Bicycling Safely Through a Highway Construction Project

(Advice from a Highway Construction Engineer and Bicyclist)

Highway construction zones can be a challenge

highway construction site A lot of the time Construction Zones are not designed for bicycle passage even though they should. At a minimum, a construction project can slow you down but you really have to consider your personal safety as you maneuver your way through a tangle of large highway equipment, narrow lane widths, impatient drivers and poor riding surfaces. What do you do when you come across a construction project?
Here are some things to consider:

Check it out

Construction projects and delays are often advertised in local newspapers, radio stations, and advance warning signs. You can also check the State Department of Transportation websites. Not all of the DOT websites list construction sites but it's worth checking. These information sources have varying degrees of content but most have contact phone numbers. Avoidance is probably the best way of handling a construction project.

Sometimes, there is a well-signed, well-maintained bicycle detour to get around a project. Sometimes you are on your own. Detours can be inconvenient by adding extra miles on to your trip but having a well thought out alternative route works on all levels. It just might be the road less traveled that you are looking for. Signed detours are specifically designed to keep bicycles out of a work area that can not provide safe passage. Please respect "Road Closed to Bicycles" signs.

If there is no detour, you have every right to be able to pass through a construction site but there is no satisfaction in being “dead right.”

Navigating the construction site

As you approach a project, you'll see construction signs first and then flagmen Usually, these guys (or gals) make getting through a construction site a non-issue. One word – patience. Remember, these highway workers are just trying to do their job. Also, bicycles might be considered an “inconvenience” by some highway workers. This is where “catching more bees with honey” comes in. Being pleasant and explaining your situation goes a long way in getting through a construction site. If for some reason a flagman or worker makes your passage unneccessarily difficult, consider that these folks have bosses and you're a taxpayer. Ask for the Project Safety Coordinator or Resident Engineer. They should be able to sort things out.

Another key in safely getting through a construction site is eye contact with equipment operators. Bicycles in a construction site are a foreign object. Make sure that they see you with a wave. Back up alarms on construction equipment are to warn you when these large, unwieldy vehicles with limited sight distance are coming your way. Give this equipment the attention it deserves. Steer clear!

Other potential hazards

Also, you might find yourself "off roading" through a construction site. Gravel and/or soft shoulders can be treacherous on skinny tires. When in doubt, walk your bike. I know, hard to do, but you don’t want to drop your bike in front of a line of cars or highway equipment on loose gravel.

There are times when being on a bike is an advantage. Bikes sometimes can pass where cars can't fit. Or, you might find a portion of roadway construction that is closed to cars but bikes are OK. It's always good to check to make sure, though.

Here's a hint. Make sure that you stay off of fresh pavement. Leaving tracks will infuriate the highway workers and you just might "bury" your front wheel in the soft pavement. Asphalt is hot stuff!

Know your rights

I've presented a pretty pragmatic view of getting through a construction site - basically CYA, but Eric Ophardt, Section Head for the Bicycle and Pedestrian Section of the New York State DOT was kind enough to comment on this webpage. He provided a bicycle advocates view. Basically, it is incumbent upon the contractor and the Highway owner to safely accomodate the needs of motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists. Eric points out that the New York State Highway Design Manual (HDM) addresses bicycle accomodation and the project's Maintenance and Protection of Traffic (MPT) scheme should also address bicycles. Additionally, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) provides direction (as well as financial support) for the same. So, if your state, county or municipality isn't providing safe thoroughfare or a detour, chances are they aren't following the design and construction policies. Eric also commented that bicyclists should behave like a motorist and obey all highway work signs and flagpersons.
Bicyclist = Motorist, legally speaking.

Positive reinforcement

When you are riding through a construction zone, you are representing other bicyclists that might follow. If you don't respect signs or disobey construction worker direction, you are leaving an negative impression that all bicyclist's are knuckleheads. These impressions are difficult to change. Be positive and set a good example.


A good attitude and asking questions will really help get you safely through a construction project.