Laws regulating riding your bike on the sidewalk vary throughout Wisconsin. Wisconsin state law considers bicycles to be vehicles, and the law bans vehicles from operating on sidewalks. Therefore, it’s illegal to ride a bicycle on sidewalks in Wisconsin.

However, municipalities can pass local ordinances allowing cyclists to ride on the sidewalk. If a municipality has such an ordinance, it usually states that children can ride on the sidewalk, but adults are expected to ride in the street. Check your local ordinance to ensure you’re complying with local bike laws.

James Davies, Executive Director of Bublr Bikes, Milwaukee’s bike-share program, noted that in certain areas, cities will direct cyclists onto sidewalks. However, this can create conflict between cyclists and pedestrians, so cyclists should consider dismounting their bikes when a bike lane merges with the sidewalk.

west st paul street

The bike lane on W. St. Paul merges onto the sidewalk to go around a Hop Stop. However, this entrance isn’t always clear (as seen above) and can create conflict with people using the sidewalk. Image via Google Maps.

What Can Cyclists Do to Stay Safe?

As road users, cyclists should take steps to protect themselves and stay safe while riding. Some things you should do to stay safe include the following:

1. Take the Full Lane

Robbie Webber, a Madison Bikes board member who’s been analyzing transportation policies and advising state DOTs in Wisconsin and across America for over two decades, said cyclists should take the lane whenever possible. Hugging the curb can make it harder for motorists to see cyclists. Taking the lane and operating like a vehicle makes your movements more predictable and safe.

This may make some motorists impatient, but you have the right to be on the road as a cyclist. Motorists have to respect that, regardless of whether it slows them down. “If someone’s honking at you, that means they see you,” Webber said. And when you’re seen, you’re safer.

2. Follow the Laws

As a cyclist, you’re legally a road user. This means you should follow all the laws of the road, and doing so protects you in two key ways:

  1. First, it makes your actions more predictable. The truth is that most motorists aren’t prepared to interact with anyone outside of a motor vehicle. By following the laws as if you were in a car, motorists can anticipate your movements.
  2. Secondly, Wisconsin liability law follows comparative negligence. This means that if you’re partially responsible for a crash, you won’t be able to recover as much in a personal injury case. By following the laws and cycling safely, you ensure that you can recover as much as possible in the event you’re injured in a crash.

What Can Motorists Do to Be Safe Road Users?

When you’re driving, stay alert and keep the following things in mind. 

1. Pay Attention to People in the Right-of-Way

Webber said that one area drivers need to pay careful attention to is pedestrians and cyclists in the right-of-way. The right-of-way refers to people in crosswalks and crosswalk aprons (regardless of whether crosswalks are marked), in bike lanes, and on sidewalks, terraces, and shoulders.

According to Webber, motorists should pay extra attention to people using the right-of-way when:

  • Turning right: If you’re only looking to the left for traffic when turning right, you could pull forward as someone is entering the crosswalk. Always check both directions before pulling forward.
  • Turning left: When you turn left, watch for pedestrians in the crosswalk and oncoming cyclists. Not only could you hit them if you don’t check, you could also be struck by oncoming traffic if you have to slam on your brakes.
  • Entering parking lots or crossing sidewalks: When you pull off the roadway into a driveway, parking lot, or anywhere else, check your mirrors and blindspot for cyclists or pedestrians. This way, you’ll avoid cutting off a cyclist or hitting pedestrians on the sidewalk.

2. Pass With Care

According to Wisconsin law, you have to give cyclists at least three feet of space while passing cyclists or individuals using micro-mobility devices like electric scooters. However, you should try to give as much space as you can, as cyclists may have to move over to avoid potholes and debris in the roadway.

Keep in mind that cyclists are entitled to use the full lane. If you’re on a street with a single lane in either direction, you can legally enter the left side of the road to give ample space while overtaking a cyclist if it’s safe to do so. If there are two lanes in your direction, switch lanes to pass the cyclist, but never enter the oncoming lanes in this case.

3. Use the Dutch Reach When Opening Doors

Finally, Webber said motorists should use the Dutch reach when opening car doors. This means opening the driver’s-side door with your right hand. By doing so, you naturally turn your body and are able to see into your vehicle’s blindspot.

By opening the door in this manner, you avoid flinging your vehicle’s door into a cyclist’s path.

the dutch reach

(image via DutchReach.org)

Pasternak & Zirgibel Protect Crash Victims

Biking is a great way to get around in Wisconsin—even in the winter months. However, it’s vital to stay safe. Unfortunately, many motorists are only looking for other drivers and may fail to see you when you’re biking.

If you’re in a crash, always report it. Do what you can to document the crash, and avoid telling the driver or any witnesses that you’re ‘okay.’ Injuries to your neck and back can often take several hours before their symptoms begin to show. Saying that you’re okay at the scene of the crash can damage your ability to recover compensation for your injuries.

Serious injuries from bicycle crashes can leave you unable to work during your recovery. To get the compensation you deserve, contact personal injury attorneys you can trust. If you work with Pasternak & Zirgibel, Frank or Jeff will personally handle your case, giving your case their complete attention.

If you think you have a case, don’t wait: schedule a free initial consultation today!