Cycling on the pavement ("sidewalk")

I have just returned to the UK from a trip encompassing Vancouver and Victoria (British Columbia), Seattle (Washington) and Portland (Oregon) and very nice it was too. Except that I was assailed in all of those cities by people riding bicycles on what I would call the pavement.

In the UK it is an offence to cycle on the pavement, unless otherwise stated - some are designated as being for mixed use but generally these will be away from the main pedestrian areas. However, that doesn’t prevent people from cycling where they shouldn’t and the police never bother doing anything about it (they’re too busy mopping up the blood after stabbings). The cyclists I encountered in the USA and Canada were all doing so in busy, bustling Downtown areas.

Can anyone enlighten me on the laws on cycling on the sidewalk in the cities mentioned above? Were the many, many cyclists I encountered doing so legally or otherwise? Should I have shouted “get off the pavement, you twat” at them, as I do over here?

I think you’ll find that in the U.S., the laws vary by state (and sometimes perhaps by city). When I last checked, in Missouri it was legal to ride both on the road/street (with motor vehicles) and on the sidewalk/pavement (with pedestrians). I see this as reflecting the bicycle’s mixed purposes: it is viewed as a legitimate transportation vehicle in some contexts, and as a child’s toy in others.

ETA: Even so, there are certain restrictions. Bicycles are prohibited on interstate highways, and I have seen signs in some areas of some cities that prohibit riding on the sidewalk. As to the particulars of Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle, and Portland, I’m sorry I don’t know what their laws are.

Don’t know about those cities specifically. But in Massachusetts, it is legal to ride on sidewalks outside of business districts (unless there is a local law prohibiting it). I assume that general traffic law prevents riding on the sidewalk otherwise.
Only a very, very, very few towns (I think exactly one) ever enforce this particular requirement, though.

From here:

(bolding mine)

So in Washington, at least, the legality of riding on the sidewalk is left up to individual cities to decide.

From the Seattle Department of Transportation: Bike Program:

So it’s apparently legal in Seattle, but due caution must be exercised.

It must vary city to city. Here is Philadelphia’s law on riding a bicycle on the sidewalk:
§ 12-808. Riding on Sidewalks.

 (1)     No person shall ride a bicycle upon a sidewalk within a business district, as such district is defined in The Vehicle Code.

 (2)     No person 12 years of age or more shall ride a bicycle upon any sidewalk in any district.

 (3)     Whenever any person is riding a bicycle upon a sidewalk, such person shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and shall give audible signal before overtaking and passing such pedestrian.

 (4)     In areas under the jurisdiction of the Fairmount Park Commission, riding bicycles on sidewalks and foot paths may be permitted when authorized by regulations of the commission. 10

 (5)     Notwithstanding the provisions of Section 12-811 of this Chapter, the penalty for violation of this Section shall be a fine of $10, together with the costs of prosecution. 11

It may be an offence to ride on the pavement in the UK but in this town at least this law seems to be ignored by so many people. I am getting sick and tired of nearly being run down by mad cyclists. Of course, in this day and age, if you try and tell them off, you get met with a torrent of four-letter words.

The other day I got so mad at one lad rushing past me on his bike that I pushed him out of the way and he fell off his bike. I know it was a foolish thing to do and he could have turned violent , but in this case he just rode off shouting curses at me. It did make me feel better though!

Thanks - very interesting answers.

Well done Rayne Man, You should have jumped on his spokes while you were at it. I say this as a cyclist myself, who (self-righteously) always obeys the rules - I even stop at red traffic lights!

Yeah, I’ll ride on the street from now on, sorry. Cause, you know, getting hit by a car on your bike is much less common and dangerous than getting hit by a bike walking! :rolleyes:

So you choose to break the law just to suite your own convenience ?

Convenience, safety, it’s all good.

It’s not good or convenient for the pedestrians who have to dodge out of the way of cyclists, because the ones round here ride at breakneck speed with no consideration for anyone else.

I’m with Ludovichhere. I just bought a bike and started riding again after my last one got mangled eight years ago when I got hit by a truck. I’m a nervous nellie! On busy streets with almost no shoulder, yes, I ride on the sidewalk; in quieter, residential neighborhoods, I ride in the street.****

Sorry about that, I’m still learning.

I was biking (in the street) in an L.A. neighborhood a little after dark and the police pulled me over, saying that I was supposed to have a light (which I’d left at home). But eventually they said I shouldn’t be riding around after dark in there because it’s a “gang area.” They didn’t cite me, but before they let me go on, I asked if it was okay for me to ride on the sidewalk. I could tell from the answer they they actually weren’t sure. They said no. Actually, the answer is no for business districts. Otherwise, you can. As noted above, it depends on the city.

In California a bicycle is a vehicle and is subject to the same laws as any other vehicle. That means no sidewalks. Also they are banned from most freeways (along with mopeds, and other such contraptions)
The law gets ignored a bunch, particularly by small children, but that is the way the law reads.

It is a really tricky balance.

I cycle around Reading some days, for exercise. Part of my standard route involves the A4 (a pretty major road). On the section I cycle, it does have a cycle/pedestrian path. However, at the pace I cycle, I prefer to be on the road because I would kill or severely injure a pedestrian or other cyclist (and myself) if we collided. I just claim my space on the road and expect other road users to show me some respect. And I pedal like crazy.

In other places (Henley on Thames, Wargrave) I do use footpaths for safety (where the road is narrow). But on some of the country lanes, I just have to share the road with cars, and sometimes they have to go pretty slow - but I am going as fast as I can possibly can.


Now you are just being ridiculous. If a person is riding recklessly on a pavement, that should be an arrestable offence, anything other than dangerous cycling should be overlooked. Common sense should be the main factor here; not making more work for the police.

You just try and find a policeman to arrest them, that’s the problem.

Most riding on the sidewalk is, by its very nature, unsafe. People walking and cars crossing sidewalks are expecting people to travel at walking speed. Bikes don’t operate that way and produce an unsafe environment. Outside of a business zone I guess I can accept that, but in a crowded environment it’s not possible to ride safely on the sidewalks.


Avid biker and walker

Next summer I’ll be cycling across Canada with the wife. In Canada you can cycle, essentially, from coast to coast along the highways. There are exceptions, most notably around larger cities where you are diverted onto an arterial road into and through the city. Otherwise, across the breadth of the country cyclists are permitted on our highways.

In most cities in Canada it is illegal to cycle on the sidewalks. Here in Toronto I’ve heard cyclists yelled at for being on the sidewalk. I also believe it is increasingly becoming municipal policy to create “bike lanes” whenever a new road is constructed or old road (within criteria) refurbished.