Bike Path Etiquette

cyclists in Chicago during sunset

The pandemic has made owning a bike shop a lucrative business. Bikes were nearly impossible to get early in the COVID lockdown, as shut-in people with time on their hands decided there was only so much Tiger King they could watch without doing something outside. There is a sense of freedom when riding, which is one reason I love riding my bike.

However, many people who took up riding had no idea what they were doing, and had never learned the basics of how to handle a bike, where they fit in among fellow riders, vehicular traffic, or what rules to follow.

Bike Paths are Safer, Right?

Most people would agree that it is safer to ride on a bike path than in traffic. While that is generally true, my experiences lately demonstrate that without educated riders and drivers, nowhere is safe. Just this morning, I decided to take an easy recovery ride along the Chicago Lakefront path, which has all sorts of helpful markings to demarcate lane usage among riders, runners, walkers, and help vehicles navigate crossing the path at various points.

Without awareness, this is nothing but signage and paint on the road.

Here’s a brief list of what happened just today:

  • A rider on a Divvy rental bike decided to look at the tall buildings. Unfortunately, he also did this while meandering directly into my path in the oncoming lane. I was going about 25 miles per hour and he was paying zero attention. Rather than hit him, I had to lock up my brakes to avoid hitting him. He seemed oblivious even after a near crash.
  • A woman walking with a young girl of about three years of age crossed the path without looking at all. Yup, she stepped right into my path. Pro tip: a bike going 25 miles an hour will “win” a collision with a pedestrian, and certainly with a three year old. Thankfully, I screamed in time to alert her and braked enough to avoid her.
  • A woman turned her car directly across the bike path (where it met the road) without ever looking for bikes. She didn’t even see me after I screamed and waved my arms at her.

Rules of the Road/Path

If you are riding on a bike path, realize that the path will have painted signs and arrows indicating what traffic should go where. Make sure you are in the lanes for bikes and not pedestrians. Note that pedestrians are much slower and lighter than bikes. Meaning pedestrians will “lose” those collisions. If you are a pedestrian, be alert to your surroundings, always checking for traffic BOTH WAYS when crossing the path.

Understand your speed and the speed of other riders. If you are a novice, perhaps you are riding at 8-12 miles per hour, while more serious riders may be in the 15-25 range. Be aware that if you don’t ride to the right side of the path, you could get clipped by a faster rider passing you.

If you are passing a pedestrian or slower rider, be sure you yell out to the person ahead of you that you are “passing on your left” or similar warning. This will alert them you are coming up behind them and that they should hold their lane and not move out to the left.

Avoid passing when there is oncoming traffic. Do you really think it’s a good idea to pass a slower rider, which moves you toward the left of the lane when you have one or two bikes abreast coming directly toward you? What happens if the bike you're passing moves out suddenly because they don’t hear you or are inexperienced or have earbuds in?

Don’t wear earbuds! Be aware of your surroundings. Your sense of hearing is key. You can hear the grinding of gears spinning. This gives you a warning of an impending passing bicycle. That’s a good thing!

If you are a driver near a bike path, EXPECT TO SEE BICYCLES. See bikes by looking for bikes. Don’t cross a bike path without looking both ways for bicycles. Seems so simple, yet I can’t tell you how many people in cars seemingly figure that they are in a three thousand pound car and don’t really have to worry about bikes. Besides, why do bikes have brakes anyway?

Bikes are often moving much faster than you can appreciate. Bikes have the right of way to continue on a bike path that crosses a road. If you are a driver, you have a duty to watch out for bikes before you cross that path.

Let’s Be Careful Out There

Just as I preach all the time with bike lanes, the only way these “work,” is if drivers look for bikes and if bicyclists pay attention to the rules of the road and make themselves visible to vehicles.

Bike paths are seemingly “cut off from traffic,” but often cross major roads. Bike paths often have many vehicles on them at once, including some that don’t belong, like motorized scooters exceeding 30 miles an hour.

Assume the worst.

Look for trouble.

Ride and walk defensively.

Follow the rules of the path.

If you need to look at your phone, pull off the path.


  • Bike paths are seen as safer than road riding, but only all participants adhere to the rules
  • Bicyclists need to remember there are wide variations in speed and handling ability on a path and should be alert for all kinds of cyclists
  • Cars should be alert when near a bike path and look actively for bikes both ways before crossing the path

Contact Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer Stephen Hoffman

As in all cases involving injury and potential liability, if you have been hit by a vehicle, immediately get medical treatment, report the crash to police and your own insurance company, and contact a lawyer with expertise in your type of case, such as bicycle accidents or pedestrians hit by cars.

If you've been in an accident and have questions, contact Chicago personal injury attorney Stephen L. Hoffman for a free consultation at (773) 944-9737. Stephen has over 30 years of legal experience and has collected millions of dollars for his clients. He is listed as a SuperLawyer, has a 10.0 rating on Avvo, and is BBB A+ accredited. He is also an Executive Level Member of the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce.

Stephen handles personal injury claims on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay anything up front, and he only gets paid if you do. Don’t wait another day; contact Stephen now.