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Can cyclists ride on the sidewalk? What if the road in question has no bike lane? If cyclists can ride on the sidewalk, does it matter which side of the road the sidewalk is on? I live in California - would the law vary by state or locality?

Are there other concerns outside of the legality to consider?

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Even where it's legal it's still extremely antisocial. You know the feeling of bad drivers making your life as a cyclist, right? If you ride on the pavement you're doing the same thing to pedestrians. –  GordonM Aug 30 '12 at 7:35
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@GordonM - that depends heavily upon where you are. In Japan (well, at least in Tokyo), riding on the sidewalk is the norm - cyclists ride a bit faster than walking pace and merge in with pedestrians (who are quite accommodating). Works surprisingly well, when both peds and cyclists accommodate each other. –  Johnny Oct 15 at 17:36
    
I recently changed onto the sidewalk to give space to a bus waiting to give way to me at a construction site 20 meters ahead. There was no risk about it and I actually chose to do this maneuver because a shallow in the curb offered itself. Bus driver showed appreciation :) –  Sam Oct 19 at 16:59

5 Answers 5

up vote 26 down vote accepted

Safety

In general, riding on the sidewalk is more dangerous than riding on the road. There's higher risk from cars coming out of driveways than cars overtaking you from behind. Generally cars aren't looking for anything on a sidewalk moving more than about 3-4 mph, there's often visual obstacles (trees, sign posts, etc) so you're likely to be invisible to cars that might turn into you. Going against the direction of traffic gives everybody a bit less time to react to anything going wrong and puts you on the side car drivers typically aren't looking in.

If it's legal on a specific block, I might ride slowly (5mph, 8mph tops) for a block on the sidewalk to get to a spot where I can get onto the road properly. But be extra-aware of all driveways and side streets. I might also ride on the sidewalk for under 10 feet when coming off of the road via a driveway or curb cut in order to stop and lock up my bike.

Check your local laws

There is no statewide California law prohibiting operating a bicycle on a sidewalk, however California Vehicle Code Section 21206 allows local (county, city, etc) governments to regulate operation of bicycles on pedestrian facilities.

In other words, there is no California-wide answer to the legality. It may be illegal in the specific area you were riding, but legal on the next block over or legal on the other side of the street.

In the city I live in (in California), it's illegal in two defined "downtown" areas, but otherwise legal. In some cities it's illegal to ride on the sidewalk anywhere in the city.

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+1 for "check local laws". In Fargo, ND there are some places where you can only bike on the sidewalk, some places where you can't bike on the sidewalk, and some places where it doesn't matter (confused yet? :P ) –  Nate Koppenhaver Sep 23 '11 at 18:56
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It's also possibly more dangerous for the pedestrians you're riding around, though you can of course take responsibility (and ride slowly) to avoid problems. –  Jefromi Sep 24 '11 at 0:48
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Definitely check state laws. Ohio recently (well, maybe 4-5 years ago now) passed a whole set cycling law changes. Got rid of the requirement for a horn/bell, added statewide preemption on sidewalk vs. street riding (riding on sidewalks now permitted alongside any street with a speed limit over 25mph). A good thing in my opinion. We have some really narrow 50mph city streets in town that go exactly where you want to be riding, but are horribly dangerous to ride on. Now you can pop onto the sidewalk (pretty much unused by peds) and not get run over. Peds have right of way of course. –  Brian Knoblauch Sep 26 '11 at 13:26
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Whether it is more dangerous or not depends quite a bit on local conditions. There are many stretches of road without driveway or other crossings, with rarely used and well-paved stretches of sidewalk. And there are many stretches of road with extremely irregular pavement, drains, debris, and fast moving heavy traffic. Where these conditions coincide it is certainly safer to ride in the sidewalk. (And in the specific locales I'm thinking of, it is also legal.) –  2u2 Oct 6 '11 at 21:08
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I think it is important to consider that being hit by a car pulling out of a driveway or parking lot is NOWHERE NEAR as serious as getting hit by a car on the street. I personally have been hit by a car coming out of a parking lot, and it was no big deal. I have also personally witnessed a biker riding IN THE BIKE LANE on a street get hit by a careless driver; It was one of the most tragic things I have ever seen. The only cyclist deaths I know of were from riding on the street, never the sidewalk. When going < 50% of the speed limit, you do not belong on the road if there is no bike lane. –  ghbarratt Dec 18 '11 at 1:42

