The citizen’s guide to Philadelphia bike laws

Katie Bohri Features, Issue 1 0 Comments

When it comes to the rules of the road, cyclists and drivers in Philadelphia may be surprised to learn that there are, well, actual rules to sharing the road. In fact, the Philadelphia Code has a chapter dedicated to bicycles and bike penalties. To answer your first question: Yes, according to the code, cyclists must stop for traffic lights and stop signs. But there’s more to it than that. Here, we parse the legalese and let you know your rights as a cyclist.


12-801.  Persons Riding Bicycles.

(1) Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway shall have all the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to an operator under the provisions of this Title and The Vehicle Code.

You’re a vehicle — like a car! — and have all the benefits of one (de jure, obviously). You also have all the responsibilities of an ordinary vehicle. That means no coasting through red lights or failing to signal for a turn.

12-802.  Obedience to Traffic-Control Devices.

(1) Whenever signs are erected indicating that no right or left turn is permitted, or that a turn in the opposite direction is permitted only between certain hours, no person operating a bicycle shall disobey the direction of any such signs except where such person dismounts from the bicycle to make such turn, in which event such person shall have the privileges and responsibilities of a pedestrian.

You have to follow road signs as if you’re a car. No ignoring these. Unlike a car, however, you can magically turn yourself into a pedestrian by walking your bike. Then you can laugh and laugh at whatever NO LEFT TURN signs you want.

12-803.  Riding on Bicycles.

(1) A person operating a bicycle shall not ride other than astride a permanent and regular seat attached thereto.

No friends on the handlebars (sorry, teens) or carrying your mom around on the pegs.

(2) No bicycle shall be used to carry more persons at one time than the number of seats permanently affixed to such bicycle.

One ass per seat, citizens.

12-804.  Riding on Roadways and Bicycle Paths. 14.2

(1) Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride other than single file except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.

No doubling up, riding two abreast, rolling in mobs, or doing anything other than staying in a line. Unless you’re in a bike path. Where this leaves group rides, I don’t know.

(2) Whenever a usable path for bicycles has been provided adjacent to a roadway bicycle riders shall use such path and shall not use the roadway.

If there’s a bike lane, use it. That’s what it’s there for. (Unless you need to make a turn.)

12-805.  Emerging From a Driveway or Building.

(1) The operator of a bicycle emerging from a driveway or building shall upon approaching a sidewalk or the sidewalk area extending across any alleyway or driveway, yield the right-of-way to all pedestrians approaching on said sidewalk or sidewalk area, and upon entering the roadway shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles and street cars approaching on said roadway.

Like a car or any not-jerk, yield to people — pedestrians, car traffic, children playing in the street — who are on the path you plan to enter.

12-806.  Carrying Articles.

(1) No person operating a bicycle shall carry any package, bundle, or article which prevents the rider from keeping at least one hand upon the handle bars.

Don’t bring home the whole case of beer. Just a six-pack. If you want to carry the whole case, get a basket, pannier or backpack — whatever you need to keep at least one hand on the handlebars.

12-807.  Parking.

(1) No person shall park a bicycle upon a street other than (a) against the curb, upon the sidewalk, or in an area on the street designated by the department for bicycle parking, in a rack to support the bicycle; or (b) against a building or at the curb, in such a manner as to afford the least obstruction to pedestrian traffic.

When you park your bike, don’t obstruct pedestrian or vehicular traffic. Use bike racks, if available. Keep your bike parallel to the curb so that your wheels don’t stick out into the middle of the street or sidewalk. It’s not in the code, but don’t lock your ride to a stranger’s bike.

(2) Any person violating this Section shall be liable for payment of fines, costs and additional fees prescribed and assessed in accordance with the provisions of Chapter 12-2800 of this Title.

Happy birthday: Bikes can get parking tickets, too. Although I don’t know how authorities would track down and fine you without any sort of license or registration on your bike. Anyway, Chapter 12-2800 says that the ticket for an illegally parked bicycle is $15.

12-808.  Riding on Sidewalks.

(1) No person shall ride a bicycle upon a sidewalk, except as follows: 

1. Children under the age of twelve may ride on the sidewalk, other than in a business district as defined in the Vehicle Code.

Kids can ride on the sidewalk. Kids. As in, probably not you. And even children can’t ride on the sidewalk in Center City.

