Richmond VA > Public Works > Pedestrian, Bicycling And Trails > Laws and Safety

Last Updated: 2017-05-06


Bicycling and walking are safe, efficient and healthy ways of getting around the city, but there are laws and safety tips to be mindful of. Motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians have shared rights and responsibilities and a little courtesy goes a long way towards making our city safer and more pleasant to get around.

Virginia bike laws

  • Always ride with the flow of traffic.
  • A front light and rear reflector are required after dark. On roads with posted speeds of 35 or greater a red taillight is also required. A taillight is strongly recommended any time after dark.
  • Motorists are required to allow at least three feet (3’) of clearance when passing a bicyclist, and do so at a safe speed.
  • Bicyclists may “take the lane” when appropriate; bicyclists are required to ride as far right as safely practicable, but there are five (5) exceptions that apply to most city streets. See the tips below for more details.
  • Bicyclists may ride two abreast if they are not impeding traffic.
  • A bicyclist should use the same lane as they would be if they were driving a motor vehicle. Use right and left turn lanes, and proceed straight through an intersection from a through lane, not a turn lane.
  • Riding on the sidewalk is legal, however a bicyclist must yield to pedestrians, and when crossing the street has the same rights and responsibilities as a pedestrian.
  • Always yield to pedestrians when you are obligated to (see the yielding laws below), and announce when you are passing from behind if on a sidewalk or shared use path.
  • Helmets are not required by law, but they are recommended and are cheap insurance in the event of a crash or fall.

Virginia pedestrian laws

  • Pedestrians are to cross, whenever possible, at intersections and crosswalks.
  • Unmarked crosswalks carry the same yielding requirements for motorists as do marked crosswalks.
  • Unmarked crosswalks exist at almost any intersection within the City. It is where sidewalks lead to the intersection, or if there are no sidewalks an unmarked crosswalk still exists at the intersection if the speed limit is not greater than 35 MPH.
  • Drivers must always yield to pedestrians legally crossing the street when turning (right or left).
  • Drivers must yield to pedestrians when entering or departing the street at alleys, driveways and commercial entrances.

Bicyclist safety tips and best practices

See and be seen

  • Lights at night help ensure you are seen by motorists, as well as allowing you to see the roadway and any hazards.
  • Small LED lights can also be used during the day to make you more conspicuous.
  • Low light conditions (sunrise and sunset) can result in shadows and glare that obscure a cyclist from a motorist's view.
  • White lights on the front, red lights on the rear. Using the wrong color lights can be confusing for motorists to determine which direction you are riding.
  • Reflective material on your legs or feet is more noticeable since they are in motion. A pants strap with reflective material serves a dual purpose.

Sidewalk bicycling is a major contributor to bike crashes

  • Always yield to pedestrians when on the sidewalk.
  • Ride at a slow speed and watch for pedestrians coming out of doorways or around corners of buildings.
  • Driveways and alleys present blind areas where vehicles can’t see fast approaching bicyclists.
  • Motorists often aren’t looking for, or expecting a fast moving bicyclist on a sidewalk or in a crosswalk.
  • Biking on a sidewalk against traffic also violates expectations of where a bicyclist will be encountered.
  • Bicyclists along a row of parked vehicles may not be visible to turning motorists.

Taking the lane

In an urban environment it is often legal, and actually safer to “take the lane”, positioning yourself farther into the travel lane. State law specifically notes the following conditions:

  • When overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction
  • When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway
  • When necessary to avoid conditions including, fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes
  • A “substandard width lane” is one which is too narrow for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to safely and legally occupy side-by-side. That includes most city streets.
  • You are more visible when positioned in the travel lane and not weaving in and out of traffic.
  • You also avoid the parked car “door zone” where an opening door can cause a crash or a swerve into traffic.
  • Sharrows are placed in the lane specifically to improve positioning and to communicate the understanding that bicyclists will be sharing the lane or roadway.

Pedestrian safety tips and best practices

  • Walking in the street – Sometimes sidewalks are not available, making walking in the roadway necessary. Always walk facing traffic when in the roadway. It is the law and is much safer.
  • Communicate your intentions to cross the street. Motorists will be more likely to yield if you give them visual cues; eye contact, stepping off the curb, or even a wave or hand motion.
  • Lights and/or reflective material is a good idea if walking or jogging at night.
  • Alcohol use/impairment is a major contributor to pedestrian crashes.
  • Streetlights can cast shadows and glare. Don’t assume you can be easily seen at night.

Contact Information:

Department of Public Works
City of Richmond
Pedestrian, Bicycling and Trails bikeped@richmondgov.com

900 E. Broad St., Suite 704
Richmond VA
23219 USA
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Phone: (804)646-2595
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If you have any questions, please call the City's Customer Care Center at 3-1-1 or (804) 646-7000

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