Updated: February 26, 2015
This is a straightforward question. Unfortunately, the answer is not easily accessible for anyone who wants to comply with the rules of the road. Because of the inaccessibility of the law and the growing interest and use of bicycles in Buffalo, it is time to take steps to make the rule widely available so that our streets are safer.
Growing up in Buffalo, I frequently saw people riding bikes on the sidewalk. After all, it is where a lot of people learn to ride, and we generally expect to see children riding their bikes on the sidewalk. But what about adults? I frequently see adults riding their bicycles on sidewalks in Buffalo. Some people may even think that adult bicyclists, like children, are supposed to ride on the sidewalk. I have encountered motorists yelling at bicyclists who are riding in the street that they belong on the sidewalk. I have also encountered pedestrians yelling at bicyclists who are riding on the sidewalk that they belong in the street.
It seems that we have a problem with our community’s general knowledge of where a bike belongs. Recently, for example, a local developer affirmed the belief that bicycles belong on the sidewalk in an article appearing in the Buffalo News. So what’s the rule? Do bikes belong on the sidewalk or the street?
New York State’s Vehicle and Traffic Law (VTL) does not regulate whether you can ride a bicycle on the sidewalk. The Department of Transportation’s bicycle Frequently Asked Questions webpage makes this point clear. The VTL does, however, grant bicyclists the rights and duties that motor vehicles have. In other words, when riding a bike in a street, you have to comply with the rules of the road. There are also some special protections for bicyclists in the VTL.
Local governments, on the other hand, may pass rules regulating bicycle traffic on sidewalks. Section 34-6 of the Rochester City Code generally requires children under 12 years of age to ride on the sidewalk and permits adults to do the same. New York City, on the other hand, generally prohibits adults from riding bicycles on the sidewalk but allows children to do so pursuant to Section 4-07 of the New York City Rules.
So what about Buffalo’s rule? Here is Section 479-19(1) in its entirety:
No riding on sidewalk except children under 14 years. No person in the city shall ride any motorcycle, bicycle or other vehicle propelled by the hand or foot of the rider, along or upon any sidewalk or footpath intended for the use of pedestrians. This subdivision shall not apply to children under fourteen years of age and to persons who cannot walk by reason of being invalid or cripples.
The main issue with this rule is that it seems to be unknown to the residents of Buffalo. As of the date of the update to this article, this provision, along with the other traffic regulations contained in Chapter 479 of the City Code, are not contained in online versions of the City Code. Although they are on file with the City Clerk and City Engineer, additional efforts should be made to distribute the rules widely.
The City of Buffalo should makes its rules available. Everyone needs to know where to expect bicyclists, and bicyclists need to know where they should be. We can only predict that with accessible bicycle rules, safety will improve. It will also be important for the City of Buffalo and bicycle advocacy groups, like GO Bike Buffalo, to educate the public. Let’s get an accessible rule to the public and get everyone on the same page.