Let’s say you’re tired of winter, especially this winter, and you can’t wait to get back into shape for the beach (or whatever). Maybe you want to ride your bike to work to start working off the winter weight, but there’s a dicey road section, perhaps a 5 lane arterial, between your house and work. What are some of the strategies to ride safely?
Strategy 1 – avoidance – do some exploring and you might find a quieter road section, a trail, or a series of linked driveways and/or parking lots. Be aware that driveways and parking lots require 360 degree vigilance, but are generally low speed so you have decent reaction time. Like sidewalks, trails require vigilance at intersections.
Strategy 2 – the sidewalk – it’s legal to ride on the sidewalk in New Jersey, unless the municipality has an ordinance restricting riding on a specific section, typically in downtown areas with a lot of pedestrian traffic. The sidewalk can be more comfortable if pedestrian traffic is minimal, but care must be taken at driveways and intersections since motorists do not usually look for bikes on sidewalks.
Strategy 3 – the road – New Jersey law grants cyclists the same rights and responsibilities as the driver of a motor vehicle. Experienced cyclists prefer the road for predictability and getting there faster, but care must be taken to actively manage the traffic around you. This means being aware of the road and whether there are safe places for motorists to pass, and positioning yourself so that you are visible to motorists, both those approaching from behind and those at intersections looking for gaps in traffic.
It’s worth quoting the New Jersey Statute verbatim:
“39:4-14.2. Keeping to right; exceptions; single file
Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction; provided, however, that any person may move to the left under any of the following situations:
(a) to make a left turn from a left-turn lane or pocket;
(b) to avoid debris, drains or other hazardous conditions that make it impracticable to ride at the right side of the roadway;
(c) to pass a slower moving vehicle;
(d) to occupy any available lane when traveling at the same speed as other traffic;
(e) to travel no more than two abreast when traffic is not impeded.
Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway may travel no more than two abreast when traffic is not impeded, but otherwise shall ride in single file except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.”
The New Jersey Department of Transportation has an excellent website for bike commuters – see the Frequently Asked Questions for good advice regarding riding on the road safely.