My commute takes me on a bike path that runs parallel to a road (with a sidewalk in between). When crossing other roads, the sidewalk and bike path merge, and there is one curb-cut and cross walk with a pedestrian signal. Unless you actually press the button to cross, there will be a green light on the parallel road but a "don't walk" signal for the crosswalk. Should I go anyhow? Should I come to a full stop before doing so, or simply slow down to pedestrian speed and check carefully for turning cars before doing so? Or should I press the button and wait for the pedestrian light?

I'm trying to figure out how "same road, same rules" actually works in practice; the problem is, there are no specific rules for bicycles on bike paths which share crossings with pedestrian crossings, and of course you can't apply the same rules as for cars since cars can't use bike paths.

To clarify, since there seems to be some confusion about the setup of the intersection, there will sometimes be a green light on the road parallel to the bike path, with a "Don't Walk" sign for the crosswalk, and there will sometimes be a green light on the road parallel to the bike path, with a "Walk" sign for the crosswalk (possibly based on whether someone has pushed the button, or possibly based on the timing, I'm not sure). That is, there are times when there's a green light on the parallel road, and cars may turn, but pedestrians (and presumably bikes) are encouraged to cross, and some times when there is a green light on the parallel road, cars may turn, but pedestrians are encouraged not to cross.

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  • This is an excellent question, one of the best I've seen on this site on traffic safety. I found the original title difficult to understand until I read the question. I think my revision to the title will be more understandable in a list of questions. Commented Oct 14, 2010 at 17:21
  • @neilfein Thanks! I think I agree, your phrasing is better. Commented Oct 14, 2010 at 17:28
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    Is this diagram accurate? Commented Oct 14, 2010 at 18:20
  • @neilfein Nice diagram! Yep, that's pretty much the situation. Commented Oct 14, 2010 at 18:21
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    I've added an actual image of one of the intersections in question, from Google Street View. Commented Oct 14, 2010 at 18:35

6 Answers 6


Most state laws in the US are based on the Uniform Motor Vehicle code. Usually there will be specific language that states if you are a cyclist on the road, you obey the laws that apply to vehicles, and if you are a cyclist on "pedestrian facilities" eg. sidewalks, sidepaths or multi-use trails, you obey the laws as they apply to pedestrians.

There is also usually phrasing that you must obey "traffic control devices".

In this case if you are on the path, crossing a roadway and continuing on the path, from a legal standpoint you most likely have to obey the signal.

From a practical standpoint, ask yourself "As a pedestrian, what would I do here?", since the pedestrian rules are what most likely apply.

Edit after O.P. added the picture:

If I am not in the road traveling like a vehicle before the intersection, I would absolutely behave like a pedestrian here - especially if there are similar trees on this side. Any car turning right is going to be barely aware of pedestrians and won't be looking for bikes at all. An on coming car turning left has the same problem, but at least you have a chance to see and avoid them. Their awareness will be even lower if the crosswalk sign indicates "Don't Walk".

If you were to ride out at even 10 MPH you will catch most drivers completely by surprise. This is one of the most common types of collisions.

  • You could always hop off your bike and walk across, which is probably safer anyway. I used to think this was the law in my state (that nobody follows) but I haven't been able to find anything that validates that so it probably is just a safety tip I learned as a kid.
    – Dan
    Commented Oct 14, 2010 at 20:56
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    By "behave like a pedestrian", do you mean dismount and walk across, or do you mean slow down or stop, check for cars, and bike slowly when it's safe? Also, do you mean obey the pedestrian signal, or simply cross when it's safe even if the signal is on "don't walk" as most pedestrians in these parts do? Commented Oct 14, 2010 at 22:30
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    I mean that legally you may be required to dismount and walk, depending on your particular jurisdiction. I recognize that many pedestrians will cross against the signal, and many cyclists will ride across the crosswalk without fear of arrest or fine because these regulations are infrequently enforced. But it usually is illegal nonetheless.
    – Gary.Ray
    Commented Oct 15, 2010 at 4:45
  • I looked up the exact law, and it says "bicycles may be ridden on sidewalks outside business districts when necessary in the interest of safety, unless otherwise directed by local ordinance." As for what pedestrians would do, jaywalking is incredibly common around here: boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/10/11/… and drivers are notorious for not following the rules of the road either: boston-online.com/bosdrivers.html is only a little tongue-in-cheek. Commented Oct 18, 2010 at 21:24
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    @Brian, neither the specific law, nor the frequency of jaywalking are unusual. Neither makes crossing against the light legal nor safe. You should also be aware that depending on the contributory/comparative negligence rules in effect, you may not be able to recover damages if you are hit while crossing against a signal.
    – Gary.Ray
    Commented Oct 19, 2010 at 2:02

Honestly, I think that's a crappy design for a bike path, and I would just ride in the road instead. A bike path like that is great for a weekend ride, but for a daily commute, it just wouldn't cut it.

