Confessional: Sometimes I ride on the pavement.

I’m not talking about the waterfront, where pedestrians and cyclists are intended to co-exist, that’s okay, but here are a couple of parts of town that it seems I just cannot get around without taking to the pavement.

I’m interested to know if anyone else finds themselves doing the same.

Why I do it

Two reasons I think. Convenience and Fear.

Convenience becomes an issue when the road hits a weird one-way system, and I think: “but I only want to go over there/round that corner etc”.

My number one spot is when heading from Wakefield Street to the bike parking at the City Library. When Wakefield Street meets Victoria Street I meet a one-way traffic scheme that takes me in the opposite direction to the library. I hop off Wakefield Street at the pedestrian crossing outside the Council offices, and take the undercover pavement past the Visitors Centre and come out just at the entrance to Civic Square. It used to be possible to nip into Civic Square from the Michael Fowler Centre, but some building works make this off limits for now.

From the Waterfront to Featherston Street and Lambton Quay, I often find myself non-plussed by the one-way roading, and hop onto the pavement here and there.

I was in Perth on holiday recently and came across this bike lane. I think it’s worthy of a mention for several reasons. Firstly, its purpose is to allow cyclists to travel along the street against the flow of traffic of the otherwise one-way street, and without having to resort to riding on the pavement. Secondly, it places the cyclist between the parked cars and the pavement, rather than between the parked cars and the moving vehicles. Therefore the parked cars protect the cyclist from moving vehicles rather than our arrangement here, where cyclists are positioned to protect the parked cars from the moving!

And Fear

Where Adelaide Road joins Riddiford Street heading into Newtown, I have started taking the pavement. The left turning vehicles pass cyclists by without a hairbreadth to spare.

And Constable Street is waaayy too narrow for me to happily go play with the buses.

My other half almost always rides on the pavement (or footpath as he calls it), having not really ridden on the road before meeting me. On the whole I’m happier on the road, and confident enough to take my place in the lane, but sometimes I’m just chicken shit scared.

How wrong is it?

I know that riding on the pavement is wrong, but my question is how wrong is it? A minor infringement, or a sacking offence? I think it depends on the etiquette.

I ride really slowly. Like really slowly. I don’t expect pedestrians to make way for me, it’s my job to stay out of their way. We recently had a discussion here about bell ringing, where Atom disagreed with my reluctance to ring my bell at pedestrians. I go slower and give the pedestrians right of way. I’d feel that ringing my bell while I’m on the footpath would be like shouting “get out of my way”. But it’s okay if we disagree on that one.

Anyone have any thoughts?


12 thoughts on “Confessional: Sometimes I ride on the pavement.

  1. Principal Skinner

    There is nothing wrong with riding on the footpath. Not riding your bike is wrong. The council failing to provide safe passage is wrong.


  2. Gilbert Sanseau

    I definitely agree, and there are some streets where I ride on the pavement too: when I go round our beautiful South Coast from Lyall Bay to Island Bay, you’ll never see me on the road on this race track/scenic road where drivers look at the sea more than at the road/”not in service” (i.e. especially fast) bus route. Also, up Adelaide Street towards Berhampore, and up the Parade in Island Bay, also uphill towards Berhampore. Not to mention Oriental Parade, where I was once hit off my bike by a parking driver (“Sure mate, I had signalled”). Give me reverse angle parking and a cycle lane between the parking and the pavement there and I will use it, otherwise I will blissfully ride at pedestrian pace until I have way enough room to pass them without ringing my bell (I sooo agree with your comment on that one). Smiling and thanking pedestrians helps most of the time also. One day, I was stopped by an elderly woman who told me I shouldn’t ride on the footpath and went “Do you have children or grandchildren? Would you let THEM ride on this road? Well, my mum doesn’t let me”.


  3. Lisa

    Yes, smiling and thanking/waving goes a long way – people respond exceptionally well to it. That applies to any riding, not just footpath sojourns.


  4. atom

    this is NOT our sidewalk and i’ll agree, in this context, that it’s generally better to just be slow and be patient than ring a bell. there are still times when people just aren’t looking and a gentle “ring-ring” helps them to not walk into you. other exceptions to “silent mode” on sidewalks include rounding a blind-corner and alerting small children that move quickly without full awareness of their surroundings. shared footpaths are different, but generally on pedestrian sidewalks i’ll ride close to walking speed (or slower), and if i’m “stuck” behind someone i won’t ring the bell AND i’ll stay far enough behind them that the distance gives a message of “your fine, no need to move over” (rather than riding a few inches behind them, which sends a message of “get out of my way”). on shared footpaths like the mt vic tunnel pedestrians do have the right of way, but they don’t have any right to block the way.

    i’ve discussed this with a wellington police sgt who rides a bike on weekends (don’t get me started) and the sgt agreed that, even though it’s illegal, it is sometimes safer to ride on the sidewalks. outside of CBD i do this mostly when going uphill where there isn’t room to take the lane, and traffic is heavy enough that i’d rather not be part of it (is that fear? or common sense?). going UP constable st in newtown (towards kilbirnie) is a perfect example; cyclists have to choose between slowing down motor vehicle traffic or being in the door-zone. since most of us aren’t going up that hill much faster than walking speed anyway, it seems like the sidewalk is the best option. well, actually it’s the second best option… i usually turn left at moshim’s and head up the hill one block over from constable st, then turn right just before the top of the hill. this way i can take the lane, stay out of the door zone, and rarely get passed by more than 2-3 cars. depending on car/bus traffic i’ll do the last half-block either on the road or the sidewalk, then take the lane and go downhill, moving at or near the speed of motor vehicle traffic.


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  7. Caroline O'Reilly

    I’ve been riding in Wellington three days. And it is shameful the provision for cyclists. You take your life in your own hands. The drivers here are scary when you’re in another car, let alone riding on a cycle. So I am riding on the pavement. Slowly and sensibly but basically I couldn’t give a rat’s ass if it’s wrong. I want my ass to be walking this earth a lot longer.


  8. Simon Kennett

    Would it be unreasonable to suggest that if there are pedestrians on the footpath travelling in the same direction, then you should cruise at walking pace. If there are oncoming pedestrians, why not get off and walk your bike? This is still more convenient than parking and walking, and it’s not going to get any walkers’ knickers in a knot.

    As a general rule, I’ll only ride (slowly) on footpaths if there are no pedestrians around. The exception is in parks.

    I feel the same about bells – no matter how polite your intention they can be taken the wrong way (like car horns).


  9. Chris Glover Kapiti coast NZ

    There is nothing wrong with riding a pushbike on the footpath as long as you are considerate to other footpath users: Walkers, runners, other cyclists, motorized scooters and wheelchairs.
    It is important to pass other footpath users slowly and carefully.
    A cyclist is really a wheeled pedestrian and should not be forced to share the road with motor vehicles.
    It is legal and common practice to ride on the footpath in Japan. There should not be laws against cycling on the footpath anywhere in the world.
    All bicycles should be fitted with a bell for safety and a spring seat for comfort.
    Cycling on the footpath is safe and convenient.


    1. Simon Kennett

      “…nothing wrong with it…” except that it makes some pedestrians blood boil and generates hostility towards cyclists in general.

      It’s a classic asymmetric conflict relationship (and it cuts both ways). Some cyclists don’t perceive any real conflict as they ride down the footpath on Lambton Quay or Wakefield St, but walkers sure do.

      And, most of those walkers are drivers. An hour later they are driving, giving cyclists a 500 mm passing gap. They don’t perceive any real conflict, but we sure do.


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