Should Runners Use Bike Lanes Instead of Sidewalks?

Bikes versus cars, cars versus bikes—and bikes versus runners?

Show of hands: Who’s run in a bike lane before? I’ll admit, it’s super tempting: The stretch of an unobstructed path looks like running heaven during those moments when you find yourself spending precious workout minutes dodging strollers and pedestrians ambling down narrow Center City sidewalks. But is running in the bike lane a safe—and legal—solution?

This morning, local running blogger Carrie opened exactly this can of worms on her blog Miles Covered. Last weekend, she says she counted 10 runners in 10 minutes running in the bike lane on Pine Street, traveling with traffic, some wearing headphones. Sounds like a recipe for an awful accident, right?

Carrie writes:

I would wager that most of these folks do not use these lanes as bikers. Most of us who also bike Philly know that while the bike lanes are awesome, cars do not always respect them. …So when I see runners, charging along in those lanes with traffic, I cringe. I don’t think they have any idea that essentially, they’re running in a moving traffic lane. One that I would argue is even more dangerous than normal lanes because of how cars treat those lanes. As a biker and a runner, I would not even walk against traffic in those lanes. That’s how “safe” I feel they are. I would never, ever run in them.

I have to admit, I agree. Like Carrie, who runs and bikes in Philly, I’m also a fairly regular city biker—why walk when you can get there in a quarter of the time on two wheels?—and I’ve been involved in my fair share of close calls. Once, when I lived in DC, I was hit by a driver who was turning from the opposing lane when she tried to beat me through an intersection. I had the right of way and was in a bike lane. As I laid there—on the ground in the intersection, mind you—she had the audacity to roll down her window and scream at me as if I did something wrong. And then she sped off. The entire incident was baffling, terrifying and incredibly infuriating.

Fact: Many drivers don’t respect bikers. Related: Many bikers don’t obey the rules.

Add a runner to the mix—particularly one with headphones, going with the flow of traffic—and you’ve got a recipe for a really scary collision just waiting to happen. I can imagine a scenario where a runner decides to bail on the sidewalk and steps into the street, maybe from between two parked cars. He doesn’t see the bike coming, the biker doesn’t see him, and—WHAM. You get the picture.

I honestly don’t think bikers and pedestrians of any kind—even the fast moving ones—belong anywhere near each other. (I’ve alluded to the fact that mixed-use trails scare the business out of me.) In cities, that’s why God and the Department of Transportation created bike lanes and sidewalks: to keep one group away from the other. And it’s why I tweeted this morning, in response to Carrie’s post: “My motto: Bike lanes are for bikes. Sidewalks are for runners. Never the two shall meet.”

I checked with the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, and they agree with me. “It’s not a safe thing to do, any more than it is to run in a car lane,” says Nicholas Mirra, the organization’s communications coordinator, who says he’s spotted runners on the Spruce and Pine Street bike lanes from time to time. “As far as we know it’s not technically illegal but it’s not safe for anybody.”

We tried checking on the laws with the agencies that handle the city’s bike lanes, but in true bureaucratic fashion, we haven’t back either way yet. (We’ll update this post if and when we do.) But here’s a thought: Even if there aren’t laws on the books officially banning runners from bike lanes, I’m going to take a wild guess and figure that since we call them “bicycle lanes,” they’re reserved for the exclusive use of, well, bikes.

This is why they pay me the big bucks, people.

Tell us: Do you think runners should use bike lanes? And ‘fess up, have you ever used them yourself during a run?

  • Frank

    I don’t run in the bike lane. I think it’s dangerous to drive a car in Philly, even more so to ride a bike in the city. Running in city traffic is extremely high risk. However, it is definitely sometimes challenging to run around people wandering aimlessly on the sidewalk or blocking the entire width of the path, so I understand the temptation.

  • J. Rudy Flesher

    I’m an avid runner and cyclist and there’s no excuse to run in a bike lane, ever, period. It’s unsafe, especially if it forces the cyclist to have to swerve suddenly into a lane of motor vehicles.

