This article was written by John Duggan and originally appeared in Cascade Courier in February 2009.
I have ridden more than 7,500 miles on the shoulder of I-90 and am often asked regarding the legalities of riding on Washington’s freeways. The short answer is that it is legal for cyclists to ride on the right shoulder of most of I-5, I-90, I-82 and various other freeways in Washington. For example, cyclists can ride on all but approximately 25 miles of I-90 between Seattle and the Idaho border.
RCW 46.61.160 provides in pertinent part as follows: “Bicycles may use the right shoulder of limited-access highways except where prohibited. The department of transportation may by order, and local authorities may by ordinance or resolution, with respect to any limited-access highway under their respective jurisdictions prohibit the use of the shoulders of any such highway by bicycles within urban areas or upon other sections of the highway where such use is deemed to be unsafe.”
While it is legal to ride on the right shoulder of most of I-90, I-82 and I-5, you will find that cycling is prohibited in and around most of the major cities such as on I-5 between Lakewood and Marysville and on I-90 between Seattle and Eastgate. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) publishes a free Washington Bicycle Map (available at most bicycle shops) and WSDOT also has a “Bicycling in Washington” link on its website (http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/bike/closed.htm) which outlines the sections of freeways that are closed to cyclists.
While these are good resources for planning your ride, keep in mind that the information is subject to change due to construction, weather, etc. There is also a slight conflict between the website and the current version of the Washington Bicycle Map. The map states that bicycles are prohibited on I-90 between Seattle and Eastgate whereas the website states that bicycles are prohibited between Seattle and Exit 17 in Issaquah. Regardless of what the map and website state, watch for signage. For example, if an on-ramp sign states something like “bicycles and pedestrians prohibited,” do not attempt to enter the highway at this point. While riding on the interstate, pay attention to signs that state “bicycles must exit.” For example, while riding north on I-5 between Mount Vernon and Burlington there is a sign like this at Exit 227 because there is a bridge with no shoulder. Cyclists must exit at Exit 227 and then get back on at milepost 229 in Burlington.
What are the pros and cons of riding on Washington’s freeways?
- 10-12ft smooth shoulder
- No left turning drivers
- Fastest, most direct route between cities
- Limited ingress/egress
- Fast moving motor vehicles, including lots of big rigs
- Noisy, especially around urban areas
- Extremely dangerous when crossing off-ramps/on-ramps
- Limited ingress-egress
As I have noted in previous articles, most bike vs. car incidents are caused by negligent left turning motor vehicle drivers. You will never encounter a left turning driver while riding on the shoulder of the freeway. However, keep in mind that crossing over off-ramps/on-ramps can be extremely dangerous. You may want to simply exit the freeway at the off-ramp and then re-enter the freeway at the next on-ramp.
While freeway riding may not be for everyone, it is legal in most parts of Washington. If you decide to give it a try, research your route carefully and be careful crossing exit off-ramps.