The law regarding sidewalk cycling varies widely, but in general it is legal as long as you are traveling cautiously, yielding and giving pedestrians the right-of-way.

That said, it usually is not a very smart thing to do, especially to ride against traffic on the sidewalk as you described. The most common accidents involving cars and cyclists occur at intersections and driveways. When you are on the sidewalk going either way you are already nearly invisible to a motorist. It's particularly bad when you are riding against traffic because the habit of most drivers is to look left (in the US) when they approach an intersection or pull out of a driveway, and you are approaching at an unusually high rate of speed for a sidewalk user, and from the opposite direction.

In short - riding on the sidewalk and against traffic is the most dangerous way to travel on a bike other than to ride unlighted at night.

As Forester says "Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles."

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Also, riding on the street against traffic is the best way to get people jumping in your front, because they're looking the other way. So, NEVER do it! :o –  heltonbiker Sep 23 '11 at 18:53

I know of several cities in the US that prohibit biking (or skateboarding) on the sidewalks in "downtown" (which definition varies widely, of course).

But even when it's allowed (which is, I think, the norm in the US, outside of those certain zones), it's not very wise to do on a relatively busy city street if there are lots of driveways. It's very common for accidents to occur when a car turns into a driveway in the path of a bike, and leaping from the curb on your bike at intersections is a big hazard, even when you'd nominally have the right-of-way.

In general you should stay off of sidewalks unless you're progressing a the pace of a 5-year-old on training wheels.

But I don't know what the basis was for the guy yelling at you.

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he was basically complaining because I was crossing a gas station and a car that was turning in was waiting for me to pass. There was no blind spot in this case and the driver had to look in my direction to make the turn. This guy of course had to wait the 5 additional seconds that it took me to cross and yelled that I was biking on the wrong side. –  mugetsu Sep 23 '11 at 21:57

This is a useful question beyond the continental US. Please add countries you know about to the appropriate section.

Biking on the sidewalk is a violation of traffic law in:

  • NSW Australia, unless you are a child under 12 years of age. An adult, who is riding in a supervisory capacity of a cyclist less than 12 years old, may also ride with the young cyclist on the footpath. You are allowed to cycle on the footpath where indicated by signage. (from NSW Roads and Traffic Authority).
  • France, except for children up to 8 years old.
  • Finland, except for children up to 12 years old or on either unsegregated cycle and pedestrian paths, or the cycle half of segregated paths (pdf).
  • Germany, with the following exceptions:

    • If you are under the age of 8 you have to use the sidewalk, if you are under 10 you may use the sidewalk.

    • Radfahrer frei allows the use of bicycles on the sidewalk

    • enter image description here designates a way that actually is a bikeway. You have to use it.

    • enter image description here and enter image description here turn the sidewalk into a combination of bikeway and sidewalk. As with regular bikeways there is a obligation to use it

  • The Netherlands (actively fined especially in town centres)

  • UK (Rule 64 of the Highway Code states "You MUST NOT cycle on a pavement.")

    • Under the age of 10 it's still illegal, but generally not enforced link (and you can't be prosecuted anyway below the age of criminal responsibility)
    • Signs similar to the blue German ones above indicate provision of shared paths, but note that neither dedicated cycle lanes, nor provision on paths shared with pedestrians etc. are mandatory
    • The prohibition IIRC is technically on footpaths beside a highway or similar, so paved footpaths not adjacent to a road may be exempt from the restriction unless local byelaws apply
  • ..?