    • N Clark

      If it is ok for a runner to run aganist the flow of traffic on the street why isn’t it also ok to run in a bike lane? Furthermore, if runners and bikers can move together safely on the Kelly Drive and West River Drive path, then why can’t they do so in the bike lane?
      I recently ran on the bike lane on Pine Street and despite plenty of passable room, had a biker zoom by and call me a d.bag for running in the bike lane. Unlike bike lanes, many philly sidewalks are cracked, trash strewn and generally an uneven place to run.

      • Jim

        I’m also an avid runner and cyclist. I was always under the impression that walking/running in the street was jaywalking if a sidewalk was available. Either way, there’s never “a ton” of passable room on any of the bike lanes. They’re the width they are for a reason. Sidewalks hurt my knees too, but running in bike lanes is unsafe for drivers, cyclists, and runners.

        As for the Schuylkill path, it’s a designated mixed-use recreation trail. I think it’s too narrow to be safely designated as such without enforcement of speed limits in high pedestrian traffic zones. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but it would be nice to at least get some speed limit signs between the PMA and the bridge.

        Emily, any word from The Law regarding bike lane usage?

        • Emily Leaman

          Unfortunately no, Jim, not yet. I’m still pestering them. I’ll definitely update with any news.

      • http://www.ironzoom.com Greg

        N,

        You make another very good point about bike lanes! They ARE much safer for runners to run in. They are flat, smooth, and better on your muscled and joints than jumping up and down over curbs, tripping on pot-holes, cracked sidewalks, etc. That is another main reason I keep on the street.

        • http://bikeNewportBeach.org David Huntsman

          Of course, you are not allowed to run in bike lanes…

        • Craig

          I suppose being an off-road runner I consider such things non-issues as they force you to pay attention, and would suggest the variability is actually good for your body, not bad.

          The biggest issue with sidewalks is navigating the inattentive erratic pedestrians – it greatly increases the odds of collisions.

      • Neil

        As both an avid runner, cyclist and physician (neurologist) living in Philadelphia, few things irritate me more than commuting via bicycle to work with runners in the bike lane. Despite living in Philadelphia for the past 8 years, I have been able to train for and run three half marathons and two full marathons WITHOUT ever running in the bike lane.

        Bike lane or not, you are running in a street in a major urban city. Doing so in a bike lane puts the city’s cyclists, drivers, and most importantly yourself in danger of becoming part of a major pedestrian accident. Please also keep mind that cyclists are often moving the same speed between lights but need almost twice the distance to come to a complete stop.

      • http://bikeNewportBeach.org David Huntsman

        Because you are allowed to run on the shoulder of a road, not in a lane. And a bicycle lane is a lane (not the shoulder).

      • Prestonjb

        Actually it isn’t legal to run on the road. The only rule for a car/bike is that when a pedestrian must get onto a road… To cross it… That once the pedestrian has legally done so (when it is safe to enter) then the cars/bikes coming down the road while the ped is crossing.. They must yield..

        Bottom line.. You can be on the road but you can’t stay on the road

      • Prestonjb

        Actually it isn’t legal to run on the road. The only rule for a car/bike is that when a pedestrian must get onto a road… To cross it… That once the pedestrian has legally done so (when it is safe to enter) then the cars/bikes coming down the road while the ped is crossing.. They must yield..
        Bottom line.. You can be on the road but you can’t stay on the road

  • Kimi

    I have used the bike lanes on lots of occasions since it is easier on my knees than the sidewalk. But I always go against traffic, and I always pay attention. As soon as I see a cyclist headed my way, I head back to the sidewalk until they pass. The lane is there for them, not me.

    • Honor

      I once had this conversation with a police officer:

      “Ma’am, do you know you are running in a designated bike lane.”
      “Yes, officer.”
      “Why are you running in the bike lane?”
      “Because the cyclists are driving on the side walk and the bike lane is empty.”

      At the time I thought I was being glib while venting my frustration at the police who seem to do nothing about getting cyclists off the sidewalk (which is another whole topic, in my opinion).

