Raleigh, North Carolina’s Capital City, is on a serious roll when it comes to bicycling. Less than 10 years ago, the "City of Oaks" had only three short stretches of bicycle lanes. City officials acknowledged in 2009 that “the majority of the City of Raleigh is not bicycle-friendly.”
The cycling landscape has changed dramatically since then. With the adoption of an updated Comprehensive Bicycle Plan in 2009, transportation planners detailed an ambitious schedule to add more than 440 miles of new biking facilities. The city also formed a Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission to help guide it.
Those efforts have begun to bear fruit – Raleigh was recently designated as a bronze-level Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists. Raleigh cyclists are able to enjoy year-round riding in a temperate climate with roads that feature rolling hills and an expanding network of bike lanes and shared lane facilities.
Several colleges and universities are located in Raleigh, including N.C. State University and Meredith College on Hillsborough Street. The downtown area now has several technology companies, including Red Hat, which has been designated a Bicycle Friendly Business. The presence of state employees, students and tech workers means you’re likely to see dozens of folks on bikes as you ride around town, especially on Hillsborough Street and in the Fayetteville Street area. Families on bikes are a common sight at the city’s parks and greenways.
Raleigh's Biking Accomplishments
- Bike facilities. The year 2015 saw a major expansion of new bike facilities, with 27 miles of lanes and sharrows added under a single $1.1 million grant. The city has even used a road diet to add bike lanes on portions of strategic Hillsborough Street, which ends at the State Capitol. Those lanes send a clear message that biking matters in Raleigh.
- Police training program. BPAC, working in conjunction with bicycling advocate Steven Goodridge, created a training program for law enforcement officers. Titled “Bicyclist Safety and Law Enforcement,” the program is intended to improve law enforcement's understanding of cyclists’ rights and responsibilities while raising awareness of common causes behind car-bike crashes.
- Extensive greenway network. On-street facilities are not the only option for biking in Raleigh – the Capital Area Greenway system includes over 100 miles of trails that are bike friendly, including the 27.5-mile Neuse River trail. Raleigh also has an active mountain biking scene, with riders using trails in parks west and north of the city.
- Artistic bike parking. In 2011, the city announced a bike rack competition to generate custom artistic racks. The winning racks have since been installed in locations around the city.
- Bike corral. Raleigh lays claim to installing the state's first bike corral near the corner of Hargett and Wilmington Street.
Bicycle Events & Clubs in Raleigh
Biking events include Bike Month celebrations hosted by the City of Raleigh and the week-long Oaks & Spokes festival, held in the spring, which features a tweed ride and other social events. That festival is hosted by Oaks and Spokes, a nonprofit group that seeks to promote and sustain the cycling culture in Raleigh. The First Night Friday events in downtown also draw groups of cyclists, which in the past gathered at the N.C. State Bell Tower.
Raleigh has an active bicycle club scene, including Slow Spokes, the North Raleigh Gyros, and the N.C. Bicycle Club (NCBC), which puts on spring and fall rallies. If you enjoy competition, cyclocross racing is held at the Dix Campus, while bike polo is hosted at one of the city’s tennis courts.
Challenges Ahead for Bicyclists in Raleigh
Like other North Carolina cities, Raleigh is growing rapidly. Suburban sprawl has put pressure on many of the roads on the city’s outskirts. Meantime, the I-440 belt line that encircles the city acts as a concrete wall, and the arterial roads that cross it can be hostile to cyclists and pedestrians. Residents in some of the established neighborhoods have resisted bike infrastructure, speaking out against bike lanes on some commuter routes. Also, a majority on the City Council recently rejected a plan to move forward with a bike share program. However, groups like the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission and Oaks & Spokes have been vocal in speaking up for the rights of bicyclists, and that bodes well for cycling in the Capital City.
Biking in Raleigh: Things to See and Do
- Art to the Heart Greenway Trail: Who knew so much cool art was OUTSIDE the North Carolina Museum of Art? Even better, it’s best seen by bike. Thanks to Raleigh’s “Art to the Heart” Greenway route, you can pedal a 6-mile route from downtown Raleigh to the museum, using a combination of on-road and greenway trails. Sites along the way include Boylan Heights, N.C. State University, Meredith College and Central Prison. Once on the museum grounds, you’ll ride past the "gyre" sculpture of Raleigh-based artist Thomas Sayre and the massive whirligig of N.C. folk artist Volis Simpson.
