Detroit Bike Laws

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.

Michigan Laws

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

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.”

Detroit-only Laws

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.

Pedal-Cabs and Rickshaws

Disturbing the Peace – While Detroit’s noise ordinance is limited to motor vehicles (not bicycles), there is an applicable ordinance against disturbing the peace.

Bicycling within parks

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.

4 Comments

  1. With the huge increase in biking in the city, these are my two pet peeves concerning bikers:

    Is there any effort being made to prohibit bicycles on sidewalks…especially in neighborhoods with extensive bike lanes available? Nothing is more frustrating than a grown adult riding up on pedestrians on the sidewalk when there is a perfectly good street three feet away. I think it’s more dangerous for both pedestrians and bikers.

    Will there be any enforcement of riding the wrong way on a street? I know Detroiters have a long history of thinking it’s safer to ride into traffic to see what’s coming. But we know that it’s not safer at all.

    • Those are great questions, Jeff.

      Bicyclists are not prohibited from riding on the sidewalks in Detroit. However, we share your concern about pedestrian conflicts. Most people ride on the sidewalks and against traffic because they don’t feel safe on the street or riding with traffic. We think the best solution is to make the on-road bike lanes feel much more safe. For many, painted bike lanes don’t provide enough protection from motor vehicles, so there is an increased emphasis on building protected bike lanes. It won’t happen overnight, but we expect to see some serious improvements. Better engineering can improve behavior 24 hours a day versus the more limited ability to enforce.

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