We get a lot of questions here at MassBike, and we like to think we also give some pretty good answers. We realized that sharing these questions and answers on our website would be a valuable resource to others looking for the same information.
We got this question from Scott about riding in crosswalks.
In crossing a zebra crosswalk, where cars must stop for pedestrians, does the law prohibit you from riding your bike across. Must you walk it?
Good question Scott, and unfortunately one with a bit of a confusing answer. Massachusetts law does not expressly address the issue of vehicles (remember, bicycles are legally vehicles) using crosswalks to cross the street. The law does require “drivers” to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks (Mass. General Laws, chapter 89, section 11), which gives us a clue that whoever wrote the law was thinking about cars. And cars, as a practical matter, cannot physically use a crosswalk (unless they are somehow driving on the sidewalk), so lawmakers probably did not think it was essential to write a law prohibiting something that cannot happen. But, taking everything in context, we think the intention is pretty clear that vehicles should not use crosswalks. What does this mean for bicyclists? Here is a common sense approach, where you choose whether to act as a vehicle or as a pedestrian and then stick with that choice:
If you are riding your bicycle in the road, then you are operating as a vehicle, and should not use crosswalks to cross intersections. You should remain in proper position to cross the intersection with other vehicular traffic. Sure, you could dismount, walk over to the crosswalk, walk your bike across, then walk back over into the road and remount, but we do not advise that because it puts you at risk from turning vehicles while in the crosswalk, you may have to merge back into moving traffic on the other side of the street (and cars are not expecting you to do that from a crosswalk), and it makes you unpredictable – no one will know for sure what you intend to do. The little “jog” to the right (into or near the crosswalk) that we see many bicyclists do before running a red light does not somehow make it OK – it is still running a red light (as well as being dangerous for all of the above reasons and potentially conflicting with pedestrians). A mounted bicyclist in the roadway is a vehicle and must obey the rules and signals.
If you are riding your bicycle on the sidewalk where it is legal to do so, then you are effectively a pedestrian, and it may be legal to ride in a crosswalk (although we do not guarantee it). Even so, we think it is safer to walk your bike across the street to avoid conflicts with pedestrians and turning cars that might not be looking for bicyclists in crosswalks. Sidewalk bicycling is illegal in all business districts statewide, and each city or town can further restrict it. Some towns prohibit all sidewalk bicycling. You need to check the local rules to know for sure.
If you are riding your bicycle illegally on a sidewalk, you are breaking the law, and riding in the crosswalk is probably also illegal.