Bike Lane Debris – What’s a cyclist to do?

With #BikeMonth upon us, we are encouraging anyone and everyone to get out and give cycling a try as a fun, healthy, and sustainable mode of transportation. With all this extra bike traffic, more people may be encountering bike lanes or shoulders that are filled with gravel, glass, other garbage, etc. Note: Finding a car parked in a bike lane is a whole other issue, but no less frustrating.

In any case, we want to give you some things to consider when riding a bicycle on roads around Reno, Sparks, and Washoe County. The two main points we want to make are related to clarifying where a cyclist is legally allowed to ride and what a cyclist can do to help improve road surface conditions.

Question: “If there’s debris in the shoulder/ bike lane, can I ride around it?”

The Short Answer: Yes!

The Long Answer: NDOT has a great, easy to read document that outlines existing bike laws in Nevada (available as a PDF here). We encourage all local riders to review and become familiar with this document and the laws it describes. For now, we want to boil down the most direct answer to the question of “What part of a road can cyclists use?”.

With the exception of certain highway sections, cyclists have essentially as much right to Nevada roads as people driving cars. NRS 484B.777 directs cyclists to “ride as near to the right of the roadway as is practicable, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction.” However, there is no legal requirement for cyclists to use sidewalks, shoulders, or even bike lanes when they are available. So, if there is some sort of obstruction in a bike lane or shoulder, you are within your legal rights to travel in the vehicular travel lanes to avoid it.

That said, YOU, as a vulnerable road user, need to be an EXTREMELY defensive rider. You are responsible for making the best decisions for your own safety. Lights, reflectors, predictable riding, hand signals, etc. can all help reduce your likelihood of being hit by someone driving a car, but there’s never a guarantee. So, choose the routes you are most comfortable with, make eye contact with drivers, and don’t let your interest in convenience (e.g., not having to stop and wait to get safely around an obstacle) override your interest in making it home safely. We here at TMBA are interested in helping make as many people as possible feel comfortable choosing to get places on a bike. So, we will keep doing what we can (as modest as these efforts may be) to help educate drivers and to promote well informed policy and infrastructure.

Question: “If there’s debris in the shoulder/ bike lane, what can I do about it?”

The Short Answer: Report it!

The Long Answer: Believe it or not, our local jurisdictions (city, county, and state) do have programs to help ensure that our roadways do not become completely choked with garbage and debris. There are two major limitations on these organizations, though, that may make it appear as though they are ignoring your favorite travel route:

  1. Unfortunately, city, county, and state road maintenance agencies don’t have unlimited funding. So, their ability to maintain a monstrous fleet of street sweepers and the staff to operate them is also limited.
  2. The limitations mentioned above also apply to agencies’ ability to deploy an army of full time debris spotters.

These agencies have to do their best to prioritize their limited resources. They do this, generally, through a combination of regularly scheduled street sweeping schedules and directed responses to identified problems. This is where YOU (being the proactive, civically engaged local cyclist that you are) come in. By reporting problem area, you can accomplish two things:

  1. You’ll get your problem area added to the “to do” list of the appropriate agency. While we can’t guarantee you that said agency will be able to address your issue quickly, we’re optimistic that they will address it at some point.
  2. By showing these agencies that people are riding bikes and that we are concerned about bike lane and shoulder maintenance, we will provide pressure for these agencies to dedicate (or find) more funds or staff time to achieve a better overall road condition for us as users of the infrastructure.

Who should you be reporting to? Well, it depends on where you are and what road you’re on. Unfortunately, we don’t have the ability to provide you a specific answer for every single road segment. What we can do is share with you a few programs or contacts to get you going in the right direction. Even if you report an issue to the wrong organization, they should be able to tell you who the right organization is. Here’s the quick list (click the links to go to the reporting sites):

Happy and safe riding!