Bike Law University: Riding bicycles on sidewalks-legal, illegal, wise, unwise? | League of American Bicyclists

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Bicycles on sidewalks have long been debated: Is it legal? Is it safer? Shouldn’t children be able to ride there?

In this edition of Bike Law University, we take a look at sidewalk riding, which is a perfect microcosm of the complicated relationship between bicycles and traffic laws in most states.

What are they?

Sidewalk riding laws define the rights and duties of a bicyclist when riding on a sidewalk. Whether a bicycle can be legally ridden on a sidewalk highlights the complicated and hybrid nature of the bicycle under current traffic laws in most states. A bicycle is at once a vehicle, given all the rights and duties of a vehicle; its own entity, subject to specifically tailored alternative rules; and in some cases treated as a pedestrian, with all accompanying rights and duties. In some instances, laws related to sidewalk riding can also highlight a division between adult and child bicycling.

When states do not explicitly allow bicycles to be ridden on sidewalks, court interpretations of statutes may still allow bicycles to be ridden on sidewalks. In most, if not all, states, either statutes or court decisions say that whatever laws govern bicycle behavior on sidewalks will also apply to crosswalks. (Please contact me if you would like any case citations.)

In addition to these issues caused by the hybrid nature of bicycles, many states leave their traffic laws open to change by localities, either in limited circumstances or through a general grant of power. Whether a bicycle may be ridden on a sidewalk is often explicitly allowed to be a local decision and may also be limited in central business districts, where pedestrian traffic is likely to be heavier.

Why should you care?

The League recommends that bicyclists ride on the road. Riding on the sidewalk is a significant cause of bicyclist-motorist crashes and creates unnecessary conflicts with pedestrians. There are many reasons that bicyclists belong in the road rather than upon the sidewalk, including obstructions, unpredictable pedestrian movements, limited visibility, and the limited design speed of sidewalks. However, there may be appropriate times to ride on a sidewalk or crosswalk, such as when crossing an unsafe high speed roadway or when the skill or ability level of the rider is not suited for the adjacent roadway, as can be the case with children.

MoBikefed comment: As the League analysis indicates, whether or not people who bicycle should be allowed or expected to ride on the sidewalk is partly a legal matter, partly a matter of safety and best practice, and partly a practical matter.

Most people who rely on bicycling for basic transportation or recreation would find their trip times doubled or even more if they were somehow expected to use every sidewalk available.