We were absolutely thrilled to see two letters to the editor in the Buffalo News recently focusing on a topic so near and dear to our hearts at GObike—sidewalks, who they are for, and whether bicycles should be ridden on them. ’Tis a contested topic indeed and one where you can find yourself in the hell zone rather quickly.
The first letter writer stated a bicycle is a vehicle and therefore should not be driven on the sidewalk. The second letter writer disagreed—bicycles are not vehicles and therefore can go on the sidewalk where allowed. Who’s correct? We investigate.
Is a bicycle a vehicle?
By definition, very much so. A vehicle is “a means of carrying or transporting something.”
But by New York State law, no. The vehicle and traffic law excludes “devices moved by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks,” as vehicles.
However, a person riding a bicycle has all of the rights and duties of a driver of a vehicle under Title 7 of the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Code, except for those provisions that by their nature can have no application.
Are bicycles allowed on sidewalks?
Sometimes. NY Vehicle and Traffic Law does not expressly regulate sidewalk bicycling. However, NY General Municipal Law (Section 180)6 states that NY municipalities can regulate bike riding on sidewalks. They cannot require that bicyclists use a sidewalk instead of a public roadway but they can impose limits to sidewalk bicycling. It’s up to individual municipalities to regulate sidewalk cycling as they see fit.
In the City of Buffalo, cycling on the sidewalk is not allowed, with the exception of children under the age of 14.
So can I bike on the sidewalk outside of the City of Buffalo?
Sidewalks are for pedestrians. Cycling on the sidewalk is dangerous for everyone, whether you’re on foot, on a bike or in a car.
While you might feel safer on the sidewalk, statistically, you are in greater danger. Cyclists are invisible to motorists when on the sidewalk, and they’re often moving at speeds greater than and in directions other than drivers expect, which breaks the tried and true safety rule of “always be predictable.” Cyclists on sidewalks can also cause conflicts with pedestrians, resulting in injury to both parties. While some municipalities might not forbid it, we highly recommend against it.
According to the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information, bicyclists should stay off the sidewalk because:
Although you might think it’s a safer option, motorists are simply not looking for bicyclists on the sidewalk, especially those riding against the direction of traffic.
At every driveway and intersection, you are at greater risk of being hit by a motorist than if you were riding on the road with traffic.
Pedestrians will thank you for riding on the road as well.
Ride on the trail, paved shoulder, bike lane, or bike route. You still need to follow the rules of the road and watch out for your fellow travelers. Ride to the right, signal your turns, obey traffic signs and signals.
Are there exceptions to this rule?
Of course. If you’re biking with very young cyclists, the sidewalk is the best place (and you’ll likely be moving slowly). There are also places in Buffalo where even the most experienced cyclists cautiously hop the curb—for example, the gratuitously wide streets of Main Street result in motor vehicle speeds in excess of 45 to 50 mph. With cars moving on and off of the Kensington Expressway, some cyclists might feel safer on the sidewalk. Just be sure to enter and exit the sidewalk with extreme caution, looking out for both pedestrians and motor vehicle drivers.
There are also other ways to approach a high-speed area with no bicycle infrastructure present—you can claim the lane. We discuss this strategy at length in our Smart Cycling classes.
Are any of these rules actually enforced?
Good question. We’re trying to find that out. We know of cyclists who have been stopped for riding on the sidewalk but, based on anecdotal evidence, there seems to be racial profiling occurring.
Have you ever been stopped for riding your bicycle on the sidewalk? Let us know.
If you’re interested in learning more about NYS traffic laws and safe cycling, drop our Education Director, Adam Ianni, a note (email firstname.lastname@example.org). We have literature and classes available for individuals, groups and organizations.