Sidewalks are for Walking
Respect the pedestrian right-of-way – stay in the street
The best way to learn about the law and your rights and responsibilities while bicycling is to sign up for one of our popular free Urban Cycling Workshops.
California law leaves it to local municipalities to regulate bike riding on sidewalks, so you may find yourself somewhere else in the state where sidewalk riding is legally permitted, but in San Francisco it's against the law for anyone 13 years of age and older to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk. SF Transportation Code (SFTC) Sec. 7.2.12 forbids sidewalk bicycle riding, while Sec. 1007 states "children under the age of 13 may ride a bicycle on any sidewalk except as otherwise posted".
San Francisco is a bustling, vibrant city with people going in many directions and using many means of travel: bus, streetcar, foot, bike, skateboard. This inevitably means that some conflicts will occur as we all converge in public space.
The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is sometimes contacted by people who feel threatened by and are angry with people who ride bicycles on the sidewalk. Our position is clear that sidewalks are for people to walk. Our advocacy work is largely focused on making our streets safer for bicycling, so that more people choose to bike on the street and fewer people feel the need to sometimes travel on the sidewalk out of fear of using uncomfortable, highly-trafficked streets.
In fact, the #1 goal of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is to realize the Connecting the City vision – an interconnected, citywide bicycle network where people of all ages and skill levels have the opportunity to bicycle anywhere in San Francisco for everyday transportation. This means that our streets must accommodate people who ride bicycles fully and safely. This is not only good for those who choose to bike, but it also helps keep our sidewalks clear for safe and comfortable walking.
The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition works closely with the Senior Action Network on their "Sidewalks are for Pedestrians" campaign, as well as collaborating with the City's pedestrian advocacy organization, Walk San Francisco, on a host of issues that concern both walkability and bikeability. WalkSF reminds everyone to yield for people crossing the street, both at marked and unmarked crosswalks, in this handout (PDF).
At the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, we remain committed to walk-ing with our partners to ensure that people who choose healthy, sustainable, and active means of transportation – be it walking or bicycling or else – have safe and enjoyable trips.
We asked two members of WalkSF to give their perspectives on bicycle riding on sidewalks. One rides a bicycle regularly, the other does not. Following are their thoughts.
Sidewalks are for walking
by Sasha Cuttler
Sidewalks can be promenades or precipices on the edge of an abyss.
Sidewalks are precious resources or an extension of a driveway.
Sidewalks are for pedestrians -- the road is for cyclists.
As can be seen from this list, sidewalks serve many functions. While street use is defined by agencies from an automobile user's perspective, the sidewalk is pushed out of public commentary quite literally to the margin.
It's important that cyclists realize this and ally with walkers in preserving, widening, and protecting sidewalks from cars. After all, when a cyclist is walking....poof! she's a pedestrian! I see the rules of the road as being natural vs. the artificial legal system. Pedestrians are frequently cited as being "at fault" in collisions with automobiles. The reality is that those on foot or wheelchair should ALWAYS have the right of way WHEREVER they are.
Do I ride on the sidewalk? Rarely. When the road is designed to be deadly to pedestrians, the sidewalk is an appropriate alternative. Witness San Jose Avenue before the bike lane southbound. But if I am escorting my children learning to ride where shall I teach them how to yield? In traffic? I don't think so. Much better to let children learn to yield and be yielded to on the sidewalk.
But elderly and mobility impaired people are frightened by cyclists on the sidewalk so extreme caution and warning (in a friendly manner) are necessary. Personally, if I'm riding on the sidewalk, I say "Sorry! -- The cars are terrible here!" then return to the road as soon as possible.
An Afternooon with Isabella
by Greg Castillo
"Watch it," Isabella! In a flash, my six year old granddaughter and I reeled to our right, narrowly dodging a bike rider seemingly headed right at us. We were having one of our afternoon walks, and, of course we were on a San Francisco sidewalk, exactly where we were supposed to be.
Although we had a momentary fright, I have no reason to think the cyclist was being a "bully," he was just doing what he and countless others were used to doing: choosing the sidewalk over the street for bike travel. It's safer, you know.
After collecting ourselves and our dignity, Isabella asked, "Grandpa, were you scared?"
"Well, sort of. He was too close for comfort, and he shouldn't have been on the sidewalk."
"I ride my bike on the sidewalk, Grandpa."
"Yes," I said. "That's okay for kids, but not for grown ups."
"Really?" she asked.
"Yup, but lots of grown ups don't know they're supposed to bike in the street, and not on the sidewalk."
"Like cars?" she asked. "I'm not supposed to go in the street with my bicycle. Mom said so. Anyway, I'm afraid to"
"That's right, like cars, trucks and buses," I noted. "But, you're not ready for biking in the street yet. You know about bike lanes, don't you?"
"Uh huh. What are they?"
"Well, Isabella, people on bikes sometimes have a special part of the street for themselves, called bike lanes. Bike lanes are usually close to the sidewalk. Problem is, there aren't enough of them, and some bike riders think sidewalks are safer. But sidewalks are for walkers, like us today. Ask your Mom to show you a bike lane when she's driving you around."
I considered touching on how cyclists want to be treated with the same respect as other vehicles on the street, and when they ride on the sidewalks they're kind of having it "both ways." But, naw, not today. I'll cop out on that one. Face it, I'm lazy. A more detailed discussion of urban biking could lead to trying to explain Critical Mass, skateboards, in-line skates, Segways, motorcycles, and illegal sidewalk parking. Gotta conserve my energy.
"Grandpa, where do you and Grandma ride your bikes?"
"Well, once in a while we go to Golden Gate Park on the weekend, in places where no cars are allowed."
"Because, Grandma and I aren't really wonderful bike riders anymore, like you and your young friends. The park is safer, and no hills either. And we're too old to ride on sidewalks, remember?"
"What's a Segway? Are they fun?"
(Ouch! Who told me grand parenting would be easier?)
"Uhh - well honey. Tell you what. Why don't we go back home now and let your Mom explain Segways to you? She knows much more about them than I do."
Ready to learn more about how to bicycle safely in San Francisco? Attend one of our popular free Urban Cycling Workshops.