Riding on footpaths – the basics
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  RTR 157, 162; Crank v Brooks  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.