posted 4 years ago

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.

Going back to the 1835 Highway Act, it’s worthwhile reciting part of Clause 72 because it remains in force:

“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 or shall wilfully lead or drive any horse, ass, sheep, mule, swine, or cattle or carriage of any description, or any truck or sledge, upon any such footpath or causeway or shall tether any horse, ass, mule, swine, or cattle, on any highway, so as to suffer or permit the tethered animal to be thereon…[then an offence has been committed].”


The key phrase is “carriage of any description”. Remember, bicycles are carriages in the same way as motor vehicles are carriages. The operators of carriages have equal “road rights”, that is, having the right to pass and repass over the public highway. Stopping for any length of time is a grey area, with a mishmash of laws, and the parking of a carriage is also caught up in a swirl of conflicting legislation.


However, the 1835 Highway Act is clear: carriages must not “ride upon any footpath or causeway by the side of any road.” As well as shouting at cyclists for “riding on the pavement” perhaps motorists and pedestrians should shout at those motorists who park on pavements? However, drive down almost any suburban street and you’ll see plenty of cars parked either wholly or partially on the infrastructure meant for pedestrians. It’s an odd society that harangues one road user group for committing the same offence that another commits with impunity.


Carlton Reid is the executive editor of He drives a Nissan Note "but not very often." He's writing a history book on motoring's cycling beginnings, Roads Were Not Built For Cars.


Some people (usually the ones who only drive or walk) really ought to try cycling surrounded by opinionated bigots and see how they like it. Peter Berg writes "I rarely see anyone looking for cars coming up behind when pulling out to pass a parked car or pulling into the centre of the road when turning right for example and then there's the weaving in and out of slow moving traffic because if you didn't than you would move at the same pace as all the other road users and then what would be the advantage of riding a bike?" Yes, a cyclist should check behind if 'pulling out' round a parked car, but why should they be 'pulling out' in the first place? Their bike is a road vehicle and entitled to its lane just as much as the car behind. Therefore if they didn't feel cowed into riding in the gutter by motorists, they wouldn't be pulling out in the first place. As for moving to the centre of the road when turning right, which I wholly agree is the right way to do it, just try it in busy traffic and see how far you get sometimes. It doesn't seem to matter just how good you are at signalling and looking behind, no-one's going to let you move out. As for pedestrians leaping out of the way of 'lycra-clad louts', how about keeping the pedestrians off my bike lane? I'm constantly having to detour round walkers who can't seem to tell the difference between the bike and pedestrian symbols painted at regular intervals, usually with their backs to me, texting as they walk or with headphones blotting out reality. Maybe they should have some kind of test and insurance. Before anyone asks, I drive more miles than I cycle, and yes, I AM insured when cycling.

I am both a cyclist and a motorist and detest cyclists who use footpaths by any name and cause problems for pedestrians. However, I also detest motorists who also have no consideration for anyone but themselves by "parking" two wheels on footpaths, parking in cycle lanes etc. This cause so many problems for law abiding users and has led to many accidents in the past. The frontline police duties should be taken away from chasing twitter, facebook threats and upholding the law. USA/Canada and many EU countries enforce such laws which improves the roads/footpaths for all. The government and local councils should spend less time arguing over their expenses and improve definitions and useage.

@Robert Beveridge - My sister works with disabled kids, some of whom are wheelchair bound or have sight problems. I can tell you that the number one problem she faces is cars obstructing paths. And when she inevitably encounters this problem, her and the kids shes looking after have to on mass use the road as a means to move forward. And last time I checked insurance and registration has done nothing to stop this behavior. I think you are genuinely living on cloud cuckoo land.

The answer to the question is "Because they can" they are a law unto themselves & will be so until they are made to have insurance and responsibility. Cars do not park on the pavement as such, they put two wheels upon the curb taking up about a foot of space, this is to give better access to other traffic including fire engines & ambulances on our narrow streets and roads which were built just wide enough for a couple of horse and carts to pass each other.

"For Scotland it is the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 and Section 129(5) that covers the driving bit, Section 129(2) the obstruction caused, and if it is a cycle route or path Section 129(6) has special conditions" Also if a “Core Path route", defined by Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, is along a footway contiguous with a road, the Core Path legislation supersedes the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 restrictions, and permits the responsible use of that footway by all non-motorised users (including cyclists).

Well Carlton Reid, I read your article twice and I am still none the wiser regarding the 'law', however the bottom line on this matter is common sense. I have driven for almost 50 years but haven't ridden a bike since my youth. It was much safer to do so then because 1) there were fewer cars on the road 2) they didn't drive as fast. Now there are too many cars driving too fast for conditions, particularly in urban areas, so I get why cyclists might want to have a slightly safer alternative to the road itself (or 'pavement' if we were in the US - confusing isn't it?. However, common sense and consideration for others suggest that whilst riding on the footpath/pavement/whatever at a gentle rate (ie walking speed) should not be a problem, riding at 2-3 times that speed whilst weaving between pedestrians desperately trying to get out of the way is unacceptable. I don't see why I should have to constantly check behind me when walking on the footpath in case some lycra-clad idiot is approaching at breakneck speed. A single pedestrian killed by a cyclist is one too many and in any case what about non-fatal injuries (which might still be serious)? Many cyclists ride seemingly oblivious to their surroundings whether on the road or the footpath. I rarely see anyone looking for cars coming up behind when pulling out to pass a parked car or pulling into the centre of the road when turning right for example and then there's the weaving in and out of slow moving traffic because if you didn't than you would move at the same pace as all the other road users and then what would be the advantage of riding a bike? Cyclists do not have to take any sort of test or have insurance - why not?? How about a new offence of causing death or injury by careless/dangerous cycling??

