvise!: If you get caught between lanes while crossing traffic, ride the white line until clear.
Ride on the right
- Travel in the same direction as traffic.
- Ride far enough from the curb to avoid road hazards.
- Stay in the right third of the right-most lane.
- Follow the same rules as motorists, including yielding and signaling.
- Beware of cars merging into the road from parallel parking spots.
Take the lane…
- If there is insufficient road width for cyclists and cars.
- If road hazards narrow the usable width.
- Before intersections and turns, to assert your position on the roadway.
Turns and Turn Lanes
Right turns are fairly easy, though you should signal your intention to turn to cars behind you. Watch out for right-turn-only lanes; if you are not turning, signal and change to an appropriate lane before the intersection.
Left turns require much more care.
- Before a turn: scan, signal, and move into the lane that leads to your destination.
- Signal well before moving.
- To traverse multiple lanes, move one at a time, scanning and signaling each move.
- Beware of motorists’ blind spots.
Obey, Obey, Obey
- Cyclists, just like motorists, must obey all traffic control devices.
- It takes longer to travel through an intersection on bike; plan to stop for yellow lights.
- Avoid cars that run red lights by waiting for the signal to turn green before starting into the intersection.
Car doors that are opened suddenly into the path of a cyclist are a regular hazard in city riding. Don’t get doored!
- Stay at least three feet from parked cars.
- Look for brake lights; if a car has just parked, a driver may be about to get out.
- If a car stops suddenly in front of you, watch for exiting passengers on either side of the vehicle.
- Then scan and signal to pass on the left.
Bikes on the MBTA
Unfortunately, bikes are not allowed on the Green Line Trolley or on the #57 bus. A list of buses with racks is found here. For all other T modes allowing bikes, see the rules below.
Weekdays before 7 a.m., between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and after 7 p.m. Weekends any time. Only two bikes per car.
(Green Line and Mattapan High-Speed Line)
Bikes allowed only on external racks on select buses.
All trains except during weekday peak hours in the peak direction.
When folded, are permitted on commuter rail and subway any time, except that on the subway they must be in a bag.
Adapted with permission from the City of Boston.