Keep Streets Safe: Revisiting the Rules and Regulations of NYC Cycling

After another NYC tragedy, we revisit the cycling laws to create safer streets

Flickr/Dave Reid

Tragedy struck this past weekend when Connecticut woman, Jill Tarlov was struck by a cyclist in New York City’s Central Park. And in response, NYPD has been cracking down on all riders in the park. New York Post reports that there were over 103 summonses during the weekend crackdown, but the tragedy also reminds people how crowded Central Park really is.

Related: Safer Cycling Streets: The Aaron Cohen Life Protection Plan

The story is that cyclist, Jason Marshall was riding down the street on his road bike when he had to swerve to avoid a group of pedestrians in the bike lane. That is when he struck Tarlov, and she was rushed to the hospital and placed on a ventilator. Marshall has not been charged with a crime and while most people will want to put complete blame on Marshall, there is also the issue of pedestrians not respecting traffic signals.

The New York Times reports that there have been 468 moving summonses for bicycles in Central Park so far this year. So, with that being said, and to work to prevent accidents like these, let’s take a closer look at the rules and regulations of cycling in NYC.

The Laws

In NYC, cyclists have the same rights as motor vehicles, but are also subject to all the duties and regulations applicable to drivers. Here you can find a pdf version of the complete list of bicycle laws, rules, and regulations. But the basic laws are the following:

  1. Ride in the street. Unless you are 12 years old or younger, riding on the sidewalks is illegal. Also, bicycles on sidewalks must be children’s sized bicycles, meaning the wheels are less than 26 inches.

  2. Ride with the traffic. It is against the law to ride against traffic.

  3. Stop at all red lights and stop signs. Cyclists are mandated to use all of the same traffic signals as motor vehicles, including signs and pavement markings.

  4. Use marked bike lanes when available. Always use marked lanes except when making runs or when it is unsafe to do so. Bicycling is permitted on streets throughout the city, even if there is no specific bike lane. And if a road is too narrow for a car and bike to travel safely side by side, you do have the right to ride in the middle of the lane.

  5. Use a white headlight and a red taillight. At night you need to be visible. Also use reflectors, a bell or horn.

The New York City Department of Transportation has an ongoing program called Bike Smart, attempting to create safer streets in NYC. On their site, they also offer safety tips for cyclists to help prevent accidents.

Safety Tips

  • Ride in a straight line, obey traffic signs and signals, and do not weave in and out of traffic. Riding predictably reduces your chances of a crash with a motor vehicle.

  • Look, signal and look again before changing lanes or making a turn. Establish eye contact with drivers. Seeing a driver is often not enough. Make sure drivers see you before executing a turn or riding in front of a turning car.

  • Watch out for car doors. Be prepared for the possibility that a car door may be opened in your path. When possible, leave room between yourself and parked cars (3 feet is generally recommended) so that you can avoid a door that opens unexpectedly.

  • Stay visible. Wear brightly colored clothing for daytime riding. At night, use reflective materials and lights.

  • Use your bell. Your bell alerts drivers, pedestrians and other cyclists to your presence, it is required by law.

  • Don't wear earphones. By law you may wear one earbud, but keeping your ears clear is a much safer choice.

  • Wear a helmet. Helmets are required by law for children age 13 or younger and working cyclists, helmets are a good idea for cyclists of all ages.

Safer streets start with the people traveling in them. That includes pedestrians, motor vehicles, and bicycles. So do your part, and follow the rules to prevent further tragedies.


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