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I agree with your point, though it should be noted that cyclists using the sidewalk in the type of helpful/essential scenarios you highlighted above should be aware that they are slightly less visible than they are on the road. I got nailed in a crosswalk by a car making a right turn onto Irving Road near the Washington Hospital Center (when I had the clear right of way) because the person didn't think to look for bikes (or pedestrians for that matter I suppose). It could also be that cars are not used to 'faster' moving objects coming into the crosswalk via the sidewalk whereas they are more accustomed to watching for other cars and bikes in the normal flow of traffic.

I bike-commute down Connecticut Avenue in the mornings. When I start out, I wait until a wave of cars at a stoplight has passed, and then I ride on the street. As soon as the next wave of cars is about to overtake me, I get on the sidewalk until that wave passes. Then back on the street. I do that all the way down Connecticut until I can get into Rock Creek Park at Calvert Street. I just don't like being so close to whizzing car commuters.

I occasionally get complaints from pedestrians, even though I am courteous, ride slowly, and ring my bell. I just tell them that it's legal to ride on the sidewalk as long as it's not in the Central Business District and that I prefer not to compete for a lane with heavier, fast-moving cars.


I hope you have a will and all your affairs in order. Your's is not a good strategy for a long and healthy life.

Good post. I bike on the sidewalk every day going west on Mass Ave. between 9th and 14th. This fits into the "low los" category you describe. The thing is - I don't like doing it, but the street sucks to bike on. In that same stretch, there's three lanes on the eastbound side and two westbound. If the city were to get rid of one eastbound lane and construct separated bike lanes (or even stripe them) on both sides, sidewalk riding wouldn't be necessary. Mass. Ave could actually be a great biking street with some changes. Its the best route to get cross town.

Excellent post. Cyclists should not be dogmatic about never riding on sidewalks, and I often bike on sidewalks for reasons 2, 4, and 5 above. However, bicyclists who believe that sidewalks are generally safer than the roadway for bicycling at more than pedestrian speeds are seriously misguided and need a good traffic cycling course. WABA's free 3-hour Confident City Cycling class is a good place to start.

Yes, SB, I understand your position. Cycling can often feel less safe - I point out it's like riding a roller coaster, which feels less safe than driving but probably isn't - but a Confident City Cycling class may be a good option for you.

Sidewalk riding can't be all bad...police ride bikes on the sidewalk near the Old Executive Office Building.

Not sure why you guys think I need a class! I feel like I am a safe city biker, in part because I rely on my instincts to guide me. And I am confident of my instincts.

My problem with biking on Connecticut Avenue can be illustrated by the experience of a fellow bike commuter. One recent afternoon as he was biking up Connecticut Avenue after work, a car got so close to him that it knocked off his handlebar mirror. I have absolutely no interest in putting myself at the mercy of cars on a busy commuter thoroughfare having no bike lane or at the mercy of people opening their car doors without looking. I get on the sidewalk when I feel I need to, I am extremely careful when I cross at the crosswalk because I know cars just don't expect to see me, and I make eye contact with idling drivers whose path I am about to cross.

So far so good.

SB, don't take it personally. I think everyone needs to take the class. Robert DeNiro still takes acting lessons after all.

Not a fan of sidewalk riding, but I definitely understand that it's the preferred means of travel for many. I just wish that those that use it were a little smarter about it.

Biking the sidewalk northbound up the hill on the Eastern sidewalk of 16th from V to Euclid has saved my life many times, I'm sure.
Wide sidewalks, few peds, few cross streets. . . a pleasure.

I ride a 10.5 mile commute to/from work each morning on roads with no bike lane & relatively heavy traffic. About the only time I hit the sidewalk though is when there's heavy rain. Sidewalks here tend to drain quicker than the street (plus less car splash). Caution is definitely key however when crossing intersections- always look for any cars approaching the intersection from every direction, cuz it's likely they're not looking for you!


The problem with your in-and-out strategy is that every time you change from street to sidewalk and vice versa you expontionally increase your odds of getting whacked.

