Skip to content

Riding on footpaths – the basics

23 November 2010
by blondwig

A little while ago I cycled through Hackney behind a messenger on a brakeless fixed gear bike. He rode like he’d been born with wheels, and probably didn’t know how to walk. I lost him when we came up to a traffic jam and I stopped. He performed a neat little jump onto the pavement and disappeared.

Mightily impressed, I briefly practised my own kerb-jumping. This came to an end outside work one morning with an “oof”. Luckily I was going quite slowly, so just stopped dead, rather than somersaulting into the iron railings (uncomfortably similar to the ones in the picture above).

Of course kerb-jumping carries other risks too. Cycling on the pavement seems to make pedestrians surprisingly mad – so much that some seem to rate it as a top priority for the police, apparently surpassing things like burglary and violent assault.

In many situations cycling on the pavement will be illegal. As I think I’ve said before, the rules in this area are horribly complicated. Below is the starting point.

The basic offence

It’s an offence to ride your bike on any footpath or causeway which is by the side of any road and which is set apart for the accommodation of foot passengers. (HA 1835, s. 72)

If you commit this offence a constable in uniform can give you a fixed penalty of £30. This is one of the very few offences for which a community support officer can also hand out £30 FPNs. (RTOA ss. 51, 54; Sch 3; FPO Sch 1; PRA02 ss. 38, 38A; Sch 4 para. 1(2), (3); PRA(CSO) artt. 2, 3, Schedule)

Alternatively you can be prosecuted in the courts, in which case the maximum penalty is a fine of £500 plus liability for any damage you cause. (HA 1835 s. 72)

Where can you not cycle?

If you cycle on a path which is by the side of a road and which is for pedestrians, you’ll commit this offence.

But the offence only applies to paths by the side of a road, and not to paths which are away from the road. So you won’t commit this offence if you ride along an alleyway away from the road, or on a path through a park. (R v Pratt [1867-68] LR 3 QB 64)

Similarly the offence only applies to a roadside path which is set apart for the accommodation of foot passengers. It seems that a path won’t count as set apart in this way if there’s a sign saying you can cycle on it, or a marked cycle lane on the pavement.

This can lead to some ambiguous situations – for example the one here. You’re allowed to cycle across the crossing, and there’s a sign on a little post specifically telling you that you’re allowed to cycle up the alleyway to your left. But it’s not clear whether you’re allowed to ride across the footpath to get to the alleyway. The footpath is by the side of a road, and there’s no marking allowing cycling, so it looks like it would be an offence to ride across it. If it is, then technically you would need to get off and walk this bit – freewheeling or standing on one pedal still counts as riding. (DPP v Selby [1994] RTR 157, 162; Crank v Brooks [1980] RTR 441, 442-3)

Paths away from the road

So if your path is away from the road, does this mean you can definitely cycle on it?

Unfortunately not – there might be other specific rules banning it. For example, cycling on your path might be banned by local byelaws, and breaching them may be an offence – this is especially likely in parks and pedestrianised zones, for example.

Alternatively if the path is on private land, and you use it in a way (like cycling) which hasn’t been permitted by the landowner or a public right of way, you might be trespassing – which is a civil wrong for which you can be sued (although it’s not an offence, and you can’t be prosecuted).

So it’s very difficult to know in advance whether you’re allowed to cycle on a path which is away from the road. As a general rule there should normally be signs telling you what’s allowed, and your best bet will just be to obey them.

As for specific kinds of country paths – bridleways, public footpaths and the like – that’s a whole other post.


Photo by UKcyclerules. Licensed cc by-nc-sa.

33 Comments leave one →
  1. 23 November 2010 12:58

    Thanks for that.

    So I guess cycling along the central reservation (eg, here ) is fine, since it’s not set aside for pedestrians?

  2. 23 November 2010 13:31

    It’s not that hard really. You aren’t allowed to cycle on pavements. UNLESS it is a shared footpath which is clearly marked. Unfortunatly the clearly marked areas often end without warning and you are left cycling on the pavement illegally. As i found out the hard way once.

