Mr Roadshow says “NO SIDEWALK RIDING”

Gary Richards aka “Mr Roadshow” is the traffic columnist for the San Jose Mercury News. He tells cyclists to ride in the road in today’s column: Pedestrians, drivers plead for bicyclists to stay off sidewalks.

Sidewalk riding is legal in the city of San Jose, including in the heavily traveled downtown district, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good idea. I’ve witnessed a number of bike-vs-car crashes in and near downtown San Jose. I know the plural of anecdote is not data, but every collision I’ve witnessed has been a sidewalk cyclist getting nailed when he crosses an intersection at speed.

From the Roadshow column, we see also that the practice is hazardous and inconsiderate to pedestrians.

The specific example given in today’s column is Agnew Road in Santa Clara. I work on Agnew Road, and I frequently see adults and children riding on the sidewalk in spite of the very wide and very clearly labeled bike lanes here. (Occasionally, that rider will be me when I’m with walking friends or I’m leaving Safeway for a very short distance, but I will ride at walking speed and I will not try to squeeze past unless there’s plenty of room.)

The online comments following today’s Roadshow in the Mercury News illustrate widespread misunderstanding about California’s sidewalk riding rule. The California Vehicle Code has a uniformity provision so that cities can’t just make stuff up that could result in a patchwork of contradictory codes. The state does leave regulations for the “operation of bicycles [and] electric carts … on the public sidewalks” up to local authorities, however, in CVC 21100(h). The city of San Jose does not regulate sidewalk riding, hence no legal proscription.


  1. Yeah, another bash on bikes column. I think Mr Roadshow needed to diversify from the usual set of complaints from drivers. And this one was more interesting because cyclists, who as a whole hate sidewalk-riding, were able to chime in on the bashing.

    But I’ll say here what I said in the comments: when a city’s transportation plan doesn’t allow for safe routes for bikes on the roadway, people who aren’t just riding for fun and actually have to get somewhere will do what it takes, including riding on the sidewalk.

    I ride on the road 97% of the time and it pisses me off the 3% of the time that I am forced onto the sidewalk so I don’t have to ride in 40 mph traffic.

    Sidewalk riding is a symptom of bad transportation planning where bike are not considered and a culture where car speeds are prioritized above all else.

  2. I just wrote a note to RS complaining about bikes on the sidewallk in my neighborhood near Morgan Park. I went to the Campbell Police Department who told me, unequivocally, that bike are not legal on sidewalks.

    Back in the day, I rode all over my city, Philadelphia, and Boston. Road trips. I loved it!

    Then rheumatoid arthritis hit me and I can’t use my hips or lean on my hands. But I can walk a mile on the flat sidewalk and I am in great danger of being hit. Or my shihtzu, Mopsy, could be thrown. Please say a kind word for us grannies out there.

  3. I din’t know that sidewalk riding is legal in some cities in the US. I think it’s rare case in the US where many bike lanes are lined among roads, and cyclists usually bike along the bike lanes. Of course, we always ride on sidewalk in Japan. The custom does not seem changed forever although it is not actually illegal. It is obvious that you have to ride a bike slowly, under 12kmt~15km / hour when you bike sidewalk considering the possibility of collision.

  4. California allows each city to make rules for sidewalk riding, with predictably scattershot results. It’s unfair to bicyclists to create arbitrary rules for each city, and it’s unfair to expect bicyclists to know what different traffic laws apply to them every time they cross a city limit. I just completed research on city & county sidewalk riding laws in CA. It’s a mess. Out of the 534 incorporated cities and counties in CA:
    8% of cities/counties allow unfettered sidewalk riding
    12% restrict sidewalk riding to minors only
    6% restrict sidewalk riding to minors only, and also ban minors in business districts
    12% ban sidewalk riding in business districts, which they define themselves
    12% ban sidewalk riding in business districts, but allow the CVC to define it (meaning practically any street but one dominated by single family homes)
    19% ban sidewalk riding everywhere, for everyone
    and a whopping 41% don’t even have language in their municipal code on sidewalk riding.

    Imagine if that same complexity were applied to “right turn on red” rules for auto drivers, but without any signage telling you which rules applied where. It would be mayhem! Why are bicyclists treated like second class citizens when it comes to certainty in roadway operation?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.