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Bicycle Committee FAQ

Question: What are the traffic laws and regulations governing bicycling in Somerville?

Answer: Bicyclists generally have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists when traveling on public roads in Somerville and throughout Massachusetts. There are a few differences: bicycling on sidewalks, using lights at night, and wearing helmets (see below). Bicyclists have the right to travel on all public ways except limited access highways such as I-93.

Massachusetts laws pertaining to cyclists are included in the General Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, as amended by the Bicyclist Safety Act of 2007, signed into law on January 15, 2009:

Chapter 85, Section 11a
Chapter 85, Section 11b
Chapter 85, Section 11c
Chapter 85, Section 11d
Chapter 90e, Section 1
Chapter 90e, Section 2
Chapter 90e, Section 2A
Chapter 90, Section 2A
Chapter 90, Section 3

Within Somerville, state and local cyclists’ rights allow: 

  • Riding on any public road, street, or bikeway in the Commonwealth, except limited access or express state highways where signs specifically prohibiting bikes have been posted.
  • Riding on sidewalks outside the seven Business Districts: Davis Square, Porter Square, Union Square, Inman Square, Teele Square, Ball Square, and Magoun Square.
  • Using either hand to signal stops and turns.
  • Riding two abreast (two bicycles, side-by-side) on any road, though you must help faster vehicles overtake you by staying in single file when cars need to get by. On multi-lane roads, you can ride two abreast but your entire cyclist group must stay in one lane.
  • Passing cars on the right.
  • Riding outside marked bike lanes when preparing for turns or as otherwise necessary.
  • Children or other passengers inside an enclosed trailer or other device that will adequately restrain them and protect their heads in a crash need not wear helmets.
  • A bicycle race may be held on any public road or street in the Commonwealth, if done in cooperation with a recognized bicycle organization and with approval from the Police Department before the race is held.
  • Special bike regulations may be established for races by agreement between a bicycle organization and the police.
  • As many lights and reflectors are allowed on your bike as you wish. 

As a cyclist within the State of Massachusetts, your responsibilities include:

  • Obeying all traffic laws and regulations of the Commonwealth.
  • Using hand signals to let people know you plan to stop or turn, unless you need both hands on the handlebars, such as when operating the brakes, shifters, or steering.
  • Allowing pedestrians the right of way.
  • Giving pedestrians an audible signal before overtaking or passing them.
  • Allowing faster vehicles traveling in the same lane to pass, unless it is not possible for the vehicle to overtake you “at a safe distance” in the same lane; in this case the overtaking vehicle shall use all or part of an adjacent lane if it is safe to do so or wait for a safe opportunity to overtake.
  • Riding astride a regular, permanent seat that is attached to your bicycle.
  • Keeping at least one hand on your handlebars at all times.
  • Wearing a helmet that meets ANSI requirements on any bike, anywhere, at all times if you are 16 years old or younger. The helmet must fit your head and the chin strap must be fastened.
  • Wearing reflectors on both ankles if there are no reflectors on your pedals.
  • Notifying the police of any accident involving personal injury or property damage over $100.

As a cyclist within the State of Massachusetts, you are NOT allowed to:

  • Carry a passenger anywhere on your bike except on a regular seat permanently attached to the bike, or to a trailer towed by the bike.
  • Carry any child between the ages of 1 to 4, or weighing 40 pounds or less, anywhere on a single-passenger bike except in a baby seat attached to the bike. The child must be able to sit upright in the seat and must be held in the seat by a harness or seatbelt. Their hands and feet must be out of reach of the wheel spokes.
  • Carry any child under the age of 1 on your bike, even in a baby seat; this does not preclude carrying them in a trailer.
  • Use a siren or whistle on your bike to warn pedestrians.
  • Modify a bike so that your hands are higher than your shoulders when gripping the handlebars.


As a cyclist within the State of Massachusetts, your bicycle must be equipped in the following manner:

  • A permanent, regular seat must be attached.
  • Brakes must be effective enough to bring you to a stop, from a speed of 15 miles an hour, within 30 feet of braking. This distance assumes a dry, clean, hard, level surface.
  • At night, your headlight must emit a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet. A generator-powered lamp that shines only when the bike is moving is acceptable.
  • At night, your taillight must be red and must be visible from a distance of at least 600 feet.
  • At night, your reflectors must be visible in the low beams of a car's headlights from a distance of at least 600 feet. Reflectors and reflective material on your bike must be visible from the back and sides.


Penalties:

  • Violations of any of these laws can be punished by a fine of up to $20. Parents and guardians are responsible for cyclists under the age of 18. The bicycle of anyone under 18 who violates the law can be impounded by the police for up to 15 days.
 
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