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« You only know if you’ve been there, and done that | Main | Off to the Races »

A good reason not to ride on the sidewalk

An acquaintance recently started riding a bike. When he told me he was riding on the sidewalk, I explained this was not a good idea.

Most bicycle accidents occur at intersections and riding on the sidewalk actually increases the risk of being hit, because the cyclist is less visible to drivers of motor vehicles.

He said he was afraid to ride on the road because he might be hit from behind. I told him that car drivers will not hit cyclists as long as they can see them. I could tell at the time he was not convinced, and I warned him to be extremely careful.

About a week ago he was riding his bike on the sidewalk, going in the wrong direction; a car was stopped in a parking lot a short distance back from the road. As he approached, the car suddenly shot forward.

In all probability the driver was looking in the direction of traffic, saw a gap and drove forward to merge into traffic, not expecting a cyclist to be coming along the sidewalk from the opposite direction.

He didn’t actually hit the vehicle, but a combination of braking hard while trying to swerve around behind the car, sent him flying over the handlebars landing heavily on his back.

Police and paramedics were called and he was taken to a local hospital. He has severe bruising, and has since had to return to the hospital and have blood and fluid drained from a large swelling on his back.

He contacted a lawyer who checked the local city laws, and surprise, surprise, it is illegal to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk. He has no legal claim what-so-ever.

So, even though motorists will constantly yell at you to get on the sidewalk, and even though police will usually ignore you and not stop you riding there; it is not a good idea to ride on the sidewalk.

Besides being extremely dangerous, if you are involved in an accident, in most cities you are breaking the law and you do not have a legal leg to stand on. Insurance companies are not going to pay, and you may even find that you may have to pay damages.

Or, as this person has found out the hard way, in addition to his pain and suffering, he will now have to face some hefty medical bills.


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Reader Comments (16)

Pavements around here are narrow, and just about allow two pedestrians side-by-side. It never ceases to amaze me at the number of, let's be frank, grown-men-who-should-know-better that cycle along them: forget the risk to themselves for the moment, but consider the sheer bad manners of trying to weave against and around pedestrians. Consider, also, the children and toddlers who wouldn't really know how to dodge a cyclist bearing down on them.

I witnessed a related activity yesterday. While cycling up the road I happened upon a family out for stroll, encouraging Junior to ride his mountain-bike alongside them. Innocent enough? Sensible? Nope - he was cycling against the traffic, and heading toward me. Dad reminded Junior to watch ahead, and held his handlebars. His family had invested in a full-face bike helmet - he's going to need it I think.

July 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKen Davidson

The last time I rode on a sidewalk was just before I was hit by a car! I was in college, riding back from class. I found myself in the crosswalk right when the light turned green. The driver was braking for the red, but when the light turned green, hit the gas and we made contact. Her bumper and my ankle. The impact broke my ankle and bent the crack spider where the ankle bone was sandwiched b/t the bumper and the crank! I tried to sue for damages...but I quickly learned that riding bikes on sidewalks is illegal!! Now I find myself, 15 years later, happy to ride on the road, where I belong, obeying all traffic rules and feeling cautiously secure and confident.

July 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNick Marinelli

Lesson learned (the hard way)

July 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGrump

We had a 4th grader struck at my school -- riding down the sidewalk on the wrong side of the road. He actually RAN INTO an SUV driven by a careful driver who looked left, for oncoming traffic. She was absolutely stunned / surprised to find a bicycle rider hitting her car -- bike trapped under the car, child taken to hospital (scraped but otherwise OK -- whew!). Citation? Nope!

In Mountain View, California (the Bay Area) bicycle riding on sidewalks in epidemic. Sometimes I'd like to carry a rubber baseball bat (a soft one) and make my displeasure felt -- literally! Alas, I'd land in prison, no doubt.

The only time it makes sense to be biking on a sidewalk is if you are a teeny, tiny rider being accompanied by a parent (who would be on foot!). Then it makes sense. Otherwise, get your lousy carcass on the road, where it belongs.

July 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJames Thurber

It's too difficult to cycle on the sidewalk (pavement in UK Speak) because of all the cars parked on them around where I live.

Yes - just joking.

Dave, as always, straight to the point and absolutely correct.

July 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWestfieldWanderers

This is the thing that bothers me about some of the new cycle lanes in the UK - not only are they on the pavement (i.e. sidewalk) but with both directions on one side of the road. So you end up travelling against the traffic and you just know that a car's going to turn across the bike lane without looking both ways. I think the people who design bike lanes should be forced to use them themselves, winter and summer, night and day. Then we might have fewer of the really dangerous ones...

July 25, 2008 | Unregistered Commentertown mouse

My $0.02: You're absolutely right in most cases, BUT -- there are a few places in my commute where I am on a major road (45-50 mph) with no shoulder and a sidewalk that's mostly empty. And in Virginia riding on the sidewalk is legal unless a sign says otherwise. I've never seen such a sign. I constantly get yelled at to (1) get on the sidewalk or (2) get off the sidewalk; that's why I researched the law. Really the only answer is that if you have to ride on the sidewalk to be very careful and act like a pedestrian when crossing intersections (if it's busy, walk the bike!).

July 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterVA cyclist

As a cyclist, I always want to ride on road not pavement. When reversing out of my drive I am always nervous about kids who come speeding along the pavement on their bikes, you only see them at the last moment.

