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I generally try to ride in traffic as a vehicle, following the rules of the road, stopping at red lights, taking the lane, etc. In many urban areas, you are not allowed to ride on the sidewalk (pavement for those from the UK). However, there are some times when it is unavoidable to ride more like a pedestrian than a vehicle, and I have some trouble figuring out when, or how, I should "switch modes."

Some examples:

  1. Most bike racks are on the sidewalk. It feels silly to stop and walk my bike for the handful of yards from the street to the bike rack.
  2. Some bike paths are accessible only from the sidewalk, not directly from the street.
  3. When I stop at a stop light, and it goes to an all-way pedestrian walk signal. While I normally try to follow all the rules that a car will follow, it seems silly to wait (and get in the way of the first car while I'm accelerating) when I can just ride across the intersection on the walk signal.
  4. Some complicated intersections are dangerous to traverse on a bike, but have nearby crosswalks which may be easier to use.
  5. Some bike paths cross streets with a cross walk, which are generally intended for people who are going at pedestrian speed, not bike speed.

Some issues that I have:

  1. Cars likely don't expect to be watching for people riding onto or off of the sidewalk. If, for instance, I need to make a left turn and go up on the sidewalk for a bit to get onto a bike path, I worry that drivers who aren't expecting traffic to go that way might not predict accurately where I'm going.
  2. I feel like using crosswalks and cross lights weakens the "same road, same rules" type campaigns to help give bicyclists access to the roads.
  3. I'm sometimes not sure when it's acceptable to switch modes. There are some cases where I can cut through some pedestrian paths, and ride on the sidewalk for a few hundred feet, or I can go around a couple of blocks on the road; should I be "cheating" a bit by riding on the sidewalk briefly, especially given that there are all of the circumstances listed above in which you need to ride on the sidewalk, or should I be trying to always treat myself as a vehicle and never use the sidewalk unless absolutely necessary?
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"it seems silly to wait " - the same could apply equally as well to a car though and if you're on the road, unless specific exemptions apply, you are bound by the rules of that road. –  Murph Sep 28 '10 at 11:48
    
I wonder if the answers will be different for those in the US vs the UK. Growing up in the US, I learned to ride on the sidewalks, and to press the walk signal when I wanted to cross the street. These days I ride on the roads, but it feels odd not crossing with the walk signal. It seems to me that in the UK, many more intersections are designed for bikes (I hear that there are sometimes separate lights for bicycles), while in the US, your city will be considered "bike friendly" if they just slap some paint down on the road to form a bike lane in the door zone of parked cars. –  Brian Campbell Sep 28 '10 at 13:32
    
@Brian - as a generalisation what you suggest isn't really the UK, no. Try Holland or Denmark. Yes there are places where there is better stuff but a lot of it is token paint or poor pavement sharing. –  Murph Sep 28 '10 at 18:12
    
@Murph Fair enough. I just know that I've heard of separate lights for bicycles in the UK, but never heard of such in the US. For example: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toucan_crossing –  Brian Campbell Sep 28 '10 at 18:48
    
@Brian - there are a few places in the UK where provision for bikes is excellent (I believe the same to be true in a few places in the US) but as a country its very hit and miss and a lot of the provision is not well implemented. In Holland and Denmark (and probably other places - but I have real experience of those two) cycle provision is an integrated part of the whole rather than added here and there –  Murph Sep 29 '10 at 8:13
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8 Answers

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In most cases it's a matter of common sense and good judgement.

If the pavement between the road and the bike racks is quiet and you're not going to impede anyone, cycle it. Same for the bike path not directly accessed from the road.

Your 3rd point, though is the crux of many discussions and we should be careful in how to answer it here. My perspective, although it's not clear whether this is the (UK) legal situation, but just how I 'morally' feel, is that if you approach the junction on a bike you shouldn't confuse the situation by morphing into a pedestrian and pushing your bike through the junction, then remounting your bike. While this might seem expedient it is reinforcing the view of other road users that you're somehow less than a proper road user, if you can use other facilities, then you should all the time, says that argument.

Certainly there are some intersections where it might be safer to do so, but the law (and cyclists' reputations) are often contrary to safety. It's a tricky question and common sense is often not to the fore in confrontations.

I try to avoid any use of the pavement unless it is explicitly marked as shared use, but where it's not clear, to try to not do things that would blatantly and needlessly annoy others. After all, cyclists in many locales have a bad reputation for selfish behaviour, I'd rather not add to it.

