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Ask a Bike Cop: Can You Bike on The Sidewalk?

Have a law enforcement question regarding bicycles? I will attempt to answer one bicycle related question each week. Please post your questions in the blog. See first post (July 3rd) for disclaimers.

Welcome to this week’s Ask a Bike Cop blog post. 

Our esteemed editor, Louisa Hufstader states “I would love to know the official do’s and dont's on bicycles and sidewalks and also crosswalks.” 

Response: Officially, it’s not a good idea and may result in a citation depending where you ride. Let’s start with the law, and a disclaimer: this post assumes that the rider is old enough to care for his or her own safety while riding, understands the rules of the road and is able to apply them. If you would like to help your child understand bike safety, attend a bike rodeo (http://napasaferoutes.org/programs/) or other training program.     

While riding a bicycle, riders must generally obey the same rules of the road as motor vehicles. That is, they must ride in the correct direction, stop for stop signs, signal and stop for pedestrians. This is defined in the California Vehicle Code Section 21200(a) VC which states in part:

"A person riding a bicycle or operating a pedicab upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this division…"

While there is a section for “motor vehicles” driving on the sidewalk, there is no specific section for bicycles riding on the sidewalk in the vehicle code.    Nor is there a section for riding in a crosswalk. Cities can and often do prohibit the riding of bikes on sidewalks. Check your local municipal code for your area. In the City of Napa, the municipal code section 9.12.115 states:

"No person shall ride nor operate a bicycle on any sidewalk in front of schools, stores or buildings used for business purposes. A violation of this section shall be an infraction, unless the person riding or operating a bicycle on the sidewalk in front of a school, store, or building used for business purposes is involved in an accident wherein bodily injury is caused to any person other than him/herself, wherein a violation of this section shall be a misdemeanor."

So, except for residential areas, riding on sidewalk is prohibited in Napa.  Besides being against the municipal code, there are other reasons not to ride on the sidewalk.

As stated above bicycles must follow the rules of the road. As such, motorists expect bicycles to be on the right side of the roadway. Most do not expect to see a bike riding at 10-12 miles per hour riding on the sidewalk.  There are many more obstacles that can block an operating vehicle's view of pedestrians on the sidewalk, including other cars, trees and shrubs. In the same way, cars do not expect bike riders to be in the crosswalk (marked or unmarked). They should be obeying the same rules of the road as the motorist. Additional problems can arrive when the bike rider comes to an intersection where they now must travel onto the roadway from the sidewalk.  An exception to this would be a designated bike/pedestrian path such as the City of Napa Rail Trail where it crosses roadways with a signal. 

Officer Gregg Lee is a motorcycle officer assigned to the Traffic Bureau of the Napa Police Department. Lee is also assigned to the Accident Reconstruction Team which investigates serious injury and fatal collisions. He emphasized the best location for the bike to be is on the right side of the roadway obeying the rules of the road where motorists expect to see cyclists. Several of the serious accidents involving bicycles occurred when the rider was either on the sidewalk, crosswalk or while moving on or off the sidewalk. In such cases, the cyclist may be found to be at fault in the collision. Officer Lee recommends dismounting and walking if using a crosswalk to cross. 

These recommendations are supported by several groups such as the California Bicycle Coalition, which publishes the website Bike Safe California (http://bikesafecalifornia.org/). On the site it states to “avoid using sidewalks whenever possible.” The Marin County Bicycle Coalition has a great flyer which highlights the rules of the road including “don’t ride on sidewalks” and “if you are within a designated crosswalk, dismount and walk your bike across." Click on the link to see the flyer:

http://www.marinbike.org/Campaigns/ShareTheRoad/SafetyTipsFlyer093005.pdf

I hope this clears up the issues of riding on the sidewalk and crosswalks. 

Thanks to Louisa for the comment and thank you to Officer Lee for the input. 

Bike Safe,

Sgt. Aaron Medina

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jamie Clemons July 25, 2012 at 08:50 PM
I know that basically Laurel St in Napa has speeders... People love to speed or they drive littlerly on the side of the street.... I've seen drivers going the speed limit on the street then people pass them and almost get in a heads on crash... Yet when im out walking people seem in napa to forget what a crosswalk is... Expectly mailmen... -.-
Jamie Clemons July 25, 2012 at 08:52 PM
I forgot to put my question.. how can you get people to understand speeding isnt a smart move?
Burt July 26, 2012 at 07:27 PM
It's a sidewalk not a sideride. That particular officer told me a pedestrian to get out of his way while riding on Main Street in downtown Napa. Thank you for setting such a good example officer.
Barry Martin July 26, 2012 at 09:39 PM
For background, the ban on bikes on downtown sidewalks came about after former City Councilman Ed Huber was knocked down by a bicyclist on the sidewalk and suffered a broken wrist. This was in the early to mid 90s as I recall. There wasn't a lot of foot traffic on the sidewalks in those days compared to what we see now. I've seen a number of near misses lately. Please adhere to the law and leave the sidewalks to pedestrians. Barry Martin. Comm. Outreach Coordinator, City of Napa
Unfiltered Steve Simoneau July 28, 2012 at 03:39 AM
Barry, until I feel ABSOLUTELY SAFE riding on downtown streets I will ride slowly and carefully upon the sidewalk, granting right-of-way to pedestrians, even stopping completely to let large tight groups of people walk past me. Complain, write citations, call me a jerk, do whatever you want, but I'm not risking my well-being on streets that I deem dangerous to bicycles. If I were to ride in the "door-free zone" on First Street I would actually be out in the middle of the lane of traffic. Let's compare: Ride carefully on sidewalk giving right-of-way to pedestrians, or ride out in the middle lane of vehicles travelling 25-30MPH? Oh, let's add some alcohol! A sober bike rider navigating wine tasting pedestrians looking at maps or wine tasting drivers looking at GPS navigating a sober bike rider? A man was recently nearly KILLED by a DUI driver, even though he was riding legally in a bike lane on Soscol.

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