As of May 2014, the laws about biking in Detroit are the same as most other Michigan cities with some exceptions. Laws and rules change so refer to the original sources for the most accurate information. None of the below information should be construed as legal advice.
Of course, what’s the law and what’s safest or most prudent may be at odds. For example, you may have the right-of-way at an intersection, but shouldn’t assume all motorists will respect that. It’s best to err on the side of safety.
Bicyclists’ rights – Bicycles are not vehicles in Michigan, however “Each person riding a bicycle… upon a roadway has all of the rights and [are] subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this chapter, except as to special regulations in this article and except as to the provisions of this chapter which by their nature do not have application.” Note that this is limited to the riding “upon the roadway” which does not include bike lanes, shoulders, sidewalks or separate bike paths.
Ride typically on the right – Bicyclists should stay to the right side of the roadway or curb. However there are exceptions:
- When traveling at the speed of traffic
- When passing other bicycles or vehicles
- When turning left
- When it’s unsafe, e.g. there’s debris or pedestrians in the road.
- When the road is too narrow for a vehicle to safely pass you
- When going straight and there’s a right turn lane.
- When on a one-way street with two or more lanes. In that case, you can ride on on the left-hand side of the road.
Riding two abreast – You can ride single-file or side-by-side at any time, but no more than that unless you’re in a bike lane or on a bike path.
Riding on the sidewalk – You can ride on the sidewalk if there are no signs prohibiting it, but you must warn pedestrians before passing and yield to them. Motorists must yield to bicyclists in the crosswalk just as they should for pedestrians.
Signaling turns – Extend your left arm to the left when turning left. Extend your right arm to the right when turning right. The current law requires bicyclists to signal every time you slow down or stop. Doing so can reduce your ability to brake and safely steer. However, that is how the law is written.
Required equipment – Your bicycle must have working brakes. When riding at night, you need a white light on the front and a red reflector. A red light on the rear is optional.
Other related laws
- Definition of a bicycle
- Ability of local governments to regulate bicycles
- Everyone on a bicycle must have their own seat
- Parents may be held responsible for their children
- Parking your bicycle on a road or sidewalk
- Carrying packages
- No hanging on to vehicles or streetcars
- No riding on limited access highways (i.e. expressways)
- No points on your driver’s license for bicycle tickets
- Required equipment when selling a bicycle
Uniform Traffic Code
The Uniform Traffic Code (UTC) is maintained by the Michigan State Police. It fills in the gaps for items not covered under state law. The bicycling-related rules include:
- Motorists cannot drive or park on bike paths
- Motorists cannot drive or park in a bike lane
- Motorists cannot block crosswalks
- Motorists cannot open doors and block traffic
- Drinking alcohol is not allowed on public roads (though DUI/DWI laws only apply to motorists)
- Littering is not allowed on roads
- When bicyclists dismount, they are considered pedestrians
- Motorists “shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian on any roadway, shall give warning by sounding the horn when necessary, and shall exercise proper precaution upon observing any child or any confused or incapacitated person on a roadway.”
There are some local ordinances pertaining to bicycles.
Voluntary bicycle registration – This allows the Detroit Police Department to register bicycles so that it may help identify the rightful owner in case a stolen bicycle is recovered. This was once a required registration, but the Detroit Greenways Coalition and Bike Riders United worked with City Council to make it optional.
Bicycling within parks
- Sec. 40-4-7. Wheeled vehicle prohibited
No wheelbarrow, handcart, automobile, motorcycle, bicycle, motordriven cycle, go-cart, unicycle, moped, solex cycle or other wheeled vehicles are permitted in Hart Plaza except as approved by the civic center department or recreation department for a scheduled event. This section shall not apply to a handicapped person in a wheelchair nor to emergency or service vehicles.
- Sec. 40-1-28 Vehicles on footwalks, bridle paths, etc.
No wheelbarrow, handcart, automobile, motorcycle, bicycle, motor-driven cycle, go-cart or unlicensed vehicle shall be permitted on the footwalks, sidewalks, bridle paths, pedestrian trails, grass plots or planted places of any park, public place or boulevard, except in such sections as may be designated by the recreation department.
- Sec. 55-4-127. Driving automobiles, bicycles, or motorcycles on parkways, lawns, grass plots, bridle paths, or pedestrian trails, of parks and parkways; exception.
No person shall drive any bicycle, motorcycle or automobile over any parkway, lawn, grass plot, bridle path or pedestrian trails in any park or parkway, except at such places where vehicular roadways are established.
Not against the law, but…
Helmets may make you safer, but there are no laws requiring bicyclists to wear them in Detroit.
Though it may not be a good idea to do so, it’s not illegal to text or use a hand-held mobile phone while bicycling. Both are prohibited for Detroit motorists.
The rule against driving slow and impeding other traffic only applies to motor vehicles in Michigan. However, you can be cited for impeding traffic if you park your bike illegally on a road or sidewalk.