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There is a junction I do every morning where the road splits - so I would have to merge across 4 lanes of 40mph traffic from the bike lane into the turn lane. If the cars treat me like any other vehicle this would be easy - but they don't, so I feel justified in stopping and using the crosswalk. –  mgb Oct 18 '10 at 22:22
    
In Germany, it's not a matter of common sense and good judgment. Using the sidewalk is prohibited - only Kids below a certain age - I guess 11, are allowed to use the sidewalk. –  user unknown Apr 13 '11 at 18:53
    
I agree with the sentiment about not reinforcing the idea that bicycles aren't proper road users. ...Unfortunately, many of the bicycles around here already reinforce it by plowing through red lights. –  Kyralessa Apr 30 '11 at 22:13
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I can tell you what I do. Your local laws may vary, of course, so check them!

There are a few cases where I feel it'd be simpler to just get off my bike and walk -- complicated crossings, or perhaps transferring to a bike path. One of the advantages of a bike is that you can get off it and push it along. If doing that is safer and more efficient, I won't hesitate to do that.

If a cyclist is going to use pedestrian facilities, it'd be safer for everyone concerned for the cyclist to dismount and push the bike along. If you feel silly walking those few yards to a bike rack, well, that's just fine, feeling a little silly isn't going to kill you. And are the few seconds one would save by riding on the sidewalk really that important?

Those bike path/street/sidewalk intersections you mention can indeed be badly designed. You'll have to use your judgement there. If you can be more specific and show us an example, I'd be happy to tell you how I'd handle it, but there's no substitute for experience and being on the spot.

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+1 - I think the key is to be either one or the other. It's confusing and dangerous when a cyclist is switching from being a pedestrian to being a vehicle. Local laws are important too; in my city it's illegal to ride on the sidewalks/pavement in certain areas of town. –  user313 Sep 28 '10 at 17:17
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I think there is a clear difference between when you can legally use pedestrian facilities and when you should use pedestrian facilities.

Here in Australia, you can only legally use pedestrian facilities such as footpaths (sidewalks for all the USians out there) when you are a minor (under 18), accompanying a minor or if it is marked as a shared path.

However, I think that cyclists should use pedestrian facilities when they feel that using the road is beyond the level of risk that they are comfortable with accepting. Having made the decision to use the pedestrian facilities and potentially be breaking the law, it is then the cyclists responsibility to make sure that they are not increasing the risk for pedestrians. For me this includes:

  • Assessing whether you can safely ride on the pedestrian facility, or whether you should dismount and push the bike.
  • Adopting a speed that is safe - typically walking pace. This speed should be sufficiently slow that you can see and avoid collisions with pedestrians.
  • Being aware of and riding at a safe distance from areas from which pedestrians may suddenly appear, e.g. shop doors, front gates, parked cars, buses at bus stops, etc

Finally, as others have mentioned, consider the impact of your actions on the opinions of other road users.

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The answer to the revised question is an easy one:

When the cyclist is being a pedestrian and not a cyclist

And in the UK at least that distinction is fairly clear - if you're on the bike and riding you're a cyclist and if you're off and pushing you're a pedestrian (and there is case law to back this up).

Grey areas? - none strictly (-: But in practical terms across the pavement from or to where you park at the start or end of the journey and maybe the odd place else where there are no pedestrians (but even then with a lot of care) but to my mind absolutely not en-route (I tend not to use a route that involves a "cyclists dismount" sign more than once since the second time I need to make the journey I will know better...)

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At most when you are going at the same speed as a pedestrian.

The issue I have with pushing my bike, is that it makes me wider and often pedestrian will walk into the peddles.)

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Dumb pedestrians then... –  Murph Sep 28 '10 at 18:13
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The only time I have problems with pushing a bike through a crowd is in New York City. A good trick for that is to keep your helmet on; it cues people into the fact that you have a bike. –  Neil Fein Sep 28 '10 at 19:35
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In the UK, only children under ten may legally ride on the sidewalk. There is an article that covers it (see on) but it is unclear in parts because the law is unclear: cycling and the law.

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That's a very interesting and useful article you've linked to. –  Amos May 1 '11 at 13:52
    
I needed an answer to whether it was legal for me to ride on the pavement or not. All routes I used to take to work were bottlenecked by the A6, which always gave me a feel of danger. –  Carnotaurus May 1 '11 at 14:05
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In France, laws are not tailored for bicycles and specific equipements are not common (though this is changing in the right direction).

That given, my first concern is my own safety and safety of people around me.

Depending on the situation, it means that I conform to laws most of the time, but I feel free to use pedestrian facilities -- at the speed of a pedestrian -- whenever the road is too dangerous for a biker.

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In Germany, only kids below a certain age - I guess 11, are allowed to use the sidewalk.

But many people of all age and sex use the sideways, drive in the wrong direction on bike ways, don't stop at red lights and cross the lane at the pedestrian path, which makes them hard to estimate.

However: Stay on the road!

I have a street I use often, think Paris-Roubaix, very poor condition - you nearly can't use it with the bike, but the sidewalk is usable. However - there is a way which is more than twice the distance, which avoids the cobblestone pavement. But since it allows much faster cycling, I don't lose much, taking the detour.

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