Biking on the sidewalk is allowed in:

  • Queensland, Australia - cyclists of any age are allowed to ride on a footpath unless prohibited by a 'NO BICYCLES' sign — you must give way to pedestrians and ride in a manner that does not inconvenience or endanger other footpath users.

Local laws govern sidewalk cycling in:

  • USA
    • in Berkeley, CA, it's illegal to ride bikes on the sidewalk
    • in San Francisco, CA it's illegal for anyone 13 years of age or older.
    • Virginia Beach, Virginia: Bicycles may be ridden on sidewalks unless prohibited by local ordinance or traffic control devices. While on sidewalks and shared use paths, bicyclists must always yield the right of way to pedestrians and give an audible signal before passing a pedestrian.
    • Illinois unless otherwise indicated by local ordinance, riding on sidewalks is permitted. However, it is almost always prohibited in business districts, and many municipalities have general prohibitions for adults.
      • Chicago prohibits riding on sidewalks at 12 years of age and over, and in business districts at any age.
      • Oak Park prohibits riding on sidewalks at 15 years of age and over, and in business districts at any age.
  • Canada
    • Vancouver: it's illegal to ride bikes on the sidewalk
    • Toronto: Sidewalks are for Pedestrians says, "A City bylaw allows cyclists with a tire size of 61cm or 24 inches or less to ride on the sidewalk. The intent of this bylaw is to allow young children to cycle on the sidewalk while they learn to ride. The bylaw is based on wheel size because it is difficult for Police to enforce age-based bylaws, as most children do not carry identification. This is a municipal bylaw and rules vary in communities across Ontario."
    • Etobicoke: signs say that bicycles are forbidden on sidewalks.

Biking on the sidewalk is mandatory of traffic law in:

  • Romania If there is a bicycle path on the sidewalk you have to ride on it. Riding in the street where there is a path on the sidewalk is illegal.

  • ..? I'm marking this cw so anybody can add countries they know about.

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Canada: in Vancouver, it's also illegal to ride bikes on the sidewalk. –  Larry Gritz Apr 4 '12 at 18:53
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US: in Berkeley, CA, it's illegal to ride bikes on the sidewalk. –  Larry Gritz Apr 4 '12 at 18:54
    
I believe cycling on the sidewalk is also legal in Iceland (or so I was informed when I hired a bicycle there). –  dumbledad Sep 15 '12 at 12:58

Bicycling on the sidewalk is dangerous. It's a sideWALK. I recently was hit by a bicycle as I was making a right turn from one street to another. I slowed for my turn, checked the crosswalk areas for pedestrians, and started turning in only to hear the screech of a bike tire until it hit my passenger door. Again... crossWALK. Which you're supposed to walk across. I don't know how fast she was going on the sidewalk to make a skidmark almost 20 feet long, but I don't feel any responsibility for this accident. However, the police highly recommended I just deal with my insurance to repair the car. And who gets to pay the deductible? Me? I shell out $500 because someone else is irresponsible? It's a misdemeanor here to ride a bike on the sidewalk, but he seemed to be leaning a bit toward calling her a pedestrian in a crosswalk, as if he was threatening me with a ticket.

Who among all of you check for traffic on the sidewalk as you turn to see if there is something going faster than you are? In other words, do you always look BEHIND your vehicle on the sidewalk before turning? I pass bicyclists all the time on the road, and if I'm turning in to a driveway or road not far ahead of them, I'll slow down and pull in behind them.

I'm a cyclist at times also, so don't think I'm bashing on cyclists. Sure, I get annoyed by the pack of cyclists on the narrow back road going 20 in a 45 zone, but I take the time to safely pass them. I watch for them on the road and give ample room.

So yes, "In general you should stay off of sidewalks unless you're progressing a the pace of a 5-year-old on training wheels." Or better yet, slower than that. The pace of a brisk walker.

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This doesn't actually answer the question. –  Daniel R Hicks Oct 15 at 22:42

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