      I have run in a bike lane if it’s garbage night and the sidewalks are blocked with garbage cans or I’m dodging raccoons (who are knocking over said garbage cans). On those nights, I might run in the bike lane facing traffic and I get back on the sidewalk if a cyclist is approaching.

      After reading the comments posted here though, I’ve realized how incredibly stupid and dangerous it is to venture into the bike lane and I won’t be doing it as frequently as I used to.

  • Becky C

    I’ve used bike lanes before. But in my defense, my neighborhood barely has any sidewalks, so when I see the bike lane and there’s no sidewalk then I’ll use it. If there’s a sidewalk though, I’ll use it. I also live in Colorado Springs, so that probably changes things because our system is not nearly as nice as Philly’s.

    • http://bikeNewportBeach.org David Huntsman

      I understand why you are running in a bike lane but, at the same time, it’s like running on a freeway. You are not allowed to be there and you are creating a hazard that the valid users of the lane don’t expect.

  • Rene

    I’m a runner and cyclist, and I only and always run in the bike lane (with the exception of when a big bike pack passes me — then I go over to the grass or cross to the other side of the road and run with traffic in the bike lane until they pass). Sidewalks are fine for walking, but horrible for running. As a cyclist, I have no problem with runners in the bike lane so long as they are single-file. If everyone shares, there is plenty of room for both to pass safely within the bike lane. It’s only when the runner or cyclist are rude or hog the lane that there are problems.

    • http://www.ironzoom.com Greg

      Well said Rene!

  • http://addicttorunner.blogspot.com Katie

    I am a biker and a runner and I will agree with how much of a PAIN IN THE KNEES it is to run on a sidewalk. Between the up and down off of curbs, the constant fear of being hit by cars coming out of side streets and the constant lean in one direction, I have given up running on sidewalks most of the time. I live in a city where, while we have bike lane signs and the markings on the road, these lanes are combined with the actual car lane, so running on the bike lane is not an option.

  • Perri

    I run AGAINST traffic in bike lanes often. But I live in Phoenix and run in areas and at times that are not flooded with bikers. If there were lots of bikers where I run, I wouldn’t run in the bike lanes. And I ALWAYS keep an eye out for bikers and yield to them even if it means I have to stop running completely and jump in rocks/cactus. I get so angry when I see other runners running with traffic in bike lanes. They give other runners a bad rap. I prefer bike lanes mostly because the asphalt is softer than the concrete sidewalks and in many places around here, there aren’t even sidewalks to run on!

  • http://www.ironzoom.com Greg

    I am an avid cyclist and runner through Boston, and typically do the majority of my running in bike lines going into traffic. The sidewalks are jam packed with strollers, dogs, and too many pedestrians to count…it does not make for an effective workout, let alone a good training run.

    I feel that the lanes are more “pedestrian” lanes…or that is how I justify the usage. However, that being said I do keep to the inner most part of the lane (closest to the sidewalk), and always yield to oncoming bikers.

  • http://drawonthewalls.tumblr.com Bianca

    I’m an all-the-time runner and a sometimes cyclist, and running in the bike lane sounds like an AWFUL idea. I’ve jumped out into the bikelane as a runner to get around baby carriages and avoiding *bicycles toward at me on the sidewalk* (do not even start me), but I’ve always looked carefully and it’s far from a habit. I think pedestrians should be on the sidewalk whenever it is available, bikes should be in the bicycle lane, and cars should be in the car lane. Radical concept, right?

  • Karen

    I don’t know but I live in Orlando Fl. Originally from Wilkes-Barre,Pa. We have tons of people working out down here and I do triathlons. We are running and biking in the bike lanes. There’s never a problem! Besides it’s hard to run with a tempo pace or pass people on a sidewalk. It’s all about sharing the road! Try it!

