ITHACA, N.Y. — With the return of nice weather and Ithaca’s new bike share program, more people than ever are taking to the streets on bicycle.

There are a lot of benefits to bicycling. It’s a good way to add some exercise to your day, and it’s also an eco-friendly alternative to driving. And while Ithaca’s hills may be daunting, bikes can easily be attached to TCAT buses. With the roll out of Ithaca’s bike share program last month that added 200 dockless bicycles from LimeBike to city streets, bicycling has become more accessible to local residents.

In less than a month, there have been more than 8,000 rides on the new LimeBikes.

New York’s vehicle and traffic laws do apply to people riding bicycles, and people who violate the law are subject to tickets. For people who may be new to bicycling or need a refresher on rules on the rules, we decided to take a look at state and local law to put together this quick guide.

Related: New bike share program officially hits Ithaca streets

1 — Are you allowed in the road?

People on bicycles have the legal right to be in the road, except for interstate highways and some expressways.

If there is a bicycle lane, riders should use it, but if there is no bike lane or it is unusable, bicyclists should ride on the right shoulder or close to the curb “in a manner to avoid undue interference with other traffic.” However if the lane is too narrow, if you are turning left, or if there are hazards in your path like debris, potholes and parked cars, riders can move further to the left.

People on bicycles should travel in the same direction as traffic “in such a manner as to prevent undue interference with the flow of traffic except when preparing for a left turn or when reasonably necessary to avoid conditions that would make it unsafe to continue along near the right-hand curb or edge.”

Just as bicyclists need to obey the rules of the road and try not to interfere with traffic, motorists need to share the road. The New York State Department of Transportation says drivers should be courteous and allow three feet of clearance when passing bicyclists. Drivers should also be careful when opening car doors and pulling out from parking spaces.

2 — Do you have to wear a helmet? 

It depends how old you are. While it’s a good idea for people of all ages to wear helmets, only bicyclists under the age of 14 are required to wear safety-certified bicycle helmets when operating or riding a bicycle.

3 — Can kids and babies ride in bicycle baskets?

Some baskets may be perfectly baby size, but they are definitely not safe. Children under the age of 1 are not allowed to be transported on bicycles, per New York State law, and children between the ages of 1 and 4 must wear certified bike helmets and ride in specially designed child safety seats.

4 — What equipment does your bike need to have?

  • Lights — Every bicycle when in use a half hour after sunset to half an hour before sunrise must have headlights and tail lights. A white light in the front must be visible from at least 500 feet in the front, and in the back, the bike must have a red light visible at least 300 feet.
  • Bell — Bicycles are supposed to be equipped with a bell or other device that can be heard 100 feet away.
  • Brakes — Bicycles legally have to have brakes capable of making the tires skid on dry, level pavement.
  • Reflectors — Wheels must have reflectors. While not required, it’s also a good idea for bicyclists to wear reflective clothing and gear increase visibility.

5 — Can you listen to music while riding your bike?

It depends. People operating a bike or any sort of vehicle can only wear one earphone attached to an audio device.

6 — Do bicyclists have to obey traffic lights and signs?

Yes. Bicyclists have to obey the same signs and rules as motorists, and they also must signal when turning. The National Highway Safety and Traffic Administration has a useful guide on hand signals here if you need a refresher.

7 — Can bicyclists ride down the Ithaca Commons?

No. You must dismount and walk your bicycle through the Ithaca Commons. Riding bicycles, roller skates, skateboard and other wheeled devices is prohibited on the Commons. Further, people standing or sitting on a bicycle with one leg on either side of their bicycle is also prohibited.

8 — Can you ride on the sidewalk?

Riding bicycles on the sidewalk is actually not prohibited under New York State law, but local municipalities — like Ithaca — do have rules on it. According to city code, people over the age of 10 are not allowed to ride their bicycles on “any public sidewalk or footpath intended for the use of pedestrians.” People could face a fine of up to $250 for this violation, city code states.

The provision does not apply to children 10 years or under or anyone who, because of a disability, requires the use of a bicycle as a means of transportation or mobility.

9 — Do you have to register your bicycle in Ithaca?

It’s not required in the City of Ithaca, but residents can register their bikes with the Ithaca Police Department. To register, people can visit IPD Headquarters at 108 E. Green St., Ithaca. If you are a student, check with campus public safety for rules.

10 — Where can you find more information?

Here are some resources we used to make this article:

Do you have a question that’s not here? Email Kelsey O’Connor at to have it answered and added. 

Featured image: File photo of Streets Alive! by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.