    • 23 November 2010 14:34

      hi gaz

      as far as pavements by the side of a road are concerned, you’re right.

      for pavements and paths away from the road, though, there’s no general rule and it’s more complicated.

  3. 23 November 2010 13:32

    hi elliot

    i thought about including central reservations here, but decided against it on the basis that it would make things a bit too complex.

    i think you could certainly argue that any central reservation is (a) not by the side of the road, and (b) (depending on the circumstances) not a path set aside for pedestrians. but i don’t think either point is entirely clear.

    also, even if this is right it wouldn’t necessarily mean you could cycle there. there’s the worry about byelaws for starters, which (as I’ve said in the post) makes it difficult to know in advance whether you can cycle on any path which isn’t by the side of the road and set aside for pedestrians. then there’s also a question whether you could get onto the central reservation without breaking other road rules, for example disobeying line markings in the road – although admittedly there aren’t any in the photo you’ve linked to.

    so it’s a difficult situation. although the fact that it’s not obviously wrong might help you persuade a police officer who stopped you to be nice…

  4. 24 November 2010 01:38

    Thanks for this. A question for you, though. DId you find anything about children? I have a three-year old. Just learning to ride, doing great so far. But would I let him on the road? Certainly not. So can he ride on the pavement?

    I’ve heard anecdotally that it’s okay for very young children to do so, but (a) I can’t imagine this is actually the case and (b) how young’s very young?

    • 24 November 2010 10:29

      Hi Trevor

      A child under the age of 10 can’t commit a criminal offence, so can ride on the pavement. (Children and Young Persons Act 1933, s. 50)

      It’s worth being aware of this case in america, though, and supervising/being careful as a result.

      As for children aged 10 and above, technically they would be committing an offence, but you might find that the police show some understanding, at least with pre-teens.

      • 28 November 2010 00:42

        Thanks. I hadn’t thought about the general non-criminality of children. I ought to have. D’oh! Interesting case in America, though.

  5. 6 December 2010 19:27


    In the instance of a path away from a road (alleyway/path through park example) – am I correct in thinking that to ban a bicycle from them, they must be accompanied by a ‘no cycling’ sign? (red circle with pic of a bike in it)

    • 7 December 2010 09:25

      Hi Ian

      Interesting question. My initial reaction (not fully researched) is that the answer is probably no, on the basis that the red circle ‘no cycling’ sign is a sign for public roads, and the paths we’re talking about won’t be on roads (nor, for some of them, on public land).

      Those are just initial thoughts though. I’m planning to cover road signs more in the new year, and will add this question to the list!

  6. 8 December 2010 09:28


    The reason for asking was because I had seen such a sign ***here*** close to where we live – albeit one in poor condition.

    Thanks for that & I’ll look forward to reading more :>)

  7. 18 January 2011 13:42

    If the pavement (by the side of the road) is shared but lacks cycle lanes, who gets priority? My understanding is the pedestrian does, but is there a clear rule on it?

    And should cyclists on shared use pavements have lights?

    (I’m a pedestrian who’s a weekend cyclist. I now have a pram, which makes me much less generous towards cyclists on pavements as I – and my child – can no longer leap out the way.)

    • 18 January 2011 14:34

      hi mags

      thanks for your post – some interesting questions, which hadn’t occurred to me.

      re lights, my initial reaction (not fully researched) is that the normal rules would apply to cyclists on shared paths – see this post.

      as regards priority, i must admit i’m not currently sure whether there is a default rule.

      i’ll add these questions to the list, and try to cover them in more detail later on!

      • 18 January 2011 14:38

        Great, thanks!

        It’s good to read impartial information on the complicated and surprisingly emotional interaction of different traffic streams!

