It is legal to ride your bike on a sidewalk? The answer depends on where you're doing your sidewalk biking, and perhaps surprisingly, maybe even how old you are.
While riding a bike may seem less complicated than driving a car, bicyclists also have to follow the rules of the road (and the rules of the sidewalk). In some states, for example, bicyclists can even get arrested for biking under the influence just as drivers can get arrested for DUIs. Biking with traffic (not facing it) is also required by law in most states.
So what about biking on a sidewalk? Here's a general overview:
Sidewalk Biking Statutes
You probably know that bicyclists should obey the same traffic laws as drivers on the road. This includes obvious things like stopping at red lights and signaling before you turn.
However, while it's pretty much a given that cars shouldn't be driven on sidewalks, laws regarding bicycling on sidewalks are typically set by local jurisdictions. This means it may be perfectly legal to ride your bike on the sidewalk in one city, but you may have to bike on the street once you're outside city limits.
Yes, it's true that sidewalks are usually meant for pedestrians. But consider, as many local laws do, how unsafe street biking can be for young children. That's why some cities make exceptions to their sidewalk-biking prohibitions for children under a certain age.
Examples of Sidewalk Biking Laws
To illustrate this point, here's what jurisdictions in four different states have to say about biking on sidewalks:
- California. The Golden State does not have a statewide law against riding bikes on sidewalks. But under the California Vehicle Code, local governments can enact their own prohibitions. In San Francisco, for example, only children under 13 are allowed to ride bikes on sidewalks, according to the SF Bicycle Coalition.
- Texas. Much like California, the Lone Star State also does not have a statewide law against riding a bike on a sidewalk. Local lawmakers, however, can enforce their own rules under the Texas Transportation Code. That's the case in Houston, where a city ordinance bars biking on sidewalks "within a business district or where prohibited by sign," according to the local bike club.
- New York. Riding a bicycle on a sidewalk in New York state also depends on local laws. For example, New York City only allows children under 13 to ride on sidewalks, and only if the bike's wheels are less than 26 inches in diameter.
- Minnesota. One of the few states to address sidewalk biking in state laws, Minnesota statutes prohibit sidewalk biking in most business districts. State law also requires bicyclists to yield to pedestrians on sidewalks; local laws may stipulate further restrictions.
So while biking on sidewalks may be legal in many places, you'll want to check your state and local laws to stay on the safe side. To learn more about the rules of the road for bicyclists, check out FindLaw's page on Bicycle Laws.