You won’t see this sign in Freeattle. Photo from Wikimedia

Assphalt: Can I Ride My Bike on the Sidewalk?

There’s the law, and then there’s common sense. Let’s discuss.

Dear Assphalt,

My buddy says you’re allowed to ride your bike on the sidewalk in Seattle. This defies everything I know about biking in an urban environment and say he’s wrong. Who’s right?

Your buddy, surprisingly. You can legally ride your bike on the sidewalk in Seattle, even when there is a designated bike lane (and we’ve seen it happen!)

Aside from stating that it is in fact legal, the Seattle bike code doesn’t have much to say about the matter except for vague instructions that everyone riding a bike on the sidewalk should operate in “a careful and prudent manner and a rate of speed no greater than is reasonable and proper under the conditions” as well as take into account the pedestrian traffic, grade and width of path, the condition of its surface and obey all traffic control devices.

But this doesn’t mean biking on the sidewalk is a good idea for anyone involved. While riding on a sidewalk or public path, bicyclists always yield to pedestrians and are required to give an audible signal before passing someone walking. That means that on a crowded sidewalk, a bicyclist is pretty much screwed if she wants to get anywhere in any sort of timely matter.

This rule changes city to city within Washington. In Bellevue, bicyclists can ride on the sidewalk unless this would “unreasonably inconvenience pedestrians.”

For most, it seems riding on the sidewalk is a safety issue. When you’re peddling three miles per hour up a hill with cars whizzing by at 40 miles per hour, it’s arguably safer to ride on the sidewalk despite some pedestrian discontent. If you’re cruising downhill with a tailwind, there’s no reason to veer off the beaten path and take to the sidewalk.

The bottom line: Yes you can ride on the sidewalk, just don’t be a dick about it.

Assphalt brings a sophomoric perspective to your burning Seattle transportation questions. Got one? Write assphalt@seattleweekly.com

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