  8. 1 March 2011 19:22

    If you are caught for first offence of cycling on pavement and you are not giving your first warning, is there a point of going to court to see if that will be given to you. Police enforcer admited he undersrod why in that section of road why i mounted pavement, tight squeze between bus’s, not wanting to be behind fumes of bus. IS it worth fighting, or if lost will it cost more than paying £30 in set amount of time, or if you go to court and lose to you pay more than £30? Help.

    • 2 March 2011 08:45

      Hi Andrew

      Thanks for your comment, and sorry you feel you’ve been hard done by.

      This site is for general discussion of the rules only, and can’t offer individual legal advice. So I can’t suggest what you should do – sorry. If you feel strongly about your case, you might want to consult a lawyer in person – but make sure you understand first what their fees will be.

  9. simon permalink
    30 March 2011 14:00

    According to this article:

    In a letter to an MP, who had questioned the new fines, then Home Office minister Paul Boateng wrote the following: “The introduction of the fixed penalty is not aimed at responsible cyclists who sometimes feel obliged to use the pavement out of fear of the traffic, and who show consideration to other pavement users.

    “Chief police officers, who are responsible for enforcement, acknowledge that many cyclists, particularly children and young people, are afraid to cycle on the road, sensitivity and careful use of police discretion is required.”

  10. mikey2gorgeous permalink
    4 May 2011 14:51

    Hi Blondwig, I too am puzzled by the statement by the Home Office. I tried to get it clarified by the Police Rep on the Bournemouth Cycling Forum but he was very tight lipped about it. How do guidelines affect a) Policing and b) a Court appeal? I am very concerned that Police attitudes to cycling are currently complete pants and being decided from the ground up not the top down… Given the following…

    On 1st August 1999, new legislation came into force to allow a fixed penalty notice to be served on anyone who is guilty of cycling on a footway. However the Home Office issued guidance on how the new legislation should be applied, indicating that they should only be used where a cyclist is riding in a manner that may endanger others. At the time Home Office Minister Paul Boateng issued a letter stating that:

    “The introduction of the fixed penalty is not aimed at responsible cyclists who sometimes feel obliged to use the pavement out of fear of traffic and who show consideration to other pavement users when doing so. Chief police officers, who are responsible for enforcement, acknowledge that many cyclists, particularly children and young people, are afraid to cycle on the road, sensitivity and careful use of police discretion is required.”

    Almost identical advice has since been issued by the Home Office with regards the use of fixed penalty notices by ‘Community Support Officers’ and wardens.

    “CSOs and accredited persons will be accountable in the same way as police officers. They will be under the direction and control of the chief officer, supervised on a daily basis by the local community beat officer and will be subject to the same police complaints system. The Government have included provision in the Anti Social Behaviour Bill to enable CSOs and accredited persons to stop those cycling irresponsibly on the pavement in order to issue a fixed penalty notice.

    I should stress that the issue is about inconsiderate cycling on the pavements. The new provisions are not aimed at responsible cyclists who sometimes feel obliged to use the pavement out of fear of the traffic, and who show consideration to other road users when doing so. Chief officers recognise that the fixed penalty needs to be used with a considerable degree of discretion and it cannot be issued to anyone under the age of 16. (Letter to Mr H. Peel from John Crozier of The Home Office, reference T5080/4, 23 February 2004)

    • 4 May 2011 15:07

      Just following up from my previous questions really…

      Cycling on the pavement is permissible if the cyclist fears for their safety in the traffic: OK. What if there is a cycle lane marked on the road but the cyclist instead chooses to ride on the (narrow) pavement? Surely steps have been taken by the Highway Agency or Council to improve cyclists’ on-road safety and prevent cyclists riding on a dangerous stretch of pavement?

      (Yes, I did have an incident with the pram and yes, I am still cross! ;) )

    • 4 May 2011 15:07

      hi mike

      i haven’t looked into this in detail, but personally i find it difficult to see how the home office statements could be relied on in order to challenge an individual decision to prosecute.

      i’m also not sure at the moment where the rule preventing FPNs from being issued to under-16s comes from – but i have seen this mentioned elsewhere, so if anyone knows please do share!

