Is it Legal to Ride Your Bike on the Sidewalk in Los Angeles?

Is it Legal to Ride Your Bike on Los Angeles Sidewalks?

As with any question concerning the legality (and potential safety) of riding a bicycle anywhere in California, there are no cut-and-dry answers to that question. However, many people ask it because riding your bicycle on the sidewalk seems safer. You're away from traffic with a physical barrier between you and the cars that are rushing through LA's notoriously overcrowded roadways.

But there are other hazards to contend with when you ride your bicycle on the sidewalk in Los Angeles—most notably pedestrians. It may not even come into your mind but if you collide with a pedestrian while on your bicycle, both of you could be seriously hurt. Indeed, pedestrians have been killed by bicyclists in the recent past. So, while riding on the sidewalk may be appealing, in many cases, you (and those around you) may actually be safer riding your bicycle in the street or (especially) in designated bicycle lanes. However, some municipalities within what we would collectively call Los Angeles do allow individuals to ride their bicycles on the sidewalks and—at least in some cases—it does make sense. 

The Complicated Reality of Bicycle Sidewalk Laws in Los Angeles

When deciding whether or not to allow bicyclists on the sidewalk in LA, the ruling bodies who make the laws and local regulations often place the safety of pedestrians as a priority (as they should). Because of this, the ability of a cyclist to take to the sidewalk (and the necessary actions they must take when doing so) are created with regard to pedestrian traffic flow. So, for example, a certain neighborhood may allow cyclists on the sidewalk almost anywhere else but they may restrict riders from using the sidewalk in busy pedestrian areas like business districts or recreational areas like parks. In addition, if a particular section of Los Angeles does allow bicyclists to ride on the sidewalk, it may place extra responsibility for the safety of pedestrians on the cyclist by mandating the use of audible signals when approaching foot traffic.

A great example of this complicated legal landscape exists in The City of Los Angeles itself. While technically, The City of Los Angeles allows riders to use the sidewalk, they can only do so if they ride with regard for the safety (and sanctity) of pedestrians and property. That wording places a legal "duty of care" on to the cyclists and increases the likelihood that they will be held at least partially responsible for any accidents in which they are involved.

    Every Region is Able to Make Its Own Laws, Regulations, and Ordinances

    However, it's not as simple as that. Why? Because The City of Los Angeles doesn't fully represent the geographical area that most people are talking about when they use the term "LA." Indeed, people have been debating where the "actual" boundaries of Los Angeles should lay for decades in part because the city has experienced meteoric growth since the 1950s. Topographically and sociologically defined areas like Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Burbank, and more have long been considered to be at least an honorary addition to what people regularly call Los Angeles.

    By some estimates, there are at least 88 municipalities and neighborhoods in what common culture refers to as LA. In total, those areas encompass a landmass of 35,000 square miles. That's larger than many European countries!

    Los Angeles Bicycle Laws Aren't Consistent

    To make matters more confusing—a good portion of those regions have either decided to pass more stringent ordinances controlling who can ride bicycles on sidewalks, where those bicycle-safe sidewalks exist, and even when those same sidewalks can be used for bicycle traffic and then they cannot. Unfortunately, the responsibility of knowing the local legality falls upon the shoulders of the bicyclists.

    For example:

    • The City of Los Angeles, Redondo Beach, and Pasadena permit riding your bicycle on the sidewalk (with some restrictions and concessions made for pedestrian safety). The County of Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Palmdale forbid riding bicycles on the sidewalk completely.
    • In some areas, your ability to legally ride your bicycle on the sidewalk in Los Angeles is determined by your age. Indeed, locations like Hermosa Beach and Lancaster allow riders 14-years-old or younger to safely ride on the sidewalk.
    • Still other regions have no laws or ordinances that deal directly with bicycles on sidewalks at all. (Generally, in those cases, the legality of riding a bicycle on the sidewalk would default to the county level.)

    Even when you think you've mastered all of the bicycle sidewalk laws there are to know, there are a number of municipalities in the Los Angeles area that have even more complicated laws, laws which allow people to ride bicycles on the sidewalk in certain circumstances or in very limited areas (such as “business districts” or a “commercial areas”.)

    What Defines a Business District?

    That's a question that's absolutely essential when determining if you're allowed to ride your bicycle on the sidewalk in Los Angeles. However, it can be one that's frustrating to answer. Why? Because just as the many municipalities that make up Los Angeles have a widely varied set of laws determining whether or not you can ride your bicycle on the sidewalk, each municipality is allowed to define—by its own standards—what constitutes a business district.

    Generally, the distinction is covered by definitions laid out in California Vehicle Code section 204​​​. This regulation defines a business district by the type of buildings that have access to the specific street or roadway. Specifically, the California Vehicle Code makes provisions for:

    • Churches
    • Apartments and other multiple dwelling houses
    • Hotels
    • Nightclubs
    • Public buildings (other than schools)

    However, each specific region is not beholden to that definition.

    For instance, while Beverly Hills generally follows this way of designating a business district, Culver City includes the sidewalks around schools, rec centers, and playgrounds in what it designates as bicycle-free zones. Not near any of the specifically designated buildings in Culver City? Then you're free to ride your bicycle on the sidewalk—but only if you deliver “audible signal” to pedestrians you intend to pass and only pass them on the left.

    Knowing the Law of the Land is your Responsibility

    With so many local ordinances, county laws, and city regulations it can be almost impossible for an individual to know (And understand) them all. However, as a cyclist, you are placing yourself in danger if you don't.

    • Indeed, if you ride your bike on the sidewalk in Los Angeles in an area that does not allow such activity, you could be facing fines.
    • Worse yet, if you get into a bicycle accident in Los Angeles while riding your bicycle on the sidewalk where you're not supposed to, or in a manner that's deemed unsafe by local ordinance, you could be placing liability for that accident (thus the financial impact) on your shoulders.
    • And, if you're the one who gets hurt in a bicycle accident while riding on the sidewalk, you might not be able to get any sort of compensation for your injuries or property loss.

    So, before you continue riding your bike on the sidewalk in Los Angeles, you need to know if you're legally protected when doing so. And even that is easier said than done. There is no single bicycle sidewalk law clearinghouse available at the moment. Anyone trying to understand the various local ordinances that govern the activity really has to dig into the books at the local level. The LA DOT Bike Program Website does contain a list of links to resources that explain certain bicycle laws in greater detail at the local level but beware. The website is a bit outdated (last updated in 2016) so the information it provides could potentially be out of date.

    Dan S.
    Bicycle Accident Client


    "​I cant recommend Sally Morin Law enough, they really did take a large amount of the stress and worry out of the whole affair, managed the process extremely efficiently and allowed me to focus on getting back to 100%."

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    What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?

    The safest way to proceed is to simply assume that, as an adult, you cannot legally ride your bicycle on the sidewalk. While this isn't always true (depending on your locality) it is a good general "blanket" assumption to keep you out of the eyes of local law enforcement and on the right side of the legislation if you are involved in a bicycle accident in Los Angeles.

    However, sometimes even when you're legally allowed to do something (thus not in danger of facing any criminal charges) you could still be liable because the criminal and civil legal systems operate in a completely separate and distinct fashion. This means that even if you're riding your bicycle on the sidewalk in accordance with local ordinances and are involved in a bicycle accident with an automobile or a pedestrian, the civil system in California could force you to absorb the financial impact of that accident or at least share it based on your legally assigned portion of the fault.

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    Because the laws and regulations concerning riding your bicycle on the sidewalk in Los Angeles are so confusing and the financial impact of being involved in a bicycle accident in LA (even if you're not 100% at fault) can be crippling, you may need the help of an experienced bicycle accident lawyer in Los Angeles to help you navigate the financial recovery process and avoid paying more than you have to out of pocket. 

    You need an experienced bicycle accident lawyer in Los Angeles who focuses on bike accidents on your side who can fight for a fair insurance settlement or take your case to court if need be.

    Get a FREE, no-risk evaluation of your case online NOW to see if we can help.

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