3 Reasons to Not Bicycle on the Sidewalk

For most people who bicycle to work, riding on the sidewalk is an occasional necessity; but it should be the exception rather than the rule. In today’s post I give three reasons to not ride on the sidewalk (and two reasons why you should).

A bicycle on the sidewalk

When I was a child, I biked as a child, but when I became a man, I started riding in the street.
Photo by Richo.Fan.

I have a friend who insists on riding on the sidewalk. He is convinced that doing this is just safer; he has been hit by cars twice.

Risks of Riding a Bicycle on the Sidewalk

Risk #1: Getting hit by a car
There was a bumpersticker that was already old even when I was growing up: If you don’t like the way I drive, stay off the sidewalk. I doubt that it was ever funny, but the more I ride, the more I realize it’s true. Every car drives on the sidewalk from time to time because sidewalks are so often found between the roads (where people drive) and the stores, homes, and offices (where people park).

A button with a not pithy truthI think this close relationship between parking and sidewalks is particularly dangerous. When people are just getting into their cars, they are not fully engaged: they are putting on their seat belts, adjusting their mirrors, inserting their tasty beverage into their cup holder, etc. And they are doing all this just at the time they are most likely to encounter the sidewalk.

To the driver, the sidewalk crossing a driveway is part of the driveway. Cars don’t stop at the edge of the sidewalk because drivers are not expecting traffic there. Cars stop (if at all) at roads because that is where a driver expects to encounter other cars. Remember too that drivers often cross sidewalks in reverse and can’t see very well.

Stay away from sidewalks…there are just to many cars there.

Risk #2: Hitting a pedestrian
One of the reasons I bike to work is because it limits the amount of damage I can do. Sidewalks can be full of people walking, playing, eating, and generally being oblivious to their surroundings. If you hit a pedestrian at high speed you can seriously hurt them, and the chances of accidents are pretty high:

  • Pedestrians are unpredictable: they don’t walk in straight lines, they don’t pay attention, and they travel in herds. If you come up behind a pedestrian and call “on your left,” they will inevitably jump left.
  • Sidewalks are generally narrow: there is not a lot of room to maneuver.
  • You can get sued. If you hit and injure a pedestrian on the sidewalk you can (and probably deserve) to be sued.

Whenever I ride on the sidewalk, I make it a rule not to ride faster than I could travel on foot (running). I don’t know that this makes a lot of sense, but it makes me feel safer around pedestrians.

Risk #3: Getting a ticket
In many jurisdictions, it is illegal to ride on the sidewalk. Check with your local bike shop, bike collective, or police department to find out for sure.

Reasons to Bicycle on the Sidewalk

Reason #1: It is occasionally safer
If you need to travel from Point A to Point B and part of that journey is on a narrow street with no shoulder or with a dangerous bike lane (these do exist), you might consider riding on the sidewalk. Keep in mind the three risks above. The same is true for roads where the bike lane is blocked by construction, double parked vehicles, or trash.

Reason #2: It is significantly more convenient or fun
Yeah, fun. I occasionally find myself on a road that leads to a light that experience has taught me does not  change. When this happens, I ride through the pedestrian plaza by the library for convenience and for pleasure–it is a nice spot (sometimes I even slalom through the lampposts). When you are in control of your commute, it should be enjoyable.

Question: Why do you (or don’t you) ride on the sidewalk? Enter you answer in the comments below.

  • Mr. Common Sense

    I ride on the sidewalk because biking on the road is fucking stupid for so many reasons.

    • http://kwinpeterson.com/ Kwin Peterson

      I’ve provided three good reasons against and two weak reasons for. Please feel free to share any reasons, but I’d appreciate civil language.

      • Seachai Chan

        And your three reasons you provided before that are weak and ignorant.

        1) Getting hit by a car – No, there are no cars going on the side walk. Cars are always passing by on the streets.

        2) Hitting a pedestrian – It’s the same rule we can say that if car drivers don’t concentrate or focus when they’re driving, they will run into other cars and people crossing the streets too. Bicycles should be exceptional vehicles since they are easy to control. They run a the lowest speed rate ever compared to cars and trucks.

        Also, I can go on about this for many reasons why number 2 is the stupidest rule I’ve ever heard in my life of why people shouldn’t bike on side walks, but I will just leave that alone for now.

        3) Getting a ticket – I’d rather have cops give summons to people not wearing helmets and elbow pads instead of biking on the sidewalk. Because if you get hit as a bicyclist or something, you are still protecting yourself with them individually and preventing less injuries for yourself. But to avoid injuries like that, it only takes common sense to not run into people, therefore, bicyclists should use both the side walk and roads to their advantage for safety biking.