      • mikey2gorgeous permalink
        13 May 2011 10:15

        Would there be any legal come-back/get-out if the officer wasn’t aware of the guidelines?

      • 15 May 2011 17:53

        hi mike – i’m not sure this changes anything; I still find it difficult to see how…

  11. Stephen John Mills permalink
    28 July 2011 23:35

    Quoting the Highways Act 1835 as prohibiting cycling on a footpath is clearly ridiculous. Previous to 1870 when the term bicycle came into being walking machine, boneshaker and velocipede were the standard terms for machines of this kind. In fact the Act makes no mention of the term cycling and in fact talks about ‘riding’. The Highways act of 1835 is obviously aimed at horses as most of the people using velocipedes or walking machines at that time would have been on the streets of Paris or Berlin and there would have been only a very few of them. You would have been far more likely to break your neck slipping in a pile of horse dung than being run over by a velocipede. No change there then.

    • blondwig permalink*
      1 August 2011 22:19

      hi stephen

      thanks for your post, sorry it’s taken me a while to respond. it might seem odd, but the courts have applied the 1835 Act to modern vehicles – for example in the DPP v Selby case referred to above it was assumed that the same provision could apply to a motorbike.

      Section 72 of the 1835 Act is phrased in alternative terms – it applies to both riding and driving a carriage . Your point about the meaning of riding is certainly arguable, but it probably doesn’t matter, since there is judicial authority from a similar context to the effect that a riding a bicycle does count as driving a carriage - Taylor v Goodwin (1878-79) LR 4 QBD 228, 229.

      More generally, as I recall there’s a principle that statutes are interpreted in a modern context – so old words can apply to new inventions. I haven’t got the necessary materials to hand at the moment, but i’ll find a source and post it in due course.

  12. DrenchedFatLycraMan permalink
    14 August 2011 08:47

    Where there is a segregated path, with a dividing line between a section for pedestrians and a section for bicycles, is it an offence to cycle in the pedestrian section?

    I’m thinking specifically about the cycle track on the Avon bridge which carries the M5 across the Avon river. This has such a segregated track and I am getting some agro from other users who insist I should cycle in the pedestrian section if there is space to do so.

    • blondwig permalink*
      15 August 2011 15:40


      This is actually quite a tough question – I’m not aware of the courts ever having provided a specific answer.

      If the path is beside a road, generally speaking I think the answer is likely to be yes – it will be an offence under section 72 of the 1835 Act to cycle in the pedestrian ‘section’, because it will count as a footpath or causeway, which is by the side of a road and is set apart for the use or accommodation of foot passengers .

      But i can’t be definitive i’m afraid. It could perhaps be argued that once a footpath is “cut in half” to allow a cycle lane, it is no longer a path or causeway set apart for pedestrians – instead the path itself is (despite the line in the middle) effectively shared. It’s difficult to know how the courts would react to this.

      Also, in respect of any individual on-pavement cycle lane, it might be that there is a local legal instrument creating the cycle facility – for example a traffic regulation order (TRO). As far as I’m aware TROs aren’t necessarily required to create segregated paths by the road, but it seems that a TRO could perhaps be used to this effect. If there is a local TRO in respect of a segregated facility, the terms of the TRO might affect whether the pedestrian section counts as a path set aside for pedestrians under the 1835 Act. (RTRA ss. 1, 6)

      But, like i’ve said, for practical purposes it’s probably best to assume that if you cycle in the pedestrian section of a segregated path which is beside a road, you will be committing an offence. As for the likelihood of being given a fixed penalty (or prosecuted) for straying over the line, you can judge for yourself!

      As for the situation where the segregated path is not beside a road, here I think there’s a good chance that cycling on the pedestrian side would not be an offence, because section 72 of the 1835 won’t (on a literal interpretation of its terms) apply. But even here I can’t be definitive. It could be argued, for example, that where a path is split, the cycle side effectively becomes a ‘road’, and the pedestrian side is therefore beside a road and covered by section 72 of the 1835 Act. I think the courts probably wouldn’t accept this argument (it seems to me to run counter to R v Pratt, above), but I can’t be certain.