  • Carolyn

    I run in bike lanes, against traffic, no headphones. I ride in bike lanes, with traffic, no headphones. When running and approaching a cyclist, I hop the curb into the dirt or sidewalk. When cycling and approaching a pedestrian who isn’t moving, I slow and merge into traffic. I hear the same bickering on trails. We all must share this space. Get over it! Be courteous, be safe!!

  • Bee

    Sometimes the sidewalks are so congested that a runner has little choice but to step out into the street, bike lane or not. Just try running in parts of Old City in the spring, after work. Tourists and other pedestrians, outdoor restaurant seating, and construction are common obstacles. I have run in the bike lane against traffic, yielding to cyclists and looking out for vehicular traffic. I have run in the street where there is no bike lane, because because uneven sidewalks are hazardous. I also tend to use the bike lane down the shore, but mostly in the off-season.

    I respect that the bike lane is for bikes, and when I’m biking I expect the bike lane to be passable and safe. However, I admit that I take the liberty of running in it when it’s available and safe to do so.

    To be honest, I prefer to get up at the crack of dawn and get my run in before all these obstacles are in my way. Most of the time when I’m running in the street, nobody is around to notice anyway.

  • Cathy

    I run in the bike lane all the time when it is safe. I always run against traffic and move aside if a bike is approaching. Sidewalks are for walkers and the concrete is brutal on your knees

  • Kris

    I’m a runner. I have begun to cycle some though in an attempt to move toward tri’s. I’ll admit running in a bike lane would be awesome at times, but we also have a lot of cyclist here in Athens, GA. I can only imagine what that collision would feel like. However, I would agree that we should all be aware of our surroundings, and share the space that’s provided to us.

  • Kris

    I’ll admit running in a bike lane would be awesome at times, but we also have a lot of cyclist here in Athens, GA. I can only imagine what that collision would feel like. However, I would agree that we should all be aware of our surroundings, and share the space that’s provided to us.

  • http://www.milescovered.com Carrie

    Thanks for sharing our link! You already know how I feel about this issue. I realize bike lanes are easier on joints for runners, but I simply believe the safety issue (for runners AND bikers) outweighs the benefits. Someone made an interesting point that on roads where sidewalks are provided, that walking in the road anywhere but crosswalks is considered jaywalking. Interesting….

    • Ben Derrick

      There are several reason for us runners to use the bike lane verses the sidwalk. Always run facing the traffic because its safer, you avoid all the walkers and stroller on the sidewalk and the blacktop pavement is a better surface for jogging than the concrete sidwalk. Blacktop is a stable surface but does have some give whereas concrete is an extremely hard surface which causes leg and foot problems. By the way, when a biker is coming toward me personally I always cheat out into the road allowing the biker to have the bike lane because I can see the oncoming traffic and the biker cannot. Just try to be both courteous and safe.

  • Dave

    It baffles me that you say people run on sidewalks. I live and run in NW Chicago suburbs and we all run into traffic. I would never think of running in the bike lane.

  • Scott

    Bike Lane or Sidewalk? Moot point for this Central Texas runner- we have neither!

  • Michael

    I am a runner and not a biker. When I lived in Philly I never ran in bike lanes in Center City. But I now live in DC, though not in the busiest part of downtown, and I do run in a bike lane during part of one of my standard runs. I do this because 1) the sidewalk there is very uneven, 2) I run there 2-3 times each week and have only seen a biker in that bike lane maybe 2-3 times ever, 3) I run only against bike and car traffic and, since there are no sharp turns, I can see bikers coming from some distance and jump onto the sidewalk, and 4) I’m not stupid enough to wear headphones while running in a city. It seems possible to meet those conditions in some areas of Philly as well.

  • Grace

    I run in the bike lane every morning, I am minimalist runner and the concrete sidewalks are tough on the feet. That being said, I run against the flow of traffic and ALWAYS step back up on the sidewalk when cars are passing me.

