Can I Ride My Bicycle on the Sidewalk if I do Not Feel Safe on the Road?
Statistics from the California Strategic Highway Safety Plan show that in 2018, there were 178 fatal bicycle crashes, and 1,064 serious bicycle crash injuries in California. With these statistics, it is no wonder that many bicyclists feel unsafe while riding on the street and opt to ride on the sidewalk instead, thinking that it will be safer. However, riding on the sidewalk is not always legal, and is often actually more dangerous than riding on the road.
What the Law Says About Riding on the Sidewalk
The answer to whether you can ride your bicycle on the sidewalk is: it depends. Generally, the rules of the road in the California Vehicle Code apply to bicycles in the same way as they to do motor vehicles. Bicycles are allowed on all roads, unless they are specifically prohibited. But bicycles are not always treated the same way as motor vehicles, and the Vehicle Codes does not specifically prohibit bicycles from being ridden on the sidewalk.
Local ordinances can and do make riding a bicycle on the sidewalk illegal in certain areas, however. Here are some of different city laws regarding bicycles riding on sidewalks from around the Bay Area.
It is generally not legal to ride your bicycle on the sidewalk. An exception is made for those under the age of 13, except that certain areas may not allow anyone to ride on the sidewalk.
To ride a bicycle upon any sidewalk in violation of any restriction on riding bicycles on sidewalks except as authorized in Section 1007 of Division II.
Bicycling riding on any sidewalk is prohibited except that children under the age of 13 may ride a bicycle on any sidewalk except as otherwise posted.
Oakland’s rule is slightly different from San Francisco’s. In Oakland, it is also generally not legal to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk, but an exception is made for bicycles that have wheels that measure less than 20” in diameter, or a frame less than 14 inches.
No person shall ride a bicycle which has wheels of twenty (20) inches or greater in diameter or a frame of fourteen (14) inches or greater in length on any sidewalk within the city.
This prohibition shall not be applicable to Oakland police officers operating a bicycle while engaged in their assigned duties.
In San Jose, it generally is legal to ride one’s bicycle on the sidewalk – even for adults. However, there are designated areas where bicycle riding is prohibited on sidewalks, including much of the downtown area.
Even in designated areas, there are several categories of people who may still ride their bicycles on the sidewalk. These include police officers while on duty (who are also allowed in many other cities to ride their bicycles on sidewalks), children 12 or under, and adults accompanying or transporting children 12 or under. And anyone can ride on the sidewalk in these designated areas where there is an obstruction in the bicycle lane.
It shall be unlawful to ride or operate a bicycle on any sidewalk located within any designated area.
11.72.200 – Exceptions to prohibited bicycle riding.
A. Notwithstanding Section 11.72.190of this chapter, or any other section of this Code, police officers may ride or operate bicycles in the performance of their duties on sidewalks within a designated area.
B. Notwithstanding Section 11.72.190of this chapter, or any other section of this Code, any person twelve years of age or under may ride or operate bicycles on sidewalks within a designated area.
C. Notwithstanding Section 11.72.190of this chapter, or any other section of this Code, any adult accompanying a person twelve years of age or under riding a bicycle or transporting a person twelve years of age or under, may ride or operate a bicycle on sidewalks within a designated area.
D. Notwithstanding Section 11.72.190of this chapter or any other section of this Code, any person may ride or operate a bicycle on those portions of sidewalks within a designated area where there is an obstruction in the bicycle lane adjacent to the sidewalk.
Similar to San Jose, riding a bicycle on the sidewalk is generally allowed for all riders in Sacramento, unless there is a sign prohibiting it. Areas where signs are posted prohibiting bicycles on sidewalks are supposed to be limited to areas where there is a “Low Stress Bikeway” along the sidewalk, and conflict between bicycles and pedestrians is either probable or demonstrated. There are exceptions to the prohibition on bicycles on certain sidewalks, including police officers, emergency medical personnel, and parking enforcement officers while acting within the scope of employment, and children under the age of 18 and accompanying adult.
Sacramento code also requires that bicyclists riding on sidewalks yield the right of way to pedestrians, and give a verbal warning to pedestrians before passing them from behind.
A. No person shall ride a bicycle on a sidewalk where a sign is posted indicating that bicycling is prohibited. The city manager shall designate sidewalks where such signs are posted upon a finding that:
- The sidewalk abuts a road that is designated a “Low Stress Bikeway” using the criteria for the Facility Selection Guidelines in the City of Sacramento Bicycle Master Plan; and
- There is either a demonstrated or probable conflict between pedestrians and bicycles. This may be shown by information including, but not limited to: 311 reports, incident data, or estimated high pedestrian activity determined by counts or adjacent land uses and densities.
B. Subsection A of this section does not apply to the following persons:
- City employees acting within the course and scope of employment, including but not limited to:
- Peace officers, as defined in California Penal Code section 830.
- Emergency medical personnel as designated by the fire chief of the city.
- Parking enforcement officers.
- Children under the age of 18 years old and an accompanying adult.
C. Where bicycling on a sidewalk is permitted, the following apply:
- Bicyclists must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians by slowing down, stopping, or dismounting, as needed.
- Before passing a pedestrian traveling in the same direction, bicyclists must give the pedestrian an audible warning.
D. The city manager or designee shall report to the city council annually regarding the impacts of sections 10.76.010 and 10.76.030. (Ord. 2019-007 § 2; Ord. 2017-0033 § 1; Ord. 2016-0024 § 1; prior code § 25.05.070)
Is Bicycling on the Sidewalk Really Safe?
Sidewalks are designed for use by people on foot and are not designed to accommodate bicycles and the speeds that they can travel. Many sidewalks are narrow in width, which leaves little room for a bicycle to maneuver. The seams in the concrete also create an uneven surface that can result in a crash.
Additionally, when riding your bicycle on the sidewalk, you are at risk of being hit by drivers pulling out of driveways and onto side streets. Drivers often aren’t expecting a bicycle to be moving down the sidewalk, so they may not see you or be able to avoid hitting you even if you have the right of way. Because bicycles travel faster than pedestrians, even if a driver is looking out for pedestrians, they might be taken by surprise by a bicycle.
When possible, it is always a good idea to plan your route ahead of time to include as many bicycle lanes and quiet roads as possible. But if you do find yourself in a location where you do not feel safe riding your bicycle on a particular stretch of road, your safest option is probably to dismount your bicycle and walk it on the sidewalk until you feel like you can safely resume riding on the roadway again.
Bicycle Accidents and Crosswalks
One thing that bicyclists should be aware of is that it is unsafe to enter a crosswalk on a bicycle or on foot if you are moving at a significant rate of speed. Many street corners in San Francisco are occupied by buildings that are built all the way out to the sidewalk. This means that drivers have a very limited ability to see traffic that is approaching a crosswalk. Be cautious while riding or walking your bicycle across a crosswalk.
Contact a Bay Area Bicycle Injury Lawyer
If you have been injured in a bicycling accident that occurred on the sidewalk, you may be found to be at least partially at fault for the accident. This is called comparative negligence and means that your compensation may be reduced according to the percentage of fault for which you are found to be responsible.
However, you may still be entitled to collect compensation for your injuries, and the skilled bicycle attorneys at Bay Area Bicycle Law can help you determine what the best course of action would be for your situation. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.