City Not Looking to Ban Bikes on Sidewalks, But Staff and Council Want Some Clarification

(Note: Statistically speaking, riding a bicycle on a sidewalk isn’t a safe way to bicycle versus the street.  However, for many novice or otherwise inexperienced riders the sidewalk is the only place they feel safe riding.  The below piece discusses the safety concerns for pedestrians, but sidewalk riding poses some danger for cyclists as well. – DN)

With more and more people taking to the streets of Los Angeles on two wheels, the long-simmering debate over whether or not cyclists should be allowed to ride on the sidewalk is re-emerging.  The State of California Vehicle Code (CVC) bans sidewalk riding unless a municipality adopts an ordinance allowing sidewalk riding.  Los Angeles Municipal Code (LAMC) 56.15 allows cyclists on sidewalks unless they’re riding dangerously or other meet other specific criteria, such as having a bike side-car.

Councilman LaBonge has long been a critic of laws allowing cyclists to ride on the sidewalk. Here he poses with cyclists before his office's "Positively 4th Street" bike ride in 2008. Photo: Tom

A new report by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation reccomends that the city revise LAMC 56.15 to clarify what types of cycling are so dangerous that it should be banned from the sidewalk.  The LADOT report notes that cycling is on the rise and that the city network is not built out to the point where novice cyclists can feel safe on every street.  For these reasons, LADOT does not recommend discontinuing sidewalk riding.

Currently, the LAMC reads:

1. No person shall ride, operate or use a bicycle, unicycle, skateboard, cart, wagon, wheelchair, rollers kates, or any other device moved exclusively by human power, on a sidewalk, bikeway or boardwalk in a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property. (Amended by Ord. No. 166,189, Eft. 10/7/90.

Confusion over what is and isn’t “willful or wanton disregard” that has created confusion.  Over the years we’ve heard stories of police ticketing people for riding on the sidewalk if there are any pedestrians present, which seems an awfully broad definition.  Of course, we’ve also heard stories of police ticketing cyclists just for riding on the sidewalk because they are unaware that in the City of Los Angeles, and other major cities, such an activity is legal.

But to make sidewalk riding as safe as possible, LADOT lists several things that need to be further examined.

  • Must provide the right of way to all pedestrians and slow to a walking pace of not more than 3 miles per hour;
  • Provide an audible signal – vocal or mechanical- to pedestrians to alert them to their presence;
  • Slow to a walking pace at driveways; and
  • Slow to a walking pace when entering an intersection;
  • Reestablish provisions for banning bicycles from sidewalks in business districts or heavity (sic) congested pedestrian corridors.

The most recent effort to alter LAMC 56.15 came in the June of 2009.  Councilman Tom LaBonge has long been a critic of sidewalk riding.  On the same morning as a Lakers Championship Parade, the City Council Transportation Committee met for an “all-bike” meeting that included a discussion of sidewalk riding.  The Councilman proposed making it illegal for cyclists to pass pedestrians without calling out or ringing a bell.  The motion didn’t have much traction and was widely panned by cyclists in attendance, but LaBonge’s proposal is one of several strategies that LADOT is considering in their current report.

We’ll stay on top of this issue.  If you have strong feelings on whether or not sidewalk riding should be allowed and under what conditions it is understandable, leave them in the comments section.  I’ve already made my confessions.


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