Getting hit by a car from behind is a very low probability event due to its common nature and predictability.

It is in the transitions and intersections where most accidents occur, because there are so many decisions to be made by you and the drivers. Since you are operating on a custom set of procedures the rules on engagement have to made up on the fly.

Good luck

SB wrote: "My problem with biking on Connecticut Avenue can be illustrated by the experience of a fellow bike commuter. One recent afternoon as he was biking up Connecticut Avenue after work, a car got so close to him that it knocked off his handlebar mirror. I have absolutely no interest in putting myself at the mercy of cars on a busy commuter thoroughfare having no bike lane or at the mercy of people opening their car doors without looking."

This comment shows that SB and his bike commuter friend do not understand how to safely and confidently cycle in traffic as drivers of vehicles; i.e., fully integrated with traffic in the rightmost travel lane and well outside the door zone of parked vehicles. Thus, a course in traffic cycling is indeed very much needed.

I bike/bus commute to my job as a shuttle bus driver on the Microsoft Redmond campus. It is cyclist hell--the lanes are usually too narrow to pass a cyclist, so many choose the sidewalk.

When I ride, I hate to use the roadway--I really feel the pressure of all that traffic, especially on the streets surrounding campus and the bus base. But when I'm driving, I have to constantly check for cyclists and pedestrians crossing from the sidewalk. I have to be a hypervigilant swivel-head to avoid tragedy. Buses have a lot of blind spots.

If a cyclist is taking the lane in front of me, I might get annoyed--but it will be much easier to avoid hitting them than when they streak out of my blind spot into my path. Some of the sidewalk users are aware enough to stop and check for traffic at crosswalks. Then, a little dance ensues--they look at me, I look at them, we both wait until someone goes. Sometimes they motion me to go ahead.

If you're going to use the sidewalk, please be like these latter people. When the walk sign is on, that doesn't mean you can go. Look first. Make eye contact. Use your bell. *Make* them look at you.

Be safe out there. I'll be looking out for you if you come to Microsoft Land.

--Paul in #759, the "Magic Bus"

What is the law in DC for riding a bike on the sidewalks? It is against the law in Pennsylvania everywhere if the rider is over 12 years of age, where bike riding is governed by the Pa. Motor Vehicle Code. In Philadelphia, the fine is $50. It is also against the law in New York City. I can't believe there are defenders of this ridiculous behavior. Riding a bike on the sidewalk is just hazardous to pedestrians. If you are too afraid to ride your bike in the street where it belongs, then you should not ride a bike. End of story!

In DC it is legal to bike on the sidewalk in most of the District. It is only prohibited within the Central Business District which is about 2-7% of the District's area. In the District several signed bike routes actually instruct a cyclist to use the sidewalk with signs that read "Bike Route - On Sidewalk."

Do you have any evidence that riding a bike on the sidewalk is hazardous to pedestrians? Can you cite a study or provide some numbers please?

I do not have hard evidence on the number of collisions between bicyclists and pedestrians on sidewalks. After my research I will probably find it is a lower number when compared to collisions between bicyclists and cars. If this is the point of the question it will not justify the riding of bikes on sidewalks. In other cities bikers are required to walk their bikes on sidewalks. Not only is that the legal thing to do but it is the right thing to do. Bikers are already notorious for employing rolling stops through redlights and stop signs, if they even bother to slow down. Tack on endangering pedestrians and it's no wonder they are criticized in forums such as this one. Judging from the posts of the some of the apologists, there appears to be a different mindset in D.C. My position is from common sense. Sidewalks are for walking. Pedestrians walk at a slower pace and do not walk in straight lines, do not have eyes in the back of their head and should not have to expect bicyclists to come up behind them on the sidewalk. It is especially so for senior citizens, who do not have fast reaction times to get out of the way. There is nothing more irritating when I hear a bell from a sidewalk biker behind me expecting me to give way to them. I hold my ground and have told more than one of them to take "that bell and #!@%* it!".

Cyclists and Pedestrians safely coexist on trails. How are sidewalks different?

