Bicycling on Sidewalks in Washington, DC, Virginia, and Maryland
Most bicyclists prefer to ride separately from vehicle traffic. So when there is a sidewalk or bike trail nearby, cyclists will tend to ride there instead of out in the street. When bicyclists ride through crosswalks or when a bike trail intersects with a street, bicyclists are particularly vulnerable to being struck by a vehicle. Often either the bicyclist or the motorist, or both, is unsure who has the right-of-way at intersections. Confusion over who goes first can result in painful consequences, usually for the bicyclist.
Some people may be uncertain whether bicycling on the sidewalk is even “legal” in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. In many places in the DC Metropolitan area, bicyclists can ride on the sidewalk. There are some exceptions, though. Bicyclists are not permitted to ride on the sidewalk in the “Central Business District” in Washington, DC. But outside of this, DC sidewalks are open to cyclists. Likewise, bicyclists are permitted to ride on Virginia sidewalks, unless there are signs specifically prohibiting it. In Maryland, bicyclists are not permitted to ride on sidewalks unless local laws specifically allow it. Montgomery county does allow bicyclists to ride on sidewalks, but Prince George’s County does not. Where cyclists can ride on sidewalks in the DC-VA-MD area, they have the right-of-way over vehicles at crosswalks and intersections in the same manner that a pedestrian does. So, for example, if the crosswalk signal says “Walk”, the bicyclist has the right-of-way ahead of a turning vehicle. However, not every driver knows this and even if they do, many drivers do not anticipate bicyclists riding through crosswalks.