  • Rachel

    I am an avid cyclist and part time runner, and find NOTHING more dangerous than pedestrians in the bike lane. As a cyclist, I am generally moving at the speed of traffic, but require a longer stopping distance than motor vehicles – something people consistently fail to realize. It is sometimes difficult enough to maneuver while watching out for the motor vehicles who don’t respect the bike lane (and having ridden on them since their inception, I can say this remains a problem), without having to worry about pedestrians who may or may not be facing me, and may or may not be able to hear my approach. Foot traffic on the sidewalk, pedal powered in the bike lane, motor vehicles in the traffic lane. The good city of Philadelphia has installed these devices for the safety of us all – let’s respect them.

  • Michelle

    I run in the bike lane. I run in the bike lane because the sidewalks (especially pine st) are so uneven they are not safe. I fell and ripped open my knee and had to walk 2 miles home. After that experience I run in the bike lane because at least the road is even. On the sidewalk I am guarenteed to fall. Fix the sidewalk and I will run on the sidewalk. I also bike in the bike lane which I agree is awesome.

  • Donna

    Keep cyclists and runners/peds separate. I was a runner before I started cycling and often ran in the bike lane against the flow of traffic. I could see approaching cyclists, and stepped between parked cars so I was out of their way and they could get by. But that wasn’t good enough for one cyclist, who actually stopped and chewed me out about the safety hazard I caused. I was miffed–Why couldn’t he just SHARE? After all, it was 5am and the streets were clear of traffic–but I kept up my bad habit with no other incidents.

    When I started bicycle commuting and training for century rides, I had several unpleasant incidents with runners in the lane. I remembered the mini-tirade and realized he was right.

    Now, if I ever see runners in the bike lane, I warn them to move and thumb them toward the traffic lane if it looks like they expect me to move. I’ve been grazed by trucks, buses, and cars because of runners who don’t understand that their presence in the lane is a risk factor against my safety. If they’re heading toward me, I stay in a true line and they can go around me into the traffic lane. I’ll do the same for cyclists going the wrong way in the lane, too.

    I’m not surprised any more when a runner, instead of getting out of the way, tries to squeeze between me and the parked cars. I’ll stop to briefly explain my POV, but I don’t get mad about it.

    BTW–I still run, but have taken to the sidewalks since I started life in the saddle.

  • http://bikeNewportBeach.org David Huntsman

    I take it from a lot of comments here that many runners (and cyclists!) are not aware of what a “bike lane” is. It sounds like many people think it is where cyclists are supposed to ride, but that it is not exclusive to cyclists. In fact, a bike lane is exclusive to cyclists. It is not a shared “recreational lane. Runners are not, in fact, allowed to run in lanes. They are relegated – like other pedestrians – to the shoulder (which is not actually part of the road). Confusing enough? Confounding all of this is that cyclists are allowed to ride on the shoulder, but may also ride on the road (in a lane). So, runners, please don’t run in bike lanes! Cyclists do not anticipate you being there any more than a motorist expects you to be in the middle of the road.

  • Lin

    I don’t see any problem with runners in the bike lane provided they are running against traffic, just as they would on a road without a bike lane. In fact, choosing a bike-laned road over another road to me is safer because it should be wider.

    As a biker and runner, I respect vehicles and other pedestrians. Personally I hate running on the sidewalk: the curb cuts and other obstacles makes it feel like a cross country or slalom course. I take umbrage also with the worn out “bikers don’t obey the rules” barrage. Ok, bikers don’t obey the rules some of the time. Same with cars. I would say the proportions are equal.

    Maybe I am worn out, but at this point in my life I assume (when biking) that something will get in the way of the bike lane (it’s very tempting to park there). As long as runners are being responsible while facing me we can make it work. I know to get out of the way if I am running down the street, with or without a bike lane. Really, whether it has a fat white line and a picture of bike is irrelevant.

    • http://bikeNewportBeach.org David Huntsman

      That’s terribly short-sighted and irresponsible of you.

  • Angelica

    I prefer to run on the street against traffic with or without a bike lane, whenever safely possible – especially since most times i have a stroller and dog with me and the sidewalk is too darn narrow or busy. If I have to use a bike lane I always try to move out of the way of cyclists. We all need to be safe and share!