While I agree that the road is generally the safest place to ride and spend almost all my riding time on the road, there are caveats.

I do ride the sidewalks across the Mall at 17th Street. They're quite wide, easliy as wide as the MVT which is also part of my commute. I ring my bell at people, but slow down as needed and don't expect them to jump off the sidewalk out of my way. I just want enough room to get buy on my bike safely. I do the same for slow bikers on the same sidewalks or on an MUP. I don't think this is rude.

As for: There is nothing more irritating when I hear a bell from a sidewalk biker behind me expecting me to give way to them. I hold my ground and have told more than one of them to take "that bell and #!@%* it!".

Would you tell me to take my voice box and #!@%* it if I was walking faster than you and kindly said "excuse me" so I could get past you on a sidewalk? To me, ringing my bell is the same thing.

A bell shouldn't mean "give way". It should mean "warning, bike approaching" because pedestrians do not have eyes in the back of their head and should not have to expect bicyclists to come up behind them on the sidewalk.

Alex, it isn't really fair to continue stating that riding on the sidewalk endangers pedestrians if you can't make a case for that built on anything more than "common sense". I personally have a very low opinion of common sense because it's proven wrong so many times.

Wash Cycle: If you mean mult-use trails, I disagree. The two may co-exist but not always peacefully. Especially if there is not adequate signage and enforcement to address bad behaviors like not staying to the right or speeding. Walkers and joggers often don't obey the former and bicyclists routinely do the latter.
Eric: to answer your question - if you were walking behind me in DC's Central Business District you would not be breaking the law and I would respond with an "ok". But if you were riding a bike on the sidewalk in said CBD and rang that silly bell then you should cover your ears.


The problem with the bell is that it is just a sound. Much lik a horn on a automobile. The listner can guess that is from a bike but really does not know the message that it is trying to convey.

An excuse me, which is my preferred address to pedestrians, is much a more civilized way to communicate with people. If you are going slow enough you do not need a bell to project. You normal speaking voice should be enough.

My experience with using a bell has be negative. Pedestrians don't know what to do. They feel compelled to move in some direction even if they shouldn't.

@Alex. Let me try again. Do you believe that cyclists should stay off multi-use trails? If not, how are they different from sidewalks?

@ Alex:But if you were riding a bike on the sidewalk in said CBD and rang that silly bell then you should cover your ears.

Have you looked at a map lately? 17th St. across the Mall = NOT part of the CBD. Restrictions end at Constitution Ave.

I'll cover my ears anyway, though, but at low speed that probably means I'll lose control of my bike and crash into you. :-)

I've generally had good experiences with the bell around the Mall. Generally I ring it just so people know I'm coming and stay on whichever side of the sidewalk they're already on. If people are walking four abreast and taking up the sidewalk, I slow down before I get to them and then say excuse me or off-road it around them. The four abreast walking groups annoy me even as a pedestrian, but I do my best to be polite.

Washcycle: Listen, I get your agenda as bike advocates. I am not a biker and never will be. I just have a problem with advocacy groups not calling out their own for bad behaviors because they are afraid to offend their support base. To respond to the trail question: If you mean the "multi-use" trails, I disagree there is a safe coexistence. Too may pedestrians and joggers do not stay to the right as they should and way too many bicyclists go too fast on those trails in defiance of posted speed limits. In a perfect world there would be side by side trails, one for the bikers and inline skaters and another for the walkers and joggers. Multi-use trails are not the same as urban sidewalks and any suggestion they are is an attempt to serve your agenda.

Eric: If you are walking behind me and wish to pass, that is fine and I will be civil. Riding your bike on the sidewalk in the DC Business District or anywhere else where it's illegal warrants my previously stated position. What's the problem?

Sorry for the double post. I thought my response post did not get through yesterday and I re-posted it just now with a change in wording.

I'm not afraid to call out cyclists for bad behavior and I do it all the time, as do other cyclists. In NYC a cyclists killed a pedestrian and CYCLISTS held a ceremony to remind cyclists to be safe. I can't imagine AAA doing that.

