Ask MassBike: Can I Ride My Bike On Memorial Drive

42-21548197We 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 Kristen about riding on Memorial Drive in Cambridge.


I was out for a ride this morning and was riding my road bike (in the road) on Memorial Drive. I was headed east towards Harvard Sq. riding in the right hand lane when a state trooper pulled up beside me and informed me that I needed to be on the bike path and not in the road. He said that Memorial Dr. is a state highway and that bikes are prohibited since it is too narrow. I am wondering if he is correct, or do I have every right to be in the road?

Thanks for your help,

Hello Kristen

This is absolutely incorrect. Bicycles are only prohibited from limited access or express state highways (such as I-93 or I-90) where it is posted, according to MGL chapter 85, section 11B. Memorial Drive is neither limited access nor express (it has numerous cross-streets and driveways), so bicycling is allowed. Many roads are “state highways” but are not limited access or express. Mass Ave is a state highway, but no one would argue bicycles are not allowed there.

Memorial Drive is narrow, and cars go way too fast there, so you might not want to ride in the road. But you can if you want to.

If anyone ever gets a ticket for something like this, we want to get a copy of it so we can investigate.

Hope this helps.


10 Responses to Ask MassBike: Can I Ride My Bike On Memorial Drive

  1. Paul Schimek June 17, 2010 at 4:03 pm #

    The DCR has a regulation they trot out from time to time restricting bicycles to certain locations; however, this regulation refers to “reservations” (e.g., parklands), not roadways. Moreover, the DCR regulations cannot contradict state law. Ch. 85 Sec 11B (correctly cited above) talks about the right of bicyclists to use a “way, as defined in section one of chapter ninety.” If you turn to that section, you find that a “way” is “any public highway, private way laid out under authority of statute, way dedicated to public use, or way under the control of park commissioners or body having like powers.” So parkways are specifically included.

    Please note that bicyclists can only be prohibited by posting signs (and only on express divided highways with full or partial access control — that is, on and off ramps). Thus the DCR could prohibit bicyclists from portions of Storrow Drive and Soldiers Field Rd., but so far it has not chosen to do so.

    And yes, many people have gotten harassed or even arrested by State Police for legally using Memorial Drive and other DCR/MDC parkways. Read more here:

  2. Chris June 17, 2010 at 4:16 pm #

    It is amazing to me how many police officers are not aware of the law when arbitrarily ordering people to do or not do things. Thanks for this post which clearly illustrates the actual law behind this.

    So, legally it is within our rights to ride a bicycle on Memorial Drive. However, a different question, why would you WANT to do this when there is a perfectly good bike trail right beside you?

    I commute 18 miles per day on a bicycle, a good portion of which is along the Mem Drive bike trail. Even still, last night I was driving on Memorial Drive and saw a bicyclist riding in the street. I just had to scratch my head! Yes, it’s your right, but why ride in the street instead of the bike trail where it’s much less safe for you, and an inconvenience for drivers at the same time?

  3. Shane June 18, 2010 at 9:28 am #

    Chris: While I agree with you that memorial drive is not the most bike friendly place to ride. I take issue with the “inconvenience for drivers” part of your statement.

    Cyclists are not an inconvenience for drivers anymore than any other vehicle on the road. In the same way you have to pilot your car around bus, taxi, truck, tractor, ambulance, etc traffic, you need to do so for cyclists as well.

    Cyclists are just one more road user type to be encountered on the road.

  4. Paul Schimek June 18, 2010 at 3:48 pm #

    Chris: Because it’s not always (or even usually) safer to ride on the bike path. On the road (if you obey the signals) the main danger is deliberate assault, sometimes from police officers, and this risk is very very low, especially, if you ignore all threats. It would be even lower if people obeyed the 35 mph speed limit.

    On the path there is a high risk of collision with left or right-turning motor vehicles at intersections — particularly the notorious Western Ave and Storrow Drive intersection, but not only.

    On top of that, the Charles River Paths are horribly substandard, ranging from quite nice in a (very) few sections to a narrow sidewalk in others, with considerable physical hazards such as heaves, tree branches, holes. (They are always scenic, but not necessarily safe.) The worst example is probably the still narrow section just east of the Longfellow Bridge.

    On top of that, when it’s crowded there is a high risk of collision with other users (cyclists, roller bladers, baby strollers, dogs, etc.)