July 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTejvan Pettinger

My friend and I once had a cop drive up behind us aware, and then he screamed over his PA system for us to get our butts on the sidewalk. It totally scared the crap out of me. We were in the bike lane, in a quiet suburban neighborhood around Scottsdale, Arizona--like 6am in the morning.

We were like, WTF?

Then he sped off--probably for donuts :)

Yeah--getting yelled at to get off the sidewalk--get on the sidewalk--gee wiz!

July 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBruce

Dave at least you tried to tell him it was bad idea! Atlanta Journal Constitution article Rookie and rusty cyclists hit streets ... and hospitals has a telling quote "... bicyclists are taking to the road that don't have much road experience and haven't bothered to take classes in road riding ..."

Here is a short video that illustrates basic cycling principles: "Cyclist's Eye View". Learn and enjoy the ride!

July 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDC

See, here in the Netherlands all the problems are solved pretty neatly: they have separate bike lanes, off the road, off the sidewalk, for pretty much every street you could ever want to ride. When will the good ol' US of A learn?

July 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterT

I don't understand why the cyclist contacted a lawyer, can anyone explain? What did he feel he was entitled to and why? Road rules don't apply to the footpath/sidewalk since vehicles aren't supposed to be there so the motorist could not be considered to be at fault for not giving way.

July 27, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterlemmiwinks

Even though the Netherlands and other countries have segregated facilities for cycling, recent research shows that such facilities do not make for safer riding. The Netherlands has safer cycling because drivers are considered to be at fault in any collision with a cyclist, making the drivers more cautious. Those cyclists are also far better trained than those in the USA, having been raised in a cycling culture where a bicycle is not considered "merely" a toy.

I also commute on 45-55 mph roads, with occasional trips on 65 mph four-lane roadways, not interstate highways, of course. Vehicular Cycling practices makes my riding safer, as I occupy the center of the lane, or slightly left of center (driver's position) making my bicycle that much more visible to all traffic in all directions.

I also obey all traffic controls, stop signs, traffic lights and bus flashers. Behave as a vehicle operator and you will be far safer than as a pedestrian.

When someone blows a horn, honking at you, wave and smile at the "misguided territorial goose" and enjoy your ride!

If I were to go along with your friend's logic to justify his actions, pedestrians would now all be walking on the road for fear of being hit by a bicycle from behind on the sidewalk!

It is illegal to ride on the sidewalk for good reason!

A pedestrian doesn't turn around to look behind before moving sideways a bit, before turning, going into a store, or whatever. No one expects a vehicle to be coming up fast from behind. Also there are old people, with slower reflexes, and children playing. And in cities, people coming out of shops...
What a selfish thing to do, riding on the sidewalk. Those people are a MENACE to all.

If you're a cyclist, remember this: there is safety in numbers. and we are all riding on the road, claiming our right and space. So join us.

And motorists must realize that the roadway is a shared place. It is not an acquired right. It is loaned to them, as long as they are civil.

July 28, 2008 | Unregistered Commentersupertimm

A very good post, as usual, Dave. However, as with most hard and fast rules, I offer respectfully, there are and should be exceptions.

I live in Los Angeles, where it is legal to ride on the sidewalk. The only time I take advantage of this right is on Wilshire Blvd, Miracle Mile district, between 4pm and 7pm. It is during this rush hour time that the on-street parking is changed into a third lane of traffic. Usually, this means it is a passing lane, even though it is on the far right of the roadway (US rules). With virtually no speed or other enforcement and people still yacking away on cell phones (despite the recent ban on hand helds), my experiences have been less than pleasant.

I therefore find it necessary sometimes, when approaching Wilshire, to do the final two or three blocks to the drug store while riding my bike barely above walking speed, on the sidewalk. I am always respectful of pedestrians. I make sure eye contact is established with any autos crossing my path, and always with a smile. As far as I know, my actions have caused no consternation amongst the ped-o-philes walkers. Incidently, the sidewalks around here are all two-way. I say that only half-jokingly, but if you think about riding your bike at or near walking speed it is irrelevant on which side of the sidewalk/street you do it.

For every one of me there are perhaps five who dart in and out of walkers and go way too fast for the conditions. Every other mile I ride in and around LA is on a street. I'm sure there are others who have similar situations (certainly some listed above fit the bill).

I have bike commuted for 28 years in DC, NYC, and LA, taken two unsupported trips up the coast, raced my fair share of races (always at the back of the pack). I have a well developed sense of what situation is safe or not, and sometimes discretion is the better part of valour. Sometimes it is necessary and prudent to take the sidewalk and it doesn't have to put anyone in peril.

August 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Brown

A small addendum from this side of the pond;


"CSOs and accredited persons will be accountable in the same way as police officers. They will be under the direction and control of the chief officer, supervised on a daily basis by the local community beat officer and will be subject to the same police complaints system. The Government have included provision in the Anti Social Behaviour Bill to enable CSOs and accredited persons to stop those cycling irresponsibly on the pavement in order to issue a fixed penalty notice.

I should stress that the issue is about inconsiderate cycling on the pavements. The new provisions are not aimed at responsible cyclists who sometimes feel obliged to use the pavement out of fear of the traffic, and who show consideration to other road users when doing so. Chief officers recognise that the fixed penalty needs to be used with a considerable degree of discretion and it cannot be issued to anyone under the age of 16. (Letter to Mr H. Peel from John Crozier of The Home Office, reference T5080/4, 23 February 2004)

June 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn the Monkey
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