This morning on my commute I encountered a runner in the bike lane I was riding in. This irked me because:

  1. The bike lane was on a busy street, with three lanes of motor vehicle traffic in each direction. (I was northbound on Embarcadero in San Francisco, for those of you familiar with the city.) To go around the runner I had to enter the car lanes, which makes me a little uneasy.
  2. There is a very wide sidewalk available to runners and other pedestrians along this street. There were no obstructions on the sidewalk, and it was not choked with other pedestrians. In other words, there was plenty of room for this runner to run on the sidewalk. (I'm guessing that he didn't want to run on the concrete sidewalk based on the misguided belief that the asphalt roadway would be easier on his joints.)

So when I was about to pass the runner, I called out, "You're in my lane!" His reaction was... not positive. He started yelling and cursing at me. I don't know exactly what he said; probably something about runners being entitled to use of the bike lane, too.

So my question is this:

Do runners or other pedestrians have a legal right to use the bike lane (not that SFPD would ever enforce this even if it were a violation), especially when there is a sidewalk available? If this varies with the jurisdiction -- and it probably does -- then I suppose I'm most curious about what the law says where I do all of my riding, in the San Francisco bay area.

(Irrelevant detail: I'm a runner myself -- I do a lot more running than cycling, in fact -- and I've run on this route many times. I really have no sympathy for those who want to run in the bike lane, just because I feel like the sidewalk is perfectly adequate for runners when it's available. I don't ride my bike on the sidewalk, after all.)

  • 1
    Just yell "On your left" and go around him. The guy should move over to give you clear passage if given proper warning. (Ringing a bell does little good, though probably a Harpo Marx horn might work.) Commented Sep 20, 2011 at 1:45
  • Interesting question, but I really don't see how the second part is answerable. I'm closing this as it's generating chatty, forum-style answers, and would be better suited to a forum than here. (The meat of this is your first point, asking if runners genrally have the right to use bike lanes, but I suspect even that'd need a locality to be answerable.) Please do feel free to edit this and we'll consider re-opening. (I hope you do, this question is quite entertainingly written.) Commented Sep 20, 2011 at 3:25
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    Share the road. This is a little like someone driving a car asking if bicycles are allowed to use the auto lane.
    – xpda
    Commented Sep 21, 2011 at 14:50
  • 3
    @xpda Not really. Cycles are legally entitled to the roadway, except when they're not. The question is whether pedestrians are also entitled to the roadway, especially when a large sidewalk has been provided for pedestrians.
    – Jeff
    Commented Sep 21, 2011 at 16:59
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    But do we really want to get the running community set against us, and on the side of the "autos only" mindset? Better to be tolerant. Commented Sep 21, 2011 at 19:54

7 Answers 7


Most US State and Local laws are based on the Uniform Vehicle Code and American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) guidelines. They will normally have a phrase like:

Where sidewalks are provided, it shall be unlawful for any pedestrian to walk along and upon an adjacent roadway.

And a phrase like:

Where sidewalks are not provided, any pedestrian walking along and upon a highway shall, when practicable, walk only on the shoulder on the left side of the roadway.

So, the short answer is "no", but may be different wherever you are.

The longer answer is that just like cyclist are allowed to take the lane when conditions warrant, pedestrians are allowed there when conditions warrant.

Ultimately we are all trying to share a limited amount of space. Courtesy from all parties is always appreciated, and usually returned.


Found this thread as I was looking for the same answer for the legality of pedestrian running on the bike lane with a perfectly good sidewalk next to them. Since I have not seen this being answered here, I'll post what I found from California's DMV.

Pedestrian in Bicycle Lane

21966. No pedestrian shall proceed along a bicycle path or lane where there is an adjacent adequate pedestrian facility.


Surprisingly, this law has been in effect since 1977 and it seems not many people know (or care) about it.

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    Whats 'adequate' a loose term ensuring the lawyers get rich while only the courts can decide if a specific instance breached the law.
    – mattnz
    Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 2:26
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    @mattnz Terms like "adequate," "in good repair," and "when practicable" are often thrown into laws like this so that the law doesn't require people to use a sidewalk or bike lane that is riddled with potholes, obstructed with debris, or otherwise hazardous. I'm no lawyer, but I think they're left deliberately ambiguous so that the cyclist/pedestrian can decide when it's safe to use the lane/sidewalk, and when it's not.
    – jimchristie
    Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 15:37
  • I wonder if "adjacent" includes a sidewalk on the other side of the street. Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 2:38

This depends on the direction that they are running in. Due to bicycles being silent, cycling having priority in the bike lanes and runners not having eyes in the back of their heads, they should be running the 'wrong way', towards rather than with bike traffic. In that way they can hop out of the way of oncoming cycle traffic.