- Hillsborough Street: Hillsborough Street is a key gateway into downtown. Running past N.C. State University, it’s also an important east-west route for cyclists, who fought long and hard to ensure the street had adequate bicycle facilities. Newly installed bike lanes, made possible by a road diet, end at the State Capitol Building and show that city planners and bikers are serious about the future of biking in Raleigh.
- Krispy Kreme: Like they say, ya gotta eat. So why not take a break at Krispy Kreme at the corner of Peace and Person Streets. After a ride around town, it’s hard to beat a hot glazed doughnut. Be sure to hit it when the “Hot Donuts Now” sign is lit.
- North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences: Ready to see the world? Look no further than the giant globe at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, located at 11 West Jones Street. The globe has been a regular stop on weekly bike rides. The photo by Sam Bennett at the top of this page shows one of the Tuesday night group rides. The museum has ample bike parking, which means you can lock up and stroll through the right whale exhibit and the museum’s gift shop before lunching at the Daily Planet Café on the first floor.
- Crank Arm Brewing: Raleigh has lots of great microbreweries, but we’re going to single out the one founded by cyclists with a chainring in the logo. Located at 319 W Davie St. in the Warehouse District, Crank Arm has a ride around downtown Raleigh every Wednesday and a no-drop ride on Saturday. When you’re done seeing the sights, enjoy a Crank Arm bike-themed beverage. Recent beer offerings included the “Bottom Bracket,” the “Low Gear,” the “Pace Line” and the “Uphill Climb.”
- Coffee Breaks and other weekly rides: Espresso and strong coffee bring cyclists together, and Café de Los Muertos and Benelux Café are two favorite gathering spots. Both host weekly rides on Tuesday. Meantime, local bike shop Oak City Cycling Project hosts a monthly Cruiser Ride and the occasional bike camping trip. Other bike shops, including All Star, TLC for Bikes and Performance Bikes, host weekly rides as well. Check their websites for details.
- Neuse River Greenway Trail: No greenway project in Raleigh has transformed bicycling as much as the 27.5- mile Neuse River Greenway Trail. You’ll enjoy river views as you cruise over wetlands and past a massive sunflower field. The trail features several suspension bridges as the trail crosses from one side of the Neuse to the other. You can connect from downtown Raleigh to the Neuse via the Crabtree Creek Trail or the Walnut Creek Trail. The Neuse River Greenway is family friendly and has several small parks and a soccer center along the way. The greenway is also one segment of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, a long distance route that spans North Carolina from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks.
- Oak City Cycling Project: Raleigh has great bike shops. Oak City is one of the newer shops, and we like it for its stated mission of “increasing bicycle ridership through sales, service, outreach, and community.” The shop is owned and operated by several young partners who practice what they preach by leading rides, hosting charity and community events and helping out newcomers who want to get active in the local cycling scene. You can rent stand time to do bike repairs or rent a bike to tool around downtown. OCCP also organizes the Neuse Deuce, a 200K ride that uses the Neuse River Greenway Trail. Finish the 200K and you’ll earn a free patch.
- Dorothea Dix Park: Dorothea Dix is a 306-acre property just on the outskirts of downtown Raleigh. For more than a century it was the home of a state mental health hospital. Raleigh formally bought the property from the state in 2015 with the goal of creating a world-class destination park. Think New York’s Central Park and you’ll have some idea of what could be coming. In the meantime, the property is a bike rider’s delight. You’ll find quiet, oak-lined roads, stunning views of the Raleigh skyline, a large field where hobbyists fly model planes and a nearby entrance to the state Farmer’s Market, a perfect stop for lunch or local snacks.
- Oakwood Neighborhood: Historic Oakwood, just east of downtown Raleigh, has an impressive collection of historic homes in a variety of architectural styles – including a modern home that sparked a nationwide debate. The neighborhood’s grid pattern with several four-way stop intersections keeps the car speeds down and makes for pleasant touring for the entire family. While you’re there, be sure to visit the 102-acre historic Oakwood Cemetery and its Confederate Cemetery, where 1,400 soldiers are interred.
Legal Representation for Raleigh Bicyclists
Bike Law is network of independent lawyers and law firms who share a common approach to the law and to helping cyclists. We are cyclists ourselves, including North Carolina Bike Law attorney Ann Groninger, an active cyclocross rider. We represent Raleigh cyclists injured in bicycle accidents. We can help you at the police station, against insurance companies, and in the courts. Please contact us for help with your case. Please contact Ann today by using this form to report your bicycle accident.
If you would like Bike Law to come speak to your club or at your shop, please contact us.