        I don’t understand why you need to write a page of article on defending the stupid law that was brought in by Obama and Bloomberg or whoever created it. This law deserves to be ripped up into pieces and rewritten again by someone who has logic and common sense.

        Don’t even get me started on the film industry in Hollywood. There are so many stupid things going on in this world that people don’t even realize and it’s very sad.

  • Kiwii

    In my opinion it feels much safer on the sidewalk. Riding on the street feels much more risky because there are some people that just don’t pay attention on the road or get really impatient and attempt to go around you. Plus someone could just push you over or pull you in their car and kidnap you (believe it or not it happens) …or some sicko would just feel like hitting or bumping someone. I always prefer go against traffic.

    Something to remember when riding on the sidewalk is to just pay attention to your surroundings and look ahead AND around your path to avoid getting hit by cars coming out. You cannot expect them to just stop for you. You have to make sure that they see you, EYE CONTACT it important. Stop if they aren’t looking at you. And no earphones of course. It’s always important to listen to everything around you.

    If there’s people in your way, get their attention by saying LOUDLY “Excuse me, bike coming through”. That’ll get their attention and they’d be less confused than “On your left/right”.

    I ride a 30 some minute commute to my school everyday. My school is 4.8 miles away from my house and my route has a lot of traffic. Sadly, there’s no bike lanes. :

    Stay safe everyone.

    • http://kwinpeterson.com/ Kwin Peterson

      You should NEVER ride against traffic. It is both illegal and incredibly dangerous.

  • Jonesy

    A bike is a vehicle. Pedestrians on pedestrian thoroughfares DO NOT have to watch out for vehicles any more than cars on a freeway have to watch out for pedestrians. The word “dangerous” is a verbal attempt to create an objective reality out of the subjective state of what one personally fears. Get in a motor vehicle if you have fear of the roadway or get on your feet if you want to use the pedestrian thoroughfare. Riding bikes on sidewalks is for bullies and cheats. What sidewalk cyclists really need to fear is the piece of rebar someone is going to insert in your spokes as you brush by them on a pedestrian walkway..

    • jay

      u dont have to brush them off if u are respectful though lol , use common sense

    • Peter Bodenham

      You are a retarded chav! If you actually know how to ride a bike properly you can pass pedestrians simply without causing the slightest bit of bother!

  • A guy

    Don’t ride on sidewalks, there might be cars there. Ride in the road instead! Where drivers are never distracted, and are constantly watching out for you!…

    At least on a sidewalk, cyclists have the opportunity to pay attention and avoid a collision. I acknowledge that drivers might not always pay attention when crossing a driveway, but anyone riding a bike should have the common sense to look out for themselves and not cross a driveway without checking for cars. In any case, a bike and a vehicle colliding at ~10mph isn’t nearly as devastating as a bike colliding with a car going 50mph. Same logic applies to pedestrians on the sidewalk. If a cyclist collides with a pedestrian, they both walk away. They might have some scraped shins and feel very embarrassed, but they’ll both walk away. You won’t walk away from being hit by a speeding car.

    And that video clip demonstrated a completely unrealistic situation. Where’s the line of backed-up traffic behind those two cyclists? Where’s the part showing all the impatient drivers taking unnecessary risks to pass those two cyclists? Don’t tell me every driver in the world is just going to sit back and calmly go 12mph…

    Bikes are NOT vehicles in the same sense that a car is a vehicle. One goes 5-20mph and weighs 50 pounds, the other goes 25-60 mph and weighs thousands of pounds. Those two things should interact with each other as infrequently as possible.

    • http://kwinpeterson.com/ Kwin Peterson

      I appreciate your phrasing the irony, but the point is cars on the road are looking out for other vehicles (and a bicycle is a vehicle even though it has nothing in common with a car) while on the sidewalk cars are not looking for anything.

      Your comment made me think of another reason not to ride on the sidewalk: it is much slower. I ride for transportation and can go so much faster on the road than on the sidewalk!

      The video clip may seem unrealistic, but I actually pulled off the road during my commute to shoot it.

      • A guy again

        I definitely agree that riding on the road would be faster for cyclists. My fear remains, though, that cyclists won’t be able to keep up with the flow of traffic. And some drivers are just reckless when they get impatient…

        I still think cyclists would be safer on sidewalks. At least there, they have the power to look out for themselves and avoid collisions, even if the motorists aren’t paying attention. And, personally, I would feel much safer being separate from speeding traffic and not having impatient drivers try to pass me.

