Is it Safe to Ride on the Sidewalk?

by Meghan Sahli-Wells

When cyclists are faced with streets full of speeding cars and potholes, it’s not surprising that many riders feel that sidewalks are the safest place to cycle.
However, unless you’re a small child, sidewalk riding can be significantly more dangerous than riding on the street, and in many places it’s forbidden by Culver City law. The website www.bicyclinginfo.org warns cyclists:
“Don’t ride on the sidewalk. Although you might think it’s a safer option, motorists are simply not looking for bicyclists on the sidewalk, especially those riding against traffic. So at every driveway and intersection, you are at much greater risk of being hit by a motorist than if you were riding on the road with traffic. Pedestrians will thank you for riding on the road as well.”

Sidewalk riding is dangerous for three main reasons: speed, visibility and predictability.
Cyclists travel much faster than people on foot. Pedestrians aren’t looking out for bicycles speeding down the sidewalk. It’s near impossible for them to anticipate – or avoid – sidewalk cyclists, nor should they be expected to. Remember, pedestrians have the right-of-way. Plus, a great variety of sidewalk users – people with strollers, wheelchairs or walkers, seniors, children and even pets – are not compatible with fast-moving bikes.
When riding on sidewalks, bicyclists pass driveways and cross streets at speeds that put them at odds with motorists. Often hidden behind parked cars, trees and other obstructions, sidewalk cyclists are invisible to drivers on the road until they suddenly enter a street or driveway, when most drivers won’t have enough time to stop for them.
A bicycle is a vehicle. As with all vehicles, predictability is the key to safety. Weaving in and out of intersections and around pedestrians is dangerous, because no one cannot predict what the cyclist is going to do next. As a result, drivers and pedestrians cannot prepare to deal safely with sidewalk riders.
Even though street riding is safer than sidewalk riding, it’s true that numerous Culver City streets need improvements before many bicyclists will feel secure on them. Fortunately, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan was adopted in November, which means that we will see better street conditions for biking in the future. In the meantime, cyclists may feel more comfortable on streets with lower traffic volumes. Also, taking a street safety skills class from a certified bicycle instructor will help give riders the skills and confidence they need to take to the street, regardless of its condition.
For those times when sidewalk riding can’t be avoided, for example, when riding with small children, or when faced with a particularly unsafe portion of a street, please follow these guidelines:
  • Ride slowly
  • Always give the priority to pedestrians – stop and dismount your bike if there is not enough room for pedestrians to pass
  • Say a friendly hello or ring your bell gently to warn pedestrians that you are about to pass from behind
  • Approach driveways carefully, looking both ways
  • Take extra care when going from the sidewalk onto the street and watch for turning cars
  • Never ride with headphones covering both ears
  • Never text or phone while riding
  • Always assume that pedestrians and cars do not see you: ride defensively
Finally, do not ride where it is not permitted. Under Culver City municipal code you may not ride on the sidewalk in business districts, or in front of schools, churches, playgrounds or recreation centers. In those areas, either ride on the street or dismount and walk your bike.
If you have school-aged children and are wondering when they should start riding on the street, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) suggests: “Children nine years of age and younger, are not able to identify and adjust to many dangerous traffic situations, and therefore, should not be allowed to ride in the street unsupervised. Children who are permitted to ride in the street without supervision should have the necessary skills to safely follow the “rules of the road.”
Cycling is a fun, healthy form of transportation as long as you bike safe, bike smart. Please remember to wear your helmet, ride responsibly, and continue to read this column for more tips, techniques, resources and more.

4 Responses to Is it Safe to Ride on the Sidewalk?

  1. Shele Blaisdell says:

    can you please direct me to the official CC laws about bicycles? I don’t want to get a ticket for something I don’t know is illegal. THANK YOU

    • culvercitybc says:

      Technically, you cannot ride on sidewalks in Culver City (see municipal code, below). However, we recommend that children under 10 do ride on the sidewalk because they lack the awareness to ride safely on the street.

      7.04.250 RIDING ON SIDEWALKS.

      A. No person shall ride a bicycle upon a sidewalk within any business district or upon the sidewalk adjacent to any public school building, church, recreation center or playground or upon a walkway specifically designated by resolution of the City Council as closed to all vehicular or bicycle traffic.
      Technically, you cannot ride on sidewalks in Culver Çity. However, we recommend that children 10 and under do, becasue they lack the awareness to ride safely in the street. Following is the city’s municiple code

      7.04.250 RIDING ON SIDEWALKS.

      B. Whenever any person is riding a bicycle upon a sidewalk such person shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and when overtaking and passing a pedestrian, after giving an audible signal, shall at all times pass to the left of such pedestrian.

      (’65 Code, § 8-27) (Ord. No. CS-100 § 51; Ord. No. CS-639 § 1)

  2. pepper evans-cash says:

    I live on Overland Ave across the street from the Lutheran Church, and have almost daily “run-in’s” with a bicyclist on the sidewalk. It is a very populated pedestrian area and also for vehicles, obviously. The problem that I see is that they are usually going too fast for the area, and weaving around people, strollers, and folks at the bus stop, and do not say a word or have bells or any signal when coming up from behind or trying to pass by. They need to get off the sidewalks before someone gets hurt! I’m not joking, almost daily I endure the ignorance, and what I feel is plain rudeness, on the neighborhood “family friendly” streets of Culver City. (P.S I have been a resident here for 8 years!) I think signs posted that specify the laws regarding the rights of pedestrians and cyclists on the sidewalk would be very helpful.

    • culvercitybc says:

      Thank you for reaching out. Cyclists on sidewalks, especially in heavily pedestrian areas, is not only not recommended, but may be illegal. We recommend that cyclists follow the law which for the most part means riding on the street, with the flow of traffic (children under the age of 12 however should ride on the sidewalks). The area you speak of is a bit tricky however in that it is a very congested street and many cyclists do not feel safe riding with traffic there. Bike lanes and sharrows have been recommended there, but for several reasons have not gone forward. We are in the process of determining how and where outreach and education can be performed most effectively. And we welcome your feedback.

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