Rules for Cyclists

Note: Consult with an attorney if you have questions regarding your rights as a cyclist.

Johnson County is a great community to ride bicycles. As a bicycle rider, or an automobile driver, please be a courteous road user. Below you will find regulations on what is allowed and what is not.

Lamps on bicycles - Iowa Code Section 321.397

Every bicycle shall be equipped with a lamp on the front exhibiting a white light, at the times specified in section 321.384, visible from a distance of at least three hundred feet to the front and with a lamp on the rear exhibiting a red light visible from a distance of three hundred feet to the rear; except that a red reflector may be used in lieu of a rear light. A peace officer riding a police bicycle is not required to use either front or rear lamps if duty so requires.

Local Rules

The following regulations for Iowa City, Coralville, and University Heights are current as of August 26, 2010 and are provided here for informal review. For current regulations, visit the municipality’s website.

Iowa City - City Code 9-8-1

  1. Observation of Traffic Rules:
    1. All persons riding bicycles upon any street or sidewalk within the City shall obey all traffic ordinances and rules as to traffic lights and highway and street stop signs and shall be required to signal any change of direction or course of travel in the same manner as such signals are required under the law governing the use of motor vehicles and shall not turn to the right or left in traffic except at regular intersections of streets, alleys or driveways.
    2. All persons riding bicycles upon any street, sidewalk or bike lane within the City shall observe all ordinances and rules as to traffic limits and shall make full and complete stops at official stop signs.
    3. In addition, all persons riding bicycles shall be subject to the provisions of ordinances applicable to the driver of a motor vehicle, except as to those provisions which, by their very nature, can have no application.
  2. Method of Riding:
    1. A bicycle rider shall not ride other than astride a permanent and regular bicycle seat.
    2. No rider of a bicycle intended for one person shall carry a second person on any part of the bicycle, except infants may be carried when a suitable and proper seat is provided.
    3. No person riding a bicycle shall carry any package, bundle or article which would prevent the rider from keeping both hands on the handlebars.
  3. Riding On Roadways: Persons riding bicycles on the roadway shall ride single file, and every person riding a bicycle on the roadway shall ride as near to the right-hand side of the roadway as practicable, except for turning movements or where bike lanes so designate.
  4. Careful Riding: No person shall ride or propel a bicycle upon any sidewalk or roadway except in a prudent and careful manner.
  5. Riding on Sidewalk:1. No person shall ride a bicycle upon a sidewalk in the Central Downtown Business District. The Central Downtown Business District is the area bounded by and including Capitol Street to the west, Burlington Street to the south, Gilbert Street to the east, and Jefferson Street to the north. 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.
  6. Riding On Bikeways: No person shall ride or operate a bicycle within a bicycle lane or path in any direction except that permitted by vehicular traffic traveling on the same side of the roadway, provided bicycles may proceed either way along a lane or path where arrows or signs designate two-way bicycle traffic.

City of Coralville

62.03    CLINGING TO VEHICLE. No person shall drive a motor vehicle on the streets of the City unless all passengers of said vehicle are inside the vehicle in the place intended for their accommodation.  No person riding upon any bicycle, coaster, roller skates, in-line skates, sled or toy vehicle shall attach the same or himself or herself to any vehicle upon a roadway.

76.01    SCOPE OF REGULATIONS. These regulations shall apply whenever a bicycle is operated upon any street or upon any public path set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles, subject to those exceptions stated herein. (Code of Iowa, Sec. 321.236 [10])

76.02    TRAFFIC CODE APPLIES. Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by the laws of the State declaring rules of the road applicable to vehicles or by the traffic code of the City applicable to the driver of a vehicle, except as to those provisions which by their nature can have no application.  Whenever such person dismounts from a bicycle the person shall be subject to all regulations applicable to pedestrians. (Code of Iowa, Sec. 321.234)

76.03    DOUBLE RIDING RESTRICTED. A person propelling a bicycle shall not ride other than astride a permanent and regular seat attached thereto.  No bicycle shall be used to carry more persons at one time than the number for which it is designed and equipped. (Code of Iowa, Sec. 321.234 [3 and 4])

76.04    TWO ABREAST LIMIT. Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two (2) abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.  All bicycles ridden on the roadway shall be kept to the right and shall be operated as near as practicable to the right-hand edge of the roadway. (Code of Iowa, Sec. 321.236 [10])

76.05    BICYCLE PATHS. 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. (Code of Iowa, Sec. 321.236 [10])

76.06    SPEED. No person shall operate a bicycle at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions then existing. (Code of Iowa, Sec. 321.236 [10])

