By Eric Wise, Staff Writer —
With the city adding bike lanes to Fifth Street on campus this summer, it’s important to understand the state and local bike laws, and know how to stay safe while riding a bike or driving near cyclists.
“We are working with UTC to encourage pedestrian and bicycle safety in that area”, Chattanooga Transportation Engineer Bert Kuyrkendall said. “The goal is to keep pedestrians, cyclists and motorists safe.”
In Tennessee, a bicycle has the legal status of a vehicle, according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation, meaning that bicyclists have full rights and responsibilities on the roadway and are subject to the regulations governing the operation of a motor vehicle.
Tennessee traffic laws require bicyclists to ride on the right-hand side of the road with the same direction as traffic, obey all traffic signs and signals, use hand signals to communicate intended moves and all bikes must be equipped with a front white light visible from 500 feet and either a red reflector or a lamp emitting a red light which shall be visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the rear, according to TDOT.
In Chattanooga, these same laws apply. However, use of the city’s bike lanes differs depending on the type of lane. Chattanooga has five different types of bike lanes, according to the Chattanooga Department of Transportation. The most common bike lanes are one-way protected lanes, two-way protected lanes and shared lanes. The city will be reworking Fifth Street to have a one-way protected bike lane in both directions. This type of bike lane gives riders their own space, but riders are advised to look out for car doors opening in parallel parking spots beside the bike lane. Tennessee has no law that requires drivers to check for bikers before opening their door, according to The League of American Bicyclists.
The only law in Tennessee for motorists when driving near cyclists is the “safe passing law”. The law states that when overtaking and passing a bicycle proceeding in the same direction on the roadway, motorists shall leave a safe distance between the motor vehicle and the bicycle of not less than three feet and shall maintain the clearance until safely past the overtaken bicycle, according to TDOT.
If you’d like to learn more about bicycle safety or how to safely ride a bike around Chattanooga, the Chattanooga Department of Transportation offers a Street Cycling 101 class the third Monday of each month at Outdoor Chattanooga.