A number of Kansas communities have laws or ordinances that limit or prohibit riding a bicycle on a sidewalk.
The following are the requirements for a few communities. Please check your local city ordinances, or call your local police department for the details of your town.
Communities that prohibit riding a bicycle on a sidewalk anywhere within the city limits:
- Belleville, KS: City Code 10.32.050
- Great Bend, KS: City Code 10.28.020
- Fort Scott, KS: City Code 10.40.130
Communities that prohibit riding a bicycle on a sidewalk on certain streets, portions of streets, districts, or areas of the city:
- Augusta, KS: City Code 14-407
- Arkansas City, KS: City Code 10.04.032
- Baldwin City, KS: City Code 13-115
- Chanute, KS: City Code 10.36.030
- Edgerton: Sign
- Emporia, KS: City Code 25-94
- Eudora, KS: City Code 14-502
- Garden City, KS: City Code 86-63
- Great Bend, KS: City Code 10.28.020
- Hays, KS: City Code 62-195
- Hutchinson, KS: City Code 23-503
- Independence, KS: City Code 102-31
- Junction City, KS: City Code 305.030
- Lawrence, KS: City Code 17-702
- Leavenworth, KS: City Code 110-48
- Lindsborg, KS: City Code 32-49
- Manhattan, KS: City Code 31-181
- Marysville, KS: City Code 13.111
- McPherson, KS: City Code 82-146
- Moundridge, KS: City Code 11-204
- Newton, KS: City Code 21-303b2
- Overbrook, KS: City Ordinance
- Ottawa, KS: City Code 13-200
- Neodesha, KS: City Code 34-29
- Parsons, KS: City Code 520.6
- Pittsburg, KS: City Code 74-11
- Russell, KS: City Code 17-208
- Tonganoxie, KS: City Code 116.1
- Topeka, KS: City Code 142-611a
- Wellington, KS: City Code 36-53
- Wichita, KS: City Code 11.48.160
- Winfield, KS: City Code 74-115
For some reason, cities that erect signs restricting sidewalk cycling have, by-and-large, done a rather poor job of it. Many of the signs I see are misleading at best. Here are some examples from Kansas:
Chanute, KS – Chanute city code prohibits riding bicycles or skateboards on downtown sidewalks, but this stencil appears to prohibits walking or parking bicycles as well. Misleading.
Ottawa, KS – Bicyclists are prohibited from riding on the sidewalks in downtown Ottawa. But that's not what this sign says. This sign says "no bikes on sidewalk". Presumably, it is still permissible to walk your bike on the sidewalk, or park your bike on the sidewalk to shop at one of the downtown stores. Misleading.
Overbrook, KS – Bicyclists are prohibited from riding on the sidewalks in downtown Overbrook. But this sign says "No Bikes N SDEWALK". The first time I saw this sign, there was no text, just the "no bikes" symbol, which could reasonably be interpreted to mean that Overbrook banned bicyces from both the street and sidewalk. Later, someone apparently added some text using black electrical tape, some of which has now fallen off. Even if the lettering was intact, the sign would still be wrong – it's not illegal to walk or park bikes on the sidewalk, only to ride on the sidewalk.
Pittsburg, KS – Bicyclists are prohibited from riding on the sidewalks in downtown Pittsburg. But this sign only says "No Biking Or Skating", which could be interpreted to mean that bicycles may not be ridden on either the street or sidewalk. Misleading.
Edgerton, KS – "Walk Bicycles on Sidewalk in Business District" ... Finally, an example of a clear and unambiguous sign! Nevermind that this is the downtown in its entirety, so it's not a far walk. Well done, Edgerton!
Unusual Sidewalk Bicycling Laws
A few Kansas cities have enacted unusual provisions for riding bicycles on sidewalks:
Ottawa, KS – 8-109: Restrictions on riding of motorcycles, mopeds and bicycles. – "It shall be unlawful for any person to ride a bicycle, motorcycle or moped upon paths for pedestrians within City parks unless such person, upon meeting any pedestrian, shall stop such bicycle, motorcycle or moped and dismount until such pedestrian has passed and such person shall not again mount such bicycle, motorcycle or moped until entirely past such pedestrian.