        If drivers weren’t so consistently dangerous, I’d probably feel differently.

        Anyway, thanks for the response. And sorry for the sarcasm; sometimes I can’t help myself. =P

      • Seachai Chan

        Bicyclists and car drivers should use their eyes and brain to watch out for a possible crossover on the street. It should be everyone’s responsibility. Also, let’s not forget to mention that there are pedestrian grid lock lights that signal Go and Stop. If there wasn’t any reason to have something like that, they wouldn’t have been created by now. They created it for many reasons such as that. Once again, cars don’t operate on the side walk, they operate on the streets. The only time when something like that would happen is if stupid people run into each other due to texting or being drunk (stuff which you should never be doing any ways – they’re against the law).

        Also, what does riding on a transportation have to do with anything? We’re talking about biking over here, not riding taxis, buses, or trains. It depends on what kind of side walk and road you’re biking on. Side walks that have down hill slope will make your bike go faster and up hill slopes will make you ride your bike slower. Cars go faster than bikes on up hills because they’re cars and carry more gravity, weight, and speed than bicycles.

        Your comment in response to the guy justifies that there is a lack of natural logic in you.

  • AwesomeDay

    The sidewalk is dangerous because exactly as it says above, cars don’t expect traffic on the sidewalk. I got T-boned by a car coming out of a gas station because it didn’t expect me. Flew off the footpath onto the highway.

    • Why? It’s a fake name anyway

      Why would you not pay more attention..? Motorists might not be paying enough attention, but shouldn’t bicyclists have the common sense to look out for cars before crossing a driveway? I can’t imagine he was going so fast in the driveway that you couldn’t have seen him coming…

  • Kesington Washington

    is it illegal to ride on the sidewalk?

    • http://kwinpeterson.com/ Kwin Peterson

      In some places it is, others it’s not. Check with you local bike shop, they can probably tell you.

    • jay

      depends where u live

  • pro cyclist

    I ride on the sidewalk because I do not want to be anywhere near a car! are you crazy!? You know how many people text and drive? riding on the sidewalk is safe for me, I don’t really care about the pedestrians and I look before I cross a driveway.

    • jay

      agreed. i occasionally bike on the road. ill switch back and forth from sidewalk to road sometimes,……., but there is too many cars that get more close than im comfortable with for me to always bike on the road and as u said those who dont pay attention, …….. as long as we pay attention to pedestrians on the sidewalk this isnt a big issue as they are trying to make it, they act like we dont have common sense to bike on the sidewalk .

  • Glenn Bowers

    Biking on the road- It’s the Law in these parts! If it wasn’t I would definitely be on the sidewalk. Why: Car hitting bike=more pain and higher chance of death than bike hitting pedestrian. 2: Bikes are quite flexible, meaning say there are more than 1 person walking on a sidewalk, then you have 2 options:grass, or road..if the house in question doesn’t have a sign saying “stay off the grass”, the grass is a good option, and 3:as for more enjoyable..on the road your more worried about cars right next to you than actually enjoying yourself. I’ve had many times where if the car was just a couple inches more right, I’d get knocked and goodbye life. Let’s play-by-play same situation with pedestrian..i am right beside pedestrian and i shuffle right and it hits him…less object of getting creamed, takes more balance to handle bike and you’d likely take more damage,and if ur at the mid point, higher chance of not creating a huge accident than a big car. To me all motor vehicles should be on the road, all non-motor vehicles should have an option. Exception to that rule: Motorized Wheelchairs! Reason why not road, also is say we go to that situation where a car is getting too close..the bike wants to turn right also to not get hit, and there’s many areas where road to sidewalk are blocked off and if a bike hits that..noise-easy accident anyways. So many reasons why bikes SHOULD be on the sidewalk, bike paths if they are around (and easily visible).

  • Michael Waters

    Mr. Common Sense may have used overly raw language, but he’s correct. It borders on insane to ride a fragile bike that can only achieve a fraction of the speeds of cars on the road meant for these two ton behemoths.

    I like to bicycle, but I stick to the sidewalks and have never had a problem.

    Riding a bike at 15 with cars doing 35 passing me constantly is daft in my modest opinion.

  • Cat hunter

    i should never have to alter my coarse and/or swerve into the on coming lane of traffic to avoid a cyclist, as far as i’m concerned i paid a lot of money to drive my car on that road, when i see plates and tabs hanging off the back of a bike ill share the road with you, until then get off the road.

