Breakin’ the law.

Usually it’s best to ride on the road but “usually” is not “always”. Laws should allow bicyclists the discretion to use a footpath in a way that respects pedestrians, just as cars should operate on roads in a way that respects bicyclists (that’s the theory, anyway).

Sometimes the law prohibits the safest course of action. In such cases it is the law itself that is broken. In an ideal world, bicycles and cars can share the same facilities without conflict. With current NZ transportation infrastructure (occupied by NZ motorists) such as shown in the video, the safest course of action is currently illegal in NZ. Nonetheless, I will pursue the safest course.

I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice. The relevant law here seems to be the Land Transport Act  section 2.13(1) which states, “A driver must not drive a motor vehicle along a footpath“. That certainly seems reasonable, but it’s supplemented by section 11.11(1) which states, “A person must not ride a cycle on a footpath… forming part of a road.” I’m of the opinion that section 11.11(1) should either be repealed entirely, or modified to allow bicyclists the freedom to apply personal discretion (which may be influenced by bicycle speed, motorized traffic {type, speed, volume}, hill grade, weather, time, confidence, fear, etc); this is how section 11.1 keeps pedestrians out of the road; “A pedestrian must, at all times when practicable, remain on the footpath if one is provided.” Clearly, the video shows a situation where riding on the footpath is safer, more courteous to motorized traffic, and ultimately more practicable that riding on the road: Why is it illegal? In Wellington this road situation is common.

For clarity, section 11.11(4,5,6) is already compatible with bicycles on footpaths and only needs slight editing (as I’ve taken the liberty of demonstrating):

(4) A driver of a [cycle,] mobility device or wheeled recreational device on a footpath—
– (a) must operate the device in a careful and considerate manner; and
– (b) must not operate the device at a speed that constitutes a hazard to other footpath users.
(5) A person using a [cycle or] wheeled recreational device on a footpath must give way to pedestrians and drivers of mobility devices.
(6) A pedestrian must not unduly impede the passage of—
– (a) a mobility device or wheeled recreational device permitted to use the footpath by this clause; or
– (b) a moped or motorcycle permitted to use the footpath by clause 2.13(2).
– [or (c) a bicycle

Really now, does anyone have a problem with my amendments to the statute? Note to MPs, feel free to copy and paste ;). I wouldn’t even mind if they add a requirement that an “audible warning device of reasonable volume” be fitted on bicycles that are used on footpaths or shared paths (but let’s not require bells on bikes that don’t use footpaths or shared paths). This implies a bell or horn, but could also include ones voice.

I’ll also point out that where I grew up, in New Jersey, it’s illegal to have fences or anything else that would obstruct a driver’s vision when pulling out of a driveway (if it’s within X feet of the end of the driveway, it can’t be more then Y feet tall; this manages the sight-triangle problem). There a lot of these fences in the video, and they create a situation that’s just as dangerous to pedestrians as they are to bicyclists. The front bumper of a car may be in the road before a driver can see someone on the footpath, who they’re required to give-way to. I’ve had close calls while walking (slowly) along that footpath. Again, this is a legislative problem (or an enforcement problem, if NZ has a similar law).

Safety (and this applies to any aspect of life, and any mode of transportation) means being aware of and understanding the dangers, hazards and risks: Knowing how to avoid the dangers, manage the hazards and reduce the risks; Being aware of how situations are likely to change, and being alert to how they do change. The law should allow me to keep myself safe while also minimizing the potential for conflict with other traffic, specifically motorized and pedestrian traffic.

Further reading on sidewalk bicycling:



3 thoughts on “Breakin’ the law.

  1. Hillbilly MTB

    Yeap where theres no other choice on offer, I gotta agree with riding on footpath.
    Although I do think that “personal discretion” is a little too open to interpretation, somewhat like “officers discretion” – regulated subjectivity at its best!

    It seems to me that cyclists fall into that grey area – not really being road users in the same sense as licensed, registered motorised vehicles and not being pedestrian either – so whats the option in the absence of dedicated cycle lanes? – ride on the curb?

    Yeah Right


  2. Pingback: Infrastructure deficits : Cycling in Wellington

  3. Thanks atom.
    You could have copied Queensland’s law re cycling on pavements, though they
    don’t seem to be promulgating it on their web-site any more.

    I wrote the following about 4 years ago when I was living in Christchurch.
    I’ve been living up in Mangawhai Village, in Northland since 2009 and note that all kids ride on the footpaths here – as do I .

    ” Having spent 10 accident and incident free years riding with 86 million other cyclists on the footpaths in Japanese cities and two stressful and very threatening years on the roads in New Zealand’s ( mythically )’most cycle friendly’ city I can only say it is no wonder that the bike sheds of New Zealand’s schools are empty ( or are even being removed !)
    The logic behind the law drafted by our non-cycling ‘Authorities’ that compels ALL bicycles ( being defined as ‘vehicles’) to share the road with motor vehicles while depriving them of THE CHOICE to ride (where they deem safe) to use the ‘existing network of segregated facilities (i.e. those presently designated as ‘footpaths’ ) is fundamentally flawed. ”

    Alan Preston

    For more on this , go to:


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