      Sorry i can’t be more definitive at this stage. It’s an issue i’m aware of and intend to address further in the future.

  13. Charlie permalink
    17 January 2012 19:48

    Interesting that you state standing on one pedal counts as riding. I got chastised for rolling down a hill in my local station standing on one pedal today, as I do every day. Travelling at the same speed as the pedestrian traffic. Just a jumped up train guard with nothing to do as far as I’m concerned, but I don’t really fancy a fine from a bored copper in the station, any thoughts?

  14. Kirsty permalink
    6 September 2012 21:15

    Ok, guys, I need some insight please. I line in a small cul de sac of 10 houses. In our street there are 3 families including mine with children under the age of 9 infant average age is 6. During the holidays they have built up a great social group, and have been playing out in the cul de sac on their scooters and bikes. They are young care free and loving the company. Now back to school they get a short amount of time after school before dinner time to play out. So we let them let off steam. All n bikes wear helmets, but they do cycle on the path almost pear shaped from above, and they do play in the road. I am always checking on them and we leave windows and doors open to hear them. However a neighbor has complained sayin the children are being antisocial that their behavior is antisocial.. Please could you let me know what the rules would be in a cul de sac, I can’t believe they would get or we would get fined, for doing what children do best.. Play and enjoy themselves… Or worse still maybe they need asbos

    • blondwig permalink*
      16 September 2012 12:03

      Hi Kirsty

      Thanks for posting. I hope this page gives you enough information on whether children can commit the cycling on the footpath offence. As for the rules relating to ASBOs and anti-social behaviour, I’m afraid this site can’t help. Apologies.

  15. Rob permalink
    14 November 2012 11:05

    In Crank v Brooks Waller LJ said “In my judgment a person who is walking across a pedestrian crossing pushing a bicycle, having started on the pavement on one side on her feet and not on the bicycle, and going across pushing the bicycle with both feet on the ground so to speak is clearly a ‘foot passenger’.

    What about if you push the bicycle with your feet on the ground while still sitting on it? Would you then count as a foot passenger? This is quite an appealing thing to do because you take up less pavement space than you would when pushing it at your side so you can get past pedestrians more easily. You are pushing the bicycle with both feet on the ground as Waller LJ described it, but I don’t think he had this type of pushing in mind. Any further thoughts?

    • blondwig permalink*
      19 November 2012 15:52

      Hi Rob

      The court in Selby v DPP (reference above) held that being carried on your bike, i.e. sitting on it while it is moving, counts as riding it regardless of how you are propelled, so you would no longer be a foot passenger.

  16. Tim permalink
    26 November 2012 13:38

    The other day (during part of one of the workshops relating to the Love Cycling, Go Dutch conferences) a cycling officer from our local transport policy body informed me that his understanding was that the area immediately around both ends of a toucan crossing is, out of necessity, shared space (pedestrian/cycle). Otherwise where do you cycle to and from?

    If true, it should cover your streetview example, but he was less sure about the actual area covered, and I don’t know if he’s actually right or not. He also explained that a length of pavement we rode along towards the toucan was shared, despite the lack of relevant signage.

    Of course if I ever get in trouble for riding there “so-and-so told me it was OK” is unlikely to do me any favours. How does one check a TRO, in the absence of signs?

    • blondwig permalink*
      27 November 2012 16:30

      Hi Tim

      Interesting. I’ve written elsewhere about the difficulties of getting hold of TROs, which aren’t necessarily all online.

      As for the idea of an implied right to cross sections of pavement, this is something that also comes up in the context of driveways – without such an implied right, it would be impossible to drive a car lawfully into many normal driveways. As far as I’m aware the courts have never dealt with the point, so there isn’t a definite answer at present.


  1. Cycling in London parks | UK Cycle Rules - information on cycling law in England and Wales

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>