    • Peter Bodenham

      The vast majority of us bikers don’t want to be biking it on the road with so many awful and just plain reckless drivers!

  • https://twitter.com/thechrisschmidt BeardMoney

    I hit a biker on the sidewalk today. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt, but your Risk #1 says it all. I was pulling out of a parking garage. I checked right and saw no pedestrians, pulled up and checked left, saw no pedestrians or cars. This meant I should have been good to go. I began to pull out onto the road when suddenly a biker flew in front of my car from the right. I slammed on the breaks but still bumped him off his bike. He got up and I asked him if he was okay. He muttered something about being scraped and picked a piece of debris up off the ground. I thought I’d broken his bike. He walked around to my window, handed me my license plate, hopped on his bike and sped away.

    My visibility was very limited coming out of this spot. I had enough room to see a short distance on either side and be confident no one was about to walk in front of me, but this kid was going fast and by the time I’d checked my left he was already coming in on my right, definitely not looking out for me. I will certainly exercise more caution in the future–I could have nosed out more slowly, but he shouldn’t have been–but I also hope he reconsiders using the sidewalk like a road. If he’d been biking at a leisurely speed or exercising caution, the sidewalk would have been fine, but this incident is a good lesson about why the sidewalk isn’t always safer.

    • http://kwinpeterson.com/ Kwin Peterson

      Thanks for sharing. I’m glad the outcome wasn’t worse.

    • Seachai Chan

      Because it’s up to the bicyclists to enact on the brakes that were created in the first place. If the brakes are working fine, then the brakes should be utilized to their advantage. Not every bicyclists bike quickly at cramped places. Most bicyclists know when it is appropriate to bike quickly and not. As long as neither you nor the bicyclist was hurt, every thing should be okay and minor, not major or controversial.

      Scroll up to my comment I posted in response to the author of the article, I clearly stated that bicyclists should use both the side walks and streets to their advantage in terms of seeing pedestrians and cars.

  • Allan

    I ride on the side walk because my God damn town doesn’t give me ANY room to ride on the road with, there are bike lanes, but there half the size they should be and only go for about five feet until they stop, and all a sudden there’s about 2 feet between me, a parked car, and than driving cars.

  • Redneck

    Hitting a pedestrian on the sidewalk with a bike VS hitting a cyclist with a car on the road…. There’s no comparison, regardless of the chances of being hit. Just ride on the bloody side-walk and quit wasting everyone’s time. I don’t pay for a vehicle to get caught up behind a douche-bag biker.

    No cop is going to give you a ticket for riding on the sidewalk.

  • http://kwinpeterson.com/ Kwin Peterson

    When I wrote this article I had no idea it would be the most commented one on the site, and I’m very surprised that so many people disagree with me and I get the impression that some commenters did not read the article.

    I’m open to opposing opinions…but in the last 9+ years I’ve ridden over 26,000 miles to and from work without incident. You are welcome to disagree with me, but unless your circumstances are very different than mine you’re probably wrong.

  • Peter Bodenham

    If you riding safely on a sidewalk, there should be no problems, its called being aware of yourself and others. If you are riding safe on a road, you are still in a lots of danger, even if you are aware of your surroundings. There’s more likely to be a fatality on the road rather than the sidewalk.

  • Nikki

    When I lived in New York I grew up riding bikes on the sidewalk. That’s what everyone did. Cops wouldn’t give us tickets. I never met anyone or heard of anyone dying from riding their bike. I’m sure there were a few…maybe…but I never knew. I moved to North Carolina and I hear about people on bikes dying or getting hospitalized every single week. So for someone to say riding a bike in the street is safer is just plain dumb. I don’t think anyone with common sense would even support this article. Not only that but I have witnessed and heard of more vehicle accidents here than in NY. So can anyone honestly say it’s safe.

  • Brad Remsen

    You are safer on the road. An internet search of cyclist sidewalk statistics will quickly result web-pages showing you why. Drivers are not expecting objects travelling at cyclist speeds in front of drive-ways, and at cross roads. So you are more likely to not be seen and therefore hit. Sidewalks are there for a reason – it’s in the word – walk. Cyclists were on roadways before cars were invented. If you feel it’s unsafe on the road because drivers are not watching for cyclists, then if more sidewalk cyclists rode on the road, then drivers would become more used to it. Perhaps it should be a Bicycle Week event that all cyclists stay off the sidewalk to increase awareness.

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