Biking - Cycling Lane vs Road vs Sidewalk


New Member
Jun 7, 2013
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.

The route I take to get there is pretty quite 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).

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 this 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. I'm just under 18, in case that matters.

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? Lane change, etc.

have a set of head lights, brake lights, and even turn signals on my ride that are plenty visible.
I'm also living in Washington state and it is a bit unusual in terms of bicycles being able to legally choose between sidewalks and roads. There are definitely some places where the sidewalk makes sense but they're pretty few and far between. If you ride in Seattle, the bit of the lake Washington bike loop that passes over the Montlake Bridge and in front of the UW Husky Stadium is an example of a place where the sidewalk generally makes sense.

But in general if you're moving over about ten mph it's generally safer and smarter to ride on the road. Cars coming out of driveways just don't expect riders moving quickly on the sidewalks and often pull out quickly which can be a very bad deal for a cyclist moving quickly on a sidewalk. When I do ride them I back it way down and just get through those sections before getting back on a decent road.

When riding on the road you should stay as far right AS IS SAFE and how far right is safe is your call, not the call of the cars on the road. That said, when riding alone it generally makes sense to be about a foot or two from the edge of the road. Perhaps more if you have a decent wide shoulder but enough room that you don't get squeezed and have some room to maneuver around road debris, bad potholes or other road hazards without having to dart unexpectedly out into traffic. You also shouldn't swerve in and out around parked cars but try to ride a reasonably straight line wide enough to avoid the parked cars and be seen by approaching traffic all the while being aware of drivers in those cars that might open a door without looking.

Riding a foot or two or even three or more from the right hand edge of the road isn't particularly dangerous and it gives cars a reasonable opportunity to pass. If you get into twisty blind curves with no shoulder it's usually safer to take more of the lane so you don't encourage a motorist to try an unsafe pass and squeeze you out. Motorists won't always like it and you may get hassled but take as much of the road as you need to be safe but ideally not a lot more. IOW, don't intentionally block up traffic if it's not necessary but don't let yourself get squeezed or put into dangerous situations either.

It gets a lot easier with practice but mostly ride heads up and realize everything is situational. Sometimes it makes sense to take more of the road, sometimes the shoulder is fine, usually marked and signed bike lanes are fine, sometimes the sidewalk really is the best option to connect otherwise safe sections especially in bad visibility or heavy fast traffic situations. But do try to get comfortable and figure out how much road you really need for safety vs just riding right down the center of every lane in every situation and blocking things up at relatively slow speeds when it's not necessary. All of that will get easier to figure out with practice.

Good luck, stay safe and keep the rubber side down but you've got a right to use the roads,
I live in Sacramento and commute by bicycle. For my peace of mind, I do use a helmet-mounted mirror to see what is coming up behind me. I regularly ride roads that have sections of bike lane, then squeeze to sections that are narrower. While it is nerve wracking to have cars whizzing by close enough that I feel I could reach out and touch them, generally, because I ride a safe line on the right, most drivers will veer to the left to give me a wider berth as they pass. I also will cross two lanes of highway to get into the right hand side of the left turn lane. For all the years I have been riding, there were only a few scary times when I had to quickly hit the breaks and turn to avoid an accident. Most of those times were not what I really feared (being rear-ended); rather they were the times when a driver speeds up to go around me then turns right in front of me; forcing me to avoid them.

On roads with wide shoulders, riding along on good pavement makes better sense to me than riding on the shoulder. On the shoulder is where all the road debris collects. I have to have a sharp eye on the ground to avoid sharp bits of metal and glass along the shoulder.

Over time I have become more comfortable riding along the roads. I choose designated bike routes to ride. I will ride longer loops that let me go under a freeway rather than ride over the intersection with cars merging onto and leaving the road I am on.

I also stop at all lights and wait for the green, just like the cars do. When I pull up in a turn lane, I take a position on the right in front of the left turning car and turn my head so the driver sees that I am going to turn left as well.

It has been my experience that as I ride responsibly the vast majority of motorists will respect my right to be on the road.

I ride approximately 70 to 90 miles per week on my bike. I am 60 years old.
Riding on sidewalks sucks because of the pedestrians, other cyclists, cars entering and leaving driveways, and intersections. Drivers and pedestrians normally don't encounter things moving faster than 10 mph, so it's hard for them to stay out of your way. If you insist on riding on sidewalks, keep your speed down for your own safety and that of the pedestrians around you.

Bike paths are great if they go where you're going and you don't mind holding your speed below 20 mph.

Most of the time the road will have to do. The best ones have bike lanes or wide, clear shoulders, and distinct intersections instead of merge lanes. Merge lanes are dangerous places even if you're in a car. If it's possible, avoid the dangerous roads.

Similar threads

Road Cycling
Johnny Sunset aka Tom Sherman