Sidewalk Biking

The other day leaving work, I eased out of the driveway to make a right turn and head home, but I was so busy looking left for a break in street traffic I didn’t see the bicyclist on the sidewalk coming from the right. He subsequently yelled in my car window about watching where I was going and I yelled back about getting the hell off the sidewalk. Because that’s how I roll, yo.

I think sidewalk bicyclists are both annoying and dangerous, and lately I’ve noticed a marked increase in their numbers. I don’t know if it’s the high price of gas forcing more and more people to self-locomote, or if there’s some sort of bike-on-the-sidewalk-to-work campaign I haven’t heard about, or if it’s just part of the secret plot to make my commute more ever-more obnoxious. Regardless, I had a whole bloggy rant planned today about scofflaw cyclists and how you shouldn’t expect motorists to be looking out for you if you’re not obeying the traffic laws.

And then…I actually researched the traffic laws.

Who knew? Apparently you are, in fact, legally allowed to bike on the sidewalk in L.A. So go on with your bad self, bicyclist. Ride that vehicle on the sidewalk. Hell, take your whole family with you. Annoy everyone and endanger yourself. Because L.A. law allows it. We can’t legislate good manners or common sense.

(Daquella manera’s photo used through creative commons license.)

18 thoughts on “Sidewalk Biking”

  1. Well, I’ve been commuting by bike since high school (over a decade), and LA is the first place I’ve lived where I am terrified to ride on the street. Drivers are so so so angry and aggro towards bikers, and much of their rage comes from dealing with cyclists who don’t understand road rules or safety, or cyclists who are plain rude and crazy.

    I’ve biked all the way from Mammoth Mountain to Big Bear on the highways alongside the high-speed big rigs (3 times!), and it’s MUCH scarier to bike on the streets around Hollywood. No joke. If you try to be a safe cyclist and take your own lane, or if you bike 3 feet from the parked cars to avoid being doored, drivers become filled with UNQUENCHABLE HATRED AND DESIRE TO KILL YOU. The honking and cursing and throwing garbage at me is way too much for me to deal with. I am actually afraid for my safety at the mercy of enraged LA drivers.

    So I stick to the sidewalks, and slow down as much as needed to make sure little old people and kids and puppies all feel safe as I pass them. I also assume that no cars will stop for me unless the driver has looked me in the eyes. I’m not out to be rude or annoying. Just want to ride my bike and not feel like my life is about to end.

  2. I’ve been startled by sidewalk cyclists too, but if he’d been riding on the street, would you have seen him then? As you said, he was coming from the right while you were looking left. What if he’d been on foot, running for the bus?

    I find that people tend to blame the cyclist in this situation when in fact, it’s them that weren’t being vigilant enough.

    As gas prices rise, expect more cyclists, and more cyclists who may not know the rules they’re supposed to ride by. We all just need to look. . .hard, and make the roads safer for cycling overall.

  3. Amazingly, you don’t have to wear a helmet either.

    Frankly, bicycles are in a lot more danger riding in the street than on sidewalks in this city. I for one would *only* ride on the sidewalks of major streets that do not have a bike lane. Then again, for my own sake I also would ride slowly past driveways. That said, I think in these situations the onus for safety generally falls on the person operating the vehicle more likely to kill the other. I have little sympathy for most driver complaints about pedestrians or cyclists. And I say that as someone many times more likely to be driving a car than biking or walking on the street.

    1. I understand where Colinski is coming from since street riding falls out of that person’s safety zone, but there’s a tendency to believe because you’re not pedaling immediately adjacent to huge machines moving at speed that sidewalks are the “safer” place to ride. This may be true if you’re casually and cautiously tooling around your block or over a stretch through your neighborhood, but back when I used to deal with a daily 30-mile roundtrip commute by bike, the idea of staying on the sidewalks the whole distance would not only result in a grossly longer and maddeningly tedious commute, but would expose me to myriad hazards I’d be able to avoid in the street.

  4. Dear sidewalk riders,
    If you’re going to insist on riding your bike on the sidewalk, could you at least make an attempt to ride it on the right-hand side of the street? This will make it much more likely for cars coming out of driveways to see you.

    And for those morons who ride their bikes the wrong way _on the street_ … well, you’ll totally deserve it when you get run over. (And yes, you will, eventually.) There are way too many people doing this lately.

    Drivers: Please do look both ways before exiting a driveway. That is your responsibility under the law. But yeah, it’s a lot easier to notice pedestrians than cyclists … the pedestrians are a lot slower. (And they are able to stop quickly when they see your car start moving, unlike bicyclists.)

  5. You’re touching on a very controversial issue here (well, pretty much anything involving bicycles can turn controversial).

    Sidewalk riding in LA is indeed legal, and the California Vehicle Code is silent on the issue, allowing individual cities/counties to enforce their own laws. In Santa Monica, for example, it’s illegal (and until recently was a misdemeanor offense…meaning that someone slowly riding their bike on a sidewalk was considered to be a more serious offense than someone speeding in their car).

    Most bicycle advocates think it’s not a great idea for someone to ride their bike on the sidewalk, for the example that you give–you weren’t expecting to see a bicyclist there, they can appear in front of a driver exiting a driveway or an alley more quickly than a pedestrian, etc. But I think that a lot of people understand that some people might have the inclination to think that sidewalk riding is more safe than riding in the street. I don’t think that it’s safer, but I don’t feel comfortable insisting that people bike in the street, especially when the city has done very little to make people feel more comfortable riding their bikes in the street.

