How to Ride on a Pavement

I’m not about to tell you how you can ‘get away’ with riding on a pavement, but rather the times and places you are actually allowed to ride on pavements.

The starting point is easy. You don’t ride on pavements, but you can ride on specifically designated cycle ‘tracks’. The general rule is neatly covered in the Highway Code, and that would appear to be the end of that. But, delve a little deeper into the laws behind the rule, as specified by the Code, and ponder assertions by some people that you can’t even do things like walk while pushing your bike along the pavement, and it becomes clear that the issue is a little more muddled than at first thought.

The line in the Code of ‘You MUST NOT cycle on a pavement’ comes from the Highways Act 1835 for England and Wales, and the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 for north of the border. The Highways Act at section 72 states, “If any person shall wilfully ride upon any footpath or causeway by the side of any road made or set apart for the use or accommodation of foot passengers… [he shall commit an offence].” The Scottish version is a little more wordy, but amounts to the same thing – riding a bike on a footway or footpath is an offence.

But in Scotland the Act does go a little further by mentioning some specific ways in which cycling on a footpath would be exempt from being an offence. The obvious one is where that path has been designated a ‘cycle track’. (Livingston, for example, is full of them, nice wide paths with plenty of room for bikes, pedestrians and pram pushers.) Further, an offence is not committed if a cyclist is on a footpath with, “a pedal cycle which is… not being ridden,” which looks compelling enough to argue against those who think that cyclists pushing a bike on a pavement are either law breakers or should be subject still to the rules of the road.

Actually, people saying that are not far off the mark if a bike is being pushed on the road. In this case the person pushing the bike must still abide by traffic signals and the like. Move onto the pavement and you’re a pedestrian with a large load, nothing more.

A further interesting move onto footpaths is permitted in order to ‘cross’. And here we enter the legal speciality of a grey area. Presumably this was intended as a way to allow vehicles of all sorts (since the Act applies to motor vehicles as well as cyclists (and horses, and leading animals etc.) to pull into, for example, a driveway.

However, it is arguable that, in the modern world of cycle ‘tracks’, that crossing should, and would, be allowed in order to access these bike highways. And then by extension should it be permitted to cycle a distance down a path to achieve the same result? Or to access a dropped kerb to enter or exit in more safety? Or, indeed, where a cyclepath ends abruptly at a main road would ‘crossing’ cover following a path for some distance to join the main carriageway at a safer and more ‘appropriate’ point?

These are all moot points as they have not yet been tested. In England, however, the very definition of a footpath has. And this comes about because the Highways Act defines a footpath as being alongside a main route for vehicles.

The inference is that a footpath which does not adjoin a road is not a footpath within the meaning of the act. Here it should be pointed out that there isn’t anything creating an actual ‘right’ to ride on such a path, but it probably requires a specific bylaw or such-like to actually create an offence.
Another thing to bear in mind is that where there is a solid line on a shared-use path, delineating cyclist and pedestrian areas, the onus is on the cyclist to abide by this. He must stay very strictly on his side, but the same restriction is not placed on pedestrians, and, as most people will be aware, this fact is borne out most days.

Cycling on pavements, it’s not just a case of ‘NO’.

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Anthony Robson Anthony is the editor of online cycling magazine Enjoying most forms of cycling he does his daily work commute by bike, mountain bikes at the weekend, and fills other spare time renovating old bikes. Anthony is 30 and lives with his girlfriend Mel in Edinburgh, where he also works, but enjoys getting out of the city, especially by bike, but also in his pride and joy, a fun red Mini. At last check Anthony had three bikes (mountain bike, road bike, fixed wheel commuter), but this number is expected to increase with the addition of a garage to the household.

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