Ask the County Law Librarian-Bicycles and Sidewalks
Q. I just moved to Sacramento and have noticed many people riding bicycles around town. Biking to work would be ideal, but I’m worried about dealing with traffic in certain areas and would be tempted to ride part of the way on sidewalks. I have a hunch this is illegal, yet I see cyclists doing this pretty often. Could I be ticketed for riding my bike on a sidewalk?
A. Sidewalks are invariably appealing to bicyclists: smooth, level surfaces that facilitate cruising and offer a cushion of safety from approaching vehicles and their drivers, some of whom may still be using handheld devices to talk or text. Despite popular belief, sidewalks can be lawful segments of bicycle routes, but we recommend researching local county and city ordinances, relevant signage, and the area’s official bike routes before risking a potential citation, or worse. Pedestrians will always have the right-of-way on sidewalks, and cyclists should always exercise caution, especially riding in areas with heavy foot traffic.
Bike laws are generally a municipal matter, so your research should begin with the local county and city codes: the Sacramento County Code and the Sacramento City Code are available online and in print at the Sacramento County Public Law Library, or your local county law library. Sacramento County Code, Section 10.12.010 (b) states “notwithstanding the provisions of subdivision (a) of this section, any person may ride a bicycle on a sidewalk which is designated by the director as a part of the County bike route system and which is identified for such use by appropriate signs giving notice thereof. A bicyclist using a sidewalk as authorized by this subdivision shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian using the sidewalk.”
The Sacramento City Code is even more specific in Section 10.76.010 (A): “Except as authorized under subsection B of this section, no person shall ride a bicycle on a sidewalk except within a residence district or where a sidewalk is designated as part of an established bicycle route. Pedestrians shall have the right-of-way on sidewalks.” Subsection B lists exempted groups, such as medical personnel, law enforcement, and those with special permits.
Both the city and county ordinances reference “bike routes” as an exception to the prohibition of bicycles on sidewalks, and that these routes will be identified by signs. The next step, then, would be to research designated bike routes in the area and the signs that indicate their locations. Many counties and cities will have this information online; Sacramento County’s website offers information on bikeways, as well as a map of existing routes. Also available on the website is the Sacramento County Bicycle Master Plan, adopted in April 2011, which includes descriptions of different bike paths and their corresponding signs. If you have additional questions, you may want to contact the transportation department of your city or county.
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