Wisconsin Department of Transportation

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Where to ride bicycles

Town | Bike lanes | Crosswalks | Roads | Trails | Sidewalks

In town

Bicyclists should travel on streets on the right side of the right lane, most of the time. The most common exception for all bicyclists is when making a left turn.

The bicyclist, after scanning behind for other vehicles, should move to the left of their lane and into the lane from which vehicles make left turns. When there is a bicycle lane, bicyclists should leave that lane well before a left turn so as not to impede bicycle, pedestrian or motor vehicle traffic.

In bike lanes or shared bike, bus and right turn lanes

In communities that have designated bike lanes it is wise to travel within this space, except when making turns. Always go in the same direction as other traffic, except in barrier separated and designated bicycle lanes. In about 1/3 of all bike crashes with motor vehicles, the bicycle was traveling wrong direction to traffic flow.

NOTE: Very few crashes involve an overtaking motorist and most of these are in the dark with unlighted bicyclist or where the motorist is traveling rural high speed roads (over 55 MPH) and often has been consuming alcohol. Wanting to see oncoming motorists is not a good argument for wrong direction bicycling. Nothing is!

In crosswalks

If a less experienced bicyclist wishes, he or she may make a pedestrian crossing, using the crosswalk. This does not mean "swerve toward the crosswalk" so you don't have to stop for a stop sign or red light. All traffic laws apply to bicyclists whether riding or walking.

On high speed roads

On higher speed roads, bicyclists generally want to travel in the paved shoulder area, and if bicycling is common in that roadway a wider paved shoulder is often available.

Other vehicles are prohibited from using this space. In some communities there are also bicycle or multi-use trails available to bicyclists.

There is no requirement that bicyclists use these facilities instead of the road or street. In fact, the bicyclist has the right to travel on every roadway like any other vehicle operator, except for a limited number of limited-access high-speed highways. The higher speed bicyclist may legally take the center of the right lane, even if there is shoulder space to ride in.

Roads that are prohibited for bicycles are marked as such. Everywhere else the bicyclist may use the right lane or the shoulder, and other lanes for left turns if left turns are permitted. 

On bike trails, paths, multi-use recreational facilities

Stay on trails whether riding for transportation or recreation. Remember, smaller users such as pedestrians, skaters and animals should be yielded to.

Also, yield to horses on combined paths. The lack of noise of a bicycle can scare a horse. It is polite to walk a bicycle in areas shared with horses, or to make quiet reassuring voice noises sufficiently far behind and continuing as you pass horses and their riders. Courtesy is everything on shared facilities - trails and paths or streets, roads and sidewalks.

On trails where motor vehicles are permitted, they should yield to bicycles and other smaller users.

On sidewalks

Only small children learning to ride should use sidewalks for regular riding. They should have adult supervision even on sidewalks or in the family driveway.

All other bicyclists should learn to ride on streets or marked bicycle lanes, except in rare circumstances, such as when a wide sidewalk is part of a designated bicycle route.

Studies have shown that the sidewalk is considerably less safe for bicyclists than the street. The bicyclist is never required to ride on paths or sidewalks. Local jurisdictions can pass ordinances allowing bicycling on sidewalks if they have unusual circumstances where the sidewalk is safer for certain bicyclists.

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Questions about the content of this page:
Larry Corsi, larry.corsi@dot.wi.gov

Last modified: February 15, 2012

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