    The risks of the path can be somewhat mitigated by going slowly and carefully, but you are still at risk if someone else does something stupid. Plus, you may not get to work on time, or may not have a very satisfying fitness ride, if that is what you are trying to do.

    It’s true that in the rush hours Mem Drive is not very appealing because it’s all backed up with cars and the lanes are so narrow you can’t even pass them. But what’s so bad with wanting to use the road on a Sunday morning for a fitness ride at speeds that would be way too dangerous on the path? And what about when one of the benefit walks (or rides), or construction, completely blocks the path?

    Let’s not give away our rights too easily.

  5. Chris June 21, 2010 at 4:30 pm #

    @Shane: I see and agree with your point that cyclists are no more of an inconvenience than other types of vehicles, and that they are fine to be on the road. The point I was making was that it didn’t make sense to me why anyone would choose to ride in this street, knowing that it’s an inconvenience to others, when there is a perfectly fine bike trail running exactly parallel to it. Imagine (hypothetically) if the city built a new, dedicated “taxi lane” in which taxis could stop and pick up/drop off passengers without affecting mainline traffic flow. Now imagine a taxi chose not to use this dedicated lane and instead chose to stop in traffic instead. A silly example, but that’s the question I was posing.

    @Paul: My comment was not about giving up our rights, and I even said that in my comment. It’s my right to stand on the left side of an escalator and block people who want to walk up it too, but I choose to stand on the right because I know that it’s the courteous thing to do. That said, my main point of confusion was about “why” someone would want to ride on Mem Drive given the presence of a bike trail mere feet away. You make some good points about some shortcomings of the trail and why someone would want to do that. I see the point a little better now, so thanks for that.

  6. Marc from Cambridge July 1, 2010 at 9:29 am #

    Thank you to MassBike for posting this topic. I had often wondered what the law was.

    I agree that with a bike path running right alongside Memorial Drive, it makes sense to use the path. I’ve ridden the path countless times for commuting and enjoyment, and rarely feel compelled to ride on Memorial Drive.

    HOWEVER, I couldn’t agree more with Paul’s reply, and I would ask Chris to think twice before using the expression “perfectly good” when referring to the bike path (an expression you used in both of your postings). That path is far from “perfectly good.” From Watertown to the Museum of Science, significant portions of the Cambridge-side trail along the Charles river are dangerously neglected and poorly designed. If road conditions were that bad for so many years, it would not be tolerated. Cyclists should not be complacent about our neglected lanes. We have a right to safety.

  7. Ted May 19, 2011 at 1:06 am #

    I think you may be partially correct. My understanding is that the criteria is state highway, divided with on ramps.

    Mem drive is a state highway, the part in front of MIT is clearly divided with on ramps at mass ave and the long fellow bridge.

    So in that section you would be arguing express and signage. I don’t see how you win express as nothing is express here.

  8. ken September 10, 2011 at 8:11 pm #

    Memorial Drive, Storrow Drive, Alewife Brook Parkway, Jamaicaway, and other DCR Parkways are defined as Limited Access Ways, and were clearly designated as such since their inception. There are many signs at access and entry points that prohibit bicycles, mopeds and scooters.

    I think it speaks volumes about the irresponsibility of cyclists to take the attitude of entitlement and defiance to ride on these ways. Perhaps a serious accident or fatality will change your perception.

    Smarten up! Cars are bigger than you.

  9. ken September 10, 2011 at 8:13 pm #

    Furthermore, since bikes pay no taxes or registration fees, you should consider it a privledge to use roads that are paid for entirely by automobile owners.

  10. Dave September 21, 2011 at 10:12 am #

    I find Ken’s opinions need rebutle.

    The parkway’s are designed for SAFE BIKING since there inception. Bikes were invented prior to the automobile. I think Bikers should have a right to ALL roads since some of us are trying to save the Planet. It is the auto drivers that do not realize the machinery that they are responsible for and are potential killing machines.

    I pay my taxes, so the priveledge is everyone’s. The roadways are Federally Subsidized and without it our roads would be primative.

    I ride my bike 6 miles to work and home daily on a Parkway. The obsticle I have from a perfect commute is Ignorant Drivers. They need to be EDUCATED and/or Severely Fined.

    Ken, on behalf of you insurance company, don’t be an Idiot.