The problem of cyclists on footways is a growing one. I remember it started about 30 years ago when small children rode on the footway for safety - it has escalated since and all ages of both sexes now ride on footways. Unfortunately there are the usual irresponsible idiots who ignore basic safety and ride along with their phones stuck to their ears and do not sound a bell as they approach a pedestrian (probably because they don't have a bell). Regarding NH's comment on cycling abreast - I have never heard a motorist sound their horn when approaching cyclists to warn them of their approach. If they did perhaps the cyclists would move into single file as they do not often hear an approaching vehicle until it is on top of them. According to the highway code that is a proper use of a horn.

What a lot of selfish cyclists responses! So it is OK for cyclists to break the law and put pedestrians at risk so that they can look after themselves. The pavement in front of my house is a cyclists raceway and it is impossible to safely leave my our house. We have had two bad accidents involving members of own family, on a toddler and the other my late mother-in-law when she was very frail. If one attempts to remonstrate with illegal cyclists the response is either a torrent of f-words or threats of violence. I write as a cyclist myself and would never put others at risk because I was scared of my own safety.

I really do not see a problem provided you are careful. Around here pedestrians wander all over the road. And I do mean wander conpletely obblivious.

In answer to Richard H and his comment,you are right Richard there are buffoons that don't know what they are talking about by the way what the hell are you talking about?

Q. Why do cyclists cycle on the footway? Answer: because it is much safer than the road. Q. How many pedestrians are been killed in the UK each year whilst walking on the footway? A. 1 Q. How many cyclists have been killed on roads where a footway was available but not used? A. A LOT more than 1!

"Ever heard the saying 'When you point your finger at somebody three fingers point back at you'?" Yes I have. And its always been said by buffoons who haven't got a clue what they are talking about.

I live in a rural area - Lots of cyclists and they don't help themselves by riding many abreast. Motorists should warn following vehicles of cycles by indicating when passing a cyclist. Why the hell do many cyclists use the road when there is a cycle lane available?

I am a motorist, but rather than pointing the finger at cyclists you might ask why motorists routinely exceed the speed limit, overtake on the inside, pass cyclists as though they are just stationary, inert objects without a human being on them, think it's perfectly fine to PARK ON THE PAVEMENT, speed past horses, drive up bus lanes, ignore traffic lights, pollute the atmosphere and throw fast food boxes out of the window? Tell me you've never done any of the above. Why pedestrians cross anywhere they feel like it even though they have their own traffic lights. The roads are not owned by motorists that allow the rest of us limited use. They are for everyone to use and we've all got bad habits. Ever heard the saying "When you point your finger at somebody three fingers point back at you"?

They are normally a nuisence

They normally hog the road.

This whole debate keeps missing the point and is asking the wrong question. That is "Why are cyclists avoiding the road? " If anyone of the DfT idiots could be bothered to talk to and listen to cyclists instead of motoring lobby groups, they could have sorted this problem back in the 1970s as the Netherlands have done. Instead the DfT has ploughed £trillions into making car-is-king culture. Now thw DfT needs to spend the same amount undoing this terrible damage to shared road space.

This is 'whataboutery' (google it).. you don't actually discuss the subject matter, which is pavement cycling. Actually there are several circumstances where cycling on the pavement is useful or essential.. to get round a traffic blockage or a danger spot, for example. When a child, or when cycling with children, for another. I actually think it's perfectly acceptable (and generally accepted) when it is carefully and respectfully done.. acknowledging that it's the pedestrians' domain, going slowly and carefully and being prepared to stop or dismount if necessary.

Hooton Roberts, The cyclists insurance should pay for it. In the unlikely event that the cyclists does not have liability insurance(most cyclists do by default through their home insurance), then unfortunately the situation is just the same as if a pedestrian knocked into your friends elderly mother. I'm sorry to hear that has happened. While terribly sad, it's also incredibly rare and it's sadly far more common for people on the pavement to be hit by cars and not bikes. The result of which is often far more deadly.

When a cyclist clatters into my elderly Mother on the pavement, who pays for her medical treatment? Is it her, the cyclist or the cyclist's insurance? (Asking for a friend).

PS Carlton how about a piece on restoring the 20mph speed limit- after an 84-85 year gap?

Pavement is also the carriageway, because it is the technical term for a paved surface. A flexible pavement is tarmac, and a rigid pavement is a concrete apron. It would help immensely if the term footway was routinely used as it make the use of the paved areas which form part of the highway (road in Scotland) assigned for pedestrian traffic. Surprisingly 54% of UK drivers actually admit to breaking the law (s.72) by admitting they park on footways, in a survey for the RNIB. What really annoys cyclists who it would seem are offending far less than than drivers, is that this is the ONLY motoring offence that does not allow the use of a photograph of the offending vehicle to be used to fine the keeper, or get the details of the driver to pay it. There is also one category of 'carriage' which gets special treatment. It is illegal to park an HGV on a footway (section 19 RTA 1988) regardless of how it got there. Bear in mind here that the Highways Act 1835 only applies in England and Wales. For Scotland it is the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 and Section 129(5) that covers the driving bit, Section 129(2) the obstruction caused, and if it is a cycle route or path Section 129(6) has special conditions.