Sidewalk laws vary from state to state, and then again from county to county. San Antonio restricts bicycles from side walks as a city wide mandate, while Madison, WI allows them in non-commercial areas, providing cyclists yield to pedestrians and give audible warnings when they are about to pass a pedestrian.
New York City allows for children 12 and under to ride bicycles with a wheel diameter of 26″ or less to ride on sidewalks but requires adults to use road and bike ways. In San Fransisco, the legal age for riding a bicycle on the sidewalk is capped at 13.
As you can see, it’s very difficult to give a represented look at sidewalk laws in the united states because they are different everywhere you go. What is always acceptable is to ride your bicycle on the far right hand side of the road in the same direction as car traffic.
Many cities offer maps of their designated bike paths and bike lanes, such as this one for Springfield, MO — which, incidentally, Springfield allows bicycles on sidewalks in neighborhoods, but not in business districts.
Safe Sidewalk Etiquette for Cyclists
In those areas that allow cyclists to ride on sidewalks designed for pedestrians, there are a few basic disciplines that you need to make habits for the safety of everyone involved:
- Pay attention. Put the phone down. Especially in a pedestrian pathway with children on slow bicycles and people walking/jogging and pushing strollers, it is crucial that you be hyper aware of your surroundings and those you are going to pass. 1 out of 10 times that a bicycle wreck with a pedestrian occurs is a fatal encounter.
- Be loud. Use a bell or a whistle in conjunction with shouting that you are approaching from behind before passing. A rude amount of noise is better than not informing a person you are about to pass them and having them step into your path.
- Slow down. Side walks were not made for bicycle tires and pot holes, cracks, spaces between bits of pavement, ridges, and steps are all part of the sidewalking experience. It’s better to slow down to 6-8mph and take it a bit leisurely. I’ve gone over my handlebars before and I promise you that it’s not an experience you are missing out on if you haven’t tried it yet.
- Yield Promptly. Slowing down will give you an advantage on this front, because if it’s legal for you to use it, pedestrians have 100% right of way on sidewalks and cross walks. This is not equal ground like a shared use pathway or a roadway, this is a space that belongs to the pedestrians. Parents expect their toddlers to be safe on a sidewalk and you shouldn’t give them any reason to doubt that that is the case.
- Hands Free. Don’t try to carry a lot of parcels and packages on your bicycle unless you have a basket or saddlebags. Trying to navigate around the pomeranian that spies a boxer in the back of a passing truck, or keep from crushing a 5 year old who just spotted a dandilion to pick for his mommy requires both hands on the handlebars. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you are in a shared space.
- Be careful. This is always our final point — but the truth is that the entire cycling community is dependant on you being respectful and safe. Each of us must do our part to respect the laws and to treat others with care.