Why do cyclists ride on the pavement?
That cyclists “always ride on the pavement” is a common complaint, from both motorists and pedestrians.
That cyclists “always ride on the pavement” is a standard complaint, from both motorists and pedestrians. Cycling on the pavement is, indeed, forbidden but what’s a pavement? It’s not as clear cut as you may think. In England and Wales, the “pavement” is the “footway”. A footpath, on the other hand, is a rural path away from a road. OK, smartypants, so why do cyclists ride on the footway? They shouldn’t, it’s an offence, and was made so before bicycles even existed! The offence is “driving” on the footway, dating from the 1835 Highway Act, and it originally prevented “driving” a horse and carriage on to the footway. Bicycles were classified as carriages in 1879 and were included under the same 1835 law (bicycles are still classified as carriages, which may seem daft but it allows cyclists full and free access to all roads, except motorways). The 1835 Highway Act was extended to motorists in 1903. This is the reason why motorists must not drive or park their cars on footways. Parking half-up-on-the-kerb may be considered normal but it’s the same offence as cycling on the footway. Not all “pavements" are the same. When a motorist (or pedestrian) sees a cyclist pedalling on the pavement/footway/whatever the cyclist may, in fact, be riding on a “shared use” path. This can be confusing for all concerned. It’s common for a footway to turn into a shared-use path and for the signage to be poor or non-existent. And when the official stretch of shared-use path has come to an end it’s often not clear this is the case. Such mixed-use paths often look identical to footways. When footways no longer adjoin roads they turn into footpaths – cyclists have no explicit right to be on these paths but can only be sued by the landowner for any damage they do (which is likely none). Local authorities also make such paths into “shared use” spaces, again leading to confusion. Why do local authorities create “shared use” paths? It’s cheap and easy. It usually just involves slapping down a bit of white thermoplastic paint and erecting a blue sign here and there. This a lot less expensive than installing separated infrastructure for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. So, it’s a cop-out? Yup. And cyclists then get the blame for “cycling on pavements” when, in fact, they might not be on footways at all. Shared use paths are sometimes divided with a white line but pedestrians are under no obligation to stick to “their” side of the path. This makes using shared-use paths a potential nightmare for all concerned.