If that road isn't safe to ride in, I'd try to find a different route. And if that's not an option, I suppose I would probably ride against the pedestrian light, slowing down to make sure it's safe to do so.

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    + 1 for the design comment, not that we can usually do anything about it. This is one reason why 'vehicular cyclists' typically avoid or oppose paths - they increase the number of 'intersections' and confusion or distraction at intersections is a primary cause of collisions.
    – Gary.Ray
    Commented Oct 14, 2010 at 16:41
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    Yeah, the problem is that the bike path actually takes me on a shorter route than the road; it goes along a railroad right-of-way, and so it is actually shorter and simpler than taking the road. If I took the road for that segment, of the trip, I'd have to take a fairly bike-unfriendly road, bike a longer distance, and deal with more intersections. I do wish that the bike path were better designed. Commented Oct 14, 2010 at 17:33
  • Agreed -- I'd likely ride on the road, so long as there's no mandatory sidepath law. Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 3:23

Simple: If you're riding in the street, you do what the cars do; but if you're riding where the pedestrians walk, you do what they do. In the diagram above, the walk/don't walk signs line up with the bike path, so you'd follow them.


There is a setup like that in downtown Indianapolis, and along at least one part of the Cultural Trail, there are signs making it very clear. (And yes, that is part of the trail under construction below.)

North and Alabama, Indianapolis, IN

I don't know how much those signs cost, but they sure help to clear up confusion. In their absence, I'd behave as a pedestrian, and I'd definitely proceed with caution. Even though there are signs along that trail warning drivers to watch for cyclists, there's no guarantee they either read or acknowledge those signs, much less the accompanying signals.


I would stop and dismount, or at least slow down to walking pace. What I see too often are cyclists riding on sidewalks heading against traffic at crossings. It is difficult for drivers travelling the same direction and making left turns to see them, as they are in the driver's far right blindspot. Since you're off the road, it's a good idea to give drivers more opportunity to see you before you enter the crossing.

Also, the more direct reason is that if you've been merged with the sidewalk crossing, then the rule to dismount takes precedent (if this rule exists in your jurisdiction).

  • Assuming thet you only cross the juntion when you get the "walk", how can there be a driving making a turn, as the driver will have a red light.
    – Ian
    Commented Oct 14, 2010 at 21:29
  • @Ian - the question indicates that the vehicle travel lane is green, but the crosswalk indicator is "Don't Walk". This is a common scenario. Also, it is legal in most parts of the US to make a right turn on a red light after stopping and yielding to cross traffic.
    – Gary.Ray
    Commented Oct 14, 2010 at 22:10
  • It is illegal in both New York State and Quebec to make right turns on a red. I don't think that that is the case in most of north america though. Commented Oct 16, 2010 at 17:56
  • @Dana - Actually, right-on-red is legal in NY state, but illegal in NY City. Commented Oct 17, 2010 at 0:02
  • Yeah, I'm getting mixed up. It's legal in Quebec too, just not on Montreal Island. Commented Oct 17, 2010 at 1:57

In Vancouver, BC they have several ways of dealing with this. At heavily trafficked intersections they have dual parallel crosswalks: one for bikes and one for peds. Each has its own signal control button to stop traffic and their own crossing signal, although they seemed to operate in concert. They also do not allow motorized traffic to turn right on a red light across a bicycle path, although it is normally allowed. Where bikes and peds share a crosswalk path and bikes are allowed to ride across, there are "elephant feet," large square painted rectangles which form a parallel path adjacent to the crosswalk lines. Otherwise, there are signs telling bicyclists to behave like a pedestrian in crossing the street.

  • This doesn't actually answer the question about what to do when the signals are ambiguous, it just illustrates how the signals could be better.
    – jimchristie
    Commented Oct 11, 2012 at 18:20

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