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:
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.
Sgt. Aaron Medina