Riding a bike is popular on the crowded streets of the city because it’s an inexpensive and convenient way to get around. The popularity of this mode of transportation – there are almost 50,000 daily cyclists commuting into the city – has created the need for state and local statutes that specifically address bicycle riding in New York. The laws are designed to keep cyclists safe as well as others such as pedestrians and motorists.
About 800,000 NYC adults ride a bike regularly. The data also shows that bicycle accidents are quite common. Despite being in lockdown for much of 2020, there were still 12,450 bike accidents with motor vehicles that year that killed 28 people and injured 12,422.
The potential for a collision with a motor vehicle might tempt a cyclist to ride on the sidewalk. That temptation is understandable but riding a bike on the sidewalk is against the law in all five boroughs.
Rules of the Road for Bicycles in NYC
There are tens of thousands of bikes on our roads every day, but there are even more cars. Motor vehicles, bikes, and pedestrians have a responsibility in keeping our streets safer.
New York Administrative Code 19-176 prohibits cyclists from riding on the sidewalk unless there is a sign that specifically states otherwise. Violations to the code are heard by the Environmental Control Board.
Cyclists who ride on the sidewalk can face the following consequences:
- Fined a civil penalty of up to $100
- If riding on the sidewalk endangers others or property, the cyclist is guilty of a misdemeanor
- Misdemeanor fines can be up to $300 and 20 days in jail
- Subsequent violations within a six-month period shall face double the consequences
- The bike may be seized and impounded in misdemeanor offenses
A snapshot of some of the other laws involving bicycles include the following:
- A vehicle can overtake a bicycle on the same roadway by passing on the left and at a safe distance.
- A vehicle must yield to a bicycle when the cyclist has the right-of-way.
- Cyclists must utilize bike paths when available.
- Cyclists must yield to pedestrians.
- When a bike path is unavailable, the cyclist should ride near the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except when it is unsafe to do so or when preparing to turn left.
- Cyclists riding in the traffic lane cannot ride more than two across. If in a bike lane, they may ride more than two across if space allows.
- Cyclists must pass a vehicle, pedestrian, or another cyclist single file.
- Bikes must be equipped with a white lamp on the front and a red or amber light on the back when operated from 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise.
- All bicycles must have brakes.
- Cyclists can use only one earphone (one ear must be free to hear the surroundings).
- At least one hand must be on the handlebars at all times.
- Bicycles are prohibited on expressways, drives, highways, interstate routes, bridges, and thruways unless authorized by signs.
- Cyclists must ride on a permanent seat and feet must be on pedals.
- The bike must carry only the number of persons for which it is designed and equipped.
Local Communities Enforce Own Bicycle Regulations
In addition to NY law, individual counties and communities can impose additional regulations in their jurisdictions.
Helmet Laws for Minors
In September 2019, Nassau County passed a local law that requires that helmets be worn by anyone under the age of 18 when riding or operating a bicycle, scooters, skateboard, skates, or in-line skates even on private roads. If a parent is present at the time of the violation and the child is younger than 16, the parent will be ticketed.
Safe Distance Ambiguity in NY
New York law requires that vehicles keep a “safe distance” between themselves and cyclists. What constitutes a safe distance was left to interpretation. Suffolk County in Long Island became the first county to put a specific distance into its regulations.
In April 2021, Suffolk County established that a safe distance is 3 feet. Violations of the new law can be punished by $225 for the first offense and up to $425 for subsequent violations. Other counties are looking to impose similar laws.
Local Fines for Improper Bicycle Operation
In the Town of Hempstead on Long Island, anyone riding a bike on any overpass, ramp, or footbridge designated for pedestrian traffic can be ticketed and fined $25.
Riding Bicycles on the Sidewalk Creates Liability
Cyclists aren’t the only ones endangered by riding on sidewalks. Pedestrians are at risk of being injured. When a cyclist causes an accident on a sidewalk, they can be held liable for any damages. Riding on the sidewalk alone may be proof enough to succeed in a personal injury case.
New York state law establishes that a cyclist, like a motorist, can be held responsible for their negligent operation of the bike. Anyone injured can potentially sue for damages (medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more).
Hiring a Champion for Your Bicycle Accident Case
Even when obeying all traffic laws, cyclists can be injured in an accident. If you are the victim or perceived perpetrator, you need knowledgeable counsel. At Collins Gann McCloskey & Barry PLLC, we aggressively fight for our clients. We represent clients on Long Island, the New York metropolitan area, and throughout the U.S.
Call us at (516) 243-8255 or use our online form to schedule a free consultation about your bicycle accident. We’ll evaluate your case and outline possible next steps.