2. Riding a bicycle on the sidewalk is permitted where appropriate signs are posted for shared pedestrian and bicycling use by the Department of Streets at locations determined by the Department by regulation. The Department shall not adopt any such regulation or post such signs without first receiving a recommendation from the Philadelphia City Planning Commission and considering factors such as pedestrian safety and comfort, bicycle rider safety, existing and expected density of use by pedestrians and bicyclists, motorist safety, traffic flow, and the free ingress and egress to and from surrounding buildings. A sidewalk designated pursuant to this subsection shall not be considered a path for purposes of Section 12-804(2), relating to Riding on Roadway.

There aren’t too many places like this — Columbus Boulevard right by Washington Avenue is one example — but if you find them, by all means, hop onto the concrete.

(2) Whenever any person is riding a bicycle upon a sidewalk, such person shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and shall give audible signal before overtaking and passing such pedestrian.

If you do find one of these near-mythical “bikes allowed on the sidewalk” zones, signal to pedestrians that you’re going to pass them, and don’t mow them down.

(3) In areas under the jurisdiction of the Fairmount Park Commission, riding bicycles on sidewalks and footpaths may be permitted when authorized by regulations of the commission.

The Fairmount Park Commission makes its own rules, buddy, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

(4) Notwithstanding the provisions of Section 12-811 of this Chapter, the penalty for violation of this Section shall be a fine of fifty dollars ($50), together with the costs of prosecution. The amount required to be remitted in response to a notice of violation, pursuant to Section 1-112, shall be twenty dollars ($20).

Of all the laws I looked into, this was by and far the murkiest. Despite asking attorneys, city officials and cycling activists, I couldn’t pinpoint a straight answer. John Boyle at the Bicycle Coalition said the penalty for riding a bike on the sidewalk would result in a total of $70 in fines, while Jim Engler, director of legislation for Councilmember Jim Kenney, said that the $50 fine comes into effect if you get a notice of violation and are found guilty before a judge. You’d only pay the $20 remittance fee if you get a notice and decide not to go to court. (It’s a settlement.) Still, other city officials I called didn’t even know what a “remittance fee” was.

12-809.  Warning Devices and Brakes on Bicycles.

(1) No person shall operate a bicycle unless it is equipped with a bell or other device capable of giving a signal audible for a distance of at least 100 feet, except that a bicycle shall not be equipped with nor shall any person use upon a bicycle any siren or whistle.

Did you know your bike is required to have a bell? Whoa.

(2) Every bicycle shall be equipped with a brake which will enable the operator to make the braked wheel skid on a dry, level, clean pavement.

Brakes. Have them. Seriously, they need to say this?

12-810.  Bicycle Regulations and Penalties.

(1) The parent of any child, the guardian of any ward or any person standing in loco parentis with respect to any child shall not authorize or knowingly permit such child or ward to violate any of the provisions of this Chapter.

Listen, kids are new around here. They don’t know the rules. If you’re an adult, you can’t tell kids that it’s OK to break a law.

12-811.  Penalty.

Any person violating any of the provisions of Chapter 12-800 shall, upon summary conviction before a Magistrate, pay a fine of seventy-five dollars ($75) together with costs of prosecution, except as otherwise provided by Section 12-807 or 75 Pa. C.S. § 6301.

Remember, we think riding on the sidewalk can cost you between $20 and $70. Traffic violations are treated the same as cars. Parking your bike illegally is $15. Breaking any of these other rules is, like, $75.

12-812.  Use of Audio Headphones.

(1) No person shall operate a bicycle on a street or highway while wearing headphones connected to an audio device.

You can’t listen to your music while riding a bike. Not legally, anyhow. You can strap a boom box to your handlebars to let everyone know just how much you like Aerosmith, though.

(2) Notwithstanding the provisions of Section 12-811 of this Chapter, the penalty for violation of this Section shall be a minimum fine of fifty dollars ($50) and no more than one hundred dollars ($100) for each violation, together with the costs of prosecution, or, in default thereof, imprisonment of not more than ten (10) days.

OK, let’s review: Riding on the sidewalk? Who knows, probably a $50 fine. Parking illegally is $15, breaking other laws in this section is $75, a traffic violation is a traffic violation because you’re like a car according to the law, and you can’t get charged more than $100 for a single violation. If you want, you can spend 10 days in jail instead. They don’t let you ride your bike in jail.

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