Should You Ride Your Bike on The Sidewalk?

Should You Ride Your Bike on The Sidewalk?

Whether you’re interested in commuting to work by bicycle or just enjoying your neighborhood on two wheels, it’s important to follow bicycle laws in your area and make sure you stay safe. That way, you can avoid getting into a serious bicycle accident.

Many cities across America lack sufficient bicycle infrastructure. This can make sidewalks tempting for cyclists who want to stay out of the way of potentially distracted drivers, especially along busy streets. 

Before riding your bike on the sidewalk, you’ll need to find out if it’s legal and then consider whether it’s actually a safe option. 

Is Riding a Bike on the Sidewalk Legal?

Bicycle laws vary significantly from one state to the next, and even between cities in the same state. In some states, bicycles are considered a vehicle and prohibited from being operated on a sidewalk. 

Some states and cities like New York City ban riding on the sidewalk when the bicyclist is 13 or older. In other major cities like Boston and Portland, cycling on the sidewalk is allowed, but it’s prohibited in certain areas. 

Generally, cities with the most robust bicycle infrastructure and a large number of cyclists have the clearest bicycle laws. Portland, for example, is often ranked one of America’s most bike-friendly cities with 400 miles of bikeways. About 6% of Portland’s workers commute to work by bicycle compared to the national average of 0.5%. Portland, Oregon, bike laws include the following requirements: 

  • Cyclists must yield to pedestrians on sidewalks and paths and give an audible warning
  • Cyclists must slow to a walking speed when approaching a driveway or intersection with a vehicle present
  • Bikes cannot be used on sidewalks in downtown Portland in the area bounded by Front Avenue, SW Jefferson Street, 13th Avenue, and NW Hoyt Street

Before riding on the sidewalk, check the laws in your city and state. Make sure you understand whether cycling on the sidewalk is legal, any specific requirements, and whether there are restricted areas.

Why Cycling on the Sidewalk Can Be Dangerous

Even when it’s legal, be aware of the potential risks of riding on the sidewalk rather than the road. 

One of the most troubling issues with riding on the sidewalk is the risk to pedestrians. Just as you face serious injury if struck by a vehicle on the road, pedestrian accidents involving bicycles can be very serious. 

Cyclists can seem to come out of nowhere to pedestrians who aren’t expecting bicycles on the sidewalk. Even if you give a verbal warning that you are about to pass a pedestrian, they may be deaf, hard of hearing, or wearing headphones. 

Riding a bike on the sidewalk can also be more dangerous for you than riding on the road. A sidewalk usually has many more potential points of impact than a road with cross traffic and turning parallel traffic. 

Cyclists on a sidewalk are less visible to turning vehicles, and they also have less visibility when approaching driveways and parking lots than they would from the street.

Should You Ride Your Bike on the Sidewalk?

Assuming it’s legal, consider the time of day, traffic, location, and general infrastructure in the area before riding on the sidewalk. 

  • What’s the speed limit on the street? If the speed limit is very high, it may be safer to use the sidewalk in the area rather than sharing the road with high-speed vehicle traffic. 
  • What time of day is it? In the early morning or late at night, the sidewalks are probably empty, while visibility is reduced for drivers. With little traffic, drivers may be more likely to speed, too. It might be safer to ride on the sidewalk. 
  • Is there a bike lane available? If a bicycle lane is available instead, it should be used instead of the sidewalk. 

If you do decide to ride on the sidewalk, make sure you wear a helmet and exercise caution. While the sidewalk may feel safer to you, pedestrians often feel endangered by cyclists who seem like cars on the sidewalk. 

Ride slowly, give pedestrians plenty of space, yield to pedestrians, and get off your bike to walk through crosswalks and busy sidewalk areas. When it’s done with care, using the sidewalk can reduce your risk of being involved in a bicycle accident.