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First off, I am normally the type to take a lane on my normal bike. However, I commute by train, and can only take a small folding bike with me. And on that thing, I am pretty slow (that also helps with not sweating!).

But there is one mile section of my commute that goes through a main artery of a neighborhood. Not a ton of traffic... but enough that I would prefer to take my slow bike off out of the lane.

On one side of the street is a typical sidewalk: concrete... about three feet wide and adjacent to the road.

On the other side is an asphalt path, about 4.5 feet in width, that mostly parallels the road (there are a few little twists... but only going around landscaping).

Yesterday, someone yelled at me that bikes were illegal on sidewalks (which is true). I ignored this person as I didnt feel like discussing it, but it got me to thinking...

What is the difference between a bike path (or mixed use path) and a sidewalk?

EDIT: If it helps at all, this is the specific example I was on. However, I was trying to keep this generic.

  • For legal questions we need to known your location, preferably including your state as well as country. It looks as though you're in the US somewhere, but they have significant variation across state and territory laws. – Móż Nov 6 '15 at 21:55
  • Legal was really just the closest tag I could find... but I was trying to keep this question a bit general. But in my case I live in Maryland. – cylus Nov 6 '15 at 21:56
  • Slightly facetious, but I'd say a mixed use path has white painted bike symbols on it, showing you're allowed to ride there. 4.5 feet is too small to be a combined use path in most countries, 2 metres is the accepted minimum and 3 is often the minimum size of new ones. Or there's this approach (humour) bikesintheheights.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/… (yehuda moon comic about white paint and sharrows) – Criggie Nov 6 '15 at 22:08
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    Maryland's Transportation Codes in particular are poorly written. Many of the definitions are seemingly contradictory. The sidewalk definition lists it as "intended for use by pedestrians", however, sidewalk is used in the definition of "Bicycle Way" and there is also a section about driving on sidewalks (not allowed) which states bicycles are exempt, except where local ordinance forbids it. It seems the default is that sidewalk riding is legal in Maryland, unless the local municipalities have passed laws against it. – Deleted User Nov 6 '15 at 22:41
  • Anne Arundel County seems to permit bicycle use on sidewalks. – Deleted User Nov 6 '15 at 22:49
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What is the difference between a bike path (or mixed use path) and a sidewalk?

You're allowed to ride on a bike path, you're generally not allowed to ride on a sidewalk. The visible difference is the signage on the bike path saying bicycles are allowed there.

A sidewalk is normally the default label for any non-vehicle path next to a road. They're almost always restricted to pedestrians and mobility vehicles (prams, wheelchairs), usually with wheeled toys also allowed. The detail of how those are defined varies, but in general it's "things that move at pedestrian speeds".

Mixed use or shared paths are distinguished by their signage. Somewhere near the start and end will be signs saying "bicycles allowed" or "horses, bicycles and motorbikes allowed" or something similar. Often in graphic form rather than text. The local laws will define exactly where those paths start and end, but the people building them often don't know or care what the law says, leading to situations where cyclists have to dismount, walk their bike one or two metres, then they can ride on the shared path. Obviously no-one does that, but occasionally someone gets ticketed for it (or presumably in the USA, shot).

Specifically in Maryland:

Shared-Use Path A bikeway outside the traveled way and physically separated from motorized vehicular traffic by an open space or barrier and either within the highway rightof-way or within an independent alignment. Shared-use paths are also used by pedestrians (including skaters, users of manual and motorized wheelchairs, and joggers) and other authorized motorized and nonmotorized users. (Maryland MUTCD, 2006)

Sidewalk That portion of a right-of-way designed for preferential or exclusive use by pedestrians.

This official pdf seems to have collected all the bicycle-related parts of Maryland code and there's a summary on an official website. You can only ride on a sidewalk where specifically permitted by local rules, and interestingly wheeled toys, unicycles, and mobility scooters also need special permission to use sidewalks. They don't mention prams, so I suspect "wheeled thing that you push or pull" counts as a pedestrian.

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    It is legal (and advisable) to ride on sidewalks in my locale. Many areas here have sidewalks and no bike lanes or shoulder. – Deleted User Nov 6 '15 at 22:26
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    "you're not allowed to ride on a sidewalk" is not a correct statement. It is true in some localities and not others. It is, in fact, false in the locality this question originated from. – Deleted User Nov 7 '15 at 0:12

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