  • Slick Rick

    It is NOT illegal to run in the bike lane, period. And I would argue as long as you defer to bikers, hopping on and off the sidewalk to make room for them, then everything will be ok. The bigger problem? BIKERS ON THE SIDEWALK. As a runner, I have had several close calls with bikers FLYING through red lights, right hands turns on red, and on the sidewalk at high speeds. They don’t seem to care or be able to stop. Where as I can stop in the nick of time. So give you kneejerk holy-biker response time to settle. Your assertion would then imply that bikes belong nowhere on the River Banks path, which is for walkers, runners, kids, dogs, etc. Or are you know claiming that trail too? Along the River Banks the cyclists are OBNOXIOUS, travel at high speeds and act like they own the road. I have seen a few dog owners in the wrong, and kids, but not runners. As well, if the cyclists are so happy about their bike lanes…then why do they continue to use streets 1-2 blocks north / south and continue to clog traffic, disobey laws, and dart on and off the sidewalk? There is no way runners are going to give up the bike lane. The sidewalks are horrible in this city. But, all runners should respect and defer to bikers, run in the OPPOSTIE direction, and wear reflectors or lights. I think the last fatality in this city was from a BIKER running into a PEDESTRIAN on the SIDEWALK, so why don’t you start there?

  • Slick Rick

    And let me qualify…car drivers the worst.

  • Jim

    According to PA Title 75 Chapter 35 Section 3544:

    Pedestrians walking along or on highway.

    (a) Mandatory use of available sidewalk.—Where a sidewalk is provided and its use is practicable, it is unlawful for any pedestrian to walk along and upon an adjacent roadway.

    (b) Absence of sidewalk.—Where a sidewalk is not available, any pedestrian walking along and upon a highway shall walk only on a shoulder as far as practicable from the edge of the roadway.

    (c) Absence of sidewalk and shoulder.—Where neither a sidewalk nor a shoulder is available, any pedestrian walking along and upon a highway shall walk as near as practicable to an outside edge of the roadway and, if on a two-way roadway, shall walk only on the left side of the roadway.

    (d) Right-of-way to vehicles.—Except as otherwise provided in this subchapter, any pedestrian upon a roadway shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway.

    Can anyone find any laws that make exceptions?

  • Pie-Man

    Well, a simple solution would be for the runner to run against traffic as pedestrian rules dictate. This is obviously an attempt by a bike-centric person to avoid sharing the lane.

  • Nancy

    I was riding on a bike lane with a sidewalk next to it divided by a curb. There was a man walking and I thought when he saw me he would get onto the sidewalk. He didn’t and I was forced onto the road with cars behind me. I was wondering who had the right of way when there is an available sidewalk right next to the bike lane? I looked up to see if there was any laws and came across your post. I also can’t believe this man told me to watch where I was going. He was an older man and I am a young girl. Come on!

  • Tiffani

    I know I am extremely late on this one, but I started running seriously about a year ago. I started out running around lakes, with dedicated walk/run/bike lanes, and moved onto the Baltimore city streets…..I get so frustrated when I run on the sidewalk because people see you coming towards them, but REFUSE to move over a little so I can get by. I am tempted sometime to just bump them!!! Every day that I run I have to jump in the street or tight-rope the curb because a group of people are just standing on the sidewalk talking. They see me and keep talking!!! All I ask is for some common courtesy, I give it everywhere I go, and if I see someone with a dog or running, I move over…it’s not that hard!!! #frustrated

  • Nikki

    Where I live runners and walkers are prohibited from using the roadway for walking or running and should walk/run on the sidewalk when one is provided or as close to the curb as possible. Therefore, running in the bike lane, whether with or against traffic is against the law. It is also very dangerous to do so.

    • Nikki

      I’m also pretty sure that this is the law in most states as traffic laws are pretty much universal.

  • Ricky

    What’s wrong with the bloody yahoo. been looking for dirt bike games like on http://www.xdirtbike.com/ and this is where I ended up haha