Cars and bicycles: How to share the road

As of September 2018, the City of Richmond had completed over 28 miles of dedicated bicycle lanes, and long-term plans are in place for over 120 miles of such lanes. Despite this progress, there are almost 2,000 miles of state-maintained roads in the City limits that have no bicycle lanes.  Click here for a map of dedicated bicycle lanes in Richmond.

Photo by John Luton. License is CC BY 2.0.

Bicycles and cars must share the road.  It’s not just common courtesy, it’s the law.  But what does it mean?  What rules and regulations govern interactions between bicycles and cars?

The Law for Cyclists

On state roadways, bicyclists are generally treated the same as motorists.  Bicyclists must obey all traffic signs, signals, lights, and markings.  That means that bicyclists must stop at all stop signs and red lights.  A bicyclist may proceed on an unresponsive red light after remaining stopped for two full light cycles or two minutes, whichever is shorter.  They must ride on the right side of the road with the flow of traffic.  If they are riding at less than the normal speed of traffic, then cyclists must ride as close as possible to the far right edge of the roadway. The only exceptions to this rule are when a bicyclist is:

  • overtaking or passing another vehicle
  • preparing for a left turn
  • avoiding unsafe conditions
  • avoiding a right-turn-only lane,
  • riding on a one-way street

Bicyclists may not ride between two lanes of traffic that are moving in the same direction unless one of those lanes is a mandatory turn lane.  When being overtaken from behind, cyclists cannot ride two abreast and must move into a single-file line. Bicycles are not permitted on interstates or other controlled-access highways, such as Route 288. As of January 2020, bicycles are not to be ridden on sidewalks in the state of Virginia.  At an intersection, a bicyclist may elect to make a left turn as either a motorist or as a pedestrian.  (See the diagram below.)

turning at an intersection

Cyclists can choose to make a left turn as a pedestrian or as a motorist.

The Law for Motorists

When passing a bicyclist, motorists must leave at least three feet of space to the left of the bicyclist and may not return to the right side of the highway until safely clear of the bicycle.  No motorist may open the door of a parked motor vehicle on the side adjacent to moving traffic unless it is reasonably safe to do so.

If motorists and bicycles respect one another and obey all traffic laws, everyone will be safer for it.

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