This article was written by John Duggan and originally appeared in Cascade Courier in June 2007.
Question: Is it legal to ride on the sidewalk? Answer: Maybe, depending on the location of the sidewalk. Although the general rule is that it is legal to ride your bike on the sidewalk, individual cities may enact an ordinance prohibiting riding on the sidewalk.
Washington law (RCW 46.61.755(2)) provides as follows: "Every person riding a bicycle on the sidewalk or crosswalk must be granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to a pedestrian by this chapter." While the statute gives cyclists the right to ride on sidewalks, Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 308-330-555 sets forth a Model Traffic Ordinance which city governments may incorporate into their local traffic codes which provides as follows:
(1) No person shall ride a bicycle on the sidewalk in a business district.
(2) A person may ride a bicycle on any other sidewalk or any roadway unless restricted or prohibited by traffic control devices.
(3) Whenever any person is riding a bicycle upon a sidewalk, such person shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian.
Seattle Municipal Code 11.44.120 states: "Every person operating a bicycle upon any sidewalk or public path shall operate the same in a careful and prudent manner and at a rate of speed no greater than is reasonable and proper under the conditions existing at the point of operation, taking into account the amount and character of pedestrian traffic, grade and width of sidewalk or public path, and condition of surface, and shall obey all traffic-control devices. Every person operating a bicycle upon a sidewalk or public path shall yield the right of way to any pedestrian thereon, and shall give an audible signal before overtaking and passing any pedestrian."
Bellevue Municipal Code 11.60.070 and 11.60.80 are essentially identical to the Seattle Municipal Code and generally allow riding on city sidewalks as long as it does not interfere with pedestrian traffic.
Spokane Municipal Code 16.61.787 provides the most detailed language of any of the cities reviewed herein and prohibits bicycle riding on sidewalks within clearly defined sections of the city, but allows sidewalk riding in other areas. Spokane Municipal Code 16.04.141 and 16.04.145 clearly define the "congested districts" and "retail zones" where sidewalk riding is prohibited (see my.spokanecity.org).
Tacoma and Vancouver (WA):
Tacoma and Vancouver have essentially adopted WAC 308-330-555 set forth above and prohibit riding a bicycle upon a sidewalk in a business district, but allow it in all other areas in the city as long as the cyclist yields to pedestrians. Unlike Spokane, neither the Tacoma Municipal Code nor the Vancouver Municipal Code define the business districts where cycling on the sidewalks is prohibited. Tacoma, Vancouver and Spokane all have exemptions which allow law enforcement personnel to ride on city sidewalks, even within business districts.
While this article contains just a sampling of the major metropolitan areas in Washington, I suggest that you check the local ordinances where you ride to ascertain whether sidewalk riding is permitted.
Please keep in mind that pedestrians always have the right of way on a sidewalk. Furthermore, while motor vehicle drivers may be accustomed to pedestrians traveling at 3 to 4 miles per hour, they do not expect to see bicycles entering crosswalks at 10 to 20 miles per hour. You need to be extra careful when transitioning from sidewalk to crosswalk.
Please ride safely and obey all traffic laws!