Clearly there is no way short of public service broadcasts on television to inform runners on the correct etiquette for running in bike lanes. However, from a UK 'Highway Code' legal perspective, pedestrians are pedestrians whether they are crawling on all fours, walking with ipod plugged in or running 'narcissus' style.

  • +1 for the wrong way. Certainly the UK Highway Code suggests that when pedestrians have to walk in the road (e.g. where there is no separated path) they walk against the flow, better visibility for all concerned.
    – Unsliced
    Commented Sep 21, 2011 at 9:11
  • He was running the "right way," which is to say that he was not running the "wrong way," as you advised. Er, I think you know what I mean. Or maybe not. He was running with car and bike traffic, so no, he could not see me coming.
    – Jeff
    Commented Sep 21, 2011 at 16:51

As to the question of whether runners "have a right" to use the bike lane, that would depend on your local laws. My guess would be "yes", unless there's some specific exclusion -- the bike lane would likely fall into the same classification as other bike paths -- where pedestrians are allowed in most jurisdictions.

As to whether they "should", keep in mind that many runners feel (perhaps with some justification) that running on concrete is harder on the legs than running on asphalt.

  • Those runners are wrong: nytimes.com/2011/07/19/health/nutrition/…
    – Jeff
    Commented Sep 21, 2011 at 16:52
  • I'm guessing I could find "authoritative" articles that stated the exact opposite. Commented Sep 21, 2011 at 20:08
  • If you do find anything, I'd love to read it. AFAIK, there have been few studies on this, and those that have been done have not found any connection between injuries and how hard the running surface is.
    – Jeff
    Commented Sep 21, 2011 at 22:53
  • Lots of individual reports of having pain/injury after switching from asphalt to concrete. Very few studies, mostly poorly designed, from what I can see, and they have been all over the map. Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 1:58

"Are runners allowed to use the bike lane?"

Hmmm...this depends entirely on local laws. Legal in some locations. Illegal in others.

If legal or otherwise, a simple verbal, "...on the left..." usually works. No need to be rude.

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    I disagree about the rudeness. He's creating a safety hazard for cyclists on the road. If it's not legal for him to be there, he needs to know that his presence is not welcome. If I just say "on the left," his thought will be "oh, a cyclist is passing me," and he will continue to believe that it's acceptable for him to run in the bike lane. If he's made to feel unwelcome, he might reconsider creating a safety hazard in the future. I guess it would be nicer to politely explain that he is endangering others, but when the encounter lasts only a few seconds there is no time for that.
    – Jeff
    Commented Sep 21, 2011 at 16:56
  • @Jeff: Or, being an inconsiderate person (polite but not my preferred way to put it), the runner will just dig his toes in and make it harder for cyclists to get around him. Rudeness rarely does anything except escalate the conflict.
    – mattnz
    Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 2:30

In this situation, I usually just slow down, and ring the bell. This will get most people out of the lane. If they refuse to move, slow down to just a little faster than them, and coast by. There should be enough room for a bike and a runner in the bike lane, provided the runner isn't in the middle of the lane. People with headphones on (as many runners do) often won't hear the bell. If you need to get off the bike or hop up on the curb to go around. No use risking your own safety for someone else's convenience. Some time this summer I actually had a bike coming the wrong way in the bike lane. Luckily there was a lull in traffic so I could avoid the person. A runner in the bike lane is the least of your worries.

  • Interesting points - in my city council is planning to add "contraflow" bike lanes on our network of one-way streets. That's going to confuse so many motorists.
    – Criggie
    Commented Nov 6, 2015 at 22:16

I get irked when people are running/walking on the road WITH traffic, in general. I think it's a law, albeit unenforced.

I think the general consensus across most jurisdictions is that it is illegal for a pedestrian (this includes rollerbladers, skateboarders, etc) to not use a sidewalk when it is available. And if one is not available, to move against the flow of traffic. It's safer, anyway...

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