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When should bicyclists ride on the sidewalk?

In general, bicyclists are better off using the road rather than the sidewalk. However, there may be times even confident cyclists sometimes choose to ride on the sidewalk because there is simply no safe place for them on the roadway. This choice should be made with a number of factors in mind:

- The legality of bicycling on the sidewalk. As a general rule, bicycling on the sidewalk is permitted in most communities unless specifically prohibited. This is almost always a decision made at the local level by a city, county, or township and there is no central source of information. Many communities ban cycling on sidewalks in their business districts or other locations with high levels of pedestrian activity or particularly vulnerable pedestrian populations (e.g. near hospitals or retirement communities). A number of Canadian cities limit sidewalk riding to bikes with wheels smaller than a twenty-inch diameter.

- The sidewalk's width and surface material.

- The frequency of interruptions from driveways, intersections, alleys and other potential conflict points.

- The presence of curb cuts and transitions in the sidewalk.

- The existence of parallel streets offering direct, fast, and convenient access equivalent to the major road.

- The number of pedestrians using the sidewalk.

- The awareness of turning motorists when going through intersections.

If a road is so scary that even confident adult riders use the sidewalk (assuming one exists!) then children probably shouldn't be using either the road or sidewalk unaccompanied. The sidewalk is not necessarily a safe alternative.

In general, children up to the age of 9 or 10 should probably ride on the sidewalk on all but the quietest roads, unless they are accompanied by an adult. It is important they are trained to treat every driveway and intersection with extreme caution even while on the sidewalk. There is no magic age at which children become capable of riding safely in traffic; parents need to make that judgment call based on the child's ability to negotiate traffic situations and exercise good judgment as they ride.

More information on this topic is available at www.bikeleague.org and www.saferoutesinfo.org.