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Blog: Should cyclists be allowed on pavements?

Cyclists who ride on pavements face a potential £50 fine. But are our roads so dangerous that cyclists should be allowed to mix with pedestrians, asks motoring journalist and cyclist Maria McCarthy.

A cyclist riding on a city road

Many years ago, when I was a teenager, I used to cycle the two miles to school and a significant part of my journey was spent on the pavement.

My justification was that it was along a non-residential road packed with fast, dangerous traffic.

The pavement was usually virtually empty – a rare pedestrian would give me a dirty look, but I felt that was a small price to pay for arriving at school in one piece.

Cyclists on pavements face £50 fine

However the topic of cyclists on the pavement is highly contentious and has flared up recently.

Transport minister Robert Goodwill, whose brief includes cycling, has re-issued guidelines developed in 1999 in respect to cycling on the pavement.

These guidelines make it an offence punishable by a fixed penalty notice of £50, but also allow the police to use their discretion when enforcing the rule.

A Department for Transport (DfT) spokesperson says: "Enforcement is a matter for the police, however we endorse their approach of showing discretion."

Such discretion might occur "in instances where a cyclist is using the pavement alongside a dangerous section of road out of fear of traffic, but is mindful not to put pedestrians at risk".

Pedestrian safety

Hopefully if I'd been stopped by a policeman, I'd have been let off. But the issue of discretion is a tricky one.

On the one hand, it's perfectly understandable that cyclists can feel threatened on busy roads. I certainly do myself, and only cycle off-road or on quiet streets.

But then, if cyclists move onto the pavement, pedestrians can feel unsafe.

"No way should cyclists be allowed to ride on the pavement," says journalist Louise Bolotin, 52, from Manchester.

"It'll just mean forcing pedestrians into walls or on to kerbs, and often facing a mouthful of abuse for being in the way."

'Bullying motorists'

Ideally, motorists, cyclists and pedestrians would all be sharing the roads and thoroughfares in a co-operative way.

Small woman on bicycle riding next to a big carBut the truth is that cyclists often end up feeling bullied by motorists and move onto the pavement, and then pedestrians feel threatened in turn.

And of course, all cyclists, like all motorists, aren't the same.

There's a huge difference in the danger potential between a 60-year-old trundling by on their Raleigh shopper and a Lycra-clad speed freak bombing along at full pelt, for example.

The national cycling charity CTC doesn't condone cycling on the pavement.

But its campaign briefing states that "cyclists are perfectly able to mix harmoniously with pedestrians and, contrary to popular belief, are not a major danger to them".

3,353 pedestrians killed by cars & cyclists

However, pushbikes are capable of doing serious damage, though of course far less than cars.

DfT statistics show that between 2003 and 2012 3,330 pedestrians were killed by cars, while 23 were killed by cyclists.

The records don't cover whether these accidents happened on the road or footways.

In an ideal world of course, we'd have better provision for cyclists. "I lived in Amsterdam for nine years and cycled every day," says Bolotin.

"You won't see Dutch cyclists on the pavements there because almost all roads have cycle lanes.

'Road overhaul needed' 

"All the talk about making cities such as Manchester and London bike-friendly is meaningless when the roads are so nightmarish for anyone on two wheels.

"What we need is everything to be re-designed from scratch, from road markings to the availability of bike parking."

But what do we do in the meantime?

Do we allow scared cyclists to take temporary refuge on the pavements? Or say that the pavements belong to pedestrians, and if you're on a bike you've got no right to be there?

What do you think?

We want to hear from you! You can share your views on our message board below. 

We've also put together the slideshow below of comments about cycling on pavements that people have posted on social networking site Twitter. 

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Maria McCarthy

Maria McCarthy

Maria McCarthy is a motoring and lifestyle journalist and author of The Girls' Car Handbook and The Girls' Guide to Losing your L Plates published by Simon and Schuster. She's also a regular on BBC Breakfast news, and local and national radio, commenting on motoring matters. Her pet motoring hates are potholes and high fuel prices.

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