76.07    EMERGING FROM ALLEY OR DRIVEWAY. The operator of a bicycle emerging from an alley, driveway or building shall, upon approaching a sidewalk or the sidewalk area extending across any alleyway, 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 approaching on said roadway. (Code of Iowa, Sec. 321.236 [10])

76.08    CARRYING ARTICLES. 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. (Code of Iowa, Sec. 321.236 [10])

76.09    RIDING ON SIDEWALKS. The following shall apply to riding bicycles on sidewalks:

1.     Business District.  No person shall ride a bicycle upon a sidewalk within the Business District, as defined in Section 60.02(1) of this Code of Ordinances. (Code of Iowa, Sec. 321.236 [10])

2.     Other Locations.  When signs are erected on any sidewalk or roadway prohibiting the riding of bicycles thereon by any person, no person shall disobey the signs. (Code of Iowa, Sec. 321.236 [10])

3.     Yield Right-of-way.  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. (Code of Iowa, Sec. 321.236 [10])

76.10    TOWING. It is unlawful for any person riding a bicycle to be towed or to tow any other vehicle upon the streets of the City unless the vehicle is manufactured for such use.

76.11    IMPROPER RIDING. No person shall ride a bicycle in an irregular or reckless manner such as zigzagging, stunting, speeding or otherwise so as to disregard the safety of the operator or others.

76.12    PARKING. No person shall park a bicycle upon a street other than upon the roadway against the curb or upon the sidewalk in a rack to support the bicycle or against a building or at the curb, in such a manner as to afford the least obstruction to pedestrian traffic. (Code of Iowa, Sec. 321.236 [10])

76.13    EQUIPMENT REQUIREMENTS. Every person riding a bicycle shall be responsible for providing and using equipment as provided herein:

1.     Lamps Required.  Every bicycle when in use at nighttime shall be equipped with a lamp on the front which shall emit a white light visible from a distance of at least three hundred (300) feet to the front and with a lamp on the rear exhibiting a red light visible from a distance of three hundred (300) feet to the rear except that a red reflector on the rear, of a type which shall be visible from all distances from fifty (50) feet to three hundred (300) feet to the rear when directly in front of lawful upper beams of headlamps on a motor vehicle, may be used in lieu of a rear light. (Code of Iowa, Sec. 321.397)

2.     Brakes Required.  Every bicycle shall be equipped with a brake which will enable the operator to make the braked wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement. (Code of Iowa, Sec. 321.236 [10])

76.14    SPECIAL PENALTY. Any person violating the provisions of this chapter may, in lieu of the scheduled fine for bicyclists or standard penalty provided for violations of the Code of Ordinances, allow the person’s bicycle to be impounded by the City for not less than five (5) days for the first offense, ten (10) days for a second offense and thirty (30) days for a third offense.

City of University Heights

Section 8 – BICYCLES.

1. Operation of Bicycles.

A. Observation of Traffic Rules:

1. All persons riding bicycles upon any street or sidewalk within the City shall obey all traffic ordinances and rules as to traffic lights and highway and street stop signs and shall be required to signal any change of direction or course of travel in the same manner as such signals are required under the law governing the use of motor vehicles and shall not turn to the right or left in traffic except at regular intersections of streets, alleys or driveways.

2. All persons riding bicycles upon any street, sidewalk or bike lane within the City shall observe all ordinances and rules as to traffic limits and shall make full and complete stops at official stop signs.

3. In addition, all persons riding bicycles shall be subject to the provisions of ordinances applicable to the driver of a motor vehicle, except as to those provisions which, by their very nature, can have no application.

B. Method of Riding:

1. A bicycle rider shall not ride other than astride a permanent and regular bicycle seat.

2. No rider of a bicycle intended for one person shall carry a second person on any part of the bicycle, except infants may be carried when a suitable and proper seat is provided.

3. No person riding a bicycle shall carry any package, bundle or article which would prevent the rider from keeping both hands on the handlebars.

C. Riding on Roadways: Persons riding bicycles on the roadway shall ride single file, and every person riding a bicycle on the roadway shall ride as near to the right-hand side of the roadway as practicable, except for turning movements or where bike lanes so designate.

D. Careful Riding: No person shall ride or propel a bicycle upon any sidewalk or roadway except in a prudent and careful manner.

E. Riding on Sidewalk:

1. The Traffic Engineer is authorized to erect signs on any sidewalk or roadway prohibiting the riding of bicycles thereon. No person shall drive or ride a bicycle in violation of any signs thus erected.