If you're riding a bicycle on a sidewalk or path within an Ottawa city park, and encounter a pedestrian, you must stop, get off your bike, and wait for the pedestrian to pass before getting back on your bike. Genuflecting is apparently optional...
If you ride on a sidewalk in Topeka, you are required to go really, really slow!
Why Do Cities Prohibit Riding Bicycles on Sidewalks?
In most cases, the prohibition appears to be an effort to improve pedestrian safety.
Indeed, having bicycles whiz by on a narrow downtown sidewalk, while people are emerging from stores, or carrying packages, is very dangerous, for both the bicyclist and pedestrian. It's far safer for bicyclists to either ride in the street, or walk their bike along the sidewalk.
Why Is Riding Bicycles on Sidewalks Unsafe?
Most bicycling experts advise that riding a bicycle on the sidewalk is far more dangerous than riding a bicycle on a street (estimates of anywhere from 2x to 16x more dangerous). This may seem counter-intuitive, but there are a number of reasons for the heightened danger:
- "Motorists are simply not looking for bicyclists on the sidewalk, especially those riding against traffic. So at every driveway and intersection, you are at much greater risk of being hit by a motorist than if you were riding on the road with traffic." bicyclinginfo.org
- "When riding on sidewalks, bicyclists pass driveways and cross streets at speeds that put them at odds with motorists. Often hidden behind parked cars, trees and other obstructions, sidewalk cyclists are invisible to drivers on the road until they suddenly enter a street or driveway, when most drivers won't have enough time to stop for them." ccbike.org
- "It confuses drivers, because they don't know whether to treat them like a vehicle or a pedestrian. Who has right of way when you're on a bicycle that's moving three or four times faster than a pedestrian can move?" ksmu.org
- On a sidewalk, every driveway is an intersection; on the roadway there are far fewer intersections. Most collisions occur at intersections, so more intersections equates to more risk.
- Sidewalks are often home to dangers such as broken pavement, uneven pavement, children's toys, rocks, sand, wet leaves, and so on. Also, cars parked in driveways will often obstruct sidewalks entirely.
- Without curb cuts, the transitions between streets and sidewalks can be very dangerous.
- After a snowfall, cities will generally be diligent about clearing streets, but sidewalks are usually left to homeowners, who often fail to clear them in a timely manner (and cities seldom cite negligent homeowners). Worse, snowplows sometimes use sidewalks as convenient places to dump or pile snow.
Best Practices for Riding Bicycles on Sidewalks
If, despite the laws and expert advice, you insist on riding on a sidewalk, here are a few suggestions to make the practice as safe as possible:
- Don't ride where sidewalk cycling is prohibited. Refer to your local city ordinances if in doubt.
- Ride very slowly on the sidewalk, in order to give yourself time to avoid hazards such as pedestrians, animals, and motor vehicles that may cross the sidewalk without yielding.
- Always yield to pedestrians. Pedestrians always have the right-of-way.
- Consider using a bicycle bell to alert pedestrians to your approach.
- If passing a pedestrian, always call out "passing on your left" (and then be careful that they don't jump to their left at the sound of your voice).
- Observe traffic laws. Don't ride your bicycle through a "don't walk" signal.
- Many people consider riding a bicycle through a crosswalk to be poor form; you may be better off dismounting and walking your bike through the crosswalk.
- Ride defensively! Always assume that pedestrians and motorists cannot see you.
- Be alert for leashes. People walking their dogs often do not maintain proper control of their pets, and getting tangled up in a leash can be painful for all involved.
- Watch out dangerous surfaces caused by tree roots, rocks and sand, snow and ice, wet leaves, etc.
- If most of the sidewalk traffic is pedestrians, consider dismounting and walking the bike.