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Rules of the Road

Tennessee's Three Foot Rule (the Jeff Roth and Brian Brown Bicycle Protection Act of 2007) designates a safe passing zone of three feet for motor vehicles when overtaking a bicycle on the roadway and classifies a violation as a Class C misdemeanor. Find out more at tennessee3feet.org

In addition to Tennessee's laws pertaining to cyclists and motorists while sharing the road with cyclists, Nashville has adopted laws to guide cyclists in their rights and responsibilities while riding. Download a copy of Nashville's Cycling Laws

There are new signs on Nashville's city streets and rural roads that aim to increase safety for everyone. Become familiar with them and help Nashville Move in Harmony.

Bike LaneBike lanes are designated sections of streets for bike use only. Cars and pedestrians are prohibited from using the lane, unless crossing to access parking or a drive. Watch for cars turning right, and on-coming traffic turning left.

Bike RouteBike Routes are streets for bicycle use by sharing the road with motor vehicles. Bicycle riders should stay as far to the right of the right lane as is safe. Riders may take the whole lane if needed, and use left lanes to turn onto adjacent streets.

SharrowSharrows are pavement markings installed on streets popular with bicyclists but too narrow for conventional bike lanes. They serve as a reminder that motorists and cyclists will be sharing the lane.

Music City BikewayThe Music City Bikeway (MCB) is a continuous bicycle route of greenway trails, bike lanes, park roads, and shared roads to create connections between parks, neighborhood areas and downtown Nashville. The entire route measures approximately 26 miles, and is designated by Music City Bikeway signs to direct users.

Tips for cyclists

1. Don't weave

Bicycle in a straight line. Do not weave in and out of traffic/parking lanes/sidewalks.

Ride Straight

2. Ride with traffic

Always ride in the same direction as other traffic - including on one-way streets. Some people believe that bicyclists are like pedestrians and should travel facing motor vehicle traffic. This is illegal and has been shown to dramatically increase the risk of a collision because:

  • Drivers don't expect you to be there and won't be looking for you
  • Bicyclists traveling in the proper direction will have difficulty avoiding a collision with you.
  • It forces you into oncoming traffic if you need to swerve
  • You can't see road signs
  • You can't make proper turns
  • The "closing speed" (velocity at impact) between you and another road user makes a collision more dangerous

Always ride in the same direction as traffic.

Ride With Traffic

3. Ride as far to the right as practicable

Tennessee law requires bicyclists to ride "as close as practicable" to the right of the road. "Practicable" generally means safe and reasonable; it does not mean hugging the curb. You should ride to the right far enough from the shoulder to be able to maneuver around debris or hazardous objects you come upon without having to swerve into traffic.

A major exception to the principle of riding on the right occurs on one-way streets with two or more lanes. In such cases, one should ride as far to the right or left as practicable.

Ride to the right, but stay about 3 feet from the curb and parked cars.

Keep 3 Feet

4. Take care when Passing

You are required by Tennessee law to exercise due care when passing parked cars. You must give parked or stopped buses at least three feet of space.

When passing moving vehicles, you must pass on the left and allow a safe distance between yourself and the other vehicle. If the moving vehicle you are passing happens to be a bicycle, it's always polite to give a friendly audible warning, such as a bell ring or a "Hello - passing on your left."

Avoid the door zone when riding next to parked cars.

Passing Parked Cars

5. Know when to 'take the lane'

According to the Tennessee Department of Transportation, you should 'take the lane' if you are traveling at or close to the speed of motor vehicle traffic.

You should also take the lane if it is too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to travel safely side by side (with three feet of clearance). You should ride in the center of the lane. If you are concerned that this will impede motor vehicle traffic, you can pull off the road (if it is safe to do so) to allow motor vehicles to pass, but do not hug the curb. This could tempt motorists to pass without giving you adequate clearance.

In some instances, you may be legally required to pull off the road to allow a motor vehicle to pass, but never when pulling off would be unsafe.

Bicycles are allowed full use of a lane when it is too narrow to be shared.

Narrow Lane

Illustrations © 2012 Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin