Welcome to Part 2 of Cycling on Sidewalks in New Jersey. Part 1 focused on the dangers of cycling on the sidewalk, situations in which cycling on the sidewalk is appropriate, and precautions cyclists should take when riding on the sidewalk. Part 2 examines municipalities with restrictions on cycling on the sidewalk, the common features of the restrictions and whether these restrictions should be expanded to other municipalities.
Cycling on sidewalks is a controversial issue filled with contradictory points of view. Per NJ law [i], cyclists are “granted all the rights and subject to all of the duties of the motor vehicle driver.” However, for a variety of reasons, many cyclists perceive sidewalk cycling to be an acceptable, safer alternative to cycling on the road. This perception is incorrect. While cyclists are allowed on the majority of roads statewide, some municipalities have placed restrictions on cycling on the sidewalk. As stated on the NJDOT website:
While riding a bicycle on a sidewalk is not prohibited by New Jersey statutes, some municipalities have passed ordinances prohibiting bicycle traffic on certain sidewalks. This prohibition is usually posted. It should be noted, that sidewalks are for pedestrians. Riding on sidewalks can cause conflicts with pedestrians and, like wrong way riding, can lead to crashes since it places bicyclists in situations where others do not expect them. Except for very young cyclists under parental supervision, sidewalks are not for bicycling.
Municipal Restrictions on Sidewalk Cycling
Recognizing the dangers, some New Jersey municipalities have placed restrictions on the use of bicycles on sidewalks. These restrictions include complete bans (certain areas of both New Brunswick and Jersey City), hourly and seasonal restrictions (found along boardwalks in many shore towns), and those requiring cyclists to travel at pedestrian speeds (Hoboken). The table below documents municipalities with restrictions and some notable characteristics.
High Pedestrian Volumes
Restrictions on cycling on sidewalks are found primarily in two types of municipalities, large, densely populated cities and shore towns. Jersey City, Hoboken, and New Brunswick fall into the former. As seen in the table below, these municipalities exhibit higher population density, higher rates of walking commutes, higher transit use and lower percent of commuters that drive alone than New Jersey as a whole. Spring Lake and Ocean City are examples of shore towns restricting cycling on sidewalks, but only on particularly busy pedestrian corridors, and only during times of peak pedestrian activity. Overall we can see that restrictions have been placed on areas of high pedestrian volume, suggesting that pedestrian safety is the primary motivation behind the restrictions.
Should more municipalities restrict sidewalks cycling?
Given that the primary motivation behind restricting cycling on sidewalks is increasing pedestrian safety, sidewalk restrictions seem most likely to be expanded where pedestrian volumes are high. We also know that, as discussed in Part 1, sidewalk cycling can pose dangers to the cyclists themselves. Given these considerations, should restrictions on cycling on sidewalks be more widespread?
One problem is that ordinances restricting cycling on sidewalks may deter those who perceive sidewalks as being a safe alternative to roads from cycling at all. Another problem is that, in some cases, cycling on the sidewalk may be safer for the cyclists, preferable for motorists and non-disruptive for pedestrians. While a complete ban may be necessary in commercial areas, implementing a total ban on cycling on sidewalks may force cyclists onto high volume streets where traffic is fast and away from wide sidewalks with high visibility and low pedestrian volume.
While there may be locations where cycling on the sidewalk makes sense, areas with high pedestrian volumes conflict with safe cycling. Even where illegal, many cyclists still choose to ride on the sidewalks. In addition to implementing restrictions, NJ municipalities looking to reduce conflict between cyclists and pedestrians would do well to educate cyclists and motorists on cyclists’ legal right to the road, road traffic skills, the dangers of sidewalk cycling, and how to behave if sharing a sidewalk with pedestrians. In doing so, rather than potentially forcing cyclists onto the street when sidewalk riding is a reasonable choice, cyclists will be capable of making informed, smart decisions while being aware of their responsibilities.