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.

F. Riding on Bikeways: No person shall ride or operate a bicycle within a bicycle lane or path in any direction except that permitted by vehicular traffic traveling on the same side of the roadway, provided bicycles may proceed either way along a lane or path where arrows or signs designate two-way bicycle traffic.

2. Lights and Reflectors Required.

A. Reflectors Required: All bicycles shall be equipped with reflective surfaces visible at three hundred feet (300′) from the rear when viewed in front of lawful lower beams of head lamps on a motor vehicle. Reflective materials may be mounted on each side of each pedal.

B. Headlights Required at Night: All bicycles used during the hours from sunset to sunrise shall display or their drivers shall wear a lamp on the front part of the bicycle, and the lamp shall emit a white light visible from a distance of at least five hundred feet (500′) from the front of the bicycle.

3. Vehicles in Bicycle Lanes and Bicycle Parking Areas.

A. No person shall drive or park a motor vehicle in a designated bicycle path or lane.

B. The Traffic Engineer is hereby authorized to erect signs permitting motor vehicles to be parked in a designated bicycle lane or bicycle path during specific times and days. When such signs are present, motor vehicle parking shall be permitted only during those times specifically stated on the signs.

4. Parking Violations.

A. Impoundment of Bicycles:

1. On finding a bicycle unattended at a place where the bicycle constitutes an obstruction to vehicle or pedestrian traffic or constitutes an imminent threat to the health, safety or welfare of the public or is in violation of an existing parking ordinance, the Police Department or any officer, agent or employee of the City so designated may remove or cause the removal of such bicycle to a place designated by the Chief of Police for the storage of impounded bicycles.

2. Upon impoundment of such bicycle, the City shall notify the last known owner of such impoundment by first class mail. At the time of impoundments, the City may cause to be filed a citation pursuant to State law upon the owner or driver of such bicycle at the time of impoundment. The owner or driver may reclaim such bicycle upon presentation of proof of ownership or by a notarized declaration of ownership and by accepting such citation and signing a promise to appear and payment of any accrued fees and charges. Such fees and charges shall be set by resolution.

3. If impoundment requires the destruction of a chain, padlock or other security device, agents or employees designated to enforce the parking ordinances of the City or any peace officer are hereby authorized to destroy such security devices.

B. Owner Prima Facie Responsible for Parking Violations:

1. If any bicycle is found stopped, standing or parked in any manner in violation of this Ordinance and the identity of the driver cannot be determined, the owner shall be held prima facie responsible for such violation.

2. In the event the City is unable to ascertain the owner, or the owner does not claim the bicycle within three (3) calendar months from the date of impoundment, the City shall cause such bicycle to be sold at a public auction. Notice of such disposition shall be published pursuant to State law governing abandoned vehicles.

3 Responses to Rules for Cyclists

  1. M. Vance says:

    Can auto drivers make comments on this site about careless and dangerous bike riders. We seem to be blamed for most of the accidents because cars are larger. Some of you don’t realize the danger you poise for yourselves with no signals for turning, stopping at the proper times, zig zag riding up hills, having babies behind the bikes on the most inappropriate roads, not properly making yourselves and the bikes visable, talking to each other and not paying attention. When I was a youngster we had to register and license our bikes and take a bike safety course, this was in Pennsylvania.

    • CodyG says:

      Thanks for your input, M. Vance. You are absolutely right that careless cyclists pose a risk to themselves and in some cases to others, but this does not remove the responsibility of the less vulnerable motorist. I won’t bother to pull up statistics about the strong relationship between fatal accidents and motor vehicles — this information is readily available with a quick internet search.

      I would argue that many cyclists are vividly aware of the danger of riding in traffic with motor vehicles. That is precisely why we want to educate all users of our roadways regarding proper behavior and safety.

      Thanks again for joining our ongoing conversation about safe cycling in this area.

  2. LB says:

    So while the rules above are interesting to read, I was wondering if you could provide any information about what each city declares as a bicycle and as a motor vehicle. For instance, since motor vehicles are not allowed to operate inside a cross walk, is a bicycle allowed to or is one required to get off they bikes and walk in the cross walk? How is this law interpreted by each city and can you educate all of us on the rules that can be interpreted for bicycles although they are meant for “motor” vehicles?

    Also, some definition of “suitable path” in Code of Iowa, Sec. 321.236 [10] would be helpful. If these paths are not “exclusively” set aside for bicycles and instead are duel pedistrian/bicycle paths, is one still required to use them?

    Thanks. Any help on understanding these rules would really be helpful.

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