    There needs to be much more done to make the streets safer for everyone, and for us to get out of the mindset that streets are just for moving automobiles as quickly as possible.

  6. I admit I was being deliberately provocative here. I actually do understand the anxiety about cycling in the street, and I totally get the irritation at inattentive drivers. I, after all, didn’t own a car until my mid-30s. That said, if you’re cycling quickly in the opposite direction of traffic, it’s just smart to assume people aren’t going to see you.

  7. In my city, it is illegal to ride on the sidewalk, and we do have plenty of bike lanes. It’s funny that the kids get that they need to obey traffic rules, like stopping at red lights just fine. It’s the adults that are new to biking (you can tell by the way they wobble and fumble with the bikes), that pose a big problem. And there’s nothing like someone drunk biking. Watched one run right into a truck. I think its that type of bike rider that causes the problem.

  8. Thanks CK. Your blog is the one that had the clearest information I could find (thus the link in the post to you). Thanks for the public service.

  9. I wince when any cyclist is called annoying and dangerous, but I understand the sentiment when it comes to IRRESPONSIBLE bike riders on sidewalks — and that distinction needs to be made.

    I’m pleased you took your curiosity and went researching to find that responsible and considerate bicycling on sidewalks is allowed across Los Angeles. But to complicate things, there are municipalities within Los Angeles County who either outright prohibit sidewalk biking throughout their boundaries or instead over certain ambiguous areas. Glendale has a law on the books that prohibits biking on sidewalks within “business districts,” which it turns out can include residential areas that have apartment buildings in them. Culver City doesn’t want you pedaling with pedestrians around its “commercial area.” West Hollywood has considered repealing the sidewalk ban of bikes on Santa Monica Boulevard but I’m not sure that’s happened. I imagine in Beverly Hills they might bust a taser on your cycling ass if you went rolling past the pedestrians down Rodeo Drive.

    With all the miles I ride, you’ll find me on a sidewalk only if it’s positively necessary (usually to get around some sort of street closure), or provides a better connection to get me across a busy intersection. But it’s important to keep in mind that with the increase in the number of cyclists, a lot of them will default to the sidewalks, where they feel less at risk.

  10. While I get where Colinski is coming from, but I’m not sure I agree with the idea that “the onus for safety generally falls on the person operating the vehicle more likely to kill the other.” I think that when I ride my bicycle, I’m taking a far more substantial risk to my own personal health and safety than when I drive my car. For that reason, I tend to more concerned for my own safety when I’m on a bike. After all, when I’m on my bike, I am the one who has a lot more to lose.

  11. There are a lot more people riding bikes in Los Angeles. Things will be better for everybody when they’re all riding on the streets.

  12. I don’t feel safe on any sidewalk, and will only use one–and be highly cautious–if there are no other options. As TK pointed out, it’s an unexpected behavior and can cause driver angst, not to mention a visit to the ER for the cyclist. Doesn’t mean the streets are safer, but I try to find alternate routes if there’s no shoulder, and deal with the driver rage if there’s not. Cycling in L.A. County isn’t an easy task, and everyone does what they can to make it work, even if it means taking it off the streets and onto the sidewalks.

    The website below is a great one for “survival” techniques. The links within the site appear to be powerpoint, but when you click on the slides, there are videos that show step-by-step examples of good and bad cycling habits. This is where I learned that taking a lane can be much safer than riding in the gutter, and why the sidewalk might not be the best choice (as stated earlier, it’s unexpected behavior).

    Ride on!

  13. I’ve been a biking enthusiast since age 15, have biked all over the US, from the Grand Canyon & most of the CA PCH to 5th Avenue in NYC, as well as numerous other countries. Legal or not, I think biking on the sidewalk is an awful idea. It’s dangerous to pedestrians, and also to the bikers, who may have to negotiate walkers, dogs on leashes, baby strollers, etc., often without being heard.

    If biking in the streets of L.A. is hazardous, then let’s advocate for more bike lanes & bike paths, & safer solutions for biking, but let’s not simply trade one hazard for another.

    btw, great topic for a blog post, Travis!

  14. I fully understand riding on the sidewalk, but, if you do, for God’s sake don’t go blowing through crosswalks with 3 seconds remaining at 25 mph when there’s a car turning right parallel to you – especially when parked cars make you invisible.

    I really don’t want to run over a cyclist, but I’m not likely to be able to stop in time for someone I can’t even see approaching when I’m turning right on a green light..

    If you’re going to use the crosswalks, behave like a pedestrian – travel at walking speed and only cross with the WALK sign.

    Passing a vehicle turning right on the right is just stupid, no matter how you slice it. But darting out from alongside parked cars against a DON’T WALK sign is a good way to ruin my day and your week.

  15. anyone riding in the streets on a regular basis should read this guide:
    (link via midnight ridazz, of course)

    there’s a reason cyclists are legally allowed to use the full lane — if you’re in the middle of the lane, you’re a lot easier to see than if you’re on the sidewalk. you may piss a few people off, but they were probably pissed off before they noticed you anyways.

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