Yes, you can legally ride a bicycle on the sidewalk in San Francisco. Sometimes.

Recently, there was a bit of media kerfluffle about bicyclists! In San Francisco! Riding on the sidewalk! Which is illegal! Except that it turns out that it’s not necessarily illegal. In San Francisco, riding on the sidewalk is actually mostly illegal, but not completely. It’s worth knowing the rules.

I have ridden on the sidewalk in other cities, where it is legal to do so anywhere, and I will admit: when the roads are unsafe, which is often, it is a huge relief to be able to decide, “To heck with this. I’m taking the sidewalk.” I can’t think of a single US city that has a bike network that is complete enough that no one would ever feel endangered while riding on the existing bike “infrastructure.” In contrast, even five year olds feel safe riding bikes in Copenhagen. Ours did.

This is totally legit.

This is totally legit.

I get why San Francisco looks askance at bicycles on the sidewalk. There are a lot of people on foot in San Francisco, and the sidewalks can get crowded. What that really means is that the sidewalks should be wider, and there should be protected bike lanes, so there’s room for everyone to move safely, but this is not the world we live in yet. That said, since I was hit by a car, there are times and places when I look at the road, then look at the sidewalk, and decide it’s not worth the risk of being technically legal. So for example, on the half-block of California Street between Presidio and the driveway to my office, I often ride on the sidewalk. That’s because California Street is basically an urban freeway and there is not even a painted bike lane. I also feel completely justified riding on the sidewalk to get to a bike rack, because duh. If cars can cross the sidewalk to get into a garage then I can cross it to get to a designated bicycle parking spot.

There are a lot of places in San Francisco, however, where you don’t have to decide whether it’s safer to break the law, because there are times and places where it is perfectly legal to ride on the sidewalk. Here are the ones I know about.

  • You are a child. It is always legal to ride on the sidewalk if you are a little kid. I have heard conflicting reports about whether it is legal for a parent to accompany a child riding on the sidewalk. It is sort of a pointless exception if it’s only legal for unaccompanied kids to ride on the sidewalk, and parents are supposed to ride on the street, but I’ve long since given up expecting laws that relate to bicycles to make sense.
  • You are riding along the perimeter of the city (mostly). Starting along the Embarcadero at the eastern edge of the city, up north from there through Fishermans’ Wharf and Fort Mason, west along Marina Boulevard and into the Presidio through Crissy Field: it is legal to ride a bicycle along the sidewalk at the water’s edge anywhere here. These are designated bike routes and sometimes even marked (for example, a bike lane is marked on the pavement on the Crissy Field path, although the markings are usually covered with sand from the beach). West of there is a shared bicycle-pedestrian path all down the western edge of the city along the Great Highway. There are some parts of the city’s perimeter that I don’t know about. At the southeastern edge of the city in Bayview/Hunters Point we’ve never found an obvious path along the waterfront, and based on our experiences around India Basin, which seems to be blanketed in broken glass with cars parked blithely in the street and on the sidewalk, it wouldn’t be the most fun place to ride. On the other end of the income spectrum, there’s a little gap between the Presidio and the Great Highway at Sea Cliff. I doubt that it matters. The few times we’ve ridden around that neighborhood I felt perfectly safe riding on the street, as it seemed probable that the ample private security forces up there would immediately surround any car moving at more than about 15mph.
  • You are riding east-west through Golden Gate Park. Although there is now a parking-protected bike lane along part of JFK Drive, there are still metal plates set into the sidewalk all along JFK Drive indicating that it is a shared bicycle/pedestrian path. The same plates mark Kezar Drive and various points where bicycle/pedestrian paths enter the park from Fulton on the north side and Lincoln on the south side. The Panhandle, which stretches east of the park from Stanyan to Baker, also has a shared bicycle/pedestrian sidewalk on the north path.
  • You are riding along Mission Creek. I have never actually seen this marked anywhere, but local bike shops swore that it was a shared path.

I have heard that there are other places where it is demonstrably legal to ride on the sidewalk, such as a crossing under 101 where bicycles are instructed to take the sidewalk, but I have no personal experience. I know it’s legal to ride on the sidewalk in the places listed above because I’ve ridden them, but I’ve hardly ridden everywhere in this city. Any other places where it’s legal to ride on the sidewalk in San Francisco?

13 Comments

Filed under advocacy, commuting, family biking, San Francisco, traffic

13 responses to “Yes, you can legally ride a bicycle on the sidewalk in San Francisco. Sometimes.

  1. Thank you. I enjoy reading your blog and have learned much. I live in Arlington VA where it’s legal to ride on the sidewalk. There are rules, mostly common sense, involving not speeding, dismounting in crowds and announcing when you intend to pass, etc. When on the sidewalk you are treated and expected to follow the rules of a pedestrian. We have bike lanes but there are places when not crowed I choose to ride on the sidewalk to avoid traffic, truck and car doors. It mostly works here as long as you don’t sneak up on folk or go crazy with the passing bell.

