Riding Bike On Sidewalk

I have broken the law. I just hope my cellmate is some scrawny little white collar criminal so I can get the top bunk.

I have ridden my bike on the sidewalk, and I encourage my kids to do the same in certain situations. This is not legal because a bike is considered a vehicle. So, riders needs to obey traffic laws the same way car drivers do, and cars aren’t allowed on the sidewalk.

Here is a great cycling and traffic skills website provided by the BC government that is pretty comprehensive and provides some useful information. According to the site:

“It is against the law to ride on sidewalks, unless specifically directed to do so by a sign or local bylaw. Several studies have proven that cyclists on sidewalks face a far greater collision risk than cyclists on the roadway.”

OK, I believe that. I also believe that although you’re more likely to have a “collision” on a sidewalk, cyclists face a far greater risk of SERIOUS INJURY AND DEATH when riding on the road. You know, because people in cars are jerks, and cars are big and made of metal and people are small and squishy and easily turned into quivering piles of goo on the pavement.

What this boils down to is using discretion. There are some situations where I look at the road and just say, “Nuh uh. No way. Not riding that. I’m going on the sidewalk.” This usually happens when there are forty-eleven million cars zipping by and half the drivers are texting or doing makeup while adjusting their underwear. Mostly I stick to bike paths, but there is a 3km section of my favorite route where there is no path. The road is usually the aforementioned cyclist’s nightmare, yet the sidewalk is almost entirely free of pedestrians, so I use it and I don’t care if I look like a chicken.

Of course, if there are pedestrians I give them the right of way. I realize the operative word in sidewalk is “walk.”

But enough about me — let’s talk about my kids. We live on a quiet cul-de-sac and if you speed on it you better hope it’s me who comes to talk to you, because the first time I’ll nicely ask you to slow down, whereas some of the mothers around here will beat you over the head with a rake or a snow shovel while screaming about how you’re trying to kill their children.

In the cul-de-sac almost all the kids ride on the road, and they largely understand the whole concept of staying to the right at all times. At least mine do. Once they go out onto the main road, however, it’s a different story. I have never seen a kid under 16 ride on that main road. They ALL use the sidewalk. My kids ride their bikes to school and back and I tell them to use the sidewalk.

I tell them to break the law and it seems like every other parent tells their kids the same thing.

As it turns out, there really isn’t much danger of legal repercussions, because although it is against the law, common sense prevails and the law is ignored. The nation’s capital has had some complaints lately about aggressive adults cycling on sidewalks irresponsibly and so the cops are launching a blitz to chill these guys out.

Here is a quote from a CBC report:

“Ottawa police said cycling on the sidewalk, banned under the Ottawa traffic bylaw, is punishable by a $40 fine. Police have some discretion when applying the fines, however, and won’t be fining young children.”

I do think that kids need to be taught to ride on the road eventually. They need to learn all these rules for safely navigating traffic, but the fact is that when they’re young, most lack the constant state of mild paranoia necessary to stay safe from cars on busy roads. If a child needs to travel along a busy road, I think they should use the sidewalk until they’re old enough to handle it.

For adults, I think we should use the road whenever possible, but in those extreme situations where it looks like a nightmare I don’t think anyone will fault you for using the sidewalk, as long as you’re not a jerk and you yield to pedestrians.

Finally, when it comes to letting kids ride on the sidewalk, teach them some important safety rules:

• Be careful crossing roadways (duh).
• Watch out for cars coming out of alleys.
• Watch out for cars pulling out of or into driveways.
• Stay to the right.
• Yield to pedestrians.
• Don’t go too fast.
• Use your bell to let people know you’re approaching.
• If you don’t wear your helmet you are so freakin’ grounded.

Be safe and have fun.

James S. Fell is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and a middle-aged family man with a desk job and not much free time, yet he’s able to keep in shape because he loves exercise and doesn’t mind eating healthy. He is the author of Body for Wife: The Family Guy’s Guide to Getting in Shape.

Editor’s Review:

Why can’t cyclists get off their bikes and walk them when they have to go on the sidewalk because of bad road traffic? Maybe it’s okay when there are no pedestrians at all, but if there’s even one or two people walking (especially kids, who are impulsive), I just think biking on the sidewalk is unsafe. It wouldn’t kill anyone to take a few extra minutes and slow things down.