Bicycles & the Law

Red bicycle line iconNow that it’s officially spring, and our annual Bike Fest is coming up on April 13, I felt it would be a good time to review some of the laws and other rules that affect bicyclists.

First, it’s important to point out that, in Wisconsin, a bicycle is considered a vehicle. While this means bicyclists have the same rights as the operators of any other vehicles on the road, it also means they are subject to the same traffic laws.

Here is information on the most common violations I see on the streets, sidewalks, and bicycle paths in our area.

  • Traffic Control Signals (Wis. State Statute 346.37) – Green means go. Yellow means stop if you can. Red means stop (before the crosswalk, if there is one).
  • Stop Signs (Wis. State Statute 346.46) – You must stop, unless directed to proceed by a police officer.
  • Lights at Night (Wis. State Statute 347.489) – A white front light on the front and a red reflector or red light on the back are required at night. This applies to roads, paths, or sidewalks.
  • Lane Position (Wis. State Statute 346.80) – Ride to the right as far as is safe and reasonable. Examples of where it would be allowable to not ride as far to the right as possible:
    • Overtaking/passing another vehicle.
    • Preparing for a left turn.
    • Avoiding unsafe conditions (potholes, vehicles, pedestrians, animals, etc.).
  • One-Way Streets (Wis. State Statute 346.80) – When there are two or more lanes, you may ride near the right or left curb, in the same direction as other traffic.
  • Riding Side-by-Side (Wis. State Statute 346.80) – Permitted as long as other traffic is not impeded.
  • Use of Sidewalks – This is controlled by local ordinance rather than state law. In Madison, you must yield to pedestrians and give an audible signal (bell, horn, “On your left”) when passing them in the same direction.
  • Registration – Bicycle registration is no longer required in Madison. However, the Village of Shorewood Hills municipal ordinance 7.14 does require bicycles to be registered in Shorewood Hills or another municipality.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, and you may want to review the indicated statutes for a greater understanding of them.

Now, grease up your chain, pump up your tires, and get out there riding your bikes…while observing the applicable laws, of course.

Submitted by University Apartments Community Police Officer Jeff Kirchman