    Side note: I’m in the market for a cargo bike and torn between the Kona Minute (not a fan of the 700cc tires, no foot/cargo bars), Tern Cargo Joe (V brakes, worried about vibrations on long commutes or short tours) and Xtracycle Edge Runner (long, space in certain parts of Arlington is at a premium). I’m an older parent, one child I would like to ride to her friend walking school bus stop then commute 8.5 miles to work and back downhill in and uphill back. I commute rain, snow, sun, and here humidity. Your thoughts welcomed?

    • We have the Kona MinUte as you know, but in the absence of a bike shop that has the experience to set it up for family riding it’s not an ideal option. Kona isn’t really involved in family biking, like at all, so it all would have to be after-market stuff. (And I think they have stopped making the bike anyway.) I’ve never ridden a Cargo Joe, but I’ll admit that except for the Brompton I find all folding bikes a little wiggly for anything more than short daily rides. We noticed the jarring ride when we tried the Bike Friday Haul-a-Day, which is otherwise a pretty cool bike. That kind of leaves the EdgeRunner, doesn’t it? Even though I suspect it would probably be overkill for your kind of commute. FYI, the 2015 model will have a frame-mounted front rack.

      I don’t know, maybe you should get a Brompton. Or put a Bobike Junior on your current bike and call it good.

  2. It seems like no coincidence that we share the same exception for sidewalk riding — California near Presidio Ave is somewhat crazy. From the JCC, the traffic is usually moving too fast and unpredictably to safely make a left (or even a right) on California. It’s no easier to hop Southbound from there onto Presidio Ave, so I tend to slowly ride the sidewalk across the block to go Southbound on the quieter Lyon St. I don’t like doing it, but I feel like I’m making the safest out of an otherwise unsafe situation.

    On the other hand, observing newbies cycling across pedestrian intersections at full cycling speed is just scary. It only takes one car to not expect someone coming across at that speed 😦

    • Yeah, California Avenue at the JCC is scary. I’ll ride on Presidio once I’m south of California over to the Post Street bike lanes, because I think the trucks parking in front of the fire station and the buses coming into/out of the Muni depot slow everything down there, but I hate the Pine/Bush intersection. I hadn’t considered jumping over to Lyon because of the foot traffic at the California crosswalk but I should try it sometime. Heading west it’s much easier because we can ride up through the UCSF parking lot and then onto Mayfair, or up to Sacramento and then onto Arguello.

      My basic attitude is that if I’m using the sidewalk or crosswalk I’d better be going at walking speed–I’m doing this to be more safe, not less safe. The people riding too fast are facing the same infrastructure problem but haven’t had a bad experience (yet).

  3. Bebh

    Hi Dorie,

    This isn’t really a comment on this post in particular, but I thought it might be the best way to ask a question! I live in Dublin, Ireland, and I’ve been in contact with Shuichi from Mama Bicycle after reading your posts on Mamacharis and importing a battery. I’m considering importing a Bridgestone Angelino Assista from him.

    I’m just wondering – what sort of distances you ride with your kids on a daily basis? At the moment I’m stuck in a car-bike split commute – drive the first 13km (freeway) and then cycle the last 5km. I HATE the driving part, and would love to cycle the whole way, with an electric assist to help with the hills. The non-freeway route would be about 16km (10 miles). Taking the car the whole way could be 90+ minutes, and (according to google maps) the full cycle (regular bike, no cargo) would be 55 minutes. What’s your opinion on taking a 3-year-old on a bike 2 hours a day? I think it’s preferable to 3 hours in a car – but everyone I speak to says I’m crazy!

    Of course, the easiest option would be to move house, but I’m attending university and living with my parents, who aren’t too keen to move!

    Thanks!

    Bebh

  4. mama bicycle

    Same scene, right?

  5. Easy

    Like you mentioned, there are some sidewalks by US-101 that are part of bike routes.

    Here’s a short stretch of sidewalk on Cesar Chavez east of 101:
    https://www.google.com/maps/@37.749593,-122.4028165,3a,75y,87.78h,76.85t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1s2mjV1NkzYoUFOnm2zpqCoA!2e0

    And one on Bayshore that actually says “Use Sidewalk”:
    https://www.google.com/maps/@37.748134,-122.4034969,3a,37.5y,174.77h,83.48t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1saBOaBy9lB6Mc8sczbk5ngw!2e0

    And the bike lane goes up onto the sidewalk on Cesar Chavez west of 101:
    https://www.google.com/maps/@37.7488342,-122.4062656,3a,75y,94.81h,53.02t/data=!3m5!1e1!3m3!1sE2SvZMSs7YnKfJCi9Qz5bw!2e0!5s2014-07

  6. Broc

    What specific SF codes allow the exceptions (to the general rules disallowing bikes on sidewalks) you’ve listed?

    • Depends on exception; e.g. kids on sidewalks are covered under SF Transportation Code Section 7.2.12, Section 1007 of Division II; authority for the creation of local transportation codes on this issue provided by the CVC. Details of the codes and modifications are provided on government websites so you can easily look them up.

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