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?

– Dan

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.


Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email If your question is selected your answer will appear in next Thursday’s column. Even if your question isn’t selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.

Coral Henning, Director
@coralh & @saclawlibrarian

  • Dan, ditto your concerns, seems like bike riders want it all…want to ride on the street, ride on the sidewalk, blow through stop signs and red lights, go against traffic on one way streets. Do not dare get in their way, or you get the finger. We ride with same understanding as a motor vehicle, and most other riders just do what feels good, seems. We are from Seattle and you get a ticket there for most of these behaviors. Appears to be one on many other laws that are not enforced in Sac.

    • Ah, yes. The usual smug anti-bike blowhardery. My experience is that drivers get hostile any time someone — on a bike or on foot — gets in the way of their precious Happy Motoring, and act out like spoiled children.

      I have been commuting by bike for 30 years and it never ceases to amaze me that there are people who want to insist that all bike riders are brazen scofflaws. I drive, and I bike, and there are generally the same number of inconsiderate, rule breaking jerks in both camps. The difference is that one is driving a 5000-pound machine that can kill.

    • I commute to work via walking and transit (and bike on Fridays), and I drive occasionally. There are definitely scofflaws in all transportation modes, but if we are courteous and wait our turn, (and act predictably) there are no conflicts. Pedestrians downtown who cross on red lights or walk 2 or 3 (or more) abreast are a hazard, as are cyclists who careem in and out of traffic on roads or sidewalks. Let’s all be considerate of one another.

    • Lanes are only useful if drivers and residents as well as cyclists mind them. Remember that garbage cans, delivery trucks and leaf piles often line the bike lanes in additon to swerving, texting drivers and the always present risk of getting doored. Lanes and associated infrastructure is the right idea but it takes cooperation to make these features safe and therefore viable. There are times when the sidewalk is the safest option and I could care less about pushing some “midtown” pedestrian’s nose out of joint when my other option is the ER. I will gladly take my chance with the pedestrian. Having lived downtown for 30+ years, it became apparent many moons ago that cooperation is a lot better than aggravation. I dont aggressively hit the sidewalk as I realize it is mainly for pedestrians. The very idea that people who live downtown (Jennifer, for instance) actually prefer that I drive instead of taking some of their precious sidewalk is almost unbearable and at the very least, pathetic and ignorant . Downtown is a rotten place to drive and could be a great testing ground for bike/ped only thoroughfares, although it appears that logic and reason do not outweigh unfounded feelings of entitlement and selfishness. I too drive and ride, but driving downtown is a fool’s errand- it is rarely necessary yet dominates the entire city. As far as the acrimonious comments about cyclists having to use the street or else, well that appears to be a statement from someone who does not ride all that much. for every claim about bike rudeness (often true, but not a rule) there are drivers who blow crosswalks, don’t look before opening their doors while parking adjacent to a bike lane, don’t signal, speed way beyond anything acceptable for a town with a stop sign every two blocks, talk on the phone and threaten cyclists with their vehicles as well as verbally. speeding cars have little room to slow and adapt to changes in the road ahead but it does not seem to matter as long as they get where they are going. this issue truly is a two a street and stereotyping about “idiots” on bikes really is not all that helpful. If my options are speeding commuters allowing me about two feet of clearance between their car and someone’s car door, a leaf pile or other hazards in a bike lane, you can look for me on your sidewalk as long as it is the safer route.

    • Mr Beezie, I ride almost daily, I am anti bike jerk, not anti bike. Wise up.

  • Jennifer Stauff

    Instead of worrying about where riding on the sidewalks is or isn’t legal, how about doing all us midtown pedestrians a favor and just stick to riding in the street? It’s become one of my biggest pet peeves about Sacramento–that I can be walking down the street, have some idiot on a bike nearly run into me, and then get yelled at because I didn’t get out of THEIR way!

    Ride in the street. Or don’t ride at all.

  • Such a touchy topic…
    There are a handful of sidewalks in the downtown area that are designated as bike routes. Pedestrians should be aware of this as they are yelling at the cyclists to get off the sidewalk. Most people that ride their bike on sidewalks are not the “cyclists” that obey the laws at hand. These people don’t give a crap about you or the laws and you can tell these people apart from the commuter, the avid bike rider, the weekend law abiding cruiser.
    Maybe there’s simply not enough bike lanes for the young girl on her pink cruiser. She can’t ride at a moderate speed to be safe in a car lane… the sidewalk safer for her? Or is it that stretch lowrider bike guy riding his bike on the sidewalk at BarWest?
    I get yelled at for being in the car lane. I get yelled at for not coming to a “complete” stop at a stop sign (Ca roll). I get yelled at for being in a designated bike sidewalk. HelI, I get yelled at for being in the bike lane! Most people in cars hate cyclists because they slow them down. I realized I have to ride defensive. Not everyone will be happy – streets or sidewalks.

  • Spend a week riding a bicycle around downtown in the street & get back to me. And I’m not talking the mellow little neighborhood blocks.

    • Jennifer Stauff

      I have ridden a 23-mile round trip commute every weekday for 10 years down J street, Capital Avenue, and Folsom Boulevard. I’ve never owned a car. I manage to make that commute without riding on any sidewalks. So I think I’m qualified to speak up here.

      Again, ride on the street or don’t ride.

    • You can repeat that all day if you want. I ride where I feel safe. Usually in the street but not always.

  • For anyone interested in the City of Sacramento’s bicycle web page, go to the following:

  • Brandon Darnell

    Also for those interested, Sacramento is adding more bicycle lanes in the downtown area. Work will be done with summer road work schedules, so you might start seeing them late next year.

  • Ron Nabity

    I’m an avid cyclist and occasionally use a sidewalk when the street is too dangerous (e.g. on Freeport Blvd near 11th Ave).

    It takes a certain amount of care and common sense when riding on a sidewalk, It amazes me how many people, especially in midtown, ride their bikes very fast on sidewalks. Pedestrians have no idea a cyclist is coming up from behind and the cyclist has no time to react if the pedestrian changes their direction (sidestepping dog poop, walking to a parked car, etc)

    Seriously, if you have to ride a bike on a sidewalk, slow down and warn people when you are approaching from behind. It may not have to be the law, but it makes sense.

    • I don’t think common sense comes into play when I see a bike on the sidewalk. I think it’s lazy and disrespectful to pedestrians. Does anyone want a car driving in the bike lane(I know they do, but that is beside the point)? Be respectful, ride on the street or don’t ride at all.

      A bike crossing intersections on the sidewalk is not where drivers expect them to be. And honestly with all the foliage blocking views, do you expect drivers making right turns to see a fast moving cyclist as compared to a walker? There is nothing safe about it, it’s ignorantly suicidal at best.

  • Well put. I rarely use the sidewalk, but at times it can be the safest and most sensible option.


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