In recent surveys, over 50% of Americans would ride bike more frequently if they felt more safe doing it. So the question of riding on sidewalks far away from speeding cars is huge. Is it legal or not?
The answer is amazingly dependent upon other factors–like where you live, your speed, your age, local signage…even the size of your wheel and your actions when approaching a pedestrian! After all, there is a huge difference between a tot learning to ride a little trainer bike on the sidewalk and a speeding commuter careening through moving crowds.
Currently, 25 states have statutes explicitly permitting biking on sidewalks under certain circumstances, while numerous others recognize bikes as vehicles and prohibit vehicles from driving on sidewalks.
When states do not explicitly allow (or restrict) biking on sidewalks, court interpretations of statutes often still support riding on sidewalks. But riding on a sidewalk does not reduce all risk, and may even add new risks from cars. The real question is how and when to ride safely on sidewalks if it is allowed.
Four rules for safe sidewalk riding.
- RIDE SLOWLY. This is the most important rule. Sidewalks were built for pedestrians, not you. If you significantly exceed their speed, you become a personal danger to them and a legal danger to all future cyclists using sidewalks to escape speeding cars. Ride responsibly.
- Ride respectfully. This isn’t just about yielding to pedestrians, but also about making them aware of and comfortable with your presence, particularly if approaching from behind. Do not assume that the pedestrian will move one way or the other. Even a bell can startle, so use your voice in a calm, courteous manner.
- Double check all crossings. This is when cars are MORE dangerous to you than if you were riding in the street! On the sidewalk, you are invisible to drivers. Either they are approaching the main road and haven’t started looking for traffic yet, or they are leaving the main road and are done looking both ways. The only solution to either danger is for you to slow down and be super-vigilant at every driveway and other crossing.
- Ride selectively. Some locations, such as uphills on busy roads, are suitable for sidewalk riding for safety; others are not. Know the difference.
Often, this means a road is safe in one direction and not in the other. I personally ride entirely in the street or bike lane during the downhill route to work, when I’m moving the speed of traffic. But on the trip home, riding uphill, I move to the sidewalk rather than have whooshing cars pass me from behind with a 30+ mph speed differential.
Bottom line? Be smart, and ride safely… for everyone out there.