There’s a lot of confusion about where people can legally ride bikes on the sidewalks of CU, so we set out to (a) figure out what the regulations actually are and (b) present it to you in a single, easy to navigate post. This post is a part of our ongoing bike laws/safety series.
I should preface this by saying that you should probably minimize your biking on the sidewalk. I’ve seen too many pedestrians wiped out by inattentive sidewalk-riders to suggest that biking on the sidewalk is generally a good idea. Research indicates that biking on the sidewalk is also more dangerous for bikers themselves. I mean, that’s why these regulations exist at all. So long as your speed exceeds that of a walker/runner, it’s probably better that you use the road. Remember that when on the road, you’re subject to all regulations pertaining to vehicles and when on the sidewalk, you should conduct yourself like a pedestrian.
So now that that’s out of the way, back to sidewalks. Turns out, most people –and by most I mean, like, something on the order of 99.98% of CU residents– don’t know what the rules are about cycling on sidewalks here in CU. There are a few reasons for the confusion. First, there are multiple jurisdictions –Urbana, Campus, and Champaign– making conflation of regulations likely and meaning that any investigation into laws and regulations is triple the work. Second, Champaign’s bike regulations are –as people working for the City will readily admit– antiquated and (with respect to the sidewalk regulations) byzantine. Third, there’s a lot of misinformation out there and even those who think they know the rules are probably wrong. I was in this category until I did some research and emailing. This misinformation is sometimes even repeated by official sources. After calling one police department, I was given information that turned out to be incorrect. Even the Bike Champaign! page says “no bikes on downtown sidewalks”. (This is not wrong, per se, but not a clear picture of what the regulations actually are.)
Urbana’s regulations are fairly straightforward. Don’t ride on the sidewalks in the central business district.
Sec. 23-144. – Riding on sidewalks.
(a) No person shall ride a bicycle upon a sidewalk within the central business district.
(b) Whenever any person is riding a bicycle upon a sidewalk, such person shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and shall give audible signal before overtaking and passing such pedestrian.
(Ord. No. 9697-123, § 23-11-4, 4-21-97)
The “central business district” is defined as the area bounded by Illinois, Water, Urbana, and Cedar Streets. These streets are included in that definition, so you have to stay off those sidewalks, too. For those of you who prefer visual learning, here’s a convenient Google Map of where you can’t bike on the sidewalk. Urbana should be applauded for putting up signs in some of the downtown area, making their regulations at least somewhat known.
Remember (b), though. Pedestrians have the right-of-way and you need to “audibly signal” if you pass a pedestrian.
You can bike on campus sidewalks. The only regulation about sidewalks in UIUC’s Bike Code is that when a sidewalk is too crowded with pedestrians, you’re required to get off your bike and walk it.
This is where it gets complicated. Lots of people mistakenly believe Champaign’s regulations to be the same as Urbana’s– that biking on sidewalks in the Central Business District is prohibited, but elsewhere, it’s okay. I’d always heard that it was prohibited on Green Street and in the downtown area.
That’s not exactly the case.
So here’s the actual regulation. In Champaign, you are prohibited from biking in areas which are “business districts.” This is the regulation as written in the city code:
Sec. 33-31. – Riding on roadways and bicycle paths.
(d) Bicycles may be ridden on sidewalks except in the business districts as said districts are defined in section 33-1 herein. In said business districts, only on-duty bike patrol officers with the Champaign Police Department may ride bicycles on the sidewalk.
(Code 1975, § 22-5, 22-36; C.B. No. 86-297, § 10, 11-18-86; C.B. No. 96-225, § 1, 9-17-96)
That’s not exactly the case.
Sec. 33-1. – Definitions.
Business district shall mean the territory within the City contiguous to and including a street or highway when within any six hundred (600) feet along such highway there are buildings in use for business or industrial purposes, including but not limited to hotels, banks, or office buildings, railroad stations, and public buildings which occupy at least three hundred (300) feet of frontage on one side or three hundred (300) feet collectively on both sides of the street or highway.
A rough analogue of what areas are business districts can be found by looking at the zoning map. Those zones encompassing “business districts” include CN, CG, CO, CB, CI, IOP, IBP, I1, I2, and parts of IT-MX.
If you read the definition carefully, though, you’ll notice that the definition of business district isn’t tied to the zoning of a given area. Instead, annoyingly, it’s tied to the existence of a ‘business’ or a set of ‘businesses’ occupying at least 300 feet of space along a road and includes a 600-foot area around those businesses. So if you want to be really careful, you’ll need measuring tape and a lot of patience. It’s confusing and, in its simplicity, is unnecessarily complex. Even the News-Gazette misinterpreted this regulation in their article on Urbana’s sidewalk-biking regulations by stating that it prohibited biking in “the business district”. (I read this as meaning the downtown or central business district, c.f. Urbana’s regulations.)
Clearly this is a problematic regulation, or in the parlance of Smile Politely, a bad law. It’s extremely difficult to follow unless you never bike on sidewalks and seems nearly unenforceable. The same article I’ve cited a few times quotes the Champaign police spokesperson as saying that no one’s been cited or even warned for riding on the sidewalk. To make matters worse, they have some signs on Green Street saying that biking is prohibited, but their use of these signs doesn’t even seem to match up to what is defined as a “business district” on this street.
So what’s the solution?
I don’t think it’s my place to offer up a fully-formed solution for what should be done. Instead, I’ll leave you with four thoughts/suggestions about things to consider in creating new regulations, as it’s clear that –at least in the case of Champaign– we do need new regulations. Let us know what you think! How do we fix this mess?
- What about young children? Should they be made to bike on the roads or should there be an exception? In NYC, for example, children 12 and under are exempted from the general ban on biking on the city’s sidewalks, provided their bikes have wheels with a diameter of 26″ or less. A three year old isn’t going to harm anyone by biking on the sidewalk and probably everyone –pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers– will feel safer. If we’re going to allow for this, we need to codify it and not leave it up to an exception in enforcement.
- When it comes to enforcement, what are cyclists supposed to expect? If you’re not going to enforce a regulation, that suggests that it’s unnecessary. If it is, indeed, a necessary regulation, then we need to respect it enough to enforce it.
- Do we need any sidewalk biking regulations outside of central business districts? In Portland you can’t ride in the core of the city, but otherwise you’re just subject to regulations about yielding to pedestrians and riding safely. This is essentially Urbana’s law. Like I said, I don’t generally advocate for biking on the sidewalk, but it can be useful, particularly in getting around a one-way street or avoiding cobblestones.
- If we’re going to have regulations, we need to make them known. We should at least have signs posted outside of and/or in areas where biking is prohibited.