The term "agenda", btw, not very productive.

So let's recap shall we. You think cyclists should stay off of all sidewalks despite the fact that

1. Riding on the sidewalk is legal outside of the CBD
2. You can cite no evidence that cycling on the sidewalk endangers pedestrians.
3. You do think cyclists should be allowed to share trails
4. But you can't define how trails are different from sidewalks.

To be honest, you've built a very poor case here.

Cyclists on the sidewalk are already required to give pedestrians the right-of-way, pass safely and travel at a safe speed. So you want a law to keep law-breaking cyclists from breaking the law. Seems silly.

Also, turns out riding a bike on the sidewalk is not illegal in PA except in business districts or where a bike lane is available.

Alex, frankly, you don't have your facts straight and I don't think you know what you're talking about. Nor do I think you have come to this discussion with an open mind, so I don't really see a purpose of going on.

Whoa! You title a blog "In defense of sidewalk cycling", get someone like me who disagrees and you come back as if I insulted your man/womanhood. I am impressed. I appreciate your calling me closed minded. On this issue I am indeed because the bicyclist who hit me while I was walking would not get it that he was at fault for riding on the sidewalk in Center City Philadelphia. His attitude was typical of what I encounter among bicyclists these days: rules do not apply to them because they can get away with it. This particular guy didn't stop, he called me an idiot for being in his way and kept on going. I also appreciate your tactic of crediting me with my opinion that bikes do not belong on trails. I recall you put the trails question to me and I gave an observation of what tends to happen on them and then wishing for a separate trail - this is not calling for a ban. Multi-use trails are not sidewalks, check Wikipedia. If it is lawful in DC to ride on sidewalks outside the very small CBC, ok then, stupid, but ok. Sidewalks are for pedestrian use, it's that simple. DC needs to erect more bike lanes and force motorists to share the road with bikes to get them off sidewalks. Pa. Law used to clearly state that sidewalk riding anywhere in the Commonwealth was illegal to anyone over 12 years of age. I also spoke to a suburban police officer before my initial post and he is still under the same impression. As for my lack of statistical evidence to back up my common sense: sorry I do not have that data at my fingertips and as I said earlier, it is probably not there. Speaking about data, I noticed it took you all of six minutes to read my last post (3 minutes to my second post), and reply not only with a researched link but also in a concise, grammatically correct, hard-hitting, all perfectly spelled and punctuated and in a visually pleasing format. This speaks not only to your computer and typing prowess but that you have that much free time to stalk and pounce.

Alex, you are incorrect that cycling on sidewalks is prohibited everywhere in PA. It is only prohibited in business districts. Otherwise, you can ride on sidewalks as long as you yield to pedestrians.


If sidewalk cycling does not endanger pedestrians it certainly annoys them.
Yes, riding a bike on the sidewalk (outside the CBD) is legal. I believe it shouldn’t be so, but it is. In the old days 40 years ago sidewalk riding was generally prohibited everywhere. It is only since "big auto" has been subtly campaigning to get bikes off the streets that local jurisdictions have softened on sidewalk cycling.
Claiming a right to cycling on the sidewalk when it is convenient is akin to claiming a right to drive or park a car in the bike lane when it is convenient. Pedestrians will justifiably complain about bikes on the sidewalk and bikers will likewise complain about cars in the bike lane.

Road riding annoys drivers. Should that be illegal? The question is, in my mind, does it endanger pedestrians?

Besides, not all sidewalks are the same. There are, for example, downtown sidewalks filled with pedestrians, narrow residential neighborhood sidewalks on quiet streets and wide, empty sidewalks along busy highways (think Michigan Avenue NE). In most of these cases sidewalk cycling is inappropriate. In some it is not.

You could ban it in all cases - which seems overkill, ban it in none (leaving it to the discretion of cyclists) or ban it street by street, neighborhood by neighborhood leaving it to the discretion of ANCs and bureaucrats and requiring cyclists to learn a patchwork of laws or look out for one of the 30,000 "No biking on sidewalk" signs you'd need.

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