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Riding on footpaths – the basics

23 November 2010

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.

  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…

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