Sharing the Sidewalk: Bicycles Coexisting With Pedestrians

In so many ways, bicyclists seem stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the road, motor vehicles rule, their superior horsepower leading many drivers to bully cyclists or ignore their rights. But on the sidewalk, pedestrians have the right of way — in some high-traffic areas, bicycles aren’t even allowed on the sidewalks.

Because bicyclists have few, if any, thoroughfares to call their own, it’s important for them to be aware of what their rights are — and aren’t. While bicyclists are often the underdog in the streets, where they’re subjected to bullying or even harassment by drivers, they can easily become bullies themselves when sharing the sidewalk with pedestrians.

In order to avoid endangering pedestrians, you should keep these things in mind when riding your bicycle on the sidewalk:

  • Pedestrians have the right of way on the sidewalk. Bicyclists must provide an audible signal, such as a bell or vocal cue, when passing a pedestrian.
  • When passing in front of a driveway, entryway or on a crosswalk, in order to exercise the same right of way as pedestrians over motor vehicles, you must ride at no greater than a walking speed.
  • Oregon bicycle law prohibits passing a vehicle that’s stopped at a crosswalk for a pedestrian. (This is a law that Portland cyclists routinely violate.)
  • Weaving around pedestrians in order to maintain speed or pass them on the sidewalk is also prohibited under Oregon bicycle law, which is violated if someone “operates a bicycle on a sidewalk in a careless manner that endangers or would be likely to endanger any person or property.”
  • Not all Portland sidewalks are legal for bicyclists. Downtown between SW Jefferson St., Naito Pkwy., NW Hoyt St. and 13th Ave. is off-limits unless you’re in the Park Blocks or on SW Salmon St. Violators can get smacked with a $500 fine.

For more information about bicyclist rights, you can attend a free bike clinic offered by Portland bicycle lawyer Ray Thomas or watch videos from a past clinic on YouTube.