Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bicycle Rights AND Responsibilities

We get lots of great questions in our inbox, and many of them share common themes. Occasionally, we'll be posting some of the questions we get (along with their answers) on our blog.

One of the frequent themes is whether bicyclists need to follow the same laws as motorists. This question is often followed up with a request that the Bike Fed correct the rude behavior of some people who use bikes. Here's a recent one:
Dear Federation,

Your web pages apparently don't have a link to information about what is legal behavior on City streets or other roads and highways for bicycle riders and for the motorists who use the way with them.

Your web pages do mention bicycle "rights." I don't see anywhere any mention of bicycle riders' responsibilities.

So, I would like to see if it is legal for bicyclists to block lanes of traffic ever.

It seems like there is a general presumption that the bicyclists and their rights are the ones at risk and therefore, motorists need to take steps to recognize their "rights." Actually, rights are constitutional things whereas behavior, legal and illegal behavior, is written down as statutes.

But, it also seems to me that quite few bicyclists have seriously bad manners and very bad attitudes about motorists and can be very confrontational about that.

So, as I say, I would like to read about the appropriate behavior of both parties as written down in law.

In any event, as the Federation, I think you clearly have a responsibility to promote discussion of bicyclists' RESPONSIBILITIES just as much as about their "rights". There is no right to dangerous, rude, confrontational behavior on the part of anyone on bicycle or not. Not promoting this kind of discussion and public awareness, I think, is avoiding a very clear need. We need some balance here.

This was our response:
Thanks for your email, and sorry you had trouble finding the information you were looking for on our site. We are currently trying to make our site easier to navigate, but obviously there is still work to be done.

You can find information on the rules of the road and courteous bicycling/driving at and We don't include city-specific statutes because we are a statewide organization, but we do address state-level laws that apply in every Wisconsin city.

I wish I could directly answer your question about blocking traffic, but the rules about impeding or slowing the flow of traffic depend on the situation. Hopefully, the links above will answer your questions. If you have further questions, please let me know.

We agree that no road users should act in a way that is rude or dangerous to others. We promote legal, responsible bicycling behavior. We regularly engage our members and others on these topics through our interactive forums, including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. We also educate road users on the importance of safe and legal behavior through classes, workshops, public service announcements and other media. We welcome your ideas for venues in which to share this information.

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